After resting up for a few days and getting some time off from roughing it in the campgrounds of Oregon, the enjoyment and gratitude of the life experiences that come with living in a world with modern amenities again was a great pleasure. When we eventually ventured back out on the road towards Black Rock City we arrived around 8 hours later when we cruised into our designated camp area at 11PM on Thursday. We came a few days early to help out with the process of setting up the infrastructure to host the ~30 people that would be staying at our camp. 7 other campers in our group had arrived 15 or so hours earlier and spent the majority of the day beginning the setup process, without any sleep after driving up from Vegas, they were naturally exhausted. We all got to sleep within the next hour or so and got up early the next day to have our first ‘real’ day at burning man!
The day began, and continued on, with a lot of awesome and exciting team work and collaboration. It was so much fun to have different tasks naturally allocated to smaller groups within the team and then have other people come to help and then break off once a task was sufficiently underway. The organic way that the setup proceeded was really enjoyable for me as were the added elements of creativity to decide how to most efficiently utilize the materials that we brought with us and strategy to decide where and how to place them within our camp.
By the time Sunday had rolled around there had been 3 full days spent setting up, excluding the day we missed driving up, and by then lots of our other camp members were arriving at the camp grounds and able to offer more hands which was very helpful. Once Sunday night rolled around nearly everyone was there and the majority of us decided to venture out into the depths of the ‘Playa’, which is basically the massive open desert area that is designated for exploration of the space in which various artists creatively express themselves in whatever way they so choose. Primarily on the playa you will see, in greater numbers as the week goes on, art installations, art cars, lots and lots of music and even more lights! As it were, I got lost almost immediately from the group on our first night out which I’m glad happened early in the week and taught me the value of closely following my friends whilst navigating through the initially crowded places on the way out into the more open playa area. I did however run into some other members from our group and spent the majority of the night exploring with my good, longtime pal, Dan Smith, chatting about life, the unknown, what burning man is and what can be learned from it.
Although there is no ‘normal’ anything, let alone day, at burning man – most days involved getting up sometime between 10-12 and helping out with the breakfast service our camp was offering to the city. Beyond the basic camp duties, much in the same way that I enjoyed my experience in Oregon, I loved spending time with friends and getting to know new ones. With very little exception, it seemed like everyone I encountered was embracing the openness of life and community and friendship etc and enjoying the week with the understanding that many of the ‘rules of the game’ we experience in society are lifted in this environment. Exploration of the city was always a fun part of the day, and even more so at night, as there is so much to see and so little time before it is all deconstructed by the end of the week.
I really appreciated the artistic inspiration and creative intelligence that was so pervasive throughout the city, specifically the playa where it is really showcased, but it is everywhere, and this was really awe-inspiring for me. There are two particular things I experienced out on the playa that I would like to share:
- There was a, roughly, 20 foot tall hourglass looking thing that may have been a representation of the ‘tree of life’ which was designed beautifully with precious geometry, lights, and speakers embedded within its structure. It called itself ‘Illumina’ and was a representation of the collective heart. There were 6 seats that were meant to measure each individuals heart coherence which would then be reflected in Illumina’s light and sound display. After speaking with one of its creators I learned that the catch is that it would only ‘level up’ in it’s display of light and sound if everyone participating had the same level of coherence, bliss, wellbeing or what have you. It was a truly amazing piece of art and by far the most profound thing I saw all week. I returned every night to hear the beauteous harmonics and positive vibrations that it bountifully exuded and poured out through its light and sound display every few minutes as its ‘game’ began anew.
- Stationed just outside of a common meet up spot, where our camp would often reconvene out on the playa in order to allow people to wander off for some portion of the night and then find their friends and group to meet back up if they so chose for the remainder of the night, there was a ‘Talk to God’ pay phone. Feeling like I couldn’t pass up the chance to talk to god, or anyone who might feel confident enough to play the role of god, I got in line and waited my turn. When it came I picked up the phone and a gentle sounding female answered. She began with, ‘I know something is on your mind, what is the question you want to ask me?’ In all honesty I was just in awe of my surroundings and responded by expressing this sentiment. We got to talking about the artistry that is so ever-present in this environment and my own relationship to art. A brief side-note: I have over the last year become more interested in ‘re-tapping’ my artistic spirit and had, in the two weeks before burning man, two unrelated conversations about calligraphy that had piqued my interest. So, as you might imagine, God promptly brings up calligraphy as a possible option of exploration for me. I was excited, awestruck, and motivated. She also mentioned that I have had a tendency to be quite hard on myself(great read God) and that I should be especially mindful of this possibility in my experience of pursuing new endeavors, art in particular. All in all, a profound conversation and interaction that I very much enjoyed and won’t soon forget!
Another interesting experience I had was signing up to and participating in the ‘Zendo project’. Zendo is a psychedelic harm reduction service that is sponsored by the non-profit group MAPS(Multi-disciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies) founded by Rick Doblin, Ph.D. My experience volunteering with Zendo entailed a 2.5 hour introductory seminar where they explain what their philosophy is and how they believe help can be efficiently delivered to the people who come in asking for it. This intro was preparation for two 8 hour shifts I served as a sitter. It was a really cool, very unique experience and felt good to give back to the community, by sharing a gift I feel I have been given which manifested in this instance by ‘holding space’ for the people who come to Zendo looking for someone to be there for them and listen to them, care for them, and appreciate and accept them just the way they are with non-judgement and compassion. One particularly notable takeaway was how many moving parts there are in human interaction and how crucial mindfulness is when dealing with someone who may be having a traumatic or deeply introspective experience. At the intro seminar they spoke about ‘micro-expressions’ which really resonated with me and turned out to be a very helpful thing to keep in mind during the sitting. A micro-expressions was described as the brief rolling of ones eyes, raising of an eyebrow, pursing of lips, flaring of nostrils etc and are oftentimes, either intentionally or perhaps subconsciously at times, correlated to what has been said by the other party during an interaction. To remain mindful of these during the sitting sessions kept me aware of the fact that people in a vulnerable state can be easily affected by anything, especially if something catches them off guard or makes them feel insecure or unworthy. It was a worthy challenge to be as much of a reflective mirror and presence of loving-kindness as possible but in the end I feel I was able to help, support, and add value to the community by just being myself and offering my heart to those in need of a human connection free of judgement.
After it was all said and done and we broke down our camp to leave behind no trace except the dust of the desert that was there when we arrived, I was left with mixed feelings on the drive out. It was a lot to take in over the week and I loved the experience in it’s entirety – specifically, the initial shock of what the city contained in all of it’s uniqueness, the diversity of creative and honest expression and what it means to be an individual as a part of it all – but most of all the friendships that were strengthened as a result of coexisting under unusual circumstances and the new ones that were born touched my heart most deeply. There is something magical about the coming together of so many people to just enjoy life and be present with each other and their experiences in a way that is admirable and worthwhile to repeat in day to day life, although not having cellphone access for a week and a half seemed to be a big part of it!
I had a thought on one night that was something along the lines of how burning man was a micro of the macro in which is our lives or our universe or our cosmos all begin as a blank canvas and it is the creative spirit, intentions, projected meaning, and evolution of the mind which are the proverbial paint brush that make them what they are, and that was very touching for me as well while observing the scenery and artistry. I was, however, unable to entirely reconcile the burning of so much wood and the message that sends practically as well as environmentally. I understand it is meant to be a ritual but, to put it succinctly I would ask – ‘is the juice worth the squeeze?’ Ultimately that is a choice for each individual and it would seem that if the experience is positively life changing and enhances life in transformative way which encourages a productive and sustainable way of life to be brought back to the ‘real world’ then maybe it is. It’s a complex question and maybe it misses the point of burning man all together – or maybe there is no point except the point that each individual gives it.
As it were though, I will say with certainty that it was the craziest experience of my life, in a great way. There is truly nothing I’ve experienced like this and I am very glad I attended. Additionally, just like life, there seemed to be good and bad elements within the event, dark and light components, but the freedom and ease with which self-expression was encouraged and made comfortable really made it clear to me that the experience is entirely what you make of it. I would recommend it to most people from the point of view that it is so unique and, despite my best efforts, indescribable.
In summary, my greatest takeaway from the entirety of these experiences is that only you know who you are. No else knows who you are or who you should be as well as you do, especially because you are an ever evolving being continually discovering more and more of your true self, moment by moment and day by day. Furthermore, I realized that truth can be a dynamic, very subjective, thing although in certain cases it clearly shows itself objectively. A simple example which seems to underline this idea that comes to mind while writing this is that if someone believes they are afraid of heights, they will be absolutely terrified when they are on top of a mountain – while people who mountain climb and base jump will revel in the experience. The elevation or altitude are relatively static without a perspective ‘lense’ to experience them through but with different perspectives the experience changes all together because beliefs really do shape our lives in a large way, specifically with regards to how they shape our emotional responses. An interesting point to note is that it seems that our beliefs are re-affirmed by reference points based on life experiences where the belief was associated with a tangible event in our lives.
In all of life however, it is my opinion that this uniqueness inherent in our existence in all its different forms and expressions is a beautiful thing which should be embraced and encouraged, not shamed or shunned in any way, for if we deprive our lives of contrast we deny ourselves of what is one of the greatest gifts life can give to us.