In October, 2015, I had the opportunity to attend Forest Elements, a 3-day “psychedelic holiday” produced by Phat Productions. Forest Elements took place at the Ngatuhoa Lodge nestled in the Kaimai ranges, a couple hours from Auckland.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been considering how I might go about sharing my Forest Elements experience.
All psychedelic experiences are subjective, and all completely unique to the individual(s) undergoing them; they’re also notoriously difficult to convey in words.
Yet though the specific details of my story might not map perfectly to those of anyone else’s, I believe the overarching values provided by psychedelics are broad and accessible enough for anyone to pick up on.
Psychedelics have the capacity to heal and improve one’s perspective long-term, though the way they often work to dig up and uncover what’s suppressed can feel somewhat jarring and unpredictable. If you decide to trip, don’t be surprised to find the very essence of your current state magnified and manifested before your eyes for exactly what it is, rendering whole lifetimes’ worth of self-deceptive thought patterns null and void (for as long as you don’t return to settling for them).
Both set and setting are said to be key when approaching psychedelics—the set being your mindset or emotional state going in, and the setting being the environment your set is given to explore and express itself within.
An unhappy or uncomfortable set or setting could negatively tinge the whole experience.
The essential takeaway of what I’ll be sharing is that the setting created by Phat Productions at Forest Elements was powerful and all-encompassing enough to literally reverse my tired, negative, overly self-conscious set at the time—a change that’s since proven to have been deep and life-altering.
Since no one else will ever have my exact festival or trip experience, I’ll just say it this way in general before I get specific: The key components that go into crafting a Phat Productions party are more than capable of reversing any set-specific hindrances to the collective goals we prize–goals like consciousness expansion, connection, transcendence, maximized experience…
Now, here’s my story:
Back in 2012, I attended a 1-night Phat Productions event in Auckland City. It was without doubt one of the best nights of my life. I remember feeling as though the music, the sound quality, the chemicals, the visuals, and most of all the people had significantly evolved since my last attempts at consciousness-expansion via nights of enhancement and beats back in the early 2000’s.
I share some of what that 2012 experience was worth to me here.
Needless to say, that night in 2012 left me feening for more.
So I was beyond excited when I heard about Forest Elements.
However, the week leading up to Forest Elements wasn’t an easy one for me: constant traveling and being forced to live on others’ time, freshly dug-up family drama, and mostly just feeling extremely worn out by an endless array of unfamiliar scenarios and interactions. I’d also been working about two full-time jobs for years without a break, and it was all getting to me (in ways I didn’t yet realize).
I could go on and on expounding my particular list of set-diminishing variables going in to Forest Elements. Basically, I arrived at the event glum, exhausted, and not in the mood to try new things or meet many new people.
The scenery was breathtaking. The campsite was the perfect blend of pubescent deviltry meets functionally rustic charm. I hardly knew anyone there, but everyone who showed up seemed to beam with an ear-to-ear grin in anticipation, especially once the mighty Opus rig kicked into full gear and heads began to bob involuntarily.
That’s when I went to go sit alone in the toilets for a bit just so I could will my mind to open up a little, to appreciate, to try to enjoy, and to calm itself down at least enough for me to let whatever it was I’d been waiting for to overtake and hopefully do some good in me…
Back at the dancefloor I was having trouble letting loose. The cool thing was I felt absolutely no sense of judgment or ridicule from anyone. It was clear from the start that the floor was no place for politics (like some scenes where the experienced enjoy gloating over newbies and the uninitiated).
Even in my pre-lifted state, I couldn’t help but smile at how direct and sincere the relentlessly hard, twisty music sounded or felt. I intuitively knew my awkwardness would prove to be no match for psytrance’s ever grinding veer toward high-energy freedom and pure almost silliness.
The sound of deep-seated clarity crystalizing atop flashing waves of ever-driving bass began to work its way throughout my spine and limbs in heavy pulses.
My smile felt less and less forced.
I watched programmed lights and colors paint on different planes their inexplicable glimpses of foreign entities and worlds. The way the visuals connected with the music and writhing mass of happy, warm bodies reminded me of similar connections I’d experienced when other chemically forged (or accessed) worlds had been brought and held together in ways too perfect to explain (yet in patterns too symmetrical not to somehow make sense).
But it was as if everything I saw was happening somewhere out in front of me . . . and I was stuck a ways behind it all. I watched as the crowd swooped and swayed together, the music pressing everyone down through the pads of their feet into the shaking dirt beneath. Yet I felt locked inside myself, unable to catch up to my own point of view, and peering out at the world around me from a fixed distance behind my own face.
That’s when I first started to feel all my latent tiredness and dissatisfaction for exactly what it was. There was a strong desire not to have to maintain or explain any of the bs roles I’d grown accustomed to always having to play in my everyday world. Yet all the reasons I might have jumped to give in order to account for my set (my state at the time) were strangely missing. I had nothing left to cling to or be upset about—no handy excuses or narratives to clutch and blame.
I was just a lone human on a colorful dance floor who felt very undeserving of all the fused ancient and modern beauty surrounding me, which I found I couldn’t quite touch but watched, detached, as it encapsulated all my deepest dreams.
I felt so open and naked as I stood there stuck behind my face. I wondered if everyone else could see my set/state.
There was an instinct then to run, hide, or do whatever else I could to get away; but I knew I really couldn’t and shouldn’t try. Wherever I might have escaped to—perhaps nestled and sickly in my sleeping bag, or just crouched in some dark corner somewhere—I knew I would have still been in the exact same position. There would have been no way to really close myself off or separate myself from everyone else at that point.
Feeling stuck that way wasn’t horrifying or even unpleasant; and I knew isolation wasn’t really what I wanted, anyway. The compulsion to escape was just a built-in reaction—the learned response of a triggered (threatened) ego—to feelings I’d never given myself the time or space to face.
The music continued to work on me (and everyone else). Over and over, it would build to a crash and then return in reflective ambiance like the steady crest-and-fall of a dynamic tide.
I saw myself naturally begin to venture out on the inside, approaching what appeared to be scope-less alien science floating upon (and within) spirits far more tribal and earthy. I felt drawn to the empty spaces between both.
All boarders of culture, generation, and personality became like mere accents scribbled lightly into an ever-widening technicolor vision. Such dividing lines became self-told jokes which laughed at their own expense and superfluousness.
At times, I traveled even farther away on the inside to places where pieces of connected entities joyfully meshed to express themselves in ways mysteriously understandable.
I was my dad and my son. And I was…
I remember making my way into the campsite at some point where conversations occurred at levels of realness and transparency most relationships will never reach. Together we watched many lives play out in different possibilities (all at once) as we stared into each other’s faces. There was much smiling, and warmth, and secret knowings.
There are large portions of that first night I simply can’t remember.
I do remember the next morning, staring up at the wispy trees and blue grey sky in the distance. I felt a strong inward resolution. It was like a readiness: a willingness to let old or new fires eradicate the dead members of a self much in need of purging and pruning.
And that was basically how I felt for the rest of the festival. I’d been irreversibly broken open and out of myself, and I’d been shown exactly where I was in ways I’d later go on to unravel and begin to incorporate as a changed lifestyle.
So, why go to psytrance festivals and have psychedelic experiences?
Well, I probably could have just bought some acid and tripped out on my own in silence somewhere; and I’m pretty sure I would have arrived at many of the same conclusions about my life—perhaps seeing the same hindrances needing to be uncovered and addressed. But just having those realizations about why I should change would have been only a small scratch at the big picture I was able to see throughout Forest Elements.
Maybe most of the reasons people have for using psychedelics could be partially fulfilled by tripping alone or in a more “everyday” setting. Yet when you add the right music, visuals, scenic beauty, and most of all people (and all the rest of Phat Productions’ core elements), the experience becomes truly transcendent. You literally see yourself being moved upward amidst a mass of like others, all wanting to venture out in the same direction toward what you all value most. Your story becomes but a small arc within the context of countless others, which all merge to tell a single far more massive story. You find yourself left with every reason to commit to believing in and building the sort of life-aligning, connected, selfless, joyful Utopia we’ve each really always seen as our ultimate end game (if only…)
In a way, a psychedelic festival is like a call to practically embrace what some call “ego death”—perhaps the key to a truly collective, impactful raised-consciousness experience. It might be a goal we can all always be moving and evolving toward, generation after generation; but it’s one we can see ourselves reaching together in sequence regardless of whatever set-specific hindrances we come to find hold any of us back.
And there’s nothing more fun than having those experiences with a tribe of like-minded seekers all in for the ride together.
Has a festival or party experience ever “set you right” on the inside or changed your life in the long run?
What do you find most valuable about collective psychedelic experiences?
P.S. I’ll share the full psychedelic journey leading up to and surrounding my Forest Elements experience in a story I’m working on about why millennials (generation y) seem perfectly primed for psy festivals in ways that we 30-to-40-somethings (plus) could have only dreamed of at the height of our day.