(cover image: Wes Campbell)
I’m going to start off by saying that I’m no expert at anything Burning Man, and I don’t claim or pretend to be, either. I was a “virgin” burner this year and may well be one forever. In my circle of friends, I’m viewed as the expert, but I think that’s just because none of them have ever been there or would even consider going at all.
This past August (2016), I left my family to travel out to Black Rock City to see what all the hype was about. I had family and work constraints and was only able to stay for four days, and flew in on a tiny charter plane directly into the playa. In those few short (or very long) days, I had one of the most intense and transformational experiences of my life.
The Playa Environment
The environment there is, on the one hand, absolutely majestic — a desert with some mountains in the background and the most magical painted skies at sunrise and sunset; you literally can’t believe your eyes as you watch the colours develop in the distance. On the other hand, it’s one of the most challenging terrains you can imagine: You’re in a desert so it’s very, very dry — so dry, in fact, that you can feel it in every part of your body. There are constant sandstorms, and the sand will get into every crevice you can image and more. It’s 100+ degrees during the day and almost freezing at night. These temperature extremes, mixed with the loud music blasting 24-7, will really take a toll on you mentally, physically, and even emotionally.
I am so grateful to have gone at a time in my life when I had at least a moderate understanding of how to find the silver lining in difficult situations. Otherwise, this event could have turned out much worse for me, as the potential of being traumatized indefinitely was, in fact, a very real possibility.
Self awareness, duality, and expectation were a few themes that ripped through my consciousness on levels I didn’t know existed while at the Burn. I mean, I had read about all these things in spiritual and personal development texts over the years and understood the underlying concepts behind them very clearly (or so I thought). However, there is something very powerful about having a real life experience that teaches you on a different level altogether.
Finding Purpose in Difficult Experiences
In our current existence, we can create good experiences and positive learning opportunities through things like travel, education, or even watching a movie or documentary from the comfort of your home.
The things we can’t create are the difficult ones. How do you intentionally create a horrible situation for yourself? I had no perspective on what it means to have nothing. I was born in Toronto into a middle class family — not rich nor poor, just average. I’ve read about poverty and homelessness and have witnessed it as a bystander, but I could never really understand what that truly meant. I got a glimpse for a night of what it might feel like at Burning Man, with no one to call for help, no clothes, no food, no water, in bone chilling temperature, huddled by a small garbage can fire, waiting for the sun to rise so I could find my way home. The one thing I had that most people on the streets don’t is the knowledge that, when the sun rose, I would find my way home. And so I sat there and thought about all those who didn’t have that luxury.
If it went the way I had planned, I would have partied in the desert for four days to the best music and DJs in the world, enjoyed the the mesmerizing art and all the magic of this mysterious Mad Max meets Alice In Wonderland environment blasting through the future… but things rarely go according to plan, do they?
“True growth occurs outside of your comfort zone, sometimes you can get there on your own and other you need to be thrown in against your will.”
I got something far more valuable than a few days of partying: a new and enhanced perspective on life and who I am. I had so many expectations of what Burning Man would or should be that I think I was forgetting about why I was going there in the first place. A lot of the time we take for granted these difficult experiences and try to suppress them and forget about them, like I was trying to do when I left.
Remember to Forget: Seeing Through a New Lens
I wanted to leave behind anything that reminded me of the playa, down to those funky Asian tiger socks and my blue silk kimono. As I was about to throw out my ticket stub, I realized that this methodology, this way of thinking to suppress and forget, was totally wrong. I needed to remember and learn from these events, change my perspective, and be grateful for this experience and all the other wonderful learning experiences life has to offer. Making peace and being okay with a situation that happened you will release it, whereas when you suppress the difficulties you’ve experienced, they may haunt you — consciously or subconsciously — forever. What we resist, persists, right?
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I’ll admit, during the first half of my stay at Burningman, I saw all the glory and hype, the lights and sounds, the mystery and awe, and after the “experience,” I could see nothing but darkness. Everything looked different and the hypocrisy was everywhere. I started looking at every one of their 10 guiding principles and found examples of how they were superficial.
Could I see through the veil? Or was I choosing to see only what I wanted? Do both Good and Evil always exist in this dualistic reality we live in, and was I choosing how I wanted to perceive my experience? It was never so clear as it was when I boarded the plane on the day of my departure. I had been given the experience of a lifetime, whether I liked it or not, and as time passed, over the coming days and weeks, different things would keep bringing my awareness back to the experience, telling me to look deeper. And each time, a new level of meaning and understanding in my life would suddenly arise.
Gifts From the Darkness
Things like finding my voice, and being clear on intentions and what I wanted to say in my life and why — all these realizations and more helped me to get really clear and make simple yet incredible changes and shifts in life. My experience inspired me to create a new podcast, refocus my energy, and set intentions that are now at the core of my being. All this from having the worst night of my life?
It’s all about perspective, and being able to step back from any situation with a level of self awareness to really see what is going on and how things are happening for you, not to you.
Want to Hear the Full Story?
If you want to hear all the details of my experience, listen to Podcast Episode 1: “How Burningman Changed My Life.” It’s a crazy story for sure. You can listen to it on Soundcloud, iTunes, or Spreaker, or watch the video on Youtube with some actual GoPro footage of my time at Burning Man! Please subscribe, like, and share if it resonates with you! Check out the show website at www.thewaywithin.me and connect with me on Facebook HERE and our Show Facebook Page HERE.
Hermann Anthony (G)
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