I just got back from over a week in the desert, also known as Burning Man. If you’ve never been, you can eschew your preconceived nothing-but-sex,-drugs,-and-dance beats-notions now. Those things exist there, but it’s such a blip on the radar of what actually can and does occur on the Playa. My heart is so full of love and gratitude I can feel it in every fiber of my being. There is a palpable feeling of warmth radiating in my chest as though my heart wants to explode, and a vibration in my body tuned to nothing that isn’t on the wavelength of love. In my core nothing can get me down right now. Life has already tried and I’ve only been back at it for 3 days. I’m just too jovially overridden by the love frequency.
It’s a magical week, but also a very difficult one on so many facets. It tests my being in all the ways. It’s labor-intensive, expensive, the elements are harsh, creature comforts are few and far between as is sleep at times, there is constant stimulation 24 hours a day, I’m hard pressed to find any real alone time or peace and quiet, self-care is easily forgotten about in favor of the whirlwind of activities, and I have to rely entirely on myself for everything and anything, while still actively participating, and giving of myself and my resources. At least that’s that the precepts dictate. It can be so incredibly draining on a person, especially when you live an innately hyper-sensitive existence.
So why do I subject myself to this? You’d think someone who lives with clinical depression, major anxiety, and ADHD, who is also intrinsically highly empathic and generally sensitive to the world around her would run with her hair on fire from this type of thing. This is burn #4 for me, and I do it for the love, for the challenge, and for the love of the challenge. I get so much out of this experience, good and bad, it does so much for me as a human being, and moreover as a spiritual being. The experience is what you make of it.
That said, I set my intentions for this year’s burn shortly before I left as it took me that long to really flesh out what they should be at the heart of my experience. In addition to the opportunity to ephemerally exist in the presence of a specific density of radiant spirits, kissing the annoyingly cumbersome real world goodbye, and of course dancing like it’s my job. Namely this time around my intentions were self-empowerment, and seeking out love. Seems simple enough, right? Well, I worked for it. I think that everyone who goes out there, whether they have intentions for themselves and their experience or not, has to face the music at some point unless you make the conscious choice to not take the opportunity to look within yourself. I think the same song of “What is this, what am I really doing here, and how long can I sustain this?” plays for everyone. Maybe it plays only once, maybe it plays on repeat.
My self-reflective song played intermittently throughout the week as I opened myself, my mind, heart, and spirit to everyone who felt safe to do so with. The lyrics guided me through my experience with verses encouraging me to get out of my head and into my heart to connect with people on a deeper level, to let my walls down, to not live in fear or myself, my illness, or anyone else. Other verses reminding me to readily discard the FOMO and heed the self-care chorus (for someone like me self-care will always be the chorus in my life’s song), verses keeping me grounded but open, to stay in the moment, and to let my inner voice shine through from my heart because she is so much wiser than the voice from my mind.
I got everything I wanted and more from this year’s experience. I made an effort to leave my fears and quandaries about being human, the really hard-wired stuff, as far behind as I could on my quest for love. It came down to something as simple as an attempt to put my social anxiety and fear of rejection aside by candidly walking up to someone and just putting an arm around them, whether I really knew them or not, showing them I wanted to be in their presence. That kind of giving of myself was so new, and so wonderful to me. It’s one of the gifts I took back with me to real life and have already had the opportunity to put into practice.
On the flip side of that, on my last day out there I’d had enough of the whole experience and had a mental, physical, and emotional breakdown. At my core I felt at peace, but my mind, body, and spirit were tapped out and I had to relinquish myself to that experience as well. Of course my humanistic ego tried to silently allay the symptoms on my own when I woke up Monday morning and immediately began to react. I lied there curled up in a ball in my dusty tent completely overstimulated, nerves shot, crying, shaking, hyperventilating, refusing to take care of myself and just succumbing to whatever was going to happen.
It brought back that familiar, harrowing, desperate feeling of being out of control. But then, after two solid hours of fighting all the feels, my self-reflective song came on in my head and reminded me that I was there for love and self-empowerment. What that ultimately meant was I needed help from others so I could help myself and press on. Right then and there I had the epiphany of and confessed to the universe that I no longer just wanted people in my life; friends, family, a partner, I needed them. So I picked myself up off the ground, put my biggest sunglasses on so I could still hide just a little bit (oh you, silly pride), and walked out into camp where few remained and everything was being rapidly deconstructed. The first campmate to approach me asked me how I was doing and I immediately realized that was my chance, my moment to burn to shine. I had to cop to the fact that I was not ok, and then allow myself to need others.
This particular experience was all so new to me considering I’ve mostly always dealt with everything on my own, in my own space via my own learned coping mechanisms. It gave me so much nourishment I can’t find words to convey. I can, however, say that it brought my original intentions of self-empowerment and seeking love completely and entirely full circle. I allowed others to support me in my time of need, to give me the love and care that I so obviously needed when I’m so used to being the one to give of myself to others. I allowed myself to be totally vulnerable in the presence of those who I’d only known on a very surface level, I allowed this experience to force me to lay all my cards on the table in that moment. It was absolutely beautiful. I learned that if I want something I never had, I’d have to do something I’d never done. I let the love in.
I continue to go not just for the love and the good times but because this event is an exponentially unequivocal benchmark for my personal growth and progress. I go for the freedom and reprieve from the heavy that is everyday human existence, without being allowed to forget that I am ultimately human, and that in and of itself is a challenge that won’t quit. If I’m not challenging myself I’m not sufficiently subjugating my illness, or my ego.
Allowing something to break you down and build you back up, leaving in your trail the pieces that no longer serve you, is the definition of ego death. The experience of mental illness has afforded me more ego death than any experience ever will, so there is no question as to why I would continue to participate in an event that, albeit via different modalities, still brings me my much sought after, and hard-earned return to my true self. I cannot express the amount of gratitude I have for the fresh reminder of the fact that I have mental illness, mental illness does not have me.
Peace, love, and wellness.