Why I didn’t have a “good time” at Burning Man
I went to Burning Man for the first time this year. Not because I wanted to party and have a good time, try to get laid, and/or do lots of drugs, but because I was in so much pain and so confused over why I had to be in so much pain that I needed something to shake up my life and try to figure things out.
In March, I said goodbye to my 12-year-old dog, Kompis, who was a soulmate & teacher to me – after nursing her 24 X 7 while watching her fade into blindness & senility for 5 months. And then, 4 months later, I adopted a new sweet little puppy, Laff. I started to feel love again, and then she died a month later in a botched heart surgery. It was simply more pain than I felt I could bear.
I also have lost both my parents and my brother. My sister has had cancer 4 times. One of my best friends also got cancer this year, and another great friend had to undergo heart surgery in June.
In general, life was just sucking all around me.
So off I went in search of healing and some answers.
After a horribly long bus ride, getting a migraine that my prescription medicine didn’t kill, then waiting in 100° heat for a shuttle, lifting up my extremely heavy & completely dust covered luggage by myself, and then dragging it across the desert for 3/4 of a mile as I walked to try to find my camp, I finally got to where I was going to spend the next week.
I spent the first night alone starting to re-read Pema Chondron’s, “When Things Fall Apart”. And I spent the next few days & evenings finishing the book in various locations around the Playa. I often sought out nice shady areas to sit and read by myself.
I went to the Temple most days (as I had planned even before I left) and meditated, cried, prayed, and left some of my precious little Laff’s ashes behind. I also went to the Burning Man and did the same. I even placed Laff’s ashes literally on the Burning Man himself.
I was happy to know that she’d be there in both places for all eternity, and no one could take her away anymore. Her ashes were already what was left of her being incinerated, so that means that they will last through the next incineration and be there for all time. That gave me some solace to know that she could not be further hurt or taken away from me again.
Of course I also thought a lot about Kompis and missed her as well. I made sure and wrote her name along with Laff’s on the Temple wall.
I did come to some insights, and I got to use a lot of the techniques and meditations that Pema talked about in her book.
I’m happy to share what I discovered with my close friends if they are interested, but I’m not going to go into it here.
What I want to write about here was how hard it was for me to try to be in this space at Burning Man. I thought it was a place where everyone was accepted. I thought it was a spiritual place, a place where people came to get rid of their burdens, review their year or life, remember people they’ve lost, etc. Instead, the people I was with, who ranged in age from early 20s to late 70s, were just into hedonistic partying.
I kept getting asked throughout my time there if I was “having a good time”. I even had people ask my friend why it didn’t seem like I was having a good time. Even though they knew I was grieving and I had come there for that, they couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to just party, drink & do drugs all the time.
This was disheartening to me. I thought it was going to be an accepting community who would understand that I came here to heal and leave me to do my own thing and not bug me to drink and be with them when I needed to be alone sometimes to read, cry, think, feel, meditate, & try to heal.
I even had trouble finding very many activities that included meditation, grief, or healing. I searched for those things in the 100’s of events, but hardly got any good results. Even when trying to find a massage, most of them indicated they had sexual connotations, which I was not interested in.
My camp further disappointed me by being late to get their act together and take their art car out to the Temple for the final ceremony & burning Sunday night (even though I was pushing and pushing them to get to there in time). I ended up having to jump on my bike and ride 2+ miles across the Playa in the dark (when I wasn’t feeling well) in order to at least catch some of the actual burning itself. I was very upset that I missed the ceremony I was told so much about after spending so much time at the Temple that week… I really wanted to have the closure of being part of the ceremony with other spiritual seekers and then watch my offerings go up in flames. But I didn’t get to do that, which broke my heart.
I did stand very far back (there was no more room up front at all) when I got there and just watched by myself, held more of Laff’s ashes, said more prayers, meditated some more, and cried some more… and then I road well over 2 miles back trying to find my camp in the darkness. (Many camps that I used as guide posts were already gone, and most lights were turned off to honor the celebration, so it was very hard to find my way).
I want to also note that the same group that didn’t even ever actually make it to the Temple burn at all (couldn’t find the keys to the car and were too late anyway… it started while we were standing around waiting for everyone to get on the car)… this same group had 2 coolers full of liquor packed and were out on the Playa in plenty of time for the Burning Man burning party & celebration the night before with no problem.
Just completely different priorities than I had. (I didn’t even go out for the Burning Man burn itself, I stayed on a tall observation deck in camp with a few other people and watched it from afar.)
So, no, I did not “enjoy” my time at Burning Man. There are many complaints about the conditions that I could go into, but suffice it to say that those alone were making it quite unpleasant. But the bigger issue is that I wasn’t there to have a good time. I did have some laughs, I did get to meet some good people (and some not so good), and I got to hang out with a good friend (who invited me to join in the first place) for a little while as well.
And, yes, I did do some drinking & toking a couple nights, and some drugs one night. But more days and nights were spent completely sober. I expected that I’d dance because I usually love to dance, and that’s a big part of Burning Man, but I never felt like it. I either was physically ill (from the one time I did try to take drugs), or I just didn’t feel like celebrating. It wasn’t that I was in a “bad mood”, I just was very subdued. I still went out with others who wanted to dance and urged them to do so and enjoyed their company a couple nights.
I also got halfway through another book I’ve been wanting to read, Sheryl Sandberg’s “Option B”, about her suddenly & unexpectedly losing her husband and dealing with the grief afterwards. It was very helpful as well as Pema’s book in making me feel like it was OK for me to feel the way I was feeling, and grieve when I needed to grieve, and cry when I needed to cry. We have to be able to experience our emotions as they come up. Stifling them is what makes us go into deep depression, become alcoholics (or have other unhealthy addictions), or even get diseases. I want to work through my pain and not try to block it out by pretending to be OK.
As Sheryl Sandberg’s book points out, that’s not what Americans like. Unlike some other cultures, grieving is not really acceptable here. It’s hard for people to talk about death or to even be there for other people when they’re going through things like this. They don’t understand it and don’t want to be near it. I felt that so much while I was on the Playa. It’s really sad that as a society we can’t be better about something like this when it’s something we all have to eventually deal with.
We need to learn how to support each other in healing, and how to heal ourselves. Drinking and partying can be fun, but if you really are in pain, it’s better to seek professional help, or do something spiritually to heal yourself and work through the pain rather than trying to work around it or block it out.
So, I worked through some of my pain at Burning Man, added a little bit of new pain, and came back feeling tired but appreciative of my home and its luxuries (shower, toilet, running water, couch, bed). I’m also glad that I got away from my home so I didn’t have to see constant reminders that I no longer have a dog in my house. I also did not have to see any other dogs for 8 days, so I didn’t have to feel bad that someone else had a dog and I didn’t. So all those things were good.
In summation, I had an interesting time and a productive time, but I really can’t say I had a “good time” at Burning Man. And I hope that the people who were with me on the Playa, and other friends who have been to Burning Man, can understand this and not hold it against me. After all, my good friends know that I know how to have a good time and party when I’m in the mood – and when I’m not in a shitload of pain and trying to work through deep grief.
I do hope everyone else had a great time though. 🙂
I also hope when you experience pain, that you allow yourself to heal in any way you have to: Take time off, travel, read (the 2 books I mentioned are excellent), write/journal, go to church, cry, talk to people who care and will listen sympathetically, including bereavement groups or grief counselors. Ask your friends & family to support you and, if they don’t, move on to people who will. Don’t suffer in silence or try to ignore it. It will not go away. It will just make you sick and prolong your suffering.
One last note… If you are also suffering over the death of a pet, make sure you talk to people who understand that particular pain. If someone does not like animals or has never had a pet, they may not sympathize or understand the depth of your pain. Don’t take it personally, just move on and talk to people who understand it and who’ve gone through it too.
Here is a picture & a video of my final visit to the Temple, the last day before it was to be burned. It’s amazing how many things were placed and written there. You can’t help but feel the emotion of it all.
To see more pics, check out my album here. To see even MORE pics, come over for a visit. 🙂