I’m three months into living in Alabama. The reason I decided to stay here is the Talladega Forest. After my trailer incident, I camped in the area to rest my nerves and muster up the courage to drive again. The intuition to stay (versus carry on to the Catskill Mountains in New York) was strong, I always asking for guidance from the land since that feels like the source of the signal to stay. One day, while hiking in the Talladega Forest, the intuition to stay became an embodied demand, one that seemed to come from my higher self. It is the call from the higher unconscious we must heed if we are to step into transformation and integrate that which is emerging so change in self and personality becomes embodied.
I was very excited to hear of Awakenus Festival, a music and arts festival happening on private land called Bohamia in the Talladega Forest. All of my previous favorites (EDM, ecstatic dance, art, community, nature, spirituality) seemed to have a convergence point in the three-day festival. What’s more is the location is about 40 minutes due south–literally down Alabama Highway 77, on which I now live in a tiny home community–so this all felt fated. I reached out to the organizers and introduced myself as a transpersonal guide. I offered to provide support to individuals at the festival. I’d set up a chill out tent, a sort of art installation sacred space, and help tend the good vibes. And this event was scheduled to happen the weekend before the Lion’s Gate on August 8, an energetic portal that occurs every August when Sirius, the spiritual north star in Canus Major, aligns with the Sun in Leo and Earth. It’s a staircase to ascension if you’re plugged in to the energy.
The higher self is very much being tapped by the collective energy currently running through Earth right now in Lion’s Gate portal—one might say, the higher unconscious (on a personal level), something my mentor psychosynthesis psychotherapist Dr. Richard Schaub says is accessible in the upper realm of the psyche, is the realm through which the intuitions from the higher self arrive. Of course, “higher unconscious” and “lower unconscious” are only arbitrary descriptions. Higher is equated with visions and messages from what is in the realms beyond us. Lower is equated with the shadow that is repressed, whether from our individual and current lifetime or the collective and ancestral lifetimes that we carry in our body. Each contain pieces of the human experience that we must integrate into our personality so that we are most present in the moment.
Sometimes festivals like Awakenus are full of people tripping their faces off on plant medicine or pharmaceutical drugs. Maybe some are looking to convene with the higher unconscious, escape the Matrix and eject from the default world (aka dumpsterfire reality). Maybe some have experiences, as their subconscious ruptures and gives the gifts of darkness and demons, which must emerge and be witnessed and be consciously held so the energy can dis-integrate and the person can recover that piece of their power. Be led by intuition or be led by freeing yourself from unconscious patterns.
And other times, festivals like this are completely sober spaces. I like those the best. I’ve chosen and lived a sober lifestyle for years now. This has to do with my mental health—it’s best when I am sober—and my physical health, too. I can’t fully embody inner transformation when I am not fully embodied.
Dr. Schaub and I talk about this, the access to the higher and lower unconscious realms through substance or organic experiences. Immersive, super stimulating environments like festivals are meant to entice a sensory overload so that you can go out of your mind. The drugs are direct-connects to the higher and lower unconsciousness that contain material we seek to commune with. But the work of integrating what emerges, what we tap into, can only meaningfully be integrated while sober. The higher and lower unconsciousness can be accessed without drugs—it takes a lot more time and inner work. Breathing techniques, meditation, and somatic practices can take you there. And sometimes, the emergence happens spontaneously. Regardless of the path, the integration must happen with intention and full embodiment.
Awakenus Festival, like many others, is set up with a transformational culture. There were opportunities to have social impact (a bin was set up to collect food for a local soup kitchen and a note was made in the introductory email about bringing reusable containers). There is a focus on community—community dinners, community walks, even community sharing happening at tables or piles, places strategically throughout the grounds. One table was full of rick rack–like period pads, costume jewelry and Mardi Gras beads. As I stopped to look, a woman called out: “Help me declutter my apartment!”
My love for festival free-for-all spaces comes out of my love of rave culture and the up-all-night dancing in wild club outfits. I was immersed in the scene in London, England in 2000 while I was attending an international university there. The ability of music and a dancefloor to bring people together left a deep impression on me. The sensory overload took me out of my mind, but I didn’t have the integration skills I have now.
Later, I sought out ecstatic dance once I had added a yoga practice and a spiritual framework to my own self care. Admittedly, I’ve always worn gawdy and loud outfits as normal day-to-day wear. The wild colors, plastic neon lights embedded into shirts, barely there spandex onesies dubbed as “festival gear” passes as normal for me, but it’s nice to be surrounded by others who feel like they can let loose, too. Admittedly, it is precisely why festivals are sacred spaces: all societal norms are off. Festivals are a place to explore, indulge, try and see who you are on the other side—be it with drugs, or sober, or through the eclectic people you meet and art you are exposed to.
As I approached the massive hill to Bohamia, I looked up and said, “Ain’t no fucking way.” This felt like the first test. I was still learning to find my confidence to tow my trailer. The first challenge was to get to the festival by going up a steep and rutted road paved partially with gravel. I took deep breaths and with the encouragement of two festival organizers who were perched at the gate, I put my truck into four-wheel drive low and pressed the gas. I kept speed so I would keep the momentum and not roll backward. I was driving up a metaphorical mountain, too, because my higher self had called me to this event and I couldn’t shake the notion that something was there for me to find. Something was emerging. My higher self had led me this far. So I had to get up the mountain, and I did.
There was a significant thunderstorm the afternoon of the first day when I was due to arrive and that delayed me from setting up my tent. There was another the next morning, but I comfortably laid in my bed in my trailer and watched the rain pelt the tree leaves. I felt bad for the folx in tents peppered across the property. When I walked up to the main area, I passed wooden fences strewn with clothes and tent pieces drying in the afternoon sun. Most of the fun of a festival is had in the tent camps that spring up. Years ago, while attending Beloved, a renowned transformational festival on the west coast, I unzipped my tent that had been set up at night and saw in the dawn light a sea of a few hundred tents that contained thousands of people sleeping (or recently returning). The isolation of that festival (we had to be bused in due to the difficult accessibility of the forest) made the container (the way the festival was experienced) a tight one. We were at a secluded location and nearly unable to leave (unless an emergency arose). I think that is what people seek especially in places like Burning Man, the accessibility of the default (outer world) to breach the experience makes it more special. It’s a firewall against societal norms.
I couldn’t help but reflect on how they followed me here. I “went extra” as a few people noted by bringing my trailer. It was an inadvertent status flex. It kept me separate from the rest of the festival. I had parked behind a stage and I enjoyed my air conditioner that didn’t completely drown out the loud and continuous psytrance that played for a few days straight. And the tent that I had set up in my chill-out space had only trickles of visitors, so I spent a lot of time roaming and reflecting. I felt myself going into psychology-mode, discerning what each person might be taking and where they might be in inner or outer space. I set up writing prompts to circulate on the digital frame next to the altar in my chill-out tent: The 8/8 portal is open. Do you step through? A new timeline has arrived. Do you trust it? No going back. Can you leave it all behind?
I thought of the higher and lower unconsciousnesses that were rupturing in each and every person as they stayed in this crucible of transformation created by likeminded community, art, music, and substances. I hoped the people felt the transformation and I waited eagerly for people to talk about it.
But no one did. And I didn’t know why.
At the end of each night I retreated to my comfortable trailer and wondered how I had gone wrong. It wasn’t the experience I thought I would have, the communal oohing and ahhing and fascination with every piece of every offering at the festival. I wondered where I had missed messages or even put too many expectations into my own mind. This was supposed to be an epic return to post-pandemic normal. This was supposed to be affirming of my decision to stay in Alabama. As the days turned into nights, all I could think about was going home and hanging with my dog and a book in the quiet of my lot on the river.
I reached out to a colleague, one who has been with me on my psychosynthesis course for the past two years.
“Am I doing something wrong? I’m here but I’m not. I can’t even get myself to dance into the wee hours of the night. I don’t know who I am.”
“You’ve changed,” was her reply. “You’re an academic now.”
Her response shook me to the core. This was a new timeline. If I thought about who I was in the past, I was someone who was hoping for more inner peace, a better world, something. But I always envisioned my personality staying the same. My needs and behaviors would stay the same. And, what she did for me, I was intending to do for others. But those folx weren’t there yet. You can’t force transformation. It comes in your own time with your own calling.
When I attended these festivals prior to the pandemic, I was lost inside myself and I looked for these gatherings to be lost in the community. I wanted to wander aimlessly and leave everything to chance—have adventures and make tiny missions like finding water, or a glow-in-the-dark bracelet, or the place where the music sounded the best. It was escapism from the default world, but it was also a way to play with reality.
“But I feel bad I’m not even joining for community meals. I have food with me and I’d rather prepare something nourishing.”
Later, as I walked through the barn, an area of communal food and art and exchange, I saw someone picking through food left on a counter. I knew that the price of the festival was steep and, for some, it meant choosing the lowest tier and scavenging for food. Waiting for food to show up.
If finding what reality would throw at me was my version of adventure for the festivals, someone else’s was finding basic needs through charity and intentional giving.
I made sure to bring a few cans of soup, bags of crisps, and other packages of food to the communal kitchen the next day.
I woke up at 6 am on the last day to a group rendition of the Radiohead song “I’m a freak (you’re so fucking special)” belted out by a few stragglers at the stage behind my camper. I smiled before I opened my eyes because I instantly recalled many times doing the same thing—finding the angst that I could only express in community in a sacred space on a dancefloor. Singing together like it was the last night of our lives. Lamenting that it was all coming to an end. A little while later, I made my way up to the area by my chill-out tent to start to break it down. There was a man with straggly green hair and a filthy t-shirt and ripped cargo pants. His eyes were wide and his pupils were dilated. I approached quietly but he saw me and immediately said: “You guys did an amazing job. I got here last night and it was my first festival. This was life-changing.” I smiled and nodded and went to my tent to start the break down. He stood, turning in circles looking around for about ten minutes then disappeared from my line of sight. I was him in some lifetime far, far away. But the gift that I received in this one, right then, from my higher self was that I could let that seeker go. I didn’t need to embody her anymore.
I have completed a significant portion of my masters and I look forward to doing a lot more reading and writing for my thesis. I have a lot of thoughts around the lower and higher unconscious to unpack with my colleagues, those of us who have a vested interest in mapping the landscape—not just taking it for a joyride. Mostly, I have a lot to tell myself to let go of who I was, that the years of inner work and self care really had accumulated to something, and that it was okay to grow.
There was indeed a portal that opened, and I stepped through, and I am leaving a lot of the past behind. I am consciously returning to the default world of a weathered traveler so that when someone is ready to talk about these transpersonal states in a structured setting, how they can integrate what they find, I am there. And these micro-experiences of society as it could be, and how we might all find our own adventures and twists of reality fueled by art and music and [insert whatever here], so that the world does actually change.
The reason I love transpersonal psychology is that it shows more than anything that mental health is an outside (not solely inside) job. Achieving mental health starts with asking the question “Who are you?”, and to that, acknowledging how it feels to be that person inside and outside of social norms. Who is that person in the world? Make the questions portals for truth, marking initiations into worlds within yourself, and following the higher self there. See what you find. That’s the calling.
There’s a lot here in Alabama that supports my career growth, especially education opportunities and the quality of living (read: in nature) that supports my own mental and physical health. I like being earthy. I like living in the middle of nowhere. I enjoy having my global reach through the internet while I am firmly rooted here. It’s very quiet and admittedly humble as I choose to live in a trailer versus a house. One person’s dream is another person’s nightmare, and vice versa. I imagine many folx would abhor a transformational fest like others would eschew living in a trailer. And I don’t need any other validation than what I have in my body felt clear as day.
I made it back down the hill from Bohamia, towed 45 minutes home, and was greeted by many folx in the tiny home community I live in. It occurred to me how much festival life has influenced my real-life living situation. It’s a more grown-up version. All of us have chosen to live here for different reasons. I just want to be as close to Earth as possible. Living in a house (or apartment) is too far removed. I like to take my hula hoops to the river and throw them around to my curated EDM selection (on wireless headphones to keep the quiet). And no one flinches when I walk around in my bathing suits and boots. It is, in a way, a successful social experiment. And that is the ethos of transformational festivals. I decided I had stepped through the Lion’s Gate, but I found something much more down to Earth on the other side.
As I was pulling in, the man who agreed to back my trailer into my lot was on his way to do laundry in the communal building. Another woman who was watching my dog was away at church but had been in touch with a neighbor who would let my eager dog out. I got settled in and realized I was out of coffee creamer. I asked her for some and she also gave me a big salad to eat.
“You missed out on dinner last night! A bunch of us were hanging out,” said the 50-something neighbor.
“Next time,” I said, smiling. My higher self led me here and I no longer doubt my place or new role in my life, and I step into it willingly. I leave the past behind. And there was no need to go out of my mind; I had explored that plenty of times before. What I needed was the quiet to integrate what I had found.
Hi there! Thanks for reading. I’m a writer, editor, and transpersonal guide who works with GenXers and Millennials on their journey of self exploration so they can understand themselves better and discover their self-care culture that brings them inner peace.
All of this, too–the process of self exploration and the way culture affects us–is my reason for living. I write in nonfiction and creative nonfiction forms on these topics. I invite you to read my blog, The Conversation.
And, I deal with the deep stuff–what we do when we recall past life experiences; how we engage the archetypal resonance of embodied experience; when to call the “weird stuff” you’re experiencing a spiritual awakening and when to call a mental healthcare practitioner.
I’ve got so much to say. This is my soul’s work.
- If you are a mental healthcare professional who would like to work with me on your journey of self exploration through Planet Dust Enterprises, go here.
- If you are interested in my work with language and changing the mental healthcare narrative through transpersonal psychology, I invite you to read the curated pieces from my portfolio that are on this website and reach out.
BTW: I love tattoos and coffee.
My writing explores embodied transpersonal psychology. That is, seeing the world and the mind as multidimensional is my point of view.
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