A Psychedelic Story of New Year’s Renewal

It’s a well-known cliché that the year in Rio only really starts after the end of Carnaval. Without ever having participated in it, I thought I had ‘gotten’ the whole dimension ritual-time-return dimension of Carnaval (I’m a devout reader of Eliade, and for me Carnaval is Rio’s Babylonian Akitu festival). Well, this year was the first time I actually took part in the festivities (I used to be a geeky hater of fun), and for the first time my spirit has felt it has undergone a transformative rite of passage: that of the New Year, that which the ultra-capitalistic one night only countdown special of January 1st is incapable of producing. Think about how New Years across the world require weeks of preparation: the Iranian Nowruz, the 15 days of Chinese New Year, and then you realize how ritually empty the atheistic Western January 1st is. The New Year renewal is a process through which the human body and mind undergo intense cleansing, through dance movement, trance, and substance induced indigestion. Sure, this happens on the night of January 1st. But there is a whole other meaning, physical and spiritual, to repeating this process over and over again for the duration of the festivities. Carnaval, as with other world New Years, induces the individual to their highest point of exhaustion over and over again. Each block party is a trial with no judges but the self, and as each hour goes by, the more arduous the trial. I must keep going -my feet don’t want me to, my stomach doesn’t want me to, but the will for complete frenzy of the senses triumphs. Day after day after day.

In my case, Carnaval took me off my ass that was happy in its comfy antisocial place on the sofa. Without guarantee of necessarily enjoying myself. Most block parties are more people than music, and not much great music at that. They can put you in an awkward, off-putting, always uneasy position. As a party to which all are invited, the rich and beggars alike, it’s the one party where you can dance alone like no-one’s watching, but people do watch, and when you’re that girl who spent the entire bloco dancing by herself, they sometimes ask what you’re doing. Yet the possibilities of different bloco experiences, intimate encounters and musical sensations are so infinite that the potential unease is a risk to take. 

After 36 hours of blocos, my trial was done, and returned home at 6am on quarta-feira de cinzas. I ached all over, had lost my voice as well as any sense of dignity, as one should. Had I really danced around town in my bikini even though I have tons of pubic hair sticking out? Great. I gave my day into bed-ness, and reveled in the idea of a well-deserved internet and film day. After watching a 1959 Brazilian Carnaval crime musical and a 1970 social commentary pornochanchada, then going on a mad search into Orientalism in Brazilian cinema by the ghost of a dead scholar in me, I whizzed through the day without leaving my spot. As I would on any other day. It made me feel slightly sick about myself, but then again, the ghost of a dead scholar gave its excuses excuses that it’s all for the pursuit of knowledge.

Not having moved all day, it should have been no wonder that I could then not fall asleep. I tossed and turned in the dissatisfied sleep of a sedentary body, rummaging and rewinding my one hot Carnaval encounter, and countering that kick with the numbness of refreshing   my empty facebook chat. No message from him, no message him, fuck, my life sucks. At 3, I turned on another film: Lucy, by Jean-Luc Besson, half for his cinematography, half so I could gaze longingly at Scarlett Johansson. The plot was a mix between La Femme Nikita and Limitless: a woman takes a drug which allows her to become the first being to reach full cerebral capacity and to understand the true nature of matter and time, which we with our 10% use of our brains cannot attain. And yet the screenwriters who wrote her lines knew it– ah yes, because it was all just LSD speak: all matter is the same, we only exist in time, pain blocks from understanding yada yada. Exactly the same thing I had heard at the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands meeting. So it was basically saying doing drugs is like unlocking fuller cerebral capacity (it’s not, it just feels like that). The film pulled me in though, and I don’t if because of much too strong sympathy with Scarlett, a started feeling a jittery sensation in my left temporal lobe and had to lay on my head to calm down. When the film finished at 5, I was wider awake than ever. And the neighbors had just started their post-Ash Wednesday/Fuck it, it’s still Carnaval party. Daaamn. I had just spent the past 11 hours cooped up in the house. And there was that music. I felt an irresistible drive to run and dance. I put on some underwear and went out in search of the sound. It was a private house. But fuck, I really needed to run and dance, I didn’t want my Carnaval to be over, those ‘downtime’ hours of laying down were horrid, horrid, horrid. Before I knew it, I was jogging to the waterfall trail.

As I jogged up the streets, I was taken by the beauty of my neighborhood like never before in my 7 years of living in Jardim Botânico. Palm trees, colonial houses, cobble-stone streets, not a soul, bathing in pinkish light. The hill got steeper, I jogged faster. The streets were like the familiar streets you see on weed on weed or shrooms: you know where you are, but everything looks off, in a pleasant way. Was this driveway always such a beautiful circle? Were the houses always so close against the mountains? Did the mountains always have those paint-brushed white and grey streaks?  This druggy sort of déjà-vu continued as I jogged up the trail to the waterfall. Dozens of times I had done this trail, but it had never quite looked this way. The tree enveloping that 3m boulder with its roots –how had I never been overwhelmed by its grander? The rock shelter, which I had always found ‘nice’ –was of a supernatural hue, a befitting home for prehistoric men and their gods. It could have been the cave of dreams, the Lascaux of Rio. On its side, a superhuman Aztec face stood out as though etched in. Like those mirages travelers to Wadi Rum speak of. How could I never have seen it before? Further on I saw rock wall streaked with the pinkish tone of Petra.*

I arrived at the waterfall. The water eclipsed all the thoughts racing through my mind, leaving me only with the sensation of wonder which had been following me since I had left the house. After coming out, I wanted to do was meditate and level my head. I focused on the faraway roar of the traffic, which became a drum beat I began shaking my head to, and before I knew it, my whole body as well. It was so intense that I  had to change my focus to the sound of the river. The sound which was traveling downstream and I let my core travel down with it as I exhaled out. Damn, you only feel this kind of synesthesia on LSD, or if you have 100% cerebral capacity and your neurons process time and matter like Lucy in that film. Breathe in and out and stop thinking about that silly film. As I thought nothing, I saw the average meditation ‘third eye’, that fluctuating greenish-orangish ball pulsating with energy. I began thinking about how this could possibly be captured in film; images of imagination in film don’t ever have that ethereal quality… Redirected to concentration of meditation third eye. Then these other eyes appeared: Dali-like curvy blue eyes, fluttering brows, gaping into my closed eyes. I had never had such images appear in yoga class. I tilted my head upwards and there was an inundation of bluish light, emanating from that third eye, filling me with the sense of nothingness and euphoria.

Well, time to go back I guess? No, I knew if I went back home the first thing I’d do would be to check my facebook messages. Must not do that, must not do that. I couldn’t spoil this euphoria with numbness. So I started running on another waterfall trail. I ran, ran, ran, literally like never before (I haven’t mentioned it: BUT I HATE RUNNING). Uphill, downhill, don’t step on those rocks, jump over those roots, oh slippy havaianas, will have to go barefoot. That drum-beat I had in my mind earlier came back, and slowly the techno tubas and trumpets followed. I will admit it: the tune which was driving euphoria in me, which caused me to run faster and faster, was the whistle tune in Love Generation, which I had heard the night before blasted by trumpets at Techno-Bloco (it consisted of running for miles with thousands of others after a brass band playing techno music, jumping up and down like and dancing like at a rave). But here on this forest path, it was just me, with the sound and energy of those thousands of people inside me, pushing me to keep running and to keep the music going. So many images rushing past my mind: topless women playing tubas, Maïra Kraftwerk the super artsy feminist porn director drinking wine at a porn festival, a (yet nonexistent) National Geographic documentary on Mada’in Saleh. And that’s how I ran with the greatest jubilation in my life by myself from one waterfall to the next (and I repeat: I HATE RUNNING).

Once I reached the next waterfall, I had so much energy I was jumping and dancing in the water singing (yes, that tune, it’s the most embarrassing thing about this, but that was my spirit tune), feeling the religious trance I had never fully felt in all those attempts with the Krishnas and the Daimes. Maybe because even those so-called trance religions got goddamn people telling you ‘ooh, you’re not doing this right’ ‘ooh, move to the left’. Here it was just me and the energy and nature.

I ran back, carrying the energy with me. But then it hit me hard once I got to the street: people. The smile I had been wearing the entire time suddenly became strained; I didn’t want to run anymore; I didn’t want to announce my presence to the world. Every time I passed someone a pang of dread hit me. I tried playing the music of the forest in my head and walking fast, holding me head high and not caring. My agoraphobia and euphoria were fighting each other, and slowly one was overcoming the other.

So that was the peak of my New Year’s, and all peaks drop. Those few hours of frenzy of the senses couldn’t last my life. I had to go to the bank later that day. So what was the point, other than some fun times for my memory?

This is where I get back to my theorizing about the New Year and renewal. Ritual time ends at some point. But the point of the rite of passage is that there’s passage from one state of being to another. I can’t be that deranged half-naked forest runner 24/7, as fun as that might be, I know I’d get bored at some point. But I can be more of that, more of the time. I also felt my fear of people hit me strong, and forced to confront the fact it needs to change. 

And so my New Year’s resolutions from the Thursday after Carnaval come from this intense inner experience produced by a month-long process of catharsis (sweat, vomit, diarrhea, voice, other fluids, all of it had to be let out for that internal energy to finally make its way). And here they are:

1) start film school

2) learn to play the trumpet

3) do an ecstatic waterfall run at dawn every so often

4) the usual difficult semi-unattainable one: get along with people. start by making a tangible effort with the ones I care for (will go to that wedding in September halfway across the world).

Beyond me, myself, and my endorphinic psychedelic experience: some tips for others from all this.

1) Human beings gotta be shaken out of bad habits (being couch potato), and the best way for this is as old as humanity: rites of passage. It don’t take a day, it don’t take a lifetime either. Hence, this thing Rio de Janeiro has of reserving the entire month of February for debauchery would be great for the rest of the world to follow.

2) On ayahuasca and gurus: these seem to be the millennial’s go-to method of ‘getting spiritual’. It’s too easy, this ‘oh, I went to an ayahuasca party and have never been the same since’. Unless you’re from an Amazonian culture, it’s a top-down way of consuming spirituality (I think it’s a great way of getting high, but come on, having a tummy ache and seeing some things in a Brooklyn loft ain’t no trial). As for gurus: see them no differently from life coaches or TED talk guys: good tips, but a) you wouldn’t spend hours of your day watching TED talks and b) they’re way to ‘result’ oriented and in a capitalistic self-promotion mindset, otherwise you wouldn’t have heard of them. That’s my problem with Alan Watts. 

3) Running. Damn. I HATE RUNNING. But that’s because the way I’ve always been shown how to do it is wrong. Shoes. Concrete flat paths. The city. Gets you in gear for a workday. It’s torture. Run the right way: barefoot in a bikini up and down forest trails to reach waterfalls at 4 am.

4) Move your body. Your body will unleash your spirituality, because spirituality is energy. The more you move, the more addicted you get to moving. I would have never started running had it not been for Carnaval getting me addicted to dancing and the passage of time taking the party away from me. 

So 2017 hereby just started baby; got my film school exam next week, RSVPd to my friend’s wedding in Virginia and am going out to buy a trumpet now. Tchüss. 

(*this may sound like orientalist writing, but this is just a description of how I saw things in this odd state of mind I was in.)

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