I first came to Vegas in 2004. It was the typical twenty-something trip to Sin City (if your typical twenty-something trip includes dancing on bars and pulling all nighters). I called it a ‘great trip’ because I was so desperately trying to live a particular version of a good time at that point in my life.
The truly great things about that trip were that I was with one of my best girlfriends Kelly who I have known since I was ten years old and that I reconnected with my sister Holly (same Dad, different Mum) who I hadn’t seen in over 18 years.
The last time I visited Vegas was in tragic circumstances after Holly’s son Mason passed away. It was a trip I was terrified to make and difficult to face but one which I am extremely thankful I did.
I can’t say I have great associations with this city which has, in one way or another, forced me to confront some pretty painful parts of my self and my journey.
Despite this, however, I was looking forward to my visit this time. Holly visited us in Mexico three times in the past year and so I was looking forward to returning the favour (!). It was Tyrhone’s first trip to the famed city so we booked our first night in a hotel near the strip so he could see what all the fuss was about.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from it as a sober person with no interest in gambling. In fact, I didn’t expect very much except to catch a glimpse of the Bellagio fountain which I missed on my trip ten years ago (due to being severely hungover most of the time).
We checked into our large, modern suite at The Tuscany hotel which we got for a screamin’ deal and headed down to the strip just in time to watch graceful arcs of water dance in unison to music.
After strolling alongside the reconstructed canals of The Venetian hotel we walked along the strip, overwhelmed by the sheer number and diversity of people, from crack addicts to cardigan-wearing grandmothers.
While a wonderfully bizarre experiment in hedonism and manufactured entertainment, we were looking forward to heading to the ‘local side’ of Vegas to stay with my sister.
Before our arrival, she had sent me a link to The RiSE festival. I was intrigued by the event which appeared reminiscent of the famous Yi Ping festival in Thailand which I’ve only seen in photos.
The freeway was backed up for miles as we approached the exit to the Gold Strike Casino where we would take a shuttle bus out to the Jean dry lake bed for the event.
Despite Holly outsmarting many of the festival goers by performing an illegal U-turn on the freeway to avoid the lengthy queue of cars, once parked at the meeting point we joined a several mile-long line of bodies who were waiting for shuttles.
Maybe it was the fact that my sister had very generously treated us to the tickets or maybe it was the double rainbow we were privy to as we inched toward the bus, but since I had no expectations or preconceived ideas about the event, I was filled with a sense of calm.
The eclectic, polite and chilled out crowd certainly helped. There was a very different vibe to any festival I had ever attended; less angst and more intention. We were gathering to release lanterns inscribed with our dreams into the night sky and aggression or frustration would have been out of place.
We filed onto comfortable buses as the sun was beginning to set over the mountains framing the arid desert landscape. As the sky darkened, the glow of The Strip illuminated the streaky cirrus clouds which hovered above it, serving as the only reminder of the four mile-long piece of real estate which most visitors don’t step foot outside.
I wasn’t involved in any of the planning which resulted in us attending the festival (including a very special lady giving up her tickets for us), so as we rode through the darkened desert to our destination, I thought about all the decisions and efforts made which allowed me to have this experience.
Arriving at our ‘post,’ we rolled out the yoga mats provided to us and gazed at the night sky punctuated with stars and moving aircraft.
Then, we snacked.
We wrote our messages and dreams on the lanterns which had been laid out for us.
Then, we snacked some more.
It was a long wait for all of the festival goers to arrive on their respective shuttles, but the uniqueness of sitting on a yoga mat in the desert surrounded by thousands of people doing the same thing was not lost on me. It was an experience I would not likely be repeating and I was intent on soaking up every minute.
The moment arrived to light our flame torches, and shortly afterward, our first lantern.
Even though I was holding my camera, my eyes rose skyward as the first golden cylinders of light were carried into the sky. A rush of breath entered my lungs as my eyes attempted to capture the scene of thousands of floating orbs before them.
It was a moment which was beyond senses, judgement or comprehension.
Overwhelm of the best kind smashing any attempts to categorize or describe it; a complete absence of the mental monologue which usually accompanies me, except in moments which eclipse normal perception.
Moments like falling through the sky from 10,000 feat; witnessing the majesty of migrating whale sharks or fleeting glimpses of inner stillness during meditation.
In this case, it was over 20,000 vessels of golden light rising into the night sky on an invisible breeze.
I was, in that moment, united with presence.
Absorbed by awe.
One with now.
And I wasn’t the only one. Holly and Tyrhone felt it too and we didn’t need to say anything to know we were experiencing one of those moments which exist beyond description.
The expression on the faces of those around us signaled that they felt it too.
Then, the moment drifted away along with the tiny specks of light which continued across the inky sky, returning me to my normal state of comprehending, categorizing and interpreting.
And posing for photos…
As we departed the desert in a state of heightened awareness, I thought about the choice which we face in each and every moment; whether to remain tethered to our own limited imaginings, or to Rise, and experience the infinite possibilities of our existence.
This post is dedicated to Briana and Hope, who gave up their place at this event for us, to my sister Holly for buying our tickets, and to Mason Chamberlain for being the light which brought us all together.