I did my fifth trip to the playa this year and stayed for a week. I was anxious about going as I have a love/hate relationship with Burning Man. It’s a harsh environment to be in, both physically and emotionally. For me, the physical havoc wreaked upon my body is enough to make me think twice about going — the heat really, really bothers me and I usually have to spend my days chilling out in camp, nursing my queasy stomach and soothing my overheated body until the weather cools down; and the alkaline of the playa really irritates my skin — in past years I’ve had some mysterious itchy rash develop, made worse by being out on the playa. After several years of battling this elusive skin condition, I’d finally gotten it cleared up, only to have it rear its ugly head during my first days at Burning Man. I’m still trying to get it in check; I am paying the price.
My response this year to the many friends who’ve asked, ‘How was burning man?’ has been very flat, generally answering with ‘It was good, it was fine, it was nice’. I haven’t really felt like talking about it, probably because I haven’t finished processing my feelings about it. Sometimes, one needs time away from an experience to reflect on it and to replay it over an over in the mind. What did I think about Burning Man this year?
One of the people I’d given my nonchalant, flat response to was my Reiki practitioner. She’s been working with me for almost two years and she wasn’t buying my answer. As I lay on her table, lost in my thoughts as she worked the Reiki energy through me, she paused at one point and said, ‘I’m having trouble connecting your crown and heart chakras…. you know, I think you’ve lost your joy. You need to get it back.’ Hmmmm, she was right. Somewhere between New Zealand and San Francisco, sometime during the past twelve weeks, I’d lost my joy. Those of you who know me or who have read the blog know that when we left for New Zealand last March, we had our SF flat listed for sale – this was part of a three unit property we co-owned with two partners. It should have been a done deal. But it hasn’t been. It’s been a long, drawn out, crazy, unbelievable, no-this-cannot-be-happening, whats-wrong-with-you-people, deal gone very awry. The majority of my time back in San Francisco has been spent hiring and firing attorneys and forcing a mediation onto one of my partners who’d been giving us trouble. The money I had so carefully saved for my new life in New Zealand has been funneling out so fast, I’m writing checks regularly in the thousands of dollars and I don’t like it. It has not been fun. This particular partner had been a good friend of mine for sixteen years and now is not. Coupled with my anger and disbelief, I’ve had to do my grieving over the loss of this friendship. It has not been pleasant. I don’t take these things lightly.
So no wonder I was feeling a little flat. I was in a different emotional space. But despite my physical ailments and the real-estate-monkey-on-my-back, I had a lot of fun. It was a more mature year with a focus on doing things that were peaceful, serene and soul-soothing. In the craziness that is Burning Man, I needed to make sure I was taking care of myself. And, I felt, I succeeded. We camped near HeeBeeGeeBeeHealers camp so that I could take myself to yoga or any of the other healing classes they offer. One of my highlights was participating twice in the monkey chant. A little shy at first, but by the end of the hour sessions I was cha-cha-cha’ing and do-da’ing away with a big grin on my face letting the chi (life energy) fill me. Here’s some BM 2005 footage from YouTube.
And it was a year for strengthening friendships and developing new ones. We were a camp of about fifteen with parents, siblings, cousins, and children, spanning six decades. Four were newbies (a golden BM rule – always camp with a newbie. They help you recapture the innocence and wonder of BM where everything is delightful and awe-inspiring much like a parent recaptures life’s innocence through they eyes of their children) and they were wonderful campmates. And we had an art car named Leonard. The camp really bonded well and we all spent a lot of time chilling in camp and riding the art car together.
It’s the little things that make BM memorable — short interactions with people that you may-not-give-much-thought-about-at-the-time-but-upon-reflection-were-real-gems: The hot dog guy — just a guy on a bike pulling around a BBQ-on-wheels, stopping randomly to grill hotdogs and grill cheese sandwiches for passersby; the fifty-something year old average looking man I briefly chatted to at the Absinthe bar, who hailed from some conservative city in California and had seen a BM documentary on the Discovery Channel and thought he should come check it out and did so by himself; the gal I met at the portaloos of whom I interpreted her ‘please, please’ as wanting to jump on the art car with us and so I was saying ‘no, sorry’, we’re full’, and she says ‘no, please, please, it’s the name of the song you were playing, I love that song’, so we put it back on and she stood there smiling and swaying and hugging herself as we pulled away into the night; eating popsicles we got from the ice cream camp who must have brought several thousand pops to the playa to distribute for free. Jumping on trampolines, swinging a hoola hoop. Going on the Kiwi Klub Krawl. Watching stiltwalkers and fire spinners. Being silly and present in the moment.
Speaking of silly, campmate Cass, from Oz, runs an awesome hairpiece and extensions business and offered to dread me up for the playa. Of course, I could not refuse and had to do it in my favorite color – pink! Ohhhhh, it was a whole different experience for me to have long-hair dreads. Very liberating.
And then there’s experience of sunrise on the playa. Ask any burner, there’s nothing like it. I don’t do all nighters any more, so my trick is to go to bed after dinner, get a good nights’ sleep and get up around 4 am and go out. Ride the bike around, see all the cool night art, dance, whatever. And then be totally present for the welcoming of the day. It’s a special, spiritual moment to see the sun some up over the mountain ridge as you’re standing out on the playa with hundreds of playa-dressed people, all facing east, to feel the sun’s first rays.
And, of course, there’s the art. One could write a book about the art — there’s so much. This years ‘wow’ piece was dubbed the Waffle, named after the Belgian tribe of folks that built it. It was a massive construction made of thousands of pieces of twelve foot 2×4’s. It loomed out on the playa and was the scene of major dancing at night. And more: the Flaming Lotus Girls’ Mother Serpent that spewed fire all night long; the crazy ping pong ball piece that just blew the mind; the gorgeous giant bamboo structure. And the smaller pieces that you accidentally stumble upon like the small four foot female idol statue we found riding around the playa one morning. It was one of my favorites.
Burning Man captures much that is good about humanity. Creativity, freedom, self-expression, general kindness, and liberation from the chains and burdens we sometimes face in the other world. It offers me hope and challenges me to open my mind and be a better, accepting person. It gives me courage and inspiration. It’s the reason I put myself through the yin/yang of the playa year after year. I say every year, this is enough, but then, after a few weeks off the playa, my mind drifts and wanders and conspires for the next year. The theme for 2007 is already out: Green Man. How can I not go?