Momentary Bliss

It has been almost a month since I returned from Burning Man and I am still decompressing and re-evaluating bits of my life. Despite everything I do feel a sense of ease, like I’m on the right path and I can see my behaviors with more clarity than before. This is, no doubt, partly due to the Burn but a few other things have entered my life recently that deserve some credit.

First, I just finished reading “Finding Ultra” by Rick Roll. Prior to reading this I kind of knew who he was… and ultramarathon runner, vegan, and overall advocate for people living their lives and pursuing their dreams. What I didn’t realize was some of the struggles that he dealt with and how he didn’t really start taking his health seriously until he was 40 years old. As someone who is closer to 40 than 35 this really kicked me in the head. It is kind of rare to read one of these self-help books by someone who didn’t get started until after their 20’s or early 30’s.

Overall, I enjoyed the book but it wasn’t really the ultramarathon parts that stuck with me. I still want to run one because I’ve never done it, but the motivating parts were more, umm, spiritual. Roll is a big advocate of living a mindful life and really thinking about why you make decisions, a theme that is present in the second thing that deserves credit: The Noom app.

“Noom” is, on its surface, just another exercise and nutrition logging app. However, it actually works to provide support and tools in a way that I have not experienced. They ground all their work in psychology to help develop new habits. As cliche as it sounds, it is about lifestyle and not diet. Each person is also put into a group with a couple dozen other people that are on the same learning schedule to provide support and encouragement and a place vent. You also each get a personal guide to help formulate goals and such each week. Now, you need to actually pay for most of what this app has to offer, which I do. It is worth every dime. It is actually one of two apps I pay for, the next being YNAB.

“You Need a Budget” (YNAB) is a pretty cool budgeting app that links to your accounts. One of the key differences between this and how I was budgeting is that you can only budget money that you actually have. So, even if I am expecting a paycheck next week I can’t apply that money until it hits my account. I have actually found this incredibly useful and since I started using the app I have not used my credit cards, they aren’t even in my wallet anymore.

The book and the two apps and my Burning Man experience are really connected by this concept of feeling present.

  • Am I eating because I’m hungry or because I’m mindlessly responding to a stimulus that has built neuropathways over years of turning to food for comfort?
  • Is the money I’m spending really in line with my longterm goals or am I just doing it to get an endorphin rush, impress someone, or out of habit?
  • Do I have those books on my shelves because I am truly going to read them someday or are they things that weigh me down?

This slow shift in my mindset has lead to some radical changes. I’ve gone through some of my books and really asked myself: Am I really going to read or reference this? Does this book create an aesthetic I want or is it contributing to clutter? Does this book serve as a way to signal my beliefs, desires, and interests in a way that is constructive to my social interactions?

Now, I have a stack of books and clothes that are going to be donated and my office feels much more open and free. My diet, exercise plan, coffee purchases, social events, relationships, and even drug use have undergone the same evaluation. Do these things serve me or am I just stuck in a pattern? I’m actually amazed at how many things do not serve me anymore and how I have completely over cluttered my life.

And, surprisingly, cutting free has been easier than I expected and I am more at ease now than I have been in a very long time. I’m excited for the things that are staying in my life and will receive more care like my marathon (and ultra) training, sexual curiosities, whole-food plant based nutrition, and writing. By saying “no” to other expenses and experiences I am saying “FUCK YES!” to the ones that serve me. Now, will they serve me next year? I don’t know, but if they don’t then I look forward to whatever new aspect of existence that I’ll get to explore.

Burning Man: Metamorphosis

Last week I returned from my fifth Burning Man. It was an incredible experience, my favorite year yet, and I am still processing and decompressing from that wonderful week in the Nevada desert. Anyone who spends much time with me knows that I go to Burning Man, given how it changed my life so radically it is hard not to bring it up. What many people don’t understand is what Burning Man actually is… unfortunately, I have a hard time explaining it myself.

I think that asking the question “What is Burning Man?” is actually one that can’t be truly answered. It would be like asking “What is Pittsburgh?” or “What is England?”. That phrasing might work on Jeopardy but it doesn’t really work in real conversation. The problem is that Burning Man isn’t really an event, it is more of a community and a place. Sure, it is scheduled at a time and place for a limited time like a festival but it isn’t a festival. There are events that happen at Burning Man, but Burning Man itself is not really an event.

At the end of every summer ~70,000 gather together in the harsh Black Rock desert in Northern Nevada and build a community based on 10 principles. These principles guide the behavior of each member of the community. Now, nobody is perfectly following the principles. In fact, there are times when the principles are in conflict with each other. There are no community supported laws, bureaucrats, red-tape or elected officials (though various government agencies are present). The only infrastructure in place when burners arrive are the streets marked off and porta-potties. Every other structure and resource is brought in by the attendees and built by the attendees… and oh man, they can build wonderful things in such a short time.

Even without the threat of violence from men with badges the community is incredibly well-behaved. Women can bike around at night naked and not get harassed or assaulted, people use all kinds of chemicals that aren’t authorized, and people pick up garbage (or “Matter Out Of Place” – MOOP) as they travel. It is far from perfect and there are assholes but I would prefer to be around that intentional community than a random selection of 70,000 outside of Burning Man.

There are other questions, like “what do you do at Burning Man?” and “Why do you like going to Burning Man?” that are a little easier to handle. The former question depends a lot on the person. There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of events that happen during the week and what I do will vary significantly from what others do.

For example, on Tuesday we set off on our bikes without much of a goal. As we rode around the streets we passed camps that people set up to provide gifts to other members of the community. We found ourselves at a camp giving away grilled cheese, another one with iced coffee, and a third with margaritas. At the margarita place we ran into an old friend and chatted for an hour, then there was a camel-toe and moose-knuckle competition. We also stumbled upon a camp that was doing circus acts that served Pho (including vegan!) and we learned  that they were having a pole dancing performance on Friday so we tentatively decided to attend that.

In total, we biked around and found dozens of camps spontaneously with drinks and food and music… all gifts from other burners. Eventually, the sun got to us so we took a nap. After our nap we went out to look at art and listen to more music, again we had no real goal other than live in the moment. If you google “Burning Man Art 2019” you will see some of the amazing things that artists created as gifts for everyone. We were able to climb up into many of them and play.

This continued for seven days. There were sunrise yoga sets and classes about how to tie someone up in BDSM. Some professors were there to teach about the geology of the Black Rock Desert and fire dancers performed in the streets. We even went to a class called “Discussing Sexual Desires for Introverts”. There was a “hug deli” where you go up and order what type of hug you would like and everyone around gives you that hug. Each day has thousands of events scheduled and infinite unscheduled random encounters where you can meet new people, laugh, and love. Remember, it is a city where gifting is part of the culture so everyone tries to provide something for others.

Whether you wanted to meditate and honor your spirituality or get into a carnal sexual dance, there is a community for you. It really is about getting out of the “default world” and working towards being true to yourself. It is the most beautiful of experiences and it is my Home. It is tough though, the environment is rough, and there are many moments of discomfort and sadness and emotional overloads, but those “negatives” actually make it even more important to me. The people who rent RVs and hide from the heat or shower daily or stick to the places of comfort have different priorities and experiences than I do. I like to sweat and connect and get dirty and deal with the porta-potties to truly begin to see a glimpse of what it has to offer.

Each year is a new lesson and new experience, and this year was no different. Some lessons that hit home this year include:

  1. I have a lot of internalized shame and a feeling that I’m not worthy of happiness or health. A lot of my internal negative dialogue and self-sabotage comes back to this. But I AM worthy of love and happiness and success and health, even if it doesn’t feel that way.
  2. I definitely have a group sex kink. It isn’t necessarily a desire to have sex with other partners, it is more of extreme enjoyment from being in a room with others having sex. Kind of a voyeurism, exhibitionism, live porn kink.
  3. I’m a pretty good looking guy and my self-image is pretty tainted. I wouldn’t say it is full-blown body dysmorphia but I have a distorted view of my own appearance.
  4. I really like being naked. Not only in sexual situations or whatever, I just like not having clothes on and I like being around other people who don’t have clothes on.
  5. I should be a better advocate for myself. It is okay for me to speak up for what I want and say no to people or experiences that I don’t want.
  6. I am not at fault for the trauma I experienced during war. It is good that I survived. I have deep wounds to work on but I am not the same person I was back then (I was basically a kid) and I am not the same person as the guys I served with. The week before Burning Man I had a really bad PTSD anxiety attack, I was convinced that I would inevitably “snap” and kill those I loved. I felt leaving their life was the only way to protect them and nobody would truly love me if they knew my heart. I was in a bad place. Luckily, I have a kick-ass partner and she knows intuitively how to help me. The Burn really brought some of these issues into clearer focus and helped me realize that I am not my trauma and nothing is “inevitable”.

Those are some of the takeaways on my mind right now. I’m trying to process and decompress and plan out how to take this time of clarity to move forward. I know this momentum won’t last forever but things feel really good right now and some ideas include volunteering in the community more, writing and publishing erotica, start fire dancing again, join local clubs (swinger, nudist, environmentalists, activism), take art lessons (dancing, singing or instrument), get outdoors more, develop my spiritual practice, and take my physical health more seriously through an exercise routine and better eating. I also want to start doing more events and travelling alone, including an extended meditation retreat.

The them for this year (Metamorphosis) was really applicable to my experience. I, like everyone else, is a constant state of change. I’m learning and striving and stumbling daily, and Burning Man helps with all of that. It is a place where I gain insight into myself and am encouraged to take chances and make decisions that are true to myself. It is my Mecca, my pilgrimage, my rebirth, my new year, my rite of passage, my spiritual home. It is holier to me than Christmas is to Christians and more worthy of celebration than any birthday.