Sweden's No Mind Festival - Three Miles North of Molkom
Paul Dale journeys to Sweden's therapeutic No Mind Festival, on which upcoming film Three Miles North of Molkom is based, to experience a week of hardcore sharing, caring and crying. He emerges a shivering, reborn convert to the No Mind way
It’s 5pm on a Monday afternoon and I’m crying. I’m sat on the grass mat floor of a big tent and I’m weeping on the shoulder of Carine, a beautiful Swedish lady I have known for only a few days. She’s crying too, impacted now waterborne grief and guilt is running down each other’s backs. Around us hundreds of couples are doing the same thing. I haven’t had a drink for days and up until a week ago I considered myself to be just another uptight citizen of the most uptight nation in the world. Something has shifted in me. Angsbacka will do that to you.
Like David Byrne’s translucent everyman I keep asking one question. ‘How did I get here?’ Here is the No Mind Festival at Angsbacka, a new age community and sustainable eco village (not dissimilar from Scotland’s Findhorn community) near the town of Molkom in Sweden, three hours west of Stockholm. The simple answer is that I’d been invited by Corinna McFarlane and Robert Cannan, the bubbly, indecently youthful producer/directors of new documentary feature Three Miles North of Molkom, a comic chronicle of sorts of the 2007 No Mind Festival. The idea is that I experience the festival in all its touchy feely glory and then write about it in the context of the release of their film. It’s a cute bit of PR and I thought it would be a breeze, one heated by cynicism and mild xenophobia. How wrong I was.
The No Mind Festival (which happens every year in early July) is Angsbacka’s Glastonbury. Except the main stage attraction is something far less tangible than a rock’n’roll group. The pilgrims who come to Angsbacka want their minds opened up not by music and nihilism but by invocations of mass consciousness and interconnectivity. It’s pagan tribalism at its most benign and on first inspection Angsbacka seems little more the final outpost vestiges of the free market depleted hippy dream. The name of the game at this week long festival is meditation workshops, free thinking talks, qigong sessions, running yoga sessions, sing-a-longs, dance marathons, sweat lodges and hardcore meditation therapy. Most frightening of all there’s the obligatory sharing group at noon everyday. For someone who has trouble even looking into another’s eyes the No Mind festival is a grueling assault course.
McFarlane and Cannan’s revealing, entertaining film follows the all too real life dramas of one sharing group, the freely selected emotional support group that each visitor must stay with for the length of the festival, as they immerse themselves in all manner of mind and body expansion. The film finds its narrative in cynical Aussie bloke Nick’s derision of the situation he finds himself in, as his sharing group slowly wins him over. Consisting of an all too Scandinavian collection of believers and festival neophytes, Nick’s group offer him and us a remarkable vision of the power of spiritual awakening at it’s most sublime and ridiculous. Joe Russell the film’s gentle, open minded cameraman, who is returning to Angsbacka for the first time since 2007 (before going on to film an all new Dr Who in a Welsh forest) told me that the shoot set him the ‘interesting challenge of trying to capture all these intimate moments but remain anonymous and not break the spell of whatever might be going on at the time. This was made even more difficult because we wanted the film to be as experiential as possible. We wanted the camera to get involved in what was happening rather being an impartial observer from a distance. I would often just be off on my own with the camera and a radio mike watching and waiting for interesting things to unfold, kind of like a wildlife cameraman.’
This year Joe has left his camera at home and with a no photography, no alcohol and no drugs policy at the festival we bonded quickly over our decision to throw ourselves in at the deep end.
Our group arrives in the middle of the night. After being whisperingly shown our mixed dormitories (accommodation at Angsbacka comes in the shape of a limited amount of beds in dorms or camping on the neighbouring grassy site) I adjourn to the now dark and silent smoking temple, the single area at Angsbacka where bad habits (nothing stronger than tobacco and nicotine mind) are tolerated. In the darkness I meet Magnus, a Swedish volunteer baker who really wants to be a writer. In embarrassingly good English he tells me how it all works in Angsbacka. Basically, it seems, the festival can only function with the support of volunteers (who pay a reduced rate in return for their help). They cook the three vegetarian meals a day, they wash up, they clean the dorms, they man the cafes, do the technical stuff and much more. With their help some of the biggest pioneering names in human consciousness and spirituality, among them Shanti Maya, Arjuna and Chameli Ardagh, Byron Katie, Ram Dass and qigong master Andrew Fretwell can breeze in to town, hold workshops and swan round like the gurus of positivity they are. I like Magnus’ irreverence; he makes me laugh with his hints of hierarchies and hidden tensions. We smoke some badly rolled cigarettes and retire to our separate beds.
The next day I eat breakfast, hang around the smoking temple, chat to people, meet a couple of press contacts and wait for the festival to begin. Around teatime we are invited to walk down the tunnel of love, a path from the top of a hill down to the biggest marquee flanked by festival volunteers who are all singing a repetitive song about love while staring in to visitors eyes while giving the Angsbacka blessing (a downward wiggle of the hands accompanied by a shhhhh sound). Unprepared for such unbridled New Ageism I find the walk excruciating. Worse is to come. After welcome speeches from the owners (although Angsbacka is actually run by an association), Peter and Aneeta Makena, the apparent last word in North Californian ‘ecstatic poetry and song’ regale us with their unique blend of the simplistic and the euphoric. I come to love these two in the following days but in that moment all I think about is the happy clappy priest who came to my childhood church with his hand painted guitar and single handedly turned a one hour mass in to a two hour rites of passage.
The next morning it all begins. I walk through the local forest at six in the morning to join a 25 strong group of naked sweat lodgers for two hours of shamanic mud covered heat. In a small circular tent, we are packed in like sardines and then deprived of light and fresh air while being baked alive. Pauli, our hardcore shaman guide talks us through the journey. I emerge thirsty, crying and shaking. A man who looks like Denis Hopper in Easy Rider tells me to lie face down on the grass and let the earth take my pain . I do this and within half an hour I feel better, lighter, almost reborn.
Later that day we choose our sharing group by dint of a huge game of musical chairs. The entire festival delegation wanders around the main marquee and when told to stop you form a group with those people.
Immediately afterwards I have my first sharing group and realise how difficult it is to talk about feelings for ten minutes. My group is made up of three beautiful and wise ladies of whom the aforementioned Carine is one, a slightly sulky younger girl and a cherubic, sweet natured boy man called Pontius. I trust them all instinctively and realise whatever happens these crazy Swedes are in my corner.
What follows in the next few days is an emotional whirlwind of hardcore therapy workshops; among them the momentous 5 Rhythms (dancing like it was 1988 and you have a belly full of ecstasy but really you are sober and it is early afternoon), dynamic yoga (jumping blindfold for an hour to invoke meditation), The Heart Dance (a good old fashioned hippy sing-along) and the disturbing three hour Aum Meditation (dancing, laughing, screaming, spazzing, shouting and weeping your way to emotional equilibrium). I also spend a lot of time in the smoking temple making friends and thinking about how much I love my sharing group.
On my final night I have a vigorous discussion with Arjuna Ardagh, the author of 2005’s The Translucent Revolution, undoubtedly the seminal text on the potential mass movement in collective consciousness that Angsbacka represents. I argue that this big beautiful place is little more than a playground for the spoilt and moneyed. Tolerant of my simplistic arguments he points out that this is just the beginning of a global shift where human beings can live work and share together with an open heart. I’m not really up to the fight and Ardagh knows it. The odium and incubus of past mistakes is already leaking out of me. I pack with a heavy heart, my return to the real world with it’s consume and complain culture has lost its lustre. I vow to return.