I enjoyed doing the cafe laundry yesterday, watching the cloth and soapy water churn in the machine. Even that seemed to contain all of the life, beauty and mystery of the universe. I suppose that’s because it does! We spend so much of our lives under the wrong impression — the impression that wonder is elsewhere, truth is elsewhere, peace is elsewhere, spirit is elsewhere. There is this idea that we have to do something special or particular in order to find these things, when in reality, they are simply the nature of existence to begin with. The seeking is futile. If we fail to see the perfection that is before us at every moment, we will never find it by looking somewhere else, either. Our difficulty is that we have this belief that the truth is supposed to be profound, so we spend so much effort and so much time waiting to come across such a thing. Seeking meaning, wisdom, a sign. Hoping to find some secret in the world, or something in ourselves that is holier than the fact of our humanity. Some realization or piece of knowledge that will suddenly make everything extraordinary. What we really need to do, though, is stop all efforts that involve a longing for something different. We must slow down and open our eyes as if we are seeing the world for the first time. When we truly approach all moments with that openness, and behold everything for exactly what it is, including ourselves, we find that there is nothing greater to seek. Spirituality is not esoteric or glamorous — it is the washing machine. The truth is not elusive, it is available and unwavering. We are awash in it constantly. When we realize that there is no work to do, the work is done.
swinging on the swings today
world breathing in and out
weight and weightlessness, repeating
everything is its own point
the sun is rising on the tall treetops
and a little bit on the boulders, making them glow.
the rocky bottom of the clear stream melts into ethereal, upside-down images
of the green and golden world
as we all sit together quietly, brightening slowly into daylight.
the trees are reflecting in the water
and the water is reflecting on the rocks, shimmering,
glittering on the white stone.
the rocks are reflecting in my eyes
and I am reflecting in the sky
and the blue sky shines out into the eternal night,
saying, “This is Earth.”
I begin the familiar rhythm of washing dishes.
dipping the green rag sponge into the blue soap, my thoughts
turn to pondering what my role here is.
what is the volunteer work I am doing right now?
when I help cook the meals?
when I comb a friend’s hair? and when I sit by the fire
every morning and evening
stirring the fresh milk, that beautiful, white treasure?
I am not making anything, now. I am not building,
not creating, not even having an idea.
and then I realize what this is: I am just living here.
between sunrise and sunset I do two things — I participate
in the tasks required to sustain the lives of the people
on this little piece of land, and I settle into enjoying
the flow of what the day has to offer.
sometimes, questions that have been hammered into me
by my own culture surface in my mind, and I wonder
if I am doing what I am supposed to be doing,
or if I am accomplishing enough.
but then I notice how every day I can run
down those uneven stone steps a little faster,
I notice things that need doing a little sooner,
I am able to slice an armful of potatoes without a cutting board.
My work here is that of a student. My job is to learn all I can
about how to exist harmoniously in this place,
and to practice doing just that, twenty-four hours a day.
as far as accomplishing something, all I can do is hope
that my reverence of this village life is somehow
a positive force, however small.
there is no more need to search for answers
as I observe the unmistakable new growth of peace
wisdom and love within myself.
somewhere in a field, one of my Nepali sisters smears fresh guava
onto my cheeks, while the other, looking on,
tucks a stray piece of hair behind my ear.
sitting on the hill today
I felt like this is my life now — walking, eating, sleeping, and
mountains. it is difficult to imagine that this will end;
I will eventually be down on earth again
and wandering through nature for weeks will be a memory.
today on the hillside, I let myself disappear.
I wasn’t consciously grateful then, but I know that
was the best thanks I could possibly offer.
I wonder what it would be like to sit in that spot for days,
letting it all go over and over again.
I have never found emptiness
with such ease as I found it today, even though
I hardly had that purpose. something about this place
just makes letting go of your youness so natural —
it just happens, like breaths or heartbeats or daydreams.
here, all things just go.
the wind takes them
the mountains take them, and
you are swallowed by the world
as you were meant to be.
The forest is alive. Sometimes, we pass though breathing thickets that are the most brilliantly green places I have ever seen. They glow green. The breathe with the wind and the rain and the hundreds of waterfalls and drips and trickles that flow through them like blood to join the wild artery of the river that connects all. The trees grow like beautiful line drawings, their branches curling in the most exquisite, complicated, graceful visual forms. I like to walk slowly through these special places when one graces our trail. I listen and I look, and I know a more magical place I have never seen. I feel invisible things alive in there, like spirits floating calmly and unseen. Very old spirits. Ancient truths of this world. And when I walk through these places it is so obvious to me why they are here, and I feel them with such sureness and clarity in my soul. This is what people mean when they speak of someplace magical. Magic is when you can see things with your heart that you cannot see with your eyes. Some kind of whispers wash into me, and my body knows centuries of stories, all at once. You know when you are in a sacred place. It is an overwhelming bloom of life around you, a profound embrace of peace. It is like stumbling unexpectedly into a hidden room where the air is silver and made of mystery, and you barely want to breathe lest you clumsily disturb the perfect energy of this secret, innocent place that is much older and wiser than you. You just stand there and soak in its incredible grace, thankful for this beautiful chance meeting between you and your forever home.
The world knows my every step, every breath, every heartbeat. And with each one, I tie myself closer into its story — the One Story that renders every small being and event indistinguishable from all the rest. The One Story that can be felt so clearly and powerfully sometimes, when I stumble into one of these glowing places that are its windows.
After lunch we went to visit the monastery up on the hilltop. As the path ascended, the lines of prayer flags increased — long strands of white, red, blue, green, yellow, sweeping across the sky when I looked up, and across the rolling fields and clouds in the valley of Lho when I looked down. The story is that when the wind blows, it takes the prayers up into the sky.
The view below became lovelier with every step. Even before we got there I could understand why gompas are built on hills. The tranquility washed over me. I could see some monks on a hill below in the distance, dressed in red, building something or moving stones. As we got closer to the top, I could hear a continuous, energetic chanting. It sounded like children’s voices…and it was. It was about fifty children studying in the monastic school. Little boys and girls, all dressed in red. They were studying Nepali, English and some language of the lamas. They will all grow up to be monks and nuns. They are from the surrounding villages in the valley. They were enchanting. Beautiful smiling faces. Their recitations, though done in the carefree, spirited and vastly un-serious manner of children, were hypnotically beautiful and every bit as spiritual as the most intentioned song.
The gompa itself is exquisite. A finely crafted pagoda-like structure surrounded by other small buildings (living quarters and the school rooms). It is carved and painted down to the most minute detail — intricate designs and vibrant colors. I stood there and thought about how beautiful and saturated Asia is. I thought about what it would be like to be a monk, or one of the children studying. What a different life. So different that, when I try to imagine it, I don’t even know where to start. It is incredible that we are all human beings, but born into such vastly different worlds. Still, our lives and experiences are like delicate venn diagrams — we each exist in and know our own distinct spheres, yet there is a field of overlap simply because we all share the condition of being human, and we all live in this universe. We all eat, sleep, laugh, cry, make love. We all breathe. We all know what happiness is, what worry is, what loss is. We all cherish the sun. We all depend on water. We all seek connection, meaning, and peace. The people I saw today, though leading very different lives than I do, are all doing so to fulfill those needs, just like I am. Different paths carrying out the same purpose. Many and varied choices, small actions, behaviors, beliefs — all driven by the same things: love, curiosity, the will to live. We are many small beings, but all of the same source. All of our stories make one story. I thought of this today, surrounded by these monks and children. People, like me. Searching, like me. My family on the hill.
The drive through Nevada’s back highways was beautiful, peaceful, and somewhat eerie. There was nothing around. I watched the mountains and the deserts disappear into the evening, and pushed on through the blackness before finally giving in to stop and rest.
Already far south along the 395, Black Rock City was well behind me, but I still felt great to have left. I wondered why I wasn’t yet missing it like crazy, and I decided it must be a combination of two things: my total and complete satisfaction with my experience this year, and the life to which I am returning. I think that, at this point, the person I am in the default world is much more closely aligned with who I am when I’m in Black Rock City than it was when I returned the first time. Although everyday life is not Burning Man, I do feel that I am living my values and being my authentic, free self every day. I have definitely translated a good amount of the growth and change that Burning Man has incited in me the past two years into my regular life. Maybe that’s why it feels like less of a disconnect to return this time. I like that. Also, though, I was definitely more prepared for the experience of culture shock and frustration that comes upon returning to the default world, so maybe knowing what to expect helped too. However, even with all the positive differences this time, it has still been an adjustment.
It is odd to return to a world of money. It feels unnatural to be in a place where everyone is either in cars, in houses, or in offices. It doesn’t feel like people live together here. We live in the same place, but not together. Most of people’s actions are motivated by money. We eat to fill up time. We watch television to fill up time. The world is crumbling and on the brink of war – and for what? Why do we kill each other? For money and power. I think that no matter how many times I do it, it will always be hard to come back to that after living in Black Rock City, where no such things exist. One of the many beautiful things about that place is that everyone is TRULY equal there. I have never experienced racism, sexism, ageism, or judgment of any kind. Everyone is free to be himself or herself, and everyone is loved and respected for that. There is no leader, no one at the top of some sort of social order. No one has greater rights. No one is wealthy or poor, because there is no such thing as money. We all get there, and every slate is wiped clean. Each human is simplified down to her existence as a living creature, wrapped in her personality. Nothing more. There are no measurements of status. There are no restrictions on sharing and giving. There are no demands for compensation beyond the joy that you receive from giving love. I love it there because the unnecessary, fabricated, constricting, detrimental parts of human society are stripped away. It gives me hope that, even though real life could never be like Black Rock City in all ways, we can move closer to integrating the values exemplified there into our societies in the rest of the world.
Even though it is hard to come back and I do miss it a lot, I am filled with hope for a kinder world. We all must take what we learn from experiences like this and bring it back home. If Black Rock City changed you, the best thing you can do is let yourself be changed forever and not let yourself get swallowed again by the suffocating norms to which you return. Be the new you, even if you don’t “fit in”. Shine the light that you found in yourself – this will bring you peace, and make much more of a difference in this world than you could ever foresee. Burning Man’s energy will permeate the world only with participants who realize that they are not different people on and off the playa. We each have one self. Which one am I? What are the values that are closest to my heart, and how can I make sure that I live them every day, no matter what? Who do I want to be, and how can I best serve others and this world so that all may know happiness and peace? These are the important questions of this human life. Ask them and live them every day.
I felt sad to be leaving. I was not ready to exit that place of perfect peace. I went down to the river one last time to wash my feet, which felt like some sort of ceremony under the morning sun and obliging dappled shade. You know it when you are in a sacred place. It does not have to be labeled as such and no one needs to tell you what it is, you just know. When I go to the mountains and the forest, it does not feel like an escape, it feels like a return. A return to something that I do not remember in conscious images, but I know very deeply in my bones. It manifests a profound feeling of belonging that is stunningly immediate and complete, every single time. I cannot help but be convinced that I am immersed in the true essence of my origins; one of the pure portals to the heart of the world and the natural soul of existence. The experience is all-encompassing and undeniable. It is the return to the untold millennia of my past, before this body and self-consciousness, when I was unmistakably inseparable from the trees, the soil, the water, and the wind. Every time I end up in the forest, it always becomes a grateful surrender to that ancient and timeless truth.