“You smile at people – they don’t see the gunfire going off in your head.
–> Heard during a breathing workshop at 2018 Burning Man, the annual art festival held in the Nevadan desert. I remember this quote because it was one of the last things I heard before driving out the gates of Black Rock City and it really spoke to me.
In life, we all put our best foot forward. We say “Good, how are you?” no matter what is going on in our hearts. Our Instagrams’ explode with our smiling faces when we’re at our least happy. We’re all afraid of being judged. Barriers, omissions of truth, and defense mechanisms protect us from judgement.
Burning Man is a community of people who have broken down those barriers – at least while they are in the confines of Black Rock City. Burners are ready to be their raw selves, whether that means sobbing when a memory is invoked, laughing uncontrollably while on LSD, or being vulnerable in conversation with a stranger.
For me, Burning Man was a spectrum of experiences & emotions.
On one end of the spectrum was “Light & Jovial” – biking around the playa, getting into a new adventure with every turn of the corner, and feeling like a kid in a candy store.
The other end of the spectrum was “Deep & Intense” – solo moments after sleepless nights, reflecting on my personal growth journey, letting tears run freely down my cheeks.
The entire week, my emotions swayed along this spectrum. There was SO much carefree fun. Yelling compliments at strangers from atop a RV, jumping on art cars, flipping on trampolines, ecstatically dancing with strangers, drinking a margarita from a corner street bar, and biking free of plans and care – with nothing but limitless opportunity on the horizon.
There was also SO much crying. I cried after watching the sunrise – thinking of my relationships and my life. I cried during a breathing workshop. I cried after running into a friend who invoked hard emotions of who I was when I first met her. Whenever I needed to, I cried. I sobbed. I let the tears streak my dusty face – washing it off so people wouldn’t know I had been crying wasn’t even a thought. I leaned it and let go.
Leaning in led to some very fond BM memories:
- While tripping on acid, stomach hurting, we asked the lovely older woman at the camp we found ourselves in if she had anything to help stomach pain. She offered an “acid reducer”, which we all thought was THE FUNNIEST THING IN THE WORLD. We definitely needed our acid reduced!
- Meeting Z & Kurt, the Bearded Brothers, as we shouted at them from an RV at sunset and they danced like little monkeys for us. Running into them 2 days later amongst 70,000 people, and being SO HAPPY to see them.
- Drunkenly meeting Pauline at the lesbian strap-on-athon, thinking “she’s good vibes”, running into her crew 2 days later, and having an epic mental adventure together (where our geographic adventure was pretty much contained within a 5 block radius)
- Getting a love note left on my pillow from my college friend and then finding her!
- TRYING TO FIND FIONNA
- Met a girl
- Got her camp coordinates
- Biked there the following day to find her. Found myself in an epic adventure of margartias, shotskis, a consignment shop, a sensual “massage/5 senses teasing” experience, a tea lounge, a red hot chili peppers beanbag dome, and ending in a hammock with a sexy woman.
- Never found Fionna – but left a note on a random RV of someone named Fionna.
- Fionna messaged me 1 week after Burning Man
- Sobbing alone on the platform of an aerial camp. A kind stranger came up to me, looked me in the eye, and asked “Is Charlotte staying at this camp?”
- Sitting in a rainforest camp, while Barb awkwardly looks for a spot where she “won’t get dripped on”
- Peeing all over myself while learning how to work a She-Pee, then OWNING IT LIKE A CHAMP. Next Burning Man, I’ll be peeing in the urinals with the dudes.
- Biking around with a bottle full of my pee
- Sitting around camp, catching up on everyone’s adventures
- Meeting Sarah and connecting while watching the Man burn
- Following 2 art cars w/ DJ sets at 2am in a dust storm, like a cult of dusty, glowing aliens
- The emotional release of sending a letter to be burnt in the Temple
- Completing the aerial monkey bars I was too scared to try the day before
- Ecstatic dancing and wordless hug circles
- The sunsets
- The laughter
- The openness
- The possibilities
- The connections
As a first time Burner, it was so special for me to see a space where everyone can be their authentic selves. I learned that some things are best left at “good enough” and how important it is to “lean in and let go”