The Potential Health Benefits of Transformational Festivals

Photo by: Juliana Bernstein
by Dr. Kelly Neff | @everfest Fri June 19, 2015 | 12:00 AM

It’s my favorite time of year again…transformational festival season! I got a pretty early start this year at Envision in Costa Rica, but my first stateside festival was Firefly Gathering in Flagstaff, AZ, followed closely by SONIC BLOOM in Rye, Colorado. I will be covering both events for my website and radio show The Lucid Planet, as well as offering sexuality workshops on the topic of love, polyamory, and open relationships. Last week, I interviewed SONIC BLOOM director Jamie Janover as well as festival photographer Matthew Cremer on my Lucid Planet Radio podcast.

What I really took away from these interviews was how transformational festivals connect us to ourselves and to each other on a much deeper level – and much more rapidly – than other events that happen in our daily waking life. In many ways, these events are the physical and energetic manifestations of the revolution of consciousness currently taking place on our planet.

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A Scene from Lucidity Festival; Photo by: Ingrid Land

As a psychologist, I am naturally drawn to the healing potential of these events. In my opinion, the integration of true healing is something that happens best when we are immersed in the deepest and most ecstatic throes of life experience, not sitting quietly in a therapist’s chair or lying in a hospital bed (which ironically is where I was exactly two years ago clinging to my life, but that’s a story for another time. Suffice it to say, discovering these events and this community has been integral to me finding my identity and my voice).

In this article , I shared a story about a close friend who is a military veteran with PTSD. He found an immense amount of healing and peace through his festival journeys, and for the first time ever he felt comfortable around large crowds of people. The update on his story is that he is planning to attend Burning Man for the first time this year, along with myself and many of our close friends. After several tours in Iraq he vowed never to willingly return to the desert, but he is now ready to reclaim it as a place of joy and creative expression, as opposed to one of pain and destruction.

At Lightning in a Bottle this year, my close friend, holistic pharmacologist Dr. Nick Berry, was able to help offer remedies and resources in the healing journey of first-time festival-goer and leukemia survivor Stephanie Stearns. Stearns describes dancing with her son, who never dances, and how the music and environment offered a beautiful and happy place for them to connect. When I read her story , featured in LA Weekly, tears of joy streamed down my face as I was overcome with emotions over the power of these events and how lucky I feel to be a part of them.

There are many reasons why festivals can have such healing power, including:

1. Joy of Self-Expression and Freedom

Transformational festivals offer a sense of freedom, creativity, and experimentation that many of us crave but few of us discover until we're at events like these. There is a childlike joy in wandering through interactive art installations and psychedelic, light-up wonderlands that we only dream of, while dancing all day and night and connecting to our tribal roots.

While you are at these events, your usual routine and stressors are replaced by completely new "schedules," where you can pursue what makes you smile all day long, alongside a bunch of other like-minded people. As I mention in the podcast, I get to turn off my phone, disconnect from external demands, and tune in to a world of endless possibilities, smiles, and colors. For me, this type of unbridled joy and release is one of the most important pathways to healing.

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A Scene from Lucidity Festival; Photo by: Ingrid Land

2. Rapid Personal Growth

The opportunity to pursue joy and freedom brings about rapid personal growth and transformation. The educational opportunities at these events are profound and far-reaching, and through this access to knowledge and information we can make personal changes in days, instead of what might have taken us months back in the "default" reality.

Perhaps this is why, as Matt Cremer I discussed, dreams and goals can manifest much more rapidly in the festival environment than in "normal life." We are all intimately connected to each other – Jamie Janover describes it in our interview as the Noosphere, I refer to it as Collective Consciousness, and so on – and when we are rapidly growing and evolving with a group of like-minded people, the pathway to our dreams suddenly shortens, leading to a sometimes nearly "instant" process of manifestation. Perhaps it is challenging or ambiguous to explain the mechanics or metaphysics of this process, but I just know that I have experienced it, as well as many people I've interviewed at these events.

3. Removing the Illusion of Separation

When I asked Jamie Janover why festivals are so healing, he explained that it is because “they remind us of the interconnectedness of everything in the universe.” I certainly believe that, on spiritual and energetic levels, we are all connected and made of the same material. Quantum physics, the Unified Field Theory, Noetic Sciences and many other disciplines certainly seem to support this notion, but often in our daily lives of separation, we do not always feel these deep connections unfolding.

But at transformational festivals, the feeling of connection is palpable, at least in my experience. When we are at these events, we become more connected with ourselves, with each other, with our communities, and with the planet. Being able to see and feel such synergy can remind us of the incredibly healing and universal truth that separation is an illusion; it's easier to see that we are all one consciousness, made from unconditional love that lives on forever. Go on and call me a hippie for believing this, but according to world-famous neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander on Episode 4 of Lucid Planet Radio, this is the truth!

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A Scene from Lucidity Festival; Photo by: Ingrid Land

4. Opportunities for Global Synchronization

We have been coming together outdoors as tribes since the dawn of civilization. The evolution of the transformational festival movement gives us opportunities to bond with more people than ever before. By fusing ancient rituals and modern technologies we have the ability to connect people across time and space, giving us greater options for celebration and growth.

Transformational festivals can now offer live streams and synchronized global meditations, so that at several sites around the world people can simultaneously meditate and celebrate in unified consciousness. What is more healing than people all across the earth getting together to celebrate life, sustainability, community, music, art and self-expression? My good friends at Unify use these synchronized meditations for World Water Day and World Peace.

This piece is taken from Dr. Kelly Neff's original article in The Lucid Planet.