I don’t know how to describe my experience at Shambhala. It was amazing. Of course it was. It always is. But it was also lonely. Even surrounded by the most loving people on our planet, I still felt like an alien in the sea of faces.
Everyone builds up this amazing memory of Shambhala, myself included, and I guess I feel a bit stuck when I think honestly about the memory. I wrote about my very first experience at this magical place, four years ago, when the lights were new and the feelings were something I had never experienced before. The two years following I didn’t know how to write about it, disappointed that I wasn’t 100 per cent satisfied with the weekend spent in the BC wilderness.
I guess I thought that if I didn’t force myself into believing I had the best time then I wasn’t truly living in the moment. But as the years have passed, and I’ve spent my time travelling the dusty dirt road and dancing my soul out beneath the trees, I understand that Shambhala is what you make of it.
I will never deny the intense moments of happiness as I moved from stage to stage, witnessing euphoria in it’s simplest form. The joy radiated from almost every person I had the pleasure of passing, and the words shouted and sang and spoke were true and pure and humbling. But I also will not deny the intense singularity I felt as I spent most of that time wandering by myself, making friends as I went that will remain farmily but who’s names have long since passed from my mind.
This year I went alone. I had a few groups of friends camped sporadically throughout Metta, but I was all by my lonesome, way out in crew camping. The challenge was different; I had always camped close. I had always camped with a group. This year I was camped as far away as possible, in the quietest part of the farm.
I loved the job I did for the festival this year, and working alongside the media in the Press Tent was one of the most rewarding things that has happened to me at Shambhala. Seeing my favourite artists getting off the airport shuttles, seeing them walking to and from the stages, and just simply being in the hub of activity is something I would never change. My heart is so full from being able to help out even in the smallest of ways.
Yet, even with all this purity and satisfaction, and even surrounded by thousands of new friends, there will always be the part of me who missed my closest pals, the ones who were not able to make it.
I love Shambhala. I love the lessons I learn every single year that push me forward and help me bring so much more of that love into my every-day life. I love the chaos and the magic, and the stories that flood my newsfeed for months to come.
But now, after four years, I also appreciate that it’s not always going to be amazing. There are going to be moments where you are sad, or lonely, or just downright angry. And that is okay.
It is okay to admit there were things that hurt you, or frustrated you.
I’ve been home for five days, and everything in me wants to pack up my car and drive right back, down the windy mountain roads through the clouds of smoke. Even knowing of the frustrations faced, there is nothing I would trade for the weekend spent feeling the bass in every part of my body.
I met a few people this year who’s whole lives came crumbling down the minute they got to the festival, from broken hearts to theft, and everything else in between. They had far worse events overtake them, and yet they were still doing what they could, being who they were, and giving the love they had in them to everyone out there who would take it.
And that is what Shambhala is about.
It’s not about having the perfect weekend, because let’s face it, simply being “human” makes us less than perfect. It’s not about being happy from the minute you get in line to the minute you pack up your camp and leave.
But it is about love. Encompassing, empowering, love. It is about feeling lonely but still having the most wonderful time because all you have to do is look at the first person in your line of sight to feel. And it is about feeling; feeling every emotion known to man, because that is what something so powerful as this festival does. It makes you feel. And personally, if I didn’t feel sadness and solitariness, all the other more positive emotions wouldn’t have hit me in the same way.
I wouldn’t have appreciated the festival in the same way, because it makes me understand that even in the happiest place on Earth, things still happen that bring us down.
It’s a lesson I’ve been struggling with in the day’s I’ve been home, because let’s face it, the real world is not the happiest place on Earth, and the negative feelings stick around just a little bit longer, because not every face looking back at you is smiling.
But the strength I’ve gained — the appreciation I have gained — for love, and acceptance, and just for our human souls in general, is something I attribute to Shambhala, to the years of experience of gracefully struggling my way through the weekend.
I’ve come to learn you don’t have to be ashamed, because Shambhala has got you, in all your absent, worried, euphoric glory. Shambhala, and every spirit who attends, will gladly wrap you in their arms and let the love flow, even after the grounds have returned to a cattle ranch, even after the snow starts to fall.
At the end of the day, the mountains in your review mirror, having had the best time, the worst time, or a time that was perfect for what it was in the moment it was in, every lesson learned makes us stronger. And as we return to the things that can frequently bring us down, just remember that having emerged out of the flames creates a courage, similar to that of a phoenix, and even hundreds, thousands, of miles away from the place we call home, we’ve still got this. And we will have this. And just in case you forget, Shambhala will be there, always in the back of your mind, to welcome us home in 365 short days.
— cassie —