Manifestation Level: Full Power
Trip Start Feb 28, 2010
45Trip End Ongoing
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People of all ages and features twirl in blissful primal dances, decked out in day glow furry jackets, tie-dyed shirts, turbans, bunny suits, and nothing but smiles and glitter. I smile, take off my golden flammable leotard, light my lighter, ignite my five foot staff, and lose myself in a sacred fire dance under the glistening stars.
Later, I am standing on the top platform of The Janky Barge, our double-decker-pirate-ish-ship-school-bus-slash-movable-club
I spy in the distance what appears to be a pink glowing castle. Perhaps inhabited by Snow White or some of the little ponies. I grab Megan and Brent.
¨Want to go on an adventure?¨
After grabbing a bottle of whiskey and our faux fur coats, we climb down from Janky, and run giggling across the dusty playa. Megan´s tutu blows in the wind. What we find is not in fact a princess castle, but some kind of a bell tower with pedal bikes to turn the still bells into melodious tools, and what looks like an abandoned bar. We shimmy up some posts and a swing (not so easy in a tutu) to the third floor where we have an even better view of Black Rock City, Nevada.
Burning Man wasn´t always this planned city of orchastrated madness
After moving to No Man´s Land, Nevada, Burning Man continued to grow and evolve until eventually became a real city. An open desert turned into dirt roads lit by lamps every night, and zoned areas. Instead of just coming to camp and celebrate, people began to organize official camps for different purposes. Drum circles turned to megawatt soundsystems with international DJ´s filling up slots. Head count went from 20 in 1986 to this year´s population of 51,454, making it, for one week, the third largest city in Nevada after Las Vegas and Reno.
It is the only city in Nevada to provide free medical attention for it´s residents. It has a working DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles) to regulate the hundreds of art cars roaming the playa, representing everything from a furry golf cart fishes to a two story welded Ganesh with a bar and bumping soundsystem. Nothing is sold but ice. It is a gift economy where everyone is expected to participate. Black Rock City has its own police/peace-keeping force, the Rangers, the only uniform-clad walkietalkie-weilding organized authority force I have ever seen that actually comands and deserves respect
There are the facts, but there is no way to actually come close to capturing the essence and energy that happens during that one week. I love this excert of the Wave Speech from Hunter S. Thompson about San Francisco in the 1960s, allow me to reapply his words to Burning Man:
¨ [It] was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run ...but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant ...¨
You can look at photos and videos, listen to stories, read my words, but there is no way to really know until you experience it. How do you describe an orgasm? A broken heart? A spiritual awakening? A dream? All of these ardent feelings together? Are you trying? I´m at a loss. But I will try...
As me, two of my friends, one old, one new, stand on top of the castle that isn´t a castle, we struggle ourselves to describe it.
¨There is nowhere else in the world like this.¨
¨We are so lucky to be a part of this.¨
¨I love you both.¨
¨You can´t understand it if you think about it too much.¨
¨You have to suspend all preconceived notions about what life is supposed to be to even come close.¨
¨You can´t explain it because it isn´t possible.¨
¨But here we are.¨
¨It makes perfect sense because none of it makes sense.¨
And then we pause, sigh, smile, lock eyes, and hug
Everything we have ever been taught by America about consumerism and puritanism and capitalism and the war on drugs and following the rules and the only place to obtain an education is in the classroom clashes hard with the harmonious anarchy we witness before our dilated eyes.
And to think I was ready to take a year off. Remember now me and Lorraine´s original plan was to travel for a year... But about three months in when homesickness started to fester we had a brilliant idea...
¨What if we came home for Burning Man?¨
¨Hmmmmm. That would be pretty badass....¨
¨Fuck it. Let´s do it.¨
So here we are. Three days of travel back to San Francisco, one day to prepare for a week long festival in the desert we usually spends months prepping for. One twelve hour ride to Reno, then Gerlach, then finally, Black Rock City.
We arrive in the middle of the night to an empty camp. Janky is off roaming the playa. Nothing to do but dip into the supplies... The tradition of virgins rolling in the dust then banging the gong at the front gate prompted Megan and Laila, to strip down the bare essentials to avoid dirtying their ¨normal¨ clothes. Me and Lorraine also derobe in solidarity. After an hour a bottle of Jamesons is empty, we are still in our panties, and we are rolling rolling rolling around giggling. Janky still hasn´t returned, and Chelsea is for sure on it with our tent, we can´t set up, so we go sauntering out to find her.
Manifestation switch is officially turned on, and within half an hour, at about 4am, we hear Janky before we see her. We chase after her through the night, and when we finally jump on we are rewarded with the best hugs and squeals imaginable after the fifth grade.
Six months without my posse, without my family (besides of course the magic of Bali and Portugal). What a more epic way to celebrate our reunion than in the City of Dreams?
I don´t sleep the whole night. Time no longer has any concept for me. I am over twelve hours ahead or behind from Portugal, and I am high, high off this magic reunion, and I am afraid to miss even a second of it. I last another thirty-six hours or so before human compulsion overcomes chemical compulsion and I pass out dead to the world in a camping chair. For two days.
It is of course an amazing week. There is glitter, there is dancing, there is laughter. I find giant playgrounds, circus camps, I spin fire, there are countless friends to see. There is that je nais se quoi. It isn´t one moment. The good things in life never are. What´s the point in that? It is a culmination of millions of moments sewn together perfectly to envelope you in bliss.
Not to say Burning Man is a utopian society. I spent a two or three days of the week useless to the world cursing the dust and the heat and the block walk to take a shit. There was the grandma I befriended on Janky who tried to mouthrape me. There was the bikini clad Laguna Beach babe whose boyfriend thought our art car would be a great place for her to convulse. (My friend Matt called her out within sixty seconds... ¨First burn, second day?¨) There was the random tripper who over dosed in my friend´s arms.
As with anything worth anything, Burning Man is work. It´s not a weekend in Cancun. (And thank god for that.) The weather shifts from burning hot to freezing cold. The wind picks up in minutes and the horizon goes from blue and blissful to dust so thick you can´t see a foot in front of your face. The conditions are harsh and while everything is gifted, you are expected to be able to fend for yourself. You need a shade structure that can withhold hundred mile and hour winds. You need enough food and water for a week in the harshest of conditions.
Drugs and sex are everywhere, but if you don´t respect them they can overpower you. You wouldn´t jump on a killer bucking bronco at your first rodeo and expect to walk out of the ring would you? So don´t take five hits of acid and go to an orgy camp without the proper experience or you will regret it tomorrow... Or maybe not...
The energy is so high that limitations become suspended. And in that alchemy danger is abundant as well as sublime release.
One of my biggest peeves about how Burning Man is perceived is the people that think its just a bunch of dirty naked hippies taking too much drugs and rolling about in the mud. Or the douche-noodles who think they can show up with a twenty-four pack of Bud Light and everyone will feed, pamper and fuck them.
Anyone who thinks that Burning Man is just a giant party is missing out on a lot of spiritual complexity. The best place to find that sacredness is in Black Rock City´s heart chakra, the Temple. It is the most sacred place on the playa to me. The Temple has only been a tradition for the last ten years, but it has become just as symbolic to participants as the Man. The Temple is the yin to the Man's yang. While the man stands tall and erect year after year, the Temple evolves. Some years it evokes a Chinese temple, a lotus flower, or even a wave leaning towards shore. When the man burns everyone yells and cheers and is raucous. When the temple burns it inspires reverence and tears.
The Temple is more powerful spiritually then any Christian Church I have ever entered. The walls are covered with letters of love, forgiveness, hope, and sorrow. There are photographs of people who have passed on with shrines around them. There is art and poetry and dreams that will live and die each year with the temple. I can't enter the temple without sobbing. It is not always a sad crying, but rather an overwhelming of the senses. It wrenches out any emotions you have been trying to bury.
My first year on the playa I spent weeks making an incredible pair of fairy wings made from found pieces of twisted wood and embellished with precious stones and shells of all colors. I wore them all week as my world perception shifted. After the week was over I couldn't imagine taking them home with me. The didn't belong in the world I remembered. They belonged to the dream I had just lived. So I offered them in gratitude to the Temple. The next day before it burned I stopped in to visit them.
To my surprise there was a woman sobbing over them. I asked her what was wrong, and told her she was holding my wings. Inadvertently I had put them right on top of a photo of her best friend who had died the previous week. She told me they looked exactly like something her friend would have made; and that when she saw them she knew her friend had her wings and was flying above us in heaven. I cried with her and we held each other. I still don´t know her name.
Besides the Temple there are numerous yoga classes, reiki sessions, crystal healings, Tibetan singing bowl concerts, psyche workshops, lectures about science, math, metaphysics, and so much more. Burning Man is whatever you choose to make of it. You can spend the week doing sunrise yoga, meditating, and om-ing. You can spend it dancing until dawn every night, art car hopping, and napping in Hammock Camp. You can spend it doing beer bongs, taking pictures of the Critical Tits Parade, and slinking around the sex camps. I lean more towards the dancing, hammock, yoga (with a bunch of whiskey thrown in for good measure)...
And damn, do I love to dance. I am a spiritual person, but I find that most western religions leave me feeling dry, uninspired, and even at times offended. I think that anything done with an open heart in the name of love is spiritual. I think anything that brings a genuine smile is spiritual. I think that music, art, dancing, singing, and laughing are all legit forms of meditation and prayer. I think that the healthiest way to worship is to focus on yourself and accept all other forms of worship.
You can find that kind of universal acceptance in Black Rock City. There are remnants of a plethora of ancient religions. From Ireland and Scotland, the fire and fertility ceremonies of Beltane. From the South American Amazon regions, the spiritual application of drugs in traditional ayahuasca ceremonies. From the Vatican comes the pomp and circumstance mirrored in the Lamp Lighter´s nightly ritual. From African drum circles an unconcious frenzied and entranced dancing style emerges. From Tibet the creation and destruction of elaborate pieces of art to symbolize impermanence is mirrored in the burning of art, the Man, and the Temple.
This wave of counter-culturalism has managed to seamlessly weave together bits and pieces of different dogmas from all over the world and all over history.
I am so lucky to live in a time and place where I can create my own religion. Love is my religion, although I honor finding it in many different ways, even through pain.
This is also the first year I do not visit the Temple. I put it off and put it off, waiting for the ¨perfect time.¨ Before I know it is Burn Night, the Man is no more, and I know the Temple is next. And then I get it. Every other year I have had something to release. After six months of travel, I am so blessed and blissed to be home and surrounded my love. I have nothing negative to let go of. I have nothing to ask for. I am, for maybe the first time ever, aware that my life is perfect, I am whole, and I would not change a thing about myself.
It feels good.
This knowledge is as real as the thudding bass and the shining moon and I am grateful beyond belief to be strong and open enough to recognize it.
So I laugh. I laugh for the sheer absurdity and brilliance of this place. I laugh because life is beautiful and perfect and full of beauty and surprises even in its imperfection. I laugh because places like this exist. I laugh because I am me and this is my life.