The Temple

I went to Burning Man last year. There are so many things I could say about it. The hardcore preparation work you have to do (we were in a team of about 20 people, with one quite experienced leader, and we were all assigned tasks beforehand and afterwards – like buying enough water for everyone!). Eight days with no internet, no screens, no shops, no money being used. A city that is built almost overnight, housing 60,000 people in a semi-circle, then it disappears completely again – only the pure desert is left. How most camps have a theme, like Barbie Death Camp, where hundreds of Barbie dolls were posed in different situations where they were going to their death. How the other half of the circle has enormous artworks placed randomly, and you stumble across them while riding around the sand, on bikes…

I saw so much, and yet I only just scraped the surface, because I was trying to take it easy and not pressure myself to go everywhere and see everything (you’d blow up! it would be impossible!). Sometimes, though, a small clear memory is evoked – of one of the hundreds of things I experienced – and I remember that one small thing, again.

I was reading this post on The Self Help Hipster, and came across this paragraph:

This tragedy made me hyper-aware of two things: One, the world is full of suffering and pain. Which I always know, but never truly allow myself to feel, you know? It’s too much. And I don’t know what to do about it.

and instantly, I remembered the temple.

Besides the camps, there are two main structures at Burning Man: The Man, and the Temple. They are both burned on the last night of the festival. When I arrived in the desert, I was given the advice: “Wait a few days. Go to the temple when you feel ready. Go there alone. Take your time walking around. Let it sink in gradually. You might just want to get a sense of it, and then return again later.”

It was all a bit mysterious, but I figured that if I’d heard that type of advice from a few people, it was worth taking. I waited a few days, then when I had some quiet time and nothing to do, I rode my bike out to the temple and had a look around. It was a beautiful structure. I went inside, and saw there were corridors around the outer edges of the structure, then the corridors opened up into a large space in the middle, where there was a central sculpture. Throughout the corridors, people were quietly walking around, or sitting, and attaching things to the temple walls: photos, notes, items. I started looking at them. Most were messages of loss and sadness. For friends, family and lovers who had died. For deep regrets. For pain suffered. A few were notes of hope or love or anger. I become quite affected by anything remotely emotional, so after a short while, I was overwhelmed by the suffering that was represented there.

I went into the centre of the temple, and saw people lying around, kneeling, sitting, standing, praying, sleeping, thinking, meditating… I tried to sit with them for a while, but it didn’t feel right. I know that many would tell me that the temple isn’t a place of sadness, but it felt like that to me. I thought about all the people at Burning Man, and how so many of them had come here and expressed pain or sadness. Maybe I am extremely fortunate to not have anything that I wanted to leave there, on those walls. I don’t know. I couldn’t help but feel there was an insane kind of repetition presented within – death and sadness, loss and pain, regret and suffering – and I wondered if there could be any other way. I feel like we have certain things in our culture that position us for sadness too easily. Sad funerals, cycles of abuse, a lack of compassion, unhealthy communication and confrontation, a dwindling or absent sense of community, a lack of reflection in life, unhealthy priorities… I don’t think these are mandatory and inescapable human experiences.

I don’t have any conclusion. I just remembered those thoughts, when I saw Lianne’s post.

(Photo credit: Ashley Steel via photopin cc. Image lightened and colours adjusted.)

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