After the burn: what I brought home

(Besides the dust.)

Part III of IV

templeIn my Virgin’s Guide to Burning Man, I advised everyone to have a dream, or wish, or goal: something they wanted to get from Burning Man. I also warned that though their dream will most likely materialize in far greater ways than they could ever imagine, the probability was high that it wouldn’t come in any way they expected.

So true, young Padawan, so true.

I followed my own advice and set my intentions, and got exactly what I wanted in a way I could never have anticipated. My hope for this year was not grand or so deeply soulful as my first time. This year, my only wish was to have a true vacation from the demons in my own head: the worry, the stresses, the constant chatter of shoulds, musts, and fails. I imagined a week spent lounging in the desert could probably give me the mental space I needed to recharge and revitalize my mental energy.

The goal – or at least how I imagined it beforehand – seems laughable in retrospect, given how much sheer work and effort went into Burning Man. A vacation? Pfff. The building, the preparing, the driving, the lack of sleep, the hostile environment, the adjustments…and then taking everything back down and leaving no trace at the end…. If you need relaxation, I suggest Club Med.

But when I thought back on the moments that meant the most to me, the pictures I took with me in my memory of what the week was, I realized that the parts I cherished most lay in the joy of others. The sheer astonishment and child-like delight on Toby’s face as all burners of the Burninator set off around us, the playful wonder of Jamie and Erin’s first burn together, Julia shedding her layers of sadness and hurt to rediscover her naturally generous and loving self and everyone around her falling in love with her, the dynamic of love and mutual strength among the first early crew, Melissa becoming more grounded and foundational like Mother Earth herself, Nico’s first view of the ethereal other world, and Aroon’s perpetual energy and enchantment with all that surrounded him…these (and countless more) are the things I take with me.

And I realized this burn, for me, was not about myself. It pulled me out of my own head so much that I merely floated through it. Though I participated fully, I was more of an observer this time. Not an observer of the event per se, but of the dynamics and energy of the people around me. It was a vacation from myself, and I gloried in the abundance of beauty of others.

Being disconnected from myself in a way did have a slight down side in that I felt disconnected from my husband. I felt a vague twinge of sadness through the week as I felt he and I were burning separately. We did things together and we took time out alone together – much of which is truly memorable – but spiritually we were somehow walking apart. We packed up after the event and drove most of the way home in exhausted silence.

But then, in the last few hours before we reached home, we began to talk. As vision and experience began to settle down into words, we talked about our takeaways from the event, what we learned, and what we saw. And we discovered that though we burned separately, we had gotten much the same thing from the event. Like two strands of a braid, we had to separate for a while in order to come back together again to make a stronger, more cohesive whole. As it turns out we were not so disconnected after all, and the moment we reconnected was a moment to remember.

It is funny sometimes, how the most beautiful aspects of Burning Man happen when you’re not even on the playa.

To see Part I of After the Burn, click here.
And click here for Part II.
And Part IV is here.

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