The Burning of the Man: A Virgin Burner's Perspective on Why A Person Chooses to Live a Week in the Desert
I'm Sorry... What is this?
Let me first state that this is an opinion piece; it is my personal comprehension, reflection and explanation of why I think Burning Man is, as well as is not, a world-shifting experience. It is my representation and understanding of my individualized time in Black Rock City.
My first encounter with Burning Man was actually by an Adult Swim animated show called Lucy: Daughter of the Devil. In one of the episodes, Jesus, a world-renown DJ, is playing a set at this big party in the desert.
Jesus, Satan and Satan's secretary Becky are in a van, heading to this music festival as a dust storm blows in. The characters are sitting in silence until Jesus and Satan start singing, "Driving to Burning Man! Driving to Burning Man!"
The episode continues on with crowds of people wearing crazy-looking outfits waiting impatiently for Jesus to arrive. The winds and dust are blowing through the scene as Jesus finally makes it to the stage. As Jesus rocks the music booth, the people begin dancing and cheering.
The desert winds intensifies and the madness unfolds in an artistic mix of music and passion. And I remember thinking, "what craziness is that? Is this for real?" But I left it at that.
My next encounter with Burning Man was through my friend Clementine (her Playa name), a fellow science degree holder that I met during an internship program in Woods Hole, Massachusetts back in 2010.
During a small intern reunion weekend in the summer of 2014 in San Diego, she told me how a friend of hers had an extra ticket to this event out in the Nevada desert. She only had a few weeks to gather all of her basic needs and supplies to live a week away from society.
I was intrigued by what she told me; thousands of people gather in a literal desert? No water? No bathrooms? No internet? And its been happening for almost 30 years??? Again, I had to ask myself, "what madness is this?" This time, I couldn't let it go. I needed to know more.
In the beginning I took each person's enthusiasm openly. I wanted to hear and read and see as much as I could about this Burning Man. My research, which I'll go into a little later, showed that Burning Man was a huge undertaking for all involved.
But it's also a challenge to the status quo. The societal demands placed on humanity has become difficult for many, and disastrous for others.
It's nigh impossible for Americans, Britons, Australians, and so many other nationalities to save for the future, when we can barely afford the present, and are still paying for the past.
Burning Man takes away the damages caused by destructive governments and economies, and gives humans the chance to reconnect with, well, other humans. People are given the opportunity to reconnect on a natural level in this desert city, without the influence of judgements and social pressures.
As I learned more about what Burning Man stood for and what it meant to other people, the more I realized how much I needed to go.
Ticket to Ride
The craziness begins with the ticket process. It was an all-out internet waiting game; hoping and praying that you did everything right. Accounts and reservations had to be made beforehand in order to have access to the general sale.
And you had to have the funds. A single 2015 Burning Man ticket was $390 plus tax, and a vehicle pass (definitely a necessity in my opinion unless you want to take a bus or hitch-hike) was $50.
The online ticket ordering process was borderline a disaster for a lot of people. My Burner Partner in Crime Clementine and I had signed on at the same time, were queued in at the same time but experienced different progression to the ticket sales site.
About two hours after the commencement of the sale, I was booted from the line, as all the tickets had been sold out. I was devastated.
Clementine had managed to gain access to the sale site and, by the grace of the gods, she had enough to buy both her ticket and mine, as well as our vehicle pass! It was a miracle that I took as the Universe saying this was meant to happen, for both Clementine and myself.
Am I Really Ready?
As winter in New York City thawed into Spring, I began gathering my resources.
Preparing for Burning Man should not be taken lightly. Not only do you need physical supplies like water containers, bed materials, food and more, but you also need to emotionally and mentally prepare.
How will you react to living "off the grid" for a week (or more)? How will you keep yourself cool, warm, fed, clean, happy? Will you be able to deal with the constant ambiguity? How are you with public nudity and open sexual expression?
The psychological logistics can be daunting for those unfamiliar with the culture that is Burning Man. So I did my research. I scoured YouTube for all Playa-related content. Burners like John Halcyon, creator of the wonderful Pink Heart Theme Camp, has posted amazingly insightful videos for Virgins and returning Burners alike.
I watched the documentary called Spark on Netflix twice, and I read numerous articles and blogs on what others expected and experienced to get as much information as I could. That is how I prepared for this new adventure, and I would advise anyone curious about Burning Man, whether you plan on going or not, to invest in this vast pool of knowledge.
The Burning Basics
Burning Man works more like a collective and less like a festival. And an intricate part of this event requires collaboration amongst its thousands of citizens. As described on the Burning Man website:
"Theme camps and villages are the interactive core of Burning Man. An ideal theme camp should create a visually stimulating presence and provide a communal space or other opportunity for interaction."
Camps are vital to the success of Burning Man.
When doing your research for Burning Man, be sure to review the highly held and respected Ten Principles. The video below from Halcyon is a great breakdown of what each principle means for the individual, but especially the virgin Burner.
And here's the short list for those of us who may be in a rush, as obtained from the Burning Man site:
Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey wrote the Ten Principles in 2004 as guidelines for the newly-formed Regional Network. They were crafted not as a dictate of how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception.
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
Join the conversation in the 10 Principles blog series.
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.
From the East Side to the West
Getting prepared for Burning Man and getting to Burning Man are two different hurdles, but your reaction and attitude to both can definitely determine how great (or awful) your Burn will begin.
I decided to fly out to San Jose, California to get to the West Coast. My older brother, who also works for the same, rather large, tech company as I, picked me up from the airport around 10pm on the Thursday before Burning Man. He, a close friend of his, and myself ventured out into downtown San Jose to grab dinner and drinks at a local diner, full of good energy and pre-gaming club night goers.
It was an exciting atmosphere, as I enjoy my brother's company, and his friend was very interested in Burning Man. She was an avid festival-goer and had heard much about the desert event, and I enjoyed hearing her input and answering her curious inquiries.
Soon after we finished dinner, we returned to the parking garage where my brother's open-top Jeep Wrangler was parked. We went to climb into the vehicle when I saw that my carry-on bag, an army-grade rucksack which I had obtained in NYC months earlier with my pre and post-Playa wear, was missing.
I had placed the bag on the floor of the back seat and covered it up with a black towel to hide it right before we had gone to dinner. The only thing that separated the back seat from the open air of the garage was a mesh netting tightly hung over the outer frame of the vehicle. My two large suitcases full of my supplies were still there in the trunk area, even though they were more exposed due to the lack of covering over this area of the Jeep.
I could tell my brother was frustrated, in addition to feeling violated. Someone basically climbed into his car, even with the doors and windows locked.
I felt awful as well, not because my rucksack was taken, or because the police basically said that there was nothing they could do other than have me file a report online, but because I had had a feeling, a notion, that I should take my bag with me. I had ignored it, because the bag was rather full, and I didn't want to lug this big sack around to dinner.
But, as I am an optimist who looks for meaning in the events that occur in my life (and the lives of others), I knew that I couldn't let this negative moment affect me. I couldn't let the anger, frustration and despair overwhelm me like I knew it could. I took a deep breath, several times, and spiritually raised myself above the situation.
I thanked the Universe for many things that night: for allowing me to arrive safely in California; for granting my brother safe travels when he picked me up from the airport; for keeping my other luggage safe, as those items would have been costlier to replace.
And I also understood that perhaps this was the way the Universe wanted my Burning Man to begin; with a miss-step, a trip up, and a deep exhale.
So I put the incident behind me, went to Wal-Mart, purchased the missing items, packed up the rental car and drove to the University of California in Davis, where I met up with Clementine.
The Packing of the Volkswagon
The ordeal involved with packing a car that isn't as large as you had expected is positively frustrating.
But with a lot of shoving, shifting and stuffing, we overcame the size challenge and got all that jank to fit. All part of the fun when it comes to Burning Man, or so I read.
We were just glad all the doors closed. And we simply prayed that the stuff tied together on the roof didn't fly off down the highway.
After another stop at a different Wal-Mart, a fill-up at the gas station, and a stop at a science lab to pick up the ever-important ice packs, we left UC Davis just before sunrise on Sunday Morning.
Tens of thousands gather every year to build the community of Burning Man. The Playa is an alkaline desert in the midst of a Nevada mountain range.
The Nevada Trail
As I stated earlier, this is an opinion piece. So yeah, with that being said, the drive to Burning Man was pretty damn annoying.
We calculated the trip time to be about five hours from UC Davis. We passed Reno around 9AM and made our last gas fill up/ice bag pick up around 10AM in the city of Fernley.
We had planned to arrive to the event gates around 1 to 2PM, as it was only a two and a half hour drive to Black Rock City from Fernley.
Now don't get me wrong, we knew we were going to be thousands of other Burners travelling on the same, single-entry road into the event. We figured it would add on another hour or so to our trip; oh, if only that had been the case.
In order to accommodate the high volume of traffic, the organizers of Burning Man utilized a car pulsing strategy, where only a certain amount of vehicles would be let inside the gates while the rest of the traffic would be stopped for about an hour.
Now, in theory, this is a great plan. It allows for locals to move along intersections that connect with this single lane highway, which was especially important for emergency vehicles to do their jobs. Unfortunately, for those of us who were driving on this road, we would only move a few miles (if we were lucky) before being stopped for that hour wait.
At first, everyone was pretty chill about it, albeit confused, as not all the incoming Burners knew about this pulsing technique.
As the first few pulses began, people were popping out of their vehicles, playing music, walking amongst the rocks, hills, desert shrubbery and the like, exploring the natural playground around us.
Some folks pulled out food to share with their car neighbors, (the vehicle behind us shared their home-made cookies with us; can't say the pulsing was all bad).
The fun and frolic started to give way to frustration and annoyance as the patience of the masses began to wane amongst some of the weary travellers.
And it definitely starting getting raw out there on this small desert highway after the third pulse began, as there were no Burning Man volunteers, emergency services or even port-o-potties for people to use. What was a late morning drive was turning into a late afternoon headache.
Now I couldn't personally gather the nerve to relieve myself in the dirt, but those dry, browning hills started to look real good after hour five of the pulsing.
After about six hours of this pulsing madness, we finally arrived at the entry gate.
The first set of port-o-potties appeared along side the main road and, in case you forgot, my entire urinary tract was about to explode all over the front seat. The last time I had used the restroom was at 7AM when we stopped at a McDonalds in a small mountain town near Sacramento.
I was most apprehensive about using those portable toilets. How small was it in there? Were there any lights? Was there a lid? Would there be toilet paper? A sink?
All those thoughts and more were rushing to my head as the pee demanded to be released. I won't go into detail about my port o' potty experience during my time in Black Rock City, but I will say that I basically prayed to the gods, old and new, each time I had to pay those big blue water closets a visit.
Anyway, as I walked away from the car and crossed the twenty yards to the potties, the realisation that I had made it to Burning Man began to enter my mind. The sun setting behind the great brown mountains; the dust clouds that hung low over the road to my right. It seemed like a dream.
Through the Gates
After having our vehicle checked by the event security volunteers for stowaways, we finally drove through the entry gates of Black Rock City.
We managed to find our camp, the High Vibe Tribe, thanks to Clementine's quick-thinking move to go searching through the dark with a flash light for a posted sign or familiar face.
It was a quarter to 9PM when I drove our loaded-down car into our camp site. It took about four hours for us to dig out the supplies from the car to build our shade structure, get our tents together, pull out our food, water jugs, suitcases, air beds, bikes, lights and a table before we could even think of going to sleep.
We finished around 1AM, thanks to the help we received from our fellow Tribe mates who arrived before us.
And although we were exhausted from the two days of organizing, packing, driving and unloading, we couldn't just go to sleep after all that work and effort.
We'd made it; we were there. We had to explore it.
We threw on some warm(er) clothes, turned our head lamps on full blast, stuffed our water bottles in our bags, jumped on our bikes and pedalled down the dark sandy streets of Black Rock City.
Dark of the Night
The first bike ride to the Playa was exhilarating.
The air was chill, the dust blew in the light breeze, and music blasted in the distance in all directions.We zoomed past tall wooden stakes which held up street signs that said Hanky Panky, Freak Show, and Ersatz.
I saw wooden and metal structures with ropes, banners, flags and the like, all encased in shadows, waiting for the sun to rise or a switch to be flicked to bring them to life. And all the while the realisation of where I was danced through my mind.
I made it to Burning Man.
The literal months of preparation; the hours of documentaries and YouTube videos; the thousands of words that I had read in articles and blogs from all corners of the interwebs. All of it leading me to this single point in space and time. There was only one question in my mind:
Was I ready for the experience the Universe had in store for me?
We biked past the last street sign and hurtled out unto the main street known as the Esplanade.
Halcyon's camp known as Pink Heart was set up about twenty yards from the corner we had just come around. (His camp became a great indicator of how far I was from my camp when coming across the Playa at night).
There were tens of other bikers and walkers out there in the wee hours of the morning, heading towards us, going past us and some just standing and talking.
Thankfully, Clementine had added lights to her bike before arriving in Black Rock City, so I jumped in behind her, and followed her along the dusty roads.
She looked over her shoulder and called back to me, "Where do you want to go?"
I couldn't get out a reply; there was so much to see. There were camps on our left and distant lights and structures spread far out to the right. How could I choose one?
So I shouted back, "wherever you want to go is cool! This is all new to me."
We biked along the Esplanade for a few minutes, as Clementine traversed a bit down memory lane. She pointed out different camps that she remembered or heard about. She pointed at the street signs and explained how the clock-map worked (took me three days to really figure it out).
Then she pointed to the Man, in his wooden pink and green glory. We turned our bikes and took on the challenge of the open desert known as the Playa.
We drove into the clean, night air through the dusty plains. Out on the horizon to my right were a sprinkling of lights and motion in the sand as other Burners ventured out to the Playa or returned home to their camps.
Out in the desert before us were all sorts of artistic structures, some lit, others still being put together.
They were scattered about the sandy plains in all directions, some with visitors, others waiting silently in the dark for the light of the day to come back again.
We turned our noble, two-wheeled steeds towards a giant "Flower of Life" structure in the distance, where we took a handful of photos.
Then we visited the "Deja Solis," a giant steel figurine whose chest actually moved as she "breathed."
Clementine then pointed at this large, wooden building that looked like a Thanksgiving table cornucopia, known as the Temple of Promise. We jumped back on our bikes and pedalled off through the dark and dusty open land.
The Temple is a place where Burners can come to pay respects, take time to reflect, and make personal connections with themselves and others.
We walked through the structure, where photos, notes, messages and mementos were already being attached to its inner wooden frame.
The Temple is then burned on the last day of the annual, communal event. The Temple Burn represents a release of pain, the bringing of healing, and refreshed beginning on one's life.
We biked around for a little while longer, slowly making our way back to the Esplanade. There were several bikers crowded around this stand baked in light, and curiosity drew us to it as well.
And the Universe appropriately gifted our curiosity with free grilled cheese sandwiches.
Clementine made sure to inform me that the best grilled cheese would be found at Moon Cheese somewhere within Black Rock City. I'll touch on that gem of a place later on.
We stopped at an art car that was parked and blasting rave music with a handful of other Burners enjoying the moment.
There were maybe 20 completed art structures (that I could see) on the Playa during our first night out.
By Monday evening, that number had exploded.
Here and there and everywhere were all theses structures of animals, totems, buildings, jungle gyms, giant people, metal, wood, and more.
From the horizon to where you stood on the Esplanade, everything was alive with variations of light, motion and sound.
Rocking Around the Clock
The streets of Black Rock City are built like the hours on a clock.
The physical structure of the Burning Man is in the centre of the clock and stands at the twelve 'o' clock hour, with the main streets being 3pm, 6pm and 9pm.
The avenues are carved out along the curvature of the clock with the use of alphabetical names, with A, or Arcade, being the closest avenue to the Esplanade, the main street that follows the inner rim of the Playa circle from one side to the other, as shown below.
A Week in a Few Words
Now I won't go into too much detail about what I did over the course of the week, as that would turn this article into (more of) a novel. And as much as I love to write (which should be evident by now), I'd like to finish this article before Christmas. So I'll touch on a handful of days and experiences that I feel are worth mentioning.
The first three days, in all honesty, were pretty rough. I was tired from the journey, I wasn't get the most well-rested sleep in a cold tent on an air mattress, and although the meals from my camp were quite delicious and nutritious, there were a lot of foods that I ate that I had never had before, at least not combined and consumed in that manner and location.
The weather was a roller coaster ride, with the heat during the day, the cold at night and the dust blowing up and creating white outs all over.
Now imagine a real city street, two to four lanes, stop lights, bike paths, crosswalks, sidewalks and all. Now take that image, and put in a desert background with dusty roads. Remove the stop lights, get rid of the lines in the road, put forty people on the sidewalk, then place that sidewalk in the middle of said street.
These were the intersections of Black Rock City.
Each area where a street crossed an avenue on the map were a disorderly square of timing, hope and madness.
Bikes, pedestrians, skateboards, art cars, regular cars and other vehicle-like contraptions crossed paths through the streets of Black Rock City at all hours of the day and night.
Sometimes the intersections would be mostly empty, and pedaling through would be a breeze. Other (or most) intersections were full of people going from here to there. I would enter an intersection and look right, left, back, front, up, down and left again.
The speed limit was 5 mph for the art cars, which was super great for us slow bikers and walkers who could easily move aside for the vehicles.
But then there would be these great brutes of art cars that would be nigh impossible to bike around due to their sheer mass, gathered following of other bikers, or it shot flames out of the top and I personally didn't enjoy the idea of singed clothes.
Matching your placement in the slow-moving horde would be the sole determining factor in whether or not you made it through or collided into a heap of gears and glitter in the dirt.
It was exhilarating, exciting and terrifying, but I can proudly say I only almost crashed into a person twice.
But given all this hardship, there were definitely great, meaningful moments that occurred.
In the early afternoon of Monday, our first full day, I went out with a few Tribe mates, including Clementine, to the Playa.
We were pleasantly sidetracked at a camp called Pink Mammoth that gave out free alcohol. (Number one reason why you need a cup while traversing Black Rock City. SO much free booze).
We then ventured out to the Esplanade where we slipped on some wheels and went roller-skating on a wooden rink built by another camp (my mouth definitely dropped when I saw that set up).
We jumped back on our bikes and rode out past the Esplanade to the Playa where the art cars took over as the dominant mode of transportation.
We visited a few art installations and met loads of folk along the way, stopping at varying little posts, like the Hug Deli and the Sun Tower.
Theme Camping Like A Boss
Theme camps are central to the success of Burning Man. Ill keep the details of my perspective on Theme Camps to the professionals.
Specifically, to Halcyon, because I learned the most about Burning Man from him and his wonderful videos, so if you skipped the video earlier on in this article, feel free to circle back to learn more.
During my time in the Nevada desert, I recorded a handful of thoughts and feelings that I was experiencing as the week went by. The recording of my recollection didn't really begin until I was nearing the end of the week, as I hadn't been feeling well in the beginning.
So I will first go into detail about the thoughts and experiences I had prior to my ramblings in my Evernote app on my iPhone.
It took until Wednesday before I started feeling more like myself.There were two things that turned my time at Burning Man from a dusty, dirty event in the desert to an experience of enlightenment and human connection: All the places I visited and all the people I met.
Thanks to event guide book, my time in Black Rock City had some decent structure. Without the spiritual awakening workshops I attended, I seriously doubt my experience would have been as meaningful as it was.
Each day brought a new adventure, a new feeling, and a new connection. My dragging energies lifted with each sunrise, and I became more comfortable with my environment with each sunset.
I attended a handful of random craft and meditation sessions that brought on magnificent results. I learned many things about myself that I hadn't expected.
It was difficult for me to discuss many of those experiences with my fellow Tribe mates because of how powerful and overwhelming my small epiphanies and psychic victories were.
Fortunately, a lot of understandings arose after I left Black Rock City, and I wrote down those reflective moments of learning in my Ever note app. Below are those entries as I had typed them, with a few edits for grammar's sake.
Night (Re)Cap #1
It's about a quarter to 11 on Friday evening, September 4th. It's around 45 degrees Fahrenheit and I’m lying on a twin sized air mattress wrapped in a comforter and fleece blanket with a sweater over my pajamas.
Needless to say, it's freezing here in the Nevada Desert. But this time tomorrow I will be (hopefully) much warmer because tomorrow, the Man Burns.
I can't say that Burning Man has completely changed my life. I can't say that I'll have difficulty readjusting to the “Default World." But I can say that I'll miss seeing the big wooden effigy that represents, for me at least, a lone beacon in the confusion and darkness that is Black Rock City.
The Man, with his big square head and detail-less body. The way he looks out to the masses that bike to and fro across the open Playa; the endless crowds that weave their way through the labyrinth beneath his feet; and the countless souls that meander and pedal and walk and roll and run and drive and skate and bound to the endless destinations and non-destinations and random locations from the Esplanade to the farthest reaches of Black Rock City.
I can't say that I'll miss Burning Man. It's been dirty, dusty, smelly and sometimes downright disturbingly gross. I've seen things that I'll never forget and things that I've already forgotten.
But I've also meet people that I'll never forget and people I wish I had remembered more. I've met people that I'll most likely never see again in my lifetime. And that fact alone makes me cherish those moments even more.
There's Susan, the woman who held eye contact with me during a meditation exercise and held my hand as I cried for reasons I'm still not sure.
There were the two girls that I waited on line with to get the best damn grilled cheese sandwiches this side of Grand Canyon: Moon Cheese. The line was pretty thick; Dana and I were standing side by side but something told me to turn around; so I did.
The two girls, (Molly was one of their names) looked, sounded and acted just like Abby and Ilana from Comedy Central show Broad City, and it was great.
We played line games like "I Spy," and "Bippity Boppity Boop." It wasn't anything magnificent or mind-blowing; it was a cool moment shared by 5 strangers that came together in the middle of the desert to eat a grilled cheese sandwich at midnight. I gave them each an incense cone that I had made while flying from NYC to San Jose.
Last night I caught my first art car with Dana. And I do mean caught. I watched as Dana chased after this fish/insect vehicle, and I watched as hands reached out for her and pulled her on board.
For a split moment I had considered just letting her go on and walking back to our camp alone. And then something clicked; a little voice whispered, "go," and I chose to listen.
I raced after this car that still hadn't stopped. Voices from the back of the car cheered me on; voices on bikes peddling next to me yelled out that I could make it!
So I ran a little faster, reached out to the hands that stretched out before me and latched on tightly. The hands pulled me into the relative safety of a moving LED gas-powered contraption that is just about every art car. And it was worth every step in the dirt.
There was the British fellow from South Africa who relocated to London that was sitting at the counter of the corner bar near my camp.
He explained to me that Burning Man is what you make it; and when he found out I was a Virgin Burner he reached over and gave me a big hug, exclaiming "welcome home!"
It was a great moment not just because he was so welcoming, but it was special because he wasn't playing it up; and it's a lesson that I'm learning while still here on the Playa. Burning Man is what you make it; it's your experience; it's your choice what you do with you time.
So choose wisely or poorly, just go forward with the confidence knowing you made a decision.
Night (Re)cap #2: Post-Burning Man
I am currently lying on the same air mattress at 1:30 AM from the desert in my friend's new room in a house full of UC Davis students. It's not ideal, but it's better than the 35 degree weather that we experienced just last night back at the Playa.
It was a rough few days, those last nights in Black Rock City. Winds topped 70 mph and the dust was getting everywhere...just...everywhere.
The port o' potties delivered a harrowing experience nearly every time I opened the door; I was never sure what I was potentially walking into.
And I can't forget about the sand storms that would literally stop you in your (bike) tracks and challenge your body's vision and respiration.
But it was also a very intriguing week in the desert.
I discovered my superhero power through meditation (I have the power of curiosity).
I learned that my current spirit animal is the Rabbit.
I meditated with different stones and crystals.
I cried under a giant canopied tent with a woman named Susan for ten minutes when I discovered that my fear of rejection, lack of social acceptance and personal shame can be spiritually debilitating for me.
I learned that a big change is on its way to me and that as long as I can eliminate my life's distractions I'll be able to act on this upcoming opportunity.
I had my first reiki healing that honestly felt like cold water being poured over my head that spiralled out in small streams that twirled down and around my body.
I learned that lucid dreaming isn't very different from the law of attraction, if you can entrust that all dreams are healing lessons from your subconscious that can create a way for you to make the necessary changes in your waking life to attain your true needs and desires.
And I discovered that my divine purpose in life is to be a communicator of love and understanding. I think I got a lot done this week.
I wouldn't say that Burning Man is fun. It's not. It's work; it's effort, and it's expensive: it's time-consuming, resource-consuming and sometimes a daunting labour. But it's a labour of love. Not the love of a person or a thing or a place; it's a labour of love for a purpose.
You have to make a conscious decision to go to Burning Man. The Universe won't magically gift you with a place to stay, food to eat, water to drink and bathe in, and your specific styling of clothes. That's all on you. It's about radical self reliance, immediacy and participation, among other Principles.
Burning Man forces you to get your shit together, put your shit together and carry your shit from here to there. You take all the shit that's been bothering you, holding you back, keeping you down, and just plain fucking up your life, and you turn it into something beautiful, something worth appreciating.
Something truly powerful.
For me, Burning Man gave me a week to close my mouth, sit and listen. It allowed me to disconnect, heal and reconnect renewed, none of which I thought I could honestly do.
My first two days of sessions and activities I maintained my doubts about its legitimacy and my own ability to commit and complete the tasks given; but by day three I had begun to release my hesitations, my preconceived notions and all of my doubts.
I let go of my fear that I was doing it wrong and just believed. Maybe it was the marijuana edible I had consumed earlier or my brain finally shutting out the doubts and fears and noise from my default life, but my energy suddenly lifted and morphed into something grand and positive.
I was able to feel the vibes of my meditation sessions, the energy transfers from master to students, and the positive energy of the people around me.
It felt like the Earth and the Universe were finally connecting with me, giving me the balance between calmness and alertness that I needed to really focus on my meditations and my intentions.
During the entirety of the event I watched my tribe mates become this tight knit family, going on day adventures and partying into the late night together; making meals, enjoying the communal area and being so loving with one another.
I soon began questioning my presence there; I wondered seriously if I belonged in this camp, with these people. I was finding that I couldn't open up to them.
It wasn't because they weren't the greatest, nicest strangers I've ever lived with for a week in a high-elevation desert, because they absolutely were. It was something with me.
I didn't want to connect with anyone, not deeply anyway. I wanted to keep my relationships with everyone I encountered simple and loose. And only after the Man burned did I begin to understand why.
On the night the Man burned, after the Tribe had returned to camp, a few us settled in around a bonfire. And I listened as one of my tribe mates discussed her personal Burning Man experience with me. I could feel the energies of her past and present coming through her and into my mind's eye.
And as she talked and I replied, I could feel myself slipping out-of-body, shifting ever so slightly to the left. It's not an easy thing to explain or even experience, but it's usually something that happens when I read someone's tarot, not when holding a conversation with them.
But that's when I realised that my divine purpose of communication is more than just talking, it's listening and feeling as well. And, when linked to my superpower of genuine and sincere curiosity, I know that I will visit new places and meet new people that can and will use me as a sounding board; as an ear to hear them out.
And I hope that I can use my spiritual skill set to dive deep within their spirit to uncover and heal the fears and doubts they've held about themselves and others.
Which I have to honestly say, is the best gift I ever could've received from Burning Man.
Modern day life is full of distractions, noise and rubbish. You have to find a way to connect to your higher mind, your higher self, to truly begin to understand who you really are, and not what your Facebook profile narrowly says you are.
For some members of our human society Burning Man is that way. I thought I was pretty connected to myself. In truth, I had the belief, but not the confidence.
I didn't realise how much I wasn't connected. I didn't talk about my true feelings to anyone, with the exception of my mother. Now my spiritual emotions are on my sleeve rather than shoved down and buried away.
I can feel the energy of the people around me and I know when they can feel mine. I can easily sink into a meditative state without the use of marijuana or even closing my eyes, crazy enough.
Night (Re)cap #3
So it's been more than a week since I've left Black Rock City. I've returned to the default world full-steam ahead. I went back to volunteering, going to work, cleaning my apartment and catching trains.
The dust storms, the cold nights, the constant headwind that kept you from getting any speed on your bike, and all those annoying Playa snakes (desert that gets deep and thick and stops your wheels from turning. Super pains in the ass).
But if it was easy, I don't think it would've worked.
I don't believe my post-Playa life would be what it is today if I didn't have such an exhausting and challenging Burn.
"What I Learned at Burning Man Is..."
So that concludes my various writings on my personal experience during my stay at Black Rock City. It was mentally stabilizing for me to write about my time in the desert both during the event and after.
Being able to go back and read your thoughts and feelings are helpful in many ways, and I recommend that everyone writes at least once if and when they go to the Playa.
Now I consider myself a passive social activist. I've always aimed to stand on high moral grounds. However, I also always knew that I was missing some vital approach to my beliefs and actions, something I couldn't quite put my finger on,
Burning Man was able to put my positions into proper perspective.
I learned, in hindsight of course, that my Burning Man would be about self discovery, understanding and acceptance. It wasn't necessarily in those words, but I knew that I would have to be okay with things that happened in my life that I couldn't control.
The time and experiences that I've gained from being a Burner had created in me the initiative I've lacked, the direction that I've needed, and the motivation I required to make motions towards my divine purpose of spiritual communication.
I've always stated that "communication is key to success."
I now know that the universe used my own words and belief pattern to show me my divine purpose in life. And it took a week in the desert to help me learn this most valuable truth about myself.