Finding My "Self" At ARISE

“ARISE is more than a music festival; it’s a movement.” – Russell Mendell

The road getting to Sunrise Ranch was a breeze…until we took a wrong turn and ended up almost an hour away on a dirt road. When our tire popped on a jagged rock, quickly our happy-go-lucky attitude dissipated; the situation seemed like a bad omen, a blast of negative energy, a sign that we weren’t meant to make it. We jumped out of the car at the next pullout, which was, miraculously next to a (slightly) busier road. The first car that drove by was packed full of a group of young men who proved to be completely and utterly unhelpful. Our anxiety began to kick in and we became nervous we’d be stuck out there in the no-service zone for the rest of the evening. After a minute, we decided that feeding the situation our negative energy would not do us well.

“Let’s just pray, we have to start praying. We have to be positive about this,” Calyx said to me. Both of us subsequently raised our hands to the necklaces hanging around our necks (hers, a locket of her recently passed mother’s ashes and mine of a crystal chakra pendant). We held them tightly, asking for help. Not more than fifteen seconds later, we heard a rumbling coming towards us. A dark green pickup truck turned around the corner. Calyx and I looked at each other in awe. We waved the man down and asked if he had a jack. Willingly, he pulled over, got out, and put Calyx’s spare tire on her car in a matter of twenty minutes. He offered to follow us back to the road we were supposed to be on, but ended up leading us right to the festival – a way he was going anyways. I have no doubt in my mind this man was an angel sent solely due to our shift from a negative to a positive perspective.

Our spirits were back to their rightful states as we pulled into the Sunrise Ranch grounds. Immediately, we were greeted by familiar faces and radiant smiles. Every staff member was friendly and just as excited as we were. After setting up camp before the sun set behind the red ridge, we settled in for an early night with our friends, chattering and giggling away. As soon as the sun came up on the other ridge, it heated our tent to sweltering temperatures, so we got up to go explore our home for the next few days. The campgrounds themselves were home to elaborate campsites, some even fit for literal off-the-grid living. Colorful tapestries hung off of the much-needed shade-granting canopies and prayer flags waved majestically in the breeze. The sweet smells of sage, incense, Palo Santo and potent sensimilla wafted through the grounds in passing clouds. Every once in a while, someone would start howling or yelling, and quickly after, the entire camp would join in harmoniously. Laughter Yoga each morning could be heard from anywhere in the camping section, and it never failed to make me giggle from wherever I was. The sense of community was the strongest I had ever experienced in a large group of complete strangers.

Everywhere we went we were enchanted – by the people, the art, and mostly the powerful positivity vibrating from the place itself. The love was almost palpable. Smiles were exchanged frequently, many compliments given, and everyone was subject to a random hug or two. As the festival was separated between the campsites and festival grounds, it was interesting to find that the Wisdom Village and the Healing Village were located outside the gates, amongst the campers. There were various structures dedicated to different topics – a separate Men’s Wisdom Lodge and Women’s Wisdom Lodge, tipis, a fire pit, a workshop/yoga tent, a “meet your neighbors” circle, and the life-saving water mister. Next door to the Wisdom Village was the Healing Village, comprised of a massage tent and  the Groove Medical Services station.

Inside the gates was a whole new adventure. To the left, the Children’s Village was bubbling with laughter and music while masters of  various subjects taught workshops underneath large oak trees. Many people lounged in the cool grass, as this was one of the only places in the festival that was shielded from the relentless sun. The trees also provided a sound barrier from the five other stages bellowing tunes from the other side of the vendors. Each stage hosted mindful artists, who provided music that hit straight to the heart. A great example would be The Earth Guardians’ set. Two young Ute boys, just 15 and 12, had a hip hop performance that was raw, honest, and powerful, calling for action in this world instead of complacency.

Personal favorites of the weekend included Mike Love, Emancipator Ensemble, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, Ayla Nereo, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, and above all, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. These performers spewed out fiery passion throughout their sets, each bringing something different to the festival.  Mike Love wowed the audience with his boomerang-style reggae music and  inspirational lyrics. Emancipator Ensemble absolutely slayed their set with a collection of live instruments, including a guitarist, violinist, drummer, bassist and killer visuals to top it off. I hate to say it, but The Polish Ambassador had nothing on Emancipator’s set. TPA did a whole lot more dancing around on stage than actually manipulating the decks in front of him, whereas Emancipator took the audience on a journey through the talent of four musicians blending their unique sounds together. Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad provided a deliciously dubby set. Ayla Nereo’s voice is divine; she could make anybody in the festival well up a little bit with her powerful words. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead brought me back to a time where I wasn’t even alive yet – the time of Woodstock, of barefootedness and peace signs, all portrayed by some soulful bluegrass and classic rock. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros stole my heart. From their complete interaction with the crowd to the soul in their musicianship, I was consistently in the present moment during this set, jamming out with my entire crew and celebrating the last night of ARISE.

In addition to the impeccable talent onstage, there were many people who performed or appeared at ARISE that were just as inspiring, if not more. The opening ceremony on Friday introduced us to plenty of powerful people, including David Karchere, the spiritual director of the Emissaries of Divine Light of Sunrise Ranch, Fara Tolno, and some members of the Azteca tribe, who performed a traditional ceremony, complete with the sounding of a conch shell, sage lighting, prayer chanting, and especially dancing. The ceremony had so much energy it brought me to tears. There was a call and response portion, men and women went back and forth chanting “Mother I feel you under my feet; Mother I feel your heartbeat” and “Father I see you when the Eagle flies, Light of the Spirit going to take us higher” and a synchronization of “Heya heya heya yah heya heya ho”. Lyla June Johnston, a Navajo Indian, performed a poem about the word “hozho” in her native language that touched the entire audience that many of us were fighting back tears, as I do now just remembering it (read the poem here). I attended a workshop lead by Boulder-based Dayna Seraye on Embodying the Priestess. In her workshop we, men and women alike, awakened our chakras by calling the elements and embodying them. We started with the root chakra and the element earth, then moved to the feminine center of the sacral chakra and embodied water. The next chakra, the solar plexus, is the masculine center of the body and we embodied this by invoking the element of fire. Lastly we opened our upper chakras (heart, throat, third eye and crown) with ether. At the end of the session, my most memorable moment of the entire weekend happened. She told us, after we were all charged with vibrating energy, to turn to other people in the workshop, look them in the eyes “until you see their soul”, say, “I see you”, then thank them and move on. I turned around to start this and saw the friend I attended with already in a steady flow of tears – I’ve never seen her cry. We burst into tears together and squeezed each other tightly. After calming down, we moved on to other partners. I saw some beautiful, vibrant souls that afternoon. As I walked back to camp afterwards, I felt as though I could fly there. I wanted to dance and sing and hug and most of all, love everything gently and fiercely, all at the same time.

Scattered throughout the entire ranch stood countless pieces of art, including sculptures such as a metal owl that exploded with flames after dark, a glass pagoda by the amazing Alex Ubatuba, a tent dedicated to visionary art, and a couple spiral mazes in which travelers would walk through the rings to the middle. One of these spirals was made of colorful ribbons, prompting travelers to leave a positive message tied along the ribbons or the small sapling in the middle. The other consisted of larger-than-life, hand painted black light tapestries with inspirational quotes from cultures of all locations and creeds. Each step I took through this captivating maze was a new dose of positive energy straight to my bloodstream. At the last turn, I was startled to be staring right into my own eyes – literally. A mirror in the middle of the spiral showed its wanderers that at the root of everything, you yourself are the sole navigator in your journey, you choose your perspective daily, and you have all the power. In fact, each artist that shared their work at ARISE had this consciousness hidden in their pieces. Live artists spent the three or four days of the festival pouring their souls out onto their canvases for all to admire as they walked past. Creativity must have been seeping out of these artists and into the air, because it was everywhere.

By the end of Sunday, everyone had broken down the barriers guarding their hearts and true selves. They faced their issues with new knowledge on how to cope with these uncomfortable feelings and set them free. The connections and pathways of consciousness were burst open, free to express, to fly, to initiate change and come together with our fellow humans. Since this year’s ARISE Festival, I have never felt more confident in my Self and my path. I was shown that I am not the only one with the vision of a future of peace, of social change, and the strength to do it. All of us humans are capable of making this movement move; it starts with opening our hearts, breaking down those long indoctrinated walls to allow for free thought and eternal, unconditional love. Although this community is small compared to the seven billion people of this planet, the power of love is enough to be the change we wish to see in the world. It won’t be easy, but the mind, in harmony with the heart, is the most powerful force in the Universe. I was never more aware of this power until I found myself amongst the ARISE community, chanting prayers, calling Spirit to enter our bodies, and fill us with this amazing love. Thank you, ARISE, for guiding me along the path to find my true Self.

I know I speak for the entire ARISE community when I say this festival was unique, heart-opening, and most of all transformational. There were multiple moments throughout the weekend where I was moved to tears, overwhelmed by the positivity, the love, and the beauty of the scene it created. Every human came to ARISE with their own intention, and by the end of the festival, all that intentional energy was transmuted through practices (yoga, workshops, ARISE Dialogues, meditation, music, dancing, you name it) and into fruition. I witnessed many embraces, surged with powerful loving energy that I even felt that I could even be involved in them. The leaders of ARISE are some of the most inspirational people I have ever been graced to have been in their presence, each with so much motivational energy we all couldn’t help but be moved to make the changes they are preaching. If the ARISE community made a compound, it would be successful to say the least – everyone would have something to bring to the table, sharing would be a norm, and war wouldn’t even be a word. ARISE is a vision of the future, as long as we all collectively work together to overcome the negativity, greed, and intolerance that plagues the world as we know it.

“There are a few basic principles for living upon which we can all rightfully, and easily, agree. All beings have a right to pure, safe drinking water, access to uncontaminated food and to freely breathe clean air. Value kindness. Be guided by fairness. Actively speak up for justice and equality. For all. Always. All beings have a right to enjoy the Earth’s life-giving bounty and share in the responsibility of its care. At this unique time in history we are called to stand up together for these fundamental principles for living. Because if taken for granted these things could be taken away. To vocalize these values is to strengthen them with our attention and intellect. Be a leader. These principles for living call us to celebrate. To come together to participate in the beauty of this life. These principles for living invite us to ARISE.”


Written By: Jaelyn Kohl

Photos By: Calyx Ward