This year I’m doing something different than my usual tradition of pithy punch list of lessons learned to wrap this series of entries up. I’m writing this last entry exactly two weeks after we got home from the burn, because it’s taken me that long to find the time and the energy to write all the previous entries and frankly, I needed a little time to let the lessons and themes clarify and precipitate out. People keep asking me “so how was Burning Man?” and my answer has been pretty shallow (“it was really great and really hot!”) because how it truly was and how I felt about it requires a much more complicated and layered answer and most people really don’t want to stick around to hear all that (but if you’re bothering to read this, maybe you do so I’ll tell you).
So how was Burning Man?
I enjoyed it overall, despite some discomfort with the heat and a few times of crankiness or upset with Josh. I spent some excellent quality time with familiar and unfamiliar PHamily members and felt I had a place and was valued, but didn’t get a chance to go transformatively deep with anyone. I was able to formally express my artist and musician identities by doing my Fly Your Freak Flag High workshop and the Radical Love Ritual and by performing on stage with my handpan at Center Camp, and those things were successful and made me feel recognized and appreciated, at least in a modest way.
I also did a lot of volunteering and a lot of moving from scheduled thing to scheduled thing, pretty much all of which was rewarding in some way (made me feel good about being of service and being able to use my superpowers, and led to some great interactions with interesting random people, which is one of the best parts of Burning Man to me), but it also made the burn feel more like work and like the way I usually operate in the non-Burning Man world, where I am constantly filling my time with things and running from thing to thing that past me has scheduled for future me. Upon reflection, I think I frontloaded my week with too much responsibility because I was trying to keep a couple days open at the end of the week, but that didn’t work out too well. It would have been better for me to break it up more so that each day had a little schedule and a lot of freedom rather than the opposite, so I could keep my time at the burn a little more open and available for spontaneous adventures and connections. I want there to be enough empty time for me to get kind of bored or restless and start looking for things to do and people to talk to, because it is those serendipitous moments that are important and meaningful to me. I did manage some of those this year but wish there had been more. Having some more empty, free time would also have been useful to help me re-learn how to prioritize (and celebrate) my own choices around what I want to do and who I want to be in the moment. That mode of being my authentic self doing what I want to do in every moment is usually something I really treasure about my time at Burning Man, and I think my enthusiasm for wanting to be of service resulted in my not allowing myself enough space for that. Since I know I really am a twinkly bright happy powerful Supernova, the reminder here is that like my astronomical namesake, I’ve got to pull in before I explode out. Here’s to the healing power of contraction and quiet!
Speaking of healing, related to all this is my slowly clarifying realization that healing and grieving both take a long time (longer than my impatient “why can’t I be normal now” self wants them to take, anyway), and that perhaps what I am facing now is another round of the challenge to accept and appreciate what is and where I’m at right now and to trust that “new normal” is okay, even when it’s a moving target. I think I was unconsciously assuming that last burn was the burn for processing all the cancer feels and that this burn would be for other things, and in some ways it was, but in some ways it wasn’t. It appears that I am still struggling with some existential angst around “I could have died but I didn’t; why did I live, and what is the meaning of my life now that I have it (mostly) back?” I didn’t process this angst much (or at least consciously much) at the burn itself, but it’s hit me really hard since I got back, especially when Josh and everyone else hit re-entry with so much to do and so much to take care of that seemed really urgent and important and impactful, whereas my workload seemed like mostly non-urgent parenting and household drudgery that no one really needed or appreciated. I’ll be honest, I had a few pretty bad depressive days last week where I felt pointless and valueless and couldn’t see my own positive contributions to the world, and even questioned whether anyone would really miss me if I were gone. The benefit of hindsight makes me wonder if the over-scheduled, tons of volunteering burn I set up for myself was an unconscious way to try to convince myself that I was needed or impactful. (I know, past me, you were just trying to take care of future me, and I appreciate that. But perhaps we need to be a little more honest and insightful about what’s really going on and what’s really needed. So here you go, future me.)
Which is not to say that I didn’t sometimes take it easy or engage with self-care, because there definitely was some of that (thanks, super hot weather, for reminding me). Resting when I was tired, giving myself water and electrolytes and shade and snacks, spending some time at the Temple, asking for a massage, going out on a few adventures, all this was important. Many of the experiences I’ve had lately (at Gaming Camp before the burn, at various points during the burn, and even during this difficult decompression period) remind me or reaffirm for me that self-care is a necessary, ongoing practice, one that is a blessing, not a burden or a guilt. Self-care leads to self-love and self-love is the foundation of and prerequisite to healing all the other things. (Hi, oxygen mask theory, you’re still here? Ok, fine, come sit down here by me and give me a hug.)
One other theme that seems to have emerged in the writing down of all that happened at this year’s burn is the theme of The Gift of (Perspective Shift). I spent a lot of time gifting perspective shifts to other people, and sitting here two weeks post-burn I feel like I might be finally ready to engage with some of that perspective-shifting gifting myself. Last year brought me new appreciation for “suffering cracks us open and lets the light in” and “no mud, no lotus”; this year (or at least this particular reflective moment) is bringing me “take it easy” (which could also be expressed with the classic Pink Heart saying “float more, steer less”), and “self care comes first”, as well as the related perspective shift reminders of “crap or cone” (e.g. you get what you focus on) and “blessings, not burdens”.
So there are my takeaways from this year’s burn, at least with having had “only” two weeks to process. If you’re still reading this I’m impressed with your powers of concentration and hope that there has been something interesting or relatable in here for you, maybe even something that shifts your perspective. Supernova out!