What was the best part about Burning Man? ALL OF IT.
No, really. What was your favorite part? ALL OF IT.
Ok…least favorite part? NONE OF IT.
In the years past, I didn’t actually know what Burning Man was. People talked about it. But if you weren’t there to live and breathe it, all that chatter about “the playa” and the art cars and the unforgettable sunrises never seemed to make any sense. How? Where? Who? At the same time, the fantasy and mystery of it made me feel like it was something I had to do. Bucket list addition #43.
This past February, after speaking with my dedicated Burner friend, Adam, we decided this would be the year I went to Burning Man. “This is your year,” he said. Yeah…this is my year…gulp.
Can I be real with you for a second? As soon as I found out I was going, which was about two months before the man was set to burn, I was on edge all the way up until I put my tutu on in Black Rock City. It’s a week. In the desert. “You’ll need costumes,” they said. And a sleeping bag, a tent…and lights. Lights? Yes, you need lights. Oh, and a bike. And some snacks. And boots that you may never want to wear again. And fur. Definitely fur.
Thankfully, I was in this with two of my dear friends, Annie and Erin. Annie’s first time; Erin’s third. Annie’s marvelous friend, Leona, was joining us from London. It was also her first “burn.” We would all be camping with Camp Atlantis. This crew of just under 100 people had their shit together like nothing I’ve ever seen. So I knew I was in good hands.
When we first pulled up to the playa, a volunteer asked us for our tickets. Omg, omg, omg. My stomach was churning. Can I do this? My shaky hand gave her our tickets. Phew. They’re legit, we’re in, this is happening. Then, the volunteer asked me to get out of the car to open each door for her so she could check our things. Omg, omg, omg. It’s dusty out there. I’m going to get dirty. I got out of the car, held my breath so I wouldn’t breathe in any of that alkali dust flying around, and slowly opened the car doors. After each check, I quickly shut the doors. You know, to keep the car clean. (What? It’s a rental car.) Before getting back into the driver’s seat, I sat down, stretched my legs out the door and tapped my boots together to shake the sand off. The greeter started giggling. “Oh honey, you’re going to get way dirtier than that. So is your car.” WHAT?!
Our second stop was with the greeters. These are the happy faces of Burning Man who provide helpful information about where to go, what to see, and how to do it. We pulled up right behind a large RV. I watched everyone get out of the RV, receive massive hugs from the dust-covered greeters and then…wait…is that what I think I see…are they rolling around in the sand and making sand angels? Nooooo, thank you. I’ll pass. They must be special since they’re in an RV. We’re in a Jeep. They won’t make us do that. Ten minutes later, I’m rolling around in the sand, waving my arms up and down to make a sand angel and then banging on a gong yelling, “I’M A BURNER NOW!!!” Welp. Let’s go to Burning Man.
The greeter asked us to drive 5mph to our camp, which was right in the center of things. So it took a while to get there from the edge of the playa. On our way, we saw bright colored tutus everywhere. Oh, right. It’s Tutu Tuesday! People smiling. People dancing. Hundreds of people riding in all directions atop their decked out bicycles. It seemed like a giant carnival. Music blasting. Camp after camp after camp had their own thing going on. This place was alive.
It was when we arrived at our camp when I realized just how challenging things were going to be. The second we opened the car doors to unpack our things, a dust storm rolled in. The car was filled and we were covered. All the clothes we packed away in plastic bins weren’t as safe as we thought. Sleeping bags were pervaded with dust. The kicker? After we set up our tent, we realized there wasn’t enough room for one of us…i.e., me.
So, naturally, we grabbed a beer, put on our tutus and hopped on our bikes so we could begin exploring. It was Tutu Tuesday, after all. I’ll find a place to sleep later.
It took a day or two to get used to the rhythm of Black Rock City. It’s a place that is always buzzing. Always awake. At every turn of your pimped out bicycle, there is something to do, somewhere to go, something to see, someone to meet, something to learn. It can be overwhelming at first. But once you embrace it–if you choose to embrace it–it becomes a way of life. A life that is replete with a level of freedom, love, creativity, community and individuality that seems impossible to reach anywhere else. No agenda. No pressure. All goodness, all the time. This, my friends, is what makes “re-entry” into the “default world” very, very hard. Where else can you roll out of bed, receive approximately 12 hugs and dance yourself into a place that serves bubbles and bass all morning long?
I told myself many things before venturing out to the playa. I would never do that. Nope, not wearing those. Ew! No way. Never, ever going to do that. Yes, I’ll be connected. Heck yeah, I’m showering every day. But as soon as I stepped out onto the desert floor, I knew that the only way I was going to get the most out of this experience was if I threw all my inhibitions aside, got a little (read: a lot) dirty and lost myself in the desert. So I did.
There’s something about putting away your phone, living deep in the moment, dancing through the sunrise with your friends and hugging every single person you meet that will change you. It was at Burning Man where I forgave myself for a friend’s death, relinquished the worries brought about by my impending divorce, released the anxiety I have about all those bills and my future. It became a wide open space to let things go, face my fears and understand myself more acutely while connecting with genuine, open-hearted souls. It was also at Burning Man where I experienced intense moments of joy, laughter, humility and realized the power, brilliance and magic of human beings. I embraced the dust, literally and figuratively. And, yes, I still have to remind myself to take a shower these days. Heh heh…
It was in Black Rock City where I learned a great deal about the world I want to live in. About the things I want in my life. About the the people I want in my life. About what I want to do with my talents, my kindness and my love. About what’s important.
Beyond that, one of the more profound lessons I’ve taken away is that you don’t have to be in the playa to make this beautiful way of living a reality. Sure, I have plenty of precious memories from that week that will always touch my heart. But they don’t need to be limited to that one week. There is a way to turn my life into an everyday playground of warmth, honesty and grace. A way to approach life with equanimity, balance, ease.
For me, this involves living in the moment while being my absolute truest self. The self that may want to pair a cheetah print bodysuit with zebra print leggings and top it off with a spotted white leopard print fur. Yeah, did that, too. It calls for experiencing the now by putting away my phone and catching the sunrise and sunset as often as I can. It includes treating everyone like they are a dear friend, smiling and saying hello. Giving my ideas, time, energy and inspiration freely. Working on my shit so that I can be a strong, happy and useful citizen. It’s about making my life my message.
[heroic sounding music abruptly screeches to a halt]
Speaking of my life…much to my/your surprise, I came back to the real world. Yes, I’m back in Brooklyn. I’m sitting in my half empty apartment on that same ‘ol bean bag chair–the only place to sit in my apartment. I miss the Burning Man community tons but I’m excited to wax poetic with all you non-burners about my experience. Work is busy again. I’ll be traveling soon. Running seems so hard. I’m being taken to court this week; it’s not exactly something I’m looking forward to. But hey, I feel ok. I feel calm. I feel at peace. Thankfully, I’m in a much better head space than before I left. Just gotta keep on keeping on.
The thing is, life is not about tomorrow or next month or next year. Life is only this very moment, the only moment we can be sure of. I’m going to choose to appreciate every bit of it and live it with an open heart. It’s about now. Doing it right now. That seemed to work well for me on the playa. So I have a feeling it will work quite well for me right here.
…But hey, 50 more weeks until the man burns again. Yessssss.