After a meteorologically and sociologically intense week working at the airport, helping to build out the framework of the city before the event “begins,” the collective switch is thrown that last Sunday of August, and the living beauty emerges, fleshing out the body of Black Rock City like a complex luminescent bloom on some other worldly plane. The wild and magical kingdom arises out of the dust once more, with more than one jolt of lightening, coming alive with wonder and excitement, not so very unlike Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein…
It’s 2013 and my 1st “early arrival” of 9 burns since 1998. A lot has changed in this time, yet Burning Man remains one of the greatest expressions of human creativity, play, ingenuity and celebration of life, love and art on the planet today. Perhaps not for the faint, but wild of heart and free of spirit (or maybe just lunatic.) Things are changing however, with increasing ease, access and comfort for the privileged. And this may not necessarily be a bad thing considering radical inclusion and the influence the experience can not fail to have on any one of us, as individuals, and as a collective subset of humanity. Nevertheless, it has remained the radical self reliance and community in the face of adversity that have been among the core inventives and innervators of the heartbeat of Black Rock City thus far.
Burning man of course represents a large scale resurgence of the timeless pagan sacrificial rite of passage and the release of what no longer serves us – the letting go… But there is a great deal more going on here during this time of quickening [read: tremulous, exponential, global transformation through increasing access to knowledge, decentralized control, innervation of global consciousness – if you like] …
There appear to be two fundamental facets of Burning Man; that represented by The Man – the outward, hedonistic and celebratory exuberance – but the man appears to be more and more the false idol, perhaps attracting those that resonate on that hedonistic frequency of consciousness – mainstream, not necessarily self-aware. No judgement there (I like to party my ass off too.)
And then there’s The Temple at it’s Best – The Temple upholds a silent, reverential and deeply spiritual undercurrent that mediates the raw power manifest by this intentional gathering of so many radical souls. The Temple drops us to our knees with humility and awe. The balance of these two icons and the space between the two phenomena, tends to lift us up, break us down, roll us in the dust and allow the phoenix of the heart-mind to arise from the ragged pile of what’s left of us – renewed. On a good day. Maybe the last day. The bad days can really suck.
Nobody said this shit was easy. The whole event remains a right of passage requiring, for the most part, a pilgrimage into the desert that involves some considerable sacrifice of one kind or another; sustaining the extreme environment for the duration; and upholding oneself, or not, in the face of the absented underpinning of “normal” values, hierarchy, services and moral constraints that we imagine constitute “civilization.”
Yes, indeed, Burning Man presents a many layered, complex phenomenon which challenges our deepest societal conventions, liberating us from “default” consensus behaviors and allowing a less fettered exploration of our humanity. Therein lies it’s considerable beauty, and the blossoming of a unique and playful generosity of spirit. It becomes a surreal collective dreamtime, manifesting and at once vanishing into the dust, for one week of each year.
It’s also a phenomenal clusterfuck of raw unregulated chaos – and this is an edge that a healthy society needs in order to grow and not atrophy in the face of the increasingly manipulated police state of mind that is (America.)
The evolutionary potential in subversion of the status quo presents it’s own challenges, and Burning Man may not survive with it’s integrity intact given the ever increasing consumer and corporate pressures. The threat to the habit of patriarchal dominance and the avarice of law enforcement agencies are also well underway in undermining and suppressing the vitality of this phenomenon.
As it becomes incrementally popular in it’s appeal, demand creating ease and comfort – shortcuts which erode at the phenomenological tensegrity structure of Burning Man – as increasing numbers of VIP’s [sic] fly in via chartered planes – you know, “some men are more equal than others” – the administrata, the well-healed, the celebrity legends-in-their-own-minds in silver lycra pants, furry top hats and LED bling bling overkill, looking cool, keeping fresh in that already waiting class RV and thus the charade becomes a farce of the erstwhile harshly leveling egalitarian nature of desert space-time.
BRC airport is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years as is the increasingly “civilized” core of “the org” or borg as it is affectionately known. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not inherently against comfort and ease – I quite like it myself. All this is an inevitability and there still remains an immense evolutionary potential in spite of the gentrification.
Burning Man and A Pattern Language
A Pattern Language is the seminal work of architect Christopher Alexander et al. (1977) describing a functional system to meet humanistic needs in the design of buildings, the urban environment and vital community. Pattern number 58 “Carnival” is a prescient description of what has organically arisen as the ephemeral Black Rock City.
Just as an individual person dreams fantastic happenings to release the inner forces which cannot be encompassed by ordinary events, so too a city needs its dreams.
Under normal circumstances, in today’s world the entertainments which are available are either healthy and harmless – going to the movies, watching TV, cycling, playing tennis, taking helicopter rides, going for walks, watching football – or downright sick and socially destructive – shooting heroin, driving recklessly, group violence.
But man has a great need for mad, subconscious processes to come into play, without unleashing them to such an extent that they become socially destructive. There is, in short, a need for socially sanctioned activities which are the social, outward equivalents of dreaming.
In primitive societies this kind of process was provided by the rites, witch doctors, shamans. In Western civilization during the last three or four hundred years, the closest available source of this outward acknowledgment of underground life has been the circus, fairs, and carnivals. In the middle ages, the market place itself had a good deal of this kind of atmosphere.
Today, on the whole, this kind of experience is gone. The circuses and the carnivals are drying up. But the need persists. In the Bay Area, the annual Renaissance Fair goes a little way to meet the need – but it is much too bland. We imagine something more along the following lines: street theater, clowns, mad games in the streets and squares and houses; during certain weeks, people may live in the carnival; simple food and shelter are free; day and night people mixing; actors who mingle with the crowd and involve you, willy nilly, in processes whose end cannot be foreseen; fighting -two men with bags on a slippery log, in front of hundreds; Fellini-clowns, death, crazy people, brought into mesh.
Remember the hunchbacked dwarf in Ship of Fools, the only reasonable person on the ship, who says “Everyone has a problem; but I have the good fortune to wear mine on my back, where everyone can see it.”
Set aside some part of the town as a carnival – mad side-shows, tournaments, acts, displays, competitions, dancing, music, street theater, clowns, transvestites, freak events, which allow people to reveal their madness; weave a wide pedestrian street through this area; run booths along the street, narrow alleys; at one end an outdoor theater; perhaps connect the theater stage directly to the carnival street, so the two spill into and feed one another.
Magic Theater: Entrance not for everyone*
All things aside, it must be said, we love mutants, right! Mutants are us! Why we keep returning – because the default world pails in comparison. Thus we remain at the cutting edge of the evolutionary principal and pine for “home” for the remaining 51 weeks of the year. But something else is going on there, and this is where the greater evolutionary potential seems to present us with it’s cosmic trickery. We have all experienced serendipitous synchronicities at one time or another in our lives – chance encounters or occurrences that facilitate connection or make us simply stop and wonder at the apparent divine matrix of things. Haven’t we? I know I have – and here’s the thing – the frequency of these phenomenon appears accelerated during Playa space-time. I have come to consider this a function of the intentional gathering of so many radical and liberated spirits creating a vortex in the collective psyche or noosphere (or whichever holy field of consciousness you might subscribe to) at this otherwise remote and (relatively) radio silent environment.
Meetings with extra-ordinary people we might encounter on passing through the labial opening of a furry tent on some lesser back street of the city of mayhem, or on some great unreal sculpted scintillating steel dragon, cruising across the deep playa with a transcendental party elevating consciousness rhythmically inside the belly of this wondrous mechanical beast – and the hand that helped haul us in belongs to someone we are destined to meet and somehow our view of the world is changed for ever by so much serendipity. Connections that facilitate a quantum leap in awareness or realization of a dream state.
I sat in meditation at the base of “The Temple of Dreams” a number of years ago, feeling a little adrift, when a small plaque fell from above, into my lap. I looked up. Nothing and no one there to cause a disturbance in the field. I looked down at the piece of wood in my lap and it was inscribed with two scripts – one appearing to be an elegant archaic cuneiform script. The other in English said:
“Listen to your dreams
and follow your nomadic heart.
Work hard for what you believe
and you will find yourself
where you want to be.”
This certainly struck a personal chord, and taking it to heart, facilitated an advance in my life journey. Such is the way of the Playasphere – the Playa prompts and provides in unexpected ways.
As Above, So Below:
Wherever we find ourselves in the world, the same opportunities for growth may present themselves if we chose to rise to the challenge. Working at the airport encampment this year after recent changes in
“leadership,” there appeared to be gaps to be filled, and quite a bit of subliminal alpha male posturing to fill the void ensued along with other tentative egalitarian antics in the absence of a clear direction. Nevertheless, the airport came together (becoming the 3rd busiest in the state for the duration) mostly falling back on the individual experience of veterans – but there didn’t seem to be any cohesive integrity in these machinations.
And in this place of instability and general lack of “normal” patriarchal dominant hierarchy and structure, lies the great potential. And this appears to be apparent through a great many camps on the playa – heat stressed, leadership challenged, ego posturing, but an unstated eagerness to push through. It’s up to us though – to listen deeply together, to recognize and revere this opportunity in each other – this is the overriding undercurrent of the playasphere. In allowing the feminine principal to find it’s balance and the egalitarian nature of the higher human mind to prevail, we can move beyond the old world paradigm that has had a hold on us for most of recorded history. Are ya with me? Can we do this? Make sitting down together and communicating from an equal, progressive, reverential, solutions oriented, listening focused circle a priority. Can we put our egocentric agendas to the side and bring our hearts to the fore to celebrate and create a breeding ground for a quantum leap forward? Fuck knows – but I’m all in.
As I continue my decompression from the burn – the ephemeral land of the extra-ordinary – beauty, magic and madness… society untethered mid the burning edge of modern art, I continue processing, writing, reevaluating everything in the solitary light of divine madness – in that state of post burn liberation – I feel as if in a state of grace. It’s my personal intention to maintain and carry this forward as best I can in the face of the fading of experience and the pressures to conform to the established order of things.
Meanwhile, until the next frolic on the playa, I found these excerpts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein presented on some quiet corner out there – Shelley might indeed have garnered such emergent inspirations from experiences at Burning Man.
A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt, at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses.
No distinct ideas occupied my mind; all was confused. I felt light, and hunger, and thirst, and darkness; innumerable sounds rung in my ears, and on all sides various scents saluted me: the only object that I could distinguish was the bright moon, and I fixed my eyes on that with pleasure.
…I presently found a great alteration in my sensations. Before, dark and opaque bodies had surrounded me, impervious to my touch or sight.
Soon a gentle light stole over the heavens, and gave me a sensation of pleasure. I started up, and beheld a radiant form rise from among the trees. I gazed with a kind of wonder. It moved slowly, but it enlightened my path…