Hippy New Year!

I haven’t been a fan of New Year’s Eve since I was in high school, when the excitement meant watching “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” and banging pots and pans in the cul-de-sac at midnight. In all my varying states of single- and couple-dom, stages of drunkeness, sunshiney outlooks and less so, the last night of the year has been pretty painful. I don’t need to point out that I’m a professional party girl so the fact that I find December 31st to be Amateur Night also goes without saying. Couple those two facts with exorbitant cover charges, swerving drivers and puking over-imbibers and you’ve got what I call My Least Favorite Night of the Year.

But it is a holiday. So the question becomes, What to do? How to herald the new year in a properly celebratory fashion without losing one’s dignity? My friends here in the Bay Area, where I’ve been visiting for Christmas, all had plans that simply weren’t appealing. What I really wanted to do was something completely different, like yoga or meditation. I did a search and discovered “The Start All Over Party,” an evening of meditation and celebration at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. I was hesitant to preregister in case, you know, some unfathomably tempting opportunity presented itself. Which it didn’t. Leaving me, on the afternoon of the 31st, with…nothing. So I decided I’d drive out there and, if they had room for me, I’d join in.

Anticipating sitting on the floor, I put on some semi-comfortable clothing, but with enough sparkle to look festive, then drove into the darkness of Marin. I’d entered the address in my iPhone and when the little blue dot told me I’d arrived there was…nothing. Just more darkness. I attempted to Google the place but couldn’t get a signal. I drove back and forth as instructed by my blue dot and was about to give up when I tried out the GPS gizmo on my mom’s new car. It directed me further up the hill and, voila, I found it.

Parking attendants with blinking batons directed traffic and handed out slips of paper informing us how to enter the facilities — “in mindful silence,” I believe was the wording — and participate in the silent ritual: accept the proffered flower and, making a wish for someone else, put it in one of the vases; write a wish for yourself on the paper provided and deposit it in the urn; light a candle and make a wish for the planet. I paid my sliding scale fee, slipped off my shoes and jacket, and got into the silent (ish) line. This was all accompanied by music while a crew of volunteers bustled about setting out the food, handing out flowers and paper, shuffling seats. (I was pleased there were chairs; no need to sit on the floor.)

I completed my rituals just in time for the evening’s festivities to begin. Wes Nisker and Nina Wise were the “facilitators” of the celebration and they welcomed us with an introduction. Between the two of them they quoted D.H. Lawrence and Leonard Cohen; we were off to an interesting start!

The final presentation before midnight was the “performance” section of the celebration; I was anticipating, you know, performers. Instead it was Wes, who scatted through a hilarious combination of rap and beat poetry, followed by Nina, announcing that she would be performing an autobiographically based improvisational movement piece. Oh boy, I thought, here we go with the whole interpretive dance thing. I resisted rolling my eyes. But her presentation was closer to a stand-up comedy routine. I laughed so hard I had tears running down my cheeks! Mostly it addressed our busy lives and how difficult it can be to focus, and therefore “achieve enlightenment.” Totally timely. And truly entertaining!

At midnight we were meditating — one of two 20-ish-minute sessions — and it was a welcome change from the many New Year’s midnights past. I was surprised by how quickly the time passed. And how great I felt afterward. Not being one for silence, or stillness, I took to it well. Note to self: more meditating in 2012…

Anyway, I’m sure you’re wondering, Was it what I expected? Yes, in many ways. There was a woman in a caftan but it was bright magenta and she was only about 25. There were men with ponytails but they were far outnumbered by fairly normal looking guys. Yes, there were plenty of flowy garments and yoga pants. And the gender balance was definitely tilted toward the feminine. It also appeared to be mostly an over-40 crowd. No surprise. What I wasn’t expecting was the silliness. I’d expected stoic, serious, humorless, and not nearly the amount of laughter I experienced. Plus I can’t say I’d ever seen a roomful of people rockin’ out to “How Will I Know?”. Oh, and those cheesecake balls wrapped white chocolate? Delicious!

Sure, the predictably corny “call and repeat” sing-along segments were somewhat cringe-inducing. But I joined in anyway. I was especially amused by one in English: “I cannot avoid getting old and dying, I cannot avoid disease and decay, I cannot avoid losing the ones that I love.” So very true and so bizarre to sing! Those in Sanskrit were a little much for me, even with the translations. More ridiculous were the ecstatically swaying women, especially the one beside me. I know I shouldn’t blame anyone for their exuberance but it’s difficult to stifle my “fuckin’ hippies” attitude… Hey, what’d I expect? It was, as I’d desired, totally different.

I drove home feeling peaceful and centered, certainly nothing I’d ever experienced on previous New Year’s Eves. As for New Year’s Day, I woke up well rested, got myself into “burner drag” — homemade fringey pants, rhinestones on my face, metallic boots — and drove into the city for Breakfast of Champions, an all-day extravaganza thrown by one of Burning Man’s best sound camps, Space Cowboys. There were just as many hippies jumpin’ to the thumpy-thump as there’d been swayin’ to the chanting. It was equally as celebratory if far less Zen! Here’s to a radically different yet somehow the same 2012!

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