Through observation, we concluded that naked men marching the Playa are always alone. But this was not why or how our tribe of eight committed to taking the plunge into the sands of the Nevada dessert. Last year, throwing doubts (some spouses) and caution to the wind, ‘Angie and the Argonauts’ hunkered down to the serious preparations required for Burning Man 2015, an endeavor demanding among other things, radical self-reliance.
Arriving at BM as a ‘virgin burner’ newbies are encouraged to roll around in the fine Playa dust before banging a bell and screaming ‘I am not a virgin’, followed by a hug from usually an unusually large hairy dusty gate attendant. Getting the powdery dust embedded into your being and belongings is an important ritual of the initiation as sand storms and subsequent whiteouts are a common shared experience. Equally challenging is navigating the public porta potties, which receive daily offerings from the natives. But the hardships of living on the Playa are part of the glue, which bind Burners together. Radical inclusion.
Burning Man started 30 years ago on a beach in San Francisco with a few dozen friends. Through numerous mutations, it now attracts 70K individuals to an ancient dried lake-bed three hours from Reno. From a lifeless flat sand pancake, this swatch of desert grows into a massive city of makeshift huts, tents, RVs, artworks and mutant vehicles spitting fire for one week before being dismantled and carried away, returning the desert to nothingness. No trace left behind.
Art is a huge part of the BM experience. Massive constructions costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and man-hours pepper the Playa along with smaller creative works of art. Massive moving sculptures take the form of Art-cars driven around while dozens of dusty passengers dance to techno music blasting from giant speakers. Others vehicles with pyrotechnics shoot 30foot flames into the sky. Costumes include the most elaborate Hollywoodesk get ups to absolutely no clothes at all (did I mention stark naked strutting men?). There is an atmosphere of radical self-expression.
With so much art all around us, it was hard to see what value or tribe could add. We choose to create and share 500 multi-purpose bandannas with our Argonaut logo, which we gave to strangers and friends who were then invited to recite the Argonaut Oath. Additionally, over the course of the week, I managed to coral over a dozen individuals to pose for quick marker on paper sketches. Gifting (not bartering) is yet another one of the ten Burning Man principles.
With so much stimulation on offer our tribe needed to choose wisely. But just soaking up the atmosphere of freedom and creativity changes you. We find it easier to live and let live when a Burner almost bikes into you. The bottom line is that BM is a venue and opportunity for radical self-discovery and the realization that whatever we experience and do on or off the Playa, we take responsibility for it.
One opportunity for awakening happened while waiting in a long line for a free massage. Unintentionally, a young woman jumps queue before me. Instead of feeling love and light, I’m feeling cheated but say nothing. After an hour of waiting, I see and judge her again. Another hour passes and the same girl approaches and kneels before me. She ever so quietly and kindly thanks me for allowing her a place in line. Handing me a list of topics, she offers to read me a poem. I choose a poem on LOVE. From memory, she recites a moving poem about rediscovering love for oneself. As her words massage my heart, I find myself accepting and welcoming back that person I’d forgotten and neglected for so long, little Gregory. Greeting this poet and myself with acceptance, we embrace and I experience a wave of love washing over us. She is then called away for her massage.
I feel so much peace and light. And then recall how harshly I’d judged this little angel. Note to self (another message from the Playa): Wait before judging others as it may do more harm than good.