Tag Archives: spirituality

Total solar eclipse: the power of the universe puts things into perspective

I’ve been putting off writing this up for some time. Why? Because everything I put down on paper feels empty compared to the actual experience, because each moment and emotion described feels shallower than the reality, an indignity, an untruth.

Sunrise, clear skies

Sunrise, clear skies

Yet, I was one of those fortunate enough to witness the universe lock in to a moment of perfection and the experience touched me. Deeply.

During the days following the event I did little other than describe it as ‘amazing’, which is pretty nondescript, bland even. I couldn’t come up with anything better. My senses were pricked and I was filled with awe for the universe, and yet I was somewhat dumbed.

So what happened? Time to start finding my words.

Wrapping up the pre-eclipse party just as dawn breaks

Wrapping up the pre-eclipse party just as dawn breaks

At around 5.30AM on 14th November 2012 I made my way from base camp at the Eclipse 2012 festival up in Far North Queensland Australia, back past music stages where I’d recently bounced to Fat Freddy’s Drop and later stomped about to a DJ I can’t recall, stages that were now winding down. It was the first break from beats we would have in a whole week of celebrations. Respect the moment and the magic. Instead, birdsong was the gathering call.

Ravers, families and a man dressed in a mask and gown gathered on the hill by the Moon Stage as the sun rose, warming the dusty ground and the bones of people who had not stayed up to party, sleepy bodies re-awaking for this unique moment in time. Against a pinky orange sky, a little girl of maybe two snuggled into her father’s cuddle whilst the man in the mask started to sing out in monotone. He raised his face and stretched out his arms to the rising golden orb.

People start to make their way to the viewing spots

People start to make their way to the viewing spots

Sun worshipper

Sun worshipper

Crowds start to gather for the eclipse

Crowds start to gather for the eclipse

And then came the moon, crossing in front of the sun, starting at the top left, a creeping blackness.

The first quarter passed quickly but then time slowed down and the moon seemed to stick on a partial cover up. I took off my glasses and looked around at everyone else. Hoards of people, crowded up against makeshift fencing, creating silhouettes on the hillside. A raft of upturned faces standing, sitting, lying on a sea of festival dust, eyes protected by paper solar safe shades. Some people headed away from the crowds in search of a private observation spot.

By now all festival stages had hushed, completely, and other than quieting birdsong, an occasional charged ‘whoop’ or a monotone ‘ooooh’ from the sun god worshipper, the world started to silence.

Each minute that the moon moved closer to total cover-up brought with it a drop in temperature. I shivered and wrapped myself up in a jumper. I put my safety glasses back on and stood still with this collective of people who all seemingly had the same intention to watch this process unfold. Occasionally someone shuffled about but mostly people, having found places to perch,  were still, some having resigned themselves to the fact that they would probably not be sharing the eclipse experience with their closest buddies. Finding anyone in these crowds would be a considerable mission, one that might take away from actually taking in the event. No, sit still, let things unfold. Observe. (And be glad that you weren’t one of the ones that woke up mid-morning and wondered ‘Have I missed the eclipse?’).

It became dark. The moon was now firmly between us and the sun and the birds fell silent.

And then, in a flash of sunny brilliance, it all locked into place.  Light shone out of the sides, bright rays crowning a ball of the deepest black. We took our glasses off.  I started with my limited ‘amazing’ exclamations and listened to equally immature and breathy responses that only awe can generate. And lots of cheering. This wasn’t a film, hell no! How does life do this? How is our world so damn beautiful?

Lock in

Lock in

I felt comforted by this vivid reminder that there are far bigger things going on in our world, forces that we try to understand yet still contain mystery, patterns that can be predicted but only up to a point, beauty that generates a moment of wonder shared, appreciated by a humanity hotchpotch.

So much was going through my mind – my life events, choices and hopes – passing through in a moment of clarity and understanding. It all made sense: it didn’t really matter. And, yet somehow, in relation to everything else and everyone else, it did.

Lie back, watch the sun re-emerge, choose whether to join the post-eclipse party or finally go to bed

Lie back… watch the sun re-emerge… choose whether to join the post-eclipse party or retreat to camp and finally go to sleep

Just over two minutes later and the moment of magic was broken as the sun and moon moved out of alignment, and we were back to reality. The light and warmth returned, the birds started to sing once again and the doof doof of the party started afresh.

Days later I still carried the magic with me, and months later the memory can still evoke a stomach flip and an utterance of ‘amazing’. Because it truly was amazing. Even the dismissiveness of a self-proclaimed eclipse king has done little to dampen my wonder.

And so I may yet become an eclipse chaser. But, would I get that same sense of awe, that absolute natural high from repeating the experience in another setting? Would it not, like any repeat experience, lack the magic of the first time? I’m hesitant.

The next total solar eclipse takes place in 2015 and is visible from Iceland, Europe, North Africa and Northern Asia whereas if I’m still Oz-side, I’ll have to wait until 2028. Might I see you there?

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Art, consciousness and a whole lot of doof at Eclipse 2012 festival

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Recycling the eclipse

In my sheltered world, hippies and trancers don’t live harmoniously side by side. In my stereotyped view, people who dance to trance are off their heads on party drugs that sustain them through hours and days of dancing to a repetitive beat. In my head hippies are natural and flowing and mix with creative crowds, preferring didgeridoos to synthesizers. In my world, hippies don’t attend trance parties, or doofs (if you’re an Australian partyer). At least, this is what I used to believe.

The Eclipse 2012 festival would show me otherwise.

The event will host a huge music lineup of the world’s leading musicians and DJ’s, outstanding artists and decor crews, a dedicated workshops and intentional healing space, extensive food and market stalls and a perfect viewing platform only a short distance away from the eclipse centre line of totality path. Link

My world started to expand and any preconceived ideas about 24/7 beats and dancing, about everyone being cocktailed to the highest high, about being disconnected from the world in order to appreciate the world started to shift. I knew it would happen. Why else was I here?

Apart from the total solar eclipse itself. Oh yeah. That was the real reason.

But if it was just about being present at the total solar eclipse then I could have instead nestled in amongst astronomers from around the world on purpose built viewing platforms somewhere else, somewhere close.

No, from the moment I’d heard about the festival I’d been determined to go. I wanted to fling out my arms and dance uninhibited at whatever time of the day I pleased, I wanted to be filled with thoughts and ideas about the future direction of the world, I wanted to immerse myself in a new experience and surround myself with beauty in all its forms. What an indulgence.

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DJ set backdrop on the Sun Stage

The Eclipse 2012 festival ticket and website were the first giveaways to something beyond a primitive party, making reference to a ‘spiritual’ festival, to ‘healing spaces’, to consciousness raising, to an array of workshops and speakers and films designed to inspire change and open the mind.

And why else do we travel?

The music itself was not the catalyst for me to part with AU$350. Despite there being six stages, I barely recognised any names in the line-up, other than the likes of Fat Freddy’s Drop and Tijuana Cartel, both on the Earth Stage, the only truly live stage at the festival. If I’d ever been into the trance scene or had stood longer on Australian ground, I’d probably have been aware of the reputation of some of the other acts, but it was all new to me. No bad thing.

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Inspiration

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Flowertime

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Food and relax stops

Getting involved in yoga and craft classes, lounging out listening to learned folk discuss current thinking in relation to the upcoming cosmic and spiritual shift (including the impending end of the Mayan calendar), dancing under the sweet kiss of sprinkling water, of being surrounded by sculptures and murals and living art, that is what convinced me to join thousands of people for a week of celebrations rather than huddle quietly with the odd cluster of scientists and astronomers for one night only.

And so the days went by and people stomped and bounced day in, day out, taking moments to refresh themselves with fruit juices and wholesome, fair priced curries, to solar shower away a thick caking of dust, to chat and catch-up with friends, new and familiar.

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Daytime Sun Stage raving

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Sprinkler dancing @ the Sky Stage

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Doofer in training

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Beach feel flake out

Polka dot dresses and exaggerated face paints, tutus and lederhosen, basking on the branches of living art, taking dips in crocodile cleared waters, window shopping the work of artisans more concerned with their craft than making a sale, catching a ride on a motorised sofa, relaxing in the women’s shelter, watching fire art, learning to hula-hoop, re-gathering at camp for water refills and sustaining snacks.

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Daytime lazing

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Sun, shade and crocodile warnings

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Tutus and wobbles

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Doctor dress-up

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Parasols, fishnets and boat sails

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Brace dancing

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Sofa riding

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Art branch moments

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Face painting

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Base camp catch-ups

And sleeping. It’s amazing how one learns to sleep through a constant beat.

Through life and travelling I have had the good luck to meet and share time with a real range of people – a spectrum so broad that my mind should find no space for stereotypes. Yet I still have my assumptions, my preconceived ideas based on everyone I’ve previously met and everything I know. And of course it’s limited.

Stereotypes have some basis and function, maybe to act as a compass to enable us to find ‘our type’ and fellow ‘types’, maybe to guide the un-established personality and set them off in a specific direction. Maybe they offer some tribal comfort? I guess the only real danger is not being able to see beyond them.

At Eclipse 2012, stereotypes loomed large, on an ocular level. If you wanted to see society’s versions of a dreadlocked, grungy hippy, a dancing nymph dressed in floaty tie-dyed skirt, a yogi in lotus meditation, they appeared. If you looked for the sweaty, gurning raver clutching a water bottle and repeating moves in their own little world or sporting Day-Glo, hot panted outfits, they too existed. The Japanese wedding in a fusion flurry of traditional-clubbing kitsch, the self-important eco-speaker, the meticulously costumed regular festival goer, the wise old earth mother. They were all at Eclipse 2012.

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Temples (and makeshift church)

But sometimes hippies chewed their faces up. And sometimes pig-tailed raver chicks needed no more than the music to get high.

Stereotypes flipped, were stretched and distorted. Earth mother surprised me with her mushroom journeys. Famous drummer intrigued me with his gentle nature. Dreamy types brought considerate, well-behaved children to basket weaving classes. And the raver sat with a stranger during a bad trip, talking them through some crazy moments until a place of relative calm was reached.

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Morning at the Moon Stage

More often than not, the festival was a whole lot more wholesome than one might expect. Good food. Good company. Good support. Good dancing. Beyond good.

Of course the craziness existed. As with many a party, a continuum of personalities coloured and enriched the event. But it’s what most those people did that made the event; they spoke, they performed, they danced, they painted, they played; they – an army of artisans and thought-leaders and revelers – created a beautiful visual and sensual feast of celebration.

If you believe this random mix of humanity, of intention, of consciousness, cannot exist side by side, then Eclipse 2012 was a great example that we can.

Let’s dance.

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Chill out and kick back stage

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Live creativity

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Light, sound and DJs

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Accessorising

 

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Have you ever swum in a tea tree lake?

Until last week, I hadn’t either. I don’t think I ever actually knew that they existed. There are a few dotted around the Byron Shire area of New South Wales in Australia, so after a busy morning working and sweating in high humidity, I decided that I would wash away the day with a dip in a nearby tea tree lake. I also hoped that it might give my skin a bit of a treat.

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Edges of the tea tree lake, NSW, Australia

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On the banks of the tea tree lake, NSW, Australia

The previous night had brought with it a storm straight out of the movies; sheet lightning blinding the sky, building thunder rumbles. And lots of rain. The tea tree lake was bound to be full.

Off I set along the beach, a wide and perfectly sandy stretch of seashore. I scuffed my feet along the fine grains, never tiring of the squeaking sound. Such simple things.

The first post-storm sign was at the mouth of the lake-to-sea-stream; often running dry or as a gentle trickle, today this bubbling cola mix that I had mistaken for sewerage when I first arrived was ripping apart the sandbanks as it surged and blended with the warm, blue ocean. Not that the sea gulls cared: they clustered and bobbed around, seemingly enjoying the frothy, health-giving mixture.

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Gone swimming! By the tea tree lake, NSW

‘It’s the best time to be out here’, said a local guy who showed up just as I was chilling out by myself in the shallow depths of an area that is often empty. His lips were zinced white. ‘Tide’s going out so it pulls away all the algae’ he added.

It made me wonder: if algae was best avoided, what else should I be aware of in this place? I’d already asked some friends whether there was anything to watch out for and they had been pretty blasé. Sure there were snakes in the bush, but just don’t trample around into the bush.

When I’d arrived at the river and headed up towards the lake, I basically got stuck. Levels were too high not to go into the bush. So I had paddled up river and settled on a spot just short of the main lake.

So is there anything in the water that I should look out for?’ I asked Mr. White Lips. It turns out not. He ducked under, splashed around a bit, we chatted and then he left me once again to my solitude.

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Taking a moment to observe, think and be

Warmer waters skimmed the surface, cooler currents pushed through underneath. I submerged myself, assured that all the little fish were harmless and that no nasties were going to interrupt my Zen state of play.

I sat in the shallows and listened and watched. The sound of the ocean was less audible, even the bird song seemed to melt into the distance as the splendour of the sun shining through clear red and yellow and green tinted waters dominated. A visual treat. And so peaceful.

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Colours and reflection in the tea tree lake, NSW

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Colours and reflection in the tea tree lake, NSW

I expected, no, hoped to emerge an oil covered, beautifully skinned being. Neither happened.

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