Discovering the meaning of life at Swedish festival De Molkom
By David Edwards
September 24, 2009
Bathed in sweat, his eyes rolling back into his head, the man writhes
on the floor and howls at the ceiling. Nearby a teenage girl has
removed her blouse and begins to sob.
Meanwhile an elderly woman is shaking her fists and screaming
obscenities at the 200 strangers who have also gathered in the marquis.
It sounds like a scene from the Summer of Love, the sort of
drug-fuelled freak-out so popular among the flower children of 1967.
Yet the venue is not San Francisco but Sweden, the time is now and
the participants are not hippies but teachers, bankers and,
increasingly, Britons searching for meaning to their lives after
losing their jobs in the recession.
They were among 1,000 people who gathered for this summer's No Mind
Festival, a week-long personal-development seminar offering courses
in meditation, relationships and even tantric sex.
The event, now in its 14th year, is set to attract even greater
attention after being featured in the acclaimed British film Three
Miles North Of Molkom, in cinemas now.
A droll yet affectionate look at the sheer silliness of
self-absorption, it may well be the funniest thing you see all year.
And to mark its release, I was invited to attend the festival in
Ängsbacka which, I was assured, might just change my life. All I
needed to bring was insect repellent, a yoga mat and, most important
of all, an open mind.
Nothing, however, could have quite prepared me for the sheer
loopiness of the days to follow, during which I would find myself
taking part in a purifying ritual with 20 naked strangers, watching
grown men weeping like children and sharing my innermost secrets with
people I'd only just met.
After arriving at the festival's 20-acre site late on a Thursday
night and being shown to my dormitory, the opening ceremony kicked
off the following evening with the event's 200 volunteer workers,
dressed in white, forming a human tunnel through which we walked to a
Settling on the floor inside, it wasn't hard to spot the New Agers
with their dreadlocks and hennaed hair, there were outnumbered by
young mothers cradling babies and middle-aged couples while chairs on
one side had been set aside for the elderly.
Gathered among us was Eric Adams, 36, a father of two from Bermondsey
who lost his job in October.
"A year ago I'd never have considered anything like this but being
made redundant made me reassess my life," he said. "I've always been
about making money, having the best car and living in the best area
but look where it's got me.
"I got very down, especially over Christmas and my cousin found out
about this place and sent me an internet link. I had nothing else
going on so decided to come although I've no idea what to expect."
After programme director Hari Eriksson took to the stage to promise
how a week of "intense self-discovery" lay ahead, we were told to
join up with five strangers to form a 'sharing group'.
The festival's only real rule was that we should meet every day at
midday to discuss our spiritual journeys and, as it turned out, our
most intimate thoughts.
I was teamed up with a middle-aged housewife from Norway, a
psychiatrist, Oskar, from Denmark, 65-year-old Lenka, also from
Denmark, young mum-to-be Sonja from Norway and 26-year-old Carlos
from nearby Malmo.
Like me, all were festival first-timers and nervous about what we
were letting ourselves in for. But in the coming days, our barriers
would come down -- often in the most alarming of ways.
The festival proper kicked after breakfast the next day. At the heart
of the site was a large, open-sided tent containing a noticeboard
listing each day's 40-plus workshops, their intriguing titles ranging
from Dance And The Lightness Of Being to Tantric Flame to Heart Peace.
I opted for Become The Star You Already Are, a 90-minute seminar to
help people overcome their fear of public speaking.
An hour later, I was among 25 people gathered in a circular hut on
the edge of the site. There, group leader Marita Lamhita Jacobson, a
physiotherapist and artist, asked for a volunteer to come and
confront their fears.
The first was a woman in her mid-twenties who got up and was
instructed by Marita to relax and "fill the room with her
personality". This she did by shaking her limbs and emitting a
Next was a similarly-aged man from Norway who started shaking even
more violently. As the tremors grew, Marita asked if any other men
wanted to take the stage and support him, prompting a dozen to get up
and form a protective circle of hugs around him.
After lunch - the meals are all vegetarian - was the Heart Dance.
Like a New-Age barn dance, 200 people linked hands to form an inner
and outer circle while, from the middle, a pair of musicians led a
song about opening up and reaching inside ourselves. It may sound
like hippie hell but, with adults and children taking part and the
tune so uplifting, you couldn't help but enjoy it.
Aside from its collection of workshops and gurus, Ängsbacka is very
big on nudity. From its mixed-sauna to its clothes-free tantric
workshops, visitors are advised to leave their modesty at the gates.
It was a philosophy that hit home on my third day while showering
with two others in the men's bathroom.
While making small talk, behind us a woman's voice started discussing
a leak in her tent. Turning around, I saw she was casually
exfoliating in front of a mirror -- while stark naked.
After she left, I turned to a tall Norwegian brushing his teeth and
asked: "Did I just imagine it or was there a naked woman just in here?"
Spitting out his toothpaste, he nonchalantly replied, "Hey, it's
Indeed, the festival-goers' zeal for going au naturel has, in the
past, created problems with the 2,000 people living in nearby Molkom.
Elie Saad, 61, who runs the village's only pub, says: "I'm a big fan
of the festival as nothing much really happens around here, but some
of the locals think the people are a bit strange. Most of the problem
is when people from Ängsbacka come down to the lake and start dancing
with no clothes on."
Modesty must also be abandoned for anyone thinking of visiting the
sweat lodge, a sauna in which a two-hour purifying ritual was held
every day at 6am.
The lodge itself was a low, igloo-shaped hut, about 20ft in diameter,
covered in thick blankets and topped with green tarpaulin. Gathering
on a bleak Tuesday morning, 20 of us lined up outside for what I
suspect was one of the most traumatic experiences of our lives.
Led by a local mystic, we were instructed to remove our clothes and
crawl inside to sit, cross-legged, in an inner and outer circle
surrounding a pit containing a dozen red-hot rocks. In the pitch
blackness, the leader invoked the elements while ladling water on to
the stones and sending the temperature soaring.
To my right, a willowy blonde in her late 20s suggested we sent
psychic messages to the world's industrialists telling them to stop
polluting the environment.
Yet for all the spiritual energy swirling around inside, I was more
concerned with someone's foot pressed into my bottom while the heat
became so intense that I crawled out - extremely self-consciously -
after a mere 40 minutes.
Later, at breakfast, I met 47-year-old Jackie Elderfield, a
mum-of-three who, in 1988, moved to Sweden from Ashurst Wood, West
Sussex, to become a translator.
"I really didn't want to come but my partner, Svante, bullied me into
it as he's come for the last ten years," she said. "I didn't want to
be with a lot of peace-and-love people and thought I was going to be
"I didn't like the opening ceremony and was ready to go but I've
discovered among the people here a genuine wish to improve their
lives. They seem committed to feeling good and getting better. The No
Mind Festival is all about not minding and just letting go and seeing
what happens. But I certainly won't be taking my clothes off in front
Less reticent was Paul, a Dane in his early 40s who'd just taken part
in a couples-only tantric workshop with his wife of 17 years, Lisa.
"I never thought I would be able to take off my clothes in front of a
whole room of strangers but it turned out to be a very transforming
and touching experience.
"Before we started, the leaders took us through the process, which
was all about finding a higher state of passion, and people were told
they could leave although no one did.
"There were 30 couples standing by mattresses and it started with the
women taking the clothes off the men very slowly. It wasn't
embarrassing and there was no touching allowed. We were focusing on
our partner and were not to look at the other couples.
I've been with my wife almost 17 years and it was a new meeting for
us, enjoying watching each other and trying to reach a high state of passion.
"It continued for an hour and then we just sat there and were
supposed to sat as still as possible while looking into each other's
eyes and trying to meet each other in a new way."
A three-hour drive from Stockholm, the festival grounds are dominated
by a three-storey building that used to be a retirement home. Nearby,
is a café that forms the social hub of the site while next to it is a
barn containing dormitories and two halls. Dotted around them are a
series of marquises where the workshops are held, plus the tents and
caravans of the visitors, who paid 5,300 Kronor, or about £430, to attend.
The festival was the brainchild of 49-year-old Lars Ek who was
looking for a change of direction after working as a film-set decorator.
"Basically, I wanted to start summer camps for adults. Me and my wife
sat and wrote down everything that we'd like to do and we set up the
programme from that."
Aside from its sweat lodge, Ängsbacka's most intense experience is
the three-hour AUM -- awareness, understanding, meditation -- event,
organised by the Norwegian Humaniverity therapy group.
As about 200 of us gathered in the same marquis where the opening
ceremony was held, group leaders Charumati and Kumar encouraged us to
'let go' by dancing maniacally to Europop blasted from a pair of speakers.
Amid a swirl of saffron, Ian, a 45-year-old management consultant
from Birmingham, who I'd met that morning, spun in apparent ecstasy
as his wife careened around the tent.
Eventually, the music stopped and Kumar, speaking into a microphone,
told us to form circles of 10 people. There, we were encouraged to
turn to the person on our left and scream 'No' at them while
imagining they were someone who'd wronged us in the past.
Did I feel awakened? At peace? Spiritually enlightened? No, just
hoarse - and worse was to follow as Kumar told us to "let go" and
embark on a bizarre freak-out. Grown men writhed on the floor, women
whirred their limbs while emitting meaningless squawks while the more
enthusiastic assumed foetal positions and screamed.
Eric, the Brit I'd met a day or so before, joined in by running
around the tent in circles and waving his hands in the air. Later, he
said: "I was really curious to try it out although it was a lot to take in.
"Having gone to school for 20 years, wearing a suit and tie to the
office and working with facts and figures, it was very hard for me to
let go. It was strange screaming and shaking my hands in front of
strangers, in fact I felt really ridiculous, although afterwards I
felt very light and relaxed.
"But I'm keeping an open mind and am sticking to my resolution of not
answering phone calls or checking emails while I'm here. What would I
tell people anyway? My friends are CEOs and businessmen and if they
knew I was in the middle of a field screaming, they'd think I was crazy."
Rupert Stevens, 46, a film programmer for Odeon Cinemas who lives in
Wimbledon, south-west London, was more enthusiastic: "I thought I was
going to be meditating for an hour and a half and running around
freaking out is not something I'd normally do. But it brought me
closer to people. I'd definitely do it again."
Indeed, it's amazing how quickly self-consciousness vanishes,
especially during the sharing-group experiences.
While the discussions held in the meetings are confidential, by the
second day we were all holding hands in a circle, by the third I was
being given a backrub by five pairs of hands to dispel my "negative
karma" and then, on the final day, some in the group were crying
openly as they discussed their hopes and dreams.
Like so much at Ängsbacka, it sounds loopy yet there's a rare and
very touching sense of community and open-mindedness among the
attendees, something that struck me on my last day.
As I waited for a lift to the airport, the air rung to the sound of
perhaps 100 women chanting the Foreigner ballad 'I Want To Know What
Love Is' at the nearby Ready To Love workshop.
Meanwhile, in the café, five festival-goers were shaking maracas and
strumming ukuleles while singing an old Elvis song. Cuddling
contentedly on a sofa nearby were Paul and Lisa, the London couple
who'd attended the tantra workshop.
While Ängsbacka promises that happiness, fulfilment and inner peace
are all just a chant/dance/group-encounter away, you can't help
feeling that perhaps it's missing the point. After all, unhappiness,
disappointment and dissatisfaction, while unpleasant, are the
sensations that make us human.
Maybe that was why I took no more than a couple of faltering steps
along the path to enlightenment during my stay.
Or maybe it was just my karma.
Three Miles of Molkom
By David Edwards
Sep 18, 09
Cert 15, 107mins 4/5
Located in deepest Sweden, the annual No Mind Festival is a week-long
New Age event offering activities from tantric sex workshops to
classes on how to hug trees. No, really.
There to capture the loopiness are British filmmakers Corinna
Villari-McFarlane and Rob Cannan, who've produced one of the
funniest, most enjoyable documentaries we've seen in many a year.
Focusing on seven of the festival-goers, we meet the woman-hungry
Siddhartha, flower child Ljus and, best of all, a cynical Australian
rugby coach called Nick, who's ready to quit the camp after 24 hours.
It looks great and there are more laughs than your average Will
Ferrell comedy, with Nick merrily mocking the self-obsessed Swedes as
they earnestly go in search of themselves. Priceless.