I have been reading the recaps pouring in from Burning Man (here is one of my faves), and I feel nostalgic for the magical memories I have from attending the event over the course of 10+ years. I wish I could go again, but right now, my time is devoted to my baby boy. As I scan the pictures of art installations, colorful costumes, and the temple engulfed in electric orange flames, I’m not jealous. I’m happy that 70,000 people were able to experience the same joy I felt when I was there.
The night that the Man burned, I texted some of my friends, “Thinking of you tonight on Burn Night and all the memories we shared during Burning Man.”
One texted back, “Wow what great times we shared. I cherish them. Some of the best times of my life. Thank you.”
It’s hard to convey what Burning Man is…a festival, an experiment in temporary community, art and raves in the middle of the desert. Maybe I can demystify it a little with a couple of those cherished memories.
I remember biking around the playa with my friend Joanna, exploring the city. We stopped at bars, chugged a few drinks, then biked around some more, making our way from one outdoor dance club to another. We were about done for the night when she pointed at a structure in the distance, glistening from the dim light of lanterns. We pulled up to an open yurt with a long dining room table and benches to sit and relax. There was no one there, just the two of us, stumbling upon this oasis. Laid out on the table were slices of cake on paper plates. Timidly, we took a couple bites. Moist sugary goodness, as if a sheet of cake had recently been cut up. We looked at each other, eyes arching in shock, is this for real? Seriously, is this place for real?
I have heard several people say that the event is about bartering. That’s not true at all. It’s a gift economy, with nothing expected in return. And it’s not necessarily gifting of material things, but offering and sharing from the heart. Once I was caught in a dust storm. You’re supposed to be prepared at all times for the worst, but I wasn’t. In fact, I was scared. Scared because I could not see anything in any direction except for sand-colored dust. Plus I was alone. I crouched down low to protect my face, but I was also scared that at any moment a car or bike would bludgeon me. Out of nowhere, someone crossed my path on foot, saw that I was unprotected, removed his own goggles and placed them over my head while tightening and making adjustments to fit them over my eyes. He took his dust mask off and cupped it over my mouth. Then he walked away.
Or the time when my camp mates decided to forego the wild parties and stay in for the night. We gathered in a circle, cups of wine in hand, and played round after round of Apples to Apples. We couldn’t stop giggling and jabbing each other. The next day, everyone kept saying how fun it had been, as if we had partied like a bunch of yahoos when all we had done was play simple board games. These are only a couple examples, but I have a lot of stories like that.
But more than anything, what I genuinely feel as I read the news articles and scroll through picture after picture is love. In a world where people have turned their backs on one another, where children are washing ashore dead, we need love. It may be hidden or clouded, or we may have lost our way or conscience, but love exists. Sometimes we have to take a trip or make a realignment, and that’s ok. Whether that means attending a festival, conference, spiritual retreat, or Burning Man, then let’s do it.
The reason why Burning Man means so much to me, and I imagine to the many people who have attended, is because love spilleth over on the dusty playa. The ethos and culture is pure, effusive, love for strangers.
If we connected in more kind, generous ways, there would be less gun violence, more openness to refugees, diminished politics, more collaboration, and greater understanding. That said, we may think we need to travel to Black Rock City to find that connection again, but love is accessible, right here and now in our own communities.
I began this post with pictures of a haunting art installation from this year’s Burn. I had to learn more about this sad, beautiful piece. Serendipitously, after writing the majority of this post, I learned that the name of the piece is LOVE, created by Alexandr Milov from Odessa, Ukraine. Here is a description of the piece from the Burning Man 2015 Art Installation web page.
“LOVE is a sculpture by Alexandr Milov. It demonstrates a conflict between a man and a woman as well as the outer and inner expression of human nature. The figures of the protagonists are made in the form of big metal cages, where their inner selves are captivated. Their inner selves are executed in the form of transparent children, who are holding out their hands through the grating. As it’s getting dark (night falls) the children chart to shine. This shining is a symbol of purity and sincerity that brings people together and gives a chance of making up when the dark time arrives.”
Although I did not go this year, I’m reminded of how connected I felt, how respected and loved. Burners call normal life, the ‘default world’ and we all profess how we will try very hard to take the ethos of Burning Man back to the default world after the event is over. That is difficult to do. But my hope is that today on the anniversary of September 11, even in the midst of darkness, you will think back on treasured memories when your heart soared and you loved. Life can be and is good.