The dust storm swirls about and my facial mask tastes like sandstone. The sun burns down as music honk-honks all around with an occasional thub-thub. Depending who you are this is dystopia or utopia. To me it is my new year. The healing camp where we support dusty souls who need to dive deeply into the far reaches of their existence rises up from the storm in a connected series of flapping circus parachutes. Here I see 30 people over 5 days in half hour meetings altering lives craving change. It’s one of the great privileges of my life and my gift to the Playa where we will burn the Man – stick it to the Man – in organized anarchy. Contradictions contort the mind as we visit the Temple at the heart of the Playa where we bring our victories and defeats; and our dead. The fire will consume our offerings. Living up in the mountains behind Santa Barbara where we dread killer fires, spectacular controlled burns are a homeopathic relief.
Burning Man 2019 is about the alchemy of metamorphoses. Even though radical transformation has always been at the heart of the Nevada desert celebration of orderly disorder where for one week Black Rock City with its 70,000 citizens is the third biggest city in Nevada, this year the core was made explicit. The magic of the Burn is that a month ago there was nothing here just gigantic silicon flats; and a month from now there will be nothing here once more. We leave no trace. Yet for a week this Black Rock City hums with possible encounters, intimate ecstatic moments and excruciating heartbreak. My sign in the reception area of our healing tent, where people come for a moment of respite from full-on Playa overload, says that I will deal with imagination, dreams and heartbreak. Total strangers, sometimes dressed in less than beach, tell me how polyamory hurts, how their work has dropped them and now what, what it is like being trans, and how they were blocked at moments when love could have found its way to them. Insecurity and uncertainty are the norm; being out of control the aspiration. How can we be out of control without spinning into chaos?
I find that the most destructive notion we have about ourselves is that we are a single unified person. Instead we are constantly embodied by a community of characters each vying for center stage. We carry otherness within us and here alchemy comes in. Alchemists meet life in the living substances that resists them. What crosses our path and throws us off, what defeats us, is the material alchemists honor. Being run over repetitively by the same material we call ‘problems’ can make you suicidal while giving access to the alien forces beyond our control. And if we’re able to stay with them, let them reveal themselves to us, then sometimes a profound change of direction emerges.
He enters from the midday heat into the healing tent covered in grey dust and slumps down on the orange camping back jack across from mine in the centre of a circle of tables where body therapists give massages and chiropractic adjustments. He’s come to the Burn with a group of friends and after a few days can’t stand any of them anymore as he wanders alone feeling utterly abandoned. Basically he wants to go home but he doesn’t have a ride out till Sunday. After some time it appears that this happens to him all the time. He makes instant friends and then loses them rapidly. At first he is very outgoing and then he closes up.
How are you when you’re making friends? I ask as I’m drinking lots of water, reminding him to drink too because he looks parched. When he describes his friend-making self and I ask him to fully live into it he begins to sparkle like fireworks. His speech speeds up and his voice becomes clear enough to drown out the loud sounds outside from a blearing art car driving by with thumping speakers. Before my eyes a dancer emerges with all moving parts, shimmering like a disco ball. There is nothing left of the slumping clump of misery that collapsed on the back jack before me. He is very likeable and engaging. He thanks me profusely that I have made him feel so much better and is about to get up. I ask him to just wait a minute and remember how he had entered unloved and abandoned. I ask him to feel the shift. He realizes this happens all the time. He swings between sparkle and misery like a metronome. As we slow down the movement of the pendulum his breathing gets deeper. On the in-breath he opens up on the out-breath he folds in, like a tidal movement.
My heart opens and closes, he says, I feel at home with myself. It sounds true. The opening and the closing are equally real. The entire experience morphs as he can feel the drawing-in and moving-out contained as distinct moments of the heart. Knowing himself in this way gives a new orientation. When he thanks me this time it is not elated. He holds my hand until the time to get up announces itself from within. We rise at the same time.
I marvel how quickly metamorphoses happen in this desert and remember how in Antiquity souls were said to be made of wax. It’s certainly true here at the Burn. Meltdowns and transformations are the order of the day.
If you enjoyed this blog, you may also enjoy this 10-part online course with Robert Bosnak: Gibberish – Alchemy For Everyday Life. Or enjoy the free introduction webinar to the course and get an idea of what the full course will entail.
Robert Bosnak, PsyA, is a Jungian psychoanalyst who graduated from the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich in 1977. He pioneered the Embodied Imagination method, and his current interest is focused on exploring Embodied Intelligence (MQ). Robert Bosnak is a Core Faculty Member at Jung Platform.More Posts by Robert Bosnak