June 15th, 2011  |  Filed under Spirituality

Passing Through

June 15th, 2011  |  Filed under Spirituality

Photo: mkgraph

How do you know when you’re grown up?

The question may strike you as trivial, but let it sit for a moment. There are clear answers to it in some parts of the world, but the part from which I hail is quite vague on this point.

All the rights of passage in my life so far have been either dully underwhelming (my Bar Mitzvah? my driver’s license? my 18th birthday?), or they’ve been sudden, shocking, and rushed (graduation, first apartment, income taxes). None left me with a sense of having transformed in any believable way. When I have felt initiated, it has typically been into something unwelcome. (Oh, boy. Now I’m a taxpayer.)

Photo: Dave Millar

America doesn’t really have formal initiations. We have prescribed achievements, hoops to jump through, but they don’t come with any kind of clarity or assurance. Our institutions offer us degrees or licenses or certificates, but it’s still up to us to figure out for ourselves what good they are.

When I think of my ideal, romanticized rite of passage I wish I’d had, I wish for two things: some kind of shared experience, in which my community recognizes the occasion together, and some set of values or principles that become mine to live by afterward, so I know what to do.

Whether I imagine some solitary wilderness trial, or a purging, cleansing ritual, or some kind of quest, or some transmission from the elders, whatever exotic, nostalgic rite comes to mind, I want this communal recognition that something BIG has happened, and I want a way to understand what it means.


You don’t get that when you get your driver’s license.

But when you’ve been in traffic since sundown, and you’ve turned off the paved roads, and you first hear that crazy milieu of intertwining beats bumping from different cars, and then the horizon gets lighter, and you’re moving again, and the dust is kicking up, and then you’re there, and they check your tickets, and you jump out of your car with the engine still running and you grab that hammer and wail on that bell and shout “I’m hoooome!!!”

Well, at the very least, you know you’re on to something.

Photo: Chance

We may be past the point where it’s no longer cool to talk about Burning Man as a tribal gathering or a religious pilgrimage or some kind of New Spirituality. Cool or uncool, I still do it, but I won’t bore you with that here.


I just want to consider this year’s truly awesome theme, Rites of Passage, and see Burning Man through the lens of something momentous.

Burner life has a profound time cycle. We count down the days until tickets go on sale, until we finish work or school or keeping up the house, until we leave, until the gates open, until the man burns. We don’t just go to Burning Man; we pass through it.

We all know what this means to us, how much it costs in money, time, and effort. But we know why we go through it. We all have our own reasons. Some of them are big and grand, some of them are private, just for us. But we also have these shared principles that give us a common purpose.

These are the things we bring back to the default world, in our hibernation from Burning Man, until we’re ready to pass through it all over again.


14 Responses to “Passing Through”

  1. Rubymermaid Says:

    Absolutely fabulous! I identify with your feelings on Burning Man and adulthood.

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  2. Jon Mitchell Says:

    Howdy. Thanks as always for reading. If you like, you can follow me on the Twitternet at @JonMwords or contact me through my website at http://www.jonmitchell.me.

    Thanks for your comment, Rubymermaid!

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  3. John "Halcyon" Styn Says:

    “Growing up at Burning Man.” Well said. :)

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  4. Jon Mitchell Says:

    Thanks, Señor Halcyon!

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  5. blankman Says:

    I arrived with my girlfriend and my friend, me and my girl had never been. At the gates they wouldnt let me or my girl ring the bell and only gave us one program… as we drove past the gates and watched as a fellow newcomer rang the bell with overwelming joy my heart sank a little bit knowing i’d never have that feeling…
    I thought about telling them that this year is my first so I can have that memory but I don’t think it would be satisfying.

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  6. Jon Mitchell Says:

    Hey, blankman, we asked if we could ring the bell again when we arrived last year, and they said “Sure, but hurry up.”

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  7. blankman Says:

    Nice! I will deffinately ask if my girl can she’d probably really appreciate it! Thanks for telling me!

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  8. Ack Shuel Lee Says:

    On ringing the bell… Well… of course you’ve got to hurry up… What do you think this is? The DMV? The CHECK OUT line? The take all the time you need to discover that you are here… and no where else… line? The end of the line… line? Ring the bell now! Or… take your time… we can wait. We’re burners… (I built my own to ring all the time!)(BTW… I’ll be ringing yours twice this year!)

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  9. will Says:

    i couldnt agree with this more!!! after stepping foot on the playa for the first time ive had a greater sense existing. life is about the memmories we make, and Black Rock City has plenty of memmories to be had!!!!!

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  10. Mike Says:

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Humans are an unending source of amusement.

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  11. Jon Mitchell Says:

    Care to share the joke?

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  12. erny aka horney Says:

    what a lovely,eleoquent treatise ! thank you so much! burn on! )’(
    see ya in the dust!
    blessings,namaste ;)

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  13. Homiesinheaven Says:

    dusty hugs Jon! always enjoy your writing. :)

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  14. Jon Mitchell Says:

    Thanks for reading. See y’all soon!

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