Shambhala is a place where magic happens. It’s difficult to explain what this means, but I’m willing to bet many who’ve attended this event would agree. In my experience, this magic often manifests in the form of inexplicable synchronicities, expressed through varying degrees of intensity. After 5 years of attendance, Shambhala has created and resolved many intricate personal loops, some of which have spanned multiple years and interpersonal relationships. This year, my longest-running and most complex Shambha-loop was brought to a close, then reshaped into something remarkably undefinable.
Garrison and I didn’t meet on the dancefloor, or have that instant spark or anything romantic like that. We met in the campgrounds before the festival began. He was an acquaintance of my friends, who had invited him to camp with us. The plan was to meet at the front gate before doors.
After gates opened and the mad rush to find a campsite began, we wasted those first minutes of precious time waiting for this random dude who was nowhere to be found. I was bitterly annoyed and insisted that my friends just forget about him and start moving, lest we be forced to settle for an unshaded, thus unsatisfactory, campsite.
They conceded and we pressed on, then soon found Garrison on the pathway to the campgrounds. He’d already gone in without us, which compounded my already brimming sense of irritation. While my friends scouted for a campsite, he and I sat together watching everyone’s belongings. He awkwardly attempted to make small talk, which didn’t help the situation in the slightest. I tried my best to tactfully shut down the conversation, since I couldn’t have been less in the mood.
I spent that year at Shambhala roaming largely by myself, as I often do. Only seeing my friends at camp. But on Sunday night, after being by myself for hours, I found Garrison at Fractal Forest during Slynk’s set, as I was in the middle of a savage hug rampage. I had surrendered all of my being to Shambhala that night, completely marinating in the vibes, and began giving out hugs to dozens of random strangers for hours on end. When we locked eyes, he smiled at me an impossibly wide, toothy grin, wearing his big fluffy spirit hood. It was a scene too wholesome even for cable television. I couldn’t have been happier to see anyone, even this person I hardly knew. We exchanged brief incoherent pleasantries, hugged, and I continued on my rampage.
He and I didn’t connect much that weekend until Monday morning, after Rich-E-Rich finished his customary closing out of the festival. We ended up at the river together, where we chatted for hours recounting the beautiful madness we’d witnessed that weekend. Eventually, we returned to our campsite, where the friends he came with had already packed up and were ready to go.
In a matter of moments, he was gone.
I left Shambhala that year feeling like a beam of light. Like I had shed all of my anxiety, and no longer needed to self-flagellate, for I could see the beauty in everything, even my own suffering.
Back home in Seattle, Garrison asked me if I’d like to go out with him sometime. I thought about it. He wasn’t really my “type”, and I wasn’t very impacted by my first impression of him. Yet, I flashed to that moment when I found him at the Fractal Forest during the hug rampage. The massive smile he gave me, made wider by the primal joy of LSD. I said I’d love to. But, the date would have to wait since I was headed to Burning Man.
One week later I went to Burning Man, for the first time, by myself. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I got cosmically lucky and had an unreasonably epic time. But all the anxiety I’d shed at Shambhala came right back up through the intensity of the Burn, and boiled over into the most cinematically intense week of my life.
At the Burn, I met a boy from Boise (which is a whole other story, for another time). But soon after returning to the default world, I essentially ended up in a polyamorous, long-distance triangle. Garrison was also in some form of “open” situation with a girl who hated everything about me. So needless to say, it all began with a very complicated, confusing, and unconventional dynamic.
I went out with Garrison a couple of times, and twice turned down his advances. It wasn’t until October 22, 2016, when something crashed down on us. It was the last night Safe in Sound Festival came through Seattle. After the show, I rode in a luminescent rickshaw through the rain to Foundation Nightclub where Gareth Emery was playing. Garrison and I met up there and decided to take some MDMA, despite it being 1:00am. The music finally ended, but we kept on dancing. First on the sidewalk to blasting car speakers, then back at my place where we landed for the night with our mutual friend Zach who was blithely unaware of the faint spark between us.
Unable to ignore the growing attraction, Garrison and I slinked into my bedroom and ravaged each other for four straight hours. Meanwhile, our poor friend Zach was watching cartoons on my laptop in the living room. There was a moment when I emerged to use the washroom, and Zach perked up, “Are you guys coming out now?!”
“No….. sorry, man…” I said before shutting the bedroom door shut for the final time that night.
I’ve never really cared for Gareth Emery, but that night was irrevocably branded as the night our relationship began. It was then that I told Garrison I loved him. Just two months after we’d met, and one week after we’d first kissed. This urge to drop the L-bomb was undoubtedly inspired by the extremely potent cocktail of MDMA, dopamine, and oxytocin, but it was all too intense to withhold. I wondered for a long time whether those feelings were real, or if that tenuous cocktail was the true foundation of our relationship.
Some months later, we took acid together for the first time, which confirmed with certainty that our connection was indeed deeper than Gareth Emery night. That day, whilst snuggling in his bed, I had a vision of two celestial bodies colliding in space, creating a whirlwind of multi-colored specs dancing in chaotic synchrony. It left me with the feeling that this connection was something greater than us both.
After several years of intense highs and miserable lows, our relationship continued to grow, but was not without its share of issues. We broke up twice, ended up living together for a year and a half, and shared countless adventures, including three Shambhalas as a team. Shambhala was always a profoundly important element of our relationship; the refrain of our tumultuous duet. Each one bringing us exponentially closer than the last. While our connection was never questioned, our recurring issues eventually left us stuck in a toxic loop that was destined to be broken.
This year of Shambhala marked a devastating change in our relationship. He was planning to leave two days after the festival to start a new life in a new state. We had just broken up, but still couldn’t imagine not attending Shambhala together. I was grateful we decided to go one last time, but had been dreading that impending weekend because I knew it was the end.
When we arrived on the Farm, I didn’t feel the same sense of excitement and connection that I’ve felt in years prior. Indeed, I felt nothing. I tried to convince myself that I could be excited, but it was inauthentic. We went through the motions, set up camp, geared up for the weekend.
Despite my reservations, Shambhala worked its magic and Friday was the best night I’ve had all year. Around 10pm, I genuinely thought I had blown my entire energetic load at the end of Slynk’s nonstop drum and bass finale. But then the night just kept on coming. By the time I’d immersed myself in The Village, I was one with the Farm. Never have I felt more in my element than being lifted out of my body and raging my spine into oblivion to the sonic massacre that was Excision’s blowout comeback set.
It was a night so wonderful that I told myself even a single night of Shambhala is well worth all the effort of getting there.
Then the rain came on Saturday, and my familiar sense of despair was actualized in the form of wetness and mud. It was inescapable. Even the inside of our tent was drenched after an entire water bottle accidentally dumped on our bed earlier that day. When I realized there was no reprieve, no place to be dry, I was inconsolable.
The entirety of 2019 has systematically broken me harder than most years of my sorrow-smeared life. On top of that, I’m convinced that rain is an unavoidable part of my existence. Having Shambhala be rained out, of all places, destroyed me. On Saturday night, something deep inside me shattered completely. What’s more, I beat myself into the ground for being upset at the most beautiful place on the planet. If I couldn’t have fun there, I must be broken beyond repair. I wept for six or seven straight hours. Well into the brisk morning daylight. I was enveloped by wetness, as it flowed out of me in the form of thick, anguished tears.
Back at camp that morning I was confronted by the depth and warmth of the friends I’ve brought to this festival. My wonderful friend Danielle, relatively new to bass music and a first-timer at Shambhala, offered me comforting advice and consolation.
The boy from Boise that I met at the Burn, and his beautiful partner Michelle, who I’d begged to come to Shambhala, were camped right next to us on this, their second year. They generously agreed to share their bed since ours was soaked from the water bottle disaster. Around 9am, I crawled into their tent, where Michelle laid by my side and commiserated with me, fingers interlocked, until together we cried tears of mutual pain and compassion. Then I slept through the afternoon, resting off much of the stress and sadness.
On Sunday night, Shambhala gave me a second chance to feel whole again. To dance without fear, to feel connected to the earth, the mud, the trees, the music, the people who love me, and the beloved romanesco broccoli, Felicity, who I’d lovingly clutched all weekend. I wholly embraced the mud to the madman Boogie T’s swamp step, dancing beneath bright, towering sunflowers in the courtyard. Finally, we closed out the festival to the best drum and bass set I’ve seen all year from Tha Funk Junkie.
Then late Sunday night, the four of us all came together. Like the ouroboros, the entire story came full circle. The boy I met at Shambhala in 2016, the boy I met at the Burn two weeks later, and my kindred spirit Michelle, all shared our souls and bodies in that tent on the final day.
Garrison and I returned from the Farm, more deeply connected than ever. Knowing with certainty that it wasn’t completely over. That our relationship had unexpectedly reached a whole new threshold of love, connection, and experience. The heartbreak, however, was still very real.
Two days after our return, with haste reminiscent of that very first time we connected at Shambhala, he left.
Much like love, Shambhala is undefinable. It has the power to reconfigure your universe, then spit you back out, raw with new growth like a freshly molted lobster.
Shambhala was the beginning and the end of that chaotic loop. I’d entered the weekend fearing that I was losing the love of my life. That my favorite place would be defined by sadness and loss. Instead, it completely evolved that relationship, as well as others, into something much deeper than I could have anticipated. While the hole in my heart is still gaping, it’s filling now with hope rather than despair.
Contrary to what I’d predicted, Shambhala 2019 was to my relationship with Garrison not a period, but an ellipsis…
[Feature Image Photo Credit: Joffrey Photo]
Check out the Shambhala 2019 Aftermovie:
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