There was a night in early spring when I woke at 3 a.m. feeling hypersensitive.
I felt a tugging on my heartstrings, a sudden burst of inspiration and urgency. I casually found myself looking for tickets to Burning Man that night.
I’d first heard of it eight years ago, when I was 17. I always told myself I’d go eventually, but life presented lots of new transitions during these years—a daughter, many passions, travel, and so on.
During my first day on the playa, I was feeling observant and reserved. I was missing my daughter, and had things pulling at me from every direction back in Colorado. I had a major trip to Africa coming up in just a few weeks and my mind was heavy with chatter.
I decided to visit the Temple of Whollyness. I felt it would be a place where I could find nourishment during this emotional turmoil. I wanted to let go.
Immediately upon entering, there was a heaviness in the air; it was thick with emotion and awareness. The moment you crossed the threshold, there was a rippling inward, an inversion and an anchored central point. There were sniffles, whimpers, sobs, wandering feet shifting through rolling sand.
I watched a woman, hidden beneath her goggles and bandana, scribble words onto the wall. She paused to weep, collected herself, and burst into soft sobs as she finished the passage of her message—knowing that it would burn. Words impermanent and fleeting. Sacred space.
There was a calmness, a deep respect among those mourning and those meditating; a charge of electric empathy, an energetic nostalgia in the eye of a dust storm. I’d found a resounding peace.
I stayed for hours.
After leaving that space the first time, I felt even more introverted. I wanted quietness. I wanted to nap. Apparently I came to Burning Man to be the opposite of what I am in my daily life. I’m usually expansive and laughing boisterously, but on the playa, I felt emotionally sensitive and raw.
I went into it thinking I’d be rowdy and thunderous, instead I was just there. I found myself feeling overwhelmed with affection—I wanted to touch and love on everything and everyone, but was unintentionally still instead.
The temple was one place I visited nearly every day. Why don’t we have these temples scattered throughout the world? Why can this oasis for the heavy-hearted only be found in Black Rock City?
The temple is something that’s necessary for human evolution, for the processing of grief and the recognition and re-evaluation of one’s own sorrows. In order to embrace and release, we need a physical manifestation of the holy—an intended site to pour forth and then set ablaze.
I may have spent a large portion of each day meditating in this space, but when it came time for the temple burn, I was already on the road home, for various personal reasons.
I can only imagine what it must be like, year after year, burn after burn. The intensity of the release the temple burn brings; a transient gem on the playa. It should be an annual ritual in many cultures, a rite of passage, a human liberation.
For me, since the burn, I’ve had more vivid dreams than I’ve had in years. I’ve awoken before dawn to see shimmering playa dust coating my bedroom, only to wake again when the sun has risen to find nothing there. I find myself filled with intensity and gratitude at random moments. The inspiration and motivation that came from that week is still filling me in waves and moving me toward my trip to Uganda.
I’ll absolutely be making it to the playa every year from here on out, universe allowing. Next year will undoubtedly be a radically different experience…
Assuming it always is.
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Edited by: Ben Neal