Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Adventures on the Flipside

We took an amazing journey this past weekend. I've been contemplating how I'm going to describe our adventure to the world, and I think I've figured it out. This blog post comes with a message: be open to experiencing our experience.

As you may already know, these past four months have been the most stressful time in my husband's life, as well as mine. John traveled to Boston at the end of April, came back and defended his dissertation on the 9th of March, corrected his thesis, submitted four journal articles, and finally graduated on May 16th. The whirlwind pushed me off center, too. Both of us have been so worried about where we're going to end up, how John's going to find work, what our next move is going to be...we were dizzy with anticipation, and quite honestly: it was unhealthy.

All the while, our good friend Rion and his fantastically quirky partner Basia have been begging us to travel to Dripping Springs, Texas (outside of Austin) for the annual "experiment" known simply as Flipside. I was hesitant to go because lately I've been feeling so out of my element and exhausted, plus I didn't know anything about Flipside, and the last thing I wanted to do was drag myself to was another hippie-fest in the woods. But, Rion and Basia were positively persistant, so John and I packed up our camping gear, dropped the pup off at Camp Shannon Esten, and set off towards the Hill Country.

It was Thursday night, we had worked a full day, I had also taught my dance class until 9pm, so we were both pretty exhausted. But, something was calling us, telling us to just get there.
The drive flew by, and before we knew it, we were coming up over a hill that was backlit with bright lights. We could see Flipside; our community for the next five days. The colored lights and tents and flags beckoned us further, and when we stopped at the Greeter's Station to pick up our parking tag, a beautiful man in neon green pants and a cowboy hat exclaimed "Welcome home!" We didn't know what he meant, but we couldn't help but smile because his energy and enthusiasm were contagious.

We drove a little further, creeping along and admiring the colorful people in their brilliant clothing. It was weird because it wasn't really like costumes. It was more like this: what would you wear if there were no trends, rules, or social constraints? What would you decorate yourself with if there was no "clothing rule" that said TODAY IS A SUIT DAY or NO SHOES NO SHIRT NO SERVICE. If you could wear whatever you wanted, what would it be? That's what Flipsiders wear. There were men in ballgowns, women baring their breasts, feathers, turbans, sequins, but also a lot of natural, comforting textiles like cottons and linens. And the really beautiful thing was that no one judged or had any opinions about anyone elses' choices. Whatever statement you wanted to make with your clothing or lack-there-of was completely accepted and appreciated. When our headlights captured an energetic animal-like creature in faux fur from head to toe, we got really excited. It was Basia, smiling and waving in huge furry boots, furry miniskirt, furry vest and furry headband. She pointed to the direction of our camp, and our new lifestyle.

We greeted Rion with hugs and kisses. Rion is this beautiful spirit who exudes life and animation all the time. He is both enduring and hilarious. Also, Rion sweats A LOT. I think it's because he's a busy body who is moving constantly. The funny thing is that he smells REALLY good all the time, so when he gives you a huge sweaty hug, it's actually kind of refreshing and delightful :) Rion, by profession, is a brilliant DJ. The entire weekend, he gifted us with his talent for reading the mood and choosing fitting tunes.

Immediately, Rion was ready to show us around the camp, so John changed into his favorite hemp pants that he would live in if he could, and I already had on bright blue tie-dyed tights from my dance class (you know how I feel about tights...LOVE THEM), so I threw on a neon pink bikini top. I remembered these fabulous pink wings that Shannon let me borrow right before John and I left home. Shannon said, "you should take these." So, in honor of my lady, I sported the wings. The ironic thing about the wings is that they were really hard to dance in, so I took them off at one point in the evening. Jeremy, my brother-in-law who met us down in the Flipside valley, ended up wearing the wings the majority of the night. And he sported them well; he reminded me of Angel from X-Men. It was awesome.

Here's the part of the story where I mention one of the premises of Flipside: the Gift Society. There is no exchange of currency at Flipside; no cash, no purchasing, even bartering is frowned upon. Everyone who participates in Flipside is encouraged bring gifts to share with the other participants. At first, this concept was so foreign to me, and i had absolutely no idea how it was going to work. When Rion and Basia said "bring a cup when we travel through the camps" I was thinking we should put a beverage in our cup before we leave our camp. But, there was no need, because every camp we stopped at had beverages (including water!! HYDRATION!) to share. All we were expected to do was receive the gifts lovingly. Then, when the time was right, we could share our gifts. I brought face/body paint and a mirror (painting strangers+pina coladas= blast). John brought enough food to feed an army, and he also "gifted" a lot of his time to cleaning and picking up trash/sorting the recycling. Strangely, the energy at Flipside was so positive, that often when you found yourself in need of something, someone usually gifted it to you without you ever having to say anything. The entire time, I never asked for anything, but I never needed anything because I was provided for.

This brings me to my best gift I received all week: Phoebe and Doug. The morning after our first night, our tiny camp consisting of Jeremy, John, Basia, Rion and myself decided we needed to move locations. The outward reason for doing this appeared to be because the noise pollution from three other camps was crossing over our camp, which made sleeping pretty impossible. But, looking back, I know that the real reason we moved camps was so that we would meet Doug and Phoebe. After a very early morning of packing up our old camp, moving locations, and unpacking and setting up our new camp, we were all exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated. Out from the cedar trees came this beautiful woman with blonde, curly, somewhat-dreaded hair carrying a bagful of bottles of kombucha and a steaming tray of vegan tomales. She smiled at us and said "you're my new neighbors." She gave us tomales and we drank her kombucha, and Phoebe never left our side from there forward. She was our Earth Mother.

Now, I want to be very accurate about my experience with Phoebe, because she deserves that much. In just five days, she changed my perspective on life, love, and being a woman. From the first conversation I had with her, I was hypnotized by her wisdom. Every single thing that came out of her mouth spoke to me, as if she was EXACTLY who I needed to know. She told me that she believes the Universe knows exactly what we need, and we don't have to be afraid of anything because we are on a journey; this path will lead us to completion. We laughed because Phoebe is notoriously clumsy, always falling down and hurting herself. I told her that I'm not clumsy, and that I'm very cautious about things because I don't want to get injured. She said it was because I am an old soul, and at this point in my journey, I've learned to care for myself and love myself. Phoebe was spiritually tuned-in to everything, quoted from the Bible and different religion's books (tao te ching), and her perspective was purposeful.

Phoebe disappeared for a little while to take a shift at the Recycling Center, and up walked this tall, strong man with a kind, handsome face and shoulder-length brown hair. I'll never forget the first time I saw Doug: he was wearing a white linen slip, wooden beads, and a turban. He smiled at us and said, "I'm your neighbor." We told him we just met a woman named Phoebe who was also our neighbor, and it turns out Phoebe and Doug were camping together. They met two years ago at Flipside, and since then, they've developed this very special relationship and a unique dynamic. At first, I was trying to categorize their relationship, and I even said to Phoebe, "I don't understand you and Doug." But she just smiled and told me not to try. Simple.

Doug is a martial arts instructor, but it's not the kind of martial arts you immediately think of. He is teaching a form of Tai Chi known as Ikito (I think I spelled that wrong) to children and adults, which is a sort of non-abrasive, non-attack, almost dance-like form of Martial Arts. Phoebe studies under Doug, and they have a very cool student-teacher bond. I got to witness their "dance" and it moved me. They are peaceful and surreal when they are in sync with one another. Doug showed me all kinds of cool breathing and meditation techniques, and he advised me about Yoga and stretching. I told them about my Dance Therapy dreams, and Phoebe reminded me that if I build the space, and facilitate the creation, then I've contributed to the art.

I woke up from a nap one afternoon, and still drowsy from deep dreaming, I walked barefoot over to Phoebe and Doug's camp. They were huddled between two trees, resting in the shade, reading Oracle cards. Phoebe asked me if I wanted my card read, and I told her I was scared. She said that the cards aren't like Tarot cards, but they are more like life lessons that are applicable and sacred. "The only thing you have to do is believe what it says," Phoebe encouraged. I sat down with them, and Doug spread the cards out face down and asked me to pick one. The one I picked was titled "Detach yourself from Drama". I laughed when I read the card, because as many of you know, I can be a bit dramatic. The card (summarized) read that in life, there are both good and bad things that will happen to you, but there is nothing you can do to control the choices of others, or control circumstances. So, you may as well accept everything as a part of your journey, embrace circumstances as a part of your life, and don't get sucked into the drama of other's. The card said to sympathize and emphathize with other people's circumstances, but don't let it pull me down. This card brought tears (I'm a weeper) because it applied so heavily to me and my current path. There have been so many joyful things that have happened to me on my journey, but there have also been many hurtful things. Instead of getting down when bad things happen, and instead of feeling anxious about anything, I've learned to sit back and enjoy this ride, both the positives and the negatives, because they make up MY LIFE, which is sacred and perfect.

Phoebe and Doug said that they wanted to gift me a name (Flipsiders often have a different name to identify with while camping with one another). They called me Brook because they said I brought forth a new energy like a Bubbling Brook. I loved it, and I identified with the name for the rest of the camp.

Speaking of Flip-names, we all gifted Jeremy with the name "Turk" because he brought a giant cooler filled with delicious smoked turkey legs. He heated them on the grill, wrapped them in foil, and gifted them to other Flipsiders we met. It was really cool, and the Turkey legs were a huge (and scrumptious) hit.

Lastly, I have to mention Taylor. Taylor joined our camp from out of nowhere, and he became a member of our family immediately. He disappeared sometimes, and right when someone would say "where's Taylor?" he appeared...like that very second. He was this hilarious presence, super fun to be around, and he gifted us with his spirit. On the last day, Taylor decided to sleep while the rest of us were awake. I tiptoed by where he was sleeping, and I noticed he was shivering (it actually got kind of cold for a little while, which was a blessing). I wrapped him in this quilt that I've had since my freshman year of college that I call "The Quilt of Love" because it's really soft and old and wonderful, and it's seen me through tough times. Taylor was grateful, and I felt blessed to have provided for him, even though it was something simple. The quilt made his sleep more restful, which made me feel purposeful.

I learned many lessons these past few days, and as they pop into my brain, I'm going to record them here for my own sake. I never want to forget anything I learned. But, the most important lesson I'm taking from this time is to recognize the cycles in life. The best way to explain this "cycle" thing is like this: there are no coincidences or irony. You must recognize the coincedences as gifts from the universe (or God, or Buddah, or whoever you want to call the higher will) that were put in your path for a reason, even if the reason is nothing more that to make you smile. Cycles can be large or small, but they are all important.

Here are some cool cycles that we recognized while at Flipside:

1. John and I brought instruments to the swimming area, only to meet an expert uke player (how many of those live in Austin??) who played my baritone with such passion, it inspired us.
2. At sunrise, I met a guy from Amarillo who went to my highschool and knew my sister. At the same time, John was standing on top of a huge tower taking photos of the sunrise and also talking to someone from Amarillo who didn't know the guy I was talking to.
3. Basia and Phoebe dropped something on the ground and lost it, and when I came back to camp with a gift from someone I met, it turned out to be EXACTLY the same as what Basia and Phoebe had lost.
4. It rained really hard on Saturday, and everyone had to cram in the pop-up for a few hours to take shelter. John and I had driven back to College Station for the day because I had my kiddos' dance recital, and Basia said that if we had been there, it would have been too crowded. But, because we were gone during the storm, it was just perfect for Basia, Rion, Doug, Phoebe, and Taylor.
5. Basia wore a bumble bee inspired striped ensemble (HAND-MADE and fab) but the head piece with the antennae things broke, so she didn't have anything on her head. Then, this random gal gifted Basia an awesome bumble bee hat while we were out that night. Complete with Antennae.

So, I know this is a lot to take in, but I just felt so compelled to share with my friends. Flipside was so much more than a trip for me, it was a new perspective. And sometimes, these times are few and far between. I'm going to start recognizing the beauty, cycles, and joy even more than I did in the past, and I look forward to the gifts my new perspective brings.

Life, love, and joy!