After The Burn

I'm not a burgin anymore.

I'm just getting back from Burning Man. And it was everything.

It is a modern day pilgrimage. It is ritual. And it is the biggest party you've ever seen. It is an impossible thing. It is a miracle. It is a life giving intersection of the sacred and the profane.

It is mundane drudgery and dusty discomfort. It is an ocean of unexamined whiteness and privilege. It is very far from sustainable. And I'm also sure that it is all kinds of unsafe.

It is an absolutely immersive experience. There is no outside Burning Man. It means swimming in a shared intention. It is a massive agreement to experiment with new ways of being-with.

 Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal via USA Today Network/Sipa USA/PA Images

Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal via USA Today Network/Sipa USA/PA Images

It is a celebration of art, beauty, the evocative and the whimsical. It is art outside the museum walls. Art that you can touch and climb and play with. Art that moves.

This epic ceremony is held together by decades of practice and tradition. By a set of 10 principles. And by a brilliant organizing structure holding enough wisdom to allow for emergence. Land, people, beauty, joy, simple rules and feedback loops.

Almost everyone I speak to says that Burning Man is transformational. This was true before the burn, it was true during the burn, and it was even true among people who have never been to the burn. Something is happening here that has the potential to change people's lives. It is something that wakes up commitment and effort to be part of this community.

But what do we mean when we say "transformation?" I think of it as change that cannot be undone. Developmental change. Leveling up from one stage to the next.

The transformational experience is my life's central concern. It is what I seek for myself. And it is what I facilitate for others. It is key to evolution itself.

But we live in the age of hyper-advanced capitalism. This late stage capitalism is more immersive than Burning Man. It is the ocean we swim in, it is where we live, love and work every day of our lives. It is the default world. And the default world seeks to commodify the human experience. It does not matter what you are into. It can be virtual reality or the great outdoors. It can be meditation or sex positivity. It can be the workshop circuit or sacred medicine work. It can be Burning Man.

All of it can be commodified.

All of it can be reduced to an experience that you pocket.

You get to speak of it.
You get to remember that you had it.
But it will not be something that changes you.

Change demands integration.

What of this insight will I apply to my daily life? How will the memory of this experience come to define my take on life? On self? On wakefulness? On relationship?

What practices will I take on? How will I experiment with the application of these lessons?

Have I seen something that cannot be unseen?

Who am I becoming because of this experience?

 Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal via USA Today Network/Sipa USA/PA Images

Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal via USA Today Network/Sipa USA/PA Images


¡Que Viva!

I could never have done Burning Man on my own. I don't even do regular camping. Never mind figure out how to survive a week in the desert. So I went with "¡Que Viva!" A camp organized to center women, queer and trans people of color. It was a remarkable privilege.

The camp is a two way street. It is a passionate effort to impact the burner community. Inviting it to examine the structural privileges that define it. It is also a loving effort to make burning man available to people who could not otherwise have access to this exclusive experience.

We are not just talking about financial access. People need more than money to make it here. People need spaces that honor and center their human experience. ¡Que Viva! provides space for its participants to experiment with the principles of Burning Man. It allows us to be part of the ritual and the celebration. It allows us to experiment with new ways of being with ourselves and with each other.

What is the sexual expression that you want to try on?

Is there a sacred medicine that you want to work with?

Where is that long awaited breakdown that your soul so badly needed? This is a place where you can let your tears flow.

I don't know all of ¡Que Viva's! history. I know a lot of hearts, minds and hands have worked to make it what it is. I also know that my dear friend, the inspired artist Favianna Rodriguez, has provided indispensable leadership for it to work.

Favianna transmits the type of passion that wakes people up. It is impossible for me to understand how she found the time to build ¡Que Viva! She is a busy woman. She needs the creative space to produce great art. She runs an organization. She is pulled in a thousand different directions. And yet she has somehow prioritized the time to get a camp of 30 people out to the desert in Nevada.

She does it because she loves Burning Man. And she knows Burning Man needs it. And she does it because she loves our people. And she knows our people need it.

Again, many people are needed to make ¡Que Viva! work. But it is also important to lift up Aaron's name. Aaron is a young farmer. He is a cis gender white man holding the technical skills necessary for collective survival, and even relative comfort, in Black Rock City. He works hard in a space where it is too easy to vilify cis-hetero-white-males as the farthest thing from God. As the epitome of the problem. It is here that he chooses to serve.

We are creating a world where the impossible can happen. It is a joy and a celebration. And it could not happen without the unbelievable amount of service, hard work and self-sacrifice that is done by the few on behalf of the many.

Remember this lesson: give more, add more value, be generous. Go first, don't wait to get picked. And don't lose yourself in the process.

Home

I'm sitting here in Boston, at my home office, in front of my computer. But the playa is now inside of me. My heart's eye can easily leap to the feeling of my bike against the sand. I feel the wind on my face and I sense a spectacular city of sound and light always shifting before my very eyes.

I can hear the beat. And I can feel it.

I can hear the land speaking to me. Tenderly and clearly. I can see the naked freedom. I see smiles and feel hugs. "Welcome home" they say when I tell them that this is my first burn.

Spilling my pee bottle inside my own tent starts to matter less. Living and sleeping in dust matters less. Negotiating the right time to wash the dishes. Figuring out what it actually means to sweep our common area when white dust is all there is. All of it starts to matter less.

Because it is not a high price to pay to live for a week in a different world.

There are people on the playa that know less than I do. The world would be a better place if they were a little bit more woke. But there are people on the playa who know a lot more than I do. And they are helping me to wake up.

There is a man that burns on the night before the last. Our shared point of reference turns ashes in the wind. And Dionysus does one last dance with his devoted children.

There is a temple that burns on the last night. The crowd sits in impossible silence. And we know. We know that life is both joy and grief. We have a sense of impermanence. We are closer to each other. We have learned to love a little bit more. And this is how we become more free.