Wednesday, September 3, 2014
So I'm back from Burning Man, already deep into my regular schedule (blah!) of work work work, and am still trying to sift through all the thoughts I've collected on this trip. A part of me feels overwhelmed by trying to make sense of the sensory overload I've just experienced as well as guilt over not doing "enough" while out in the desert. I'm also trying not to drown in thoughts of all the work that needs to get done this month. My head has been spinning, spinning, and one word holds fast in the center of that mental tornado: impermanence.
It's been a couple weeks now since I set off on this adventure for a second time and I have to admit, there will never be anything to compare to that first time. I went into my second burn knowing full well that every year will be different, that no comparisons should be made, but oh how I slightly envied those who were stepping onto the playa for the very first time. Their eyes were so wide as they struggled to find words to express how incredible this all was. Don't get me wrong, Burning Man is still an amazing city of play, light, and sound, but I did miss the mind-blowing surprise that was my first year. Of course, that had to come to an end, but it'll continuously be replaced with other discoveries both within and outside of ourselves.
I have a hard time accepting how temporary things are and Burning Man is the epitome of impermanence. Not only do 70,000 people congregate on Black Rock Desert to party for a week before the whole city vanishes without a trace on Labor Day, but while you're there you're fed a constant stream of blips on the radar. Art installations are created for Black Rock City residents to enjoy and days later they're burned to the ground. Gone. Forever. Perhaps you make a mental note to check out a cool piece, but constantly find yourself distracted by the hundreds of other cool things going on around you until you're on the car ride home yelling, "Dammit! We never saw SoundPuddle!" I wish I'd made it a point to enter one of the most arresting sights on the playa, Embrace, with its beating hearts and the chance to crawl into the statues' heads to peer out onto the city through their eyes. But before we could get any closer, we were being whisked away to the edge of the dusty city on an art car outfitted with xylophones, banging on a rooftop gong every time a cyclist waved as we drove on by…
We didn't approach Embrace again until it was burned early Friday morning. The opportunity to engage with that piece of art had passed.
This year was better than the last in that I didn't cling to each moment as if that was the happiest I could ever be. I often found myself not wanting to leave an installation because what if the moment that followed wasn't as fun? A. kept reassuring me that while the present was quite good, there will be more joy to follow no matter where we ended up. So I was more willing to let go of moments at this year's burn. I made it a point to hop off my bike if an experience called out to me (spontaneity! participation!), thoroughly enjoyed that moment, and then left it behind in search of more knowing that whatever came next would be just as novel, exciting, and beautiful. I was more social, wanting to collect stories and connections rather than experience it all from the bubble that surrounds me. The issue? A. and I would tuck in early, choosing sweet slumber over partying until dawn and I'd often lay there in our tent wondering if we weren't just wasting time with this sleep business. What were we missing? Are we squeezing every drop out of this amazing place? No, but we continued to burn on our terms.
Sometimes I felt this urgency to rush out and do everything despite my body's limitations, but I also understood that there's no way I could catch every moment going on in the city before it dismantled in a few days' time. Even now as I type, I'm frantically trying to search and grab every thought I have on this because soon they'll be replaced with other concerns. It's much like waking up from a crazy dream and racing to jot down the scenes before your brain realizes it's awake. Nothing lasts. How do I learn to be okay with that?
Earlier this summer, A. suggested I read Nightline anchor Dan Harris' book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works. It's about Harris' journey into meditation and his skepticism that self-help techniques would actually work on someone who works in such a stressful, deadline-driven field. It was in reading this that the concept of "impermanence" piqued my interest and while my gut has yet to come to terms with it, my mind has been turning it over and over like a smooth pebble in its hand.
"As best I could understand it, the Buddha's main thesis was that in a world where everything is constantly changing, we suffer because we cling to things that won't last," Harris wrote.
"The Buddha embraced an often overlooked truism: nothing lasts – including us. We and everyone we love will die. Fame fizzles, beauty fades, continents shift. Pharaohs are swallowed by emperors, who fall to sultans, kings, kaisers, and presidents – and it all plays out against the backdrop of an infinite universe in which our bodies are made up of atoms from the very first exploding stars. We may know this intellectually, but on an emotional level we seem to be hardwired for denial. We comport ourselves as if we had control."
But we don't and so we have to learn to be at peace with uncertainty and every single moment fading into oblivion.
Do you also have a hard time letting go of moments, people, or possessions?