Burning Man, 2001

David Ethan Kennerly


“I am the flame that burns in the heart of every man.” - The Book of the Law


Maybe it's easier to describe Burning Man by describing the first day after.  The first day after I returned from a healthy weekend in Boulder, Colorado, I pedaled as if five years younger, lungs saturated with essential receptors.


The first day after I returned from Burning Man, I drove into San Francisco before any other contact with civilization.  The pedestrians weren't topless, not even their tops were see-through.  Silly clothes.  Am I a hypocrite?  I never went naked at Burning Man, but many did, or with their bounties beautified whilst shoulders, head, or legs received ample coverage.


All in San Francisco is either tame or brutal.  Tame in that it is comfortably numb, solid like pressing your thumb against the stucco-steps up Buena Vista. Burning Man is not, like the weird dagger dangling before a savagely painted Macbeth's still-innocent eye.  Comfortable, like running water and a complete absence of persistent dust that will inevitably paint every horizontal surface.


Tame, like prejudices based on clothing and status.  Well, for me, in a small degree.  For others, no change.  There were fine specimens for a Forbes catalog on bicycles, though less common than the "bi"s on cycles.  People is people.  Like the Soylent Baby Camp, that made baby food (with real babies).  People is people.


The anthropologist, Margaret Mead, said a person could be brought up to be a member of any culture or society.  A fair distribution of America and its sibling countries beyond presented themselves.  For a few days, we stretched. 


But on return, like a watch readjusting itself to Pacific Standard Time, my old thoughts sprung back.  My old grudges.  Little irks and intellectual urges: things to bug me, about other people.  Like I was married to the person.  Maybe it's not important.  My basic needs, like a spoilt child, I focus on what else my princely personage requires. Obedience?




Free Your Ass and Your Mind Will Follow

"So, was Burning Man nothing more than a big frat party?" Ethan asked me, while I burned a backup data CD in the Minotauran center of Nexon’s cubicle maze.


Burning Man was more than a frat party. One of the most worthwhile moments I spent there was at Yoga Tazii.  The yoga I'd thought I'd practiced bits of for years, was imperfect, even in instruction.  The posture was imperfect.  After Yoga Tazii lessons at a sumptuous ashram of a tent, I felt a subtle, amazing difference when I reclaimed the proto-yogic posture.  It affected my magickal ritual, meditation, sitting, standing, walking, cycling, and other activities. 


The simple yoga I'd done before became three times harder when I attempted the proper posture for Downward Dog, Cobra, and others.  It applied to my Western stretching as well, which I'd mostly picked up from high school Track and Field and US Army Physical Fitness.  The same boring stretch, with yogic posture, skeletal precision, and focus became mildly amazing and whelming.  It was as if the shadows of childhood memories or Reichian stress were hidden within specific joints.  These shadows had been like the cyclone-trapped souls of Dante's First Circle, Limbo, in The Inferno.  The precise alignment set souls free.  I had wondered for a long time, if the people wearing the T-shirts reading, “Free your ass and your mind will follow,” grasped the significance. 


Crowley--and no doubt millennia of Hinduism before him--recommended yoga as a precursor to meditation.  How obvious, after having meditated for years without understanding the yogic posture.  The details dramatically changed the act.  My mind was different.  The meditation was, too.  It's as if what I'd been doing before were only the Western approximation.  Finally, D. T. Suzuki's words in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind made sense: There is no more to meditation.  He said: Once you are in this position (and are breathing well), you are doing it. 






Everyone brought what he wanted from civilization to the desert: water, alcohol, shelter, bizarre clothes, drugs, drums, bicycles, and glow-toys.  I, upon returning to civilization, worked to remove the desert from me and my clothes, while working also, to bring from Burning Man what I wanted to civilization: yoga, kindness, communal generosity, friendliness, primal priorities and a summation of "fuckit." 


This last term is not exactly what it sounds like, literally or as the idiom of complacency.  It is more like a concept.  "Profit" is also a concept.  Fuckit is a basically what I said as I tossed unimportant crap that I'd been half-heartedly chained to.  I'd been dragging some crap through the world and some crap in my mind's journey through time.  Fuckit, is a watered-down Tyler Durden's philosophy.  Frankly, I don't mind some of the conveniences civilization gave me.  Pure, uninfected water?  The scientific body of knowledge widely disseminated to identify what that is and why that is good?  My advice to someone who hates all civilization:  Delete all knowledge of civilization and live in the desert.  For a week.  He'll be dead after that.  Civilization has produced damn good shit that makes my enjoyment of life superior in most ways than kings of even just five centuries before.  Let alone five millennia before.  Now, that we identified the good shit, let's flush the toilet, as Maynard of Tool would say in the song "Aenima."  He echoed the modern civie's lament: "Fret for your latte," while Tyler Durden gave the recipe on the last of the soundtracks to Fight Club, "You are not your grande latte." 


Connecting from CalTrans to SFO shuttle, the minibus was across an intersection.  We lugged to it and sat in it.  It drove around the block to rest where we had been standing, as per its route.  Noise ensued. "We walked over there for nothing?"  "I don't know why you walked all the way over there," the driver defended.  "I told you we should have stayed here," and old lady said.  Who cares?  They did.  Me?  Fuckit; I got on the bus (few extra steps) and needed to carry my trip's toys even further.  To lament an extra fifty feet of foot travel is the pathos of civie concern.  No one suffered; no creature risked disease, death, or dismemberment.  Complaints?  Fuckit. 


Maynard was in a similar current, for his song continues something like,


      Fuck L. Ron Hubbard and fuck all his clones.

      Fuck smiley glad-hands with hidden agendas

      Fuck these dysfunctional, insecure actresses

      Fuck retro-anything

      Fuck these junkies and their short memory.


Thus I bid adieu to receipts and deceits of civilization, "fuckit."  No derision into indecision.  If it mattered to me, I sought it, if it didn't then even if it was On Sale or Free, it was too costly to this short, precious share of existence in a sea of fellow swimmers. 


It was not the "fuckit" of shortsightedness, laziness, or of spiritual miserliness.  Love for all that is precious, which especially includes friends and all others that my actions affect.  I would not harm a friend or even a stranger by my "fuckit" mentality.  I would not trash the ground we walk upon or deny my duty otherwise to make our cohabitation for tomorrow's civilization as pleasant as possible. 


For the parasites: not even the extra thought or syllable is given.  Profit from my loss?  Profit from my rigidity, insecurity, spoilt and over-convenienced existence?  Profit from my insulation from the basis of survival? As Tyler Durden went on, "Deliver me from clear skin and perfect teeth. ... Buy things I don't even need"?  Fuckit. 


Indeed, by doing so, my mind is that much more available to important, life-touching experience: of the senses (yoga), of the mind (meditation), of other people (communalism).  The buffet of civilization no longer bugged me, at least on that first day back into it.  I was supple and able to choose of it what I wanted for my life.  I wasn't dragged under and socketed for life as a drone.  I was afloat, with powerful strokes.  Maynard choruses, "Learn to swim."  This is a brutal, gutter Sage advice, as Crowley described of the Yellow School of Magick by way of quoting Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching "LXXVI: 4: Thus the hard and rigid have the inferior place, the soft and elastic the superior." (Aleister Crowley, Magick Without Tears, Edited by Israeli Regardie, 1973, p. 71)


I might be picking and choosing from pop rebels’ words more than exists.  If so, then so be it.  I'll inject subtexts of classical, liberating wisdom into the beats of the music I hear.  There're a lot worse substances to inject into one's thoughtstream.




Carpe Sediam

Burning Man teaches one that the world is his ashtray.  It’s a dustbowl.  Light your fires upon it.  Burn.  It will be out soon enough.  The cultural nuances and petty polity fly away.  Want it?  Take it. 


Lame case in point: the gent beside me in the plane told me body langually he was annoyed to be so close to me; I assume he was annoyed to be within inches of anybody he didn't want to fuck.  He looked up in irritation when I meekly pointed out my seat.  He jabbed into the newspapers before him, read them with the irritation of a bloke in need of pissing.  He fettered and shifted and dared not make a momentary rest in which a friendly chitchat might be wedged.  My seat was next to his on a mostly empty plane.  He, or I, could take another seat.  But he fidgeted on several more minutes with obvious, unspoken irritation.  I knew his goal minutes before he made his courageous leap a seat or two toward his own private aisle. Although, once there he was still jittering and jabbing.


Have it and Be; cut the bullshit.


I hypo-criticize.  So easy to find faults on other people's land.  So hard to see Hell's flames scorching one's own feet. 





Some at Burning Man would like to see Burning Man all the time, somewhere.  Piss Clear, Black Rock City's alternative daily, joked about this as "Burning Land."  Others sought it with naivet? such as False-Profit.com.  Their intention may be pure, but it's not that simple.  I remarked to a libertarian friend of mine something about how biological evolution offers insight into political evolution, while the playa dirt was fresh in my whiskers on his San Franciscan futon. 


He said: Coordinated mutation is almost impossible, and some uncoordinated mutation endangers the species.  Thus, for example, the giraffe doesn't evolve better-adapted vertebrae.  It has the same number of vertebrae in its neck as other mammals.  I applied this to culture: Cultures don't evolve better-adapted mores, customs, and laws.  It requires coordinated mutations.  Single mutations damage the mutant. 


The cleverly worded labor co-op of False-Profit.com is such a single mutation.  It's most faithful supporters are the ones that will lose the worst from intentional or even unintentional parasites of its money-less system, which--for a reason I'm not well-read enough to understand--reminds me of communism. 


Still, I think one of the premises is cool: a perpetual party machine.  But, even Dionysus' reincarnation Jim Morrison sung, "When the music's over, turn out the lights."  All good parties come to an end.  Let the dying die.  As corollary to Tao Te Ching's advice  "Do great things while they are yet small ..." (Tao Te Ching, LXIII: 2, quoted by Crowley in Magick Without Tears, p. 70), Do not do great things when they are too big to be effortlessly accomplished.  Wedging the Wheel of Karma where one's favorite spoke aligns with the ground unwittingly invokes its Juggernaut aspect, which will crush the skulls of the worshippers and All.




A Separate Man

Burning Man, for me, was not my neighbor's Burning Man.  For one it was a weekend retreat and reclaim to youth.  For another it was a party.  For another it was a primal creative outlet (or inlet?).  For yet another, it was an exploratorium of everyman's personal, unwritten journal of neurochemistry.  For others, even, it was a contact group or foreplay.  For me, it was a shaking of my psyche of the cyborg barnacles that accumulate over time in the Silicon Valley (or anywhere urban), much like--upon return--I shook my sleepsack to liberate it of the playa dust, which naturally accumulates over time in the windy desert. 


I was prepared to be shaken.  Tactical exercises in US Forces Korea had already prepped me for extended stays in dirtmosphere that make camping seem like candy.  I practiced small shakes of my psyche almost daily. 


I shook, a little.  Upon return, I was like Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, an alien in civilization.  Maybe one day I'll shake hard enough to come full round, without hesitation, unlike the hearty but hesitant swinger on a metal, vertical orbit at Burning Man.  He hesitated before making it over, always swinging back.  Thus he oscillated, as do the children in their swing toys.  He never fully circled once, though in a vessel capable of doing so.


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