Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.
by Temple von Impulse
Prologue: The summer preceding Burning Man 2007, I found myself taunted by periodic dreams, difficult to describe but having something to do with a mysterium tremendum pulsing at the center of Burning Man, some ominous vortex of consciousness that was drawing me into a rebirth canal before hurling me into points unknown. One dream in particular I remember clearly: Upon arriving at Burning Man, someone pointed at me friendly and demanded, “why are you here?” I awoke to the echoes of my unhesitant reply: “To completely let go of my former relationship.” As I was still recovering from the splinters of a broken eleven and a half year relationship, there was now no obstacle too great to prevent me from making the trip to Black Rock City. And so I did, and I could regale you with tales all night long and my eyes would sparkle and enthusiasm would strain my voice, but let me just tell you about the night of the burn itself:
The Night of the Burn Itself: Atop Abraxas the Dragamuffin, a brilliantly-realized art car, I had an excellent view of the burning of the man. I wish I could say that it blew my mind, but really it was just a big fireworks and laser show surrounded by the Zippos of the 21st century, thousands of glowing LCD screens as the assembled watched it via the viewfinders of their digital cameras, saving instead of savoring the moment. Fun, yes, but missing was the mystery. Of course, what I did not yet realize was that the burning of the man is not the climax of Burning Man. It is only the blast-off.
It was in the disorderly dispersion after the burning of the man that I began to feel the reverberant pulse I had known in my dreams, an emergent rhythm simmering beneath our feet, and we reconvened a couple of hours later on the edge of the open playa for the burning of Crude Awakening, a ninety-foot tall oil derrick bearing spiritless witness to nine gigantic steel humans in various poses of prostration and supplication. Again atop Abraxas, I am huddled and cuddled with shipmates reincarnated from a glorious pirate ship, fireworks and lasers, oh my, and then… and then… I don’t know if I gasped or if all the air was sucked out of my lungs by the detonation of the largest controlled propane explosion in the world, a Guinness I guess, 900 gallons of NASA jet fuel and 2000 gallons of liquid propane and oh my god a thousand foot high mushroom cloud churning hellish red and demon black, 2.4 gigawatts of energy, just enough to power the entire Bay Area for one minute (or, come to think of it, two trips back to the future in Doc’s De Lorean…), and the only thing more wow fantastic than this is the firelit faces around me, fireshadows flickering across their wide-open eyes, transfixed in apocalyptic wonder.
And you know, the word apocalypse derives from the Greek word, apokalyptein, which means, “to unveil.” And there was indeed a renting of the veil that night, an opening into a realm where every encounter is authentic, and consequently, deeply meaningful. I had painted the word IMPULSE across my chest in fluorescent white, and as the night wore on I discovered that this was as much invitation as invocation. I was hugged, kissed, licked, squeezed, nibbled, massaged, hit on, and slashed with chocolate, and before long I became the impulse, daring the impulse from whomever chose my presence. During one extended moment, I shared an hour long shoving loving shouting kissing encounter with a woman bursting out of her chrysalis. She showed me how tightly our spirits are crammed into this life, how our bodies are but leotards for our soul, and how our soul just wants to dance, and dance we damn did and nighttime disappeared into blackness all around and there was she and there was me orbiting around one another like Shiva and Shakti growling and grinning across the galaxy, and this is not even the climax.
Finding my way to Opulent Temple, I’m aware of an uncanny sensation of familiarity, of recognizing everything that is happening, a sort of “oh yeah, this is the part where I share an extended shamanic dance on the open playa,” or, “oh yeah, this is when I kiss a pregnant woman’s belly,” or, “oh yeah, this is when I throw it down with a dozen other dancers at Opulent Temple,” as if it all happened in one bright shining moment, a big bang, and life is a vastly reduced awareness of that moment that is right now, and gods and goddesses are dancing the dance their bodies have been dying for, impulses pulsing timeless and tireless and oh yeah this is the part when the dance floor opens around me and surrounds me and eyes are so bright like stars of the night and I am between now and nowever and we are so fucking lucky to be alive.
A dragon breathes fire in the distance and I heed the call of my shipmates and make my way toward the mothership, noting the sky rosy on the horizon and thinking holy cow what a night but it has yet hardly begun. Abuzz with activity, setting the generator a-rumble, bolting into place a platform for spinning, samurai warriors are striding about, preparing for the final assault upon the ego panting upon the periphery, for we have sailed out upon the dead calm of this dry lakebed to do battle only with ourselves, and we won, and we are a float in our own victory parade, and Bassnectar is spinning and people come together to dance the dawn awake and my are we alive today as the sunrise pales next to the light shining out of the eyes of everyone and how are we so beautiful and Seth good brother that he is grabs my shoulder and points to Crude Awakening and do you see how now that the derrick is burned they’re actually worshipping the sunrise?
And I would have wept but my grin would permit me only to dance for I was not yet done and oh yeah this is the part where I’m dancing on the catwalk and a sparkling woman joins me and writhes in close but then something in me closes imperceptibly and I humor her for a couple of minutes before dancing my way away and down the ladder I go and I take three steps and happen to glance back and she’s leaning over the railing and glaring at me in aggressive compassion and where do you think you’re going get back up here and I comply yes I do and regard the dance proper ‘cause you’re not really dancing till you imagine that you are making love and I clearly see how I have been breaking the circuit of sexuality in my life ever since my split and she doesn’t know how she healed me and I don’t know how I healed anyone around me but it happened all the same and the deejay lays down Frou Frou’s Let Go, and an exhilaration of epic healing gasps into atmosphere and we dance, and dance, and dance the wild divine.
Epilogue: The next night, during the Temple burn, I watched in somber fascination as it collapsed, sighing satisfied as a wave of cheers swept round and round. Later, I was having a snack with a friend and she asked me if I had let go of what I wanted to let go of and it occurred to me that my former relationship had not crossed my mind all week, not even during the Temple burn. I forgot to let go, I said, realizing that letting go requires no effort, no remembrance, and certainly no action. It requires only release, and acceptance, and that I forgot to let go only demonstrates my success in doing so.
Thank you to all who shared this experience with me. It is surely the morning we will return to upon our death.