28 September 2010

Adventure on the Feather River

I hoped to finish Liquid Matrix without needing to tell any stories. Does the world really need any more "Gary stories"? But it's fun to share the adventure...

The party didn't take place at Paxton because Thursday afternoon we learned the Paxton Lodge had no primary fire insurance. I'm not sure why it was a secret but it proved to be fatal. The provider of our event insurance informed us that there was no way to cover the structure for it's worth on such short notice - we tried anyway and failed. The lack of primary fire insurance, combined with the fire that almost got away in Paxton a few days before, meant the risk was too much.

Thursday night I spoke with the owners of the Paxton site and explained the coming horror - hundreds of people were on their way, some already on the road. We needed a miracle and I asked them to work on getting one for us. And they went to work, calling everyone they knew in the area, following up on leads and pleading our case. Friday morning I walked an old abandoned saw mill with the owner... it had acres of land along the river, flat spots for stages, lots of trees. The owner was up for it if his lawyer liked our insurance (which, i have to say, was A+). But there were drawbacks. It was visible from the highway and the land was covered in two-foot high grass.

While we were sorting through the logistics of moving to the mill I got a call from the Paxton site's co-owner saying we should go check out the county fairgrounds, that she'd spoken to them and told them what we were doing and apparently we were welcome. Hmm. Fairgrounds. Sounded dusty. The Paxton co-owner seemed very enthusiastic about it though, so a partner and I took a drive up to take a look.

The Fairgrounds manager showed us around when we arrived and we realized the space might work. There were some problems - most notably that the sound had to move indoors at 11 pm. We were also concerned about neighbors and attracting unwanted attention. To that end my friend stressed that it would be loud. I think his words were, "it's going to be unrelenting doof doof doof for 48 hours. Is that going to create a problem?"

The fair manager was unfazed. "We have the High Sierra Music Festival here and they have bigger speakers than anything you're going to have. It's not a problem," she said. Sounded good to me. My friend then asked about neighbors and we were told that there was one cranky guy in a trailer but not to worry about it. So we didn't. We went to work.

For the record: there are neighbors and they did, actually, seem to mind. That was a giant problem for the police, who started fielding noise complaint calls within minutes of us turning on the sound. I had my first meeting with the Sgt. from the sheriff's department at about sunset and it went well. I explained who we were and what we were doing, showed him my contract with the fairgrounds and the insurance certificate. He was cool. He told me to keep it inside the gate and that everything would be fine. Then the sound came on.

Over the next several hours I danced with the police. I kept them at bay until about 2:30 am by reviewing the fact that we were contracted with the county to do what we were doing and it didn't seem right for another department in the county to be hassling us. That argument carried some weight with the Sgt. from the sheriff's department and it kept the music on until... the Highway Patrol got involved!

The local Highway Patrol commander showed up at 2:20 and told us to shut it off. He yelled at me for a while and refused to listen to a word, then got in his car and sped off, leaving me standing there with the sheriff's guys. They all had a "who farted" look on their faces and I took advantage of the moment to give a general speech on what BS it all was. I told them what the fair manager had said about us not being as loud as the High Sierra Music Festival and one of the younger deputies said, "you're not the High Sierra Music Festival." I saw a look of annoyance cross the Sgt's face - he knew better but said his hands were tied due to the local nighttime law enforcement command structure. I believed him.

I went to bed. Allen waited an hour and turned it back on - he's a pirate and that's why he was the first on the team. When I got up in the morning I went to work with the fairgrounds people. They agreed that I was being unduly harassed and from there the phones lit up in the Plumas county political and law enforcement circles. For the next 12 hours I was almost constantly on the phone with county supervisors, the sheriff, the Sgt and the fairgrounds people. Most of them seemed to be on our side - even if they were very upset with the fair for contracting with us. As night fell on Saturday night I was cautiously optimistic that we'd make it.

At about 8 pm I got a call from the Sgt. - he said they'd reached 50 noise complaints and by law the matter would have to forwarded to the DA for a criminal investigation. He told me not to worry about it, that his report would keep me safe, but that I'd need to give them my drivers license info before I left. He added that one of the neighbors wanted to perform a citizen's arrest on me and if he pushed it there was nothing the Sgt could do but serve the papers and cite me. I told him I knew he'd do his job and it was cool, and that my job was to keep the party going. He told me it would get shut down for sure if we didn't move inside right away so we rushed Stereographic off the outdoor stage (sorry man, that was the worst part of the whole party for me! You were ripping it up!) and started getting the indoor stage ready.

At about 9 pm Saturday night the Sgt called me and told me the local politicians had decided that the fair manager had overstepped his authority in issuing us the contract, and that the result was likely that we'd be closed down in the next hour. I asked him what he meant by closed down, whether they intended to chase us out of the campground or, if we stayed would the voices and sounds of 400 campers be almost as much of a problem as the music. The Sgt told me he'd get back to me.

Allen and I started searching for an attorney in Plumas county - we weren't going to let them close the party without a fight. As I keyed in the number of one of the lawyers who was famous in those parts for a fight against the police... the sheriff called. He was pissed off and it took 30 minutes before he calmed down enough to have a reasonable discussion. It was clear that the noise complaints were a problem for an elected sheriff. It was also clear that the party was likely to have been stopped if it had taken place either in Paxton or the saw mill. He told me a lot about local politics and the personalities we were dealing with and gave sage advice. He's a smart guy. I told our story and he was sympathetic. But he works for the people of Plumas county and the noise was a problem. It sounded like he was going to close us down.

Then, while I was talking to the sheriff a line of police vehicles streamed onto the fairgrounds. They stopped and about 10 deputies dispersed into the crowd (some police jargon for you) while the Sgt walked toward me. I was so sure we were going to be closed down that I asked the sheriff what to do with all the people. His answer was a bit cryptic: "Just keep the lid on it." He paused for a moment and repeated, "just keep a lid on it".

I hung up and turned to the Sgt. We talked for a bit and it became clear I didn't know what was going on. He asked what the sheriff had told me and then cleared it up for me - the party wasn't being busted. The deputies were doing a count in a last ditch effort to see if there were more of us there than I'd contracted for (there weren't), and when the quick count was completed the Sgt told me to keep it as quiet as I could and maybe no one would have to go to jail or lose their jobs.

I stood out by the gate talking to that Sgt for an hour after the rest of the counting-squad left. He asked me what I meant when I referred to our group as a community and listened carefully as I explained the connections we have to one another and to the music and dance that frees our hearts and minds to allow us to be better members of the larger community. He got it. I told him he was my best new friend of the weekend and I meant it. The entire adventure was worth it for the hours I spent with this man, the understanding we both gained and chance to communicate directly on a heart level with a keeper of a table in the paradigm.

It certainly isn't all joy and light though. The fairground neighbors are real people who deserve consideration. Consideration we did not provide and I'm disappointed that our needed ceremony had to intrude on others. Karma was created that we'll all have to deal with and my name is on the contract so I expect many of those energetic ripples will land at my shore.

But... I decided to take that on from the beginning because we need to dance. Everyone other than me did their jobs exceptionally. Everyone, especially the dancers. The math tells me that Liquid Matrix produced about 5000 dancing hours between all of us. 5000 hours of moving meditation. 5000 hours not in our heads. 5000 hours that create peace in us and through us. The world is better because of it.

Next time I'll try to do my job better too. But don't worry - I forgive myself fast!

14 December 2009

One moment in time

Today is one of the days I wished for during more difficult times - nothing special except it's all special. Contentment.

My throat hurts and my left sinus is clogged shut. Details. I love you.

28 February 2009

Karma Ensues

When a person gets lost in thoughts and worry there's a tendency to take an action that returns them, if even for a moment, to the here and now. The subconscious will compel one to a behavior that might cause great damage, but at the moment the plate is flung the voices go away and the present moment is experienced. Karma ensues. Self-judgment ensues. More thoughts careen around the mind and... another burst from the subconscious, more karma created. It continues until the internal dialogue is stopped.

If the need to return to the present moment is truly the catalyst behind many unconscious acts, then it's possible to slow down the headlong rush to new karma by proactively returning to the here and now. A few deep breaths and our course can be altered.

24 February 2009


My story is simple. I was lost in my head. I gained a little internal stillness by trying to be aware when I was thinking useless, negative thoughts. That stillness led me to see some other types of thoughts that were also useless, and the stillness I gained from noticing those thoughts led me to examine all of the thought loops I tended to spin in. By practicing gratitude for those thoughts, once I’ve noticed them, I’m spending more time alive, and less time in a waking dream.

I used to walk down the street lost in thought. Now I see things I’d never noticed before. The flowers were in the cracks in the sidewalks all along – I was just too “asleep” to see them, along with the people, opportunities and truths I’d walked past unconsciously before beginning this practice.

Whatever it is that makes me bi-polar hasn't gone away. I still have strong emotional responses to the world around me and my head still spins on things good and bad. But the practice shortens the cycle. A six month depression replaced by a bad week, a bad week replaced by a bad day, a bad day eventually becoming a hard moment.

And I like it that way. I want to experience the soaring joy and crashing despair that come with being alive. But after the moment of joy or despair I want to let go and be ready for the next moment. By being grateful to the source of that momentary joy or pain I'm brought into the present, where I can best face whatever comes next.

My life has changed in the years since I began this practice. I remember how helpless I felt against my onrushing depressions, not knowing where they came from or why and when they’d end. It seemed beyond my control. Now I have a tool to use when my mind starts spinning.

It was my pain that led to my joy. The same path is there for all of us.


One day I noticed I was in a thought loop about a very exciting opportunity. It wasn't a full-blown manic episode, but the type of head-spinning that can eventually lead to one. When I noticed the thought loop I had a brief moment of gratitude. "How nice it is that this opportunity is in my life, it's even reminding me to return to the present moment."

I started using the gratitude I felt as a small meditation or prayer. Breath in, "I'm grateful," breath out, "for having this person (or opportunity)," breath in, "in my life," breath out, "to remind me to return," breath in, "to the present moment." Breath out.

Feeling gratitude to those things that excited me or made me feel better about myself was always nice. But I soon realized I could feel the same gratitude toward the people or subjects that created negative thoughts. I was grateful whenever there was a thought loop that I could identify and try to notice, and every time this happened I was returned to the present moment, if only for a second.

I took this on as a practice. I didn't try to stop or judge my thoughts, but to simply be aware of the subjects I thought about the most, and when I noticed it I did a short gratitude meditation. I didn't set out on a path to "find the present moment". My only goals were to stop feeling like I was a bad person and be able to function like a normal person. The "present moment" had no real meaning to me because I'd had so little experience with it in my head-spinning past. But when I found the present moment, as a side-effect of trying to function, I found more than the ability to function.

Today, I'm grateful for being bi-polar, because it forced me to find the present moment. Otherwise I might have spent my entire life lost in the errands on my lists, never quite here and now. Today I experience many moments of gratitude. Today is all I have.

23 February 2009


The depression came, as it always did. I could feel myself slipping into it in a haze of self-created expectations unfulfilled, and when it settled on me I spent a few weeks lost in head-spinning self-judgment. Eventually I remembered what I'd learned about those kinds of thoughts and started trying to be aware when I was having them.

While I was trying to notice the judgmental thoughts I became aware of other streams of thought I was having, the ones that seemed to come up the most often. Replaying past actions, planning future recourse, nothing that was of any benefit to me. I began trying to notice when I was lost in thought about certain subjects, just like I was doing with the judgments. It was hard to do. I'd often spin on a subject for an entire day before I'd catch myself. But I'd always eventually notice, and after I noticed I took a few deep breaths.

Maybe once today.
Three or four times tomorrow.
A dozen times the next day.
Thirty or 40 the following day.

The depression vanished.

The manic period started.

As I slid into the next depression I noticed that I'd been in thought loops, continuous internal dialogues, that had been pleasurable, or at least positive, and that as soon as there was a problem or negative aspect I transferred the same chaotic thought stream from the positive to the negative. One day I was lost in fantasy, and almost the next day I was lost in judgment. I saw for the first time that the manic episode was the same as the depressive episode, a condition where my mind was lost in thoughts that didn't serve me.

Using what I'd previously learned I was able to escape the next depression, and afterward I started trying to be aware of whenever I was lost in thoughts about particular subjects. I can't tell myself not to think about something compelling, the thoughts seem to come up on their own. But if I ask myself to be aware of when I'm thinking about these things I can be brought into the present moment, and out of my head, by the realization I was lost in the thought in question. It feels good to think about exciting opportunities and new love, but I'd seen how my thoughts could build conditions and paradigms that didn't serve me. I started trying to be aware of spinning on any subject, whether it was apparently positive or not.

In the book "The Art of Dreaming" Carlos Castaneda tries to explain how to achieve a lucid dream state and he says the first step is becoming aware, within the dream, that you're dreaming. The method he says he was taught was to try to remember seeing his hands in a dream. By programming himself to remember he was dreaming when he see saw his hands it was possible to take control of the dream state.

It's much the same with thoughts. Trying to realize when my head was spun out was difficult because... my head was spun out. It was in the illusion state, the waking dream state. I could teach myself to recognize the illusion for what it is by looking for elements of the illusion in my thoughts. Each of us can easily name the two or three things we think about most in the course of a day. By noting these subjects we will eventually (sooner than one might expect) start popping out of the illusion with the realization we're thinking about that "thing" again.

20 February 2009


I had a friend who was diagnosed as bi-polar. He'd had a bad breakup and couldn't seem to shake the depression that followed, and when he sought help they put him on lithium. I watched him gain weight and dull down until he finally decided he wasn't bi-polar anymore and stopped taking the medication. Fair or not, the lesson I learned from my friend's experience was "don't take lithium".

So... as I realized I was trapped in a cycle of short-lived highs and crashing lows, I thought back to my friend's experience. I read a few books. It wasn't hard to suspect I might be bi-polar. Trapped, as I was at the time, in a soul-crushing depression, I attached myself to the idea of a pharmacological solution. So I went to the doctor and lied.

I described the depression. Yes, I sleep all day. No, I won't go out and see anyone. But I knew which questions to lie to. Ever have trouble sleeping? Uh, no. Fantastical thinking and unwise, spontaneous actions? Not me. I wanted the mood elevator, not the drug that had such a bad effect on my friend. It was easy to fool the doctor.

I took an SSRI for a couple of months. I didn't like the way it made me feel. At the same time I started taking it I started trying to watch for when I was thinking the types of thoughts, the negative judgments, that I'd learned didn't serve me. Even if I was a bad person I could see that the thoughts about being bad were making it harder for me to function, and they didn't make me a better person in the bargain. When I started trying to be aware of these types of thoughts a funny thing happened - they went away.

Not immediately, of course. But surprisingly quickly. Within a matter of days the crash I was experiencing seemed to melt away. I thought I'd found the key to "curing" my illness, that it was as simple as being aware that my self-judgmental thoughts didn't serve me and could be stopped by watching for them as they came up. I was wrong, of course.