Posts for category Spirituality


October 7th, 2013  |  Filed under Spirituality, Tales From The Playa

Playa Wins: The Gooey Coat

Temple of Juno

 

Now that we’ve talked about our playa fails, let’s talk about playa miracles. The little wins and big scores that happen at Burning Man are part of the magic.

My first playa win came before I even got to the event. When the car overheated in Fairfield, Calif., my friend and I experienced our first playa fail.  But when we found a rental agency with one pickup truck in stock, we had our first playa miracle. They didn’t even ask us if we were going to Burning Man — heading to the desert can be a deal-breaker for most car rental agencies. Three hours after pulling off the highway we were back on the road and rocking out to satellite radio.

On my first night out in Black Rock City I lost my coat. I was riding my bike and suddenly the coat was gone. The coat was the color of playa dust — perfect, because it never looked dirty. This feature also made it impossible to find because it was camouflaged on the ground. I finally gave up, mad for losing it and mad for littering. I hoped it would make its way to someone who needed it.

The next morning I visited my friend Thumper at his camp. He put on a fresh pot of coffee and I settled into a lawn chair for a session. We were catching up and having a good laugh. “That bike your husband loaned me is a real cream puff,” he said. “It made it about 10 feet before breaking.”

I told him about losing my jacket. His face changed. “Hold on,” he said, “I have something for you” and ducked into his trailer.

He emerged carrying a coat on a hanger. It’s almost the same color as the one I lost but a vintage style with a furry shawl collar. I tried it on and it was a perfect fit. When he told me “It’s from the Gooey collection” my eyes welled with tears. Gooey was a friend — a lit firecracker, a generous soul and a Southern charmer. Her ashes went in the Temple after she decided to end her life.

One more burn for Gooey and warm nights for me. I know she’d want me to have the coat and I can’t help wonder if that’s why I lost mine. Coincidence? Miracle? Divine intervention? Call it what you will, there is magic in the desert.

Tell us… what was your playa win?

August 13th, 2013  |  Filed under Spirituality, The Ten Principles

Does Burning Man culture make us feel better?

BM2012_069

It’s always nice when science has your back, isn’t it?

The journal Frontiers in Emotion Science, a section of Frontiers in Psychology, published a paper last month showing that people deal with their emotions differently at Burning Man than they do in the default world. I doubt there’s a Burner who didn’t already know that intuitively, but numbers are reassuring.

The study, which involved 16,227 Burners over four years, found that Burners are more emotionally expressive on the playa. But they’re also more in tune with their emotional states, so they’re more aware and expressive of both positive and negative feelings.

Now, this was a self-reported, on-playa study. Lead author Kateri McRae came right out with its biggest caveat in an interview with PsyPost: If you ask people about their default-world emotional states while they’re all high on life at Burning Man, they might give biased responses. They might over- or underreport how inhibited they are or how well they appraise their emotions at home. So we shouldn’t get too excited about exactly how much of a difference Burning Man makes, according to this study.

But the researchers are trying to get at something bigger than Burning Man itself. They think cultural context — the shared mix of values of a place and its people — can actually change the emotional norms. It might be more socially adaptive to be emotionally intense at Burning Man than it is in the default world. And if that’s so, it’s worth looking critically at the way any cultural context affects people’s emotional lives.

BM2010_010

Burning Man’s context is temporary, and that’s key to this study’s line of inquiry. What we really want to know is whether a brief, deliberate break from our default social arrangements can affect us profoundly enough that we come back to the world healthier and happier.

This is where we tell a story about consumer culture and mass media in the default world versus gifting and the Ten Principles at Burning Man. The default world is repressive, and Burning Man frees us to be ourselves, so the story goes. It’s always tempting to let ourselves feel like we do it better.

But don’t forget that Burner culture is self-selecting. It’s too easy to say that we go to Burning Man because it is an emotionally liberated place. We go to Burning Man because we want it to be that way, and then we try to make it that way.

This study makes an interesting case that cultural context, even when it’s temporary, can change the way we feel and know ourselves. But let’s not get hung up on whether or not Burning Man is better than therapy. Rather, let’s take heart in this: If a bunch of emotionally liberated people want to get together and build an emotionally liberating place, they can. We did.

Photos by Scott London

August 6th, 2013  |  Filed under Playa Tips, Preparation, Spirituality

Burning Expectations

Survivors of an afternoon dust storm. Walk-in Camping circa 2007.

Survivors of an afternoon dust storm. Walk-in Camping circa 2007.

There is no one as enthusiastic as a second-time Burner. After our first time, we can’t wait to go back and we can’t stop talking about the playa. Our restlessness is palpable. Second-year Burners have been stoking that fire for 12 months, fresh off a transformative experience. We want to do it all over again, only with better gear and more art and more friends. We understand the lay of the land and the porta-potties and we’re ready to pitch in.

All the costumes and camping supplies and decent food — the things I needed that first year when I didn’t even have a chair — don’t add up to the exquisite mind-blowing first Burn. Burning Man changed my life. My experience as a virgin Burner was typical: my mind was blown wide, wide, wide open. I was grateful, gracious and disbelieving. It’s all I could think about when I returned to the default world. I ached to be back on the playa. I came back to BRC ready to do it all over again and my expectations fell flat. Where was the lightning bolt to my psyche?

Subsequent Burns are more about reigniting that original flame, more life-affirming than life-altering. Some years it’s a big fire; other years it’s a lot of dust. The months spent daydreaming of electric moonscapes and deep playa kismet and … well, I still do that. I want to be closer to that wide-eyed wonder. Could y’all bottle that for some of us old-timers? Maybe start a theme camp that serves some of your fresh-Burner juju?

After 12 Burns I don’t expect the catharsis and epiphany I experienced walking around Black Rock City in 1998, colliding with splendor at every turn. A few years in I accepted the ebb and flow. Don’t get me wrong — I am excited for BM2013. I’m looking forward to driving with a friend and camping with a group of women. Mixing it up is a good way to get a fresh perspective on the event.

Taking time off from the playa is one of the best things for reigniting the flame. My return to the playa was resplendent and relaxing and hilarious and serious and sad and wonderful. I still get teary driving into Black Rock City; the first glimpses of the event on the horizon feel like coming home. I cry when I take my annual solo bike ride along the trash fence and stare back into the city. I may be a realist but I’m still a softie.

I’m not trying to bum you out. Burning Man is the greatest. Your second Burn will be splendid; so will your tenth. But after you know what to expect, maybe things start to seem a little less grand. Your mind gets occupied by other things. You consider using that vacation time elsewhere. Everything evolves: Burning Man, Burners, anticipation and expectation.

August 5th, 2013  |  Filed under Spirituality

What’s in a playa name? A sparklepony by any other name would hula-hoop as poorly.

Photo by Hamachidori (Creative Commons license)

This is yet another Shakespeare related joke.  This post is fully of them.  Photo by Hamachidori (Creative Commons license)

One of the most common questions I’m asked by people who know nothing about Burning Man but are considering going anyway is “Do you have a … you know … special name?”

I tell them I do, but that they’ll have to see me on playa to learn it.

Then, almost inevitably, then get concerned. “Will I have to get a new name?”

Have to?

I always try to picture how that would work:  I imagine the Gate looking like Ellis Island, with bored bureaucrats asking people in fishnets and utilikilts “Papers please.”  They look over the documents closely, and notice that the “new name” box hasn’t been checked.

“Okay,” they say.  “Your name is now Fuzzypants.  And his name is Bilge.  Congratulations.  Move along.”

“But …”

“I said move, Fuzzypants!”

Actually, we should do that.  It sounds fun.

But it’s interesting to me that of all the things people could worry about at Burning Man … “Will I die?  Will I get heat stroke?  Will I be run over by a bus shaped like a zoo?” … the idea of being given a new name ranks anywhere near the top.

Yet in my experience it does.  And while that makes no sense intellectually, I get it viscerally. Read more »

July 29th, 2013  |  Filed under Spirituality

I’m scared to go to Burning Man

Burning Man 2011

I’m scared to go back.

I’ll be honest. All the joking and blustering I do about Burning Man is just a cover-up. I talk about being “so ready” because I’m not, and I hope your convinced look will convince me. I think Burning Man is really hard, and I’m scared to go back again.

There. I said it. I am afraid of Burning Man. I said it again. I’m going for the fifth time, and I’ll still be scared the sixth. That, I know.

Read more »

May 14th, 2013  |  Filed under Events/Happenings, Spirituality

Burning rituals for our digital world

Photo by Marcus Obal

Photo by Marcus Obal

For the past few weeks I’ve been struggling with something Chip Conley said at Burning Man’s Global Leadership Conference.  (You can read my thoughts about his entire presentation here.)

“The more digital we get,” he said, “the more ritual we need.”

I jumped those words.  My heart pounded.  “Yeah!” I remember thinking, with an exclamation point and everything.  I wrote it down in my notebook and put a little star next to it – my shorthand for “this is worth a whole article on its own.”

Larry Harvey has been talking about just this kind of thing for years.  He even insisted that the following line be inserted in to Burning Man’s charter:  the organization places “embodied ritual before symbolism.”

Which is awesome, to the extent it makes any sense at all.

But getting excited by something like that is a lot easier than explaining what it means, or why it’s true.

Or if it’s true.

The most prominent counter-argument against what Conley and Harvey may be getting at was probably written by … well … me, in a 2011 post called “Burning Man Doesn’t Do ‘Ritual,’ and probably never will.”

So obviously I might not be 100 percent on board with this concept that so excites me.

I stand by what I wrote in that post.  But I also think Conley has hit on something vitally important, that needs to be explored – and that Burning Man may be the most advanced form of that “something important” we have. Read more »

January 3rd, 2013  |  Filed under Building BRC, Culture (Art & Music), Participate!, Spirituality

Spirituality and Community: The Process and Intention of bringing a Temple to Black Rock City

photo by Portaplaya

Since the year 2000, there has been a Temple at Burning Man, and when we talk about the Temple, most people think of what started that year with David Best and Jack Haye, and became a long line of temples that have graced the playa. The Temple has evolved from what became a memorial to their friend into an “emotional nexus” of our community, where thousands make pilgrimage each year to remember those they have lost, to celebrate and affirm life, to heal and to forgive.

In 2012 I was fortunate to meet many of the people who are involved with building the Temple each year and to research what I came to believe are some of the essentials of understanding what the Temple at Burning Man has become. It is a place where our community goes to unburden itself and it is a representation of our maturity as a community as well as a natural manifestation of something sacred in the City of Black Rock.

photo by Portaplaya

Proposing to be the one who builds the Temple at Burning Man is serious stuff involving quite a bit of work within an existing structure of volunteers and other Temple minded folks to create something for the community.  One question that was raised over and over again as I spoke with people who have done this before was that you should not ask yourself  “WHAT am I doing this for?” but rather “WHO am I doing this for?”

For many Burners, the Temple is a vital place where those who build it possess a solemnity and a respect for that process. It is also a place for those who attend the event to use for grieving or celebration of life in an environment that is in contrast to a lot of the rollicking and outrageous things happening elsewhere on the playa that week in late summer.

photo by d’andre

Walking around the Temple at the middle of the week, I personally get overwhelmed by the amount of emotion that is focused like a beam in there. It is as if, from its inception each year, to all the planning and all the hands that build it, then when the event begins and it becomes “the largest collaborative art project” on the playa; that the energy of so many caring people turns whatever sublime Temple structure is built that year into something far greater than any art project.

Stopping to read the remembrances of so many loved friends, family and pets who have passed on, seeing the pictures of so many of them, pausing at the altars and shrines where people have lovingly placed tokens of their lost one’s lives, well, that can really get you right in your plexus where you feel that big sorrowful empathy wave. The Temple is a profound space where some of us who have lost loved ones can let them know that they are still loved and missed, but that it is all ok, they can pass and we can move on.

I’m a large, somewhat dim and oafish fellow, and I can only stay in there for so long before I have to walk away from it out onto the blankness of the playa with the Temple behind me, and breathe deeply so as to not betray the tough guy façade I live behind.

It is a heavy place.  If you’ve been there, you know what I mean.

photo by Steven Fritz

Regardless of who builds the Temple, it is always something spectacular and special. There are bona fides and expertise that are a prerequisite to building the Temple at Burning Man and I was privy to finding out what some of those were this year.

I’ve written an article about what I discovered after being on playa (and attending the Temple construction before leaving for Black Rock City) for the building of this year’s Temple of Juno. I was able to research and read some of the intellectuals who’ve written about the concept of the Temple, including Lee Gilmore, Sarah Pike and Larry Harvey; and I had the pleasure of speaking with some of the folks involved with building Temples through the years including David Best, Jessica Hobbs and Jack Haye. The article is on the Burning Man website and is titled, Spirituality and Community: The Process and Intention of bringing a Temple to Black Rock City.

Burning Man would like to have a conversation that explores what you feel about the Temple and to get your insights on it since it is really your Temple. Please read the article as it is meant as a starting point to stimulate discussion. Our community loves discussions and the Temple is something many of us have very strong feelings about. Feel free to read the article and post your thoughts here.

December 14th, 2012  |  Filed under Spirituality

Our Cargo Cult

I love what my friend Caveat wrote about the Cargo Cult theme. He is beyond correct that we’ve got a narrow road to walk through a mine field of cultural explosives. But I have a smaller, simpler question about this year’s theme:

Who is Larry Harvey?

Read more »