Burning Man was for me like a hundred tiny joined dreams: dreams of color, dreams of explosions and flame, dreams of sound and light, dreams of darkness, dreams of humbling heat. Cycles of hours where time seemed to slow and stop, to breath prayers of quiet grace and celebration in honor of life shared. Dreamlike sunrises and sunsets that punctuated the endless roaming of friends through our separating, joining, dancing, crying, laughing, sleeping, talking, dreaming, cuddling, dancing some more, kissing, loving, praying, and opening wide to the creations from human mind and heart.
I have found a peaceful home in the desert- how light-and happy I feel to be welcome inside of those words- Sukkat Shalom.
My body feels like a blooming flower- arching back, opening, and vibrating in celebration of being alive. In this grace everything sparkles. I feel aware of such beauty in myself, others and the world… Today each moment is, for me, more noticeably pregnant with the full realm of sacred possibility – the same realm of possibility that Burning Man holds, as the mountains hold, and as every person, place, and moment holds, whether seemingly sacred or mundane.
In my heart I’m joyful, and there is sadness too. I find myself looking forward to next year, and wondering what this new year will hold… this past year has traveled the heights and the depths- who will I be next year?
In the meantime I’m in love with the dust.
I’m in love with the dust that saturates every thing I own, every inch of my scorched skin, every strand of my hair. I’m in love with the dust that forces our surrender and demands loving care for ourselves and for each other. I’m in love with the dusty visions that fill the quiet moments now… a strange kind of beauty that signifies belonging, a shared experience, an emblem of fierceness and wild desire to live and be free…
Driving back through the night and early morning each dusty vehicle sparks a deep joy and excitement in me- a resonant and satisfying feeling that the home and community my soul sunk into last week is not disappearing, but traveling back with me.
Leaving Black Rock City there is a line of headlights that snakes back miles. The seamless line stretches from the camps of the Playa through coned lanes and on to the pavements and freeways. Looking through the back window at the day’s last light the stream of cars and RVs feels to me like an arterie of blood – a pulse of fresh energy out into the world. Liquid light life force seeping steadily out…
Around midnight I reach the crest of the Sierras and pull over. Here in the mountains is another home to me- the memories of every trip I’ve taken and the echoes of laughter and good conversations linger on these roads like a lover in the sensual awareness, the arch of a back and a memory that grabs your breath. I smell the pines and notice their evening silhoettes against the sky. With the moon there are fewer stars, it is quiet for the first time in a week. My heart swells soaking in the moon. Climbing into my dusty sleeping bag in my dusty clothes next to these strange dusty possessions I feel happy to not be home.
Everything that was with me out there doesn’t seem to belong in this clean car, including me. My car feels foreign. Home feels foreign. Paying for things with money feels foreign. Not cuddling up to sleep near warm sweet skin feels foreign. I’m unready to be home, and unready to wash off the dust. Sleeping dusty I feel connected back to that pulsing line of cars, back to the camp I spent the last week in, back to the community of people I find myself feeling love, pride, gratitude, and humility to call myself one of.
As I arrive back in this other world I receive news from my mother that Cory, my neighbor at my parents house in San Diego, decided to end his life last week. Fierce anger, sadness, loss and betrayal enter the space I’m inhabiting, even though death is always inhabiting the same world as beauty, joy and celebration…the other side of the same coin, the bringer of rebirth and renewal…
But before I actually feel any peace with death’s presence in life I feel confusion and other emotions too transitory to name. Perhaps because I’ve experienced deaths just as surprising I no longer feel surprise as though it couldn’t happen; I know it can happen to anyone, and there doesn’t need to be sense or logic to it. But the math is still turning my stomach and causing my head to shake. I can’t quite focus on it. Next to the last week of my life, such a beautiful high of new friendship and life explored, this other experience is not feeling compatible- a part of me is checking out from it because my heart just doesn’t have it to understand right now. Understand isn’t the right word…
I’m packing out for a trip and I know that a deeper grief will come soon- I worry that it will come while I’m guiding, that it will affect my presence for others. I make a prayer to be able to do what I need to do to take care of everything in the right way at the right time, and to receive the assistance I need to be able to lovingly do my work.
A man who has been building a life with his wife, 3 year old son, and baby girl- how could he have committed such violence? Why? Why, why, why. His wife Jenna tells my mother she is so angry she can’t even feel love for him right now. I feel that from her even through my mother through the phone over hundreds of miles, the heat of such betrayal. Her anger for how their life has been destroyed tears around inside of her. These violent eviscerations are unforgettable, leave deep wounds, are hard to heal, and even more so in a world like this where we are culturally so inept at grieving. His possessions are already being sold, the house will be on the market soon, you can almost hear the ripping sound in the fabric of their lives.
Here in this default world a man can go into his home alone, as though no one else in the world existed, away from the helping hands, hearts and eyes of his community, and choose to end his life. What would drive a loving man to do it- I simply don’t understand… More confusion, disbelief, anger and fresh grief for this world… only questions in me, no answers. I wonder if he felt trapped? I wonder what the world looked like or felt like to him that even with so much he loved it still seemed like a good solution to end his life…
In my mind and heart I hold these two truths: 1. Every year a city is built and then destroyed to make way for the community’s renewal. This is done lovingly by a community of people who are seeking to create a space where all is welcome 2. A man spends every day of his life for years building a family and helping to build a lasting neighborhood community and chooses to destroy it in a day. All of this exists in the same world. The spectrum is far wider than these two vignettes indicate, but I find myself holding these two realities next to each other and wondering what to learn, what to see, what it means or if there are directions hidden somewhere in all of it…
I feel this other world crumbling, communities and families being destroyed inside out and outside in. Then I think of this growing temporary city that is built to give people a lived experience of a deeper community, a life of connection and interconnection. I find myself between these different worlds feeling both realities as separate and as one.
In my heart there is further confusion as to what it means for him to be gone- I’m a little shaken. I’ve never known someone choose to leave life before… I’ve known so many to pass away, but not because they wanted or chose to. There is something so disturbing about suicide. As I live each day of my life more deeply committed to living and all the wildness that offers I can’t fathom choosing to walk away… Perhaps it is a failure of my imagination…
On the last morning of Burning Man I walked from the ashes of wall street to the temple; it was just after dawn. Josh and I arrived arm in arm just minutes before the temple was closed off to be readied for burning. Exhausted and open-eyed we made our way in sacred morning air through the temple walls to simply behold what this gathering had created over the last week. It had been the whole week since I first saw it and from a pristine intricately carved temple with wood like lace rising to the heavens it had become a space achingly full with love and mourning.
The whole temple in the middle of the desert at dawn was covered in images of passed loved ones, scrawled goodbyes, poems, trinckets, songs, stories of deaths that came too soon, stories of lives well lived, stories of forgiveness, stories of anger and loss, stories of life tattered- pure and impure- unfair and inglorious- without reason- humbling- heartbreaking. Everywhere people were consumed in this moment before the temple’s demise- before the loss of access to that sacred space of contact- this moment that is a stand in for the goodbyes we’ve missed, the goodbyes we never had opportunites to say. Collapsed in tears at the altar of all that is. All that mystery, all that is unknown, all…
Outside already people stood around the edges, disallowed from entering. The rangers began to move around the space, comforting people and asking them to make their way out. Leave the tears, to leave the scrawled messages inside, and to move out so the sacred place could be prepared for going up in flames along with all the mixed feelings of everyone who made that place sacred through their openly shared losses, through their hearts suffering- sanctified by grief, purified by love and fames. There was something so profound about the request to each of us to let go… “let go and leave your mourning and your tears here where we will take care of it. Where we will send it to the sky to help you release.” Community mourning, there is nothing more necessary or human.
When the ranger came to me he hugged me- his embrace broke me open and tears came again, but not just for my own losses- but for the love offered in this place, for the pain and joy of living that emerges when we love deeply and truly, for the humanity of this stranger’s embrace, and his tears that came so easily with my own. My body’s shaking elicited his, his tears came and when we separated our eyes were both red. There is nothing to hold onto- we are inside the same heart.
As I walked out of the temple my eyes came to rest on my dear friend who I had looked for all week to no avail. Seeing her there felt as magical and perfect as having lost someone for 20 years and finding yourself in their presence on top of a mountain-top in a foreign country. Equally wild, we were dressed for ceremony together- white clothes, white neck scarves and forest green jackets… She was there to close a ceremony that I had helped her begin a year earlier. Unplanned, orchestrated by the divine, we sat and held each other and closed the ceremony, dressed like sisters, made from the same stars.
We left the final temple walls holding hands, and once again parted ways. Words of meeting again, but it wasn’t to be.
Is it possible to leave this place? I have a feeling a part of me will stay residing in these perfect moments of love and being found… and that they will be just as precious to me when it is my time to leave this world. And yet, there is nothing to hold onto- we are inside the same heart…
“All boundaries melt in the warmth of love and we know that we are part of an indivisible whole- an expression of the eternal divine.” -Deepak Chopra, M.D.
I’m driving under grey October skies in West Marin- looking across the vast expanse of grey sky, the grey-green rippling water of the Nicasio reservoir, the wind-shaped banks of cypress, the rocky outcroppings scattered in the grasses… It’s October and I’ve not spent more than a week in one place since May. Time feels nonsensical, as though in this expanse of comings and goings it is not actually passing at all.
I’m remembering all the places this year has taken me, the dozens of landscapes I’ve walked through and the trees I’ve slept under. I’m thinking of the people I’ve met and the lives I’ve lived. I’m thinking of cool water on my skin, bathing aching hips and shoulders in snowmelt. I’m remembering sharing tea, laughter and meals. I’m remembering evacuating a friend and the feeling of only being able to do what I could and praying that everything’d be fine. I remember dancing late into the night and I remember waking at 3am to head into the mountain sunrise. I remember the montage of faces, footsteps, quiet moments alone on the trail and I remember falling in love over and over, through successive awakenings, with this world; the challenges, graces, beauty, ugliness, the terror and the joy…
My work is so simple, and I feel so blessed to get to walk on the land, and simply share it. I feel so grateful. I feel so grateful that we each have this bright burning spark of connection in us. I’m so grateful to be blessed to witness people touching the earth, and remembering. I’m so grateful to witness what they feel, what they see, and how close to the surface that beautiful longing for reconnection is. It’s right there, waiting and longing to be touched and fed…
I’m thinking of Dustin’s song for Amy, his fiance and one of my best friends, who passed away 2 years ago now… I’m remembering how exciting and fun life felt with her at a time in my life when I didn’t know how to make it that way for myself- and I feel so grateful for the gift of knowing her. I think of Bob walking down at the pier where he and Julie used to walk together. I think of him talking to her there, the unimaginable pain of her sudden loss in the night. I remember talking with Cory over the fence about his garden, watching him playing with his son and 3 legged pitbull as joyful as anything I’ve ever seen before or since. I remember how fast his wife left the house to begin again somewhere that wouldn’t remind her of him. Death, accidental, purposeful, long-awaited… I remember every day, but right now too, that my time could come today. My mother of father’s time could be today, anyone’s time could be today, and some people’s time is today.
While I drive this 2 ton metal machine real fast on a road next to hundreds of other vehicles separated by imaginary lines I feel grateful for my life today. I feel so grateful for the lives of my loved ones today. I feel grateful to all those who I loved who’ve passed over to creator. I feel grateful for the love and I feel grateful for the loss.
Leaving the hills and oaks and entering the city I think about concrete, glass, metal. I think about systems that don’t work, I think about my bank account, I think about what I want to create, I think about this moment in history.
At a stoplight I see two veterans sitting on overturned crates with signs requesting support- it makes me so angry, and so…hurt. I don’t know them, or what their specific stories are. But I do know that we are one, and that I want them to be safe, fed, loved and cared for. I do know that my life is about changing the design that creates this. I know my life is about living the earth’s soul and heartbeat back into my body, remembering that my body and my heart is already of the earth’s heartbeat and soul.
I want to take everyone I know and love, and then through time everyone else, back out to the land- to remember, to grieve, and to make their bones part of the dust that will grow the next seven generations. I want for myself to stop traveling across the landscape and to sink into one landscape. My longing is for the slow unfolding of relationship through lifetimes, through dust bones and lineages, through knowing that cannot be broken- to find a home, to become a home.
These two men sitting near this freeway entrance, their faces long, skin thick, hands running through unwashed uncombed hair- I don’t know how they feel… discarded? Useless? Ashamed? Angry? Betrayed? Full of longing? Do they feel it’s their choice? Do they feel like victims? How much are any of us victims? How much are any of us authors of our own stories? I don’t know why in me they evoke both sadness and anger, and gratitude for humanity, awe at the mystery. My mind protests what it deems a waste of beautiful life, and yet in my depths I know that this story we’re all in is bigger than my mind’s protests and my heart’s aches, though it includes these soul urgings and longings. I feel grateful to life. I feel grateful to be humbled by not knowing where the path leads. I feel grateful that they are reminding me of our oneness. I feel grateful that they sit here- reminding me. I feel grateful for the sadness, the anger, and the love- that the beholding of any suffering inspires me to touch. I feel grateful to remember that I do not know.
As my body begins to itch and feel alive with reaction to the Guardian Oak I touched and remembered last week I feel grateful for cold water that rinses it away, for the warm water I’ll soon be able to enjoy again, and I feel grateful that my body feels pain and pleasure, irritation and ecstasy.
The fall is here in the air, in the trees, in the light and in the darkness. As I step out of my car back in Oakland the asphalt is covered with a fine yellow dust of crushed fallen leaves. Standing in the street for a moment of pause between the coming and the going, the trees are half naked and the sky is darkening. Looking again at the yellow leaf dust I flash memories of the adventurous bright summer out on the river and lakes, hiking in the quiet through different landscapes with friends, howling at the moon, early mornings watching the sunrise as we rose into the mountains; life opening me wide. What the beginning of the year held and where this path has taken me humbles and excites me. Looking at the meal of leaves, crushed beneath tires and shoes, blown by the wind, fall’s joy reaches me in a new way. In this moment of change between the seasons I feel so alive.
The last two days learning how to harvest, preserve and celebrate has made fall alive with its own beautiful promise… Harvest, celebration, preserving, togetherness and the creativity of cooking- this new way of being in fall is replacing the lament of summer’s loss with a bright excitement about a new season opening up with new possibility, new learning, new sharing, and the new life these things will live into me.
There is no end of gratitude these days. As the deaths of these last years have come on each other’s heels without time to recover from the shock or “finish” grieving before beginning to grieve again- I’ve realized that I am not making my way slowly back to some place I was before these losses, I am not going back to who I was before loss and tragedy left new places for wisdom and love in my heart and in my body. Maybe I’m slowly making my way somewhere deeper into the heart of life, my life and Life itself… The grief has become so much a part of life and reality as to never be far, but it is also not what it used to be. It’s not a betrayal anymore, not something wrong- it actually has its own beauty, its own colors, feelings, sensitivities, it’s own path of light. Sometimes the grief actually feels like some kind of elated joy, vivid aliveness… the joy and sadness are so close together they are indistinguishable and somehow both feel amazing. I remember my loved ones in the fall…
It is all cause for celebration, joy and love- not to paint sunny pictures, but sometimes it feels like all the pictures are both now. Nothing falls outside of what I expect or am willing to welcome. My mom once said to me “Life is both too short to be sad and too short to not be sad.” Thank you mom, for everything you have taught me about strength and vulnerability, love and its endurance.
There was a moment last week, on the fourth of July driving back from Yosemite, when I read a friend’s story of progress towards peace… His narrative of grief, and its transformation of his life…
The fireworks were going off everywhere- not in a big powerful way, here and there, small, low, like punctuation marks to the moments. I was driving across the central valley towards San Francisco, through the suburban sprawl and each and every townships offering of patriotism. Perhaps other citizenry’s fireworks as well, for there were so many small displays going off it seemed unplanned and haphazard. For 30 minutes at least I drove by countless small explosions towards where the sun had set and still left a lingering rainbow on the horizon. The little explosions seemed at once joyful symbols of human revelry, and humble gestures set against the sky’s enduring display of daily sunset grandeur. The fireworks went off just above the lit signs for gas stations and fast food chains, the billboards for vocational colleges and industrial supply warehouses.
His words wove the triumphant and melancholy story of a beautiful love lost only to begin somehow, mysteriously, to be pieced back together into his heart through the unsanctimonious process of living life after profound and paralyzing loss.
His words awakened my own desperate missing of her. I missed her so, in a way I haven’t for a long time. I felt a longing for those times, for that spirit, for a visit with my old friend… With a sadness for her passing, with a remembering of all the ways I am because of her…
6 months ago I finally started singing lessons. Amy had told me I had a beautiful voice and though it took me awhile to gather gumption, after she died I knew I had to honor my own life, and who she was to me in my life, by facing my fear and cultivating my passion. For myself, but for Amy. To carry on her spirit, and to live for the days that she won’t…
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.
I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.
It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
I want to know if you can
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know
if you can be alone
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.
(set to the song Ulysses by Mason Jennings)
I’m fascinated by the Histories of Intimacy… the woven specific quality of how people begin to know each other- first impressions- the shadows left by a dream- the flow and pulse of desire- the words we choose- the words we omit- the staccato or flowing sequence of larger events that punctuate life, throw us around, subtley change how we interact at a critical juncture- when love enters bodies, hearts and truths- when love leaves- the stories we tell ourselves- the stories we tell others- the awkwardnesses and the sweetnesses- the projected images of our other and of the life we want to have with them- the lives we are actually creating through thought patterns and habits- a million inane and record-less moments that are totally forgettable and insignificant except for that under scrutiny they point back to these stories, these projections, these beliefs.
In my more fastidious and curious moments these woven rivers of past moment are mines of information waiting to be deciphered and learned from, studied and artistically rendered… I don’t know when this crosses from passionately living and learning about myself and others into monkey-mind; but I know it happens. Meanwhile these moments sparkle without memorial or note and fade into the infinite unknown history of an infinite number of lives that will be lived and seen only by ourselves… meaningful and/or meaningless.
Vonnegut talked about us as centipedes because of how all time existed at once. I see us like rivers of moments flowing, I like the way the metaphor speaks to how a river changes course drastically over time through imperceptible shifts in thought, action, and happenstance. In the course of knowing a person I see how the winding courses are affected by so much…
But, not many really want to play in that muck so sometimes I end up feeling like I have to force myself to just set the analysis and historical review down in order to not seem obsessed. I am obsessed- not with any man I’ve ever been with, but with understanding what these flows say, what they mean, how history becomes. It can plague me in moments between chopping the chard and getting the rice going, between the shower and the closet, between waking and getting out of bed, in inappropriate and inconvenient moments…
I don’t often miss my last lover. Sometimes, but less and less with every day, every important event we don’t share, with every date I go on. Mostly when I think of him I get irritated and sometimes I start thinking of letters, letters that don’t need to be written really… and certainly don’t need to be sent. They never get finished. Lord I can talk myself in a circle though! I do have a talent for it. I examine the situation from every angle, look at the events, conversations and the perceived viewpoints of said person who isn’t here to hold up their end of the conversation or to bring actual light to my experience. Different stories, different truths, none verifiable, but all leading me to remember and recognize how much I don’t actually know.
Because I’m somewhat annoyed and hurt about how it all ended, when I do find myself conversing in my mind with my last lover his position starts out two-dimensional. He’s saying something no one would really say and I get to vindicate myself with a beautifully crafted indictment where I take the high road and from my position of moral superiority point out all of the ways he didn’t live up to who he should be, to my expectation of integrity. These conversations last about 3 seconds before I realize I’ve created a straw-man which there is no glory, learning, worth or satisfaction in tearing down.
What happens next probably doesn’t help me get over it any faster: I empathize with him. I imagine some of the stories that might explain why he did what he did. I feel compassion for his position and appreciation for him as a person who is striving to do his best, and who did his best in that moment. I consider how what happened is probably helping him be his best self and serve the world better. How it was all totally necessary in the river of his life. Never mind that there could have been more compassion or care extended to me and my open and trusting (naive? the jury’s out…) heart.
To the friend who will live himself into my life with sturdiness and good humor: Please see me when my wheels are spinning and grab my hand and waist to dance me into laughter in the kitchen… make love to me through my confusion so my body’s knowing overcomes my mind’s habits and lets the understanding go, lets go of the need to know, lets go of figuring it out. I want to let my overly analytical obsessing go just as much as you want me to let it go, and I’m good at laughing at myself.
I put my desk by the window and my friend Jed brought me a big pink rose that’s sitting here. It’s easy to work these days sitting here by the glorious spring days, letting the door open and the leaves blow in. It’s getting easier to sing thoroughly, resonating in my chest and face. I’m not waiting for someone to tell me it’s beautiful- I know it is because I can hear it- and because I can feel it. Beautiful feels like a body opening in resonance after unconsciously holding back for so long.
My singing teacher said to me this week “If you have a question about whether your voice is pretty, you can put that down. That question’s been answered. But you’re not just another pretty girl with a pretty voice, what the story the anxiety in your chest wants to tell?”
That question’s been answered…. huh, I carried that question for a long time. What is the story my body wants to tell? What is the story I will create with this voice that is becoming more and more clear?
I want the quiet head bobbing with music on the couch behind me while I’m working, I want the read and shared glimmers of wisdom, life, belief, and destruction shared from the books we read, the murmurs in the middle of the night “are you asleep?”, the quiet after one leaves, the thrill of return, the surety of being touched. It’s as though my breasts have a longing of their own to be touched and felt…
So sometimes I start writing letters to this man, letters about life and what I’m thinking. It’s kind of weird, because it’s not really about him I don’t think… he was just the last person who enjoyed and encouraged my ramblings, that last person I felt seen, heard, and appreciated by. So his image is like a place-holder that I’m trying to replace with myself… oh the modern desire to be independent and self-sufficient…
and another part of me is starting to think that humans need another, or others, to see them … that it’s not neediness that inspires my imagination to conjure another when I write my innermost thoughts… that this other, this listener in the form of another human, a man in particular, that this is generating from my genuine longing to start sharing my life with someone who sees the light illuminating me like stained glass in the morning.
It’s good to be quiet, and to wait. Sometimes… too often I think… I find I’m filling a space with words, thoughts, lessons- my inexorable quest to learn, to be my best, and to give my best to the world. But… it’s not always the way.
Tonight I’m listening to the rain and loud rumbles of deep bass, a guttural and thrilling power below the cognitive level of words… In this moment I feel something warm and basic, something I’d call love, though sometimes I wonder if the word is overused… I get this feeling that if I don’t put too many words to it, that if I go get in bed and listen to the feeling, and to the rain, wake up tomorrow and go about my day, that the gift will be myself. Not a lesson, but a changed story, one in which I am happy no matter the weather. Not prozac happy or inured to pain… but willing, and content in a deeper and sturdier way, to feel what there is to be felt- and in that willingness, a new, and happy, knowing of my life.
“We need to go to Spain, this cheese is so good…” something ridiculous and sweet about knowing we may never go to Spain together but that there’s still something important about saying it… in our infinite dreamlike future we take trips to beautiful places together unhindered by time, space, money, work, physical ability, or concern for the environmental impacts of hopping on a helicopter to have tea on the top of Mount McKinley. Today we share moments of ordinariness surrounded by all time and all possibility… and it’s absolutely beautiful here too…