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Burning Man 2009 - All is Revealed....

USA | Tuesday, 1 September 2009 | Views [1342]

The Beginning:
I didn’t think that this year my burning man experience could have been more difficult than it was last year. I was wrong. Difficult doesn’t necessarily mean bad but it doesn’t usually mean good either. My word for this year is deconstruction. I feel like I was completely and utterly deconstructed out there and now here I am, a bit of a shell from the person I was, my ego pinging off the walls, looking for a comfortable place to rest.

I saw omens from the beginning. Omens can be good or bad. On my way in I saw lots of road kill including a beautiful, white, intact coyote, lying dead in the center of the highway. I drove over him, aiming my wheels to either side so he slipped unharmed beneath the steel of my vehicle. I left him untouched but he reached out, past death to tug on my heart-strings and keep me wondering the whole week, just what the omen meant. After all, coyote is known as the trickster in mythology and as a spirit guide he imbues “survival” among other great attributes…

Stopping for an Old Friend:
I had planned to arrive at midnight, when the gate opens and had decided to leave from Sausalito (in the SF Bay Area) around 1pm on Sunday to stop for a few hours in Reno to reunite with my best friend from high school whom I had not seen for 20 years. The significance of this for me is that I had no idea why we had stopped being friends and had always been very hurt over it. I found out why and found out that it was not really her choice and I was so relieved. I also found out the answer to a very serious question that had been haunting me for 20 years, something that I was blamed for that I never did and I never knew who did it. She told me who it was which released my questions, pain and guilt. It was so significant that I actually had a really hard time even thinking about these 2 things as I drove into the gate. I was distraught over the information yet also thankful. I still haven’t been able to fully process it.

Letting Go At The Get Go: I didn’t arrive at the gate at midnight like I had planned. A friend asked me to wait for him and his friends (the people I was to camp with) and drive behind their RV and enter with them. I did. It took all night long to get in, that way. I met them at 2am near Reno and we were inside at around 7am. Hindsight – this is a hard one. After all that happened that week would I have still waited to get in, knowing in advance what was to come? – definitely not. Am I pissed I waited? Not at all. It’s hard for me to stay up all night, that kind of behavior has passed for me, long long ago. I need my sleep. I like my sleep. I don’t “party” which means that I don’t “partake” in drugs or alcohol so staying up all night is just not something I do. However, the advantages of doing so on Sunday night was that I arrived at my camp in the daylight and was able to set up my tent. Two lovely men, Gordo and Monkey Boy actually volunteered to help me set it up!!! This, in itself, was worth the wait. There have been past years that I’ve struggled with my tent, setting it up alone, reduced to crying and cursing. Another advantage was just knowing I could do it – stay up all night – with the help of redbulls – and not passing out or getting sick. And then the sunrise – ahhhhhhh, actually = AHHHHHHHHHH ☺

Temple Opulence (not opulent temple):  My true love at burning man has always been the temple, except in 1996 when there wasn’t one ☺ So this year I went to the temple Monday when I arrived but it wasn’t open yet. Still it was a sight to behold. I stopped far enough away to take in the entire structure as my heart leapt out of my chest, wormed it’s way up my esophagus and sat, quite happily, perched upon my tongue.

As the temple really is where my heart is, I could hardly wait for Tuesday which meant another excursion to my heart’s desire, and perhaps, it would be open!! I literally skipped back on Tue night and hearing that it would open imminently I waited. I was one with the entering crowd. And seeing it on opening night is, in a word, amazing… before anyone writes on it, before anyone deposits their pictures, shrines, memories – the feeling is fresh and unique. I can’t explain it. But the different phases of the temple – the way it changes from opening night to the burn night is much like the phases of the moon or any cycle of change. At first it feels open, expansive, it feels like possibilities – anything could happen. And at the end it is filled with ghosts. At the beginning I entered smiling, laughing, eyes open and bright. At the end I entered beaten, dusty, heart-broken, sobbing, deconstructed. It wasn’t just me and my experiences, it was the temple itself. It’s an organism, living, growing and ever-changing – even in its death it reaches out to stroke the hearts of thousands…

Volunteering - Giving back – Philanthropy:
I volunteered again this year to be a temple guardian, which consists of a 3 hour shift at the temple, helping people process or just simply pointing them in the right direction. Both last year and this year the temple was more than one story. Last year it was 2 stories and this year it was 3 stories. Last year there was one stairway for up and the other for down. This year there were ramps to the second floor and ladders to the third. Temple guardians were stationed at the bottom of the ladders because one was for up and 2 were for down. Since some people show up drunk or on drugs and often confused, it’s nice to have people to direct the flow. A few people slipped and fell down the ladder, some people passed out at the bottom from overindulgence and others got belligerent and could not be consoled. It was interesting. I got lots of very drunk hugs and drunkened thank yous. I remember last year a very young boy on psychedelics stopped and kept telling me I looked like a beautiful angel, with dilated pupils and an ear to ear grin. This year was a tad calmer but just a tad. I like being a guardian because I am giving back. Giving back to the burning man community and to my favorite structure there.

UMLAS in the Temple:
David Umlas – the artist this year – did an incredible job. He stopped to talk to me for an hour the night I was a guardian and for some time on Sunday as well. I asked him details of how he came up with the design and why and he was very forthcoming. As a matter of fact he was so forthcoming that I feel it best not to completely disclose what he said, however I will say that he did disclose that the process for conception was organic. I asked if it was supposed to look like a lotus flower and the answer was no but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t look like one (to me anyway) or that it doesn’t look like a myriad of other things to other people. He started with a particular concept and like any good artist, the concept grew and changed and morphed and took a life of its own. And like any good work of art – the view/er can see what he/she wants to see.

More on Temple Philanthropyyyy:
One of my dearest friends Clove chose the 3am to 6am temple guardian shift for herself. One of my other dearest friends, Susan, and I decided to accompany her. Clove, unfortunately, was not feeling well and was not able to make it to burning man this year but Susan and I decided to keep our shifts because inherently we knew that Clove knew something we didn’t know. Does that sentence even make sense? And yes yes yes – insert another emphatic YES here – Clove KNEW!!! She knew that one of the most magical moments EVER is watching the sunrise from the temple and unless one is staying up all night (presumably under some kind of influence, but not necessarily) it’s not likely that one will see this. But because Susan and I were scheduled to be there, we were there and well, there we were… I went to sleep early the night before and woke up at 1am to get ready. I like to dress all in white for my temple shifts because maybe I feel more angelic or spiritual when dressed in all-white. The sunrise was beyond amazing, beyond anything I could have imagined or dreamt of. There were quite a lot of people, gathered on the second floor and everyone was mellow and keen on making room for others. The mood was somber and loving. Yet the magic became even more incredible when Susan and I started walking back to center camp at 6am and turned to look back at the temple. My jaw fell open as I watched the sun come up next to the temple and illuminate it in all its glory. Magical moments shared with an amazing friend.

The “Key Note” by Michael Christian –
A woman came up to me while I was temple guardian and asked me where the Lock and Key art piece by Michael Christian was. I hadn’t even heard of it but she insisted that it was a “not to be missed” piece. So one day I went out searching for the piece and almost missed it because I was, as I tend to do, taking the lock and key title too literally and I was looking for an actual lock and an actual key. Luckily I was with a friend who was able to spot it. And there stood a sculpture of a man – about 20 feet high, made entirely of locks. His face is a large keyhole and he is dragging a rope of keys behind him. At the end of the rope is a very large key that looks like it would fit in the keyhole of his face. When I saw the piece I burst into tears. The metaphor was almost too much for me. I say I’m “an open book” – my friends have heard this phrase fall from my lips more times than they can probably count – yet it’s not true. I lie to myself because I have built walls of protection and I don’t let many people inside. This art piece reiterated how we all do that. We lock up our insides, our hearts, our minds, our feelings and then we search for the keys – when all the while we hold them, we are the bearers of our own keys and we are the holders of our own locks. The image was soul expanding. It started a fountain of tears that did not stop until I returned home. It also opened up a new path of self discovery and self awareness – showing me what I do and don’t want in my life. I don’t want to have to protect myself from perpetrators or people who want to or try to hurt me. I want to have boundaries in place so those people don’t ever get close enough. And I want to be able to let the walls down for my friends and myself, let people in, let myself truly feel and love again.

Saturday Night AKA The MAN BURNS:
It’s funny but I’ve written this entire blog (including all the paragraphs below this one) and haven’t been able to write about Saturday night yet – I left a blank marker here to come back to. I’ll do my best now, maybe it’s time… So Saturday evening I was sitting in my friend’s RV eating delicious quinoa pasta with homemade pesto that was as good as it ever gets, no kidding!!! Immediately after dinner though I got exhausted which rarely happens but 90% of the time when it does happen it’s due to a food intolerance. I didn’t think anything of it though and went to lie down in the back. I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s time so I just laid down without saying anything to anyone. There was a dust storm raging outside, which was usual fare by now, the dust storms were daily except for one day’s reprieve. About an hour later one of my friends turned on the radio to see if there was any information about the man burn being postponed due to the dust storms. The speakers must have been on maximum in the back “cabin” area because the sound was so loud it physically hurt my ears. I’m super noise sensitive anyway and I wasn’t feeling well, so with the jolting, excruciating noise I put my hands over my ears and screamed. They turned it off and then on again just as I took my hands away from my ears. I was a little confused that no one asked me what was wrong or apologized and quite frankly I was completely out of sorts by this time and I, embarrassingly, put my hands back over my ears and ran screaming from the RV and into my tent. Now I do take personal responsibility for my behavior. Yes I over-reacted. I could have tried to explain that I was sick, that I am super noise sensitive, that the noise physically hurt my ears but I didn’t. I was reactionary, as people can get when they’re sick and the only thing that made any sense to me was to get as far away from the noise as possible. I also have this “I don’t want to disturb or upset anyone” attitude. So I ran into my tent. Now the first problem with this is that my tent had been left open all day, during the dust storms and was filled with at least 6 inches of dust. Immediately upon entering I started to sneeze. But I did not want to put anyone out or ruin anyone’s night and I just wanted to lie down in peace so I donned my heavy duty dusk mask and became one with the dust. As I lay there I got sicker and sicker. After about an hour I was extremely nauseated and then the stomach cramps and fever started. I was doubled over in pain, basically wishing I was dead. I have a very hard time asking for help due to some past trauma so I didn’t ask for help right away. But I did write a little note, asking for help, on a piece of paper because I was 100% positive that within minutes my friend would unzip my tent to see if I was OK. He didn’t. I was miserable and in a lot of pain and discomfort. I’ve had mild food poisoning before, as well as major food poisoning, and determined that this is what had happened. Usually my symptoms for food intolerance are sharp shooting pains and these were intense, yet dull, abdominal cramps along with the nausea and a fever. I took some Chinese medicine I had brought and tried to sleep with my dust mask on. I was very uncomfortable. A couple hours later my friend yelled my name outside my tent. He didn’t ask if I was OK, or ask if I needed anything. He just said, “I’m going to the man burn, I’ll see ya later.” I called out for help, I was desperate. I would have walked to the medical tent but the cramps were too bad. He happens to be strapping enough that he could have carried me there and back w/out breaking a sweat but instead…. I said, “I’m feeling really sick and I’m doubled over with cramps and can’t walk” and he said, “being overly-dramatic, don’t you think?” And that was it. In all ways. He followed up with “I’m leaving, I’ll check on you when I get back” He never unzipped my tent to see if I had water. He never asked me if I had enough water. He never looked at me or checked my forehead to see if I had a fever. He did absolutely nothing. But more than that, he did worse than nothing, he belittled me, he was condescending, he was heartless, absolutely heartless. Now I’ve been left alone more times than I can count when sick. As a matter of fact, I can count on one hand when people in my past have helped me when I was sick. So though this type of treatment was familiar the sheer extent of it was new. And because I’ve been in therapy for awhile now I know I no longer have to put up with being treated like crap. The sad thing is that this friend had been rude and disrespectful to me for the past 4 days – the entire time I spent with him at burning man – yet this was the straw. When he came back after the burn he unzipped my tent, reached in, put his hand on my butt and shook me!!! He didn’t say a word. He didn’t come inside to see if I was still breathing or put his hand on my forehead to see if I had a fever. He again, didn’t see if I had water. He didn’t carry me to the RV or medical. Nothing! Worse than nothing!!! I pretended to be asleep and he just left me there. I didn’t really talk to him after that nor do I want or need to ever again. His behavior was so appalling and so hurtful that even now, a month later, I’m still reeling from it. I should follow up with the fact that this was not a long term friend, he was a newer friend, one I had met a month before burning man and he had invited me to camp with him and his friends in the theme camp I was already in. I realize now how dangerous that could be and how dangerous it was. Mentally, emotionally and health wise.

Sunday Morning – “Last Day” (hear voice from Logan’s Run) – TEMPLEEEEEEEEE:
I woke up on Sunday morning early, bruised and sad from the way I was horribly ignored the night before. I knew I had to get to the temple early, before they closed it. Last year I ran out there at 1pm and just missed going inside so this year I was determined to get out there by 9am in order to spend at much time as possible there. I was shaky on that Sunday morning from my bout with food poisoning the night before so I felt it wise not to ride my bike. I grabbed the items I needed to deposit in the temple, my extra sharpies, my desert gear and I ventured out alone. As I approached on foot I heard a song playing very loudly from an amazing looking art car. The song was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment and the singer was singing “when the sky is falling from above you and the wind is raging is from the coast and you want someone who truly loves you, I will be the one who loves you the most” – I burst into tears, sobbing and walked up to the car. There was a couple embracing on a swing and a beautiful man (my desert angel) getting out of the driver’s seat. They didn’t need to say anything to me, they put their arms around me and hugged me tightly, holding me and rocking me. The beautiful man began singing to me “I will be the one who loves you the most” as he put one hand on his heart and reached the other out towards me. I sat with them through the song while they held me as I cried. I could not have orchestrated a more perfect moment. It was as though the heavens parted and 3 angels came down to offer me unconditional love.

When the song was over I thanked them all profusely and walked into the temple to deposit my ghosts. I followed my intuition to the 3rd floor and realized as I got there that I hadn’t spent any time at all on the top floor. I walked to where my feet led me and put down the collage that my ex-husband made me when I left him, over 7 years ago, and I didn’t look back. I didn’t need or want to. Instead I walked to the other side and sat down and began to write and read what was written, watch people, listen, take photos, process and just be. I sat there for about 3 hours, yet the time passed in a flash. It seemed as though I had just sat down when the crew came up and told us that they were going to close the top floor and the middle floor and they asked us to vacate. I walked downstairs and on my way out I planted my “God box” in one of the walls. I made my way out to the front of the temple where I sat down in the dust and began looking at it from a few feet away. I remained in this position for some time when I noticed a beautiful woman smoking a cigarette and leaning up against an outside temple wall. I made my way over to her and asked her if she had an extra cigarette. She told me she didn’t because she didn’t smoke (neither do I usually) and had bummed that one but that she would love to share it with me. I sat down next to her in the dust and we shared the smoke and talked. She was from Vancouver, her name is Sherry and she was the sweetest, most amazing person. We talked for over an hour, exchanging stories of sadness and hope, love, despair, pain and renewal. At some point I looked at the dust and saw a peacock feather floating by. I reached out to grab it at the same moment a man’s foot came down upon it. He saw me reaching for it and picked it up and gave it to me. He saw my face, twisted with pain and he threw his arms around me and began to cry. I cried too. We cried into one anothers arms as he whispered “it will be OK” in my ear, over and over again. I was so floored, to be there, in the arms of a stranger (named Andrew), hearing the words I needed to hear and receiving love from someone who doesn’t even know me. I was struck again by synchronicity and how much magic the temple emanates. I couldn't get my “friend” back at camp to even care, let alone console me in my time of pain and need but here, in the middle of the desert I found that love in the arms of a complete stranger – again.

The dust storms came and went during the 4 hours I spent there. Sherry’s friend appeared and I sat with them for awhile before moving on; alone – walking through the bottom floor of the temple for my last time – savoring the magic and the memories.

On my way back to my camp the dust storms were fierce and there were times when I could not see a foot in front of me. Yet I kept my dust mask and goggles on and I kept walking, completely unafraid. I could have been hit by an art car or a bike but I wasn’t worried, I knew I was safe. As I neared center camp I realized I didn’t want to go back to my camp just yet. I didn’t want to see anyone there, I was still in too much pain. And I had been trying so many times to find my friend Brian and I had kept missing him and he had kept missing me so I decided to try one last time. And he was there, at his camp! We sat with his camp-mates and they fed me a delicious breakfast. It was great to finally connect with him. He showed me his very impressive hexi-yurt. I passed out some playa gifts and exchanged laughter and stories.

Philanthropy Comes to a Head or ummm, a Burn:
My final night – the temple burn in all its magic and glory – shared in the arms of my gorgeous friend Susan. I volunteered again, more temple “duty”, more temple mania, more temple fun, anything to get just one more temple “HIT”!!! Ohhh yeah!!! Hits of the temple fuel me for the entire year!!! Here goes my misty eyed diatribe…. so in past years (blah, blah, blah) I’ve had some significantly painful, torturous even, temple burns. 2004 I spent the temple burn alone after my boyfriend of 2 years, Dave broke up with me on the playa a few hours earlier. I cried, I emoted, I released, I slobbered all over the strangers around me and when the temple fell I turned around and there was one of my closest friends sitting behind me with his 2 burning man girlfriends that year. They snatched me up out of my misery and despair and took me out all night dancing which is the exact medicine I needed. In 2006 and 2007 I had friends to hold onto but I was always sad. I release someone I loved (still love) who died when he was too young, I release all the pain and sorrow of the past year. I release words, phrases and feelings into that temple that I dare not write about. 2008 I felt so alone and sad amidst a group of close friends. I like to sit up front for the temple burn, watching it blaze in all its glory. I get there early, get a front row seat and lament. In ’08 I was on my friend’s art car with a few other couples, all good friends, yet I was not in a couple. It was a cold cold night. I was far away. My mood was foul. And it was almost lonelier for me than in ’04 when I was truly alone. I watched my couple friends doing couply things – like lip locking and swooning over each other, caught in tight embraces, celebrating the ceremony, laughing at the moon. I slunk back, hidden and small until I felt I might have disappeared altogether. Eventually a bright knight appeared at the edge of the art car to scoop me up in a warm embrace.

And perhaps it’s for all of these reasons that I associate the temple burn with heartache, with men, with couples, with letting go, renewal, regeneration, hope and loss.

This year I decided to nip it all in the bud and volunteer with my friend Susan to be on the temple perimeter. Forgo the possibility of being alone, being with coupling couples, wondering about this or that. And I am so happy with the decision I made that I will most probably do it every year that I go again. We had to get there almost painfully early and that too proved to be wondrous. Meeting new people, talking and laughter. I was able to place items into the temple for people who had arrived too late to do it themselves. I was entrusted with some very beautiful, meaningful pieces and carried them into the temple with Susan and sat them down lovingly and ceremoniously for their owners. Then Susan and I sat together in the inner perimeter and watched the burn together, leaning against one another for support – in awe of the beauty and regalia. Before it fell a very amusing man in a bunny costume tried to break through the “protectors” (us) and run toward the burning splendor and some temple angels chased him down and tackled him. He was running and zig zagging and waving his arms in mock exaggeration, adding a tickle to the magically somber scene. He did it a few times until eventually the crowd surged forward and we stepped aside for them to pass. In years prior I too had rushed forward and upon reaching the inner sanctum – which is as close as you can get to the fallen temple fire without actually getting burned I would circle with the group of thousands, three times around the pulchritude. This year was different. This year some of us were trying to circle while most others, I assumed them to be burning man virgins, sat up front barring our way. I found my mood turn foul and I began to complain to those around me who were trying as best as they could to circle. Some people agreed that this was “not the way it was supposed to be” while some laughed and others just stared blankly past me with glazed drug induced eyes. One guy told me that “obviously these people had not read on the internet what you were supposed to do after the temple fell!”. I laughed inside because I have never read on the internet what I was supposed to do either, I have, in the past just followed the crowd – finding solace and charm in the ritual. And with that thought I began to question – everything. Why does it HAVE to be a certain way? Why can’t each and every person have their own experience and do what they want to do? Experience it however they choose? When is following a crowd ever good?!? And in that moment of strife I learned another lesson. I always think of myself as a person who breaks barriers, who thinks outside the box – and often times I am, but other times I’m not. Proving again that I, like all of you, are not always one thing. We are organically changing, evolving, in motion like the water. Not stiff and unmovable like a steel rod.

Deconstruction – of the ego. It’s called by many names. Dark night of the soul…. Walking through the fire, that’s what I feel like I’ve done. Willingly. Knowing I would be burned. Coming out the other side. Charred, scarred, ready to grow new skin. Starting anew, fresh and empty. Ready to be filled. Ready to let go of my preconceived notions about myself and the ideas that my “family” has for me – their ideas of right and wrong, good and bad. I cannot and never have been able to live up to their expectations. It’s time to stop trying.

If I had any idea of what my experience at bman was going to be like this year before I went I never would have gone. Yet I’m so glad I did go. I needed to be deconstructed. I needed to have my fears laid out in front of me. I needed to meet and spend time with someone who did not have my best interests at heart. I needed to need. I needed to find my voice and stop being afraid to ask for help even if it meant I was turned down, again. I needed to go out into the desert and find the answers to my heart. Find what I was searching for, find that unconditional love from complete strangers. I needed to be held in the arms of strangers and feel free to cry and expose my core. I needed to release.

This year was about being alone, in the middle of 40,000 people in the desert and looking back, last year was about the same thing. The difference was that last year I felt lonely and this year I never did even though I spent a large amount of time alone. Not feeling “part of” is OK now because I am a part of the whole. I don’t have to belong to a clique or a group to belong to life. I have only to show up for myself. I have a fantastic support group, great friends who are there for me. Who needs more? I show up for me, I am there for me. I love my imperfections, my flaws, my open, caring heart. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not afraid of getting hurt because I feel now that I can see better and know how to “pick” those who are supportive and kind instead of those who are stuck and have a need to devalue others in order to make themselves feel better. I no longer feel like I am coming from a place of “needing”. There are things I want and those are the things I will go after in the future. In the present I am doing exactly what I want, right now, for me.

My other big lesson this year is that I will listen to my intuition. My intuition is ALWAYS right yet in the past I have not listened to it. It’s funny, this. Every time it happens again I feel like I am bashing my head against a wall but this time I feel like laughing. This time I am going to honor it. So much has led me here. A class I took with William Spear over a year ago where we learned about our destiny number in our 9 star ki. It was a weekend class and I sat for hours mesmerized, listening to everyone’s destiny number and in the end my “one word”, my “destiny” was my “intuition”. And I was told that until I followed it completely I would not be living to my full potential. And even then, knowing it was true, I fought it – with self doubt and self loathing. Yesterday one of my patients told me again how intuitive I am and told me again that I must follow it. The path. I can no longer expect others to lead me there, to keep showing it to me. The path was overgrown with brambles, I have cut them back now. It was covered with snow, I forged a new path. It was lost in the dust and I moved forward, blind, yet feeling my way. When I listen and follow, the truth is shown. I trust now in myself and my truth. My heart feels strong and vibrant. I have learned again to love myself…

My metaphors:
o    I feel like my ego was torn from my body, shaken repeatedly until it became flattened and then hung on a clothes line to blow freely, unobtrusively, in the breeze.
o    I feel like I walked through a scalding fire and my skin/soul was burnt off.

“When you forgive your imperfections and you‘ve auctioned all your clothes and you look to see your true reflection – you will be the one who loves you the most” – Brett Dennen

Tags: burning man 2009, dancing, desert, music, playa, recovery

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