Burning Man, part 1: trusting ourselves to heal
three weeks ago i returned from my first time at Burning Man. what a profound experience. i've actually been finding it very hard to put into sufficient words, but i'll do my best. as i've been writing about my experience, i realized that i was trying to put everything into one blog which turned out to be just "too many notes," as the Emperor told Mozart. what i'm seeing very clearly now is how beautifully what i experienced fits in with our being game for this month - Trust, and with our upcoming theme for October (a little sneak preview) - Courage. so i'm going to divvy it up and share about the two major aspects of my experience separately, knowing of course, that they're inextricably interconnected. thus, i invite you to read on and stay tuned!
my first really great encounter was with two joyfully enthusiastic naked greeters who invited me to ring a huge bell with a big stick in honor of being a Burning Man virgin. i banged the hell out of it… and got a great big cheer from them, a few others and my wonderful companion, Samson. smiling and cheering myself, i knew i was in for a wonderfully new and different experience.
at this point i have to share that Burning Man is guided by 10 principles which every participant is requested to agree to ahead of time and live by while there. when i first read them, i felt like i was reading some of the guiding values of my own life. seeing them lived out with such grace, joy and enthusiasm by the vast majority of the nearly 70,000 participants made me feel like I'd found a second home… as if my personal experience of home - the world i live inside myself, with everyone on the get that you matter team and so many of my global family members on a daily basis - was finally being expressed in physical, external form. it was as if it were no different from how i live my "real" life while at the same time being totally outside of my normal environment of living alone in the middle of the woods. held in the container of these principles and a group of wonderfully loving campmates, i was given the perfect opportunity to surrender to the experience and trust in my ability to navigate daily exposure to extremely loud music, the harshest elements of sun, wind and dust, dehydration and encounters with other humans in a vast array of states of consciousness. on the playa, i got to deepen the connection i regularly feel with others on a daily, even moment-to-moment basis since there was virtually no "down time" except when i crawled, exhausted, into my sleeping bag after long, delicious days of service and surrender.
being in that environment for five days, i had a deeper experience of trust - in myself, others and the experience - as an abiding faith in the essential goodness and benevolence of all creation. i got to see clearly that trust does not equal apathy, and to act from a place of benevolence which had the interest of the greatest good in mind at all times while at the same time caring for myself. it was a constant holding of both the micro and the macro, a relentless giving up of the self for the benefit of the whole, a practice of living in trust.
“Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm; and enthusiasm can be roused by two things: first, an ideal that takes the imagination by storm; second, an intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice.” - Arnold Toynbee
as a culture-at-large, we seem to be trusting things to continue the way they have been and not suffer grave consequences. however, at Burning Man, i was blessed to see and experience that the answer lies in creating a balance between trusting the perfection of what's unfolding and trusting ourselves to do what's needed to make the necessary changes. trusting in the future means taking full responsibility for our actions today, right now. in other words, trust and accountability go hand-in-hand. as Joanna Macy wrote, "Which do you choose to put in the foreground: Business As Usual in the industrial growth society? Or The Great Unraveling, as ecosystems and cultures fall apart? Or The Great Turning to a life-sustaining society? Each story is true and happening right now. The question for each of us is which do we choose to identify with and devote ourselves to. The Great Turning, the largest social movement in history, is created by millions of individuals making their own individual choice to act for the sake of life on Earth."
despite what often seemed like outer appearances to the contrary, it was this commitment to choosing to act for the sake of all life which moved me most deeply at burning man. everywhere i went, i witnessed acts of generosity and care for each other and the planet. i'm absolutely certain that the depth and power of my experience had mostly to do with being part of such a profoundly dedicated, open and loving group of people at Camp Listen. i was continually and profoundly moved and inspired by my campmates' dedication to the Burning Man principles, to our own guidelines, and to connection, selfless service and presence.
if you really knew me, one of my major concerns (fears, really) in attending Burning Man was that of being overstimulated and ending up in a heap of tears wanting to go home to my quiet little cabin. so when i settled down for a much-needed nap after setting up my tent and was immediately present to the thump!thump! of disco music from a nearby camp, i began to worry. "oh shit," i thought, "here we go." however, the immediate realization that i'd better change my attitude popped in… if i was going to let this get to me, i was looking at the prospect of a 5-day-long bad mood. that was not what i wanted. so, i took a deep breath, said to myself, "bring on the music, the dust and whatever else you have for me!" and chose to trust in whatever the experience brought me. whether, in the words of Rumi's poem "the guest house," it was "a joy, a depression, a meanness" or "a crowd of sorrows," i chose, to "meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in." after that, i had a great nap and didn't need to use my earplugs once during my entire stay.
ultimately, what moved me the most were the experiences and encounters i had with other people at our camp and out on the playa. i was blessed to make some wonderful connections with the people who stopped in for our "open listening" time in the afternoons. they'd wander in after being caught by our "listen" banner and reading our guidelines, then grab some green beads to be "listeners" and usually end up in deep conversations with one of us or someone else who dropped in. many times they ended up switching to the gold beads for "sharers" and having some really cathartic experiences. bonds were made and deepened. opportunities to hold space for peoples' tears, anger and laughter were plentiful. and i got in at least two really delicious naps. there were also beautifully intimate conversations with my campmates each evening after sunset at our "check in" time. we did clearings, shared what we love about life, did a laughing/crying/silent meditation, and had a puppy pile slumber party. it was wonderful to know, with every fibre of my being, i could trust them completely with my most intimate thoughts and feelings, regardless of what they were.
the trust which deepened and grew at camp went with me as i ventured out on the Playa encountering inspiring people like Manuel, a young man i met at the Man Burn, whose enthusiasm and joy were simply irresistible. he was so alive and vibrant, yet there was something in him that belied an unspoken depth. so i asked him my favorite question, "What do you want to be acknowledged for?" it took him by surprise but he immediately got vulnerable and answered, "for being happy even though I've seen a lot of shit." in that moment, i felt like the most privileged woman in the world having been let into the heart and soul of this young man whose story i could only begin to imagine. i looked him square in the eyes, held his hands in mine and said, "Thank you for choosing joy even though you've seen and experienced so much… thank you for being courageous enough to keep BEing Love and for trusting that we are all One." i don't honestly remember exactly what we said after that, but he burst into tears, gave me the most heartfelt hug, and shared that he's never felt as seen as he did in that moment and that he didn't remember the last time he'd cried in front of someone. we must have stood there embracing for at least ten minutes as waves of tears, laughter and smiles moved through him in that deep recognition of the power of love and connection which crosses all borders, genders and ages. it was so simple and so beautiful… one human soul acknowledging another human soul - this young man allowing himself to be loved and seen, me moved to my core by the beauty in front of me, two souls remembering that they are not separate at all. i will never forget Manuel as long as i live.
"In the Buddha Dharma... there’s a word for the motivation to act for the sake of all beings. It is bodhichitta. It is the intention generated by the bodhisattva, who is the one who knows we are not separate from each other, but are held, as Martin Luther King put it, in 'an inescapable network of mutuality.'… To step aside from our usual identity and speak for another life form, or for a person of the future, immediately opens up the horizons of our self-interest. Care for the welfare of even distant others then feels natural, strong, and so obvious it’s easy. So, when by our moral imagination we make future generations present to our minds, they teach us bodhichitta, strengthening us to act for the ongoingness of life on Earth." - Joanna Macy
after the Man Burn, i made my first solo venture on the Playa to make my way to the temple. although i'd spent my first three and a half days near camp or in the city (except for a wonderful bike ride to "Deep Playa" with my friend Owen - which was a delight in itself, since i hadn't seen him in years and we had some catching up to do), i felt utterly safe, completely confident in my ability to find the Temple (even though it was dark, windy and dusty) and profoundly peaceful. after a bit of a detour, i began to walk the promenade leading to the Temple. shortly after that, the wind became a white-out in which i could see nothing further than my outstretched arm. it was actually exhilarating to surrender to my intuition in that way, trusting that if i kept walking and trusting my feet, they would get me where i was going. and they did. the temple was stunningly beautiful that night and i'm so glad i went.
there was the opportunity at dawn on Sunday morning to sit with a beautiful young man as he knelt on the ground of the temple, weeping into his hands. what touched my heart more than anything was the innate trust he had in his own ability to move through where he was in that moment to the other side. i didn't need to know his story, nor did i ask. there was simply the beautiful gift of being able to witness him, love him and wish him well when we shared an embrace twenty minutes later. he was such a beautiful example of what it is to trust our innate ability to heal ourselves.
the funny thing is, i hardly wrote a word while i was there, but the only entry from my journal seems to sum it all up:
healing is not about turning our lives over to someone else to do it for us. it's about reconnecting to, re-membering our own innate, perfect and complete capacity to heal ourselves. it's about getting out of our own ways enough to let our Divinity - our Divine Birthright to Creating - which allows us to be active participants/creators of our own healing. consider that, if nothing is broken and if nothing needs to be fixed, the only thing to do is Affirm Wholeness.
so, keep receiving - let yourself be held, loved and touched. let yourself be filled up with the love of "others" - the love you share with them. you don't actually have to ask for it. in your giving, you are opening the door for receiving… let yourself give fully and completely, and watch what happens. the basis/premise of this place is founded on the principles of your life… this can be translated - and you must also live in the "real" world when you return…. There is nothing that cannot be healed with the strong intention and utter belief/knowing/faith that wholeness is affirmed.
that's what i trust. that and that we are doing what needs to be done.
what do you trust?