Burning Man began beckoning me long before I was sure I’d ever end up on the playa.
For years I heard adventures from friends who had made their way to this distant, dusty place and came home with tales of life-altering adventures and pictures more radical than Halloween.
This year, however, I knew people who had spent thousands of dollars and many hours in creating a theme camp and art car to take to Black Rock City. I was caught up in the excitement of this journey these friends were about to embark on and felt myself yearning to go, with a deep, deep desire to know of this rite of passage—Burning Man.
With less than two weeks until my departure, I bought my $300 ticket and asked friends for help locating a ride. I put my faith in leaping into the unknown, and read my survival guide. This would be the first lesson of the playa: to follow my heart’s desire, whatever crazy place it may seem to lead, and trust that I am always taken care of. People speak of the playa in this way , saying such things as, “I don’t know why the playa has brought you here this way, but She has.” I think it is the fact that this gypsum desert is an ancient sea floor and she is wise, and alive, and she has secrets to tell you.
The day we arrived at the gates to Black Rock City was naked greeting day.
All the people at the gates were completely nude. They were kind and friendly as they asked us if we had feathers or glitter in our car, things that would end up as MOOP (Matter Out Of Place). Then, they asked us if we were virgins. My friend Benjamin and I confessed that yes we were. The naked man asked us to pull the car over and get out. Benjamin and I did as we were told, though we were both apprehensive.
What would they do to us? The man walked up and asked us to take turns ringing a bell and yelling out, “I’m not a virgin anymore!” Following that exclamation, we were to lie down on the playa and make a dust angel. “Really?” I asked, knowing that soon enough I would be very dirty and I preferred to maintain my cleanliness as long as possible. “Is it out of the question?” He replied, with a curious tone. Absolutely not, I thought. I surrendered to the playa and lay myself down on the warm, white, dust. I spread my arms and legs wide and felt the powdery fine particles as they smoothed their way across my skin.
I was not a virgin anymore.
When burners arrive on the playa, they say they are at home. A sign welcomes you home. In conversations with people they will say, “Welcome Home,” or, “I am going home.” What calls 50,000 people to leave their jobs, families and spend their hard earned cash and get themself, any way they can, to Black Rock City or Bust?
I say it’s freedom. It is the palpable taste of freedom, more visceral and real than any idea of freedom I have ever known. It is a touch of the same spirit that drove our ancestors west through the hardships of life along the wagon trails. Pioneers, with a new vision, a vision of a better life.
We people, we burners—I dare say—all have one thing in common. Vision. Vision of the way the world could be, a world that works for everyone with no one and nothing left behind. We are artists and dancers and lovers and haters rich with love for adventure and life and yearning for new possibilities, new paradigms where freedom is felt and expressed. How do we express it there?
Nudity, drugs, drinking, loving, laughing, dancing, conversating, learning, yoga, sex, music, light, darkness, flair, fun, aloofness, engagedness, but most of all, with fire. We express our humanness the same way humans have expressed it all over the world through the centuries, but out there, no burner is going to persecute you, no burner will incarcerate you, your expression is valued and honored.
Here, in the U.S., in this reality that we all share, there are a lot of laws, many we don’t even know, like in Washington, D.C., it is technically illegal to have sex in any position other than face to face. Is this freedom? Granted, most likely police won’t be pounding down the doors of all those lawbreakers in the District of Columbia, but what do these restrictive and ridiculous laws do to us? They leave us vulnerable to having our freedom taken away. They leave me with a slight, everpresent knowing that I am not free. This country has a history of fighting for freedom…while oppressing large numbers of people.
I, for one, am tired of the rhetoric I hear today’s leaders speak of, this freedom, this idea, out there, somewhere, that we are fighting for. We’ve made progress, no doubt, but there are still a lot of ways in which I feel my freedom is restricted. The fact that some laws only exist because some man needed a good platform to get him into the big house disheartens me. It sends me trucking it to the middle of nowhere to meet up with people who don’t mind if I fornicate in multiple positions, or ride my bike down the street with my top off, because there, in the middle of nowhere, self expression is valued over conformity. Where else could I dance in lingerie on a street corner with hundreds of people biking and walking by while a woman sings to me through her microphone, which is attached to her fur covered bike, about my fine derriere, all while the full moon is shining and I am dancing like I have never danced before? Burning Man is not an idea; it is experiential learning at its best.
Out there, where the conditions are harsh, and fantasies are available and art reigns supreme, I came face to face with one question. What do I want? Do I want the 9 to 5 job I am living, busting my butt for The Man until I am old and dying and there is no money left for Medicare and I am put in a home?
I know, think positive, right? But this is the very life my grandmother lived and her mother before her. When does it stop? Under that perfect blue sky, with the wisps of pink as the sun rose over the mountains, and my beloved and I walked over the sands of time to make our way home, I realized when it stopped. It stopped the moment I lost my virginity there on the seabed. The moment I surrendered and let go of my attachment to cleanliness and got down and dirty.
You see, that is the secret mother Playa has to tell you. You…you will turn to gypsum and find your final resting place in the sands of some ancient desert. Sure, your spirit, your soul, will live on. But in this life, with this body, what are you going to choose? After we let go of our attachments to the past and remember our innocence we can leap into the unknown and choose heart’s desire and self- expression over money, or goods, or climbing to the top of that tower that will only, inevitably, fall. We cannot go on pretending that working for the man is going to cut it. We burners are revolutionaries, pioneers, artists, and we are on our way home.
We want a place to call our own, without The Man looking down on us, even though we know “He” did, through the live feed webcam that is on us at all times in Black Rock City. Out there, in that monumental creation made with the blood, sweat and tears of a mighty people, after reveling and reckoning, we burn The Man, because in the end, that is what it is all about, The Man must burn!
And when He really does, if it is anything like The Burning Man I witnessed, we will dance round the scorching ashes and begin again.
Rachel Claire Haynes, M.A.,Ed., believes that we are meant to have fun in life & live joyously. A powerful catalyst & radiant healer, Rachel has spent her life working with young people & teens in public schools as an educator, coach, mentor & guide. She reminds people of the power of spirit & the joy available to us in this life when we are ready to choose it. Committed to teaching & healing & reminding people how to access their consciousness & live on fire, Rachel exudes a provocative passion that she chooses to channel into creativity that contributes to others. She is an Ordained Minister, Reverend in the Church of Inner Light, certified Yoga Teacher & Access Bars Practitioner. Consider seeing her for a Soul Session if you are ready to know the truth of your radiant heart! She is working on her first visionary fiction novel for young people, teens & adults alike and writes regularly at her blog.