A Well Lit Soulfire: Burning Man 2012
A few weeks ago we loaded up a bunch of camping gear, food, beer, water, some costumes and a couple of decorated bikes and headed to the desert to camp with roughly 50,000 other people in a temporary community called Black Rock City for the Burning Man festival. It is an event full of mind-blowing, large-scale art projects and diverse people. The participants themselves create everything that is there. All of the art and structures are built and installed temporarily, by the participants, only to be burned or taken down a week later leaving absolutely no trace that they were ever there. It is an absurd and magical experiment in community, creativity and human interaction.
Self reliance, participation, and gifting are at the heart of the whole experience. To be in a place where people give with no expectation of getting something back in return is inspirational. It’s a powerful and transformative thing to see such creativity and generosity everywhere and it is infectious. From the very first moment we arrived our new neighbors were helping us with our shade tarp, hammering in rebar for us and giving us Polaroid photos, food and drink. Everyone shares and gives of their time and resources and supports each other with no judgements about who you are, where you are from or what you believe in. How very different from the society we live in normally. It is astounding to see how much time, energy, money, and effort people put into their artworks, theme camps, structures, costumes and vehicles purely for the joy of sharing them with others, or helping people to let go, open up and participate.
Many people we’ve met who have never been to Burning Man have preconceived notions of what it is. Yes it is a giant party with lots of naked hippies…but it is so much more than just that! There are also families, kids, babies, and adults of all ages, beliefs, orientations and regions doing all sorts of incredible, generous, intelligent and artistic things. Highlights of our week were going roller-skating on a full size roller disco rink in the middle of the desert. Having drinks at a bar under a huge and ornate Moroccan tent. Attending a yoga class outside under a big dome at sunset. Sharing food and drink with our camping neighbors. Dancing all over to many types of music. Attending an Art Psalms talk given by the artists Alex and Alison Grey where we had a marriage ceremony with our souls. Riding on a double-decker art car turned into a giant unicorn.
Riding our bikes at sunset with the full blue moon rising above the majestic desert mountains. Starting spontaneous light up Frisbee matches at night with strangers on stilts. Flying kites with our camping neighbors. Stumbling upon a very interesting lecture about technology, privacy and freedom by the creators of the Tor Project. Seeing a live band perform and play the Theremin on top of a moving pirate ship. Watching the most amazing fire performers we’d ever seen. Getting spontaneous crown chakra massages and blessings from strangers we bumped into after the burn. Then of course seeing the man burn is the most incredible thing to witness, and a huge celebration. That was followed by dancing in a spontaneous drum circle around the embers of the fire with an old Native American man, an old marching band drummer, and so many types of instruments.
Ah, and then there is the temple. On the last night watching the temple burn was such a powerful experience. It was our favorite part of the whole festival. Its beauty and detail was astounding and it’s amazing that it was all hand-made over the course of the year by the artist David Best and his crew only for this one week. When people arrive they fill it with all of their hopes, dreams, losses, regrets, and love. Many people hang photos of lost loved ones or write letters and poems and quotes. We hung some pictures and wrote letters about our lost loves, and anything else we wanted to get off our chest, or manifest for our future, and stuck them high up in the walls.
The temple becomes something bigger than the sum of its parts because of the people’s interaction with it. Walking into it after a week of people filling it with memorials, images and writing, and feeling the powerful energy inside can bring you to your knees with emotion. There were sometimes musicians playing various melodies, and people meditating, or crying, or just walking around looking and reading in awe. And then on the last night it burns and all of the powerful emotion is set free. You can almost feel people’s pain and regrets vanishing in the flames. What a way to end the week.
When trying to explain Burning Man to curious friends and family afterwards it feels like something important is left out that can’t quite be put into words. It really must be experienced in the moment and in person to understand. Burning Man is a catalyst. It opens people up, unites them, and ignites their souls, through a combination of fire and art and raw brutal earth and shared experiences. It can transform the attendees’ innermost creative sparks into well-lit fires so they are able to engage and consciously co-create the unfolding of their lives. That is what we took away from this experience the most. We came home with well-lit, brightly burning soul fires and a lot of dust.