If you could wear whatever you wanted – anything at all – and you were GUARANTEED it wouldn’t change what people thought of you…
…what would you wear?
If you could dance the way YOU wanted to dance – and you knew people wouldn’t laugh at your silly moves…
…how would you dance?
And if you knew that you could strike up a conversation with anyone – a stranger – and they would be warm and friendly towards you…
…who would you speak to, and what would you say?
I had this exact experience earlier this year during Rainbow Serpent, an annual music, arts and culture festival.
It’s held on a private property in country Victoria, about 2 hours west of Melbourne. It’s a 4 days festival, held over Australia Day weekend in late January.
I had never been before, and only went because my boyfriend Aaron (a regular Rainbow goer), had raved on and on about it.
My sister Lizzay and I packed our car with food, sunscreen, an array of costumes and 6 litres of coconut water. We arrived at the festival location and were met with a slow moving line of vehicles, crawling along an orange dusty road.
The festival staff checked our tickets and our car for glass bottles. We continued the slow journey to our campsite, passing through what could only be called a tent city. It would have looked like any other festival, except for the private DJ booths, wildly decorated marquees and electric couches on wheels.
The camp ground was only a taste of the crazy, fabulous and and deliciously ridiculous things I would witness at Rainbow Serpent.
We set up camp, and went to explore the festival. The music was mostly psych trance and electronic – performed by DJs on beautifully designed stages. Around the festival arena were enormous art installations. There was a market area, food stalls, tents where they held storytelling workshops and yoga.
And that was only during the day.
At night, the whole place transformed into a glowing, pulsating mix of music, flashing light shows and human bodies, all moving as one glittery, amorphous mass. At dawn, the stages would still be packed with the hardcore punters, pounding the dusty ground to the heavy beat.
(By the end of the festival it was common to see people hobbling around with bandaids plastered to their toes – clearly an indication of too much fun.)
And the costumes!
Think of the most outrageous, outlandish outfit possible – and someone at Rainbow will out-do you. There were fairies, there were silver space suits, there was the entire character cast of Mario Kart.
There were people dressed as unicorns, flamingos, bacon and eggs. And as the festival went on and inhibitions went down, the costumes got more outlandish.
I was in awe the entire time.
Rainbow Serpent is a giant playground for adults, where no rules apply. There is no dress code, no mobile phone reception, and no 1am curfew. You can dance all night, watch the sun come up, eat breakfast, and keep dancing. It’s definitely not for the faint hearted, or footed. It took me about a day to take it all in, and then I fell in love with the place.
3 things I learned:
1. Remove all rules…and things still work
The only rule they had at Rainbow was: No Glass. But apart from that, you could do what you wanted. You’d think that letting tens of thousands of people loose in a giant paddock with no rules would be a disaster, but it was quite the contrary.
With their unlimited freedom, people were able to self organise. Everyone was courteous, there was no pushing and shoving; if someone wanted to set up their own mini bar in the middle of the dance floor, that was fine. If you wanted to gently push your way to the front of the stage, that was fine too. If you wanted to share someone else’s picnic rug – no worries, go ahead!
There were a handful of cops there, but I didn’t see a single person arrested during the 5 days at the festival. Nor did I see any punch-ons.
Everyone was responsible for themselves and their own wellbeing. And you know what? When people have that freedom to choose for themselves, they behave!
Imagine how this could work when applied to our workplace, our children, our partners, our society. Why do we rebel? Because someone else has created rules for us. They have placed restrictions on what we can and can’t do. And it’s suffocating. We can’t express ourselves or be who we truly are. And so we play up, push back, screw up.
Try removing some rules and let people take responsibility for themselves. You may be surprised at what happens.
2. How to live in the moment
There is zero phone reception at Rainbow. You can’t call people and say “Where are you?!” or “Meet me here!” or “I’m lost!”
It’s actually quite liberating. You don’t have to be at a certain place at a certain time – ever. My friends and I lost each other all the time, but there was no panic; we just figured we’d see them back at camp at some point. There was no rushing around, no running late.
Time became a loose concept. We learned to use the sun as our clock.
And routine? Forget it. The music plays all night, you have breakfast at 3am, you go to bed as the sun rises, you sleep in…and you find yourself having conversations that go something like:
“What time is it?”
“Umm, I don’t know. Maybe 7??”
“A.M. or P.M?”
Yes, your body clock gets quite messed up.
But you know what I learned? To live in the moment. The only place I had to be was wherever I was, right there, in that place, at that time. I wasn’t thinking about “What next?” or “What am I having for dinner?” or “Hang on, I have to meet so-and-so at 5.30! Gotta leave in 10 minutes!”
Rather, I enjoyed the music, was fully present in conversations, and was wildly observant of all the wacky and wonderful festival sights.
This is something I’d love to do more of in my day-to-day life. I often find myself thinking too much about the future and all the things I need to do, as well as jumping from one thought (and task) to the next.
I mentioned in an earlier blog post I’ve been practicing mindful walking — where I walk along the beach and focus on the ocean, the plants, the sunrise, my own footsteps. Sounds simple, but it’s not easy, and I’m doing my best to improve.
Right now, I’m writing this post in a cafe with my phone on silent, and my email and Facebook closed. I’m not doing anything else until I’ve finished this post.
Eventually, I’d like to be able to do all my tasks just as mindfully.
I challenge you to start bringing some mindfulness into your daily life. And see if it brings more calmness, less stress and more productivity.
3. Remove all fear of judgement – and you can truly be yourself
The Rainbow Serpent environment was probably the least judgemental place I’ve ever experienced.
Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming. They’d strike up conversations in the line for the bathroom. They would compliment you on your outfit or your dancing. There were no snooty ‘up and down’ looks.
People wore whatever they wanted – because it didn’t matter how crazy or outlandish you dressed, there was always someone who looked more ridiculous than you.
One thing I love about costumes is they bring out people’s true characters.
It’s funny how we tend to wear a mask during our ‘normal’ lives: we have our ‘work’ mask, our ‘family’ mask; a different mask for different friend groups. But when you’re in costume (and literally wearing a mask), you’re not you — you’re in ‘character’, which means you can behave…
You can speak your truth, you can dance like a demon, you can express yourself fully, and you can be totally ok if someone questions you, because you’re ‘in character’. Right?
So I encouraged you to start letting a bit more of ‘you’ into your daily life.
But to do this, you need to pinpoint the areas where you care too much about what people think. Maybe it’s the way you dress, the way you speak, the opinions you have. And once you’ve done this, ask yourself:
Do those people’s opinions really matter?
How does caring what these people think make me a better person?
And if they do judge me, what’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?
And once you can learn to let go your fear of judgement, you’ll start to experience a life where you can live true to who you are, and you’ll become a better person not just for yourself, but also for those around you.
And that’s what I learned from Rainbow Serpent.