Raw Spirit Festival Review

September 18th, 2008 by Steve Pavlina

Last weekend I attended the Raw Spirit Festival in Sedona, Arizona. This was my first time attending. I had a great time, and I’m glad I went.

This festival was packed with activity, including lectures, workshops, cooking demos, 250 vendors, and of course lots of raw food. To write up a chronological play-by-play of the experience would result in a small book, so I’ll just have to hit the highlights.

Lectures

The lectures were packed with tons of info. There was a great deal of consistency on general principles of health (cooked food is toxic, green foods are great, etc.), but as expected, some of the experts disagreed with each other. For example, I heard multiple sides of the debate on olive oil and raw cacao.

My two favorite lectures were by Karen Knowler and Matt Monarch. Both of them shared practical insights on long-term success as raw foodists. The main thing I learned was the importance of noticing what works for me and not falling prey to dogma at the cost of my own health.

Another fascinating lecture was from Hira Ratan Manek, a solar gazer from India. Can you go 411 days with no food, living off only sunlight and water? My guess is that you wouldn’t believe this is even possible. In addition to this fascinating how-to lecture, I learned a little more about breatharianism from others at the festival. I’m still getting accustomed to eating 100% raw, so I’m not looking to try solar gazing anytime soon. Visit HRM’s website if you want to learn more about this.

The session on juice feasting by David and Katrina Rainoshek was also very interesting. I was impressed that you can actually do weight training and build muscle on a 92-day juice feast.

Workshops

Some of the sessions were hands-on and experiential. I only had time to attend a few sessions like this, but the ones I did attend were memorable.

The highlight for me was Laura Fox’s Anchor the Dream workshop. After some light meditation and dancing around, we broke into three small groups. The assignment was for us to do a quick meditation to channel a message or visualization about our mission. Then we had to share what we got with our group. And finally we had about 10 minutes to develop a play which incorporated the messages we received. Then we’d perform that play for the other groups.

This is the kind of thing that sends people with performance anxiety or fear of humiliation running out of the room. And of course a few people found cause to dismiss themselves from the workshop after learning what they were in for. I thought it sounded like a fun challenge. I was curious to see what kind of plays we’d create in only 10 minutes. Obviously we’d have to improv a lot of it.

One thing I learned from doing comedy improv is the concept of Yes, and. When doing improv you don’t want to disagree with the other players because it can derail the set. So you have to accept anything the other players toss out as true and run with it. You have to be very present and flow with the energy of the group, even as you watch your individual expectations fall by the wayside.

My group had 9 people in it. With only 10 minutes to create a play based on 9 individual messages, we couldn’t afford to have a debate. We didn’t have time to establish a hierarchy with a leader. So we pretty much had to “yes, and…” everything that people threw out. We had to drop our individual egos and allow the group intelligence to emerge. Within a few short minutes, we had a basic structure down. We had an opening scene. And we had a protagonist. Minutes later we were already rehearsing. When our time was up, somehow — miraculously — we were good to go.

We performed a play called Life’s Journey, which was about a man searching for meaning and purpose in his life. The protagonist got aboard a ship and set sail across the ocean. The ocean was a metaphor for our journey through life. I played the ship’s captain, directing the man to get on board and steering the ship across the ocean. The other characters joined their bodies to form the ship itself. As we sailed ahead, each of the characters offered advice, and the man integrated these lessons. At the end of our play, one of the female characters did an act-out of giving birth to one of the other characters, a metaphor for our rebirth into a new level of consciousness. Our entire play was probably 5-10 minutes long. We really hammed it up and had a blast.

The other groups performed amazing plays as well. I especially liked the one titled Wake the F— Up! That one had as all laughing as a group of conscious people were trying to awaken the sleepers around them by shaking them and shouting, “Hey, monkey! Wake the f— up!” It reminded me of bear bombing. One of the newly awakened couldn’t handle it and ran screaming off into the distance, but he was eventually drawn back when the awakened people beamed love at him. Maybe this was one of those “you had to be there” situations, but I still laugh when I think about it.

This was a really cool experience. I totally want to head down to the Strip and shake a few people and shout, “Hey, monkey! Wake the f— up!”

(Un)Cooking Demos

I must have attended at least a half dozen cooking demos. For me this was very helpful and practical… not to mention tasty.

My favorite demo was Jennifer Cornbleet’s presentation on making fast and easy recipes. I learned a lot by listening to her explain how to prepare interesting meals quickly. Then she showed us a chocolate cake, made with raw cacao and topped with raspberries. She proclaimed she could make it in about 5 minutes. We were shaking our heads in disbelief, “Yeah, right!” But to our amazement she actually did it. The only appliance she used was a food processor. Then we had our cake and ate it too.

This cake recipe is in her cookbook Raw Food Made Easy, which I already own — it’s one of my favorite raw cookbooks — so after the festival I went home and made the cake too. It took me 9 minutes, partly because I had to pit the dates first, and I also made a nice presentation with the raspberries, but that still isn’t bad. With a little practice you really could make this cake in about 5 minutes… ready to eat. It tastes like a chocolate brownie.

Jennifer also made a raw pasta with marinara sauce (zucchini was used for the noodles). It turned out great. I’m sure I’ve made that recipe before. The key ingredient in raw marinara sauce is sundried tomatoes.

Another great demo (although not as practical for me) was when Elaina Love made a three-tier raw wedding cake with frosting. That was pretty impressive to watch, and the cake was light and delicious.

Of course the nice part about the cooking demos was that you got to sample everything the chef made… well, almost everything — on a couple occasions they didn’t have enough to go around. I missed out on Felix Schöner’s raw tiramisu. :(

The cooking demos were very popular. Sometimes the room was so packed that people were sitting in the aisles, standing in the back, and cramming the doorway. If you showed up late, you might not be able to get into the room at all. Overcrowding was also a problem with some of the popular indoor lectures.

Live Music

There were many musicians performing at the festival. Usually when there was a musician on stage, I took the time to grab some food and explore the vendor booths, listening to the music in the background.

There was one musical performance I watched attentively and really loved. Jesse Kalu played various melodies with an assortment of Native American-style flutes he made from local bamboo. I found his music very authentic and inspiring and bought his One in Spirit CD after his performance. I played the CD at home later, and my daughter said she really liked it.

Vendors

There were about 250 vendor booths to explore. I didn’t have time to visit all of them, but I enjoyed the wide variety of free samples. I made sure not to overdo it though. You really could have pigged out on raw chocolate if you wanted to.

Many of the vendor foods were quite pricey, but this wasn’t a surprise to me since you see the same thing in the health food stores. A 16-oz smoothie was going for $8 at one place and $10 at another. A falafel salad was $15. I saw a raw chocolate bar priced at $14. I felt glad to be able to easily afford whatever I wanted, but if you’re on a tight budget, you might not be able to afford much. There were some less expensive options like buying a coconut for $3 — those were quite popular — but I did see one person asking a vendor for a handout because she ran out of money (they gave her some food).

The festival included one free meal per day, but I bought at least one meal a day from vendors too. Combined with the free samples and cooking demo food, I certainly didn’t go hungry. There were a lot of creative-looking foods I didn’t get a chance to try though.

Not all of the vendors were offering edibles. Some were selling clothes and jewelry, promoting appliances, offering services, promoting supplements, and lots more. I probably would have enjoyed spending a whole day just exploring the booths.

Socializing

I spent a lot of time talking to people at the festival. This was a fun, lively, loving group of people to connect with. At the start of day one, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I felt totally at home being around people who are living this lifestyle and getting results with it. It was refreshing to be in that place of common ground and not have to explain everything. I might have felt a little overwhelmed if I went to this festival a year ago, so I’m glad I had a lot of education about raw foods before going.

While having dinner with a couple from Pennsylvania, I couldn’t help but think how cool it was to be sharing an all-raw dinner surrounded by dozens of other people who were doing the same. No smells of dead flesh to endure. No need to customize the menu. And lots of high-awareness conversation about topics like life purpose, the good of the planet, and how to make a difference. That was a refreshing change of pace. Seeing human beings at their best really recharged my motivational batteries.

I have to remark that the people at the festival were just gorgeous — beautiful bodies, skin, hair, eyes, etc. Sometimes I just wanted to sit and people-watch. This might sound strange, but I found myself feeling attracted to almost everyone. Even people who were 20 years older than me seemed to exude a certain sensuality and chemistry I found intoxicating. It’s almost like everyone had this inner radiance that was coming out. As far as I could tell, not many people were wearing makeup, although there was an abundance of jewelry and tattoos.

Organization

The organization and execution were the only areas where I felt the festival fell short. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed, since I heard a good deal of grumbling about this from others.

The Shuttle at the End of the Universe

Since there was no parking at the festival except for those who were staying at the Radisson, many people had to use the free festival shuttles to get there. You couldn’t easily walk to the festival location — at least not safely — because the surrounding highway had no sidewalk, and there was heavy road construction all around it. Some people did try to walk there but later revealed it wasn’t such a great idea.

Each day of the 3-day festival began with a walk from my hotel to the nearest shuttle pickup location. The shuttles were supposed to run every 30 minutes, and there was a printed schedule of when they were supposed to arrive. My experience was that this schedule had no connection to reality.

On the first day, I arrived just before the scheduled pickup window. I was told by a hotel employee that the shuttle had left 5 minutes earlier. I then waited about 45-50 minutes for the next shuttle, which came very late. Several others who were waiting almost as long gave up and called a cab, but the shuttle arrived before the cab did.

On day two, I again arrived at the shuttle stop just before the pickup window. This time I had to wait a good 90 minutes before the every-30-minutes shuttle arrived. And I think we only caught this shuttle because someone from our group walked into the street to flag down a passing shuttle, preventing it from passing us by. So we basically had to commandeer an empty shuttle to get a ride. One couple was waiting about 2 hours for this shuttle. We tried calling a cab but were told it was a long wait for cabs as well.

On day three, we repeated the tactic of flagging down a passing shuttle, so this time the wait was only 5 minutes. We also picked up a “hitchhiker” in the road construction area on the way to the conference. Apparently he figured that would improve his odds of catching a shuttle.

I heard reports of others having problems with the free shuttles, so apparently it wasn’t limited to my pickup location. I learned that many of the shuttle drivers weren’t Sedona locals and didn’t know their way around town. In fact, I knew the city better than they did — I gave a couple of them directions on where to go.

I wish I could say the shuttle problems were no big deal, but they caused me to miss a few lectures I was planning to attend. I didn’t get a chance to see Dr. Yashpal Jayne or Markus Rothkranz because I was so late arriving. If I’d known in advance that the shuttles wouldn’t have been reliable, I’d have arranged for alternate transportation. The shuttle schedule I received looked very organized, but something obvious got messed up in the execution.

Life, the Universe, and Total Chaos

Perhaps the biggest organization problem is that the sessions were scheduled too close together. A new session started every hour on the hour with no significant break in between. For example, one session would end at 10am, and another was supposed to begin at 10am too.

This wasn’t a big deal for the outdoor stage because there was plenty of space for people to move around. However, with the indoor stage and the cooking demo room, things got pretty chaotic.

Even if one speaker ended 5 minutes early, that simply wasn’t enough time for 100 people to gather their things, leave the room, and squeeze through a doorway while 100 other people were trying to enter the room and claim seats. While the previous speaker was packing up and dealing with final questions, the new speaker was trying to squeeze through the crowd and set up. This didn’t work well at all. It just created a lot of traffic jams.

Very often speakers ended up starting late, sometimes 10-15 minutes late. Then they’d go overtime, and that would throw the next speaker off schedule too. This was especially problematic in the cooking demo room, which seemed to be off schedule half the time I was there. With a speech you can cut content on the fly to shorten your presentation if needed, but you can’t simply cut ingredients from a cooking demo. If a recipe takes 45 minutes, you can’t easily shorten it to 30 minutes.

I was often late getting to sessions I wanted to see because of the lack of a gap. One session might go 10 minutes overtime, and it would take me 5 minutes to squeeze out of the room and walk across the festival grounds to the outdoor lecture I wanted to see, but by then I’d already missed the first 15 minutes of it. Lots of other people were showing up late too, and speakers had to deal with this distraction as they began speaking.

A simple solution would have been to space the sessions apart a little, perhaps with a 15-minute gap. This is what other conferences do. It takes time for large groups to move around. It’s okay if a speaker goes a few minutes overtime, but you can’t allow them to keep going well into the next speaker’s allotted time. That’s rude and unfair. Even non-professional speakers put a lot of time and effort into their presentations, and the organizers need to assume responsibility for seeing that the speakers get a fair chance to deliver their material. Otherwise everyone walks away feeling like they missed something. It’s better to have fewer sessions that are well-presented and well-supported than to have lots of sessions with too much chaos.

Overall I think the presenters did an amazing job of adapting to this somewhat chaotic situation, and some certainly had it easier than others. But it was clear that a few presenters had to cut material or skip recipes in order to bring things in on time, and that means less value for those of us sitting in the audience. Personally I would have been a bit disappointed if I was a speaker at this conference. I’d have felt like I wasn’t getting the kind of organizational support needed to deliver the best value I can.

I’m used to attending events that are very well organized and executed — for about the same ticket price. Hopefully next year this conference will be able to fix these execution problems.

The Day After

On Monday morning I went to New Frontiers (a Sedona grocery and health food store) to get a quick breakfast before making the 290-mile drive back to Las Vegas.

Apparently lots of other people from the conference had the same idea. After ordering my kale-cucumber-lemon-ginger juice, I was told it would be at least a half-hour wait because there were many orders ahead of mine. Wow.

While standing around waiting, I recognized Lydia Kindheart from Lydia’s Organics (I attended her cooking demo at the festival). She was also waiting for her juice, so I chatted with her for a while, told her how much I liked her raw crackers, and asked about her upcoming products.

I talked with a few other people around the salad bar, and then I noticed David Wolfe standing nearby with a basket of fresh produce. I introduced myself, and we chatted for about 10 minutes. If you aren’t familiar with his work, he’s very well known in the raw community and was one of the speakers at the conference. As he left I told him to have the best day ever. ;)

I talked with several other people from the conference while waiting almost 45 minutes for my juice to be ready. I drank it down and then drove to the Airport Mesa Vortex for a quick meditation before returning to Vegas.

The Week After

One of the more controversial topics I learned about at the festival was colon hydrotherapy (aka colonics). Some raw foodists swear by them (including Matt Monarch), while many natural hygienists recommend avoiding them.

The pro-colonics argument is that when you shift from cooked to raw foods, your cells and organs will release a lot of stored toxins into your bloodstream. However, your body may have a hard time releasing all these toxins because your kidneys, liver, and colon will be overtaxed with the toxic load and unable to keep up. Cleansing the colon is supposedly one way to assist this detox process (liver flushing is another). This helps your body’s elimination process keep pace with your cellular detox. At least that’s the basic argument as I understand it.

In private conversations several long-term raw foodists recommended I give colonics a try as well, especially since I haven’t lost much weight in the past few months. I could still lose a bit more body fat, but I’ve only lost about 2 pounds in the past 3-4 months while others reported losing double-digit pounds each month on a similar diet.

At the show I spoke at length with Matt Monarch, and he recommended colonics too. After the show I read his books Raw Spirit and Raw Success, and I felt he made a strong, logical case for colonics in those books.

Ultimately there’s no way to know what to make of colonics unless I try it. I’ve never done a colonic before, so I figured I should at least test this to see if it has any effect.

So yesterday I found a local colon hydrotherapy clinic and called them up. Synchronistically they just had a cancellation, so I was able to get a same-day appointment only 2.5 hours later. If you know anything about colonics, I’ll mention that they used a closed system with ozonated water. After a brief consultation, I soon lost my colonic virginity. It was easier and more comfortable than I expected — just a bit of pressure now and then but nothing painful. When I saw the tubes sticking out of me, I felt like I was being assimilated by the Borg though.

Afterwards I can’t say I felt any differently energetically or emotionally, but I did notice that I could breathe much more deeply. I still feel like I’m breathing better today. It’s similar to the feeling I get in my nasal passages after eating very spicy food. Additionally, my sense of smell has improved massively. I can literally smell the air. For the past 24 hours, I’ve been noticing scents I never noticed before. It’s like my nose has become hyper-sensitive. When the washing machine is running upstairs, I can smell the detergent even when I’m downstairs in my office with the door closed. I feel like I have a dog’s nose now.

It may take some time for me to discern the long-term effects of colonics, but if I notice any major differences down the road, I’ll be sure to share what I learn.

Overall

I would definitely attend the Raw Spirit Festival again. I went there to learn, to connect with people, and to have a growth experience, and I most certainly experienced all of that.

Perhaps the biggest benefit is that I feel more inspired to stick with the raw food diet. This conference helped me graduate from the initial newbie idealism of raw foods, and now I’m looking ahead to the realistic long-term practice of this way of life. This means learning how to make the diet work for me as an individual and not blindly following what the experts say. It also means being patient with myself, knowing that adapting to raw foods is just one step on a very long journey.

I also like that I have a lot more people and resources to connect with now. Last night I had dinner at the Go Raw Cafe in Vegas with Philip McCluskey, a speaker at the festival and a raw food coach. He lost 200 pounds in 2 years by adopting a raw food diet. Check out his before and after pics if you’d like. However, the physical transformation was the smallest part of the shift he experienced after going raw — the rest of his life changed in even greater ways. I think he’s a real inspiration to others who want to reclaim their lives, reaffirm their health, and reconnect with their spirits.

While writing this review, UPS came to my house and delivered about 100 copies of my new book. Erin says we need to have a book launch party soon. :)


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