Burning Man, part 2: the courage to trust… the courage to act
"Immersed in what some call 'consensus reality,' one's very sanity comes into question for believing the principles of interbeing. We are permitted to entertain them as a kind of spiritual philosophy, but when we start making choices from them, when we start living them even ten percent, people begin to question our sanity. We may even question our own. Alongside the self-doubt comes a profound feeling of alienation…. Isn't it insane to think that I am right and everyone else is wrong? In a way, it is insane - insofar as sanity is a socially constructed category that serves the maintenance of dominant narratives and power structures. If so, it is time to be insane together! It is time to violate consensus reality."
- Charles Eisenstein
although i wasn't expecting it at all, the "Man Burn" was deeply powerful for me. that night, my friends Ethan and Veronica and i were running late, so we walked rather briskly toward the Man down 8:00 - headlamps, goggles, masks and headscarves all strategically in place or near at hand in preparation for the night ahead.
before i go any further - for those of you who have never been, the entire space known as the "Playa" is a huge circle about 3 miles across. the streets of the "city" at Burning Man take up about two-thirds of the space and operate on a circular grid like a clock with the numbered radial streets arranged by time - the Man being the center of the clock, and the city running from 2 to 10; the lettered streets which create concentric circles from the innermost avenue called the "Esplanade" and go all the way from "A" to "N." the remaining third of the Playa is empty of human habitation other than incredibly beautiful art installations placed in a strategic array from the center (the Man) all the way out to "Deep Playa" as the far reaches of the uninhabited area is known). it is truly a most ingenious, organic and workable way to arrange a community, no doubt created with considerable deliberation on the part of many visionary and practical hearts and minds.
so, we were walking down 8:00 from our camp (which was at 7:45 and G) about an hour after sunset (a wonderful daily citywide ritual experience in itself) through an almost entirely empty city. think about that- nearly 70,000 people and the whole city was practically empty of life except for the few stragglers who were walking, running or bicycling toward the center of the known universe. it was dark and relatively quiet when we started out, except for the explosions of the largest fireworks display i have ever seen and our "ah's" and "ooh's" in response. and as we got closer, the thump-thump of hundreds of massive sound systems began to pound in my chest.
as my eyes adjusted to the fiery neon light ahead, i expanded my visual focus to take in the wider, peripheral scene before me, trusting my feet to carry me forward as i let the entire experience wash into me through my eyes. more and more people came into view in all manner of dress and undress, in a wide array of consciousness or lack thereof, dancing, running, singing, shouting, silent, walking… it was as if i were on the set of a post-apocalyptic movie. walking hand-in-hand with Ethan and Veronica, tears began streaming down my face as i felt an upwelling of emotion which, to be honest, i can't quite pinpoint as anything other than awe.
we began weaving through the growing crowd gathered to witness this monumental structure - a 100-foot-high Man standing atop a huge UFO - designed and built to burn spectacularly on this very night every year… how spectacularly, i had no idea - until moments later, in a huge flash, the Man burst into a spectacle of flames before our eyes. it was overwhelming and i cried out, "Oh my God!" as more tears burst forth and my breath quickened. i kept saying, "I had no idea" to myself as we continued to make our way through the sweaty, costumed, naked, glittery, masked, energized mass of humanity. as we broke through the outer ring and made our way closer to the Burning Man, the entire UFO went up in an explosion i can only equate with what i've seen in the movies. i have never seen anything like it in real life, except when we watched houses explode during the Oakland Hills fire in 1991. it literally took my breath away and i nearly dropped to my knees. i was not expecting this… not at all.
as the UFO went up in flames well over 150 feet high, beautiful tornadoes were spiralling off to the left from the huge wind generated by the inferno. embers were flying up into the night sky and everyone was cheering or simply standing in awe. the heat was so intense i had to turn away several times to protect my tear-stained face. yet the ever-present darkness, wind and dust circled around us as a reminder that this was a human creation, a yearly anomaly in this normally silent white expanse of desert. as i stood taking it all in, the rhythms from all of the various mutant vehicles and camps along the Esplanade blended into one polyrhythmic heart-pounding wave, almost as if it were an echo of the heartbeat of the earth, coming from deep inside each of us gathered there… in synch with each other, the intention of the moment and the power of our planet. more tears fell onto my skirt and the soft, white playa dust at my feet.
the gathered crowd in all its beautiful compiling of gas masks, leather, sequins, flowing fabric, angel wings, headlamps and goggles is a reflection of the innate creativity and courage of the human species to deal with the mess we've gifted ourselves over the last 150 years or more. this is what it may well look like when we no longer have access to convenience and throw-away anything… this is the creativity of working with what we have. the mutant vehicles, with all their neon lights, sculpted metal, wood and paper in shapes of animals, buildings, ships, iceboxes, small or massive, loud or quiet… made me think, "This is what it may well look like in cities and towns in the future." we will build whatever we need to build to not only get where we need to go, but we will do so in creative, expressive ways because we must.
the overwhelming experience of that night was the pinnacle of my Burning Man experience as the apocalyptic vision of a future that was both frightening and hopeful all at once washed through me. i really felt as if i was given a gift - something about seeing the deeper purpose of this event. i used to think that this event was created to burn "the man" in an angry reaction to the system, a kind of "Fuck you!" to the corporatocracy we've allowed to take over. but i realized on a much deeper level that it is an homage to all that we've created, all that we have allowed - wittingly or not - to supplant our deeper connection to the earth, to each other and to life itself. the burning of this effigy is not a raised fist, but rather a brilliantly courageous celebration of all that has been and all that needs to die in order for our civilization to evolve to our next stage of awakening.
i felt hopeless, yes… but much more profoundly, on a much deeper level, i felt more hopeful than i ever have before. Burning Man was real. it was not a pretty, fake denial of what is going on- it was a brutally honest look at what we have done and what we are capable of. it was a gathering of warriors - courageous, out-of-the-box thinkers and livers who know that there is something other than what we've created and come to accept as "normal" in our lives in the "default world," as some call it. as Charles Eisenstein wrote recently, "Our culture has it kind of backwards when it comes to the Warrior. In a more beautiful world, we understand the warrior as 'someone who is willing to die for what he/she loves.' But we've gotten it backwards and turned it into someone who is willing to kill. To me, the essence of being a warrior is a sense of mission one is willing to totally commit everything to." it was courage incarnate.