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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Glastonbury 2011: Body and Soul

Lizz is the Queen of Fire
Last year, when I went to Glastonbury, I think my sense from it was that I could quite happily ignore all the bands and still have an amazing time, so when Caroline sent me her clash diary and asked what I thought, I replied: "I think clash diaries are anal."

To be fair, she can be forgiven because she has to let the people at Deafzone know where she wants to be so there can be sign language interpreters in place, so she's forgiven. Plus, really, all in, it's not like any of us can really say, hand on heart, that anal's not something we wish we all were getting a bit more of in our lives.

Speaking of things I think we all wish we had more of in our lives, I think that part of the surprising appeal of Mumford and Sons is the poetic and spiritual content in their songs, which marks them as quite unusual for a band that could fill the field in front of the Other Stage with everyone chanting along with every word to songs about awakening their souls and asking for some power to keep the earth beneath one's feet.

To me, this just reminded me of something I think I've talked about before in this blog - the sense I get that it's not the literal truth of a religion that actually matters, but that the mythology of stories has a different kind of truth - the difference between mythos and logos in philosophy, I suppose. The time at Glastonbury made me reflect quite a lot on this and how important the truths of mythology are to me as an artist and as a writer.

On the first night, I watched people gather at the Stone Circle, where almost everyone was drunk or on drugs, there were naked women dancing in the mud and the rain, people smeared in earth and paint and blood. Drums and brass bands led people in song and dance as the sun fell in the sky and there was a wild edge to the night that always seemed to be just one step away from descending into total carnage. In the crowd, robed figured patrolled with their tall staves in their hands, looking pleased at the chaos around them at the party. Midsummer is, I suppose, a reminder that what you have is about to slip away, so you should enjoy it while you can; it's about to disappear from you.

On the second morning, I talked to some of the people who ran the Common Ground Café. We talked about how ill-prepared many people were for the weather; how odd it seemed to come to the festival without any notion of how enormous and powerful nature would be compared to you, and what kind of pride you were showing to come along in flip-flops and no waterproofs. They talked about how they had formed out of a group of drug addicts who found a a faith in God and began living as a religious commune in the seventies and had stayed together since then. They seemed one of the most genuine, kind and friendly sets of people at a festival where those traits were pretty abundant anyway, so I enjoyed my time with them, and the people there would always make time to talk to me about what I was drawing and to chat about other things.

Common Ground was one of the few places to eat where you could get food for less than seven pounds, so Lizz and I found ourselves more than once in the Hare Krishna tent where they offer food to those who need it. It was a painfully humbling sense to be taking food, knowing that their charity was making a very genuine difference to me. I wasn't sure how to react. There was an odd moment where I was sat next to Lizz and we both had drinks next to ourselves. I couldn't remember where I'd put down the drink I'd been given and I almost said, "Which one's mine?" which suddenly made me wonder at what point I'd started to think about something that I'd accepted as charity as belonging to me and not to anyone else. Had someone else taken it, could I have felt affronted? On a wider level, I started to wonder about why we feel that way about any thing we buy or sell or give or accept - so I suppose the charity of the Hare Krishna tent gave me an interesting insight into one of the tenets of their faith.

I spent some time in the Healing Fields, getting reflexology and osteopathy, both of which were fascinating and helpful - the reflexology was particularly surprising because of how emotional it was. She pushed at two points on my feet, then started, saying, "I'm going to stop that - you're holding in so much pain; I'm sorry - I think I might have nudged at something there." She was right - a flood of thoughts I'd not even realised I'd been avoiding had pushed through into my conscious mind out of nowhere when she touched my foot. The osteopathy was a similar thing - he said that there are two points that are commonly related to seizures - one at the neck and one at the base of the spine. He then touched the two points where I've been having loads of back and neck pain. We looked at each other, both said, "oh..." He said he was going to try to relieve the point in my neck, but not go further in because otherwise I could well have a seizure, but when he went near it, he kept finding that I was unconsciously trying to protect it from him.

I said I wasn't in a rush; he gave me a grimly serious look and twisted my head around with some firm force. I felt a flood down my spine, felt for a moment as though I was going to go, then I was ok. I found I could move more freely than I had in a long while. We chatted for a little while, then he and the reflexologist sent me away with a very warm farewell. As I went to pick up my bag, I realised that I could feel the fingers on my right hand that I've not felt properly for years. That was almost as emotional as the mental block that the reflexologist had nudged. When I returned to London, the pain returned within a couple of hours, which is making me quite seriously wonder what's really causing all this.

I also spoke to a dealer about near-death experiences, a Christian Monk who left because he fell out with the church over its views on homosexuality, then returned to his Faith after falling in with a tradition of Druids and realising that their values wound up within British Christianity, and a former sex worker who talked about how she's now married and raising a child with her husband and has almost finished a PhD because she wanted to make sure she gave something back to society.

When I spent a week seeing so many different expressions of faith and worship, I can't help but think it's such a shame whenever people start to think that believing in one thing devalues others. Why some might say that the prostitute's devotion to helping others (throughout her life) might be seen as less spiritual than the monk's life in the order. Why people consider the Hare Krishna people risible, but accept a dealer talking about drug experiences in which people die and come back and think that's cooler than sharing food with people who need it.

Whether it's dancing in a stone circle around a fire to drums or to cheesy disco with a topless go-go dancer smeared in paint and glitter and a cute guy in the NYC Downlow (yeah, I did that, then kissed him goodnight after walking him back to the VIP areas, unaware that it had turned into a crime scene while we were dancing); whether it's cracking backs or rubbing feet; whether it's chanting Hare Rama to a group of unappreciative kids coming down from the night before who could easily afford their own food or former addicts building a café in a field - the way I see it, its all different jigsaw puzzle pieces in different streets and that's exactly how I love it.

Block 9

1 comment:

Simon Marshall said...

Completely agree with you about reflexology. I always felt connected with the practitioner, and that they had some kind of insight to my body that I just couldn't see. It's like they have a looking glass. I must reconnect with the guy I used to see, he was very in tune with me, and he was also very spiritual - I could feel the energy force flow when he put his hands on my feet.

I went to Glastonbury in 1993 at the age of 20. Your post has re-awoken all those memories I had as a teenager, and reminds me I must take a trip there in 2013 (my 40th year) as I read they are not doing one next year because they want the land to regenerate.

Lovely post. Thanks for sharing your experiences :-)