I’m about to venture to the playa in the desert for my third burning man in a row. I don’t know why I haven’t written about Burning Man before. Maybe it took three years to actually understand what was happening there; the stimulation, the symbolism, the different kinds of burners, the extreme conditions and radical self-reliance, the radical expression, the overall ‘what the fuck’ is going on here effect. There could be a whole textbook or encyclopedia of many volumes written on the event; what it all means for humanity, what it all means for the individual, what it all means for moving forward, what is real, what is fake, etc. The whole affair throws a knuckle ball into your brain regarding what the hell is happening on this here planet that’s spiraling in orbit around the sun and universe. What is my life in comparison to the universe? What did I do before my life, what will I do after? Is my reality really all that I think it’s cracked up to be? What the dang hell are we humans doing and how does it relate to our evolution, the overall big picture of life, other animals, the environment, moving forward and embracing the life we have, and interacting with others when we come home?
Before my first year in the summer of 2014 I was somewhat a mess. Not a mess as in giving hand jobs in alleys for crack or anything but just a mess as in not grasping what life was about, what life had in store for me, or where I was or should be going. My ambivalence was always getting the best of me. Let’s do this, but what if that’s better over there, but wait, what about that third and fourth option!? If you ever go hiking with me you’ll know the annoyance of what I’m talking about as it’s so hard for me to pass up or not go back to other trails other than the one I’m on causing a constant juxtaposition as there is ALWAYS another trail I’m not on! Before my first burn I often thought of myself as a fly just buzzing around, and in a way I lived out what I was telling myself as I was living in Denver and was constantly back and forth from there to Salt Lake City to San Francisco and around California. I always felt most at home in my car, driving along, marveling at the landscape and thinking I was some kind of modern day pioneer in awe at where I was going and what was going to happen next. My car and driving away and out of other situations was my idea of peace. I did various jobs in massage here and there but always quit and was looking for the next thing. I was in a relationship but was going through breakups with it routinely and was looking for the next thing. I was overall depressed, felt stunted, didn’t know exactly what my truths were and felt like I was way different than I had been before. My relationships with familiar others suffered as I was really wanting to be something different than I was. I constantly felt like I was mentally throwing up on people as a lot was on my mind and I wasn’t settled in my thoughts. A friend of mine was also going through something similar in her life and in a depressing, but ultimately uplifting, conversation over the phone we decided we didn’t know what else to do and, ‘fuck it’ we’re going to see what this whole Burning Man thing was.
That first burn year was an emotional high/low train wreck. I was prepared with supplies but stayed at a camp that was a bar and had me and about 25 other campers bring 5 big ol bottles of liquor. Going to Burning Man and investing in alcohol intake was NOT what I needed to be doing but I didn’t really know anything else as I was along for the ride. Other than cannabis and the occasional mushroom and MDMA/ecstasy experience I wasn’t well versed in drug use either. This was before I had really taken on the ills of the “War on Drugs” and the corrupt practices of the pharmaceutical industry. Even before my nutritional background which let to my interest in holistic, psychedelic drug medicines. I took my first ever LSD (acid) on the second night in and later in the evening drank almost a whole bottle of aloe vera that I didn’t know was loaded with MDMA and was meant for about 6 other people. I am an energetic person as it is so this propelled me into an outrageous other universes of energy. I danced and danced and danced, had a million amazing conversations, ran around all over the playa, and felt like I was leading burning man. I was winning at Burning Man, haha! The day turned into two days and then three days. I didn’t sleep and just kept going. Even after not sleeping for days on end, it still was so hot during the day there that I couldn’t sleep and every time the night came and it got cool enough to lay down, the playa comes alive with all of its lights and energy and music and the cycle goes around again. It’s a brutal reality out there. Sleeping is hard and with so much to do, combined with a fomo obsessed person like me (fear of missing out) you just never stop. Some of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life came from this first burning man. I learned a lot about myself, my limitations, how I would spend my energy from that point on. Upon getting home, the big toe of my right foot would go in and out of feeling like it was asleep for months on end. I guess your toes are the first to go if you abuse your body as such. Luckily they are still there.
Year two was dramatically different. I didn’t go with anyone but needed to go back to see what the hell year one and that desert overall was all about and do things differently. I went by myself and stayed in a camp dedicated to serving tea called Camp Soft Landing. I also was on a different diet so I brought very nourishing protein and fatty snack food and vegetable, little packaged baby food (the best!). For the first few days I felt very out of place and it was a bit lonely. I was processing what had happened the first year and the fact that I totally wasn’t partying my ass off, like I thought I had to, just felt weird in itself and like I was missing out on something. Whenever I went to make the move to be included in such belligerence my body just wouldn’t let me do it. This year was about something else. I was volunteering with MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) in the Zendo Project which included sitting/guiding with people who were having difficult psychedelic or other drug experiences or just hard experiences overall at Burning Man. It felt great to be helping people out there. It felt great to be giving mentally nourishing space and time to these people. I felt like I was doing something of meaning instead of just pursuing my own agenda constantly and chasing ego driven highs. Giving back to the environment and others is a greatly energizing and meaningful feeling. And going back home to my camp and drinking all different kinds of tea was replenishing instead of depleting as say the year before was with alcohol. I came across an amazing tea called Valerian that actually made me sleep and was spending more time sleeping overall this year (What, loving sleeping at burning man! I know, I was totally raging;););). There was also a speaker series next to my camp called Palenque Norte which included meditations, breathe work, and overall intelligent discussions on all peak of modernity topics. The contacts I made that year were amazing, energizing, inspiring, motivating. I really felt like I had found my people and passions and was dedicating myself to activities that were really allowing the best parts of me flourish. Leaving burning man in the summer of 2015 was extremely refreshing. A pathway had been carved out and my life had suddenly become more intentional and positive feeling for where it was going.
Upon being one day away from journeying into the playa for year three, for the first time I have no angst or nervousness about it. I feel comfortable and confident in myself. I’ll be contributing more this year and actually getting my burn paid for by working as a supervisor for MAPS and the Zendo Project there. I feel very connected to their work and am excited to be giving my time and energy to it. I’m excited to visit my old camp and to drink tea and engage in refreshing and stimulating conversations and I’m excited to listen to some of the Palenque Norte talks. I’m excited to feel the disgust of being constantly completely covered in the alkaline dusty desert and the awful sweaty feeling in my tent at 8am as after that point it is impossible for me to sleep. I’ll definitely be grumpy and go through my downs and wonder why I’m tent camping and basically sleeping in all the dust that storms its way into my tent at all hours. However, I realize now that that’s part of the whole experience and leads to the countering effect of eventually feeling good (how would I know what good feelings really felt like without comparing them to uncomfortable ones?). I’m excited to drive there with my new friend in Salt Lake City. She is a psychoanalyst and we both bounce intriguing life stimulating conversations off each other in a way that only soul sisters and brothers do. I’m excited to spend time in the Element 11 Utah/Salt Lake City camp and meet butt loads of new people that I can spend time with and relate to upon coming home. Burning Man is all about what you can bring home and apply to your life rather than waiting till next year to experience.
So what the hell does all this mean? Just go to Burning Man and all is good? Ha! Hardly. That would be a standardized approach and standardized approaches as we’ve learned from our educational system and pharmaceutical medical industry will create bare minimum, averagely good at best, standardized people and products. Life is about getting beyond standardized norms. Not moving beyond them creates numbness of mind, apathy, and disease. An individualized approach to physical and mental health and LIFE needs to be applied. Going to Burning Man by itself will have minimal benefits. Yes, it is a novel environment and that is good for your brain for creating new neurons but to maximize this effect there has to be more of a thought process and intentions applied. How can you best take care of what you can really control in your base needs while giving yourself ample time and energy to take in all you want to do? Doing such will put yourself in the best position possible to explore and embrace the things you can’t really control?
Burning Man for me is about balance and controlling what I can while putting myself in as good of a position as possible for success, high energy, and replenishing feelings overall. What food do you put into your body? What drugs do you put into your body? When do you sleep? When do you eat? When do you clean yourself? When do you drink water? When do you pay attention to time? When do you pay attention to yourself? When do you pay attention to others? Radical self-reliance is a major tenet out there. Drinking constant water in a camelback, stopping to eat every 3 or 4 hours no matter what you’re doing, paying attention to when you do drugs in comparison to when you need to be sleeping or working are all things that come with being in a healthy mind. It might sound so unromantic that we need to pay attention to all these things but not thinking or paying attention or creating intentions about things usually means we don’t really care about them and are setting ourselves up for stress and angst, and for things just to magically work out, which usually just doesn’t happen out of thin air. It took going to Burning Man to make me consider such things whether I was on the playa or in my real life. The radical self-reliance out there in the extreme weathers of the 100 degree days, 35-45 degree nights, the white out dust storms, the constant stimulations of music, dancing, drugs, sex, you name it, are all things that need to be considered and thought about. Making little cheat sheets for yourself whether they are at burning man or in your real life are beyond useful. Daily, I look at a little note pad and remind myself that, yes, this night is the time for sleeping or this 8-10 hr period is when I can take some LSD or let loose, wander around or whatever. Being mindful about such things will only create better and healthier approaches to life and will put you in as best of a position as possible for success and for having energy and taking what life spontaneously throws your way. It’s a matter of whether you’d rather rely on no structure and going with the whim of spontaneity vs having spontaneity in a somewhat structured approach. There are times for both of course but I’ve had much more success and well-being with the latter. It’s a question of whether you want your spontaneity and life embraces and truths and passions and motivations to come from what you need or do you want them to come from what you want?
As I sit here drinking my Dandelion tea with a drop of peppermint essential oil in it I realize how much my priorities have changed over the years. Ha, what kind of wellness monster have I become! Most of my 20s were spent trying to be a teacher in the public schools and proudly spouting the phrase “Sleep when you’re dead” whether it was work or play I was after. Not that there won’t always be a place and time for such pursuits at certain moments but basing your whole life on that is stressful, mind numbing, and depleting and leads to breakdown. It doesn’t put you in a good position for happiness and well-being. Sleeping is crazy important! The alcohol intake of my 20s was also insane. I hardly drink anymore and, yes, that simple decision has dramatically changed my life and who I hang out with and how I spend time and money. What I put in my body now, whether it be food or drug, definitely caters to the idea of how I can sustain good energy for as long as possible. I’ll gladly give up the super highs which bring the super lows for instead a stable, sustained, positive energy presence mildly peaking or dipping here and there. This usually entails not having too many drinks, taking low doses of drugs, and having a presence of mind with people to hold space for them and be able to walk away or communicate effectively so as to not bring about repressed extreme emotional and energy vibes. With food it means eating lighter vs heavier, creating blood sugar balance, creating acid/alkaline balance, fasting occasionally, eating anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory foods, and eating with compassion, empathy, and the environment in mind. With exercising it means working out in a sustainable way that doesn’t promote overtraining, it means focusing on functional movement and balance training and flexibility, it means working out in lateral and rotational planes of movement as most of our lives are spent moving in random ways. It means exercising for your heart and being centered in meditative techniques for your mind and not forgetting to take many deep breaths and to be repetitive with positive mantras and thoughts. With technology it means not engaging more with my TV or cell phone or Facebook more than I do with people. It means turning data off and being present in my day vs always online. It means recognizing when I’m working too much or when I’m not working at all and figuring out happy mediums. It means focusing on the positivity in others and myself and empowering that and being nice to myself and not shrouded in guilt over what I should be doing and actually being very content with what I actually am doing. I will make mistakes and reactively and sub consciously veer from my healthy practices at times and that’s okay and part of a positive overall wellness as well. I am an imperfect being and am not an automated machine. I will accept myself and continue to take steps to improve but not hold myself to an ego based, god standard.
The intensity of my 30s has related much to doing as much for my brain as I can. Adult neurogenesis is a real thing. Our brains will either go into lulls of inactivity and repeating cyclical thoughts or they will expand and grow with creating new neurons and electrical firings and pathways. New neurons come from psychedelic experiences, meditating, exercising, dancing, being outside in nature and the sun, being in novel or new stimulating experiences, having intentional healthy sex, taking deep breaths, eating balanced plant based foods, among many other things. It’s been hard to make this transition. Having this mindset in my late 20s and so far in my 30s at first was a very lonely experience. When you step outside of yourself, and the thoughts and feelings and actions you’ve always catered to, it’s going to take some time to create a new world and reality. Throw in the expense and debt we all get into as well catering to living to the status quo in a capitalist/constantly advertised to society and you’re stressed in a whole other way. When can we read a book or watch a show that stimulates our minds or write or make or listen to music or spend time in nature or make good, nourishing food or have some cannabis or some tea, or just plainly a good conversation with a friend. It takes a little creativity but it is very feasible to look beyond status quo, debt ridden, depleting activities. We don’t need to be only catering to spending money and living the high all the time by going out and eating or drinking excessively. Doing that too much in your life will turn it into a relative, normative activity and you really won’t appreciate it anymore. It will become dull and boring. Most anything will become this if you only focus on the same thing over and over. Why not spend different times in your life doing different things and with an intention of health in mind? Health and well-being can mean something different for everybody but when you’re doing it you’ll know and your brain will thank you for it. It will feel like some form of energizing god energy flowing through you.
So how does this all relate to Burning Man? Ha! How does it not all relate to Burning Man? The week is a human experiment at how we can organize ourselves and our community. How we could possibly go about spending money and getting along and embracing creativity and what makes us human and part of this world. The world will revolve more around the values of Burning Man than it knows moving forward. It is a week of taking care of yourself in extremes but not totally falling victim to those extremes. Radical expression does happen and is encouraged and through all that, stability, calm, and high positive energy come about. The stimulation of Burning Man is like a psychedelic drug that lasts all week. Balancing out the stimulation for me sometimes leads me to not doing drugs during such events, and rather, participating in mind expanding drugs in my normal life when that stimulation might not as easily be there. Again micro and low doses are where it’s at! Oh and did I mention that Burning Man is the best place do dance in the universe. I can’t believe I’ve left that until now. My first year I realized how much freedom, expression, and pleasure I felt dancing to awesome dubstep, house, or any kind of good electronical music or good music in general. Dancing is amazingly therapeutic. If the whole week was just dancing I would still go and look forward to it. Dancing as much as possible, in and out of Burning Man is encouraged. I can’t wait to get my kinesthetic expression on!
When talking about such meaningful things it is easy to forget what the meaning was that you were talking about. What did I just say in this whole essay on Burning Man? Talk and writing is cheap and that’s why we need to move towards that meaning in our lives. If we can’t be open and vulnerable, and approach meaning and our fears and doubts and excitements, then we’ll just continue to talk about them. They will turn into cyclical thoughts rather than cyclical actions. It takes actions and little steps of moving forward to live your truths to actually create new levels of healthy routines, thoughts, perspectives, brain neurons, etc. And then of course, there is the idea that we will never be free or rid of the process of expanding. It will perpetually be in motion and growth is often an uncomfortable experience. We suffer without perspective as we can’t really see where that growth is moving towards yet. It takes time and patience before we start to get some perspective for our suffering and then at that point it’s off to the races and re-birth is something we can see and feel. However, even with re-birth, it is just a temporary stop in the repeating cycle. We won’t get to some magical place and then sit down and say, “Well, we made it” enough expansion for me and glad that’s over. When you’re on the right path there will be moments of extreme accomplishment and seeing/feeling that, but then it becomes relative and you continue to move forward to the next growth. There is no magic pill, magic place, magic partner, magic job, magic food, magic workout routine that will relieve us forever. We will constantly go in cycles of angst, suffering, hating life, perseverance, trust in the process, rebirth, flourishing and then various cycles of that all over again. It is a marathon race of constant movement. It’s a lifestyle approach and when your habits and thoughts take on this reality, and dips and spikes are all balanced out and work off of each other and seen as leading to eventual growth, you are nicer to yourself. The steadiness of progress is that it comes with constant adaptation and mystery about where it’s all going. We will say and do things and then do the opposite. We will build things up and then have to burn them down. Having confidence in the life process and taking even baby steps towards your growth is the most admirable and inspirational thing anybody can do. Burning Man is a place that this tends to happen rapidly at but you don’t have to go to Burning Man to have it happen. Maybe one day I’ll not go to Burning Man anymore and something else will take its place. More and more of my life feels like I am constantly at Burning Man and I couldn’t be happier about that. It has been such an engaging learning process and I’m glad I kept moving forward, doing what I was curious about and believed in despite whatever interferences from people or situations or myself came about. It feels truly empowering to be representing and living the change that I was so desperately and at times, depressingly, wondering about and searching for. I knew it existed in some form that wouldn’t be based on such levels of desperation. Having confidence and faith in yourself and the process is the most important part. There’s a lot to go around and create and involve yourself in, in this here life.
Now off to the playa. I have my capes, dresses, tutus, and generally my piratey looking women’s clothing ready to go. Brain expansion commence!