Sunday, September 26, 2010

Temple of Flux, and all that goes with it.

The Temple at Burning Man is always the spiritual heart, a place of peace and respect within the wilderness of the incredible carnival that surrounds it.  Typically, the temple looks like an what you'd imagine a temple to be - ornate, spired high.

But the theme of this year's Burning Man was "Metropolis".  As explained in at the BM site:

Tumult and change, churning cycles of invention and destruction - these forces generate the pulse of urban life. Great cities are organic, spontaneous, heterogeneous, and untidy. They are, like Burning Man, magnetic hubs of social interaction. This year's theme will function as a micro and a macro-scope, an instrument through which we will inspect the daily course of city life and the future prospect of civilization.

So what they decided to design for the temple was something opposite.  It was a temple hearkening back to primitive man, pre-city.  When humans sought shelter in dunes, caves, and canyons; natural protections from the harsh elements of nature.  What they arrived at was the TEMPLE OF FLUX:
FANTASTIC!  There were various entrances, nooks and crannies within the structure, and a few scattered fire bins for heat.  People quietly wander and write on the walls.  In the morning, man are there writing in their journals.  It's a place of reverence.

I took these photos on the first day of the week, so you'll have to imagine that a few days later the walls, the crannies, the whole place was filled to the hilt with scrawlings, photos, poetry, confessions, hopes, dreams.  In places, it looked like some child's museum curated bedroom filled with stuffed animals of lost loved ones, framed photos, every last centimeter covered in keepsakes, dreams, and memories.
What people write is extraordinary.  Things you know people feel, but never share.  Heartache, hope, heartbreak.  The most wrenching were notes to the dead --from the living who regretted not saying something; not being able to comprehend something about that person while they were living.

The remembrances, obituaries of relatives, all so strikingly honest.  Not the mamby pamby "You were the best father in the world" but more like, "You grew up with a chip on your shoulder, and I'm not sure why.  But you never wavered in who you were.  You were never a hypocrite." Things like that.  Or this:

"To Alejandra and all those I let down, I'm sorry that I could not live my life with you in mind.  I'm sorry that I moved on.  I'm sorry that I chose life and this journey over you...
"Dear Omi: You would probably cry if you knew I was writing to you from Burning Man, but this is my version of spirituality..."
General advice, aphorisms, wishes, dreams, advice
Platitudes you wouldn't necessarily find in a greeting card:

The presence of hope is the source of all fear
The loss of hope is the source of all grief
The absence of hope is the source of all despair.
As you wander around, you end up with tears literally racing down your face.  Just reading those simple messages to the dead: "Mom, I want you to know that I finally found a man who can cook!" Or the one from a woman to a baby she lost in childbirth, pleading for it to forgive her for not being able to bring him and his light to shine upon the world. 

At one point I saw a woman, in the midst of writing on the wall, begin sobbing and shaking so hard, still trying to get it out, finish that phrase she was writing.  Some people went over and put their hands on her back until she could finish.  

On one of the last nights, Bam and I, after all our miles of wanderings around the wonder, beauty, and insane adventure on the playa ended up at the temple.  There, in the middle of the desert, were dozens of people huddled up writing, reading; some sleeping, others curled up by one of the fires.  It was very near dawn, 5:30 in the morning, and we were weary, cold and hungry.  This man wandered over to us and, in the true random gifting spirit of Burning Man, from out of nowhere he opens this pink box and says, "May I offer you a donut?"

It was exactly what we needed at that very moment, something that happens often out there. I believe that's the true challenge of Burning Man, to find a way to bring a piece of that back to the default world.  What a difference place this planet would be if this generosity of spirit, this manifesto of unity prevailed.  What a wholly different man I would be.  

On the last night, the temple burns.  In stark contrast to the party fueled, firework filled burning of the MAN the night before, with all its music and revelry, the temple burn is utterly silent.  All those left in Black Rock City come humbly to the temple, 40,000 or so, and sit in silence.  We remember what we wrote, or what someone else wrote inside, and as it goes up in flames, the entire crowd sits in perfect reverence as all the memories, wishes, hopes, memories and regrets fly up into the night sky.


carmel said...

Wouldn't it be great if that was the world's faith. Sounds amazing and I love that we can all share, anonymously or not, that you can see a stranger expressing grief and other strangers comforting, and I love that it all goes up in flames. Very cathartic, I'm sure...
I really would love to go one day. It sounds amazing. Thanks again for sharing your experiences there - it's great to see the flipside of an event that is known more for it's wild exuberance!

Tony said...

I think the "Temple" is the coolest thing you've showed us about Burning Man. It was a moving experience just reading about it and seeing the messages. I especially liked the one that said in part, "...Be who you want, try your best and always help others... as long as you're happy - you're actually living."
Amen to that.
Thanks for sharing, Jesse.