My life changed when I stopped having to suspend my disbelief in the supernatural and instead just started believing in it.
It started in 2013 at the temple at Burning Man, where the overwhelming collective sadness and hope the city’s residents had imbued the place with came over me like a flash flood, and I felt emotionally moved, or really, shoved, for the first time in many years. That was the point when I really “got” Burning Man, and when I stopped reflexively turning my nose up at a whole class of vague, “woo” spiritual beliefs common among West Coast new-agers.
Later that year I found myself at a funeral procession in New Orleans, at the close of a week where I stopped questioning whether I believe in magic, bathing in the glow of a ritual where a big group of near-strangers created a moment so rich with a power and meaning you could taste it in the air.
When I got on the bus to go on that trip to New Orleans I had a burning branch of sage waved around me. I scoffed inside, as I usually did whenever burning sage showed up at various political events here in [undisclosed location]. Less than a year later I gave a bundle of sage I got from Lakota Sioux country to my cousin as a housewarming gift.
I found myself among the Lakota earlier this year, hitch-hiking across the country for various reasons. At some point on that trip I started talking to God, and at some point God started talking back. I stopped questioning whether believing in this made me an idiot or a crazy person. I learned to pray from my heart, trying to lean less on words as a crutch.
I stopped questioning the idea of chakras and energy flow in my body after two experiences – one was falling in love for the first time in years, followed by a devastating breakup, when I realized I felt different emotions in different physical locations in my body. The other was some experimentation with Taoist sexual practices. I realized that if one thing that defines something as “science” is a series of actions with predictable results, it doesn’t matter what language or attitude is used to convey those actions. If it works like it says on the tin, it’s still science.
At Burning Man this year I burned Fear, Resentment, Mediocrity and the Hungry Ghost. I finally understand what people mean when they talk about Burning Man as a place and time of spiritual renewal. It’s church, for a generation of people who experienced church as a reified, hollow, meaningless chore.
I could physically feel these things leaving my body, as a chill that ran up my spine and left, swept into the updraft of hot air coming from the burning debris of the temple, just as I saw individual paper effigies float into the air, red-hot, just before disintegrating and melting away into ashes.
I quit smoking three days before Burning Man and spent two weeks in the desert staring down the hungry ghost inside me, in a place where instant gratification is always just around the corner. I might’ve used sex as a crutch if it hadn’t been for a fateful drug use accident that ended up triggering a cold sore. Alcohol was ever-present, but I can’t really say that I drank to get drunk more than a few times, despite loud, jubilant proclamations of “LET’S GET WRECKED!!!” all week long.
I’ve resolved to not drink at all until leaving on my next trip in the middle of September. It’s been three days and I am feeling no loss. Everything feels eminently possible.
I realize that if I come back to this blog years later it’s going to read like a long, slow crawl out of a deep depression. I don’t perceive my life for the last 4 or 5 years that way, but I do feel like I’m turning a corner, and if I’m turning a corner it means something must have been wrong before.
Maybe that’s why keeping a journal is a good idea. Who knows. But there it is.