Chocolate Coated Rave – Part Deux

If, somehow, you have managed to get to this point in your life and not seen Hot Shots Part Deux, you should correct that. In the late 80s/early 90s golden age of spoofs, this was my favourite as a young lad.  It features Charlie Sheen and his Two and a Half Men co-stars John Cryer and Ryan Stiles, fighting to save hostages from Saddam Hussein’s evil grasp (remember him?).

Side note. Stiles was the tall, lanky improv genius on Clive Anderson’s simply brilliant Whose Line Is It Anyway?  I miss that show.  That, and Mock the Week, in the Frankie Boyle era, obvs.

There’s a scene in Hot Shots Part Deux where ‘Topper’ (Charlie Sheen) faces off against a Bruce Lee type.  Surrounded by a baying crowd, the other man dips his bandaged hands into glue, and then proceeds to drop them into menacing piles of broken glass and shrapnel.  When Sheen takes his turn to ‘weapon up’ he dunks his fists into chocolate fondue, and proceeds to deliberate over which bowl of ice cream topping to choose.

“GUMMY BEARS!” chants one half of the crowd

“SPRINKLES!” responds the other half.

sheen

He chose the sprinkles.  Always choose the sprinkles.

I think the point of this scene, other than being damn funny, was to say it’s not always a fair fight, but sometimes you’ve just got to ‘knuckle down’ (PUN intended) and get on with it.

Tenuous segue at best here, but I reckon that leads me back to the events of last Saturday night, and the tale of the chocolate coated rave.

In my last post I described the pre-cacao ceremony exercises that had left me in a state of deep emotional discomfort.  Next up. Let’s all stand around an unfolded picnic table, which has a small gas burner placed on it.  On top of the stove is a large cauldron (it’s actually just a large saucepan, but work with me here and pretend it’s a cauldron).

We’re asked if anyone would like to sing during the brew process.  Cue shifty glances amongst the group.  One lady volunteers.  You could picture this dark-haired raven selling wares in a Byron Bay crystal shop.  She’s dressed all in black, contrasting with the rest of us in our hodgepodge of whites, light greys, creams, and my blue jeans.  She sings a song with no words, just sounds, like a yoga class backing track. Her  voice is chillingly good.  As she sings, we take it in turns to spoon raw Guatemalan cacao into the cauldron, stating our intention for the dance.  This was almost as hard as the staring stuff.  When it came to my turn, I mumbled something about letting go of my worries, spooned that lumpy chocolate powder into that damn saucepan as quickly as possible and stepped back.

With the chocolate ‘sludge’ brewed by the master of ceremonies, piping hot and ready to drink, a shrine of sorts was positioned on the floor, covered in candles.  We each drank a large glass of the sludge, which was very bitter, but not bad.  We were told that the cacao would have a powerful effect on us.  I think that was an attempt to induce a placebo effect.

Placebo or not, it worked.

The music started, the lights were turned off, with just some fairy lights left on so we wouldn’t kick each other in the face.  The music was good.  It was loud.  It was uplifting, in a ‘ravey’ kind of way.  The group started to move, some more openly and vigorously than others.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a cheeky dance.  At weddings I’m normally one of the first, and last, on the dancefloor.  I recently started taking salsa lessons, and am hooked.  But I wasn’t relaxed, I wasn’t really going for it.  I definitely wasn’t ecstatic.

Yet….

Some of group lost their minds almost straight away.  Which sounds like a bad thing when I put it like that, but this was the whole idea.  To get out of our heads.  And into our bodies.  For me, it was after about 20 mins of dancing around, that shit really started to happen.  I hi-fived a gentle giant of a man as we awkwardly danced past each other, he was howling with laughter and it was infectious.  I too started laughing.

And then I started dancing.  Properly, manically dancing.  I’m talking running around the room, limbs flailing, rolling on the floor, almost break-dancing, but without the skills, and without the co-ordination.  It was mad fun.  It was mad.  It was liberating.

After an hour of dancing like this the music slowed slightly and became more rhythmic, tribal almost.  I took refuge in the corner pile of cushions to catch my breath, and to watch this bunch of strangers dancing like loons.  It was hilarious.  I had another weird sensation at that moment, possibly my third such sensation of the evening; I felt extraordinarily close to this bunch of people I hardly knew.

I think we can rationalise this quite easily.  Humans evolved dancing, singing and laughing around the campfire in the evening.  It should come as no surprise that dancing without fear is enjoyable.  Dancing is core to who we are.  I’d go as far to say, it’s what our bodies expect.

Fortunes are spent on corporate team-building exercises throughout the world to create high-performing teams.  Human bonds are created through shared experiences. Whether these experiences are good or bad, the net result is usually the same.  We get to know each other.  We feel more like we belong.

This experience was corporate team-building on steroids.  Which makes me think, in a world of (often) abusive big business, maybe we need more corporate team building that looks like this.

For instance:

Would a corporate executive for a high street brand be comfortable with the working conditions for some of the people who make their clothes, if they had to spend 3 minutes looking that person in the eye, and then spent 2 hours dancing and laughing with that person?

Would a person be willing to eat a factory farmed beef burger if they had to do the same with a cow being held in dreadful conditions.  OK, maybe not the dancing part, but you catch my drift.

Forgive me, but I think I’m on to something with this.  It’s far easier to fuck someone over when you don’t know that person, when you can’t see their face.

We danced, laughed, whooped, stomped and vibrated at that frequency for about two hours in total.  It flew past.  After it finished, we had a period of lying on the ground.  I found myself holding the hand of the tall, beautiful woman next to me.  We then sat up and told each other what made us feel vulnerable.  And then we hugged.  For a long time.

I’m aware of how this all sounds.  I can imagine what some people reading this will be thinking.  It’s a bit, well, it’s a bit ‘woo’ isn’t it?  It’s not going to the pub or the game, or out for dinner.  It’s outside the box.  But, here’s the thing; It was f**king excellent fun.  I felt amazingly human and alive after.  It didn’t cost much, and there was no hangover the next day.  Where are the drawbacks?

There are none.

We were ordered back onto the cushions in the circle.  Holding hands we sat in silence, invited to sway, or make noises if we like.  One person started humming.

I started singing.

I know… What. The. Actual. F**k, Chris?

My friends and colleagues know I like to use my voice.  But I’m a tenor and I rarely go anywhere near the top end of my scale, especially in front of people, unless maybe if I’m at a karaoke bar, and had a skinful.  This was very different.  There was no song.  No backing music.  No lyrics.  No alcohol.  It felt like I was using my voice to channel my subconscious.  I’ve never sung like that before.

Bets now being taken on how long it is until I move to Byron, become a yoga instructor, and open a shop selling salt lamps and dream catchers.

Singing nonsense done, it’s back to repeating the exercise from the start of the night (described in my previous post).  Look around the group and pause on their faces.  Been here.  Done that.  COMPLETELY DIFFERENT RESULT.  It was easy, it was enjoyable.  The warmth for my friend which I talked about in the first installment, was being felt for the entire group, and it was being sent right back.  Everyone looked relaxed, happy, relieved even.

The night was drawing to a close.  One last twist.  I was asked to sing the group a song.  I sang the song I always want to sing.

Lady in Red.

Naff as they come.  Like me, totally uncool.  Rolling Stone magazine ranked it the third worst song of the 80’s.  I couldn’t care less.  I adore that song, and I sang it better than I’ve ever sung it before (which is many, many times).  I’m putting it down to the uber-relaxed state of my diaphragm.  I finished a verse.  Faces beamed back at me.  A wave of emotion rolled over my being. We were done.

The goodbyes were full of hugs (did I mention I like, correction, NEED, hugs?) and went on for ages.  There’s a high possibility that I won’t see most of those people again, but we felt like family.  I walked out of that yoga centre with my belly full of fluffy clouds, but my mind was clear as day.

I know now, I have to find a regular way of accessing that state of being.

Maybe I just need to eat more chocolate.

Chocolate Coated Rave

At the age of 22 I properly discovered trance music, and shortly after, I discovered MDMA.

Anyone who has tried MDMA will know what an intensely moving experience it can be. Especially the first time.  Your senses are heightened as your brain dumps huge waves of serotonin into receptor sites. This leads to a feeling of euphoria, smiles galore, and funky visual disturbances as colours become unbelievably vivid. Sounds pulse through you as if you are the music. Faces become beautiful beyond words. Life, for a few hours, is CRAZY good. And then it’s bad. There’s always a payoff isn’t there?

MDMA, unlike cocaine (which makes me annoying, more annoying than usual), resonated with me, because it allowed me to open up, at a time when I didn’t find opening up so easy.  Look at me go now, can’t stop me!

It’s called the ‘Love drug’ for good reason.  I temporarily became close friends with complete strangers, poured my heart out, encouraged them do the same, and hugged. So. Much. Hugging.  I adore hugs (Did I mention I’m single?).  Some people don’t get this result, they become introverted and want to be left alone when they take it.  For me, I was the complete opposite.  My friends could never find me, because invariably I was off in a corner having D&Ms with a complete stranger.  And I loved that.

My ‘fling’ with MDMA lasted about 4 years, and fortunately was always under my control.  I only really took it when I was going to a ‘proper’ rave.  Eventually though, like a fizzling relationship, the spark was gone, and like indoor climbing, it became just another footnote in the history of things I’ve done with my time. I took it again a few years back and all I remember is how lousy I felt the next day.

I can’t see hard drugs featuring in my life anymore.  The way I treat my body, and my mind, these days is in complete contrast to how I used to.  Through my teens and most of my 20s I attacked my body like it was the enemy, pumping junk food and alcohol into it with reckless, naughty abandon.  We’re told we shouldn’t have regrets, but I do have regrets about that.  During some of my most formative, youthful years I was ruthlessly deadening my senses, in the search of fun.  Don’t get me wrong, I DEFINITELY had fun, but I was never really that happy either.  Nowadays I get up early on Saturday mornings to buy organic vegetables from the farmer’s market.  It’s not that fun. I am, however, rather happy.  Go figure.

I enjoyed the amped up dancing in those clubs, the visuals, the euphoria, but it was the easy connection to others that I really craved.

News just in. Drugs aren’t the answer, kids. So what is?

And that, my friends, is what they call a segue [seg-way]

This post isn’t about drugs, or trance music, my twenties, or cheap organic cabbage.  It’s about the chocolate-fuelled ‘rave’ I attended last Saturday night, which had a profound effect on me.

dance

A few weeks back, a friend of mine, let’s call her Mary (she’s not called Mary), suggested over breakfast (yes, breakfast, no, we hadn’t just slept together) that I would enjoy something called ‘ecstatic dance’.  A quick Google and Youtube video later, I wasn’t convinced. It looked like a bunch of idiots acting like morons.

So we booked two tickets.

It was called ‘The Deepening’.

Alarm sirens.

“The Deepening’ promised a Cacao Ceremony with Ecstatic Dancing to follow.  As it turned out, it was exactly both of things, and so much more.  Here’s what went down..

Instructed to wear white clothing, I had selected the only white t-shirt in my closet which hasn’t been ruined by sunscreen.  I wore blue jeans.  I own white jeans but I couldn’t bring myself to wear them on the bus through the city.  Which is a problem I recognise in myself. That fear.  WTF does it matter if I wear an all-white outfit in public?

We were ‘smudged’ upon arrival.  From what I understood, ‘smudging’ is when a very smiley, hippy chick waves a smoking stick around your entire body, to cleanse you of negative demons. Or something like that. I like to think I’m fairly open-minded, but I realised at this point, that the evening was going to be odd, very odd, and likely way outside my comfort zone.  Excellent.  I started to feel nervous, anxious even.  I thought that maybe there was something in that ‘smudge’.  There wasn’t.  It was ALL me. Me and my stupid monkey brain.

Once everyone had arrived, the 12 or so participants sat on cushions in a circle facing each other.  Upon instruction, we then spent 3 or 4 minutes silently looking at each other. It felt like an hour.  We were asked to pause on faces, those faces were sometimes smiling, sometimes staring blankly, sometimes desperately trying to avoid eye contact with anyone.  I was in the latter camp, and deeply, deeply uncomfortable.

Once the staring ceased, we were invited to talk about how we were feeling, to ask questions of each other, to share our expectations and thoughts. I clammed up. Which is rare for me.  What I did do was crack a joke or two. Which is common for me.  Like a lot of Brits, I use humour to deflect when I’m uncomfortable.  Come on a date with me and you’ll soon realise this.  Fortunately I wasn’t alone, most of the group appeared to be struggling with similar ‘clamminess’, although mostly in their palms, which I was being made to hold.  The conversation was disjointed and unenjoyable.  I started to think the night was going to be a dud.

Next up, find a partner, and spend a few minutes stood facing them, looking into their eyes, again, silently.

“Excuse me?”

I’ve just struggled to look briefly at a group of people in a circle.  Now I’ve got to stare at one person, right in front of my face, for a few minutes?  To make matters worse I had paired up with ‘Mary’.  I would have preferred the anonymity of a stranger.

I’ve known ‘Mary’ for over two years. We were flatmates for 6 months when I first moved to Bondi, when we catch up I never know what’s going to come out of her mouth, what she’s been up to, what she is planning on doing next.  She’s awesome.  We talk openly about life and wotnot, I think we know each other fairly well. Looking her in the eyes should have been easy.

It was not.

NOT AT ALL.

I felt hot, we were instructed to focus on the other person, not on ourselves, but my brain was too busy talking nonsense to itself. After a while I managed to get it under control and finally focused purely on her face. I don’t remember much other than thinking she looked beautiful, how I preferred looking into her left eye than her right, how calm she appeared, and how utterly non-calm I was probably looking.  I was annoyed with myself for feeling uncomfortable undertaking this simple exercise.

Then something strange happened. The hotness turned to warmth, and I had this sensation of incredible care for this person stood in front of me. I felt it in my gut, not my head.  At that moment, if someone had come in and tried to abduct her, they stood absolutely no chance of succeeding.  Looking back now, I think it was love. Not gushy, romantic love.  Just, love.

Woah.

I only just processed that.  It’s good this writing lark.

I worry about the ever-increasing impact of technology in our world.  Is the silence being drowned out by noise and distraction?  What important moments are we missing in our lives because we’re too busy looking elsewhere?  The ‘Deepening’ placed an emotional toll on me, but on Sunday I rushed about catching up with friends, playing golf, looking at my crap on my phone, doing chores.  I didn’t process any of it.

On Monday, I woke up and something was not right.  Something was stopping me from going to work. So I took the day off and spent the day, on my own, listening to music, walking, contemplating, and then writing, for hours.

At this point I would like to recommend that you try the exercise I explained a few paragraphs above.  Find a close friend or partner who won’t judge you for suggesting it and do this: Sit or stand opposite each other and spend 3 minutes looking into their eyes, observing, not speaking.  And then follow it up, as we did, by taking it in turns to talk for one minute about what you want to improve in your life. Whilst you talk, the other person just sits opposite, observes, listens and absolutely must not say a word. After that, have a chat about your experience.

It is incredibly powerful.

In the noisy world in which we live, where people can barely wait for the other person to stop talking so they can chime in with their ‘turn’, or switch off mid-sentence to check their phone, the power of a single, solitary minute to hear, and to be heard, is refreshing AF.

I hear you, “Where’s the friggin’ chocolate, Chris? You promised us chocolate!”.  I did plan to tell the whole tale in this ‘edition’, chocolate and all, but, well, I want to go to bed.

‘Chocolate Coated Rave’ just became a 2-parter.

To be continued…. Part two here

Bare [sic] with me

The immensely talented Angus and Julia Stone have an achingly beautiful song on their latest album called ‘Nothing Else’.  Early on in the song the lyric goes “they say you have to fall apart to really be someone”.

I get it.

I hope for this blog to be an informative, but fun look at life through my lens. People who know me know I love to talk about food and the human body.  Let me assure you, this is not a blog about food, or nutrition, or the human body, there are already plenty of those.  This blog is about, well, I don’t know just yet, but it’s not just about food, I promise.

First though, I have to get something off my chest, and it’s pretty food-related.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so apologies, but you’ll have to look at my ugly mug quickly, and twice.

faces1

The photo on the left was taken on 29 June 2017, the one on the right was 3 weeks ago.

A slow and steady decline of health started 15 years ago when I was 19, a supposedly carefree teenage student of Economics at the University of Reading, an hour West of London, England.  The photo on the left represents a period shortly after that seemingly inexplicable 15-year decline erupted into a full blown crisis, of health, and then of personality, about 18 months ago.

I feel the need to post something about this, not because it’s important for me to share or get ‘likes’, but because there are a number of people have been affected by what happened to me, who maybe didn’t understand what was going on, or why I was being the way I was, heck, I didn’t understand, but I want to explain.

HOWEVER bigger than that, much bigger, I also sense there are a lot of others out there, who have their own struggles, and don’t feel they can talk about them. Us men are notoriously bad at this.  My door is now officially (and metaphorically) open to anyone who needs to talk to someone who has stood on the precipice, survived, and ‘gets’ it.

I hit a point last year where my body couldn’t digest food, I couldn’t sleep, I was racked with sensations of anxiety that I couldn’t rationalise, I had mercifully brief, but dark, periods of depression, I couldn’t focus on what I was doing, or what people were saying, I couldn’t find words to finish sentences, I had rashes, headaches, inexplicable aches, pains and tingles all over my body, extreme lethargy, mood swings, and the constant need to nap.

Glorious restorative naps.

My body, and my mind, were essentially in melt down and no doctor could tell me why.  It was, without doubt, the hardest and most frustrating period of my life, and I am so grateful for it.

People often comment on what I eat these days (which is essentially vegetables, meat, fish, eggs and olive oil. AND RED WINE). They say I’m too healthy, obsessive, weird, anal. I’m no longer affected by these comments, I guess I finally grew a pair.

“have a beer”

“have a taco”

“have a slice of carrot cake, it’s sugar free!”

“organic is overpriced”

“everything in moderation”

“what’s wrong with watermelon?”,

..and so on.

AND I GET IT!  Food is awesome, people want to share the awesomeness, hospitality is at the heart of who we are as a species.  I know this better than most, because when food becomes your enemy, you lose food, and you lose the social nature of food, which is almost worse than pretending that zoodles are as good as the real deal.

Unfortunately a lot of the food in our modern day diets is toxic, and if your body is already toxic, like mine was, you have to give it non-toxic, for balance, to survive.  I’ve eaten like we’re designed to for about a year now, and slowly, but surely, am regaining my health, and my vitality.

‘Let food be thy medicine’ sounded like just another quote on the internet.

It’s not. Trust me.

If you have a pathological overgrowth of a dodgy yeast or bacteria in your gut, like I did, it can trigger a spiral of symptoms that can literally make you consider death as a preferable alternative. I never got there thankfully, instead, I relentlessly studied natural medicine, read books, listened to podcasts, pleaded with doctors to give me the tests I thought I needed, bought thousands upon thousands of dollars’ worth of supplements, learnt how to better manage stress, constantly experimented with my diet, learnt how to chill the fuck out, learnt how to listen to my body, learnt, learnt, learnt! And then learnt some more.

However, I also pretended I was fine. I was not fine. I wanted to curl into a ball, move home, push pause, get the fuck out of Dodge.  The problem was that Dodge wasn’t a place. It was me.  It’s confronting AF when you realise YOU are the problem.

We have a ‘funny’ view of masculinity in large swathes of our society. How many beers we can sink, how many women we can bed, what car we drive, how big our biceps are, how good our chat is, how much money we earn, how big our dick is. You get the picture.

I’ve long suspected that it’s all bullshit, and yet in the face of the ever striving, campaigning, and progressing feminist movement, there is no masculine movement, not that I can see, and yet so many of us men are lost.

I had a realisation at an event on Saturday night (I’ll write a post on that when I have time) that I’m in the process of re-designing what masculinity means to me. And as a result, re-defining who I am.

It hit me full on, in the face, unexpectedly, this afternoon.

At first I laughed, and then I cried. I cried like I’ve never cried before. We’re often taught as little boys that REAL men don’t cry. I think I could count on two hands the number of times I’ve genuinely cried since I was eleven years of age. And one of those was at Marley and Me. And another one was at Flubber. And Lion. And Eastenders when Phil succumbed to the drink one last time. That shit was REAL.

The event this afternoon, sat on the beach, on my own, basking in the glorious sunshine, bawling my eyes out, was possibly the most masculine thing I’ve ever done.

They were tears of relief.

As Angus and Julia sang, “you have to fall apart to really be someone”.

I’ve fallen apart. I’ve painstakingly pieced myself back together. It’s time to be someone.

CLICHE WARNING ALERT

Today marks the start of a new chapter. A new life. A new me. With all the old bits I like, and hopefully a lot of new bits that are just as good, if not better. I don’t know where this will take me, but I’m fucking excited to find out.

I want.  Correction.  Need, to apologise to all of the people that have endured me over the past 2 years, I haven’t always been easy company, I haven’t always been the best friend, colleague, sibling (sorry girls), son (sorry Mum), or date (sorry tinder) (sorry bumble) (sorry Happn), whilst I was so wrapped up in my own world, fighting my body, and my brain.

I will do better.

I also want to say thanks. SO MANY THANKS. Thanks to everyone who has supported me, I’ve often felt like I’ve been going this alone, but I haven’t, not really. A few really stand out who, realise it or not, saved me. I think, and hope they know who they are.

Like I said, my door is always open.

Emotional outpouring over.  Onwards and Upwards!

 

 

 

 

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Pinching a David Gray song name for a title. Not a great start.

It’s a strange thing, making a decision, sometimes we do it in an instant; I like this chocolate, I do not like my new boss, I need a new toothbrush. Then there are those times when it takes months, even years, maybe never; deciding to leave a partner, quitting a job, picking a TV unit in IKEA (I’ve been back 3 times and yet am still stuck with a hideous grey and green thing that cost $20 from Gumtree and has lasted longer than most of my relationships. More on that later.

Starting this blog, fortunately, or unfortunately, has not taken too long.  A friend, let’s call her Annie (she’s not called Annie), suggested it roughly three weeks ago, and like a T-Swift ditty, the idea has been circling around this ever-over-thinking brain of mine since.

Life is odd. To some extent we all realise this eventually. Some of us realise what a completely ludicrous game it is early on. For some poor souls, I imagine they realise it on their death bed. For me, that moment came this afternoon, at the age of 34, on a gloriously sunny, yet crisp Sydney winter day. As I sat on Bronte beach, two beaches and two kilometres down the Pacific-facing coast from its famously fabulous (and fabulously famous) neighbour, Bondi, my home of over two years and counting, I had a mini melt down of sorts. I think a ‘build up’ is more fitting.

This is my opening gambit, it’s not much, a necessary formality before I launch immediately into my first full blog post. Which I’ve already written. I have an idea of where I would like this blog to go, but let’s be honest, like life, it rarely works out how you plan, so let’s just see. Will anyone read it? Will anyone care? Will I get bored after two posts and consign it to an ever-growing list of pastimes I’ve dabbled in and dropped. Ah the flightiness of the 21st century. I think I’ll write a post, or ten, about that in fact.

I make only one promise, that what I write here will be open, honest, and probably painful in places. I cannot guarantee comedic value. I will try to make it worth the click and scroll.

Peace and Goodwill to ALL.

bronte

(Yes, this is my home, yes, it is amazing, no, I will not apologise for it. Moving to the other side of the world, leaving behind everyone and everything you love, and navigating the Australian immigration policy is not to be taken on lightly).