In her I saw a what I had been holding back, a reflection of myself and my communities deep humanity. I saw a love I never understood before; a love I gave to others but never turned inward, in her I started to comprehend unconditional self adoration.
My upbringing was by no means strictly religious and even more so miles away from conventional Catholicism. I was encouraged to read and research theologies, myths and gods; I became attached to them; as friends, family, event fantasized lovers. This connection had me recognize at an early age that gods are us just as much as we are them. We need each other even if in the form of story to thrive in life. To make the most extent of our imagination; the delicate balance between science and magic that makes life worth living.
(“Do as you will, but hurt none”) was what my mother taught me; have your gods, love them and your fellow man; yourself included. Just be.My mother would take me in to these houses, these castles, these mansions of the gods (or just god depending on who you ask or where I was). The absolute exquisiteness and profundity would render me speechless regardless of how amped up on sugar or how excited I was.
I would sit quietly and think; thoughts of life, thoughts of the stories of the people around me, the people that had built this church, and why? Why Did they built it, why did they bother?
When as an adult I visited The Temple; I did not understand what she stood for, or what I was about to see. I alone walked around the labyrinth of bodies and read the messages they had left behind.
Messages of love, proposals, obituaries, goodbyes, apologies, sorrow, true humanness embodied in ceremony and art; our beauty, our anguish, our perfect incompleteness it was embraced and accepted in a way I had never understood to be possible before. I was home, and I for the first time since I didn’t know when felt safe.
“I had not cried in years, yet suddenly a wave of pure grief and ecstatic freedom fell over me; drowning in my own existence I dropped to my knees and wept. I wept for myself, for my life; for every person who felt as lost as I did. Tears graced my dusted face and I did not wipe them; I needed them as a reminder that there is strength in vulnerability.
She changed me, she let me know it was okay to let myself through the expansive walls I had built to keep myself “safe”.”
I speak so often of the 2011 temple; yet I truly hold an almost equal high regard to each one since. Juno, Whollyness, Grace; each one of them helped me form the person who I am today.
Transition to me was like a first love; although there are some that come after their legend will never hold the formative romantic faerytale idealism. Perhaps the more our stories mature the harder it is to liken them to the magic of myth. Seems kind of silly doesn’t it?
After three temples burnt; -their charcoaled memory ingrained deep in my psyche- I struggled with the idea of returning to Burning Man.
I had found myself, my artistry, my love. What else could I take without feeling like I was taking advantage of this lands generosity? I wanted to go home; but I had transcended from a childlike state and needed to support that which had supported me. Home wasn’t the same anymore, nothing was. I had bitten the proverbial Apple(cat) and couldn’t look at the world of Burning Man anymore with infantile eyes. I needed to be of service.
I thought hard on this, this idea of being “in service”. What did that mean to me?
Was I trying to validate my invested time put in to an utopian magical place that only existed once a year; was I just fooling myself that I was actually needed somewhere, or anywhere at all?
No. Of course not. I shrugged these anticipations aside. These were the whispers of fear trying to convince me to remain in spiritual transit; to stay stagnant forever safe in the depths of their jaw. Fear was scared of starving to death because I had been feeding it less and less.
People: they don’t mean to but they demand a lot out of those they care about, subconsciously they desire their own existence to be validated by those they hold dear. To know that what they are giving will be reciprocated. In my previous years I had wanted so badly for Burning Man to notice me, so deeply I wanted it’s validation; to truly know what it means to be a “Burner”. Like that really had any concrete definition.
After my 2013 revelations that desire didn’t fade, it evolved in to something much truer.
No longer did I want to be put on a pedestal and told I was good, but what I did want was to help others feel this same content way in the place where they were. Safe, Appreciated, Accepted.
I didn’t feel like I needed to be seen, or that I needed to disappear. I just was. I was there where I was supposed to be, with a desire to be this “in service” if needed; which I was. Holding quiet strength for those who would chose to borrow it.
So I decided I would go home, Back to the Temple and I would be a Guardian.
While I sit in training for my shift I started to doubt myself again.
“What am I doing? What if someone gets hurt? What if it’s my fault?”
and then further decimate myself
“I am a loser, a fake, what am I even doing here? I couldn’t be anyones hero; all I do is fail.”
I stop here and realize what I am doing, how I am creating pathways to bail out of commitment; imaging ways that I will be unsuccessful so I do not have to face the unknown of becoming something greater.
These were the last of my doubts for that week; what this did spark though is the bullshit circling the idea of “Heroism”.
We had a bad ass dust storm, the longest I had ever experienced. It was hot and I was cranky. Eventually I decided to stop fighting against it and adventure straight headfirst within it.
During this elated emprise I was given an oversized rainbow lollypop, the likes of which Shirley Temple would have been proud. This very silly treat to which I had no intention of dining upon joined me on my journey for a short time, until I saw her. While viewing the the now closed man before his pyre soaked dance I brushed shoulders with a woman clearly distraught; tears streaming down the dust on her face.
I walked past her, at first toting the modern world phrase
“That’s sad, but it’s not my problem; I probably would just make it worse. I better leave it to someone else”
to which my actual self replied
I turned around and softly touched her shoulder; waiting for further verbal or non verbal consent to more so interact. Eye’s locked and I had my answer. I handed her the very silly lollypop and stated
“I thought you should have this”
She in whatever mourning was flowing through her cracked a grin, and then laughter. For a moment lightness took hold of her and she gave me the biggest hug.
“Thank you so much, I really needed that”
I shrugged and smiled that crooked smile I have when I don’t know how to take a compliment.
“Of course” I replied.
Not 30 seconds had passed before a gentleman grabbed my arm
“Excuse me! This is for you.”
He gifted me a messenger bag just big enough to fit all the things I felt I needed to be confident in my shift as a Guardian. One of my plights was my lack of small bag in which to keep supplies; I wanted to bring tissues, a note pad, pencils, water, snacks; not because I had been asked to but because I wanted to provide to people as best I could.
In my solo act of quiet kindness, which just seemed so obvious to me; I had been gifted the tools in which I felt I needed in my scheduled duties….. but more so realized that volunteering or not we all should be Guardians to each other.
The Temple Guardian mission statement is as follows:
“Temple Guardians hold the space of the Temple, maintaining an environment that allows equal access for everyone to have the experience and expression that they need, and keep the Temple itself, as well as the participants who visit it, safe.”
Perhaps I could go in to complex documentation about the people I met while serving as a Temple Guardian; perhaps the people I believe I helped, the people that approached me, the stories they shared, the tears, the hugs, the deafening silence we stood together in….. but I don’t guard and tell.
These moments of intimacy in a sea of hearts where ours alone, I hold gratitude and solace for their trust and will keep their influence within myself always. I am pretty sure thats all I need to tell you.
As Guardians on top of being there when the temple is open we also make a human perimeter around her as she burns. To keep people safe as well as the Temple and all it’s future carnations. We watch and stand with our stationed group of people; and face them -not the temple- as the pyre was lit and she seared to dust. The past 3 temples burning had been a pinnacle of my experience; and I feared I would be unable not to turn around and watch the magnificence.
While standing, waiting, talking to my lovely neighbouring Guardian friend a Woman approached; She told us that if we wanted we could watch the fire after it was set, and that the rule it’s self wasn’t super strict. My neighbour and I made eye contact briefly, smiled and nodded; as if to silently say
“Thank you but I think I’ll be with the people; I am theirs right now.”
I watch them, their grief soaked souls peaking to a point of no return; recognizing something they have been longing for finally being satiated. A place that encourages the ability to cry, to feel sorrow, to be vulnerable, and let go. Our culture so abandoned by anything that isn’t surface level productive, so starved of the ability to feel anything that doesn’t save face; so lost without a place, or even an intention to be with our wonder, our sorrow, our imagination and our fellow like minded community.
I listen to their whimpers and each one hits me like a dagger to the heart, I hurt with them. I hurt for the offerings I left in the temple; the farewells to the bondage of old ghosts, I hurt for those unable to understand this type of interconnected non verbal communication…..yet.
I smell the fire and the wood cracks. I hear the familiar sound of a gift about to give way; filled quickly with the most cleansing of elements. Eyes and heart explode when the structure once sturdy and strong; collapses in to a beauteous downward spiral. As we all do, have and will.
Never in my life have I experienced the tidal rush of emotion that I did when that Temple fell; it hit me like the most omnipotent of wave and I fought my body not to topple over. Although I stood; and once more I felt with them.
Soon it was time for the perimeter to let go; and the people passed me without a second thought to the girl who just experienced every single one of them. They walked towards the coals of the fire together and I stayed behind and pondered them for a while.
I watched on bent knee and bowed. To them, to the spirit of the temple, to the land, to Burning Man.
I said goodbye; if even for a while, I’ve learned now what it means to be, to be an artist, to be in love, to be a guardian. Now it’s time for me to go away from Burning Man for a while and actually do something with these gems I have cultivated over the years.
I contemplate again on my thoughts revolve the “Heroism” stigma.
The world needs more Guardians and less Heroes. The act of gifting and duty without the expectation of glory leaves all the more room for truth in said deeds. Externally and internally.
In training I was told we were the Human embodiment of the temple; but what I learned is that the temple is an architectural embodiment of humanity.
Beyond the esoterically egotistical, beyond the post modernistic scepticism; -and all that lays between them- you’ll find yourself a temple. In stature, in heart; and it is yours to give back, to embrace, protect, provide and accept. As Human beings we all have the ability and obligation to be a Guardian
“I came in as a lost soul
from broken-down hero to halcyon guardian.
I battled against the upstream winds only to find myself enraptured by the desert storm.
The playa danced as we kicked up dust.
Blinded by her whiteness we moved and cavorted.
Along with the deepness that resonated our carnal bodies, and the melody that drives our cosmic apotheosis.”