It’s been interesting the last week or two since I’ve come back from Burning Man. Getting back into the flow of work and private life hasn’t been terribly difficult, but dealing with the ramifications and the changes to the my inner world has been about as difficult as anything else I’ve ever done in my life.
I spent the first couple of days at the burn simply attempting to adjust and to get the camp built, irregardless of the temperature, the sun beating down upon us, or the innumerable other bits of minutia that all come as part of building a theme camp. While much of it initially was physically difficult, the mental and spriritual difficulties didn’t enter the picture until Tuesday.
What I’ve tried to explain to people that have asked me about the event is simply this: going to Burning Man isn’t sane. That is to say that people normally considered sane and productive members of society (or cogs-in-the-machine/sheep-in-the-herd) typically do not choose to spend a week in an unforgiving climate with only a limited supply of water, food, and shelter with sixty-five-thousand-plus strangers. In addition to that, the desert climate has a way of testing the patience, endurance, and even the sanity of the hardiest of folk before they even make it to Saturday night when The Man is set ablaze. Thinking about it logically, humans are typically creatures of comfort and habit: air conditioning/heating, soft chairs, clean air, clean water, easy access to food, and very little psychological stress. When we push ourselves to the absolute edges of our comfort (say by spending a week in the Nevada desert), we start bumping-up against our true selves: the truest self hiding at the core of our being. Stripping-away all the efluvium of modern life in a Western society, we run headlong into a stranger that we do not recognize: ourselves. Encountering my own self again, exposing myself to my Self, and being able to experience and strip it down without any interruptions was both painful and extremely liberating.
The first available time I had to visit the Temple was on Tuesday morning after a particularly difficult day. I had spent a fair amount of time and energy attempting to remain calm and collected during the first few days of set-up and acclimation to the biosphere, but I ended-up uncovering the soul-crushing loneliness that I had thought I had been able to escape after my first Burn in 2011. Mustering-up my courage and my self-love, I journeyed to the temple in the early morning and just sat. I sat and listened, watched, and cried for almost an hour, letting out every bit of the anguish and confusion that I had accumulated in the last couple of years of my life. And it was then that I came to one of my first realizations of the burn:
“No one else is going to make me happy, I have to be happy by myself and with myself first before I can be happy with another.””
Another soon followed:
“I am not responsible for anyone else’s feelings. The way that others perceive me, my person, my story, or my reality is not my responsibility nor should I feel bad or guilty for it.”
Once I realized both of these things, my heart was lifted significantly. I cried a bit longer and let the weight of the negativity that I had been holding within my chest fade away, and I left the temple shortly afterward, giving my energy and thanks to the giant stones that had been placed in the center of the Temple this year.
After returning to the camp and re-integrating myself into camp life, it was a couple days later that I returned to the Temple and sat in silent meditation. I began concerning myself with much of the other weight that I had accumulated over the course of my life that was giving me nothing but grief. I thought of all of the expectations that I had placed on myself, the expectations of others that I had mistakenly attempted to meet (and would have failed at meeting in the first place), all of the negativity that I had heaped upon myself for not being physically-fit, for not being in the best relationship I could possibly imagine, and for not being a better person to all of the people that I know and love. I took all of that expectation and tore it all down to look at the core of the problems that had been assailing me: shame, grief, and abandonment.
Shame is a poisonous thing. It does not abate without steady commitment to understanding it and rewriting one’s life to circumvent it. Long-standing personal beliefs about my body image, my mental state, and my worthiness as a person were called into question in the space that had been temporarily granted to me at the Temple, and I realized then what I should have either intuited on my own or what should have been taught and reinforced with me more deeply through my various relationships: that despite my feelings to the contrary, I am a beautiful creature. I have had more experiences, survived more, and learned more in the last fifteen years of my life than most individuals learn about themselves in a lifetime. I am strong, I am smart, I am fit, and I have the ability to go anywhere and do anything that I want. The negativity that I assigned to myself was primarily a function of my own self-doubt and shame about my life’s situation and my inability to cope and “live like a normal person”. In realizing this, I have begun the work to set myself free and to let myself become what I actually need: my truest self.
Grief has many similarities to a disease. In fact, the word “disease” could be broken down into two words: “dis” and “ease”, which to any student of the English language would seem as though it is a lack of “ease”. In my case, I use the word “dis-ease” to relate this state of grief and suffering. I used to grieve a lot, and often times for no rhyme or logical reason. I let grief and depression run roughshod over the truth and instead of confronting the situations that had caused me to enter these fugue-like states, I simply wallowed in them. Upon realizing that I was under the negative influence of grief that I could not attribute to my own doing, I found that I could look upon the situations that I had found myself lacking in more clarity and see them for the situations that they were. In addition, realizing that this was all in the past, I readily began to understand the innate truth of my life: That I was not responsible for much of the pain that I had encountered, and that it was my choice to either wallow in it or move on.
Abandonment is the worst feeling in the world. If you’ve ever dealt with an absent parent, sibling, or significant other, you know what I’m talking about. Feeling as if you are completely alone even when you are sitting next to your partner or even in a crowd, being embraced in the frigid truth that no one knows your innermost thoughts and no one is there for you besides yourself, and confronting the heart-shattering truth that unless you reach out without desperation and in full control they will never know the real you… this is the kind of thing that sells anti-depression pills, that drives people to drink, smoke, take lots of drugs, and commit suicide. It’s this feeling that I wanted to erase from my life forever. The inner work that I have undertaken as part of my therapy has helped me to cope with that, but until visiting the Temple and effectively having a break-down therein, I hadn’t made the lesson a part of me: The abandonment issues that I have are primarily from needs not being met, and those needs are justified… to an extent. I have no right to project those needs on others, and other people are not qualified or interested in filling all of them, but I have the right to seek them and to fulfill them.
In that knowledge, I realized that I could simply let it all go. I could simply stop allowing the actions of people in my past from harming the relationships and the experiences I could have in the future, and that the feelings and experiences of the past do not have to define anything about me, other peoples’ perceptions and expectations of me and my behavior do not and should not have any effect over how I conduct my life or how I choose to live, and I should be able to explore my life as I see fit, free from judgement or guilt.
In these realizations, I let a lot of old weight go. In the burning of the Temple, I was able to realize and manifest the change that I have been seeking for a long time. And with the help of a few close friends (and my therapist), I will hopefully begin to heal the scars that have been re-opened repeatedly.
This is why I go to Burning Man, and this is why I also have been seeking more experiences that push the boundaries of my comfort zone. I want to experience them fully and to be able to see the rawest, truest sides of myself and integrate them into my life.