by Josh Skywise
I got it. I was experiencing complete freedom. Complete and pure existence with no boundaries. Only, it took a week for that to set in.
While I did my best to release myself from all expectations, I have to admit that after 3 years of attending the Texas Regional Burn I was preparing myself for my first Burning Man experience with the mindset that it would be much of the same, only bigger. I was really looking forward to that considering I got so much from the Flipside TX community, but my eyes were clouded and my journey was only just beginning.
Arriving Wednesday night in a blur of synchronicity and flashing colored lights, I happen upon my camp-mates amid a full-swing cocktail party in formal wear. The days fade into one another as time slips away and only moments in existence remain.
The darkness of empty playa all around, I see the faint glow of ultraviolet in the distance. It draws me and I flow towards its radiance. I come upon a moment from my childhood brought to vivid reality. The memories of my stepfather teaching me to play chess when I was seven come to me full force as I take in the concept of this life-sized chess setup. I am so lost in it that I don’t notice that three other people all come up to it at the same time, nobody knowing one another. Somehow we all come to the conclusion that we were meant to play…and while we revel in each other’s wit we suddenly realize that this battle is over and the real answer we were looking for is that both sides resolve their differences and live in peaceful bliss. We share a profound moment, then proceed to wander off into the darkness from which we came.
I look and look and look for my friends that I know are there and I haven’t encountered yet, and in the seemingly endless streets I can’t seem to find what I’m looking for.
While wandering the Esplanade, I happen upon this geodesic sphere of metal that resonates within me. I can’t resist the urge to ascend its stairs and exist within its framework. Lying upon my back and staring up into the boundless expanse of stars above me through the lattice of human engineering, a peacefulness overcomes me and I find that another soul has been drawn by the same pull that tugged at my being. Few words pass between us as few are needed, and we share an understanding and connection that surpasses vocal expression. When we part ways we talk of reconnecting at another time and place, but that does not come to pass and the moment is all we had.
I search the city for some sign of my family that somehow elude me, and I begin to wonder if I’ll ever find them.
About midday two of my campmates ask me if I would like to join them on an excursion to the outer fence. Never one to turn down a new experience, I strap on my supplies and we venture to the outer expanses. The bike ride seemed to last an eternity with only the sounds of wind in our ears and creating an eerie hush to the surrounding activities. We make our way into the heart of solitude and encounter moments of expression in humanity, spirituality, joyfulness, and sorrow. Having drawn these experiences into ourselves, we trek back to our home. On the way, our mission is thrown to the winds by a chance whiteout, and amid the swirling dusts a locomotive emerges from the haze, and to all of our complete disbelief we find ourselves dancing at a train from the mists while enjoying peach snowcones provided by the engineer.
I have come to accept that I’m not going to find my missing family and while it saddens me, I know that our spirits mingle in this city outside of time.
Another virgin campmate of mine (having had the same Flipside history as I) discusses with me his feelings on the Burning Man experience. He tells me that he was looking for a personal and community connection that we seem to both experience in Austin but that he found lacking here in BRC. I don’t disagree with him, as with this immense number of people the connections can be more difficult to attain, and when they are made it’s a rare chance that you reconnect down the line. However, I was able to offer insight that turned out to be more for myself that for him. If you want cheese, no amount of squeezing will get cheese out of bread. So if you want cheese, go get yourself some cheese. But don’t throw out the bread…because bread can be pretty tasty too. Don’t lose an amazing experience just because you were looking for something else.
Next thing I know…I look around me and see the city I have come to call home fading back into the dust it came from. I hop on my bike and let myself roam free…boundless and unfettered. I have just found the family of mine that I’d been looking for all week, and I’ve just discovered that I was looking for the wrong thing the entire time. I suppose that when you stop looking for it, it finds you. I look into the faces of those around me and see the dusty smiles and tears of the realization we’re going back to our everyday, and the gaining of a timelessness that makes these moments live on in our hearts for the remainder of our existence.
This is only the beginning.