Monday, September 10, 2012

I'm back from Burning Man. Again. And I'm reeling.

Whenever I come back from an intense journey - as when I came back from my monthlong retreat to New Orleans a little over a year ago - I dread the inevitable question from well-meaning people: "So, how was it?" There's nothing wrong with this question, of course, but it's impossible to answer in a short sound bite. How was it? Well, here are a few descriptors:

Gorgeous. Dusty. Complicated. Exhausting. Scary. Adventurous. Surprising. Difficult. Dusty. Wonderful. Draining. Challenging. Entertaining. Dusty. Glittery. Fiery. Cold. Hot. Dusty. Inspiring. Disappointing. Exciting. Dusty. And did I mention Windy?

I'm not sure if it's possible to explain to someone who's never claimed Burning Man as part of their culture (by this I mean: someone who's gone more than once and who participates in the community even off the playa, who looks forward to going year after year and who includes it as part of their life) why we do this crazy thing: go out to the desert with camping gear and a cooler full of food, dress up in weird outfits, dance in the cold, get altered, and spend the rest of the year trying to get the dust out before doing it all again.

I've been back for five days and I've been severely depressed since the morning after my return. Wonderful friends had taken care of my cats and plants and home while I was gone for most of 2 weeks, but I came back to a feeling of deep loneliness. I felt like the only people who understood or cared about my experience were scattered throughout the country, and I had nobody who understood who could wrap their arms around me and lie with me to help keep the cold out. I cried to a loving, special Burner friend on the phone more than once about my loneliness, while pretending to everyone else that everything was OK. I lay in bed for the better part of 4 days, shaking with night sweats and other flu-like symptoms and watched movies and season 4 of Breaking Bad. My cat clung to me at night like a little furry baby, and I gained some comfort from him. At a couple of social gatherings, I watched myself keeping careful distance from people; my skin felt so thin that I halfway suspected people could actually see my nerves through it.  I've never been good at projecting my voice, but lately my voice seems to have crawled back up under my breastbone to hide, and I can't cough it out.

I came back to the things that used to shore me up seeming boring and inconsequential. I came back to regrets about things I did and didn't do on the playa. Within a day I wanted to go back, even though, after nearly two weeks there, I had wanted nothing more on the last day than to be back in my clean house in an environment where green things grew. As the kids would say: WTF??!

Today I realized, at least in part, what's been happening with me: That my experiences on the playa had stripped me of all my preconceived notions of who I was, had shown me the reality of the situation: that all my stories about myself and others are just there as a distraction. When the stories and fantasies get stripped away what we do we have? Only our innocent flawed, complicated, boring, fascinating, fearful, joyful, fumbling, humble selves.

A Good Buddhist would say, of course, that this is the most blessed place to be: the place where there's no ground under our feet. Personally, I say it feels like shit even as I - counseled by my wise (and wise-ass) friend - do my best to sit with it, even enjoy it as the transformative experience the person I was before I went to the playa would have believed it could be.

Even Burners don't want to hear this stuff: that reentry or decompression - as we call this period - can be difficult. We're told we're focusing on the negative if we admit that we had anything but a fabulicious time on the playa. Of course I've never shied away from communicating my struggles, even though I've repeatedly been called crazy and depressive for doing so, and this time is no different. if you're struggling like I am and reentry has been difficult for you, let me reassure you that you're not alone. And that we'll get through this.

And why DO we do this anyway? I do it because Burning Man pushes my limits like no other place on earth. It's a crucible, not just a playground. It's a deep valley of self-exploration, not just a huge rave. Also there are glittery things and a lot of things get put on fire (including, as it turns out, my hair when I spun fire before the Man burned.) Or wait, maybe I really don't know why I do this. Maybe I'm just a masochist.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine's Day Musing

It's that day. The day when single people who think about such things, or even some people who pretend we don't, grumble and gripe and pretend to be cynical about love, and those of us in relationships that aren't perfect do the same. I wonder if there are more fights between couples than normal on this day, as we take turns disappointing one another by not giving gifts or the right gifts, but not taking our lover to the right restaurants, by not proclaiming our love enough or in the right ways. Boy, what a ridiculous day! And most of us understand that Valentine's Day is merely an economic tool designed to make money for card companies, candy makers, and flower sellers, but even when we pretend not to care, many of us do. In my neighborhood, every street corner has sprung up with makeshift booths offering gigantic plush teddy bears in pink, white, and red, bouquets of carnations and roses shipped from Mexico, and piles of pink, white and red heart tchotchkes. I suppose the booths are there for the men who forgot to buy their lady something for the day and are now terrified of her wrath should they come home empty-handed.

But, as we all know, a day is what we make of it. I've always loved the heart symbol. I collect them. I have a bag full of heart-shaped rocks that I've found. I even have a string of mardi gras beads that are heart-shaped that I found in New Orleans a couple of years ago. Today is the day of the heart symbol. It's everywhere. Yes, it may be a day where we feel pressured to buy things to prove to our loved ones how we feel about them, but it's a day - regardless of why it came to be or who benefits financially - where we celebrate love.

Love, as we also all know, is wider than the love between a couple of people who have sex together. We also feel love for our families, friends, pets, plants, the planet. Love is everywhere. It's in the art we see around us, the music we listen to, and the books we read. No act of creativity comes without love. No act of kindness does, either. So today, can those of us who can see beyond the media and retail hype of this day use the ubiquitous heart symbols to remember to appreciate and generate love of all kinds? Try a smile at a stranger. Try forgiving someone something, just for today. You can pick a fight with them tomorrow. Try letting go of bitterness about yet another "how I met the love of my life" commercial on TV. Try laughter. Try calling someone you've been meaning to call for ages, and just asking them how they are (and meaning it.) Create something and dedicate it to love. Just find ways to generate love today. And possibly, that love will last until tomorrow, and the next day, and to the ends of time. But start today.