Sunday, October 20, 2013

You First, Brother

Rainbow Gathering, Slovakia, 2012 


     So. If I had any doubts, now I don’t, it’s a fact – deep down I am a real hippy.
     After ten hours of bus ride I got to the European Rainbow Gathering near Lukovistia, on the South of Slovakia.
     I was tired, sweaty, anxious and not really sure what I was doing there and if it was a good idea for a relaxing, therapeutic summer adventure. Specially after a week with my spiritual master, brothers and sisters, I felt bit lonely, left behind and I knew that nothing could amount to that great week we spend together. Still now I was here, so I was going to do my best.
     When the middle age, bold, fat guy, immediately after getting off the bus, took off his cloths (and I mean all of it) and started to march towards the campsite with his upper and lower (hairy) back shining with profuse perspiration (the sky was pouring heat!), I felt even more depressed, but, hey – after all this was Rainbow, not Louvre!
     He looked like he knew the way, so I followed him. After about twenty minutes walk we came to a glade. And that was it – my fatigue and bad mood left me completely and it was then when I realized that I was a real hippy. I deeply fell in love with what I saw!

     There was around hundred people playing in the meadow. Some of them were naked, some dressed in colorful, rainbow-like rags, some were playing tag, other enjoying shower from the barrel fastened to a crown of a tree, some drumming all kinds of drums (there were even tablas), playing accordions, guitars, ukuleles, bagpipes, children were chasing dogs (and the other way around too), some dreadlock yogis chanted mantras…
     I admit that for a moment I felt that I entered a heaven. I stood there, at the top of the hill, with my mouth wide open, savouring this bucolic, idyllic picture.
     It was kind of ecstatic. For a moment I remembered the story of Gopa Kumar entering the pastures of spiritual world, and I imagined how it must felt. Leaving all that madness of material kingdom behind and eventually finding yourself home, in the land of love, freedom and dedication.
     Finally I started to descend. People seeing my backpack greeted me with a cheerful shouting, wave or even a hug or a kiss.
     “Welcome home, brother!” – they said.
     Someone explained to me that it wasn’t the main area of the gathering and I should walk further to find some place to camp.

     As I walked I saw more tents and teepees. Some hidden in the forest or bushes, some in the open. And also there were more and more people. First thing I noticed was that everyone looked in each other’s eyes and everyone smiled. Soon I was to discover that it wasn’t just being polite, but people were actually nice to each other. They were helping each other, like for example carrying stuff, setting tent, etc., sharing whatever they got, even if it was only a small piece of chocolate, bread or a cigarette. Oh, yes, I should mention here that the gathering was alcohol-free and meat-free. There wasn’t an official ban, nobody enforced anything, but still almost all people abided by that unwritten law.

     After few minutes I got to the main clearing, so called “food circle”, which was the centre of Gathering. I decided to camp on the top of the hill. In that way I could see everything that was to be seen and wouldn’t miss anything.
     When I set my tent, I looked down – at the colorful, noisy, happy chaos. And I smiled.

* * *

     I needed a shower. I stank like an angry skunk (not that I know how angry skunk stinks, but it was bad, very bad). A whole summer day spent in buses and dirty bus stations can do it to anybody.
     I went to the shower area I passed before. There were about thirty people waiting in line. Man, women, children. And everyone was completely, definitely, utterly undressed.
     No, wait! There! Relief! I spotted one guy with his shorts on… Wait, no, he took them off…
     Not that I have anything against nudity, it is natural thing, and after all I decided to be a hippy for these few days, but still, it was little bit too much for me.
     I looked at the people in the cue. They were completely at ease. They talked, laughed, discussed Thoreau, Chomsky and Osho… I felt embarrassed being the only one wearing swimming trunks. Ok – nobody was forcing me to anything, no one even looked with disapproval at my puritan sorry self. But still I felt stupid. Should I do it? Should I overcome my weakness and prove to myself to be a truly free man? Or maybe I was being oppressed by a social pressure and to be free I should stay dressed to prove that I was free? I took a deep breath…
     And I did it. I took of the trunks and kicked them aside.
     Here I was. Living trough the one of the oldest civilized human nightmares – standing naked in a crowd of people. My ears were burning, my hands couldn’t find their natural position (that’s what pockets are for!), my thoughts were racing.
     But nothing happened. No one even noticed.
     And when my turn to shower came, and I stood there in the streams of icy cold water, on the small, stone platform (like a little stage), in front of all those people, I felt rather stress-free. I even waved encouragingly to a shy, skinny, fully dressed young man who hesitantly joined the queue.

     I would like to make here a small observation. In the main stream society people are sensitized to nudity and it has a definitely sexual connotation. On one hand it is a taboo, on the other, it is used a lot, for example in advertisement, TV, etc., to attract people, playing on their lower instincts. But there, where nudity was a very common, ordinary affair, the sexual aspect wasn’t really prominent. It was rather innocent and funny. During the whole stay, I haven’t seen a single case of promiscuity, not counting a shy, stammering hippy couple who were looking for someone “to join them in the session of divine, free love”.  I was surprised, I have to say. Not that I’m becoming a nudist now, I think that wearing cloths has its numerous advantages (for example hiding nature flaws, to mention one). Still, I think it was an interesting experience. Instructive.

* * *
     My first food circle. It was something. Something remarkable.
     Imagine – dusk well on it’s way. The little fire in the middle of the glade couldn’t disperse the darkness.
     “Close the circle! Close the circle!” – shouts were echoing among the hills.
     I came closer. Someone took my hand. Tall, blond rasta guy.
     “Close the circle” – he said with a smile. I stretched my hand, trying to reach a girl on my left. She laughed as she tried to stretched her hand and it was still about two meters of free space between us. Eventually we managed. The circle was growing. More and more people were coming from all over the place – from the forest, valley, and surrounding hills. I couldn’t see far, but the growing hubbub of voices told me that we must be now few hundreds or more. As more people came, we were spreading further and further from the centre.
     “Make the second circle” – someone shouted. We just couldn’t spread more if we wanted to stay on the hill. The inner circle started to form and quite soon it was almost as big as ours.
     In the meantime the chanting started. The song was very simple and catchy.

We are circling, circling together
We are singing, singing with our hearts on
This is family, this is unity
This is celebration, this is sacred

     Then the rasta guy on my right looked at my eyes and slowly kissed my hand. I was a bit bewildered, but I realized this is kind of a chain and I should send the kiss further. I looked at the girl on my left, and… I kissed my own hand! I’ve got no idea why I did it. I guess I was just too lost. The girl laughed wholeheartedly and send the kiss further. Then there was a kiss on the cheek and even a kiss on the shoulder. Soon I was pretty good at it, and I didn’t kiss any of my own body parts anymore.
     And then there was the best part. The song gradually faded away and something else started. It was like deep thunder rising from the ground.
     Om chanting.
     I don’t find Om very attractive. After all it is just one of the divine sounds and it doesn’t have the sweetness the Krishna’s name has. But believe me, when few hundred people, holding hands, starts to chant Om together, it is breathtaking. Standing there under the sky sprinkled with thousands of stars, chanting with the multitude, I felt lifted to the air by that powerful, all-pervasive sound. That was a sound of awe-inspiring Visnu, the creator of the world.
     Eventually it faded too. Everyone rose their folded hands to the sky and then we all paid obeisance to Divine, in gratefulness for the food that was about to be served.

* * *
   When after four days I was finally bidding farewell to the hippy paradise, I didn’t expect to be back just in couple of days. Who would? So I was walking very slowly to the bus stop, looking at the sleeping camp. The rising sun poured the gold on the scattered sleeping bags, dusty tents and smoky teepees. Few lonely, dirty survivors of yesterday wished me a happy journey. French young poet in a suit and wild tie gave me a piece of chocolate and played for me on a violin few lines from the International.
     And that was good bye.

     Then, couple of days later I was on the road again. Once more I enjoyed the familiar feeling of sweatiness, exhaustion and carsickness (who rode Eastern European busses knows what I’m talking about). But this time I wasn’t alone.
     It was actually Tania who made me to go the second time.
     After coming back home I was very enthusiastic in my reportage and a bit of that enthusiasm got transmitted to my better half. Basically she put it like this:
     “I’m going. Whether you goin’ with me or not.”
     So I could go or not, and I preferred to go. No, the decision to accompany her had nothing to do with my insecurity because of all those handsome rastas and hippies walking out there with their beautiful drums, guitars and dreamy eyes. I was just happy to get another chance to re-experience Rainbow.
     We also asked my sister, Ania, to join us, and she was happy to do it.

     When we started to get closer to the camp site, the girls felt stressed and a bit awkward. “Are we going to fit? How will we survive the “naked” shower? What about the toilets?” (Oh, yes, Shit Pits! I completely forgot to mention those sweet and cozy places. I will come to it).
     Me however, I felt like coming back home. I was an experienced guide, nonchalant pack leader, Rainbow veteran.
     “On the right you see the Healing Teepee, there, in those bushes are showers… I mean a shower. Single. On the left there is a children kitchen, and here is the main food circle, over there, that white patch, it used to be Krishna’s temple, and I was camping there, by that shrub… There is a funny story…”
     “Could you stop now?” asked Tania.
     “Yeap, please” added Ania.

* * *
     Ania’s biggest fear was the toilet. She wasn’t very inspired by my description of it. So first of all it wasn’t even called a toilet, but, as I mentioned before, “a shit pit”. What a picturesque and juicy term.
     When I first heard about it after arriving few days before I imagined a long drainage ditch with a perch and a row of people sitting on it, smoking cigarettes and having a conversation, you know, like in the war movies, in the POW camp.
     The reality was less shocking, though still not very comforting.
     So first of all there was a designated area for it. And the in that area (in the forest) there were small trenches, maybe 6-7 feet long, 1 feet deep, and they were randomly dug around. The rules were – no toilet paper, just water, washing hands with ashes, and covering the end product with earth.
    At first I was seriously considering holding on until going back home, but then I managed to get used to it. As long as it was daylight, it wasn’t a problem, but God have mercy on those wretched creatures who were hard-pressed during the night hours and had to roam in the darkness. Poor buggers.
     Anyway, for some reason Ania wasn’t inspired by my description of the “toilets”, but eventually she became believer and in the end she was even openly scorning those, who broke the rules and used that forbidden, bourgeois toilet paper.

* * *

       Oh, God, what a cold night it was! I couldn’t believe that just in couple of days the temperature could drop so dramatically. I went to sleep in my underwear, but soon I was wearing everything I owned including four pairs of socks and a hat. And still I was freezing.
     Since I had my private small tent, I couldn’t cuddle up for warmth with Tania. Eventually at 2 AM I took my half-broken torchlight and I went to the forest to collect wood for a bonfire. It took me some time, specially that my torch was going off and on, but ultimately I managed.
     Pretty soon I was falling asleep nicely warmed up, looking at the thousand of stars.

     When I opened my eyes the sun was already high up. Tania was sleeping next to me, she must have a tough night too. And there was this guy with a turban and lots of tattoos, sitting next to us (actually sitting almost on my head).
     “Good morning” said he with a slight German accent. “You don’t mind that I’m using your fire to make chapatis?”
     I looked at him somewhat vacantly, still half asleep.
    “Yes… Of course. No problem”
     Actually I remembered the guy from before. He was doing an improvisation with a guitar, making up a song about the proper and responsible use of shit pits. I remember that I liked his sense of humor, and also fact that he was always helping with food serving.
     I got up and took quick bottle shower behind the tent. Tania and Ania were up too.
     We decided to do a morning program. It was  Janmastami day (Krishna’s birthday). For that purpose I had even brought my mrdanga (Indian drum). It looked kind of funny – since I didn’t have a mrdanga cover I improvised something using an old bathrob and piece of string. It resembled some fury, weird animal.
     Tania created a spontaneous altar, and we sat together and sang Hare Krishna.
     I could see that we gained some respect in Walter’s (the chapati guy) eyes. He looked with an interest at us. When we got to maha-mantra he joined us, not interrupting the chapatis making process.
     When he got his first chapati made, he produced a small, silver plate, put the chapati on it, then bent his head low and chanted some mantras I didn’t recognize.
     After the morning chanting, we got into cooking project. We had brought from Poland butter, powdered milk, icing sugar and dry fruits. Sweet balls time!
     Tania mixed everything in a plastic bag, Ania and me, we cut nuts, dates and raisins, and soon we had maybe hundred or more sweet balls. Then we started bhajan. Tania on caratals, me, mrdanga.
     In a little while we gathered a small crowd. Some of them were attracted by chanting and some definitely by a sight of the beautiful sweets.
     “Ania, distribute the food” – I said between the maha mantras. She was little bit shy, but soon she was dancing and walking all over the place, giving prasadam (food offered to Divine) to everyone around.
     People were charmed. They asked for a recipe, chanted with us, smiled, waved, danced. It was really cool. I felt like in old Iskcon days, during festivals.

     At one point, someone grabbed a full plate and went away with it. I was little bit worried, particularly because guy who took it, didn’t look very normal, he was either high or very off. I looked at him doubtfully, but he just started to distribute prasadam himself.

* * *

     Next day I was woken up by Krsna’s names.
     I was sleeping next to the bonfire again (I was smart and the day before I prepared wood for the morning).
     I looked around. The camp was completely asleep, except for a small group by the big fire down the valley. They sang some mantras, playing guitar and drums.
     I grabbed the mrdanga and almost run down there.
     The people assembled around the fire looked very weary. Some of them were naked, cover with ashes, with red eyes. A sad girl with a guitar was leading bhajan. When I joined gently with mrdanga, they greeted me with smiles and made a space in a circle.
     They looked at the rising sun and sang to a soft and sweet tune:

     Govinda, Gopala, Narayana
     Govinda, Gopala, Narayana

     We chanted and we swayed and we crooned and we smiled and someone even cried nostalgically, and I thought, it was a very magical morning.

* * *
     There were more pastimes and stories to tell, but I think I’ll end it here. A good story-teller knows when to stop.
     In the end I was bit tired, we all were, but still, it was worth it.
     I’m not a sentimentalist – I wasn’t blind to pretentiousness of some, to two hippy girls looking for an attention of a handsome and esoteric guitar-player, to a bunch of ganja smokers who were stoned 24/7, to spoiled kids, or overtly zealous environmentalists. I saw all these things. But I was thinking about something that my Swami said: “We don’t judge others by who they are, but by the ideal they strive for”.
     I tried that and I think it worked. I think I met some beautiful people there and some of that beauty dribbled on me, making me... just better.
     You would like it there.

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