On the first night of December, the scene at Today, a bar and club in the Ridgewood area of ââQueens, was unusually quiet. Instead of the usual crowded dance floor, people were lying on blankets in the middle of the club. Instead of beating rhythms, the music was soothing and the space was filled with candles. Rather than dancing body to body, the guests indulged in gentle forms of touching: caressing, hugging and leaning on each other.
They had gathered for an event called âUnder the Tongue: A Hibernation Temple and Ceremony,â hosted by Nocturnal Medicine, a non-profit organization that hosts parties designed to encourage spiritual healing. Together, the group would work to allay each other’s concerns about the seasonal transition to winter – the second since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic in March 2020.
“We noticed, in ourselves, in our friends and in the people we spoke to, a discomfort as winter approached,” said Michelle Shofet, 33, who founded Nocturnal Medicine with Larissa Belcic. , Also 33 years old. “There was that kind of uneasiness, the uncertainty, the fear, the anguish of returning to the cold, in this time of confinement.
As the pandemic nears its second year, people continue to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety at a high rate. Many still feel socially isolated and deprived of human contact. Some have tried adopt pets to fight loneliness, or went to therapy. Others have sought relief through non-clinical means: by creating new rituals and immersing themselves in new social contexts, where conversation and connection can lead to new realizations.
While some of the events in Nocturnal Medicine are referred to as âraves,â they do not involve shoulder-to-shoulder dancing or rely on the use of hedonistic drugs. Rather, the organization borrows principles from rave culture such as crowd power and the sense of liberation that parties can provide.
This evening’s offerings included a sound bath, guided meditation, candle-lighting ritual, and an invitation to interact with an art installation at the center of the dance floor.
The installation, which consisted of sculptures made of tree stumps, horseshoe crab bodies, stone and dirt, was meant to serve as a “visual cue for the concepts of cycles and time,” Ms. Shofet said. âStone is believed to refer to geological timescales that move much slower than we do. Along with horseshoe crabs, which are one of the oldest living species on earth, we wanted to have this kind of ancient creature present.
Donesh Ferdowsi, 33, an architectural designer who lives in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood, said engaging with the installation helped him feel more connected to the earth. “Touching the earth, holding the logs, putting my hand near the fire, it’s kind of like going back to elementary school,” he said. “All of my work is in my head, so you forget that you are not just a disembodied brain.”
The background music helped set the tone. âI was trying to find tracks that could suit different moods,â said Ian Kim Judd, the evening’s DJ. “Things that emanated a lot of light, things that also tend to have darker edges underneath.”
For Mr Ferdowsi, the fact that the event fell on a Wednesday night rather than a weekend was also significant. âIt’s amazing that it’s in the middle of the week because you can’t wait for the right time,â he said. âIt’s in the middle of it all, and that’s how winter is. I wanted to be able to drop everything and go towards something that touches the sacred in a universal way.
Kelsa Trom, 33, who works with writers and lives in Ridgewood, agreed the rally was well placed. âWho doesn’t need a hug before another pandemic winter? She said as she waited for the sound bath and meditation to begin. âI went to Today as a club. I have not been here as a ritual space. It’s calmer, easier to talk and listen.
Ms Shofet said the decision to host the event at a nightclub – rather than, say, a meditation center – was intentional. âThe dance floor is a space that’s already loaded with so much collective energy, it’s already being used for that kind of communication with things outside of us like music or others,â she said. “One of our big goals and underlying desires is to link contemporary clubbing and frenzy with environmental awareness.”
While attending a healing rave doesn’t solve all anxieties, the sense of connection it can engender can be beneficial, said Scott Hutson, professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky, who has studied how raves have helped foster spiritual transformations. .
“The therapeutic experience of rave comes precisely from being in community, in unity with others,” added Mr. Hutson. âThe ability to break down barriers between yourself and yourself, to sort of distance yourself from your own anxieties and your own ego, to unite and bond with a whole host of people. “
Ms. Trom describes this as “beautiful anonymous privacy”. âIt’s a hard feeling to get in New York City, and maybe everywhere,â she said after the event. “It was like a gift.”