This was my 14th Burn. Here are my reflections.
PART1 : THE JOURNEY
This year’s journey started perfectly for me – with my RV breaking down.
The Hugmobile was sidelined with vapor lock just blocks from where it met the same fate last year. San Bernardino is apparently the Pink Bermuda Triangle.
But as dedicated students of Surrender, we rolled with it. We spent the day parked outside a drug dealers house and sweat through a 110 degree afternoon that was far hotter than anything Black Rock City would muster up later in the week. (To be fair, I’m making an assumption about his occupation based on the frequency of short, drive-up visits.)
Brandi gently mocked me as she fanned herself, “I saw a video last week where someone said that Burning Man starts the minute you get in the car.” Yep, nothing quite like getting your own words thrown back at you.
At one point the home owner came outside, eyes glazed and paranoid – to ask us for ID. I don’t blame him. I’ve seen enough TV shows to know that when a weird van parks in front of your house for an extended time, you are probably under surveillance. But by the time we had pulled away we had shared a six pack and been invited in for dinner. Burning Man had indeed begun.
When nightfall hit, we tried the 83 Winibego, again. Unsuccessfully. So AAA towed us back to San Diego. The exact same tow truck driver. The exact same 3 hour route. Exactly 1 year later. “Happy Anniversary!”
This year, there were no cargo vans available for rent in San Diego. So our crew of 4 scrambled to find a solution. We ended up sending our bikes up with friends and squashed what we could fit into (and strapped to the top of) 2 SUV’s. There is something
poetic about taking all of the items you’ve painstakingly organized into RV drawers, shelves and closets and then sweeping them roughly into black plastic bags. It’s like a organizational dust storm to jolt loose any last hold on expectations.
We drove all day, stayed the night in Reno, loaded up on supplies, and made it to Black Rock City one day behind schedule. But we were in good spirits. Saturday arrival is still well within the “Early Entry” period for large camp & art setup.
When we arrived at our address at 9:30 & Esplanade, I was reminded that our actual journey began months ago. The shade structures had been assembled by our first arrivals, but our plot of land looked like a hurricane path. Boxes, bins, tarps, clips, lights, sculptures, and all manor of materials lay strewn about – ready for assembly. We had spent months planning, buying, and creating pieces of our pink oasis. Now it was time to see if the pieces would fit together.
It would be misleading to describe the setup process as “work.” It is more like setting the table for the dinner party of your life. You know the food will be amazing. You know the guests will be delighted. You can barely contain the excitement in anticipation of it all coming together. It is a shame that so many people show up for only the last few days of Burning Man… because it it the first few days – when everything is being built – that is the most magic for me.
While the city is being built, there is a special camaraderie. There is a pride as we all give our skills and brawn to create Utopia out of the barren desert. But there is also a humility – we are all of service to the larger ideal. We are all small pieces of something great.
PART 2: CAMP
This was the second year of Pink Heart. While there are many groups of friends among the 85 of us, we are a diverse group. Most of us were drawn to the idea of the camp, rather than the group itself. Many of us met for the first time on the Playa. One of the mandatory camp requirements (in addition to financial dues and 2 pink pillows for the dome) is to write a heartfelt & vulnerable introduction. We all share who we really are. Not what we do – but who we ARE. And who we are becoming. It makes the road to Burning Man one of heart opening and connection. By the time we meet each other in the flesh, we already have a bond of the heart. Of all the things that I did as camp leader, this is the thing I am most proud of.
We came from England & all over the US. We were white, black, gay, straight, rich, poor, vegan activists & bacon lovers.
We spent much more energy this year on our private space & camp kitchen – with a mattress, couches, and tons of seating. It was almost always full of dusty smiles and drooling nappers. Often it was more active than our Esplanade public space. The camp meals were new this year and far more bonding than I expected. Seeing loving bonds grow between campmates as the week wore on was a beauty beyond description.
We had a 200×300 foot plot, and our gift to Burning Man was our frontage. We had huge pink shade structures. A plush-filled pink dome. Pink fur couches. Spires. Metal sculpture. A Water Bar with iced cucumber water…and until we ran out, coconut milk ice cream.
The camp mission was to facilitate an environment for heart opening-moments for the people of Black Rock city. Shade, comfortable seating, a view of the playa – and simple gifts of cold nourishment during the hot days. We wanted to be a lighthouse for body, mind and spirit. A place to recalibrate physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
From the reactions of visitors, I think we did an amazing job. I know I felt wonderful in our fuchsia oasis.
Not only was the camp plan realized beautifully, but the individual efforts of Pink Hearters added to the magic in unexpected ways. Christian’s efforts to get the coconut milk ice cream were inspiring. Shawn and her husband made beautiful wooden heart pendant necklaces that delighted so many. And Rob’s remote controlled “Robot Drinking Fountain” was, quite simply, spectacular.
PART 3: EXPERIENCES
My year was much less about wandering into adventures, and more about executing plans. (Or at least as much a “plans” can exist in Black Rock City.)
The camp, itself, was a big one. But so was my Tuesday night performance, a legal wedding, a Hug Nation & the Pink Ride.
On Tuesday night I performed “Cocoon.” My first every attempt at producing, choreographing, and dancing in a public performance. I always talk about how Burning Man is such a supportive environment that it allows you to express your quieted creative impulses. This experience allowed me to walk the talk – and stretch into some uncomfortable – but beautiful – places. Having a partner who encourages fantasies to be expressed, not to mention help them manifest, is one of the greatest gifts I can imagine.
Brandi & I rehearsed once in the default world, but the whole performance had a single rehearsal – on the night of the performance. I am truly blessed to have such amazing friends who brought their talents – and calming energy – to performance night. This was truly a rite of passage for me and I am forever in debt to everyone who – literally – made a dream come true.
The Friday wedding was gorgeous. We arranged camp chairs into rows so that Jawan could walk the “aisle” in her gorgeous gown (with trail.) The guests, including the groom’s parents and favorite aunt, hummed “Here comes the bride” as we all stood.
Their vows brought me to tears. The groom’s mother shared loving words. But the highlight of the ceremony was when it was disrupted. Twice I had to stop the service because loud art cars were rumbling past with blaring beats. And twice the ENTIRE congregation stood and danced during the “disruption.” This was the moment I will remember most from this year’s Burn. A young couple, about to start a life together, stood nervous and excited. And when faced with a huge obstacle in their plan, they embraced it. They didn’t furrow their brow and wish things were different. They rolled with it and danced. May we all live like this…happily every after.
Tuesday’s HugNation and Thursday’s Pink Ride were highlights – not just of the week – but of my life. I felt so connected. So in the Flow. I took my time and shared stories. I cried. I opened my heart. I received so much love back. I probably had more hugs than any other days in my life. I missed the “Who What Where” cutoff, so my events were not publicized. Everyone in attendance had to know about it in advance or make significant effort to be a part. The crowds were large, intimate, and amazing. After I spoke on thursday, as we all got on our bikes, I addressed the pink-clad crowd. I told everyone to say or think loving words and compliments at everyone we passed on the way to center camp. That ride was indescribable. I looked behind me to see 50? 100? more maybe? Tons of people dressed in pink, showering compliments. There was a visual and spiritual ripple of love trailing behind us. I had the thought, “I could die right now,” without a trace of morbidity.
Surrender is always a huge part of my Burning Man learning. While many lamented the car trouble of the Hugmobile, I saw it as a bon voyage gift from Grandpa. “Before you get to the Playa, let me make sure you REALLY understand the importance of surrender.” So many of my well-made plans evaporated with the vapor lock. I was in “float more” mode long before hitting the dust. Couldn’t be more perfectly timed.
I heard the term, “FOMA” (Fear Of Missing Out) lots this year. I had to face that fear quickly and decided that much of my energy this year would go into the camp needs, hosting the camp, and connecting with visitors. I could have been a better delegator, but in the end, I couldn’t have been happier with my choices. I missed out on more than ever. But I received in the most profound ways, too.
“You can’t be liked by everyone.” I know this intellectually to be true, but it was the hardest lesson to embrace this year. Although 99% of my interactions this year were filled with gratitude and Love, I fixated on a few people’s perceptions that were less-than-favorable. I heard 3rd person that I was called arrogant & selfish by some and accused of creating a “cult of John” by another. Unfortunately, I never found out who in my camp was sharing those thoughts. I became self conscious in my camp’s private area – never knowing who of my campmates harbored negativity towards me. The knowledge affected my experience more than I would have liked. I doubt I would have changed my behavior much. I was deeply connected to my role of Service, and if that path rubbed people wrong I was – at least intellectually- okay with it. When a different person shared their frustrations to my face I was deeply grateful. They said, “I don’t want to make you feel bad, but….” I thought about their feedback, considered my motivations, and replied sincerely. “I don’t feel bad. Thank you.”
Finally, I was encouraged & inspired. Such a huge part of my life consists of isolation and interaction via a digital terminal. I get emails with wonderful words, but the energetic jolt from a hug and eye contact is infinitely more powerful. I met people who not only read my book, but loved it! People that had bought many copies as gifts and one firefighter who read a little every night before bed. I met people who credited me with bringing them to burning man…which had then transformed their life. I met met people who felt their lives were happier and more joyful because of my influence. I met people who said I saved their lives. As I type this, I realize they are all just words, again. But something clicked for me. My work & passion had touched people in significant ways. I heard people speak about me as I have spoken about my most significant teachers. If my life of joyful service can have that impact, then my path is right. Then my insecurity and small thinking is not just a personal issue – it is impeding the divine that flows through me. I feel inspired to write more. To reach higher. To connect on a grander scale. But not as a quest for fame – from a role of service.
Jake & I have about 3 Terabytes of video footage and audio interviews from the week to go through. I fluctuate between immense excitement and being overwhelmed. I have a vague idea of what I wanted to create… but the Playa circumstances allowed what it allowed. Perhaps all this footage is just the beginning. Perhaps it was just a learning exercise. Or maybe I’ll find a way to tell the stories I want to tell and share the magic that has transformed me. That continues to transform me. At the very least, I hope I can convey the gratitude. Gratitude for every participant who is a part of the magic. Gratitude for the circumstances that allow me to participate in body, mind, and spirit. And gratitude to everyone who receives and supports my personal path of growth, expression and connection.
Thank you. I love you. Namaste.
p.s. I’m also excited about the future because of the beta launch of a new social network I co-founded, Anybeat. It is built on Burning Man principles and lessons of community learned on the Playa. It is a huge project with huge potential. If you read this far, you can use this special invite code.) See you at Home.