Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Your Suggestions


where should I go? Who should I talk to? What should I do?

I'm looking for good fun. Fun that doesn't rely on stimulants. It can be calm fun like arts and crafts and chopping wood. It can be high energy fun like singing and dancing like festivals. It can be peak experience, trancy fun like Tantra and stuff.

All recommendations gratefully and curiously received...

The Nudist New Age Church

"I'm going to a nudist new age church with my rad friend Briony!"

I'm in the car with Lara. She's on the phone to her boyfriend, a circus strongman by the name of Pierre Pressure.

We're driving from San Francisco airport to Harbin Hotsprings, and catching up after five years, filling in the gaps and regailing each other with stories that we've almost forgotten of ourselves but remember of one another, stories of nudity and irreverence in wild and often inappropriate places in California, Nevada and Guatemala, the territories of our friendship.

Lara is great. She's 5"11 and covered in tatoos. She's Head of Special Needs at a brand new charter school in New Orleans. She's educated up to her eyeballs from Berkeley and Columbia, and once got arrested for being naked on the Berkeley campus. She's the perfect companion for Harbin.

There's no photography at harbin and only dialup internet. I'm offline for the next month, getting lost in the weird world of New Age America in a succession of wifi-free fields.

Wish me luck! Until mid July...

Men Women and Games

The majority of the Fun Fed team and players are female. The majority of Come Out and Play designers and players seem to be men.
There are big differences as a result.
A lot of the games here involve strategy, tactics, spatial stuff, an element of conquest, athletic prowess and ball skills.
The men seem to really like them.
I don't get off on them at all because I'm bad at them and it's less fun if you're no good.
It looks like people like to play with the stuff they feel good at. I love to play with singing and dancing. I feel good at singing and dancing. Other people would much rather play with balls and spatial strategy because they're more at home there.
My questions:
Who do we cater for, who do we not cater for, do we want to cater for the people we don't currently cater for and what would it take to do that? Probably a team member with a different mind who's excited about this stuff and wants to run with it... head honcho aside, we're four women and a gay guy...
What's that about? We're out of balance!

Ego, Soul, Competition and Play

I'm in the shuttle bus to JFK airport thinking about competition.
Almost all of the games at come out and play were competitive. They were silly, but there was a certain prestige to having the skills, wit and grace to win and a certain sense of being a loser when you lose. I'm curious about that because most Fun Fed games are not competitive. The difference seems to have quite profound implications for who comes, the experience they have, and the nature of the organisation putting on the fun.

Most of the games here are rooted in computer game culture so they revolve strongly around a central axis of rules comprising the objective, the catch / challenge, winners, losers and prizes.
I did some research for the Fun Fed a few years ago into understanding what fun is. The people I spoke with seemed to gravitate around a shared idea that the ego is a big issue in play, because the ego is very bad at play. It tries to control everything, and gets too serious about winning and losing. It's more selfish than generous. Good play happens when the ego gets out of the way.
I've found the same to be true of love.
How do we think about the ego? Let's say it's a very important part of ourselves (that's my ego talking :)) - the sense of 'I' that enables us to look after our own shit. What it's mainly doing in any situation is figuring out what success is in that situation, and doing what it can to get success and avoid failure.

In that research I ended up conceptualising the rules of the game as a hook to distract the ego so that the rest of the human can come out and play. The interviews I conducted suggested that people get a lot of joy when their bodies, hearts and minds are all active and interactive, as opposed to the normal situation where our minds tend to dominate. So when the rules of the game are, eg, to hit as many people as possible between the shoulder blades without being hit yourself, your ego gleefully gets on with achieving success and avoiding failure, while the rest of you is freed up to whoop and leap about with people. Fun.

The NYC games tended to have a lot of complex rules and I thought, is this the ego at play? Is ego dominating play here?

What is the relationship between the rules of the little game and the rules of the big game? Is the ego dominating life here in NYC?

Yesterday I had lunch with Adam and Eve. And dinner too. Yes, these are actually their real names :) Here they are in the bar, Adam apparently checking out Eve's chest.

I met Adam in India. We were studying together at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune. Yoga has a lot to say about the ego.

So partly from yoga philosophy and partly from that research I did, I've come to conceptualise a human as three bits and two drivers. The bits are head body and heart. The drivers are ego and soul. There can be any kind of balance between the drivers, from min ego and max soul, vice versa, or something in between.

It's really raining.

In yoga / Hindu philosophy, the soul is part of the bigger soul. It's part of god or Life. When we listen with our souls we plug in. When we act from our souls, things get good.

The ego is disliked in yoga philosophy and the aim is at least to be able to distinguish the two 'voices' – which thoughts and feelings are ego, which are soul. It's subtle and difficult. The potential implications for wellbeing are big and interesting. I'll come back to these.

I think gold is all about soul and not much about ego.

So I went to Adam's yoga class on the lower east side on Sunday morning. It was great to see him. I asked him if he'd had much culture shock since coming back.

“Totally!” he said. “It was really hard. I had become totally unaccustomed to all the vanity and it was all I could see for a while. I couldn't connect. I stayed home. Then I got used to it again :)”

For the first few days back in London after India, all I could see around me was ego. It was loud and glaring like a flavour you've barely tasted in three months. The place made me want to scream and cry but all I was allowed to do, outside my home, was sit, stand or walk in a well behaved manner. The feelings had nowhere to go. Then I got used to it again.

The anthropologist Wade Davis asks if you could distil a whole country into a word, what would it be? His response: US, frontier. UK, Island.

Adam and I had independently asked ourselves the same question about New York and London. We'd come up with New York: Success. London: Pressure.

What do conditions of pressure to achieve success do but call out the ego to work it's little butt off trying to stay afloat? People are trying to be skilled, attractive, sharp, knowledgeable, well connected, stylish and so on – to stay ahead of or at least on top of the game. And this is reflected in a lot of the games created by New Yorkers– which are opportunities to either practice or demonstrate these things.

It's popular and works because it plugs right into some of the conscious and subconscious desires of young and funky new yorkers. And it's fun, and social, and what's more to want?

In the Fun Fed you tend to look weird much more often than you look stylish, and have little chance to practice or polish any skills. (not sure if that's true. There's singing. Clowning and fooling are skills. In fact, the game of acting from the soul rather than the ego that's at the heart of clowning and fooling is a real skill. Humm.) In fact a major part of the point is to have a space where you are free from any pressure to succeed.

The main thing I'm wondering about is the extent to which ego dominance is problematic or desirable.

There's a degree to which it seems like it's just survival. There are a zillion people in New York and you need to get the job and the spouse and the house and sufficient salary to run your car and cover your health insurance and to pay for your children's car and college fees to have a basic standard of living within that system. Nothing comes on a plate, there's a lot of competition and you need to stand out to get the goodies so people are working really, really hard to do that.

So then I ask questions about the impact of that on wellbeing, not even mentioning sustainability, and I reach my conclusions quickly. Then I ask questions about system, inevitability and alternative.

So the wellbeing conclusions. There was a panel discussion about games and geography at the festival and there was a female professor about my age talking wearing little hot pants and she had great legs and the emphasis was all on what was coming out of peoples' mouths but I was paying more attention to what her body said about her state of mind. I don't know why I focused on her. Maybe it was my ego doing that thing that women do that we hardly ever notice but we're doing it all the time and it's checking out women who are of a similar status, age and attractiveness to us and seeing how we compare. Because ultimately I guess we're competing for the same kind of mate and there are winners and there are losers and we all know which we'd rather be.

OK so let's be honest I was checking this woman out to see how we compare and she's on the panel and I'm not and she's got better legs than me and she's a professor and I'm not so actually I was probably just trying to make myself feel better but ok recognising that here's what I noticed. I noticed the height of her shoulders, the angle of the neck from years of a pinching tension right there at the bottom of it crunching the shoulders in and up, and the eyebrows raising in the middle in what can only be described as a habitual look of something like sadness and even though she had a cheeky, playful glint in her eye, my overall impression was that this woman was suffering a bit from just trying so hard.

New York: Success.
London: Pressure.
My two most beautiful, successful female friends have both been struck with a nasty case of chronic fatigue and my beautiful uber-achiever sister got to a stage where she felt like she was on a boat when she wasn't. The doctor diagnosed stress and prescribed a month of doing nothing.

I used to feel under loads of pressure and it felt shit and I went a bit mental about ten years ago. I was in a band at the time and there's a lyric from a song I still remember: “the weight of a winner's thoughts is enough to crush”

But are you a winner? I wasn't being “a winner” when I wrote that, I was on the verge of a breakdown. Is the ego doing such a great job at helping us out? Everyone keeps saying I have the most amazing job in the world, but the way this job came about has nothing to do with ego and much more to do with the thing that Pauline the coach talks about – the “when you sit quietly what you need lands in your lap” - thing. More on that in 'what I mean when I use the 'god' word' section that I've written but don't quite have the balls to post yet...

How I got this job

In 2005 I went to Buddhafield festival and stumbled across about 80 people playing rough and tumble games on the 'village green.' It looked amazing and totally new and fantastic and I watched mouth open for a bit and gingerly approached.

I played games with them – run by the wonderful Jayaraja – every morning for the rest of the festival.

On the way home I sat on the train thinking “I feel great.” I pulled out my note book and did a spider diagram of all the reasons I could think of for why I felt so great. Then I went around each of them and wrote an action by each. By 'playing games' I wrote: 'find opportunities to play games in London. If they don't exist, create them.'

The next day there was a new girl in the office. She looked great and I sidled gently up to her over the kettle. We had lunch and made friends. I asked her what she was doing – the hub is a shared office space. She said, 'well, er, it's a bit weird, but this guy has just hired me to create an organisation that does games for adults.'

I exploded and bounced around with excitement and put her in touch with Jayaraja and generally kept bouncing around enthusiastically just because I was enthusiastic, then they asked me to do a piece of research for them, then I started facilitating some team away-days, then I came on as a freelance strategic advisor in 2006 or 2007.

In January 09 I was in India at the yoga institute. I was applying for PhDs in political economy because I wanted to redesign models of business finance because I thought – and think – they're a key driver behind unsustainable economic growth, consumption and the materialisation of just about everything. I'm pretty sure the other driver is our values.

It was Saturday. On Thursday I'd submitted my application to Cornell, my first choice University, and on Friday I'd taken my GRE (exam for going to grad school in the US) with about 10 days preparation – nuts. On the Saturday I slept a long time then awoke and went next door to the Institute which was celebrating its 34th anniversary with a concert of Indian classical music. I sat cross legged in the audience. Right then, I said. I've got it. My plan, all figured out, I've done my best, OK.

Yes, said a little voice inside me, but where is the great eastern sun?

The next moment Atul began to play the violin.

Within two minutes I had tears rolling down my cheeks. Before long I was transported. When his group finished playing, a room of 200 erupted into a long standing ovation.

This is gold! I thought. Concerts can be gold! Man, I should just travel the world for a year finding this kind of stuff and bringing it back for the Fun Fed and everyone.

After the concert I spoke to Atul, got his phone number, and went home and emailed the team. “We should have concerts!” I emailed Graham. “How about I travel the world for a year looking for gold?”

I slept.

The next morning when I awoke there was a message in my inbox.

“Sounds like a great idea.”




I left it a few days, and wrote back. “Are you serious? If so, I'll postpone PhD applications and defer Cornell place if I get it. Can you let me know how serious you are?”

the answer came.

“Subject to cost, 100% definitely.”

Atul became my singing teacher and something like a musical guru. I talked to him about our idea of gold. “Ah yes yes but that doesn't come easily!” He said. “First you must surrender yourself to God.”

He says there are six stages to being a musician.

  1. You're a good listener

  2. You enjoy your playing

  3. Other people enjoy your playing

  4. You can become transported through playing

  5. You can transport others in your playing

  6. Samadhi (becoming dissolved in the divine. This is also one of the ultimate aims of yoga.)

To conclude, then:
do you need to surrender yourself to God to have gold swimming through your life??

IS that the same as living from soul more than ego? Does that necessarily involve quietening the ego? Is that necessarily a spiritual thing or can it be totally secular too?
Do competitive games fail to quieten the ego, so they're not interesting to the fun fed?
What do we do if that's normal and interesting to everyone else and we just seem really weird? We've become hippies I guess by that stage. I always saw us as a way to make some of the gems of hippydom more accessible to normal people. Is there a compromise? Is there a bridge? Are we a bridge?
As for Adam, he said, conquest and strategy and tactics turn him on and he's always been athletically strong so he's happy with that kind of stuff. He suggested having different kinds of role for different kinds of player in the same game, and having conquest and strategy in teams rather than individuals. But he also said, the integrity of what we're trying to do with the fun fed is a precious and beautiful thing to exist in the world and it would be sad to see that compromised.
Time to get on the plane to California.
The thinking continues.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Come Out and Play, NYC


Circle rules football was An Event

the best things: the theatre of it. Being in a team and playing for a long period. Having a commentator and a coach and people in costume / character and a marching band adding their rhythms and songs to the sense of drama, and dancing in the breaks. Having a big ball. The potential to wrestle. Having two little games before going for the biggie.

The worst things: I am hopeless at team sports and ball sports and I had a good go for Team Cake (the reds) but I was basically rubbish and all that stuff about sporting prowess still comes up even though the rules of the game are different.

Give me a lot of rough and tumble, full contact and the opportunity to hurtle myself around a wide open field and I'm a happy lady. Give me rules and things that require a degree of skill with a ball and thinking strategically on the spot about team play and I am rubbish. Rubbish.
I'm left with lots of thoughts about gender and play and ego and soul and skill but ack it's too late another time.


Running around the city in a pack + night time + stupid movements = v. exhilarating and fun.
It works like this. There are cryptoids – special creatures – with special characteristics. You have to run around to find them and once you find one, you have to act like it in order to not scare it away. Once you befriend a cryptoid you have your photo taken with it and the person with the most photos wins.
It could work better – there were too many creatures with too many characteristics and we were asked to memorise an impossible amount of stuff. That didn't work.
But properly running around a city at night in a pack, doing silly movements and having crazy rules about how to interact with space, eg, swing around every lamp post when you see a ninja rabbit or whatever – was great. Want more. Maybe parkour next? 

Friday, 12 June 2009

Neo-Cowgirl Faux Rodeo

I reckon when the Fun Fed gets a home we should have a games designer in residence each month and Thursday nights, or every night, or whatever works - are Testing Nights in the bar when the designer tries out each game idea with whoever's there and up for it.

And I think the first person we should invite is Catherine Herdlick.

Just played some of her ace games at the wonderful Come Out and Play street games festival in nyc.

First up was Bronk Riding

So you have cowgirls (behatted) and hustlers in teams of four, with coloured neckerchiefs. The cowgirl mounts her pony - a yoga ball - with hands in press up position on a pink sheet on the floor. The hustlers sit at each corner and, on the count of three, try and pull her off by wiggling the sheet. The Cowgirl's objective is to not let anything but her hands touch the floor for four seconds. Three judges give her marks out of ten for time up and elegance of dismount.

Next up is what I'm going to call tie your pony though i bet she had a better name for it.

Two little ponies are tied to long strings. The cowgirl stands in a blue square a few feet from the action sheet and the ponies. On the mark, the cowgirl must catch the ponies and tie three of each pony's legs together within 25 seconds. The catch - each end of string is held by a hustler, who wiggles it like crazy when you go for the pony. Again, marks out of 10 for time and style.

Last of all, what I'm going to call 'ride your pony'.

Within 60 seconds, the cowgirl has to navigate the yoga ball pony around blue squares taped on the floor, using only her head (and possibly a little chest action too). At the same time, the hustlers stand in the squares, throwing the other pony to each other as many times as they can before the cowgirl reaches the finish line. (or finish hat). Marks out of 10 for time and style, 1 point deducted for every time the cowgirl's pony hits a hustler or a wall.

Then.... all the scores are added up and prizes are awarded to the meanest hustlers (they get to keep their neckerchiefs) and the most dapper cowgirl (a pink sparkly cowgirl hat). 


We had an audience. That was good. People coming and going.

Can I just say... the size of american sandwiches....?!?

And, er, please bear with me on the quality of photo and video. Haven't done much of either in about ten years and spent the afternoon in central park familiarising myself with complex new camera for The Mission... Masterpieces, perhaps, to follow (one day...)

Wild by Jay Griffiths

She left her flat in Hackney and spent seven years traveling the world in search of elemental wildness.

How's this for an opening paragraph:

“I felt its urgent demand in the blood. I could hear its call. Its whistling disturbed me by day and its howl woke me in the night. I heard the drum of the sun. Every path was a calling cadence, the flight of every bird a beckoning, the colour of ice an invitation: come. The forest was a fiddler, wickedly good, eyes intense and shining with a fast dance. Every leaf in every breeze was a toe tapping out the same rhythm and every mountaintop lifting out of cloud intrigued my mind, for the wind at the peaks was the flautist, licking his lips, dangerously mesmerizing me with inaudible melodies that I strained to hear, my ears yearning for the horizon of sound. This was the calling, the vehement, irresistible demand of the feral angel – take flight. All that is wild is winged – life, mind and language – and knows the feel of air in the soaring “flight, silhouetted in the primal.”

I was looking for the will of the wild. I was looking for how that will expressed itself in elemental vitality, in savage grace. Wildness is resolute for life: it cannot be otherwise, for it will die in captivity. It is elemental: pure freedom, pure passion, pure hunger. It is its own manifesto.”


These days I feel most peace when in movement.

At Gatwick now. Off on first big trip. NYC for street games festival, Harbin Hotsprings, Northern California Dance Collective summer camp, and the Nine ways of Zhikir at Esalen. Feeling OK on 2 hours sleep following long night of preparations, including an obsessive mission to make a dress. Messy process: nice end product. Have been magically upgraded to 'world class traveller plus'. 1 inch extra bum room. Nice.

More from Jay the verbose:

“I was homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately – how resonantly – I belonged there. We are charged with this. All of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice. We may think we are domesticated but we are not. Feral in pheromone and intuition, feral in our sweat and fear, feral in tongue and language, feral in cunt and cock.” (!). “This is the first command: to live in fealty to the ferral angel.”

“As I went, I found myself increasingly needing to distinguish wildness from wasteland. Wastelands, such as forests razed to the ground, are the inscriptions of tragedy while wildness erupts with the raw carnival of comedy, laughing its socks off, grace notes galore, honouring the erotic.”

“To the rebel soul in everyone, then, the right to wear feathers, drink stars and ask for the moon.”

Monday, 8 June 2009

Mind Bollocks and Spirit

I'm at mind body spirit festival and I hate it here. I think it's full of Charletans and liars and bullshit. There are lots of people here and I'm trying to figure out why. I think the overarching theme might be that they want to feel better about themselves. That annoys me, cruely.
To be fair, we live surrounded by messages encouraging us to be beautiful and rich and sucessful and happy. At the same time, we are surrounded by more opportunities to be unhealthy, overspent, caught in a rat race and lacking enough time to make our relationships really good. It's a cruel situation. The consequence? Lots of people feel a bit shit.
This festival feels like a side effect of this, a holding place for people who don't feel much worth and are using the world of Mind Body Spirit practices to try to somehow stay above water amid a constant feeling of gentle drowning.
And am I so very different? Do I not practice yoga so regularly to keep a feeling of stability, clarity and positivity and when my practice diminishes, do I not experience an inundation of negativity?
Yeh, alright. Humm.

Can I just have a bit more of a rant about Mind Body Spirit. This is GMTV spirituality and there's something grotesque about it. Before me are three chaps playing faux indian music to a sound track. They're totally ignoring two basic tenants of Hindustani classical music that provides its discipline, and its beauty: Raga - the specific collection of notes you stick to - and the structure of progression through stages of a piece, from slow and low to high and fast improvisation, with some composition coming in the last quarter or so. It's important and it's formal and it takes years of doing it properly to do it properly. They're ignoring it totally: they've taken the easy route and the singer is hopping about the stage like a madman and he looks a dick. Atman, the band is called.
There's a lady who keeps on singing, but if she's so good why does she need all that reverb?
And Katy Appleton is about to give us a yoga class and her body is unattractively hard and I'm sorry, but I think it's weird for a woman to have such big arm muscles. Things feel unbalanced.
OK, I'm going over the top, actually Katy was really good. As was David Olton, Zahara the belly dancer, inversion therapy by the looks of it, Baka Beyond and a couple of other things. But lordy!

I passed by Westminster Cathedral on the way home and stopped in for some kind of counterbalance to my Mind Body and Spirit douching

The building is awe inspiring and beautiful and humbling.
A service was about to begin and I joined it.

God, I said, I am just a speck of dust floating in your world.

“Good,” God laughed, a deep belly laugh. “Good!”

I grinned. I felt better
and my life and beliefs felt like scrambled eggs.
I would like a religion.
Religions seem to have some good things.
One story
of things that are always true.
Some things that are always the same.
A place to gather all the things that are most good
Experiences that speak to your tenderest part and draw out your integrity.
Some songs that everybody knows.
Ways to characterise different periods of time.
An elder who is involved in the lives of the community.
A community.
Rituals that are meaningful.
And overall, it is all a vessel for a set of values, a funnel to whirl the values around and pour them into people's hearts and lives, in a way that makes everything better
more full of love
more meaningful
with less bad stuff
and more good stuff
and solid bases you can really, really trust.
And all of that shared consistently by people through time.
And yet also somehow alive.
I would like a religion like that.

“It's all about you”, reads one of the straplines at Mind Body Spirit. No, it's not. It's about everyone and all of life, now, before, and in the future. Stop trying to be an ever better person. Stop thinking about yourself so much. Accept yourself as you are and strive gently, continually, little by little, to be a good person and live a good life. With a little help from your friends, regularly, like every Sunday. That's what this lot seem to be saying.
I had a feeling in the Church that moments of Gold cannot be separated from the rest of life; that Gold is a way of life.
A little later, the Priest said:
“I will be with you always,” said God. “Even until the end of time... If I am not there, the spirit will not come.”
Maybe Gold is another word for the holy spirit. Maybe the holy spirit is the Christian word for Gold. And maybe the Holy Spirit only visits if you live with God.
Graham has said that of the team, he thinks I have the greatest sensitivity to Gold, the strongest perceptors of its presence or absence.
I said, if that is true, perhaps it is because I practice a lot of yoga
and I am learning to weave the values of yoga into my life
and that is a lot like living with God.
But more than the rest of the team??? I'm not sure.
I just think I've been to more wierd festivals than the rest of the team and that tends to be where gold lives.
Holy Spirit
the exploration continues.

Ecstatic Dance Temple

I went to
Ecstatic Dance Temple in a Church in Camden last night.

It unleashed something wild in me.

It was pretty psychedelic. There were about 20 young, fit hippies, some drummers, a woman with a mic and a DJ. It was in a church, with glowing fairy lights, dark corners, an Om sign and a statue of a Hindu God placed beneath the cross.

I liked the warm up but the part that really got me was the shaking. I've done shaking before with Jewls and it didn't get me like this. I think it was the live drummers this time. Their rhythms took my body. Actually, the rhythms were in a gentle tug of war for power with my head.

We'd been told to let the movement be led by the coxyx, and to encourage the hands and the head to shake too. The drums made my coxyx go mental. Mental. Powerful, violent argh what's the word – convulsions, that's it, but rhythmic convulsions starting in my coxyx, pelvorising up through my body and shaking my chest, really shaking it, totally within the rhythm, powered by the rhythm. The loss of control scared my mind a bit. It would come back in and say – 'ah ha! But look, I can wiggle my hips from side to side – isn't that good?' and my movement would change, the kind of possession would end, and I would feel in control again. Then the rhythm would dance back into my body and start dancing it again in it's violent, incredible convulsions. 'Warning: risk of whiplash' said head. It was true, my neck was starting to feel bad. I engaged my abs to stop my spine from wiggling so furiously, and the rhythm took me again.

I've had a shit week. And in that dark corner at the back of the church it was like all the power of it was coming out. And it came, and came, and came. I don't know how long the shaking continued for, maybe 15 minutes, maybe 30. I was drenched with sweat, and quietly glad to be able to let all this intensity move.

Some people have talked about feeling fear within a trance state, because it's an unknown territory without sense of direction or protection, like swimming in the deep sea and you don't know what monsters are in there.

I haven't felt that before. In the few trance states I've been taken into, I've only known bliss.

I didn't go into a trance last night. My friend Mark thinks he did. I didn't, but when the rhythm started to really take me and I let it, I went into darkness. I had to call for God to be with me. God be with me, I said. God be with me.

That brought me back from the darkness.

There was more darkness there overall last night than in other things, for me. There was something very Camden about it. It feels like, there are people who live in more innocence than others. Adults. I live with innocence and non innocence. I think last night, maybe those people lived in less innocence. There was maybe more chaos, darkness, cigarettes and alcohol in their lives. Less security. Maybe. I don't know. I'm making huge judgements. Maybe it was my week. My darkness. I lived in more darkness than normal this week.

Then we did a particular kind of breathing and had a free dance, for about forty minutes, to psychedelic music and live drumming. That was WICKED. I bounced around furiously and freely and I was delighted, delighted. I was happy and free. I had such intensity and so much energy. It felt like an endless enormous torrent of energy. I felt so alive. London has been making me feel half dead. Last night I felt so alive.

Some of the rhythms got me shaking again, and this time it was Sexy. Powerful, powerful, fast, big gyrations of the hips and body like an African mama, like those kids on the streets of New York you see in the videos, but like nothing learnt or copied, something instinctive coming out of the body. And I was free to just let it go and it went and it went.

Then we lay on the floor, they played rain sticks and sung songs to calm us, we had a small meditation circle, Om'd three times and drank tea, and left feeling so clean and clear and good, really good, unflutterable.

At about 1am as I got into the shower, my skin felt so very soft, and I can't help but tell you that my breasts and bottom were really firm and smooth and round and, dare I say it, pert. The skin on my face was taught and I looked beautiful to myself. This is not my usual self perception. My body felt really different, lifted, infused with some kind of primal sexy animal woman earth spirit. Was that coincidence? Did the Ecstatic dance somehow produce it?

Digging around online, all the imagery around trance dance seems to involve nearly naked women dancing to drums. Is there something about female sexual energy and real drums and the feeling I had in my body during and after the trance dance - is there something about that that's common experience - hence the images? Or is it simply that sexy scantily clad women make things look attractive to women who want to look like that and men who want to look at women who look like that?

Overall, my questions are:
Does it have to be that dark?
Does it have to be that psychedelic? Can it be a bit dehippyfied and a bit more accessible?
It was similar to Anna Halprin but more intense and wild, and more dark.
Who can and can't enjoy this?
Was I duped all those years thinking it was the drugs that made me feel so high and actually it was just the dancing I did on the drugs?
Should the kids be doing this instead? :)

I reckon the live drummers made all the difference.


She said that the shaking practice comes from Ratu Bagus. He's based in Indonesia. The people in this video don't seem to have experienced that darkness. I have to say though, like a lot of this stuff, it looks more than a little bit mental...

And that Frank Natale is the father of contemporary ecstatic trance dance. He's dead now, but according to his website "The last years of his work were dedicated to a large extent towards the study of extraordinary states of consciousness." Who knows what he was thinking?

I did Ecstatic dance for the first time with Jewls Wingfield at Buddhafield festival in 2005. At the end I somehow managed to fall in love with most people in the room. Most of them were strangers. The dancing dissolved into endless embraces. Jewls knows some magic.

Wierdly I just found a picture of me in there in flickr while looking for pics of ecstatic dance for this post. i'm the short haired one right in the middle.

Mayday in Padstein

This is my first real mission in the search for fun. I'm in Padstow, Cornwall, for Mayday.

It's April 30. Tomorrow apparently the whole town will erupt in fun.

After a drive down, wondering when we're going to have a proper sustainable transport system, listening to the incredible Oreka Tx for the first time - (from the amazing film Nomadak Tx, a multi award winning documentary about musicians traveling the world collaborating, getting up to mischief and meeting wild horse riding, yurt dwelling mongolian throat singers who called the call of the wild so loud my heart leapt up and joined in...)

... then yodelling along to the CD of Chartwell the Dude and trying to master Ave Maria, both the melody line and the Bach Fugue accompaniment alla Bobby Mcferrin, while eating far too much chocolate, wondering when I'm going to stop eating so much sugar, and also trying not to crash whenever I got carried away...

Upon arrival, Padstow appears to be run by Rick Stein. I didn't know that. I eat at one of Rick Stein's restaurants (I don't think I had any choice) after calling Anthony for fish advice (I only started eating  fish 6 months ago after 29 years of fish phobia. "Anthony, I eat Seabass, will I like Sole?" Affirmative.

I started writing this at dinner after text from Mark suggesting travel book. Didn't like that idea, so decided on a blog instead and got started with first post in my notebook.

You know, I'm think I might get lonely on these travels. I think I'll always be surrounded by people, but there won't be much social continuity. We'll see. Maybe this can be some kind of temporary substitute for enduring relationships. Or maybe that'll mean I'll clog up an otherwise interesting blog with random ramblings about my day. Humm. Maybe if I get any readers you can tell me whether or not I should stick to the point...

Right, Mayday eve is apparently the time for singing, so I'm off to try and find some.

After going through every pub in the village, I pass a busker singing "I'll do the job I came here to do, by any means I can."

It's the only singing I can find. Otherwise, it's lots of boozing. People are pouring out of the pubs and flooding the streets. They look healthy and beautiful.

The busker's song is about his politics. He sounds honest. Maybe for him this is a way of forming his feelings into meaning and expressing them out.

How do you feel?

I feel a bit nervous in my friend's charity shop raincoat and my shoulder bag frayed to shreds at the shoulder strap. I feel a bit overwhelmed and alone, everyone is together in community enjoying themselves. I am walking and thinking, before you can gain any trust you probably need to be relaxed and maybe even fit in, or at least make sense.

Maybe the busker will know where the singing is. I stop and perch by him.

People pass.

"It's nice that he's here", a woman says.

Others give money. A young couple stand and listen.

The village centre is decorated by big flags in the streets and on the boats in the harbour. It's a shared thing. Maybe Rick Stein co-ordinated everybody to put up the flags but I don't think so. I think people shared a story that made each of them want to put up decorations. How did that come to be?

The busker finishes his song and I go to speak to him but his phone rings. "They've started singing, have they? Ah well, I'm here now, you'll have to drag me."

Somehow or other, five minutes later John the busker and I are in his car driving to the pub in the nearby village of St Issey. As we walk in, the whole place is singing "let the light from the lighthouse shine on me." The place is packed. Everyone is booming. The sound goes deep into my fibres.

Hang on, I think, this is a Christian tune, but no one seems to care. They know it and they're going for it.

The singing is led by a small group of folkies who stand right in the middle of the crowd, facing each other for courage and because they only know the words to each song between them.

They meet here twice a month, according to the events calendar on the blackboard. That's how they can do this.

Everyone looks rosy.

More songs, the dregs of the pint and then we're back into Padstow for midnight. In the car, John tells me he saw the baker and his wife working behind the till at Tesco. “What happened!?” The baker looked bashful, he says. ”Rick Stein made us an offer we couldn't refuse.”

As we enter the village square, we find this...

(apologies for video quality... my first two little bits of filming and editing in about 8 years and I had to play with some special effects....)

It's incredible, the town is packed. Then the crowd literally goes around the village to the homes of people who have stayed at home, and they sing to get them out. There are whole verses of the song dedicated to getting the loners out of their homes because the whole point is to "unite, unite and let us all unite".

Some sleep and then up for the morning.

At 8.30am the kiddies have their own processions with the mums playing accordions. It's fantastic.

Then mid morning the big version begins:

Sam Lee told me this is the oldest living traditional festival in Europe. It's amazingly cathartic - lots of shouting at the top of your voice - it has a profound community bonding role - everyone - everyone - comes out. And according to Sam there's something trancy about it. The previous year he had that kind of peak experience quality of following the drum and the procession and the music until he was really bored, then going through the boredom and into a kind of trance. For hours and hours he couldn't be without the music.

And they do play it all day.

Later we went to the pub in Padstow and this time there was singing. At the tops of our voices, belting out harmonies, joyful. Cathartic. Fantastic.
This all works because everybody knows what to do, and they know that because it's been happening every year beyond anyone's memory. There's no one story for the history of Mayday, I'm told.
And because it requires no abstract. "Unite, for summer is a come un today." That's it. Let's all get together once a year, isn't it good that winter's over and summer's coming? Good for the fields and the fun and the bones. No one can argue with that. Out on the streets they go.
Is it gold? I don't know because I am an outsider with a mini camcorder in my hand. The insiders look like they're having a gay old time. I certainly think it's good.
Well after midnight, I walk torchless across the fields to the campsite, a mile or so away. As I'm approaching the start of the footpath I'm relieved to see three others heading the same way. I stop to roll up my jeans and tuck them into my socks. A few feet away I hear “Oh that's a good idea.” A woman bends down to do the same, and the others with her follow her lead.
It strikes me that so much of how we learn and what we do is about picking up ideas from each other and copying. It's almost as if teaching is not required a lot of the time.
On the journey I am reminded of an England of old, an England of highwaymen and moonlit paths.
I can discern the path across the field because the trodden earth reflects the iridescent moon, while the matt surface of the ploughed earth absorbs it. I stumble once or twice because I can't take my eyes off the beautiful sky.
What do you do if you were born into a community with no rituals? OK that's rubbish, we've got lots of rituals but this is a good one and I've got nothing like it in my local culture. Singing and dancing in the streets all night with the entire community, simply to come together and welcome the change of season.
I like it. I like applying fun stuff to real things, like a change in season and the passing of time.
How do we do this kind of thing in communities which don't have a deep shared memory and love of a ritual which they all feel they own, together?

Friday, 5 June 2009

Why are we doing it?

Graham started it over 4 years ago because he'd got to 40 he felt like his life was all work and no play. He wanted to have a kind of fun that he couldn't find anywhere.

Graham's a Dude. He's a really great guy. I'm not just saying that because he's my boss. He's the first person I've ever really let be my boss. I've been self employed until now.

We'll talk more about Graham later. Personally, he hit against something that I feel personally and see politically. To me it seems like our space to play around has been taken over by passive, competetive and sometimes quite dull ways of spending our free time. We go out to pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theaters, concert halls, cafes and friends' homes. We almost always sit, especially once you're over 35. We always have to say, do and wear the right thing. We have to consume stuff, which often makes us feel quite rubbish the next day. Sometimes we end up doing things we regret. There's quite a cost. More broadly, there's a social cost to how much we now rely on alcohol to get out of this sense of having to do everything really well.

So, where are the spaces to be really silly? Where are the spaces to play around, to sing and dance together for the joy of it without striving to be a good singer or a good dancer, without having to commit to a regular weeknight or have skills like reading music? Where are our opportunities to get really high without the slightest stimulant?

100 years ago, before the wireless or duke box had been invented, the only music people could have was the music that could be made by the people in the room. Many played an instrument, everyone knew the songs. After a certain time of night in an ale house someone would strike up a song and the whole room would join in on the chorus. The first time I heard a cylinder recording of a night like this, a beaming smile passed contagiously around a room full of people in London as we heard the room in Suffolk from 100 years ago lift in chorus. Like that lifted feeling they had when they sang together was so strong that it passed through the recording and around a room a hundred years in the future.

Now I'm reading Dancing in the Streets - a History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich. She's writing about how throughout history people have been getting together and using dance, song and rhythm to pass through upliftedness and into ecstasy.

"If we posses this capacity for collective ecstasy," she asks, "why do we so seldom put it to use?"

I think this stuff is wonderful!!! I love it! I think it's experientially delightful, politically important, personally challenging, boundary pushing, Alain de Botton even called it revolutionary - and more than anything, there's the potential to offer people something really beautiful.

Happy camper.

We're looking for gold

I think the Fun Fed is a beautiful organisation. I've been working with them as a freelancer pretty much since the beginning, nearly four years ago.

I love the team.

And I love our aims.

We want to create a space for people to experience what we call golden feelings. Yeh, it sounds cheesy but we mean it.

The first time I remember having a golden feeling - actually it's the second - I was 14. It was Christmas time. We'd just done a school concert in a church lit by fire torches. I went next door to the pub where my friends were playing folk music to the light of a big log fire and candles on the old wooden tables. The whole front room of the pub was joining in - three musicians had been hired to play but loads of people had brought their fiddles and their drums and those of us who hadn't were drumming the table and singing along.

That night I had the sense that I had a big ball in my tummy, aglow with a goldenness that pervaded all of me.

We - the team - talk now about a golden mountain, of feelings of happiness and joy that are free from insecurity, endless brain chatter, judgement, fear, anger or whatever. Pure joy I guess.

At the bottom of the golden mountain are feelings of calm joy, like the joy of getting peacefully on with something you love, from doing some craftwork, some gardening, gently sawing up firewood with a friend in an evening forest.

About midway up the mountain we have the higher energy joy, a kind of natural high you might feel while having a really good dance or singing with a bunch of people and the harmonies lift you up.

Then towards the peak of the mountain, we have kind of bliss states, trance states even. This is delicate and mysterious territory that we're just beginning to gently tiptoe into.

I do a lot of weird stuff, and it's taken me into blissful trance states about three or four times. These have been some of the most overwhelmingly beautiful experiences of my life.

"Experiences you might be lucky to feel in a whole lifetime," said my friend Ben, trying to get his head around it when I was explaining this to him.

Yep. I guess so.

I've been hired to find the best fun in the world

It's true.

I was hired on April fools day 2009.

Then we had lunch and ate oysters.

I've never eaten an oyster before or since.

I kept the shell.

It was how the world felt to me that day.