Leaving Burning Man, the depression was overwhelming me.
I was scared to turn my phone on. After a week in the digital darkness, I wanted to continue the freedom from Facebook, email, and my projects at work. I tell ya, living without connectivity for 8 days does wonders for the brain.
After spending the last week without any regard to time, commitments, or texting, coming back to the ‘default world’ was intimidating as hell.
Good thing I was headed for Las Vegas.
In the words of my BFF “You’re either doing vacation wrong…or very, very right!”
Turns out that was 100% the right decision. If you’ve never been to Vegas, it’s not exactly a representation of real life. For me, it was the perfect transition from Disney-World-For-Adults back to Real-Life-Things.
I had seen a whole city of people who lived together collaboratively, kindly, with acceptance and compassion. I spent two days drinking in my hotel room, feeling sad that it was all over.
But it wasn’t over.
I’m sure my friends hated me for the first few weeks back . I said lots of crazy things like “If you’ve never been to Burning Man, you don’t know me!” and “The 10 principles this, the 10 principles that“. Seriously: Burning Man, with the 10 principles, had become an overnight religion to me. One that I had to share with everyone.
I pulled myself back into the routine of work/sleep/work/grocery shop/work/sleep. Still, I felt incredibly disconnected – even from the people closest to me. Just like an old clock, something ticked inside me off time, de-synchronizing me from the world.
While I was going through the motions, I still suffered from a depression that I didn’t know how to handle. In my mind, the only solution would be to go back to Burning Man and just live there. Forever.
Of course, my logical (Vulcan) side knew that wasn’t a real option. You can’t just live at Burning Man, come on. So what was I going to do? Was I just doomed to suffer for 357 days a year?
One night, holding back tears, I’m telling this to my best friend. How I’m going to feel disconnected forever. How I’m never going to get back to that level, to that life. Bless her, she didn’t judge me a bit (that’s how you know it’s real BFFness).
Calmly, and so simply, she says “Why don’t you just make your life more like Burning Man so you can live it all year long?”
Chin hits the floor.
It was so simple!
From that moment on, it was clear. Depression lifted, I began to practice the 10 principles on a daily basis, making my life an ongoing, living Burn.
Standing on the train platform, I have 9 minutes until my train arrives. Down the platform a bit is a homeless man dancing to a stereo that’s playing some great tunes. In traditional Chicago fashion, everyone ignores him. Working up the courage for what I’m about to do, I walk towards him as the song changes. Dropping my coat to the floor, I bust out my best dance moves. He cracks a huge smile and together we break it down for the next 9 minutes. I see bystanders sneaking a look here and there, sometimes smiling. Slipping him a $5, I get on the train. From then on, I dance when I feel like it, no matter where I am.
After that day, things were different. I began to seek out other burners by going to local Burning Man events, including our regional burn, Lakes of Fire. I had found a community of people where I could be my full self, and a belief system that embraced that. There was no way I was going to let it go! I practiced the 10 principles daily.
The new Zoom
Over time, living by the 10 principles evolved into a new set of personal priorities. Instead of money and things, I preferred connections with like-minded people. I traded in possessions for experiences. Monetary value decreased while my love of gifting increased. Instead of looking at the past, I live in the moment.
I also found a new confidence. Bodies are just bodies. Who you are is who you are. No matter how loud you laugh, it’s okay. I have a place in this world.
It’s two years later and this transformation has driven me to do some amazing things. I’ve lived on a hippie bus. I’ve taken a month off work to go be a gypsy, traveling across the US at my leisure. I’ve quit my job to travel across Asia. I’ve made some incredible art. The pre-burn me would never do these things. I’ve been reborn.
I didn’t make it to Burning Man this year due to my travels through Asia. Still though, I wanted to celebrate Burning Man and all it’s done for me. In a move of solidarity for those who are on the playa, and to ease my own withdrawals, my dad assisted me with building a man of my own.
The beautiful thing about The Man is that he can represent anything you want him to. Whatever you might want to see burn and get what’s coming to it, is The Man. As burners, our whole week builds to this moment. For some people this can be “the man” (aka the government). Other people see The Man as the evil in the world.
This year, my man represents hesitation, oppression, and fear. These are things that can go down in flames.
With plenty of kerosene, he burned.
I look forward to what adventures the new me will take on next year. Thank you, Burning Man and your people, for helping me shatter my shell and find my true self.
If you were at Burning Man, what do you think The Man would represent for you?