Burning Man: Summer Camp on another planet.

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We have all had that one magical summer, or school year, where the stars seemed to align.  You were comfortable in your own skin, your friends seemed to really “get” you, and just loved everything about you.  And you loved them right back. Unabashedly.  Or you were stuck together, unlikely mates, and from there…opened up to the possibility of friendship, which became exactly that.  Unexpectedly is sometimes the best way.  Oh… and the work – whatever it was – math or canoeing or crafts – that came easy too.  It all felt effortless.  The sun shined.  The water was cool.  The wind blew through fields and forests. And you had the whole world at your feet.  Maybe you were 10 years old, and ruling the elementary school.  Maybe you were 19, and you had all the opportunity but none of the responsibility of being an adult.

You hold onto the feelings those memories conjure, because it felt so good.  And just like the bad passes, so too, does the good.  But oh!!! how good it was, when it was good.  Nostalgia doesn’t even need to rose color these moments.  You almost knew how good you had it, when you had it.  Almost.

Have you been to Burning Man?  If you have, then you know.  It’s that same kind of easy magical connection you experienced at summer camp.  Did you think that was possible as an adult?  I didn’t.  There are endless examples of the sheer wonder of Burning Man. A lot of folks are currently writing about it; trying hard to capture the essence of the event – for themselves, and for the people who haven’t been yet.  You dream of a couch to lie on (in the desert, yet!), and you turn your head…BAM…there’s that couch you were looking for.  You wish you had a freshly grilled hotdog, and not five miniutes later, you bike by the “Americana” tent and they are grilling up hotdogs.  The term for this, at Burning Man, is called “The Playa provides”.  The Playa is the affectionate term for the desert.  Or home to 70,000 people during the one week that is Burning Man.  It isn’t a beach. It’s a desert.  And like the universe, this desert provides.  It provides exactly what we need.  That means there are sand storms, and dante’s inferno-like heat mid day, and unsanitary port-o-potty’s…however, it also delivers you to exactly who you need, when you need, where you need.  It can be painful.  You ego and your affection for creature comforts will reject and fight like hell.  Because our egos know what’s best for us…or so we tell ourselves.  The first year I went, we had a blinding sand storm at night, and I vowed to hop on a plane out as soon as first light hit the playa.  (I didn’t. My temper tantrum passed. And quite frankly, I’m not sure who’s plane i was going to use? Maybe Mark Zuckerberg’s?).  The cool thing about slogging through the tough parts of Burning Man is…along with surprise hotdogs and couches, you receive open hearted, warm kindness and generosity from strangers who wouldn’t dream of calling themselves strangers.  They are friends.  And family.  They welcome you home (literally).  And like summer camp, it’s all in the present tense…no cell phones, no screens, no social media, only real time connections, serendipity, and your craziest costume.  So while everything is a little harder, it also becomes a little bit more worthwhile.  And because you don’t have your head buried in a screen, you never miss a magical moment.

Interestingly, while the luxuries we take for granted (which make life “easier”) like transportation & technology & basic running water  – not having those might make Burning Man tougher (I’m looking at all the women who say they “don’t camp”)…. BUT… the things that have become increasingly allusive and difficult to capture in “real life” – connecting deeply with others or getting satisfaction from who you are rather than what you do, for example – those become effortless at Burning Man.

The last day of Burning Man this year I biked (you bike everywhere.  Like a 10 year old!) to a Sisterhood workshop, where I both listened and participated in genuine sharing by women who had one thing in common — a desire to connect openly with other women.  The authenticity and vulnerability was awe inspiring.  No one talked about what they did for a living or where they were from – to find common ground.  Each woman spoke about fears and questions around identity, uncertainty, death, being a good mom, and we all could connect at this core level.  Even as ‘strangers’.  I then biked on and ran into a makeup artist who gave me gorgeous purple face/eye paint.  Then I met up with my boyfriend and we went to the famous steam bath.  Yep, people come to the hottest place on earth and then chose to take a steam!  You patiently wait your turn (they offer snow cones while you wait!) and then enter with 15 others into the hottest sauna on earth.  The incredible heat of this enclosed space physically breaks down all your barriers and walls (if the amazing warmth of the people hasn’t done so already!!). Several people sing or chant, and the experience feels close to sacred.  Did I mention, everyone is naked?

That all happened in the space of one afternoon.

And just like every year, at some point on the last day…I begin to cry.  As if I am driving away from summer camp, with no real certainty of ever seeing these special friends again, or of experiencing this kind of enchantment again.

Until next year.

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