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Heart of Madness: How Burning Man Becomes Your Home

by Leigh Shulman Sep 29, 2010
Finding the Still Part of the Self

Do I understand what Burning Man is now? No. I hope I never will. The day I reach full knowledge of what happens in that week of burning sun, fire, sex, drugs, yoga, meditation, self awareness and silence is the day I have reached the end of a journey, and I am in no hurry to get there.

I did find acceptance. I let go of all I should do, all that defines me, all that I want, and instead sank into an alternate reality in which I divested myself of coats of description.

One by one, I let go of my roles — mom, wife, editor, teacher, writer – and then I could be just me.

Some chick in the desert. No definitions. Only the need to drink water, keep up salt levels, and watch.

Don’t Hold On Just To Avoid Heartbreak

Since returning, I’ve had many forgotten memories flow back into consciousness. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps letting go of who I am allowed me to remember who I was before. Or because all the forking paths not taken, leading up to who I now am, suddenly opened. I can go back. I can recreate what I earlier denied. I’m not sure the why’s matter as much as the what’s.

When I was seven, I spent hours every day hula hooping in our front yard. The first song I ever sang at an audition was Over the Rainbow. In eighth grade, I had a penchant for setting fire to paper in the girls’ bathroom at school. Abby always joined me. The smoke curled into the teachers’ lounge next door. Even when I confessed to the crime, I wasn’t punished. My first love wore a big army green coat with fur around the hood. He broke my heart when after two weeks he went to the play house with someone else.

My heart has broken many times since. My heart breaks because that is part of who I am, who I have always been. Somehow I forgot that, too, in the years between holding hands on the swings at recess and the me who sings a six-year old to bed at night. I closed up, grew protective, and I shut out other paths and people.

Many mourn the burning of the Man and the Temple. They should not. They knew before arrival both would disappear soon enough. That was always in the plan. That was always the point.

I didn’t mourn. Instead, my heart broke open as I watched the Temple burn, and as the smoke curled and twisted into the air. Silence. Fifty thousand people sat in utter silence for an interminable moment, just being there.

That bubble of space called Black Rock City is gone. The experiences, over. The people returned to their houses, apartments and lives, to their patterns and responsibilities. There are no guarantees that when we meet again, if we meet again, we will connect and love and share in the same way.

But there, that place, is home. You carry it with you wherever you go, if you so choose.


Have you ever been to Burning Man? How did the experience affect you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

For more on Burning Man check out our Burning Man focus page.

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