Music festivals get a bad rap. They’re exclusively for debaucherous, druggy, alcoholic, celebrity-wannabe, spray-tanned, trust-fund, scenesters, who most likely can’t even name one of the bands playing that day...or at least that’s what the Buzzfeed list and semi-sophisticated-Salon-snark-piece would have you believe.
But I love going to music festivals--I just got back from Coachella--and besides my fondness for beer (I didn't find the IPA until the last day, for shame), I can't be categorized by any of those Buzzfeed music festival memes. That's not because I’m an exception to the rule, it's because I am the rule. Even if there are elements of that scene at a music festival, there are also a million other much more powerful elements as well. These are the elements that keep me coming back, and the biggest element for me is mindfulness.
When you think of Coachella I’m sure the last thing you think of is mindfulness. It’s not as if everyone sits in the middle of the Empire Polo fields meditating silently over the three-day weekend. But as regular readers of the blog already know, I tend to find mindfulness in the darndest things.
~~What if mindfulness was found in a ear-pluggingly loud place, where the noise overruns your mind leaving you no other option but to be present.
~~What if mindfulness was a moment in a massive crowd, freeing you to simultaneously lose and find yourself.
~~What if mindfulness was conjured through connection, sharing a series of meaningful experiences with your closest friends.
~~What if mindfulness was discovered through random interaction, encountering something as simple as a smile from the unknown passerby.
~~What if mindfulness was an inspiration, grown over a series of passionate musical crescendos and poetically profound lyrics.
~~What if mindfulness was the surprise of feeling so minuscule at the grandiosity of it all, and by proxy, in the grand scheme of life.
There are a hundred opportunities for mindfulness at a modern music festival, and it's because the necessity for these real life communal experiences are ingrained in our DNA. Music, friendship, entertainment, and fellowship all take us away from the anxiety of life. It's an ancient method of relieving stress and it still moves us to this day, no matter how many burdensome digital distractions we chain to our modern psyche.
Beyond the scene or the beer garden, a music festival is a place where people choose to put down their phones (for the most part) and participate in a real life adventure with thousands of companions and comrades. So no matter what you've heard, the real drug of choice at Coachella is mindfulness, and every year when it’s done I can’t wait to go back for another dose.
Don't just face your fears, embrace your fears.
Taking a chance, putting yourself out there, doing that one thing that sends shivers down your spine, it’s risky. Personally, I can't stand heights. Just being near a sudden drop in elevation, be it a stairwell or the top of Yosemite Falls, turns my hands into puddles and my legs into noodles. I could be behind 6 feet behind a chain link fence and tethered to a cable, and still the fear of death strikes me.
But there’s a wealth of opportunity for personal growth that comes from tackling our trepidation. Diving into the complicated extremities in life is how we become better people.
The way I see it, you can reach two outcomes after facing a fear:
This applies just as much to something as basic as a fear of heights, as it applies to those big life decisions, like career and commitment.
When we take a risk and fail, it’s easy to become discouraged, to give up. But that is a reaction we have chosen. Our reaction to everything in life is up to us.
We can choose to embrace our fears, get out of our comfort zone, take the risks that expand our possibilities, and react to failures as life lessons.
It’s up to us to embrace our fears.
To take a leap of faith expands our possibilities.
To view our failures as inspiration.
With risk always comes reward. Always.
Change your mindset and collect the bounty.
Once in awhile, more and more lately, I find myself reading the comments.
I know, rookie move, especially if you’re someone making a brave attempt to find peace in today’s convoluted digital world. We are all aware that the comments, the trolls that populate them, and the attempts at righteous persuasion that unwittingly feed those trolls, are the landfills of the Internet. It’s where good ideas get flogged to death and bad ideas spread like the zika virus.
So why do I keep getting drawn into that mess? It's all due to that quadrennial tradition known as the American presidential election. In this digital age, the traditional ruthlessness of politics has gotten worse, and it's too bad, because the decision we're debating is more important than ever.
My quest: give a damn about politics because I know the consequences are major, but stay mindful in the process. It’s a tall order, I know.
My friends, welcome to the Great Election Hurricane of 2016. The river of opinions has swelled for months now. What started as trickle of ideas and endorsements has become an incessant downpour of rants, a cascade of comment wars, and a deluge of slant pieces and snark memes. The rising tide of anger and frustration inevitably breaks the levee--again--impassioning friends to turn on one another, to toss out vicious insults, and level infantile cries of ignorance toward anyone who dares to challenge their preconceived notions.
I'm no noob, I know the game of politics is complex and messy. Possibly little known fact to many readers of this blog, but I hold a master's degree in public policy and I worked in political advocacy for years. Other than mindfulness and nature, politicking is my bread and butter. So I've watched and studied this sport for decades, observing the stick-to-the-issues idealists, the nothing-but-smear-campaign demagogues, and every candidate in between.
I'm also acutely aware of just how important all this is. It's a vital part of democracy that we have different ideas and debate them heartily. More than that, it's absolutely necessary that all of us actively participate in our political process, because the decisions our leaders make are often the difference between life and death.
But as much as I want to engage this critical pursuit, I also don’t want to engage myself into insanity.
To me, this year feels starkly different than elections of the past. The age of social media and the lack of mindfulness it provokes has made for a perfect storm of political aggravation. This digital tempest of competition inevitably leads to a slew of unmindful behavior. So how do we calm the storm? How do we stay mindful within the whirlwind election season?
In this new election age, we must strive to become mindful advocates.
Someone who listens to different opinions.
Someone who stays true to themselves without becoming self-righteous.
Someone who leads by example instead of prescription.
Someone who stays respectful in the face of disagreement.
Someone who doesn't always have to be right.
Someone who turns the other cheek instead of responding with a taunt.
And none of that is easy, trust me I know. Go to the Facebook page of any presidential candidate and (just for research) read the comments. There's a flood of rage out there overwhelming the dam of rational sanity--opinions stated as facts, opinions becoming insults, opinions inciting outrage. When I see this, I start to get outraged myself.
Sometimes my own opinion has lead me to waste a good hour formulating a comment that I don't actually end up posting. Sometimes I see friends who agree on the need for progress toward a fair and just world, belittle each other over a slight disagreement on how we achieve that progress. Sometimes I see caring Americans who agree that we want to better our nation, level vile insults at each other because they disagree on the definition of “better.” Usually at the end of a day I’m left dispirited by it all, exhausted by all the time I’ve wasted watching and/or participating in it, saddened by the savagery I’ve seen it foster.
But being a mindful advocate means we still participate---we don’t give up our identity or passion, we don't stop advocating for our candidate, and we always speak up to injustice. We just do all that with civility and respect.
And we do so because we are at a crucial time in our civilization.
Historically, the debate of ideas in politics has never been simple or easy. Neither the ancient Greeks nor our founding fathers pulled any punches. The liberal and the conservative side of our democracy, today’s Democrats and Republicans, have always been at odds. At one point this conflict even led us to civil war. But most of the time, when push came to shove, our leaders compromised and worked together for the good of the country.
Today the decisions we make as voters, and by proxy the leaders we choose, go even further and have the potential to affect the good and bad of the entire world, be it poverty, war, or environmental calamity. It behooves us to look toward our deep commonalities and to nobly convince others of our ideas for change rather than resort to attacks, lies, and conspiracy theories. When we treat our fellow man with respect not just to have a better shot at changing minds, but to have a better shot at saving our planet from uncertain doom.
So I pledge to be a mindful advocate and an activist for good.
To trumpet my beliefs without tearing others' down.
To debate at the appropriate time, but do so with respect.
To speak to those I encounter as if they were real people instead faceless digital avatars.
To accept that we can differ on the policy but still agree on the end goal.
To inspire rather than incite.
To love rather than lash out.
To show by my example that, in this day and age, such civility is even possible.
This is how we make America great again. This is how we save the world. This is how you convince people to vote for your candidate. This is the way of the mindful advocate.