We pulled into what would soon become Black Rock City just as the sun went down on Tuesday, nearly a week before the festival would actually begin.
Fei Fei, my soul sister and partner in crime through many adventures (and many lifetimes) had driven with me for 3 days and 2 nights, stopping off to get supplies and do silly things along the way. By the time we arrived on the playa, we were tired of sitting in the car and ready to get to work helping to build our little part of a city. ("Playa" is defined as "an area of flat, dried-up land, especially a desert basin from which water evaporates quickly." The word is used to refer to the land that Burning Man is held on. It is unlike any other place I've ever been, and the soft, white, ultrafine sand reminds me of bone dust.)
Ours was the third car to have arrived for our camp, which would eventually boast 180 people and some beautiful structures. When we got there, we initially met a couple of golden-haired and beautiful soul brothers who would be overseeing the building team over the next several days.
"Believe it or not, this is my favorite part of the burn," Jesse said. Then he described the earthy, grounded, sacred feeling of watching Black Rock City rise around us as we focused on constructing our own camp over the course of the next several days.
I was in. Tired, but in.
The building projects would start tomorrow.
Fei Fei and I reclined our seats, bundled up in the faux fur blankets we'd brought and slept in the car.
Dawn's light woke me the next morning. I strapped my blue yoga mat onto my shoulder and walked far enough away from any other people who had come for the early arrival build week to feel my aura freely expand. Then I went through my morning flow routine - or tried to, that is, because small, green, super cute bugs kept landing on me and my stuff. They reminded me of the harmless "thorn bugs" I saw as a child often, and I wondered where they got their sustenance in the desert. While yes, they were cute, and no, they didn't bite, about 10 of them landed on me so I'll admit that my yoga and meditation session was cut short after I had my fill of tiny things buzzing past my ears and tickling me as they landed. I sent some gratitude to the playa and the planet for this unique experience, put on my boots, rolled up my mat, and crunched back to our camp's area over the white, crusty playa surface. (Fei Fei was commenting daily on how much it reminded her of the surface of a giant brownie as we walked around - I don't think I'll ever forget that.)
Then commenced several days of building stuff. More people arrived all the time. That morning we began to unload the "Mayflower," a huge shipping container that held poles for building our teepee and tents, lots of bikes to loan out to people in our camp, big water containers to be filled later, filtered, and used throughout the week, and various other supplies that we worked as a team to unload.
The kind of camaraderie we built while working together gave me an entirely different experience of this year's burn. Last year, my first year, I felt like an observer. The energy on the playa is intense. Lots of people are feeling lots of things. Black Rock City, a temporary city with a population of 70,000, is wild and magical and huge - you can find anything there. I've only ever felt physically safe while exploring, but the sheer amount of emotions and energies flying around was really overwhelming to me the first time I came. This year, in contrast, I connected with more people who felt like soul family to me in my first 24 hours on the playa than I did over the entire week last year. And the energetic container given to me in those human connections, as well as the grounding I felt after helping with build and also doing the other jobs I volunteered for during the week, provided a sense of purpose and a place for me to focus. I wasn't just drifting around, looking at epic random art, and feeling overwhelmed. I had stuff to do. For me, that felt better than being a "consumer" of the giant festival.
Build week was fun, educational, and exhausting. Tempers flared sometimes. I had my first playa cry after dropping a heavy carpet and skinning my knee while hurrying to help unload part of the Mayflower so our water tanks could be uncovered and filled, while the guys delivering the water waited impatiently (though they weren't unfriendly - there were just lots of people waiting for water in the desert and they felt the pressure of helping them. Usually the rule is to bring your own supplies to Burning Man, but part of the perks of belonging to a camp is that sometimes things are provided to you, like food or water. My camp, Heart Tribe, had a steam room and an incredible vegan chef. We also had filtered water for our campers.)
As the days passed, Black Rock City turned from a crunchy, bare, brownie-feeling white crust beneath our feet into a honest-to-goodness city. I was astounded at the creativity and engineering that went into creating the epic structures that are commonplace as you ride your bike or walk around.
I got used to using the porta potties within the first day or two. They are kept surprisingly clean, considering... and the most inconvenient thing about using them is the 3ish minute walk it takes to get there.
Burning Man is a detrigger-er. Basically any hang-ups you have will be brought up for you to look at, evaluate, and release if you want to. Nudity and puritanical sexual hangups are hugely detriggered there. And speaking of porta potties, many people are freaked out by bathroom stuff. By the end of the week, seeing other people's poo won't gross you out, if it did to begin with. Ah, the stinky smell of freedom from mind cages. It's nice.
Once the actual festival began, so did the work that I'd been looking forward to for months.
Our Healing Sanctuary was open!
One of the offerings that our camp, Heart Tribe, gifted to the larger Burning Man community was a Healing Sanctuary. This was a big beautiful tent made of stretched fabric and blocked off from the main drive running in front of our camp. Every day from 2-6pm, healers from Heart Tribe (and sometimes other camps) volunteered to come to the Healing Sanctuary and offer their gifts. We had craniosacral therapists, massage therapists, Lomi Lomi practitioners, acupuncturists, energy workers, chiropractors, sound healers, a sacred indigenous plant medicine shaman who gave a sound healing and life-changing tobacco ceremony to each person who visited her, and a Listening Angel, a beautiful woman dressed all in white with piercing blue eyes and lovely big feathered wings, who would sit and listen to you talk about whatever you wanted to let out for fifteen minutes.
At the beginning of each of our Healing Sanctuary days, we set out a scheduling board, and burners could come sign up for the healing modality and time slot that most called out to them. We filled up every day, sooner each day as the week progressed. The waiting area was a mound of soft things to lay on and electric buffers to relax muscles with. It was amazing.
For my part, I charged the space with healing energy throughout each day's open times, started each day by leading our Sanctuary healers through a guided meditation connecting them with their personal guides and ancestors, the knowledge keepers of their healing lineages, the energies working to heal and uplift on the playa, and the guides of the people coming in to be healed. It was my intention that each of our healers walk away from his or her shift feeling expanded, energized, and like his or her own healing practice got an upgrade from working in the Sanctuary. From time to time, I would practice energy work on the healers in the sanctuary too, as they worked. And occasionally I had clients I would work on directly, though not often (and each time I did - wow. It really was a sacred space in there, and a powerful opportunity to hold that focused vibration in the midst of tens of thousands of people doing other stuff.)
In my opinion, we succeeded in really creating another dimension in our Healing Sanctuary - even though only thin layers of fabric separated us from the rest of the playa's beautiful madness.
I was so grateful to be able to be a part of that. It was mind blowing. And I heard some cool stories and saw some cool things happen in the Sanctuary. We kept the energy there clean and sacred. The feeling of a Divine Calling washed through me every day as the entire Sanctuary, under my care, felt like an expression of one of my chakras - either my third eye chakra, or my heart chakra. It was intense, and beautiful, and activating.
Another perk of running the Healing Sanctuary was that I got to interact with folks in ways I may not have otherwise. I can be pretty shy in groups sometimes, and having a Healer "hat" I was invisibly wearing gifted me the opportunity to connect way more.
Our camp and the people in it also shared love beautifully - our name was Heart Tribe and we acted that way. Any group will have their ups and downs and occasional issues when crammed that close together for days and days, but generally, the emotions floating around our space were beautiful.
I got to express a whole side of myself that I usually keep protected and hidden from everyone except my closest friends and family. As the days passed, I felt expanding levels of affection and connection coursing through me. And one of the MOST beautiful things about Burning Man is the way that people will RECEIVE love. In the "other world" as I called it during the burn, if I ran up to someone I'd only just met the day before and gave them a big, long hug and a kiss on the cheek, I wouldn't have known what they'd think of that. Maybe they'd be offended. Maybe they'd think that my actions indicated an interest I wasn't feeling, sexual or otherwise. But the thing about Burning Man is that if you want to have sex, there are plenty of people there who will be willing to roll around in the dust with you. So you don't need to feel grabby or sticky about it. That also means that I could give out cheek kisses and sink into yummy platonic snuggles as much as I wanted to and not ever feel like I was sending confusing messages - it was totally okay to exchange friendly physical love in an open, non sexual way. And people received it, as well as giving it back to me. I was reminded of what I felt like as a very little girl, maybe 3 years old, just existing as a ball of love and smiles and authenticity. It was soooooo wonderful. That, to me, was the best part. And it's something I'm making it a point to carry into my "other world" life, now that I'm back here with running water and electronics and my cat. I want to keep that delicious, clean love.
If you've gotten this far, I'll talk about the stuff that I anticipate people asking about. Drugs. Sex. Craziness. That kind of thing.
Ok, here we go.
No, I didn't have crazy sex on playa. My then-boyfriend was back home, choosing not to go to the burn this year, and that gave me an awesome combination of an independent feeling of individuality and also a connection to someone elsewhere which simplified energy lines running to and through me concerning other people. Of course I met folks I was attracted to and vice-versa. Burning Man is overflowing with magic, and beautiful people are biking around in abundance. Me being me, I of course met people I've known in other lives, including one beautiful man who I remembered being married to thousands of years ago. My heart expanded in delicious waves as I remembered sailing with him through moonlit waters in the northern parts of the world and braiding magic spells of protection and clarity into his beard in those times.
Did it mean that I was going to end my relationship at home and run off with him? Nope. Was it a super magical connection? Yep. Did I tell my boyfriend all about it as it was happening, making sure that he was comfortable with what I was experiencing? Of course. (There was occasional cell service on playa this year, which was cool and weird, but there were definitely perks of being connected, like that one.)
I served as a healer and oracle a lot, in and outside of the sanctuary. Fei Fei and I separated at night a lot - sometimes on purpose, sometimes not, and every time we met back up in our space age hexayurt made out of silvery insulation boards, she told me some kind of epic story about a soul sister or brother she met, or someone she brought to tears by seeing deep into their hearts and reflecting back their essential, beautiful nature to them.
We watched people spin fire almost nightly, seeing some incredibly talented folks that made us cheer and clap while they meditatively moved through their beautiful flaming dances.
And while yes, of course, there is everything available on the playa while it comes to sex and connection, like in ANY city of 70,000 people, I found the saying "your vibe attracts your tribe" really true here. What you want, no, what you NEED, will find you. So if you know yourself, or learn yourself with presence, awareness, and non judgment, then you can walk away enhanced and blessed.
Ok, on to the next hot topic - Drugs.
I'm a firm believer that there is a time and place for everything under the sun. That said, my intuition and clarity of thought/emotion is what feeds me in a very real sense, so I can't screw around with my brain chemicals that much. But yes, back to that whole time and place thing - Burning Man is DEFINITELY the time and place to experiment, safely, with substances. My standards being what they are, I am really mindful about what I try and where I get it while I'm there. This is the place to bring that tiny one hit of LSD you've had hidden in your cabinet for months, or the little baggie of magic mushrooms that you were gifted weeks ago and it was never the right time to use (both of which were true for me.) I'm a big fan of micro dosing, however - especially when in an environment as intense as Burning Man. So when I did use a substance, I did it in a deliberate, conscious, sacred way, setting intentions before imbibing, doing this with people I loved and trusted, and allowing myself to experience the "trip" as if I was journeying into another dimension to learn and experience new things that would educate me - which is true.
Once, on a half dose of mushrooms, I went to a beautiful dance party at another camp where fire dancers were performing and a world renowned DJ was playing music. It was late at night and the people around me started to transform into beautiful monsters in my eyes. From my peripheral vision, their faces would have different planes and angles than what I would expect to see on a human. When I would look directly, they'd be back to homo sapiens, but after this happening a few times, I got used to it, just considering myself to be taking a tour into the Underworld for the current hour. This is what the past 2-3 years of love-based Shadow Integration has taught me - just because something LOOKS intense or unfamiliar, that doesn't mean that I should fear it or consider it something that means to cause me harm. Plus, if I was surrounded by other worldly beings, in a dimension with them, doesn't that mean that I would have to be one of them, too? At least just then? That perspective changes things.
During a music performance that night a woman sang in a haunting, magical voice. During an intense phrase she cupped her right hand in front of her, reaching her arm out, fingertips pointed up, her body leaning forward, feeling the emotion of the song's crescendo. My eyes flashed into another dimension for that moment and I saw the singer's eyes glow yellow white, her fingers sharpen and become long claws that reminded me of Sekhmet, the Egyptian warrior healer Cat goddess who will rip away anything you no longer need that is slowing your growth.
In a fast moment of "whoa!" shock, I looked left and right at the people dancing around me. They were all flashing into other beings too - intense and powerful, and, if I chose to be in a place of fear, scary - but since I was feeling safe and empowered, remembering that my reality is a reflection of myself, always, I had the lucidity to not be swept away by an intense or surprising vision. I instead FELT around me, and was certain, then and there, that no matter what the people around me LOOKED like, what they actually wanted was just to have a good time, dance, love, and enjoy the party. Nothing to be afraid of.
(I have heard lots of people talking about the spiritual dark side of Burning Man. Here's the thing. It's a city of 70,000! Show me a city that large where dark wasn't happening. But there is also SO much light, SO much magic, SO much healing and connection and fate and synchronicity.... and the dark side of Burning Man just shows you what YOU need to see and face within yourself. We are all made of light and shadow. That's how you get matter. That's how you get color, and rainbows. So from the perspective of a natural shaman, energy healer lightworker, and general dimension-jumper such as myself, I'm telling you that if you don't go in to this experimental event with a perspective of fear, then you will experience some amazing things. If you do fear, you'll still see some amazing stuff, but you'll tell different stories about it afterward...)
Ok, to close up this super long blog entry now...
Toward the second half of the week I realized I was working too hard. I was constructing each of my days entirely around what was happening in the Healing Sanctuary. I wasn't focusing as much on my personal needs, and I wasn't spending hardly any time at all playing. And playing is, I believe, the true point of Burning Man. The whole place is a huge grown-up's sand box, for goodness' sakes!
My final lesson came at 4am when I was going to see a friend spin fire and when Fei Fei and I dragged ourselves out of bed in the dark to watch our super magical goddess sister use the dragon staff to make visual fiery art. Still sleepy, I took a ride over to the porta potties in the dark. On the way back, I was pedaling hard, trying to get my blood pumping so I could wake up and warm up, and BAM. I hit a piece of wood that I didn't see until too late with my little head lamp, and I, as well as my bike, went flying. I still have the bruises on my legs to remind me to slllooooowww down. I knew that day that it was time to take some breaks.
So I did. I biked away from my camp on the last day to go sight see, but I just fell asleep for those few hours instead. That was still good, but next year I'll balance work and play a little bit better.
That said, I don't regret a thing. This year was life changing, as always. As I write this, I've been back at home for about 5 days, and life feels different. I spend some mental energy each day on not cementing myself back into the mental shackles of what it means to be "responsible" and "work hard" that I broke out of on the playa, choosing instead to align myself with working when I'm inspired and being yes, responsible, but also human, and magical, and loving with not only others, but myself in the new ways I learned during that epic week.
I'm excited to see how this new world works.
As above, so below.
Burner blessings to you! And a big hug! And a kiss on the cheek!