True Nature Experience was a sacred arts festival on Why Nam Beach, Koh Phangan October 8-11th bringing together a milieu of globally renowned healers, artists, musicians, shamans and activists from Bali, Phangan’s Tri Bay Area and beyond. Produced by Dragana Nozica and Francie Fishman, two of the area’s beloved leaders, the festival’s mantra was “Community. Co-creation. Celebration.” Dragana (a DJ and Holistic events manager) and Francie (Yogi, Hooper and owner of Pure Flow Yoga), led graciously, ensuring the forward-momentum of the festival at all times. During my 4 weeks there, this dynamic duo felt like the heartbeat of much that went on in the Bay. The True Nature website hits festival-goers with a liberating call to action: “Rise in Love. Pray and Connect to your wild and free true nature in an epic magical beach paradise jungle setting.”
True Nature’s Why Nam Beach is one of three beaches in an area known as “The Bay of Love” or “Magic Bay,” sometimes called the “Love Tribe Community” (comprised of Haad Whynam, Haad Thien and Haad Yuan), located on the Eastern tip of the quartz crystal island of Koh Phangan in southern Thailand. Barefoot raw nature paradise indeed, its healing potential is not to be taken lightly. Spend a month with your feet flat to the island and see if you don’t feel more embodied, empathic, vital, creative and at ease with life. Monkeys, geckos, bats, tarantulas and all sorts of other creatures populate Why Nam along with the always fluctuating tribe of seekers and gypsi nomads.
Décor is mostly neon, floatation devices in the form of Unicorns and Pink Flamingos dot the beach while the beach-goers themselves are indeed “juicy,” as I once heard them described by Why Nam’s caring steward Nathan Parker. The Tri Bay area attracts mostly white ex-pat European and Americans reconnecting with pachamama and doing inner work. There are less and less Thai people left in the area, though it is still owned by them (the Thai people will not sell their sacred land to foreigners). Young men and women from Burma staff the kitchen and other facilities. Yoga is a chief feature of the culture, and many come to the island for the first time on a yoga retreat, although the general sway is openness to many paths. Everyone shares one filtered water fountain, and plastic water bottles are not sold in Why Nam. Cash is the only form of payment accepted and ATMs don’t exist.
The greater Tri Bay Area is sometimes known as a “DETOX/RETOX” zone for bodhisattvas of the wilder sort, where vinyasa and tantric activation often happens right alongside thumping, all-night psychedelic parties overlooking the ocean. The bay is known for its laid back, openly social, synchronistic vibes (the limited wifi access certainly helps). Overall, it’s still much less well known than the other side of Koh Phangan, notorious for it’s Full Moon parties (what has more or less become an overblown boozy tourist trap over the years). Thai culture associates the island with Quan Yin (Buddhist Mother of Compassion), who still has many a sacred site on the land.
The integral vision and mission of True Nature was expressed passionately by co-organizers Dragana and Francie, both through online marketing and IRL during robust community meetings in the weeks leading up to the festival. “Our mission is simply to support each other and our greater community in sharing our gifts, voices, art and dance in a sustainable way that supports everyone and everything including mother nature. We’re devoting our energies for this first gathering to help love, purify and heal mama Ocean.”
True Nature’s #lessplasticmorefantastic awareness campaign, thanks to artist Andrei Jewell and Jildaz Soul-Bridger’s “Party Sea Passion” happening, inspired festival-goers to round up 20 bags of trash from the beach, while DJ UNDAKOVA, accompanied by live tribal drumming, riled up the bunch into a fiery fury that proved to be a scintillating and swift burst of ancestral winds. As an organic seed gathering, this past October’s True Nature was just the first of an annual event that plans to expand in scope each year. Read on for festival highlights and some of my personal reflections as a facilitator, participant and witness.
If you’re already on the Earth Warrior path, you know no gathering is complete without the sweet, warming, heart-opening medicine of cacao. Ixchel, one of the festival headliners from Bali (named I assume for the ancient Mayan Jaguar Goddess of fertility, whose name means IX “feminine” and CHEL “rainbow” or “light”) blessed us with a powerful incantation to pachamama during what this radiant Priestess and her beloved partner Dustin call a “Love-olution Cacao Ceremony.”
Rooting her work in earth wisdom, in addition to Love-olution, Ixchel leads singing and sharing circles, sound healing, sacred dance, breathwork, satsang, sweats and yoga. Still feeling the purifying flames of the Aries full moon that occurred just days prior, Ixchel’s gratitude prayer and calling of the seven directions warmed the crowd and blasted out piercing rays of heart activating juju. A tribal-fusion ecstatic dance set closed the evening as hundreds of us let loose on the beach.
Stomping on the Earth and moving freely to live drumming was an integral fixture of True Nature that still reverberates in my bones. Bringing together so many like-minded folks invested in the world’s wellness – magnetic leaders such as Bali’s Malaika Maveena Darville, who 25 years into her path as a Global Transformational Embodiment Movement facilitator has achieved true mastery in sharing the gifts of dynamic African rhythm, ritual and dance – affords one intensely visceral moment of collective effervescence after another.
Even during my tender hours of somber healing (at times, I found I needed to retreat into my own nest of solitude and do some painful shadow work) the potency of this rest amidst a penetrating rumble of communal dance and polyrhythmic drumming was a blessed balm to my psyche.
Local Gabriela Moriarty’s jungle gem of an art show called for “Radical Self-Expression,” as her exhibition was titled. Radical Self-Expression featured photography and video by Gabriela’s sister, the late Theresa Ann Moriarty aka Petite Fleur Lukae PasChal (1986-2010), born in Bangkok to a Thai mother and an American father, formerly an art student at Pratt.
Edgy contemporary self-portraits peeped out amidst the lush foliage and whispering butterflies of Haad Tien. “Death isn’t a tabooed subject for me having had many existential crises, so let it not discolor this exhibition as she stood for radical self-expression…My hope is that her work as well as her death would inspire us all to act with a sense of urgency to be our true selves and express in any possible way to illuminate the light of love as well as the wounds of love that the university of life insists we all journey through,” says Moriarty, reflecting on the exhibition and her sister’s creative legacy.
Petite Fleur’s art drew a fair amount of island locals, and guests enjoyed traditional Thai sweets and chilled watermelon juice as we pondered visuals you just don’t see in a remote island paradise full of financially free hippies. During the spoken word section of the event, Pablo “Leroy Jenkonius,” a Bangkok-based poet originally from Miami, delivered a stirring invitation, “Calling all poets…” a battle cry for the naturalness of speech and authentic self-expression, that which has perhaps gone dormant in a new era of heavy social-media use.
Following that, MC “make change” UNDAKOVA animated the crowd with a holistic hip hop cipher based on the 5 elements and closed with a written verse inspired by his turn to a vegan lifestyle and daily meditation practice. After the exhibition, KOVA and I led a small group to the shore of Haad Thien and carried on the magic with an intimate sacred cipher, urging those new to the practice of embodied speech to access their own unique swaag (Sustainable. Worth. Affinity. And. Goodness.) The following day we held court with a powerful cipher honoring pachamama. Funky fresh MCs in swimwear preached environmental awareness to a trap beat.
As is typical of our growing work together under the banner of what we call “hip hop yoga,” inquisitive newcomers to the art form caught the vibe and rhymed spontaneously, shocked by their own confidence and skill. Speaking for UNDAKOVA, I’m pretty sure there’s not a soul in the festival that didn’t feel his presence. It’s rare that a black man passes through the Bay (it’s geographically speaking as far from our NYC hood as you can get) and even rarer to find one that taps so powerfully into the real source power of hip hop and its community-supporting pedagogy. You can access his exclusive DJ sets and paradigm shifting hip hop yoga curricula on the UNDAKOVA PATREON.
Artist, photographer and filmmaker Andrei Jewell, who has made his home on Koh Phangan for 12 years now, premiered a short segment from his new “Crystal Cove” series – shot in a secluded tiny coral inlet at the base of a cliff below his house on the crystalline Bay of Why Nam. Jewell is known internationally for his “Holiwater Project,” a 15-year initiative in India calling attention to environmental clean-up efforts in and along the sacred waters of the Ganges. What many have called the worst environmental crisis confronting India today, the all-hailed “Maa Ganga” (Mother Ganga) is now fielding 80% of the area’s urban industrial waste and sewage, which affects millions of pilgrims yearly that go to the river’s edge to pray (one of the most basic and widespread aspects of Hindu faith). Meanwhile, there is a resistance among religious leaders to directly address the issues, which they feel might taint the image of the Ganges, India’s holiest river known for its powers of purification. 1
Jewell’s latest Crystal Cove project dovetails on his previous work with the Holiwater Project and situates itself nicely amidst an escalating global, “water is life” movement, addressing local issues such as the gradual loss of sea life and rise of ocean plastics washing up on the shore associated with island tourism. According to some, escalating pollution is contributing to the growth of flesh-eating bacteria that has infected the tissue and muscle of some swimmers with perilous outcomes. Andrei’s provocative imagery—centered around the Bay’s eclectic neo-tribal life nestled within the stunning perfection of the Cove—heightens the magnitude of our emotional relationship to nature, the sublime, and our responsibility as human beings that take our nourishment from the Earth.
The expansive beauty of his moving and still images has already inspired action around the clean-up of plastics suffocating the area’s delicate eco-system. In addition to projecting his film oceanside on the closing night of True Nature, Jewell organized a series of community clean up activities using multimedia art, dance, song and movement under the banner of the festival-wide #lessplasticmorefantastic tagline.
Many other colorful, living and breathing works of art dotted the landscape, some also incorporating the #lessplasticmorefantastic campaign such as the gigantic deglo chandelier built with recycled water bottles cut in the shape of flowers. Jamie Festa spent weeks kicking volunteers into high-gear to paint and assemble the piece from her popular outdoor cafe space overlooking the beach. Halfed coconuts were converted into ashtrays and painted along with signs directing visitors how to recycle their trash. I worked collaboratively for many hours adorning a large pyramid with long strands of silk and shimmering jewel-toned fabrics that lilted gently in the breeze lending the larger structure the likeness of an axis mundi or tree of life.
Although I didn’t make it to their workshop, another item that stood out amidst the long list of enticing offerings was a blurb that confronted festival-goers with “Are you ready to poke some unicorns? It is super nice to sit in a tropical island drinking coconuts and endlessly go through individual processes. But what do you DO with all those realizations and personal transformations? How do WE translate them into action and service?” Lea Clara Linda and Karine Tenzap co-facilitated what they called a “Multiplier Training,” a meet-up in support of the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals for the local community. For the record, those sweet young Thai coconuts are shipped in from faraway coconut plants to assuage the growing hoards of thirsty pondering mystics afloat in the now somewhat toxic sea. I’m with them – let’s get it together before “Lost Paradise” is a new moniker for the Bay.
Other notable features included Raio, from Yoga Barn in Bali, who brought his decades of experience as a dancer, percussionist, ceremonialist, and student-of-the-sacred; DJing throughout the festival’s high points. If you missed True Nature and want to follow his lead “bowing in service to the healing power of communal dance and chant” check out his debut EP Pachamantra Vol. I. Divine masculine folks of the Koh Phangan community included Sebastian Bruno and Jonny Rose. Now 14 years into his study and practice of Traditional Thai Medicine, rooted in the 5 Element theory and Buddhist principles, Sebastian’s comprehensive bodywork bridges Ayurvedic principles with Thai Buddhist medicine and Yoga therapy. During this year’s True Nature, Bruno guided a contact improv session. Jonny Rose, a charming fixture of the community whose boisterous and cunning wit reminds us the yogi, too, can be a rockstar at times, took the helm leading a journey through dance, engaging the archetypes of Shiva and Shakti. Imagine, “In each and every miraculous breath, have access to the whole universe.” Rose says his flows feel like a fusion of Chi Kung and Yoga, and began his set with an invocation to the 5 elements.
Also from the Love Tribe, Morwenna Bugano’s group channeling session on Manifesting & Abundance was packed. A self-proclaimed inspired channel for Source Consciousness and the Angelic realm, Morwenna invited the large group of us that attended the session to form a circle. After the opening meditation, she invited the audience to ask questions and receive her guidance and insight on the topic of abundance using an assistant to translate participants’ questions for the highest amount of group relevance.
Bugano delivered the answers drawing on the energy of the group and the host of spirit guides, teachers and angels present during a state of trance. Although I cannot recount what was said word-for-word, the messages that came through really resonated with me. It helped to perhaps, situate or soften some of the hard lessons I was delving into as I did my own shadow work around finances, career, ambition, envy, power and the disease of achieving.
The golden kernel of Morwenna’s dialogue seemed to be that we are all blessed to be here co-creating and should step out of our egoic mind and work together in a new way. Collaboration will be accessible to us like never before, and the old paradigm of self-seeking and making one’s personal stamp is dissolving. Let’s not forget we are all working toward a common goal and it will take each of our earnest presence, gifts and aptitude to achieve the reclaiming and salvaging of the earth and its people. And finally, again in my own words, the best place to start when we’re hoping to manifest abundance using our gifts and following our passions is from a place of openness and play.
It’s about how we’re working, infusing our work with the joy of discovery, surrendering to the heart of co-creation and drinking in the medicine of those simple, invigorating exchanges that our increasingly nurturing forms of work provide. Letting go of perceived outcomes. From that foundation, may we move forward with our work and magnetize other collaborators and revenue streams into our hologram.
Meanwhile, back at home in NYC, on the grid, working away at my screen from my big, boxy tower of a home, at least 13 floors from the earth and even further from anything I might term “true” or “nature”… it’s a piece of practical magic I’m still working on putting into action in my life, moment to moment, day by day.
Other than the highly popular Bali “Island of the Gods,” Surfyogi Carlos Romero’s absolutely blissful sunset yin yoga and sound healing set on the sand, a standout session for me was definitely “MAKING LOVE from EARTH to SKY” a Tantric Heart Meditation led by Kobi and Anna Maria. A unique fusion of tantra and shamanism, this loving couple has a passion for the orgasmic union of body and mind. Yes, orgasmic!
Kobi announced first-off that the real title of the workshop was something like “YOUR COSMIC ORGASM.” Holy shakti, after several rounds of breathwork activating my pelvic floor, I could feel my kundalini sailing to celestial heights. I only briefly second-guessed the fact that I was pulling up on my genitals in sync with a group of over 30 people. By the time we got to the Taoist “Happy Boobies/Happy Balls” exercise, my mind frost had dissolved into the sensuous cosmic soup and there I was, clutching my boobies and running amok with a huge grin on my face. This exercise was based on the principle that women’s “positive polarity” is in the breasts and men’s in the loins; this is where we give energy from in the cycle of life. “Melting” into the arms of my partner UNDAKOVA for several minutes before practicing a Shiva-Shakti circular breathing exercise had me bawling and healing ancestral layers of womb rage at least seven generations forward and back.
As modern science has demonstrated, time isn’t linear (as we think of it back within what Island-dwellers typically refer to suspiciously as “the matrix”) – Time is relative, and all pervasive. When we connect to Source energy we connect to what our ancestors called “All Time” or “Great Time.” Fancy dissolving into the heart of your ecstatic bliss? Tantric energy cultivation is powerful. Building polarity, magnetics and passion within yourself you can then circulate with a partner – is cosmic embodied ecstasy in action. Enough mojo to crack open the most black-hearted lords and ladies of the matrix, or nah?
And finally, for those skeptical urbanites snottily twitching in your tooth-brush scrubbed white sneakers as you choke on words like “pray” and “barefoot paradise” while contemplating the paradoxes of such paradise – your skepticism is only the peel of the fruit. Get to its core. Rest assured, folks at TN walked the line of light and dark with sexy humility. True Nature always does, or nah?