Lightning In a Bottle returned to the dried-up lakebed in Bradley, Ca., over Memorial Day weekend, hosting around 25,000 people over a span of 4 scorching days. The festival was as packed as it’s ever been, showing signs of its evolution. But not all events continue to improve with growth. More often than not it’s common for music festivals to lose integrity as they get bigger and more popular. But I’m happy to report that LIB has, in fact, remained a dusty, musical oasis whose roots are still very much in tact.
Going a step further, though, it’s not often you go to a music festival and leave with more knowledge about the world than you arrived with. At Lightning In a Bottle, however, this phenomenon occurs year after year, attracting more than just bass-heads, house-junkies and EDM lovers to the festival. People travel from all over to experience the wisdom of some of the world’s most gifted speakers, philosophers, writers, specialized nutritionists, yogis and meditation experts. In fact, the line-up’s depth is actually one of the best aspects of LIB because none of the festival competitors offer the opportunity to expand intelligence the way Lightning In a Bottle does.
Late Saturday afternoon, about an hour and a half before the sun went down, I wandered from my campsite across the festival to the Temple Stage to catch a panel called Indigenous Intelligence and Plant Medicine. By the time I arrived to the stage, over 300 people were in attendance and fully entranced in the panel— and for a good reason. The panel was loaded with five incredibly brilliant men including famous author and activist John Perkins; Zach Leary, the son of Timothy Leary; Tony Moss, the founder of I.AM.LIFE a youth empowerment project that focuses on connecting youth with indigenous wisdom and knowledge; Ariel Mendoza, a Peruvian who specializes in Ayahuasca ceremonies in the States and in the Amazon; and Daniel Raphael whose concentration is psychoactive toad medicine.
Two ideas that were emphasized throughout the discussion were: Doing thorough research about your Shaman before embarking on a plant medicine journey and always having respect for the plant. According to Moss, a good Shaman makes a world of difference during a ceremony. With that, he says doing Ayahuasca 300 times in a year isn't healing because the integrity of the medicinal properties have been compromised at that point. Raphael chimed in at this moment saying, "Using plant medicine to that extreme isn't healing anymore— it's doing a bunch of drugs."
The group talked about the importance of respecting the plant for a good 20 minutes before changing the subject, which indicates that abusing plant medicine is a very real thing. The panel moved to the next topic which was whether they believe there's an actual spirit of the plant, as in an actual plant intelligence, or if the effect of the plant opens people up to a higher intelligence or dimension. While Mendoza believes God (or the creator) is within medicinal plants, like Ayahuasca, others on the panel presented alternative points of view. "I don't believe there is a disembodied plant intelligence that lives outside of us, outside of our own consciousness or outside of our own hearts," says Leary. "I believe psychedelic mysticism and psychedelic practices really just pierce the veil. They lift the veil and allow you to merge into the one and allow clear vision to see everything that's around us, everything that's possible and every screaming electron that's flying around throughout the Universe right now that makes up our collective consciousness; which is really a disembodied collective consciousness. Psychedelics allow you to jump into that disembodied experience, where the one can be realized and you can feel it in your own heart."
The response that received the most applause, however, was a story told by Perkins about a time he brought a radio with him to the Amazon while staying at a lodge with the Achuar people. While getting up before sunrise— the way the Achuar people did— he turned on the radio, causing the whole family in the Archuar lodge to run and hide in the forest. A little later the man of the family, who was an Ayahuasca Shaman, came back into the lodge with a spear, went up to the radio, tapped it and eventually knocked it over to see if that would stop it from playing. The radio didn't turn off, causing the Shaman to sit there in utter confusion. "Ok, tell me the secret! How did you get all those men and their instruments into that little tiny box?" said the Shaman to Perkins. Perkins explained to him that there was an antenna in the mountains that gave the box the ability to receive message waves. The Shaman was amazed, Perkins says, because he had never seen or heard of a radio before. The next morning, however, the Shaman came back to Perkins and said, 'That little box works just like Ayahuasca. The plant sends us these waves and if we have the openness to receive it, we receive the message and we can learn from it."
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A girl sitting next to me in the audience with beads hanging from her blonde dreads began to wipe her eyes as tears streamed down her face. She leaned on her friend and said, "That's so sweet. I wish we all had the chance to do Ayahuasca. There would be no war or hate. The world would be so much more beautiful. We would actually get to experience what peace really is."
As the rest of the audience clapped and cheered after Perkins' story, the panel turned over the questions to the audience. At this point, the energy at the Temple Stage was luminous. Learning about indigenous intelligence and the experience of plant medicine left me feeling enlightened and renewed— as if I had partaken in a ceremony. And to an extent, talking about plant medicine and learning about it is it's own kind of ceremony— an educational one.
Needless to say, learning about plant medicine and indigenous intelligence was one of the most mind broadening experiences I've ever had. LIB offers an entire world separate from the music—one that allows festivalgoers to enrich their minds, making Lightning In a Bottle incomparable to other music festivals.