Thursday, June 27, 2013

'Twas the Night Before the Frendly Gathering....

After our morning yoga and a little work, I leave Timber Ridge around noon each day, and each day it is a little bit different. Today, the day before the Frendly Gathering, this place is wild with energy, color, bodies and movement. Everyone has a place to be, a tool to wield, an area to clean or decorate or transform for festivity.

Drinks are piled into coolers and bins for the volunteer staff, and vendors start rolling in, their bright wares swinging from hooks and shelves in vans, or stuffed into hatchbacks. Tents are being erected left and right, and the sound crew arrives to start preparing for the parade of bands that will grace these stages starting with the pre-party tonight.

The Burton crew is busy preparing their ‘lodge,’ which looks like a teepee with two long awnings sprawling away from its central structure. Camera crews move among the workers, documenting each interaction Jack and Danny have: someone needs a screw gun over at the skate ramp. Did the Beats Antique merchandise arrive? Where is the yellow tape measure? That toilet in the men’s bathroom is clogged again. It’s less than glamorous, to say the least.

And yet, Jack and Danny thrive on it. This is their karma, it seems, the work that they offer up to the world to create this amazing three-day festival. Gray clouds, swollen with rain, threaten to open themselves and dowse us all, as they have every day, but never mind. There are things to do. “Everything’s better with mud,” someone quips cheerfully. Jack tugs at the hair protruding from beneath his hat and reminds himself to breathe. It’s stressful, running all this, and he and Danny have watched this thing double each year. Anticipating over 2,000 festival-goers this time around, they bolster themselves for numbers but not chaos.

The Frendly Gathering is just that: it’s Frendly. More and more people are coming to understand exactly what that means. The adjective “Frendly” denotes anything that cultivates a positive, peaceful, nonjudgmental exchange among people. That exchange involves mutual respect and revelry in equal parts, and in my experience over these past three years, it just might be a magic combination. “The boys” work tirelessly, as do their female counterparts in charge of every administrative detail, and each night they play. Hard.

And in the morning, as the sun begins to warm the hill that is the backdrop for the Frendly Gathering, they face that hill and do a little yoga. Their commitment to mindfulness and entering each day with positivity and intention is evident in the discipline they have to show up here on their mats first thing every morning. They choose yoga over an extra hour of much needed sleep, and I watch the tension and the sleep, still tangled in their hair, unravel and spill away from them with each asana, each “long, slow exhalation.” Their bodies uncoil from their couple of hours of restless sleep and open into the Frendly vibe that gave rise to this whole thing in the first place. As they move, stretch, balance, they remember. It is good.

“The day has been officially launched,” is the closing comment that someone always makes, Jack or Danny or Luke, and it’s true. From there we flow out onto the landscape of Timber Ridge and engage in the karma that will yield an entire festival of this Frendly feeling.

Everyone will feel it, for sure, because it comes from such a real place. These guys are the real deal, and the people they have garnered to them to help launch this thing, they’re the real deal, too. I am honored to be even a small part of this thing and to watch as it grows…to birth not just a three-day party, which it certainly is, but also a movement. The Frendly Movement.

Smile. Breathe. Connect. Hug someone. As one walks through the archway from the Main Stage area up toward the Woods Stage and the mini-ramp, they are reminded to do all of these things. Each Frendly action is prompted by a hand-painted sign that punctuates the colorful field of feathers and mobiles hanging from above. This ornate archway framed by branches ushers one into the next enchanted realm of the Frendly space….in the direction of the VewDew Board demos, Wellfleet oysters, the Frendly skate ramp and yes, the DJ Nest. Ah. It’s time.

The Frendly Gathering is about to be launched.  I’ll see you at Timber Ridge, Frends!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

To My "Frends" at Timber Ridge

I sit and talk you through a visualization. You 13. I arrived with 13 brand new composition books and threw in 2 or 3 recycled ones for good measure, but I see now that you are the 13 who were always going to be sitting here, listening to my words and generating your own.

Gratitude rises like a wave dragging its belly across coral reef, so that it pitches skyward and gives the sensation of pleasure--I skitter across the face of the wave. I smile, though there is always the seed of fear, always the knowledge that not every gift is received with love. I give it anyway.

In your varying degrees of interest and investment, you listen. You close your eyes. You meditate. Write. I am awed by your willingness. Your positive orientation toward every new thing. This openness, this trust, is what encourages me to keep tending the soil, keep caring for this group so committed to caring for this thing--this vibrant, growing, pulsing, alive thing that has the potential to heal the planet.

When you share your writings, I am humbled. By your guilelessness and your frankness, by the beauty of your stories and impressions, but mostly by the way you express your love. By the way you trust this group. You send the gift back to me a thousandfold, and I am blessed. Thank you, Frends. Mahalo nui.

See you at the Gathering...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Birth of a "Frendly" Movement

I sit down at a tall table near the back of the Red Fox Inn and Tavern with Jack Mitrani, pro-snowboarder and entrepreneur extraordinaire.  These are Jack’s stomping grounds and just getting to our table takes a fair amount of time, as everyone wants to greet him, talk to him, hear of his latest adventures. As always, Jack takes the time to attend to each of them, equally happy to share in a moment of connection.  I find quickly that this is why we are meeting today. Connection.

It is written in Jack’s earnest expression, in his exuberance as the topic opens up in our conversation, as he opens his laptop and we begin perusing the schedule for his upcoming Frendly Gathering. Jack is all about it: connection. The Frendly Gathering is in its third year. A three-day festival of people connecting with one another…through music, hiking, yoga, food and fun. The thing is evolving before my eyes, and Jack’s grow wider and more alive as we discuss how he can cultivate what is already blooming through this visionary event. It is an event that seems to be spilling out into a Movement of sorts. I find that this was always the intention.

Jack opens a document on his computer screen. It is the Frendly Manifesto, a four-page statement containing the ten core values of the Movement, the biographies of the four individuals who have dreamed this thing into being, and an articulation of their vision. Their vision is simple but ambitious: draw people together in love and “frendship” and promote human connection globally. Jack’s cohorts are equally impressive:  pro snowboarders Danny Davis, Kevin Pearce and his own brother, Luke Mitrani. They are the “Frends” who started the headphone company that has become a wild corporate success but more importantly, together these young men have formed a union that involves a contagious kind of camaraderie. “There’s no ‘I’ in Frends” is their motto propounding selflessness and inclusivity.  Looking at Jack’s computer screen, I notice that these words are an integral part of the articulation of the Frendly value system.

And then there’s Jack. Somehow, this twenty-four year old rock-star athlete and public personality sees a bigger picture…and his place in it. We begin to talk about this connection and its role in the Frendly Movement—people talking with one another; sharing through language, sound, revelry; people truly listening to one another, to their words and their music, and connecting in a meaningful way. We talk about what often hinders this kind of connection: judgment, exclusivity, fear. These obstacles can be diminished, we agree, through uniting people in mindfulness and friendship, and this is what the Movement is all about.

Yes, he nods and laughs, because we are connecting through our shared desire to foster this kind of experience in the world. We talk about technology and social media as the tools that can enable this kind of connection but which are often mistaken for the connections themselves. No, we agree, people connect face to face. In real time. In real places. They laugh together; they touch, whether that’s a handshake or a hug; and if the music is playing, they dance. Enter the band lineup. Wow.  From the electronic menagerie of Paper Diamond and Conspirator to the folksy hometown heroes of Twiddle and Gold Town, to the amazing Kat Wright and her Indomitable Soul Band, the artists who will be performing at this event run the gamut.

Jack and the boys have put together a music lineup that has something for everyone. Using multiple stages and rotating the crowd from hour to hour, the Frends crew have choreographed the revelry of the many “frends” who will gather that weekend to connect over the course of three days and nights. As one band finishes on the main stage, the people cheer and gather their blankets and coolers to move to the woods stage. There is happy chatter and a palpable buzz of fun and camaraderie as they make their way to the next venue. And of course there is the DJ Nest perched high in a tree and sending moving lights along the wooded dance floor into the wee hours. It really is visionary.

I point out that Jack and his Frends are in a unique position to truly have an impact on the world—their generation in particular, but certainly their scope of influence does not end there. Jack is already nodding his assent; he seems to know intuitively the responsibility and yes, the opportunity that is inherent in being in this position. Perhaps the most endearing quality in Jack is his humility, also a Frendly value, and combined with his charisma, there is no limit to what he and his cohorts can do. 

People listen to these guys. They watch their hilarious antics on Frends Vision, they watch them competing or hear them announcing at elite pro-snowboarding events, they follow Frends on every manner of social media, and when Jack and Danny put out a Tweet that “some of us are meeting up for a game of kickball in Burlington,” they show up to play!

The result of our meeting is an agreement, and I know without asking that this is the business Jack is in right now…going around and making agreements with one and all who share in this vision. Making agreements to cultivate this fabulous garden of “Frendship” that is already growing. Agreements to tend that garden lovingly, whether it is by offering time, energy, resources or talent. They are agreements to hold sacred space for the Frendly Movement, which already has a foothold here in Southern Vermont. It was born in the gorgeous green hills of Timber Ridge, and its stewardship is led by four extraordinary individuals.  I’m in, I say, and I, like so many others who share those values with Jack and “Frends” will be there…at the Gathering and for the long haul, because this is where the healing of the planet and its people begins: human connection. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Almost 42...and Magnificent

“And at once I knew…I was not magnificent.” This is the line of the Bon Iver song that played in my head again and again as I moved through 2012. It was something to do with turning 41 and looking about, forlorn that I had not become, achieved, bloomed in ways I always thought I would by then.

I recognized it as the unique privilege of my kind—upper middle class American—to be discontent with my present circumstances, though there was nothing inherently imperfect about them. I recognized it as a variety of ingratitude, beautiful as my family was and healthy, happy, thriving. But I didn’t have the discipline to resist it. It was a longing for—not youth, but perhaps the orientation I had then: everything ahead of me, every door open, life inviting me to bloom into all the ways one can be. 

After a few months of this melancholy (which waxed and waned, of course, with the little joys I was still privy to), there was a choice to be made. I could either indulge this fairly contrived (albeit palpably felt) sadness, or I could turn my face to the sun, flower that I was. I could drink in its light and keep processing, transforming it into my own perfect energy, letting it grow me into the thing that I must certainly still be in the process of becoming.

41 or not, I was still growing, still learning, still blossoming. Healthy, whole, surrounded by love and family, I knew myself as more than magnificent even now, midway somehow to something I could not fathom. I knew myself as perfect and dazzling in that divine light and separated from the magnificence of the rest of humanity only by the thin membrane of imagined separateness. And so I dissolved it. In my mind’s eye I dissolved that fine veil that was always of my own creation, and I let myself merge into the current of all life. All beings. All earth. All language.

It was the way I saved myself. The way I extended every deadline I had ever imposed on myself. The way I learned to glisten again. It was not magic. Not anything special, really. Just a shift. In my belief about myself and the world I inhabit. In retrospect, it sounds so easy. It was not. And yet, it was possible. It took time, and it took a conscious effort, and I did it.

I still hear the song occasionally, and auditory memory makes my heart ache in the familiar way, but only for a moment, and then it passes. It goes the way of the self-doubt and disappointment I let go of. I’m nearly 42 now, and the sense of possibility is very much alive in me. My own children grow and change before my eyes, my marriage settles in to the stretch of twenty years and the sense of home that was always so elusive to me before, and I—I become quite fearless.

It’s not that I fear nothing. Those haunting fears of loss will always exist, as they must for every one who loves. But I move in a way that defies them. Refusing to let my lesser fears define me, I no longer wonder about my own worth in the face of the passage of time. I am, as I have told so many students they were over the years, perfect. Not in my words or my deeds, try as I might, but in my intention. And that is the magnificent.