by Jonathan Nicholas
“Shambhala is going to chew you up and swallow you whole.” These are the words of Darryl, who then removed his beanie to reveal a full-head of hair dyed like the colours of the rainbow. He was in his 50s and rambunctious, like a walking, talking caricature mascot for Skittles dipped in LSD. This was in 2015, and it was my first journey onto the farm. Darryl had picked up a friend and I just outside of Castlegar after our vehicle went kaputz, forcing us to hitch our thumbs in hopes of catching the eye of a friendly stranger. I had never experienced this before. Darryl was right, Shambhala did chew me up and swallow me whole. And it did so again every subsequent year that followed.
It’s almost become a cliche to say that Shambhala has changed your life, yet every year a new crop of Shamby virgins get infused with the outlandishly positive magic held within these grounds, left feeling invigorated and inspired to begin a new chapter. They’ll get lost in the space-like trippiness of Fractal Forest, or immersed in the bass-heavy wubs of the jungle-esque Village. Some people prefer to get weird at the Amphitheatre while the Pagoda has bouncier tastes. And who could forget the hippie-flipped Grove, with its air doused in the succulent aromas of incense and DMT.
The highlight performance for me was KOAN Sound at the Pagoda. The U.K. duo enlightened us with chill euphoria, a psychedelic set that, to me, had an almost Pink Floydian atmosphere. I was entranced.
But music is only a small fraction of the Shambhala experience. Some of it is about simply taking in the environment. A larger portion is about the people around you. Spending time with friends, making new ones. I’ve met a heap of great people this year, including a beautiful girl who exhaled intimate waves that seemingly weren’t meant to manifest beyond our flirtatious connection. You’ll understand why later on.
Equally as important, Shambhala is about introspection. Every year seems to fine tune your views of yourself. You try new things, meet new people, and every year is a journey of its own. There is a through-line on what the festival stands for, yet each and every single experience is unique to the perspective of the individual having it. I came out of this year feeling refreshed, eager, and a little more in-tune with myself and the directions I’d like to further explore along this winding, rocky road we call life. I got home feeling like I was born anew, but a lot of it had to do with reasons you may not expect.
Alongside the potent, colourful vibrancies Shambhala is known for, I had subjected myself to a psychedelically enhanced internal tug of war between mind, body, and soul, a see-saw of sky-soaring highs and dirt-plummeting lows. One minute I was the best possible version of myself, then suddenly there were points where I had completely shrunk into a microscopic germ of poor potential. At times I felt lost, confused, unable to decipher my true sense of being from the incoherent basket case that suffocated my greater senses with a plastic bag of self-doubt. These feelings are nothing new, but the intensity was heightened far beyond mindful control. I came face to face with my inner turmoils, attacked by the insecurities and anxieties I’ve kept bottled deep within an otherwise mostly positive exterior. This was my fourth Shambhala and, for the first time in my life, I had walked along the jagged edge of ego death.
Let me make this clear, this is in no way a representation of the Shambhala experience as a whole. The energy of the festival is fully positive, and it is placed on this Earth for the sole purpose of human connection and happiness for its attendees.The festival has even created safety zones and precautions like the Sanctuary, the Women’s Only safe-space, and ANKORS drug testing facility to make sure everyone is well-cared for. Shambhala is full of bright colours, interesting characters, beautiful people, and unique trinkets sprinkled throughout the grounds to entice you. Of my four years, this was the first time I’ve spun completely out of mental control in such a way, and it was all a result of my own doing. I launched myself into a copious paranoia influenced by the gluttonous ingestion of substances including uppers, downers, dissociatives and psychedelics. A self-inflicted purge of my being.
During my downward spiral, friends and friendly strangers took the time to sit and chat with me, listening to my nonsensical ramblings as I tried to piece together what was happening. Even through the kind gestures of giving me their time, I couldn’t help but feel like everyone I talked to was saying one thing, but trying to subconsciously convey another, usually in a negative light. I read too deeply into behaviours and dialects, picking subtextual connections out of thin air, shrouding myself in dread. This happened with literally everyone I came in contact with, even my own friends. I was spinning in a bad-trip whirlwind. It was a regretful state of mind as, for the most part, I was receiving nothing but love from those trying to ease me back to serenity, but couldn’t properly accept it.
But what happened is not what is important. What is important is what I learned. I made some silly decisions, I was trapped in internal discomfort, and, for some brief periods, I had completely lost touch with who I am and what I am about. I was a manic roller-coaster that accelerated between cool and cringe, my internal-dialogues changing from bright to dark like a setting sun. For me, every Shambhala is a lesson, and that lesson is delivered to you in a way that will stick. It was a hard lesson at times, but it was what I needed. And for that, I am grateful.
I came home from a festival with a lone, open notebook left on my desk. “What did you learn?” was inscribed with blue ink at the top of the page. I jotted down bulletpoints, trying to spill everything out while it was still fresh. This is what I’ve learned.
The Importance of Those Around You
When I first stepped onto the farm on Thursday night, I was showered with love from my friends at camp, most of which are from Colorado. I met the Colorado fam at my first Shambhala, via an introduction from one of my best friends in the entire world, who inspired me to come to the festival. It was instant vibes all around, and we have been camping together every year since. I got to know new additions to the crew, an animal control worker,, a member of the punk rock band called the Swindlin’ Hearts, and the photographer who grasped my romantic interest, she was my Shamby-crush. Something tells me for the first bit of the festival, I may have possibly-kinda been hers too. Too bad I was too far gone to properly pick up some of the things she was putting down.
In my psychedelic haze I was saved by two homies, who were aware of my state of insanity. One shared a tale of his own traumatic psychedelic experience, showing me that I was not alone when it comes to psychoactive paranoia. We spent some time at the Grove watching J:Kenzo, and my anxieties began to fade for a short period. The mental-black did return after awhile, but it is what it is. I was in a loop. Still cannot thank the boys enough for trying to chill me out, and taking care of me while I tried to swim my way out of the trippy mental abyss.
At another point in the festival, I was overwhelmed with this strange feeling that I, for some reason, sort of owed the group for letting me be a part of it. In my unconventional state of mind I felt I could pay my dues by buying everyone drugs. The substance of choice was one I knew many people at camp liked, but I personally didn’t do. I found myself seeking out dealers, eventually scheduling to meet one back at camp to make a transaction. I sat in the dark, by myself, wondering why I was waiting to buy party favours I wasn’t sure I’d wanna partake in. Then another friend from camp rolled up to smoke some weed and I shared my headspace. He assured I didn’t need to feel like I owe anyone anything, and I was already a welcomed part of the gang. He also made a point to say that even if this was the case, I shouldn’t be going out of the way to do things I don’t enjoy just to make other people happy. This was a turning point for me, as I do tend to try to be a people pleaser, even if it’s against my own desires. Dude, you are a homie, and this small conversation we had is gonna stick with me for a long time.
I remember getting into deep conversation about so many things with so many people. Talking about obscure horror movies, rating all-time classic films, conspiracy theories, changing jobs from the banking industry to the weed industry. I was shocked to find out one of the girls at camp took part in the Boston Marathon during it’s bombing in 2013. Much respect to her for being as strong and cool as she is after something like that. And no one can ever forget the unleashing of “the Cam” on the dancefloor. So many people, so many conversations. It’s funny to think about now, but there were still so many great and positive experiences surrounding my patches of weirdness.
If you’re going to party hard, do it safely, and with mindfulness. Keep track of what and how many substances you’re putting in your body, and make sure to properly eat and hydrate. That’s another lesson I’m taking into next year. If you’re gonna supply yourself from an unknown source, make sure to get your product tested at ANKORS. It’s free, and there is no judgement. Better safe than sorry, especially in this day and age.
People are important, and, during a time where human connection is getting lost, Shambhala is the perfect place to interact with loving strangers. It’s a place where you can literally walk up to anyone, to talk about anything, and share an exchange of energies.
Everyone and everything that crosses your personal universe is there for a reason. It’s your choice on how to interact with it. What you put out is what you take in, so send vibrations that match how you want to feel on the inside. The spreading of positive vibes will take you, and those around you, a long way so Instill those good feelings into others. We are the masters of our own destiny, and the universe will bend to what you need and what you deserve. Nothing is forever, so enjoy what comes while it’s here. Take control of your life. It’s ok to let yourself go, but try not to lose your sense of being in the process. Tap into your greatest desires, and try to manifest them through focus, hard work, and staying true to yourself. Everything is a lesson, and the toughest ones will thicken your skin.
Shoutout to Camp Lurk for treating me with so much love during my lowest points. I don’t think this year was a great representation of who I am or want to be, but you all still gave me love and reassurance even when I felt the world was against me. I want to spend more time at the stages with you next year, one of my biggest follies was getting too liquored on Sunday and passing out at 7pm. Missed a final day of lurking with the fam cause of that. Ever since the end of this festival, I have been nothing but pumped to grow from the experience, and do things the right way next year.
Also wanted to shoutout all the peeps I met on the Queen City charter busses, both to and from the festival. It was great talking to all of you, and you made the long-trips flow smoothly, keeping things entertaining. Also wanted to share my love to all the friendly strangers I met along the way, and I thank you our brief time shared. I hope everyone has an amazing year, and I hope our paths may cross again. But if they don’t, I wish you the best in personal growth.
Writing this piece had a rocky start, and has actually been one of the most long and difficult ones I’ve ever done. But over the month of me looking at it, digging deeper, seeing a broader perspective, and paying attention to my own behaviours a month out of the festival, I can see now that the craziness may have instigated a blooming. Like acting out my inner-anxieties helped them escape my body. I am not sure if I’m completely washed of insecurities, but I am much quicker to catch myself in negative thought and I’ve been feeling a lot more carefree towards what others MAY be thinking of me. I’m feeling a lot more open to just doing what I wanna do, without fear of failure or judgement. Just thinking about it is giving my body this refreshing feeling, I have goosebumps.
That’s it from me. Tickets for Shambhala 2019 are now on sale. If you haven’t experienced the festival, take the leap. It’s one of the most unique times you’ll ever have. Just like Darryl said, it will chew you up and swallow you whole. I’ll be there, and I hope to see you.Shambhala