Thursday, 7 August 2008
More on Burning Man
It has been pointed out to me that my recent post on Burning Man, prompted as it was by the funny "If you're not going..." email that was sent by a friend who's not, focussed a bit too much on the party aspect, and NOT on the real reason many of us go: the community.
Burning Man is the most common name for the event. But for many of us, it's Black Rock City. That's because while the party on Saturday night, when the Man is burned, is what gets all the press, what's really spectacular, moving, involving and enlightening about the event is the city itself. That is to say, the people.
People build a city of 50,000 in little more than a week. And they do it with a degree of sophistication and creativity that is absolutely breathtaking. THAT is the real joy of Burning Man: Watching this city rise out of an absolutely barren dry lake bed. It is, really, nothing short of astonishing.
That's why I try to go early: because when I get there before the event, as I do nearly every year, I get to see (as well as help in) the effort to create something that will cease to exist only a week later: a "home" for a diverse tribe of folks who are working, sweating and paying for a city that is a work of art that will melt away (sometimes literally, in flames) in no time at all.
In that way, Black Rock City is an offering, a candle lit for inspiration and connection to something bigger than any of the participants. It reminds me of the offerings the Balinese make and leave at every doorway, intersection and stairs: beautiful, extravagant concoctions of flowers and fruit and palm fronds, which are consecrated and then trampled underfoot.
Black Rock City is an offering to the notion of community, a place where people look at each other - really LOOK at each other - and wonder: Who are YOU? What can you teach me? What do you need? How did you get here? How did WE get here, to this moment? What can I GIVE you?
People who don't know Black Rock City think that its a "barter" system. It is NOT. It is a "gift economy," where gifts are given, randomly, to strangers, because Black Rock City's citizens have learned, either there or elsewhere, that it really IS better to give than to receive. And that random, wanton giving is a way to celebrate the incredible gifts we have each been given just by being alive.
When we arrive in Black Rock City at the end of this month, the Greeters at the gate - of which I am one - will say "Welcome home." We'll say it to everyone, those who have been before and might literally get out of their auto and literally kiss the ground - and those who have never been, but knew they needed to come. Because when we enter Black Rock City, we are being given the greatest gift of all: the opportunity to express our gratitude, openly, profusely, for being alive. And to celebrate all of our fellow travelers in this great journey through a life that is, after all, nearly as transcient, and potentially trancendental and transforming, as Black Rock City is.
And we'll probably party a bit, too. It is, after all, a celebration.