I went into Burning Man with zero expectations.
The neutrality seems forced. And on that first Sunday, it was. Two weeks before I was to leave, I went through a breakup that rendered me blindsided and confused. I had prided myself on reading people better this time around, only to find out that my instincts were, once again, off. This person, who had so far checked every box on my great-relationship list, had changed his answers. So while I had originally been planning to attend Burning Man to have a new experience, I was suddenly faced with a different view of the world, one where my faith in people was off kilter.
And so, when I first rolled in the dust upon entering the playa, I had no expectations in mind. I simply wanted to break these habits formed during that now defunct relationship. I wanted to get away.
And I did. Living in a desert for 7 days without technology really forced me to approach thoughts that I had put off in the real world, where I often opt instead to scroll through Instagram or binge on Netflix. Here, I journaled every day, becoming hyper-aware of my emotions and how they served me at various points in time. For days, I felt angry. Angry at maybe coming to Burning Man for the wrong reasons. Angry at myself for not being able to figure out relationships as so many friends around me continued to match up, like they were the perfect red socks in the drawer while I’m the discolored pink sock that got left in the dryer and nobody knows what to do with. Angry at him for leading me on and making me believe that this time would be different.
I’m not entirely sure what shifted. Maybe it was the communal dinners, or the first naked bike ride, or the incredulous sunrise, or riding on my campmate’s handlebars after my own bike broke and our collective three pieces of gum couldn’t save it. But during the second half of the week, I learned some things about myself. Some were surprising, but all were insights I feel extremely thankful to have experienced and want to share here:
- I am much more capable than I believe myself to be. In the span of a week, I went from knowing one person in my camp to forming a kooky and wonderful family. I cried in front of them, shared secrets, and did countless other things that encouraged me how much more there is to get out of the world. And while life doesn’t always fall in your lap, I can create my own experiences that play into my passions however I want.
- The atmosphere at Burning Man is filled with something. I finally put my finger on what it was—safety. It’s a feeling I realized I lack in San Francisco. Whenever I walk down the street at night, or hear catcalls, or even hear compliments, there is an unspoken wall up of having to watch my back. I wish there was as a common a sense of making each other better here, where we can bring each other up without strings attached.
- The people I want to have in my life are the people who I can be unequivocally open with and have conversations that are nonjudgmental, encouraging, sometimes tough, but always thoughtful. These types of friendships (and relationships) are not a based in knowing a person for a long time, but rather in their inherent sense to discover and grow. I’m lucky that I have scores of friends that emulate these qualities already. Thus far, my relationships, including this last one, did not fall into this bucket. And so as sad as it was to watch them end, I can know that they were not the right people for me. So now, I’l have to keep doing what I’m doing. Life moves at the pace it wants, which can be annoying, but it’s also okay.
There are countless stories from the wild AF week. The space whale, the 747 plane, the naked bike rides (yes there was more than one), the disco teacups, the rickroll at the end of the world, BAAHS the Big Ass Awesome Homosexual Sheep, the Tycho sunrise set. They were all beautifully eccentric and weird and really fucking fun. They are the pieces of Burning Man that everyone sees, uniting us in our L-wired dust mask glory. But in that dusty chaos, we also collectively break our daily habits to search for larger truths. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to do that, and even more excited to do it again next year.