“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy” was Gershwin’s catchy mantra, in 1935. Nowadays, living is a bit more complicated. What we are searching for in 2015 might not be ease, but mindfulness. MassBliss wants to help. This unusual festival promises an “arts and awareness experience” in the Berkshires on July 10–12.
The festival’s mantra is “Breathe. Connect. Create.” YogaCity NYC’s Sharon Watts sat down with one of the festival founders, Andrew Belcher, to learn more about it and the philosophy behind it.
Sharon Watts: Your teaser is: “MassBliss 2015 is an all ages arts and awareness camping experience that is filled with live performances and immersive workshops in music, theater, yoga, meditation, and fitness.” Why so many choices to attain something so focused?
Andrew Belcher: Our festival is a dynamic experience that provides many entry points to the idea of being present. We often think of the mantra: one truth, many paths—our truth being presence and our diverse programing being a few of the infinite paths to get present.
Our model is expansive because it provides access to mindfulness for almost any type of person. We believe people are moving toward investing in experiences and not just things.
SW: So you are “presence promoters,” producing events that promote mindfulness. The event trend has gained momentum, considering the popularity of Wanderlust. What is it about MassBliss that sets it apart?
AB: The events trend reflects a marketing of yoga and mindfulness to an exclusive group of wealthy, mainly white, often female yogis. This is unfortunate because it continues to brand yoga and mindfulness as privileged, exclusive practices. Most people cannot go on those retreats.
Our goal has been to make it as accessible as possible. We have kept ticket prices affordable and have arranged for travel direct from Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Boston. We understand that even attending our event is a privilege, so our long term goal is to rigorously document our offerings and provide them for free online. We want to disassociate mindfulness with privilege.
Our business is about building relationships and collaborations. We choose collaboration over competition. We also choose to be mission-driven and hope that the money will follow so we can continue to do our work. We believe that presence is a powerful tool that has been lost and overlooked by our constant partial-focus culture.
SW: When and how did the seed for MassBliss take root?
AB: In 2010, I was teaching at a high school in Canarsie, Brooklyn. It was clear to me that my students needed foundational education in breath awareness, nutrition, and fitness. I loved to teach playwriting, but it was not what they really needed. I wanted to give them skills they could use now, in a profound way. That was my last “traditional” classroom. I became a Yogaworks teacher, then took some time off and wrote a new business plan that highlighted a need for expansive education across physical, cognitive, and creative fitness. As I finished that, James Puckett decided to join me and help build MassBliss. This validated my dreams, and his presence as co-founder has brought us to where we are now.
SW: How can your inwardly directed mindfulness programs help create connections within the community?
AB:The thrust of MassBliss is to provide tools and skills to explore mindfulness and presence across our personal, professional, and playful lives. By educating the individual to awaken to one’s inward journey, we can make our communities stronger. We do this through producing collaborative art, our Breathing Booths that activate public space and local communities, our Mindfulness Laboratory which provides on-site trainings, and our annual festival.
SW: What can we expect at this festival that makes it such a unique event?
AB: The unique step is that we embrace an expansive idea of fitness and its practice: physical, cognitive, and creative. All of our talent—the headliners, theater companies, and artists—will be teaching workshops. This is fundamental to us, and unique because we ask our talent and our audience to engage with each other in workshops that allow for intimate connection. We want participants to enjoy our talent and to also be able to connect with them to enliven their own creative being.
Our offerings celebrate our differences and provide a platform for exploring not only what makes us unique, but what binds us all together. Diverse programming spans New Orleans jazz, Indian raga music, Ethiopian pop music, puppet shows, Brazilian folk stories, stilt walking, cycling, running, functional movement, yoga, jazz, meditation, spoken word, and much more. That eclectic list boggles my mind! My favorite word is Ubuntu. I understand it to mean "becoming a person through other people." MassBliss 2015 embodies and lives that beautiful word.
SW: Sounds like the summer event, to me! For more information, visit the website.
Illustration and interview by Sharon Watts. To read more of her writing, click here.