TRAVEL DIARIES: Burning Man, Beyond Good and Evil

Where do I start? It’s true what they say, you just have to go to know. And I’m not saying that in an elitist way, just that this experience is beyond anything you could ever imagine. Burning Man is not your typical festival. The whole city is built by the event’s participants and volunteers, its existence rests on their involvement and their respect for the guiding principles which include radical self-reliance, radical inclusion, radical expression, decommodification, gifting, immediacy, participation and leaving no trace. The energy that arises from people coming together and respecting the principles… pure magic. A testimony to what humanity is and could be. Simultaneously a post apocalyptic nightmare and a twisted utopia. A place rampant with extremes of hedonism and spirituality, community and isolation, darkness and light, connection and numbing. What was this adult playground, this temporary city of 70,000 people that literally felt like I landed on another planet!?!? Stripped down and amped up, all your senses, weaknesses, feelings intensified due to the lack of comfort, routine, normalcy, money, wifi. It really isn’t just a party in the desert for instagram models and Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs like the media would have you believe.

But let’s back up. How did I willingly, once again, put myself in a situation where I was going to travel alone, with strangers. No partner in crime, no one to make me feel safe. Just myself. My introverted, often anxious but curious and adventurous self, thirsty for growth and experience. On a mission to feel something real (listened to that Black Atlas song the whole flight there). On a mission to have my heart cracked open, ripped out, exposed so I could reconnect to my wild nature.

Third trip of the year where i just launch myself into the unknown alone. And as usual, a tale about the storm before the calm.

burning man 2018

I was lucky enough to have been connected with an awesome unofficial camp of New Yorkers and Floridians, everyone so different but open-hearted enough to let me in. I started off shy, reserved, tip toeing, unassuming. Always afraid of taking up too much space, of using my voice.

As soon as we arrived to Black Rock City, after a 10 hour road trip from Sacramento with my new family for the week (a trip which began with our truck breaking down), we witnessed the most incredible, breathtaking pastel sunrise followed by an engulfing sandstorm. Goggles and dust mask on, I ventured out to find someone who could help us break in to our pickup truck, which one of the guys locked us out of as soon as we arrived to our campsite. No one stressed though, and I just left a note in a lockout box to have a volunteer come save the day a couple of hours later. A firefighter in the default world and a saviour with car thieving skills on the playa (the dry lakebed at the center of the city where all the art cars and art installations, the man and the temple can be found). Our first hero of the trip.

Burning Man is kind of exactly what you think it is but it feels so different to actually be in it. People biking around and camping out naked, or in intricate costumes or normal everyday outfits, offering you everything from watermelon, mimosas, chai lattes and ice cream sandwiches to tarot readings, chakra healing, cuddle puddles and sound baths... everyone shares and gifts. It’s not bartering contrary to popular belief, it’s a gifting economy with no expectation of anything in return, just a blind faith that the playa will provide. And how it does.
Having quit drinking four months ago, this whole journey was especially challenging as the alcohol culture is strong and in your face and overflowing. Drinking seems to help people overcome the reality of the harsh elements, sensory overload and overall realization that you paid a shit ton of money to spend a week dirty in the desert with little to no amenities and only the supplies you came with.

What the fuck was I doing in the Nevada desert with a bunch of naked strangers. A thought that arose on more than one occasion during the first few days of this adventure that would transform me to my core.

burning man business insider

I hopped on my bike and ran off on my own as I often do when I panic. I started to explore, feeling isolated, lonely and disconnected. So much delighted me and at the same time terrified me. It all looked like Mad Max and the Bad Batch (essential Netflix film!!); there was a thunderdome where suspended fighters battled (although not to the death lol), there were buses filled with plastic balls like those playpens at McDonalds, there was a roller disco and orgy dome, anything you could come up with, there it was. The energy burners put into the art cars and art installations, into their outfits and their camps, into everything they brought to give away… It touched my heart but I felt like a tourist. What did I have to offer?

I looked up the burner app and quickly found a camp with self-love and healing workshops and made this my sanctuary every morning. I fell in love with one of the teachers, Jummee, whose explosive and joyous energy was contagious and soothing. She taught classes with names like the Orgasmic Body, Enter the rabbit Hole of Intimacy and Wild Woman, Mad Man… All of which allowed me to connect to my body, one of the most powerful healing modalities I have yet to experience. We practiced breathwork, energy release, ecstatic dance, eye gazing and so much more. Staring into the eyes of humans whose paths I would never likely cross in real life much less gaze into the depths of their souls. Hugs like I’ve never given and received. Some of the best cries of my life.

I also took a tantra unveiling class in which I learnt twenty minutes in was literally about unveiling. We were invited to get fully naked one by one, for two minutes, no speaking, just standing being stared at, in groups of four strangers that were seated around you. The longest two minutes of my life. But there was something so liberating and soothing about being seen in full, in a non sexualized context. Sharing about our relationships to our body, making ourselves vulnerable in the most intense, revealing way and releasing all the shame we were carrying around. I felt such a bond to these strangers as we huddled and thanked each other for sharing in this experience. Shit I NEVER thought I would be capable of doing.

This was the first part of my trip; workshops, connecting one-on-one, looking inside myself. Not to mention the mental breakdowns. On more than one occasion I biked around solo, tears streaming down my face, feeling isolated and alone, feeling like I didn’t belong, not even at Burning Man. In the most welcoming place in the world where radical inclusion was one of the ten principles, I could not build up the nerve to insert myself.
Unable to connect, unable to be present. Trying to let go and be. Be free. Be there. Not judge. So much pressure to live up to the expectation of a wild and transformative Burning Man experience. And yet here I was again, paralyzed.

I had a constant internal battle where I kept questioning what was wrong with me versus what was wrong with the world. A lot of the music alienated me, it felt hollow, dark, repetitive, meant for a tribe looking to escape. I was craving community, connection and love. I wanted to be held, seen, I wanted to melt in his arms. This elusive one who I had never met. I couldn’t figure out why the craving was so strong. A craving for someone I didn’t even know, pulling in my chest. I just wanted something real and all I could see was the space between me and everything I desired.

Consent is another strong value at Burning Man. It’s spoken about openly and reiterated often. I barely got hit on all week. I had never felt so safe yet I was walking around in the most revealing lingerie I owned, out in the open, all day long. I could see men looking, I lured in their gaze, I invited it even and then turned them away with my closed heart, no words needing to be uttered. I built up a wall over the last decade and just wanted someone to tear it down knowing all too well that that someone was going to have to be me.

My thoughts spiralled. This did not feel like a place for introverts, was I wrong in thinking that I too could find solace and community here? As always the question that comes up… WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME!?!?! Still afraid of being seen, always feeling like I needed to be different than what I was. I knew I needed to accept myself fully and stop punishing myself for not being like everyone else. Everyone that seemed to be having such ease integrating into this nonsensical world where the rules did not apply and hedonism prevailed.

I felt so dirty at one point that I ran to my RV, grabbed a jug of water, and poured it over my head scream/cry/laughing in a hysterical moment of disorientation and disbelief. Just wanting to cleanse myself of the discomfort. But as usual, where lies the discomfort lies the lesson and the answer.

As the week unfolded, I started unfolding and opening up about my experience and self-doubt to my camp mates. One by one I received feedback about how my vulnerability and independence inspired them to look into themselves, to try new things like workshops, opened them up and fostered more opportunities for connection. I was having an impact by just being myself, self-doubt and all. I learnt so much from each of them as well. Something beautiful was happening. A shift was taking place and I was part of it. I had been integrating. I had been participating. I had been sharing. It was just in a different way than I expected.

And then finally, towards the end came that pivotal moment where I saw the impact of my struggle and my work. I went on a psychedelic trip in the desert, exploring the art installations in the playa with one new unexpected friend. He held space for me and truly saw me. We engaged in deep talks peppered with metaphors and analysis, weaving in and out of reality and illusion on our bicycles. Then, I had an epiphany.

I finally saw myself, my power, my role, my gifts and understood what I had to do. My spiritual journey of the last year had culminated to this point. Standing in the middle of the playa, on the edge of darkness and light, the sun setting in the distance it all become so goddamn obvious. Half the playa engulfed with darkness with the demon music slowly creeping out to play in the distance. The other half of the playa still lit up by the sun, pastel colours, art installations, the dust bleaching everything on its path. I was no longer scared. Instead of running away from the darkness towards the light, I knew I had to dive right in. My past, my mistakes, my flaws weren’t holding me down anymore. They were part of me and I was ready to integrate my shadows, no more shame, no more judgment. Dressed in a red veil, a gold snake warrior goddess crown, a fuzzy red jacket reminiscent of flames... it couldn’t be more appropriate.

A phoenix rising from the ashes. I knew I had to dive into the darkness. I rode off towards the shadows, finally feeling ready, called to an art car in the distance where the music felt right. The Mayan Warrior I later learned. I knew this was where I was meant to be. I hugged my friend and told him I needed to stay. I needed to be here now. He felt it and let me float away. So grateful for our adventure together I knew this was my time to connect to the moment and let go. The perfect sunset, I danced alone for two hours feeling powerful, connected, in touch and whole. My moment was only interrupted by a boy who kneeled by me, kissed my hand, gave me a hug and ran off. I felt like he recognized and worshipped my beauty, my freedom, my power. I was fully dialed in. I could breathe again.

The next day, I finally was able to connect with a beautiful goddess I knew from Toronto. She felt like home. I had my girl, that feeling of sisterhood and understanding, I knew she had my back and I could just relax. I underestimated the necessity for that feeling of home and safety. After all the magical moments alone, with strangers and friends, I learnt that I didn’t need to do it all alone. I always valued my independence and placed fending for myself and being fully self-sufficient on a pedestal. Burning Man taught me the value of asking for help and leaning on others.

We went to watch one of her friend's dj sets that night at a beautiful exotic boudoir themed camp called Ashram Galactica and it all felt so right. We were in such flow. I danced eyes closed, feeling powerful in nothing but my Talisa set, fishnets and combat boots, free, in it, feeling it. And then I saw him.

Dancing alone, smile on his face, so much dirt in his long hair. 
I manifested my dream man.
And then he disappeared.
When I looked up again he was standing right in front of me:
-“You’re beautiful and I wish I could stay and dance with you but I have to leave”
-“Where are you going?”
-“I have to catch up with my friends.”
-“How will I find you?”
I held his face in my hands, he kissed me and ran off.

And that was that. A beautiful mirage gone as quickly as he had come.
Or so I thought. Ten minutes later our crew stepped outside to head out to the playa to watch the sunrise. And there he was. Covered in even more dirt and dust. Bleeding from his face.
He had wiped out on his bike chasing after his friends that had left him behind when he came to talk to me. He said it was a clear message from the universe telling him to come back.
For me. 

Is this real life?

We all headed to catch the sunrise. Huddled together, silently taking in the beauty, the moment and the magic. Ended up at the Mayan Warrior art car again. Danced more. Everyone trickled away until it was just me and him.

But I won’t tell that story. It gets better, more real, more far fetched. So I’ll keep it for myself. Just going to hold it in my heart and be grateful that it exists. That the universe heard me. That I was able to connect to myself and call him in.

Magic moments. The good and the bad. The unblocking. I found myself on the playa that week. I’m leaving with lifelong connections, and some fleeting ones which will have changed me forever. So much laughter, so much love, so much doubt, so much growth.

As with all my travels, there is always a storm before the calm. And I need to trust that. The universe tests me and teaches me, taunts me and gifts me. Burning Man was a spiritual bootcamp. I am now left with an inner calm, an inner knowing. I discovered my power and have renewed faith in my worthiness and my abilities, my gifts, my magic and my mission.

I hope that sharing this story can inspire you to step outside your comfort zone, make yourself vulnerable, lean in to others, take risks, and trust in the struggle and in your power. We are all goddesses (and warriors) worthy of the lives and love we want. Go out there and have those experiences and those moments that will remind you of that. Open up. Stretch yourself. Don't judge the process. Accept the dark and the light, the struggle and the joy, you need both, you are both. Live your life on your own terms. You can handle it and you don’t have to do it alone.

Until next year...

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published