Thursday, October 1, 2009

Burning Man and the Future Memory

Burning Man is an easy place to have a special experience. As you are living in a man-made city in the middle of the desert, with an extreme climate to exist in, and the week open wide without obligation to anything at all, including workplace / real-life stresses left behind at the gate to this new dimension, you find yourself doing lots of personal exploration.
Who would I be if I could be whoever I wanted?
People seem to have this in mind as they mill around the desert in tutus, shiny spandex, sparkles, or whatever it is that makes them feel most like themselves as they explore.

And I, at a time in my life where I am eager to ponder the answers to these types of questions, went into Burning Man this year open- minded, ready to receive whatever came my way.

One morning friend and fellow burner Nicole and I rode our bikes out to outer playa, where lots of cool art installations live. We found ourselves riding towards a little hut surrounded by wire trees temporarily planted in the desert floor. We ducked inside the hut to find the walls plastered with what looked like lots of different family photos (We later found out these were photos of "happy memories" people had sent in to the artist as he requested). A few people sat around cross-legged chatting, quietly taking a break from the outside dust, or intently writing on plastic leaves. Someone passed a laminated instruction sheet our way. If we wanted to participate we could. We curiously read up. On these plastic leaves we were instructed to write "A memory from your future," supposedly a "powerful, powerful brain exercise." Hmmmmmm say what?

I struggled. I understood the instructions and why this would be a powerful brain exercise (that once you point out something in your future all you have to do is draw a line to get there), but I had such trouble coming up with what I wanted to be my memory from my future. How do I sum up everything that I will have learned at a certain point in my future and write an event that will happen? I couldn't imagine an event because I struggled to wrap my brain around what knowledge I would have at that certain point, what event would happen, and then be able to reflect on that.

Amidst my struggle, a tall, tanned dreadlocked man decorated with loose linen, sturdy leather boots, and beads ducked in, smiling peacefully and purposefully looking around. He and another man jollily greeted one another. We soon realized he was the artist of the installation. Knowing there must be a lot of ideas behind this project, and that like most at Burning Man he would be open for a deep conversation, I approached him with my struggle. He was eager to chat. "Maybe I'm taking this too seriously," I lamented.

I stood and let him preach to me for awhile, and soon some golden words came out of his articulation. "You're never going to get to a place of ultimate achievement and understanding," he said. "That place does not exist."
I squinted and furrowed my brow, nodding slowly, realizing.
"When you get to that place you're thinking of, you'll be standing on those shoulders looking out for what's next."

Yes! It's true. Far too often I think of life as being a path to this ultimate place of understanding, success, and knowledge. Unfortunately, this means that often instead of living in the moment and focusing on what I am doing at the time, I am thinking ahead, stressing about what I should do next in order to get me to that place I think of.
I think this is an easy pattern of thinking for people to fall into. (Not that it's a bad thing to think ahead, but it is bad when it's all you can focus on).

I was struggling so much with the future memory because I was trying to think of this very point in my future when I would 'have it all figured out.' I couldn't wrap my brain around the knowledge that I would have then, because how could I? That time does not exist.

"Start with this weekend," he said. "What is something you want to happen this weekend, somewhere you'd like to be?" I nodded. The artist and I hugged goodbye. He smiled and said, "Have a great life." I, feeling much more clear, ducked out the entrance to the hut, hopped on my bike and Nicole and I rode off into the desert.

Soon enough this sign came into view.

I got off my bike and appreciated it for a moment, and took this photo. YES! There was the message again! It's so true. Don't focus on the big place or thing you want to achieve down the road, do focus on what you're doing now and put all you've got into it, because those little things will add up.
We rode on.

That night, around three or four in the morning, (The nightlife at Burning Man is just as equally awesome as the daytime life, and so one should balance when out there and get in some of each) the message came again. I and a different fellow camper Smitty, not ready yet to sleep, decided to stroll over to Center Camp -the only place at Burning Man where things are for sale, only coffee and ice, and also the hub of all the action- a stage is occupied at all hours with various performers. To our delight, a jazz trio was onstage. What a treat! At night techno music takes over the Burning Man nightlife, and the desert turns into a booming sound swamp. It's awesome, but sometimes you need a break and a new genre of music just soooothes your senses. We searched and spotted an empty couch up front- and plopped down. The musicians played a few songs, we relaxed in pleasure, Smitty fell asleep, then the keyboardist spoke up: "I'm going to kick these guys off for one last song...It took me about a year and a half to write. The chorus just came to me last month."

He sang a delightful tune, the lyrics, about finding yourself and not stressing, spoke me to clearly. Then the chorus came in,

Take - it - slow.
Let - it - go.
And soon you'll know, who you really are.

Man, could the universe be speaking to me any more clearly? We strolled back to our camp slowly, by way of the outer empty streets, which since it was only Tuesday hadn't been filled with campers yet. An hour or two before sunrise, darkness surrounded us and the stars were glorious. The chorus still plays out in my mind.

Take - it - slow.
Let - it - go.
And soon you'll know, who you really are.

ahhhh, thanks, Tuesday at Burning Man, 2009. I needed that.

*here's some interviews with burners I did post Burning Man at the car wash.


Nicole said...

Thanks so much for taking me back and reminding me to slow my future centered chaos that was starting to boil again.

lissle said...

and last night- the day I posted this! I met a guy, we got to talking, he looked familiar, and he was working the stage the night the jazz trio performed!