I returned from Burning Man about two weeks ago. The clothes have been washed, the shoes rinsed with vinegar, and the bins are back in the closet. There are many tales and lessons being woven around the remarkable rains and days of mud, of people coming together and adapting, bonding, and playing in the face of new challenges.
But I’m drawn to share about something else, not unique to this burn but a regular and sacred thread of my personal Burning Man experience over the last couple years: my visits to the Temple.
While the Man is the flash point and literal center of Burning Man, the Temple, located at the 12 o’clock position on the map, is the heart and soul of the burn. Even on burn night (unusually timed as Monday night this year) when the whole Playa has erupted in a carnival of lights, art cars, competing umph-umph electronica, and dilated pupils, when you walk into the Temple a hush falls and even the most ecstatic revelers take pause and become present to the magic of this place.
The Temple is an intricately beautiful wooden structure, with a new design and vision each year. This year the Temple was named the Temple of the Heart, a space for the sacred amongst the profane, for the vulnerable amongst the ecstatic, for mourning amongst the reveling. The intricate woodwork quickly becomes populated with memorials to loved ones that have passed over the last year. I have honored my mother and my cats Dante and Ophelia in past burns, and have also honored and let go of past relationships in the Temple. It is a place of meditation, contemplation, and mourning. Many friends are holding each other as they cry. Some look lost, some filled with wonder, some a bit stunned to be suddenly face to face with such vulnerability.
The Temple is one of the reasons I continue to go to Burning Man each year. It’s here that I easily fall back in love with humanity. But it’s not exactly the vulnerability of sadness that tugs at my heart: it’s the Love. What I see when I walk into the Temple is Love. I see the Love people have for their friends, family, and pets who have passed. I see the Love behind Grief. I see the Love in the people witnessing others’ humanity. I see how much Love has been held back, unshared, and desperate to find ways to still be given.
Whenever I walk into the Temple I am clearly aware that someday my picture will be up on one of those walls. I don’t know who will be there to mourn me, or how much I will be missed. In a sense that’s none of my concern. My concern is how much can I Love while I’m still on this side, visiting the Temple of humanity.
I’ve carried a ‘memento mori’ (remember death) coin with me for the last four years. I felt it heavy in my pocket this year as I walked through the Temple, looking into the eyes of the people both past and present. The flip side of the coin reads ‘memento vivere’ (remember life). I’ve learned that these reminders are not good nor bad. There’s no urgency, because there’s no such thing as ‘enough’. It’s an invitation, and a possibility: a gentle hand outreached welcoming me, and any of you who are inspired, to let a little bit more Love flow through you into the world. Today.
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