Burning Man Festival. I returned from my annual trip to the Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, NV aka my annual Recreational Move. It takes time to come back to Earth after the tremendous thrill of being there – I’d say “tremendously high” but that would only support notions of those who think this event is just “hippies in the desert”, “naked people tripping on Lord knows what”. Burning Man festival also takes time to process all the lessons one has to learn.  My initial reaction was it wasn’t the Burn I’d hoped for.

Let me back up and give you some perspective about Burning Man; it is an experience. Before one can leave for the weeklong trip to the desert to create a pop-up city, much preparation must be done. One needs a ton of stuff to survive in the desert. Burning Man Festival. My friend Alyssa gave to me a killer packing list for my first year I’ve since adapted to remember everything I need. Keep in mind one cannot buy anything except coffee (which I don’t drink) and ice (which can be melted down to use if I don’t bring enough water for drinking, cooking, and bathing). I rented a small box truck to carry my gear. It wasn’t just for me, however; I was sharing it with friends. As we loaded, neighbors would drop by and ask if I was moving. “Nope, I’m going to Burning Man.”

The anticipation is palpable in the days and weeks leading up to the trip. Friends refer to BRC as home, but it’s not just them – there’s a video, people start to discuss the art cars they are building, artists post Indiegogo or Kickstarter fundraisers for art sculptures they are creating, and sound camps hold events to raise money for their infrastructure. All of this is in preparation to “go home”.

In August, I reflected on the past and wrote this on my personal Facebook page:

“Every year I leave the Default World to escape to Black Rock City, I learn something very important about myself. The first year I stopped drinking alcohol because it doesn’t allow me to “feel” (along w many other reasons). Last year I stopped coloring my hair because it prevented me from being the real me. I can’t wait to see what happens this year. )'(
With tears of joy, I look forward to this year’s adventure with the greatest community at Burning Man.”

Those two decisions to change my behavior came after my trips to Burning Man. I don’t recall if Alyssa advised me to do it (she probably wisely did) but I set an intention before I left my default world life in 2012. The other day I came across a passage about intention in my first year’s journal:

I have been going into this experience with as much of an open mind as I can. I think self-love is the theme for me in this trip. I don’t mean that in any carnal sense. I really mean that in the “what do I want for my own life that will benefit me and my two daughters”.  I’m trying to make sure I stay ever present and pay very close attention to everything that presents itself to me whether that be an opportunity, a person, something to try.… I really want whatever is supposed to be revealed to me to be one that I’m awake and aware for when it happens.

The funny thing is, that year I brought a ton of booze with me to the playa, and I didn’t drink ANY of it; Absolutely no desire or interest. I see how the decision to stop drinking was easy. There were other contributing factors: having been in a relationship(s) with an alcoholic-in-denial, a family member who died as a result of alcohol abuse, the feeling I got after a night of drinking alcohol, but how alcohol made me feel – or rather, not feel – was the biggest contributing factor. Now I may occasionally drink a glass of champagne at sunrise (such an amazing time) and I enjoy that. Some people think Burning Man is a big party in the desert… yeah, there’s that. But there are also people like me who don’t drink much, if at all when they are there. And no one judges or pressures us about those decisions.

In 2013 my intention was to give and receive love. I know, that sounds sexual but it wasn’t. In all the previous years I’ve spent on the playa sex has not been important; that’s got to sound strange coming from a sexologist. I made amazing friends that year and spread as much joy around the playa as I could. At the end of that burn, you know the love left remaining? Self-Love. I made the decision to stop coloring my hair after last year’s Burn because I saw the playa dust in my hair in photos from the past two years that made my hair look grey…and I liked it. The first thing I have noticed, as it relates to the response from other people, is that young men don’t seem to notice me as much. You know what? I’m ok with that. I don’t need the attention of everyone. In fact, I’d rather not attract something that doesn’t suit me because I’m certain the men who would only notice me for the youthful dark locks would also be the ones I wouldn’t want a relationship with.

So I set out for my third Burn with an intention for happiness.

The first-day people arrived I got chills three times. The temperature is in the 90’s or higher during the day so there aren’t weather conditions to get chills. In the default world, I see someone for energy healing work called Jin Shin Jyutsu and when I am in treatment I feel like a battery hooked up to jumper cables. Being in Black Rock City is like getting plugged into the power source directly. Pure. Happiness. I felt these chills were surges of energy from all of the happy people coming into the city, coming home.

This was going to be an amazing Burn – Great friends in my Burning Man family and especially in my camp, extended friends all over the playa whom I have gotten to know over the past year, and going with a partner who I looked forward to spending time with – alone. I expected this Burn would be ridiculously happy.

I certainly look happy!
I certainly look happy!

But something didn’t feel right. It’s always magnificent to drive out onto the Esplanade at night, although I wasn’t feeling it. Seeing the Temple in the hours after it opened didn’t induce tears as it used to either. I was spending time with my partner but none of it really alone. I was in my happy place but I wasn’t happy. And this Burn was supposed to be all about happiness? What was going on??

In a post-mortem conversation, a girlfriend of mine said it best, “You don’t get the Burn you want. You get the Burn you need”. Burning Man Festival

If you’re smarter than I am you noticed the problem above: expectations. In the past I avoided expectations and was open to whatever the playa might bring my way and I was always pleased with the results… but I was never partnered. Without realizing it I created a desire/expectation that this Burn would be magical in ways I had not yet experienced – to be with a partner I really cared for – but that magic was not there and that sad fact was bringing me down. Everywhere I looked there was love. Couples of all configurations seemingly deeply connected and showing each other love. I wanted THAT. The pressure I placed on our relationship and myself was amplified. Then an amazing couple in our camp got engaged. Both of them would give their partner the world if they asked for it; it’s beautiful. Burning Man Festival. All that did for me was shine the light ever brighter on the apparent disparity between my partner and me.

Because it’s not my partner’s responsibility to read my mind, I admitted my expectations once I realized what I was doing and shared what I hoped could still happen. Communicating this was difficult and then expressing my needs was even tougher. I think he heard me but sadly it was never realized on the playa. I ended up sleeping for hours on end at the end of the week – those who know the conditions on the playa know it’s tough to do this. I even slept through The Man burn the second to the last night. Burning Man Festival.

It took almost two weeks after getting home for me to realize the outcome but I’m glad it finally hit me: This Burn wasn’t about happiness. It was about identifying all the things in my life that weren’t eliciting a happiness response from me. I got the strength I needed to clear them out or, as appropriate, to establish clear boundaries for myself. What this burn did was uncover all the deeper unrest. Burning Man Festival. But this is not only affecting my relationship on the playa. There are other aspects of my life that are proving to be less than happy-making.  When I set an intention for Happiness I thought it meant I was going to be blissfully happy the whole time. Instead, it provided crystal clear clarity on things that DON’T allow me to feel happiness. I am distancing myself from relationships that feel toxic – not that the people are toxic, but that our interactions have become toxic.

So that Rave in the desert that couldn’t possibly have any redeeming value? Burning Man provided the petri dish for me to grow and develop. It gave me all I needed to identify the relationships, behaviors, and possessions to let go of in order to make space for things in my life that do allow a response of happiness. And for that I am grateful. I am ready to let it go.

aka The MamaSutra

About the Author

The MamaSutra

Dr. Lanae St.John is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sexology and certified sex coach with a background in sexology and a passion for helping people improve their sexual health and relationships. She is the author of "Read Me: A Parental Primer for "The Talk"" and the upcoming "You Are the One: How stopping the search and looking inside will lead you to your romantic destiny," and is committed to staying up-to-date on the latest research and trends in the field. Dr. St.John aims to share her knowledge and expertise in a relatable and approachable way through her blog on themamasutra.com.

Comments are closed.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Related Posts

Optimized by Optimole