After almost a year of rambling, I entered Burning Man different than in the past.
My first immersion in the playa in 2011 was simply overwhelming. Your senses are assaulted on every front and your moods and emotions can be on a roller coaster. The photos in my prior post gave you a sense of the visual stimulation, the festival atmosphere and the frenetic pace but, trust me, they don’t convey a fraction of the reality.
You turn yourself over to the experience. In fact, the community has its own lexicon that reflects the unique landscape, culture and character of the event. You start referring to Burning Man as “home” and the world outside its boundaries as the “default world.” You adopt (or are given) a playa name reflecting an alternate persona.
Burning Man taught me many things. It taught me to be present. One midweek afternoon several years ago when I was dusty and sweltering and feeling sorry for myself I had one of those experiences of serendipity when a campmate took me on an adventure. Who would believe that I could go from exhaustion to exhilaration from being disheartened to joyful within a matter of minutes.
In my prior years, I also exalted in taking campmates out for nights filled with dancing and partying as we went from one rave and camp to another. For those of you who have been out with me on a three-bar night, you have a sense of the pace and the delight that I take from these quests.
This time, I was more introspective. I’ve had a year to decompress from work so I didn’t need to blow off steam. I’ve also spent time reflecting. With my close friends that have joined me in prior trips to the playa remaining at home this year, I had the freedom to let the pace of the day evolve, to participate in some of the camps running meditation sessions and other spiritual offerings, to listen to more of the lectures and performances at the Center Camp, and to simply absorb rather than orchestrate the experiences of others.
I also became more rebellious. I dropped my playa name since I didn’t feel the need for a different personality or persona. And while I fully embraced much that Burning Man has to offer, I also rejected the terms home and default world.
If there is one lesson, I’ve gained from my months of rambling it is a true sense of home. It was only deepened in my time in Colorado last month. Linda, Jane and Leah all came out for a weekend in Denver. The precipitating factor was the opportunity to see a concert by Brandi Carlile at Red Rocks Amphitheater. Before I go on, let me simply state that everyone should see a concert at Red Rocks. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, it is simply breathtaking and, according to Rolling Stone, is the best concert venue in the nation. Everyone also should see Brandi Carlile in concert. Whether you characterize her music as pop, rock, alternative country, or folk, her ballads can tear at your heart and her performances are so energetic they will sweep you away.
But let me get back to my topic. Being together as a nuclear family for that weekend was truly magical. Being in a loving family is the definition of home from my perspective. We had fun tubing down a river in Golden Colorado, imbibed at a number of brewpubs, and had some fantastic meals including a memorable one at Linger. We were wowed by our night at Red Rocks when Brandi seemed to be singing just to us at moments in the evening.
Most important, however, we had time together. We shared our joys and struggles. We embraced in pairs and as a group and we gathered strength from our history together and our love. The great thing about family, whether defined by genetics or chosen on your journey through life, is that you can reveal your inner self. At places like Burning Man you have the joy and opportunity to test out different skins as you try to refine how you define yourself. With the lifetime that you share with family, you inevitably unveil your inner self, even the flaws. And, in the best of families, you are loved despite those flaws, or, perhaps, because those flaws reflect the struggle that we all share and the striving to be our better selves.
Home is family. Family is home.