Family-Friendly Zen Fest West
Zen Fest West debuted in April 2021 on several hundred acres of private land located at Harrison Serenity Ranch on Palomar Mountain in the Cleveland National Forest of San Diego. Zen Awakening Festival is a small intimate festival experience which began in Florida in 2014, expanded to California in 2021, and will soon be debuting in Japan.
In stark contrast from many music festivals, Zen Fest is rooted in a no-alcohol, no-drugs policy. This is a wonderful respite for this single mama attending with her almost-teen daughter. Zen Fest was our fourth festival experience. In previous years we’ve attended Lightning In A Bottle (LIB), and although LIB created as safe a space as possible for families, there were always areas from whom I had to steer my daughter away from, or folks whose behavior I had to “explain.” At Zen Fest, nothing of this sort happened.
We were delightfully surprised by the community and made a bunch of new friends. In our downtime, we explored the surrounding area. Doing so, we learned a bit of the history of the sacred Pauma land and of Nate Harrison, a former African-American slave born into slavery in the 1830s who began homesteading on Palomar Mountain in 1893 and lived until almost 100 years old!
Origins of Zen Fest West
The origins of Zen Fest arise from a vision Everett Chin received in meditation after returning home from traveling the world.
Everett is a former high-end corporate event planner. His resume includes more than 25 years in the entertainment industry as well as becoming a member of the Rosicrucian Order. Everett describes Zen Fest as an experience of positive triggers that awakens our inner intuition and guidance. “This positive trigger process helps guide people through their personal Zen Awakening, and onto their true path in this incarnation. When the vision came, says Everett, “I was ready to play my part in helping this planet shift to a higher state of consciousness.” Everett describes his life mission as to “help the species evolve into something that we’re meant to be: spiritual, awakened beings that are here to make a beautiful world, instead of destroying it.”
Zen Fest distinguishes itself in that it’s rooted in facilitating a spiritual awakening through the visceral experience of a transformational festival. As a long-time festival-goer, Everett had a clear sense of which elements he wanted to craft and which to eschew. The path was not easy. “I’ve definitely had a lot of ups and downs in the last eight years. It’s been a challenge, and sometimes I question why I’m doing it. If I weren’t guided to it, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
And yet, so often, we hear people say, ‘Oh, I just had a sudden awakening. I just had my awakening! You hear that a lot,” he smiles. “And that makes it all worth it.”
Zen Fest Arrival & Centering
After a short drive of about 3,500 feet up Palomar Mountain to Harrison Serenity Ranch, my daughter and I were greeted by the cheerful Zen Fest Welcome Team. We immediately felt the energy of this quiet, serene, camping-like environment Zen Fest provided, vastly different from experiences I’ve had with dense lighting, massive installations, and constant booming bass.
In contrast, Zen Fest at night is relatively dark. In fact, there was very little lighting at all. The spaces felt like an intimate camping experience with several hundred people spaced out in beautifully crafted areas of interaction. The effect is deliberate, explains Everett, “At night, we don’t do a lot of lighting because we want people to look up at the stars. And the music shuts off at 12 or 12:30am, to give people time to integrate, to just be, to have a connection with nature and themselves.”
Our first night at Zen Fest felt like entering a mystical magical foggy paradise. Almost everything was covered in a haze of moisture. We explored Central Camp, which offered places to sit and eat, art, craft, as well as clothing vendors and food. The main food vendor that weekend was the amazing Larry Molina, of Totality Kitchen, whose creative, heartfelt, nourishing vegetarian cuisine warmed our bodies and souls.
Zen Fest featured a single music stage, set in a natural amphitheater which allowed for plenty of space to move freely and not feel constricted. The pathway to the Amphiteatre wandered through several mindfully cultivated spaces. One of our favorites was the recently constructed Labyrinth!
As my daughter and I walked back to our camp that first night, a car slowly inched into camp. It was just after midnight, and no one was manning the entrance. I walked up and offered to text message the driver my festival map, so she could find her camp. We started talking and I learned that her name was Stara Being, and she had driven all the way from Oregon to attend the festival.
A gorgeous costume hung on the passenger seat beside her. It was her Empress Stara character. A “being from a different dimension that travels the world doing dance prayers to assist in the consciousness shift happening in humanity.” Empress Stara debuted in David Starfire’s musical set on Saturday night with a sweet, mystical dance whose beauty reflected the energy that Stara spoke of, a brightness of spirit that saturated our weekend.
Ashtanga Yoga at Zen Fest
By next morning, the fog had lifted and gorgeous views of the valley greeted us. I decided to greet the morning with Ashtanga Yoga, which was taking place on a beautiful outdoor deck tucked in a grove of Oak trees just past the Pyramid and the Aerial dome.
Jason Barniske, a lifetime Ashtangi who studied exclusively under Tim Miller, led the morning class. Jason carries a warm, confident and encouraging energy. He describes yoga as a life-saving practice, “Something that continues to save me from myself, helps me evaluate all the decisions I make and be a better person, every single day.”
“Teaching in the clouds was a glorious experience,” continued Jason. “You could understand why the Paumu people were called the Cloud People, because all you could see just were these islands, which were mountain peaks, surrounded by clouds.”
In addition to Ashtanga, Jason is a Hape´ practitioner and offered several different Hape’ ceremonies that weekend to approximately 200 folks. Jason describes Hape’ as a powdered tobacco mixture with Palo Santo and some other herbs. It’s a medicine that “helps you clear out and open your energy, activate your pineal gland, and really tune into yourself and release. It also helps emotional release.” Hape’ is often combined with a breathing practice “which helps activate the medicine more and release what’s already inside of us.”
Conscious Kids Camp
Our next adventure led us to the Conscious Kids Camp, for a tie-dye workshop led by Chandra Mukhi Devi Dasi, a lovely 10-year-old-girl and her parents. Chandra’s mom, Vrsabhanu Nandini Devi Dasi, or Bhanu, for short, helped co-lead the workshop, which featured natural tie-dying by using the water of a boiled red cabbage, lemon juice, and baking soda.
My daughter had an amazing time tie-dying, and right away, made a friend for the weekend. I was so impressed with the beautiful creations the kids came up with, I asked Bhanu to share her the recipe:
Recipe – Cabbage Water Tie Dye
One head of red cabbage, chopped and boiled until water is deep purple and cabbage turns mostly pale, about an hour.
Split into three containers.
While cabbage is boiling, prime clothing with half water and half white vinegar in advance by placing in a bowl for about an hour.
Wring out the clothing and lay flat.
Now you’re ready to tie-dye!
Add lemon juice to change the color to pink (acidic).
Add baking soda to turn the color to blue (basic.)
Sacred Henna Workshop: Crowns of Courage
My daughter later joined another workshop, a Sacred Henna Tattoo experience led by Amanda Joy Gilbert, the founder of Henna Crowns of Courage, a non-profit which offers Henna as Art Therapy for people undergoing cancer. The Zen Fest version of this workshop incorporated connecting one-on-one, sharing life dreams and visions, and henna tattooing as a form of visually and energetically manifesting those visions into reality. As Amanda led the workshop, I could see the light and joy in each participant’s eyes. I asked her to share a bit more about her path and journey.
“I used to deal with a lot of panic attacks and anxiety. When I started doing this art form, I became aware. I started connecting to my subconscious thoughts and realized how rude I was being to myself. I realized that I needed to tap in. So I breathed again. I started to love myself and decided, do I want to keep going down that route? Or do I want to shift my mindset from fear to love?”
The path of self-awareness is one that many disregard as unsustainable and filled with fear of an uncertain future. Amanda described her fear of leaving her regular 9-5 job (one that she didn’t like), and of making money as a henna tattoo artist. All that fear was simply fear, she smiled, “I’m making more money than I ever made at my job. I’m able to travel the world and share what I love with people. And I’m happy!”
Manifesting Miso…and Friendship
Saturday late afternoon, and the sun shone magically upon us. All of a sudden, I knew I needed a little cat-nap and decided to lay down in the grass. As rays of warmth bathed my body, I mused, “Ya know what, honey? I’d really love some miso soup right now.”??“But mom, there’s no miso soup. Larry has curry today, not miso.”??“I know,” I answered with a dreamy smile, “but I bet we can manifest some miso.”
My daughter practically rolled her eyes.
“Come on, honey,” I said, and urged her to lie down next to me.
“This works all the time at Burning Man. Why not, here, as well? Let’s think about what miso soup tastes like… mmmm… salty… warm… little bits of tofu and seaweed…can you taste it?” I asked her.
“Let’s close our eyes and really taste it.” We did, and after a few moments, sat back up.
Not even 15 minutes later, a friendly face pops up behind us and sits down. She commented on how “sweet’ we looked together, mother and daughter. My daughter started telling her a bit about us, and mentioned how I really wanted some miso soup. This woman’s eyes LIT up. “I have miso soup! Back at my camp! In fact, I brought some and didn’t really know why I brought some. I’m not a huge fan of miso, but I figured, why not?”
She laughed. “I must have brought it for you!”
Kaia turned to me and relayed the whole conversation. “Mom! We manifested some miso!!!”
Our new friend headed back to her camp and returned shortly thereafter with a packet of, no joke, organic miso soup powder. In return, I offered her a few squares of our favorite Vegan Paleo chocolate bar. Her eyes lit up in return as she told my daughter, “Oh my gosh, this is my favorite chocolate in the world! It’s the only one I eat.”
Viola! Manifestation complete!
Our weekend included so many of these magical moments…almost too many to count. We kept running into the same beautiful souls, like Joshua Lozada, who graced Center Camp with his singing talent and fire spinning. And Tree…yup, that’s right – Tree, who says that he gave himself that nickname “because I’m 7’3” and because I try to stay very grounded and in the moment.” Tree has attended every single Zen Awakening Fest in Florida, and flew all the way to San Diego to attend the CA Zen Fest debut. I later asked Tree to pose in the grove of trees. Notice the sunbeams, bathing his body in light!
But the most amazing soul I met, without a doubt, was Chief Blackfox of the Lakota Tribe: Wisdom Keeper, speaker and spiritual leader at Zen Fest, and great great grandson of Chief Crazy Horse, the famous war leader who took up arms against the United States Federal Government to fight against encroachment by the white American settlers.
The first time I interacted with Chief Blackfox happened while laying down for a little nap in the sunshine in the amphitheater, just before my daughter and I manifested our magical miso soup!
My daughter was making rainbow loom bracelets to trade/offer by donation, and I needed a few minutes of rest. I had just laid down next to her on the grass when a kind soul offered up his blanket for me to lay down. I graciously accepted. Part of me wondered if this was Chief Blackfox, but since we were both in the moment of relaxing in nature, I let the moment just be.
I had the honor and pleasure to sit with Chief Blackfox in a drum circle the following afternoon. In between drumming, gazing at nature and sharing, he spoke of Life, the World and Consciousness. The warmth and wisdom in his eyes couples with a strength of spirit that I don’t see in many humans.
I asked Chief Blackfox, “How did you become a part of Zen Fest?”
“Everett asked me to speak at one of his events. He’d heard about me and how I turn people’s lives around and help them. I’ve been with him ever since.”
“Ever since then I’ve been talking about the water, the earth, the air, how to protect Mother Earth, how to live with Mother Earth, how to be connected with the animals, how to learn to speak to them again. The animals were our teachers, and when our identity got taken away by the government, we lost our ability to connect to the earth again.”??“Some of us, like myself, didn’t go to school. I only have an eighth grade education, but I have more education than most people because I have the encyclopedia of the Universe, which is the heaven, the earth and the connection between it all. I am able to connect to the rocks, the trees and the animals because we all have the same DNA. I teach people how to be connected to and how to live in harmony, because right now, we need it.”
What would you say to someone who wishes to start on this path?
“It’s better to listen than to ask questions, because if you listen, those questions that you’ve been asking for might come with listening. If you just sit there, you will understand, you will hear the answer.”??He paused for a long time…
“But a lot of people don’t want to listen. They just want to ask questions.”
“The Lakota people believe that we come from the Lightning and Thunder people,” continued Chief Blackfox. ??“God first made the Heaven, and then he created all the animals and all the creatures. Then he made the man and woman.”
“He began by starting a tree on fire. It was alongside this hill, like this mountain here. And then the mud starts rolling down, and that tree rolled with it. And then the ashes and the wood came together. So God used this lightning to put that energy into a body, which made the man and woman.”
“A lot of people are confused about the Creator and Mother Earth because they confuse between the male and the female aspects. But your whole body – half of it (he points to the Right side) is the male. And this side (he points to the Left side) is the female. You’re gifted with both of that.”
“Early men and women only made groaning noises, and ate nothing but fruit. Pretty soon they started eating vegetables. After that, they began to eat meat. Soon after, the animals connected to the humans, and showed them how to be human beings by giving them the language, and that’s where we came from.
So in your beliefs, the animals gave humans language?
“Yeah, that’s how we used to talk to them. We used to understand them. But the government took away that identity from us. And we’re just learning how to speak to them again.”
Chief Blackfox’s words hung deep in my heart…
It was true: only by learning how to speak to the animals, how to listen to the wind, the trees, and the clouds, how to communicate with all of this Creation, could we rebuild our true place as caretakers and co-inhabitants of this beautiful Earth, and as sovereign beings, independent of the influences of materialism and greed.
The path to sovereignty begins with knowing oneself, knowing one’s connection to Nature, Source and Consciousness and recognizing one’s identity and history so that we are able to know ourselves and feel confident in our inner voice and intuition.
Sovereignty is a power that arises from within, and yet is often activated via contact with others, or from without.
We exist on this planet not as digital blow dryers, spouting ideas into the void, but as sentient beings who require connection, contact, joy and experience in order to grow, and to be stimulated into the fullest expression of ourselves. The last 14 months have been extraordinarily challenging for most folks: distanced, hidden, and alone.
This is not our true nature. We need each other.
The power of the human spirit is fed in community, in contact with others, and as life begins to open back up again, in small, incremental amounts, we are gifted with the opportunity to seek out this communion, based on a core understanding that this life involves interacting with others as much as it involves living in one’s own mind.
Yogis and mystics enjoy diving deep into philosophical questions, like, “Why did my soul come here? What is my Divine Life purpose or mission?”
Yet we so often ignore the simple answers that nature and human connection gift us. The ancient texts remind us that our state of attachment is strong because we are in denial of our basic selves, our wholeness, our connection to the All. We live in suffering because we live in Maya, or illusion, and only when we realize that we are all from the same source, everything else, all of our worries, anxieties and even fears, simply fall apart.
As Chief Blackfox speaks of listening, of connecting, of being one with Nature again, I realize that this is his people’s gift to us, the Wisdom Traditions of long ago that must be honored and remembered once again.
Driving off the mountain that Sunday provided a continued space for reflection, laughter and joy. Even amidst the flow of freeway traffic, people and cellphones, both my daughter and I felt energized, warm and at peace.
Being around others of like mind is so healing to the spirit. I encourage us all to remember and to seek out community, joy and conscious gatherings, especially ones in nature and that honor the essence of Life within us All.
Thank you, Zen Awakening Festival.
Aria Morgan is a yoga teacher, doula and music lover who finds inspiration in nature: ariamorgan.com.