HOOKAHVILLE 2001: Intentional Serenity in O HI O|
Arriving in Columbus Ohio I was suddenly struck by the notion that I had no real geographic conception of where I was. That sort of realization is analogous to the ego stripping experience of a psychedelic trip. If you don't quite know the territory...just go with the flow.
Rick and Sheelo were the first people to greet us. By amazing synchronicity, involving accidentally missed planes and transportation communication, HKN (being the wind and I) ended up in the vehicle with some of our entheogenic elders. Conversation immediately turned to our life's work which is the harmonic integration of altered states of consciousness into the new culture forming in our world. Our conversation in the airport was a perfect prophecy of what we were to encounter at Hookahville where we were scheduled to set up a "serenity tent". Our driver and host was Donny who has been in the psychedelic scene for many years. He set the stage for us in terms of what we could expect.
"Well...if it rains attendance might be lower, but expect somewhere between 20 and 30,000 kids. "
We come from a small community in BC where our events might max out at 500. This was to be a deep experience in American counterculture.
We arrived on the site during the soundcheck for the band which was hosting the event. A well known psychedelic jam group who organize a couple of crazy weekends a year for people ranging in age from about 13-60 but average attendance was teens and early twenties.
Our serenity crew consisted of members of Dancesafe and Students for a sensible drug policy. These are the most widely known drug policy movers and shakers in the country who represent youth and young people. HKN saw many parallels with their work and our own here as acting as advocates for safer environments for altered sates and cognitive liberty. Simply put, we knew almost everyone coming to Hookahville was going to high on something, so we wanted to set up a safe zone, a still zone and a place where everyone cared deeply about the state of mind they were in. Tripping out was OK, because we'd been there and we knew that sometimes all that's necessary is a calm place to just be.
Psychedelic therapy and advocacy seems necessary in these times. 40 years since the psychedelic revolution began and we still operate outside of the law as harm reducers. The number of ingesting individuals increases daily and the national attitude is still a fear based "just say no". Clearly 30,000 Hookahville participants were finding that option irrelevant. They'd already said yes.
Our initial meetings as psychedelic mission control, or the serene squad, were to talk a bit about the need for what we were doing and how it would fit in with the existing security structure of the event: How were we to interact with security. police and first aid crews in a symbiotic way. We were instructed that our powers were relatively small legally and that we were basically just there to talk with people. For us, this was all that was necessary. Hopefully we could end up as the difference between being strapped down to a stretcher or ending up in jail. We were cautioned to be wary of violence and we were prepared.
Perhaps the serenity metaphor is really the most apt to explain the unfolding weekend as the kids arrived. Most were carrying tents and beer, which flowed freely over the whole site. Dancesafe immediately set up Ecstasy testing equipment. They instantly began to test multiple different types of pills. Dancesafe can only tell you the presence of certain chemical formulas within the pill. They immediately set up a list of those pills which absolutely did not contain MDMA. This is an immediate and necessary step in harm reduction. Allowing participants knowledge of what they are taking can mean the difference between an ecstatic encounter or a psychotic episode. First level of psychedelic serenity being "know your substances".
In a tent village of thousands of drug ingesting individuals there is a massiv e amount of psychic vibration. During the day this energy is unified and focussed through the music. A collective and collaborative environment is encouraged when trippers can explore through dance and sound. The bands know this and provide ever increasingly impressive shows to facilitate deep shared experiences. Our work truly began when the music stopped and those united individuals were again left without a common unifying thread. 11:00pm to 11:00am was the time when confusion and chaos began to creep.
The general atmosphere was one of heroic dosages on almost every available substance. Most prolific were LSD, MDMA, Marijuana, Beer and tobacco. These were all being sold and ingested openly. There was a definitely self reflexive drug culture occurring in which the unified field was created by everyone's common point of reference: what drugs they were on, how to find them, who to do them with. Undeniably there is a psychedelic sub-culture which is grasping for a sense of meaning and belonging thru altered states of consciousness. The serenity tent was one of the most evolutionary aspects of this event in that it offered a creative option of exploration for those in attendance.
We set up the tent as comfortably as possible. We had a massage table and a couple of foamy mattresses and blankets for anyone who needed to sleep or relax. Sandra made creative lampshades to minimize the bright light and various pads of paper and pens were placed on a table, along with a variety of psychedelic literature. The next level of our work was represented in the setting we created for those undergoing challenging experiences. Hedonic engineering for the environment. Our aim was to provide a comfortable yet potentially stimulating space for anyone who happened to walk in. The serenity tent was not necessarily restricted to distressed trippers, but also was open to those who simply wandered in and found something different to do besides walk around the party and take drugs.
There were a few people who were brought to us from the first aid tent. The majority of these individuals were confused and disoriented and understandably unable to find their tents in the sea of campers. Some had ingested intense amounts of psychedelics and were at first unable to communicate effectively through words. With these people we simply remained with them and ensured that they felt safe and comfortable to stay as long as they liked.
Others were needing to talk or discuss where they were at. This is where appreciative inquiry and listening skills became key harm reduction components. Support for the trippers sate of mind means influencing it as little as possible with interpretations or ultimatums. The most effective technique is to let the individual determine the direction of the conversation. Questions can be asked, but direction of meaning should be avoided.
This means listening carefully to where the individual is going. Dangerous assumptions made by the tripper can be questioned, but not dismissed. The main aim is to allow the individual to have the experience as freely as possible. In this way we are not necessarily there to even calm them down, but to allow them a safe place to experience their trip. Support is perhaps the best term to describe this.
Rick and Sheelo are perhaps qualified to jump to the next level of this work. Psychedelic therapy can work to help those who are having extremely difficult experiences or are searching and asking for help and guidance. The first visit to the tent was not someone who had taken LSD that day, but someone who had a few years ago and had not properly processed the experience. Rick and Sheelo worked with him to re:experience and work through some of the lingering issues and the subsequent psychic discomfort he had been feeling ever since. This work is pro-active and can even be retro-active in helping to heal thought and psychic patterns of the past.
Sunday's Holotropic breathwork workshop provided a practical application for achieving psychedelic states through intentional breath. This is yet another and perhaps meta-level of the harm reduction approach to managing altered states. Intentional working to find other methods of achieving altered states of awareness is an active solution to integration of non-ordinary states of consciousness with our everyday lives. This field also provides a legitimate means of investigating the importance of such states. The breathwork is like a bridge between the world of entheogens and the "straight" world. It may very well act as a skill technique for navigating the entheogenic experience as well. I chose to remain drug free for this investigation in order to evaluate its efficacy as tool for investigation.
Holotropic breathwork was the highlight of this weekend for me. Not only did I experience pleasant sensations of floating and flying, but increased my understanding of the connection of breath to spirit, life force and thought. The relatively unstructured technique focusses on deep and quick breathing, almost hyperventilating, and continually returning the consciousness to this process. All expressions are allowed. This included, for some, screaming, crying, hysterical laughter and movement. For me it was a reminder of mediation and awareness of the simplest aspects of our being. I walked back to the serenity tent with a fresh vigor and a clearer sense of what I was doing at Hookahville.
The next level of the Serenity tent idea, is to take it to as many different events as possible. Exposure of people to positive and expansive ideas of entheogenic evolution allows us to grow stronger as a community of people who choose to use or merely support those views. Perhaps we can be the ones who host the entire event and provide the atmosphere of the whole production. Harm reduction can be creative in this way by setting up the environment for the maximum possible exposure to evolutionary thought. Art is to be encouraged as healthy expression and increased levels of interaction amongst trippers will help us all to discover why we all gather to celebrate and take these substances. This is the common grounding effect.
We formulated a plan to take the idea to burning man next year. This environment will not only enable us to perform our task as a chill out serene space, but will be in a more conducive environment to creative inspiration for where we are headed with our dreams and aspirations. This psychedelic serenity work is not only for us to provide for others, but a learning experience where we ourselves discover meaning and wonder in our lives, This is a clear mission statement for the crew.
An underestimated yet integral component to this work is its political value. By taking this altruistic path of care providing we advocate for a type of tolerance and understanding that paves inroads for change in drug policy. Our integration with police, security, and first aid builds a bridge between those who are using and those who are against their usage. We model a type of responsible lifestyle and intentional ingestion which can be understood by those who do not use and have a difficult time relating to the experience. This involves intelligent dialog, media savvy, research, reporting and larger level networking.
As we departed for the airport in a crammed Toyota van, I contemplated the events and the experience as if outside myself and hovering over the site looking down at the festival as a whole entity. I imagined the history of the site, an ancient first nations burial site and how there once were gatherings of teepees where the high tech camping domes now sat. I watched the milling about of the participants, looking for something in each other, just having fun or trying to. I floated up past the space and saw Columbus, a city of 3 million people and even further up the whole landscape of Ohio. Here everyone was, gathering to celebrate living and I looked at our little serenity tent which acted like a lighthouse and beacon for intentional awareness and evolution. Back in the van looking around at all of us who had shared the serenity trip, knowing that we were all learning, that Rick was asleep exhausted in the front seat like he'd seen it all for years and Sandra looking like the elvin forest form ready to return to the trees ... i felt like we had made a change, if not a major one, one at least that would reverberate through our communities. Live and learn. Harm none. Seemed like a huge responsibility looking down from the plane, but what a way to spend a lifetime.