Picture this: music fills the air from the DJ in the corner. Beautiful people are laughing and mingling in their designer duds. There’s a photographer snapping pictures of two attractive females posing on the red carpet. On any other typical Saturday night in Los Angeles, this would pass for a classic Hollywood party. However, instead of vodka and tonics here, there’s free-flowing hot lemon ginger tea and probiotic juices poured at the bar.
Light Watkins is the appropriately-named man behind the evening’s even-more-appropriately-named event, The Shine. Its website describes itself as a “mindfully-curated variety show” with a mission of creating “a fun, welcoming social environment where attendees can connect with one another in meaningful ways and leave feeling inspired.” A former model-turned-meditation teacher, Watkins hasn’t been drinking by choice for almost 15 years and is completely at home in the environment. To him, normal social scenes aren’t all that inspiring or interesting. “It kind of speaks to where we are in our society that we can’t go three hours without getting smashed,” he says. “It’s a great little insecurity that I feel like is being exposed.” What is inspiring to him, however, are ideas, music and genuine connection—and judging from everyone in the room, he’s not the only one.
When I get to Cross Campus, a creative office space in Santa Monica, a little before 7, it’s drizzling and there’s already a line forming outside the clear glass doors. The venue is snug on the corner of Colorado Avenue and 10th Street and looks like a modern art gallery from afar. I stand next to a stout, hipster man wearing a denim shirt and fedora whose only plus one seems to be his statement beard. Around us, people are either texting or giving out hugs to the people they were just texting. “What is the current theme song of your life?” I hear someone say. It’s a little jarring to hear something so honest and sincere at a public mixer. After all, it’s the sort of thing you would say only if you really wanted to get to know someone.
The question is, in fact, one that everyone will be addressing since there’s a sign posted outside that has it listed as “Question of the Night.” At most other parties, attendees have the leeway of hiding behind the trusty and safe “how are you”—but there’s no hiding here. This is even more evident when the doors swing open and I’m directed to a table where I’m encouraged to partake in the personal trivia. I stand with marker in hand as a line of people scribble something down and zip past me. When I finally write down a song that I deem truthful enough to the most recently played song on my playlist—but way too embarrassing to admit for this trendy crowd—I’m prompted by a smiley volunteer.
“So, what’s your theme song?” she asks enthusiastically. She is Latina with baby-faced features and long shiny hair. Now would be the perfect time to have written down either Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” or Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.” "'Love Yourself' by Justin Beiber,” I hear escape from my mouth. I’m waiting for a forced, “Oh, that’s nice” but instead I get a “Oh my gosh, me too! Well, I put down ‘Sorry.’ We have a whole group of Beliebers here tonight!” We high five and just like that, I have a friend in the Selena Gomez look-alike. I wonder if it’s a coincidence.
The idea of a theme song was prevalent throughout the night. Often times, it was a bit unexpected. Light’s song is an eclectic dance number and he walks onstage making a “raise the roof” gesture with his arms. People whoop as he speaks into the mic, “We’re all here tonight because we’re searching for something more.” Wow, that’s refreshing to hear, since I’m sitting next to a statuesque blonde who has perfect skin and delicate jewels on her perfectly manicured nails. What more can she be possibly searching for? And yet, she’s here, sitting next to me. Her name is Amy.
Turns out, Amy is actually more than just a guest at The Shine. She is also the winner of the Shine On Challenge, a philanthropic project where the proceeds of the night is given to one attendee to give back to the community in some way. “It’s only $400 but when you want to do something meaningful with it, it’s a lot harder than it looks,” she tells me. “We had to decide what we wanted to do, and also make a video for it.” She decided to take her winnings to the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and donate 50 new children’s books to the Literary Healing Program.
Later that evening, she would be called onstage to draw the next Shine recipient, but for now I’m giving her a massage. Actually, everyone in the room is giving massages to each other. To start off the evening, Light has us all stand up, do a little stretching, and turn to our neighbor and give them a little shoulder rub. It’s a human massage train and Amy is loving it. “Harder!” she tells me while turning her head back at me. Both her verbal and eye signal only mean one thing. When it’s time for her to give me one, she doesn’t spare in puncturing my shoulder knots as well.
The rest of the night, however, focuses much more than just muscle tension—we move onto larger things like emotional, mental and spiritual strain. There’s a group guided meditation led by Venice-based Guru Gashat and a live acoustic set by singer-songwriter Jared Lee, all of which preps to relax and soothe the room. The main session of the night, however, is saved for former NBA player Paul Shirley. As he stumbles on stage, his 6”10 frame looks like it doesn’t belong in front of a podium but as soon as he opens his mouth, he’s more like a stand-up comedian than a professional athlete.
“They told me not to walk around, but I’m going to be all over the place,” he jokes into the mic. At once hilariously self-deprecating and seriously honest, Shirley’s presentation is no holds barred as he details his difficult, long, zig-zagging layup towards his basketball career. With 17 different professional changes and many self-defeating close calls, his stint in the NBA is one of many disappointments and frustrations. It’s not the typical inspirational message one would usually gather to hear, but it’s important because everybody hears the same message within themselves. Though some examples were more painful than others—at one point he underwent a penis procedure that he described in detail to shrieking women and silently-shrieking men—Shirley was able to get out of his unpredictable experience with a better sense of himself and his individual worth. Now, instead of chasing accomplishments and objects for validation, he tells the audience that he’s learning to be content with who he is in every moment by staying present, regardless of circumstance.
As the evening comes to a close with another musical performance, I look down to the song stuck to my chest that I wrote a just a few hours earlier. Unknowingly, I may have been onto something. My theme song seemed to be everything that the evening encapsulated: community, inspiration, honesty and acceptance—in essence, how to truly love ourselves. On my 40-minute drive home later that night, I blast the Biebs the whole way back.
The Shine hosts events in Los Angeles and New York about once every 6 weeks. For more information on upcoming events, check out their full schedule here.