Getting Back to Burning Man
I was listening to music while working the other day and an old Third Eye Blind song came on. The meaning and significance of songs seem to change drastically over time. I’ve always loved this album, mostly because it evokes feelings of nostalgia for me. As a kid, I spent the summer at my aunt’s house when this album came out and my cousins just played it on repeat the whole summer. It was a time in my life when I was blissfully ignorant. I didn’t have any convictions yet, had no stress, and didn’t know that the world can be such a horrible place. I also didn’t realize all the little casual mentions of meth in the songs because I didn’t know that drugs were even a thing. I really don’t remember much of what we did those summers way back then but the music does evoke a feeling, an emotion that I felt back on those summer days as a child. It evokes a sort of feeling of calm that surpasses the degree of equanimity that I can attain through hours of mindfulness meditation.
This time, however, while listening to the song, I thought about the lyrics a bit. “I live my life like a Burning Man.” And something really struck me — a new, deeper meaning emerged from the song, a meaning that the artist probably never intended. The artist is alluding to the debauchery of a life based around sex and drugs but Burning Man means something profoundly different to me. I’ve never been to the big Burn but I have gone to regional burns. The self-conscious application of the principles of Burning Man generates an emancipatory atmosphere at the regional burns, creating an air of freedom that makes stress and anxiety melt away. A sense of relaxed serenity washes over you, like a spiritual baptism, ushering in rebirth or regeneration, resetting your consciousness and your emotional state. At the burn, you can just wander aimlessly, enjoying the journey and taking in all the various experiences offered by the community and the environment. And this positive aimlessness constitutes a regenerative freedom that triggers a reset. Oddly enough, going to a burn resets me back to the state of equanimity that I associate with those summers as a child when we would listen to this song, so now this song evokes an even stronger feeling of nostalgia because I associate it with two separate periods of my life — two separate periods in which I felt free. The fact that this song now links together two separate periods that evoked the same sort of mental and emotional state is perhaps a sort of synchronicity.
I sat listening to the lyrics — “I live my life like a Burning Man.” And it hit me that the spirit of Burning Man is precisely what I’ve lost. There was a period of time when I met all of my closest friends and my wife and that whole period was, for lack of a better term, emancipatory…or, better yet, spiritually rejuvenating. We were doing food shares with the local Food Not Bombs group, hanging out at the co-op house where my friends lived, and just “winging it” constantly. I was just living and going with the flow, letting things fall into place on their own. On the spur of the moment, we would hook up with total strangers and go on a road trip to see a punk show. I would take the lead on speaking at events, seemingly forgetting that I have social anxiety and a fear of public speaking. Hell, I would even totally forget that I have been diagnosed with OCD and have a fear of germs and I’d go dumpster diving with my friends! We found the complete works of Kurt Vonnegut in a dumpster once. Life was an adventure. We just lived for the sake of experiencing new things. I didn’t have a plan. I was just having fun.
Now, here is the burning question — how do we get back to Burning Man? How do we get back to that devil-may-care attitude where we just go with the flow and live life solely for the sake of the experience itself? That’s the key to happiness. I’ve settled into this rut where I’m doing things because that’s what I’m supposed to do and not because it’s what I want to do. How do we get back to the revolutionary ambiance of the anarchism of everyday life? the laissez-faire approach to living? the dérive and “construction of situations” as normal activity? the freedom of living life like a Burning Man?!