So you think you can dance? Well, you’re right. And not just at a local nightclub stuffed with awkward conversations and overpriced cocktails. Something sprouted in Hawaii, grew wider in Oakland, and has since spread to many other cities—including San Diego. It’s called Ecstatic Dance, and it seems to be transforming lives.
People gather all over the world to share intentional dance; the intention being a celebration of life, healing, movement, and connection. People also gather, all over the world, to experience states of blissful elevation induced by the electronic music flourishing in the festival scene. It was Max Fathom, on the Big Island of Hawaii, who first united the worlds of conscious dance and DJ culture. The sacred space is enhanced through two very simple guidelines: no talking on the dance floor, and respect the space and one another.
A pair of yoga teachers from the San Francisco Bay were blown away by what they experienced in Hawaii and decided to bring it to the mainland. They found the Historic Sweet’s Ballroom in Uptown Oakland with its 1924 original 8,000 square foot dance floor, huge windows, and mezzanine. Soon it was packed with hundreds of ecstatic dancers, thrilled to laugh, play, skip, twirl, weave, and jump around—knowing anything goes and everything is welcomed and encouraged. All ages, genders, colors, and sexual orientations are embraced.
“Dance is healing and releasing. It does amazing things for the body and soul. In dance, often our minds get out of the way, out of any negative stories we may have about ourselves while recognizing the endless beauty in others,” says Rob Armstrong, who attended Ecstatic Dance San Diego’s first event in Hillcrest last month.
Motivated by the desire to expand local opportunities for positive movement, Ecstatic Dance San Diego was co-founded by wellness instructors Jill Sheperd and Nancy Parker. “What I found in Ecstatic Dance was a place to go that allowed the euphoria, release of inhibitions and permission for full self-expression on the dance floor that I found in my younger days by going to clubs and partying,” says Parker.
Burt Lo, another attendee, says, “It’s not about hooking up, getting high, or hanging out. It is about blowing off steam, getting turned on, shaking off the work week. You don’t need to feel ‘right.’ You don’t want to feel ‘right.’ You want to let go of feeling ‘wrong.’”
Ecstatic Dance offers freedom from structured definitions of movement. Solid forms such as ballet, jazz, modern, and hip hop take on dynamic new dimensions. Prescribed patterns of socialization are ditched at the door. What emerges is an authentic and diverse rainbow of human energy that excites, engages, and empowers. It’s an embodied expression of sustainable community.
You can find Ecstatic Dance San Diego on Facebook!
No surprise--Jon Block’s birthday was a blockbuster event. A party that brought down walls and cleared obstacles; uniting neighbors, friends, industries, and communities. It was, in effect, a Soular Flare—and the energetic charge generated by so much human sunshine left me beaming.
What a gift to be present! When a soul-train pulls into the entry way, inviting those traveling from one side of the house to the other into a spontaneous dance party, something’s moving in the right direction. When the table is laden with kale salad and gluten-free chocolate cake (amongst many other delights), and there is plenty of wine, and laughter rings from every corner, and perfect strangers make welcoming eye-contact, and every handshake is a hug, and conversations are sincere, something’s moving in the right direction. When people gather to celebrate a man who has dedicated his life to creating a premise of possibility for Soular Powered living, something’s moving in the right direction.
I envision this particular directional movement as a spiral of primal potency, expanding from the core of our being, bringing creative essence into the realm of form. It heals, inspires, connects, and builds. It feels like fresh familiarity, elated joy, and focused clarity. It is the driving force behind sustainable growth—embodied, authentic, transformational.
Therefore it is the necessary response to crisis in a world dependent on fossil-fuels (foreign oil, fake food, fear, etc). We have suffered greatly at the hands that claim to feed, but actually starve us of awareness. What a blessing that “biting back” is a simple matter of saying YES. The invitation? Attend to your highest calling!
I credit Jon Block for doing exactly this, and inviting others to share the wealth. This is what we, as spiritual beings, are tasked with on earth in these bodies. To feel the ups and downs, ins and outs, joys and sorrows. To allow for—and support—each other’s process, becoming more than the sum of our parts.
If I were to make a brave attempt and give words to this merry mob, here they would be:
“We are a magnificent cornucopia. We are all ages, all styles, and all smiles. We represent the diversity of human natures, unified by an intention to live a life of full expression and creative abundance. We are being human and loving it, because we have realized that we are, in fact, Love.”
There is a definite buzz in the air about The Full Moon Kava Parties happening in Ocean Beach. Maybe it’s the drumming, the dancing, the sea of smiling faces. Maybe it’s the Ginger Chai or the Cinnamon Cacao—home-made Kava brews unlike anything else in town—at a price that’s equally incredible. Whatever it is, the Soular Power here is palpable.
Kava, or Piper methysticum (meaning “intoxicating pepper”), is a bush-like plant native to the South Pacific, and has been used for over 3,000 years throughout the region for its medicinal effects as a pain reliever, diuretic, and as a remedy for anxiety and insomnia. It relaxes muscles, calms nerves, creates a general feeling of well-being and relaxation, and has historical use as an herbal aphrodisiac. It is widely used in social ritual as a celebratory drink; much like alcohol is used in the West. However, it doesn’t stimulate aggression, impair judgment, or cause hangovers. It just opens you up and puts you in the groove.
There are only a few places in San Diego serving Kava, and they charge upwards of $6 per tiny serving. But when you know this host, Nathan “The Kava King” Lou, Kava flows much more generously.
At The New Moon Kava Party, Kava is $3 per heaping shell. This is a time to get grounded and set intentions for the upcoming cycle; settling in with some guided meditation, live music, artistic performances, and of course, connecting with other awesome folks.
The Full Moon Kava Party is an energetic explosion. It features yoga, meditation, live art, and a cathartic drumming and dancing extravaganza that’s sure to curl your toes. It’s an opportunity for the culmination and release of intention-work started with the New Moon, and of course, celebrating life with people you love.
The Kava itself is top-quality, micro-ground, from Vanuatu, near Fiji. It is sold here locally in Ocean Beach by The Mad Monk tea shop, but nobody mixes an actual batch of Kava like The King. Ginger Chai? Cinnamon Cacao? Yes, please!
And I, local Soular Power Anchor, am the bartender. Along with delicious Kava, I’m serving peace, love, and happiness—and it’s my pleasure. All this moving and grooving helps to circulate the energy that really lights us up.
Looking for Soular Power activity is like being on a treasure hunt. Once you get a feel for it, there’s light glittering all over the place. So naturally, a t-shirt worn by the girl working the pizza counter at Whole Foods bearing the words “Soul Ablaze” is going to catch my eye. She tells me that Soul Ablaze is the name of her co-worker’s band, so I look them up on Facebook and the description reads like a Soular Power invitation: “Music changes. Music evolves. We change. We evolve. Soul Ablaze is something true and timeless. The wind will blow us toward different directions but from dust to dust we are where we begin. Beginning and end come together to form one full circle, one complete Soul Ablaze.”
Several days later I’m on my way to see Soul Ablaze first-hand, at Ghallagher’s Tavern in Ocean Beach. Front man Verdell Smith is accompanied by a saucy, bare-footed sax player, a bassist, and a drummer. If I had to settle on a genre, I’d say I am listening to funky rock reggae, with Latin undertones and jazz overtures. But every song has a different ring to it. As Verdell nimbly navigates his guitar, I have visions of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley and Sade. How one person can embody those three is beyond me, but I have a strong inkling of sacred geometry at work here too. There is just something to smooth about the way his voice melts across my mitochondrial membranes—alternately lighting me on fire and melting me into puddles. Every fiber of my body is deeply contented. Even my vision seems to have softened, draping the whole room in a steady glow. This is no ordinary love. Verdell is a prime example of the human instrument, tuned to the key of life. Clearly, here is another high-capacity vehicle for Soular Power.
This is corroborated by the crowd, which displays one of the tell-tale symptoms of Soular Powered engagement: uncontrollable dancing. This is not the self-conscious, look-at-my-ass kind of dancing designed to lure members of the desired sex. This is the dancing that comes from the feet themselves, organic movement that the ego can’t take credit for. Flailing arms and legs, jiggling hips; it makes you feel happy even if it is also strange-looking. The cathartic value of this movement is immense. It clears the pipes, strengthens the core, and increases personal productivity.
Over a steaming cup of Chai, I confirm my suspicions: Verdell is a musical prodigy. Like Jimi, he taught himself the guitar at an early age and displayed a strong independent spirit—breaking any rule that seemed too small for him. He went on to learn the sax, cello, piano, and drums in high school, while volunteering to write the music for a school play. (Lack of previous experience never poses an obstacle to Verdell. Rather, it is an invitation. This “I can do anything” attitude is his modus operandi.) He was fortunate to have several teachers early on that recognized his talent and knew how to cultivate it—namely, by giving him opportunities. The first time he took to the stage, with just his voice and his music under the quiet spotlight, it felt like a different world; one he was destined to inhabit.
Then Verdell joined the army. This shift in tempo appalled his supporters at home, but Verdell wanted to see more of the world, and the military was easy agency. He was assigned to Germany. With his guitar over his shoulder and an eye to the horizon, he set off exploring Europe, eventually spending time in Bosnia. Witnessing extreme poverty and suffering alongside profound grace and generousity made a lasting impact on his world view—and his music. “It made me want to love and understand everything I can possibly love and understand.” Returning Stateside he managed to get himself accepted to an army-wide solider show (the application asked for three songs; Verdell submitted one). He spent the next year on tour, singing and dancing for large crowds.
Back to civilian status, Verdell continued to study his craft. He was disenchanted by the often egotistical and commercial nature of the industry, and the limited scope of traditional music education; classical music was taught as if it were the definitive index of music literacy. From opera to heavy metal, Verdell explored it all—and then, one day, he happened into the World Beat Center, where he encountered a musician that would inspire him to take his own music to the next level: Midnite. This artist wasn’t show-boating, rather he was making a genuine and immediate connection with listeners. His lyrics struck the deepest chords in spirit, culture, science, history, and social consciousness—and affirmed for Verdell what he felt in his heart. The critical mission is to focus on music that makes people feel alive/organic/natural/beautiful, and plug in to a greater creative force—not a personal agenda. “It makes you revolutionary while keeping your Buddhist composure… this is the power that can move the world.”
Of course, this is music to my inner ear. And then it gets even better. Verdell and I start talking about the power of collaboration…and decide it might be fun if I came to band practice sometime, maybe bring some of my stuff…
I show up at practice and the rest made history.
I’m wandering around an art show hosted by ARTS: A Reason To Survive, deeply impressed and moved by the youth talent represented. ARTS is founded on the philosophy that the visual, performing, and literary arts can transform kids’ live; it is dedicated to healing, inspiring, and empowering children facing life challenges by providing innovative arts-based programs, education and employment opportunities.
From therapeutic arts programming for youth in crisis to college and career readiness in the arts and creative industries, this is a giant cauldron of creative juice—and it’s making my mouth water.
I’m admiring rocks wrapped in wire trees, hand-sculpted magnets (Heal! Inspire! Empower!), masks, mugs, and all sorts of other marvels…when my eyes are drawn to the most magnetic mandala I have ever seen. It stops me in my tracks—mouth hanging open.
The colors are so vibrant, the detail so intricate, that I am lifted out of myself. I am suspended in its gaze. The mandala penetrates me, reminds me that nothing real can be threatened (A Course in Miracles), that all is love. Then I see another mandala, clearly by the same artist. It, too, radiates the essence of the natural world with unabashed passion, makes me feel like I am swimming in pure oxygen…
My next step is to photograph the name of the artist—Kyle Bowen—with my smart phone so I can look him up later. But Kyle is smarter. He has a table with business cards, postcards, coloring books. Brilliance leaps from each. I am sold.
A month later, Kyle and I are having tea. He tells me about his life and how he started painting mandalas.
A San Diego native, Kyle still lives in the home he was born in 22 years ago. In fact, he was born in the living room in a feeding trough filled with water. This is a young man with some earthy roots—hand-fed and home-schooled by his naturopathic mom, he was given full access to art from the start.
Then, at the age of 18, skate-boarding home from a party with a friend, Kyle got the speed wobbles and crashed into a car. Stunned, he made it home and went to bed—without a word to his mother or anyone else that might have chastised him for skateboarding at night, no helmet.
Becoming an adult in this world is tricky enough, but the next year presented Kyle with a challenge nothing could have prepared him for. Life seemed impossible, confusing, and downright frightening. He thought he must be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, or a nervous breakdown, or some other technical difficulty. Finally, one day, the friend ran into Kyle’s mom and asked how Kyle was doing, since the accident. It was the missing link. A neurologist took a thermal image of Kyle’s brain, revealing extensive damage.
Armed with an explanation for his mental malfunctioning, Kyle’s healing journey began. And, as if orchestrated ahead of time, the right elements arrived: positive people, homeopathic remedies, and from his grandmother, two amazing books (Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung and Divine Forces by Paul Heusenstamm). Kyle was inspired to make his own mandalas, which he painted on rocks. Hundreds of them.
He could feel there was something to it—a deep, soothing power that softened the edges of his mind and opened his heart. As the mandalas moved from rock to canvas, spreading into the world, Kyle was further bolstered by the responses evoked when people saw his work. Their smiles, the light in their eyes, and their warm words encouraged him to keep going.
Regarding his work, Kyle says: “There is always something new, an endless possibility. It seems like I’m repeating myself but that’s what nature does. Like with flowers…they’re the same thing but different. I don’t make the same mandala every time, but they’re all mandalas.” Indeed each piece is bright, beautiful, and affirming—and totally unique.
Kyle’s goal for the upcoming year is to be happy, healthy, and balanced. He wants to expand his work, moving to larger platforms (such as murals on buildings!) He is also interested in organic gardening, surfing, learning to play drums, and helping others to fulfill their creative calling.
Kyle continues to be influenced by the Huichol Indians, Alex Grey, Chris Dyer, and Max Moses. “I hope my story inspires people to do what they love. Enjoy what you’re doing. It’s the most important thing.”
It has been over a week and I am barely sitting down to write about The New Year Soular Flare. I’ve been processing, digesting, and integrating the experience (I’m still not finished). It’s hard to fit the colossal magnitude of the energy of a Soular Flare into words, or pictures, or any other recording device. So here is the disclaimer: I do not attempt, in this log, to describe how a Soular Flare might feel to you. I can only tell you what it felt like to me…and a few other objective details.
People arrived and got settled, bringing food, instruments, paints & brushes, or anything else that tickles their creative fancy. There were dozens of drums and shakers available to anybody who had a mind or hand to try them, and a house DJ to boot—so the music started simply. It felt mellow, relaxing, and cozy—an open invitation. There were waves of people, waves of instrumentation. It was like sitting at a beach. As more people came the tide of energy began to rise, it got warmer, and happy excitement floated in the air. The collaborative concert was underway.
At midnight we made a large circle, filling the room perfectly. Tea lights went to each person and soon the room flickered with little flames and shining eyes. Each person said three words (give or take) of intention for the new year. It was a beautiful, palpable experience of individual and collective power. After that I felt everything shift—and the rest of the night was like a bright burst. We moved away from the circle and reunited fluidly into the most incredible jam and dance session I have witnessed. We were one multi-dimensional organism, breathing and pulsing.…and it lasted without pause until 7 am.
Here’s what it looked like at any given moment: some of San Diego’s most compelling contact dance improvisers waltz in; suddenly people are flying into the air. Memphis Taylor on the mike, lyrics flying out of his mouth. Radsab, Hiruy, and Dragon on the drums with hands and sticks of fury (where did Radsab get those light-up drum sticks?). Marissa Oliver on violin shredding bows to the bone. Kyle Bowen painting mandalas. There are people painting each other’s faces and large canvas on the walls. People toasting, cheersing, eating, laughing, hugging, talking…this is a space where you can pull up a blankie or dance your face off. Either one is totally appropriate.
The youngest person in attendance was still in utero, while the oldest was hard to identify; there were many age-less beings whisking about the dance floor or dangling from the aerial swing that could have been anywhere from 60 to 100 in biological time.
No two Soular Flares are alike. They are born, organically, of the people who plug in. It is an entity that exists only once. And for once, saying Happy New Year did not feel automatic. It was authentic. I was restored and renewed by all of the Soular connection, savoring the feast of people truly feeling good—genuinely, with every cell, PLEASED to BE PRESENT.
Political disclaimer: The Soular Power Brigade (SPB) is not directly affiliated with any political agenda other than The Soular Power Party! (woot woot!)
Social disclaimer: The SPB does not endorse mental, physical, or spiritual violence, nor egotistical tyranny of any kind. Futhermore, as Soular Power dwells within each human body, The SPB is not directly affiliated with any geographical location or outside corporation. This is a movement for strengthening synapses within and building bridges between human beings.
General Statement of Intent: The SPB recognizes the power of common themes in facilitating communication and therefore community. Thus we shall endeavor to use the language of The Soular Power System as a framework for human engagement and activation; creating a container/context for experience. Our Soul purpose is to promote Invironmental Awareness and embody Self-Sustainability, while generating free Soular Power for all.
THE BRIGADE OCCUPIES THE OCCUPATION — Nov 5th 2011
Last night, thousands of people in New York closed their Bank of America accounts. Today San Diegans are on the march in downtown, trying to do the same. The Soular Power Brigade is going to make its debut appearance.
It is early afternoon. We arrive on the scene after going to Ace Hardware to get blue painter’s tape for our signage.
I encounter marchers, several hundred at least, shouting and holding signs about the corruption of the banking system. While looking for my fellow Brigaders in the crowd, I shuffle through my own stack of signs. Might as well make a statement or two while I’m here. I select one that says “Occupy Yourself” and the first woman who reads it scowls and says and nudges her husband and looks like she is going to come after me. I realize that there is a dreadful miscommunication afoot and start to explain that it is a message about personal empowerment—after all, how can we occupy the streets if we don’t even occupy our bodies? How can we effectively change a system if we are stuck in our heads and butting them? But she is not in listening mode; might as well be earless. I hasten to switch signs. “Think Responsibly” seems a safer bet.
Stationed at the corner of the block housing Bank America, I revise my sign selection to include only those that speak most clearly to the mood and moment at hand. I put them up on the walls nearby (Wanted: Your Voice! Wanted: Balance). It is my hope that a few well-placed signs will convey the context/create the container that The Soular Power System presents, and find their way into some of the pictures people are taking.
“Wanted: Prosperity” goes on the drums. The drums are the invitation—and soon there is dancing. This is not ordinary look-at-my-ass kind of dancing you get used to seeing around this town. This is dancing that says I AM FREE. Hips wiggling, eyes shining. Genuine smiles. People of all different ages, colors, sizes, and smells. More musicians appear—a masked villain with a tambourine, a man with a cowbell—and soon we have a curbside jam band. Vocal instrumentation, including spoken word, freestyle rap, singing, and chanting, round out the spontaneous symphony. Did I mention the dancing? This is so fun it’s almost unbelievable and I just hope my so-called smartphone can capture it (see it on YouTube here). We keep the corner rocking for over an hour until we decide to move to The Civic Center. Then we jam until the sun goes down.
There are cops all over the place, and news cameras, and a general sense of inflammation.
Yet, given the choice, many of us would rather dance (or sing, or play) than fight.