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So that was different.

I spent a good chunk of time trying to force the spiritual experience I had last time to happen again. That, predictably, did not work. It was like trying to force an orgasm. Trying to light the same fire twice. A bad chunk of time, really.

Some of this was external: the first day (and night) was a downpour, a mud-to-the-ankles monsoon that kept a lot of people separated and huddled in their tents during the day, and moved that night's fire circle to a covered pavilion usually used just for yoga and dance workshops. It was a little surprising how much the change in setting altered the energy of the event: it didn't come close to running until daylight; we were eventually down to four drummers and no dancers at all, just doing a quiet, not-at-all-ritual music jam for a while. Which was nice, in its way, but by three o'clock it was over and I was back in my tent.

Some of it was familiarity. Everything about that first experience was a complete surprise; I showed up with no knowledge and no expectations -- as a result everyone there seemed like magical beings performing these mysterious acts. This time I could see the people as people, some familiar friendly faces (though I remain embarrassingly inept at remembering most of the names). And knew at least the basic outline of events, which made them more comfortable, but less magical.

And some of it, a lot of it of course, was me.

If I were writing this in outline form, this bullet point would subdivided into 3.a) Me, skill at drumming, and 3.b) Me, issues regarding introversion and age.

3A, then: The first time I came here I thought I knew how to drum, and had it amply demonstrated to me (in the nicest way possible) just how far I had yet to go. This time around I've had two more years of fairly systematic study and practice, and I've definitely graduated out of the beginner level, where you sit around the back benches and go tapetatapetatapetatap and nobody really cares because you're mostly inaudible anyway, into a place where the real drummers are starting to notice me. My whole approach to the fire has been completely changed by this; on the one hand there were a lot of wonderful moments when I looked out there and saw dancers responding directly to something I was playing, or where one of the other drummers and I would toss a rhythm back and forth for a while -- there was some awesome three-way call-and-response the first night, very satisfying -- and times where I knew that if I were to stop doing what I was doing, the whole circle would grind to a halt. (Including at least one, deep in the slow pre-dawn shift, when I slipped and did exactly that. Oops.) But at the same time I'm so much more aware of when I should not be playing, whether because the other instruments at the time are quieter sorts that shouldn't be overridden by a big djembe sound, or just because there are already enough people making noise... I'm used to classroom drumming or small-group jamming, where I need to step up and fill in as much space as possible; here I needed to sit back, play simpler rhythms with lots more space in between for others to play with. (One of the doundoun players said he also does a lot of improv comedy, and drew some useful parallels between that and circle drumming: you can't just stomp in and say HERE IS A PUNCHLINE; it's much better to quietly set up good opportunities for them to happen.) More listening than playing, more responding to than building up.

Aaaanyway. That's a lot of detail that may not be all that interesting; the point is that it all added up to a much more conscious, front-brain experience: I wasn't trancing out and looking inward this time; it wasn't until the final hour of the last fire, when everyone piles in and just plays their hearts out because this is it, there's no more, that I finally set myself aside and threw myself deep into it (grinning like a fool the whole time).

So in a spiritual sense the fires were, perhaps, less than they were before, for me. The daytimes were more, though. (Here we move to step 3B. Nice segue, eh?) I'm not sure I can be as articulate about this part yet, but it boils down to being more comfortable with conversations, more comfortable with my position in the community, more aware that that position is chosen by my actions, nobody's placing it on me. I have a lot more work to do here, but I'm starting to see the way.

And there's the age thing. I am finally, finally starting to let go of that nagging out-of-place feeling that I want to be hanging out with the cool kids. Because, frankly, the cool grownups are a lot more interesting. Duh. I don't know why that one took me so long to figure out, but it's a really recent discovery for me.

For example: my twentieth high school reunion was this year, the exact same weekend as Spiritfire. (How's that for a symbolic choice to have to make? Past or present? GO!) When I went to my tenth reunion, everyone looked pretty much the same as they had in high school, but thicker, looser, flabbier, worn down. People have started posting photos from this time around, and this time they don't look anything like they did in high school; you have to squint to even see the resemblance sometimes. They look better than they did. All of them. They look like real people now, not like aging versions of their childhood faces. I know that's because of a change in my perception, not their actual appearance -- but that's a threshold I'm totally relieved to have finally crossed.

Okay, this turned long. And as usual I lack a concluding paragraph. So it goes. Time to post.

Date: 2009-08-05 05:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] osirusbrisbane.livejournal.com
Thanks for posting this. You give me hope that I will eventually grow into being a grownup, even if I still feel like this most of the time (I can't believe I am 30).

Date: 2009-08-06 02:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] outsidetheparty.livejournal.com
Yeah, that XKCD rang a few bells for me, too.

I think part of the problem for me was that I was working under the assumption that grownup == boring, which just turns out to be completely untrue...

Date: 2009-08-05 05:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kassrachel.livejournal.com
I have a lot of thoughts about this but most of them are kind of incoherent -- we should talk in person later this week. (Want to do dinner some night or something? We're kinda housebound atm...)

In my former life as a martial artist, and in my current life as a [insert profession here], I've experienced a curve which is kind of similar to what you're describing: the shift from beginner's mind where everything feels miraculous and new and I feel taken-care-of, to suddenly being in a position where I'm aware that I'm helping to hold/create the space for others and therefore I can't lose myself in it the way I used to. In my early years in Jewish Renewal I used to weep in almost every service, because it felt so new and so powerful and so just for me. These days I'm generally in a different headspace -- especially if I'm helping to lead, either directly or indirectly (by singing loudly a tune that not everyone knows, supporting my friends who are leading, etc.) Sometimes I really miss what it was like when it was brand-new. Usually I think it's a fair trade-off -- I know I'm really part of something now, and I know it's not going to disappear from my life, and I feel like I'm part of a community, and those things are the compensations which make up for not often being able to access that feeling of being new and overwhelmed and blown-away.

On an unrelated note: I am so much more interested in the cool grown-ups than the cool kids these days. At the big Renewal gathering in Ohio, the one with 400 people, there was a "youth group" there for people under 35... and I still spent all my time with my friends, who are largely in their 40s and 50s and even 60s, because I kind of feel like I'm done with my 20s (and my early thirties) whereas the incredibly cool people who are older than me are showing me how to grow into the incredibly cool grown-up I want to become.

I hope this is making sense; last night wasn't the best night for sleeping and I'm kind of punchy just now...

Date: 2009-08-06 02:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] outsidetheparty.livejournal.com
suddenly being in a position where I'm aware that I'm helping to hold/create the space for others

This. If there was a theme for me this time around it was all about listening and extending.

On the age thing -- this was a recurring theme for me in my time with Sarah M., so it's something I was beginning to wrap my head around even before spiritfire... but I did luck into the right event: I've forgotten who it was, but someone I was talking to there was contrasting it with one of the other similar fires (there's apparently a whole circuit of these things; sounds like some people just bounce from one to the next all year long) and said "Spiritfire is organized by people in their forties. That one's organized by people in their twenties. So there's a lot less chasing around in the forest in the dark here, for example."

Date: 2009-08-06 01:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] galagan.livejournal.com
I totally understand this reaction. The first time I went to Moosehide in the Yukon, it was completely magical. I was 30, homeless, road-tripping in the convertible and living a dream. Random fortuitous stuff kept happening in ways that seemed like they had to be part of some grand plan. Everything had a purpose, and everything fit together seamlessly.

The second time I went, I was nervous as all hell that it wouldn't be the same. And it wasn't. I had expectations -- thought things *should* happen one way rather than another. The people I worked with were different. The performers were different. New tribes came and old tribes didn't come back. People I'd met at the first one had promised to come back and of course didn't. One did, though, and the new folks were equally cool, if not cloaked in the magical aura of the first time around.

Five times in now, I have a much different relationship to the place. I'm a fixture; I'm familiar enough that the locals seek me out. I've worked with many of the locals over and over again and know them well. There are always new experiences -- from four-wheeling to throwing axes -- but now they fit into a much broader space. I no longer expect one Moosehide to sustain me; instead, each one renews my sense of the overall experience.

It's kind of funny: the Clark had some native tribes come in to dance and play music Sunday, and I like and appreciate watching it. But even though to all appearances it's much like what you'd see at Moosehide, I don't feel that same connection. Maybe it's conscious choice; maybe it's that I don't love the land as much as I do up north. Whatever it is, I accept it.

The other thing I've noticed is that I know better who I am now. Ten years ago, I just tossed myself into the current and let it carry me where it would. Now, I've learned what I need and how to get it, and am a bit more active to make sure I do. Now, the challenge is still being open to others whose journeys may be far different, but who would still understand completely what I've done, and might have a few good ideas I should listen to.

And alas, the cool grownups have always been far more interesting to me. It's to the point now where I wonder what I'll do when all those people 20 years older than I am, whom I connect with almost instinctively, start dying off.... [sigh]

Welcome home.

Date: 2009-08-06 03:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] outsidetheparty.livejournal.com
Thank you. This gives me a lot to think about; I'm seeing a lot of parallels here. (One of the things I love about posting about these events is how much I learn about my friends' paths. This isn't the type of thing people tend to talk about much. Which is too bad.)

I'm gaining a new appreciation for setting... even a rain-enforced shift from the normal fire location to a covered pavilion was disorienting and changed things completely; having an event you're used to experiencing a thousand miles north reproduced at the familiar, see-it-every-day Clark must've been downright surreal.

And on becoming a fixture: this was the seventh Spiritfire; a significant core of people has been part of most or all of those seven (not to mention all the related events that are part of the same subculture). That network of relationships was invisible to me the first time, everyone was just everyone.

One of the quirks of my current lifestyle is how easy it is for me to not be a fixture for anyone outside my immediate family: to stay home instead of going out, to put off answering that email or returning that phone call, to just not bother making contact. That's something I need to work to correct.


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