This blog was salvaged from my blog at tribe.net. I will avoid posting new stuff there since Tribe has rather declined in attractiveness since the whole censorship thing got going. I'll be posting new stuff in a new area.
Back to Writing
Mary and I taught a couples workshop this past weekend entitled "Flesh and Spirit." We had four couples join us at at our house for three days. This is the second time we've taught it, and we have tentative plans to teach another one in the spring.
One idea behind the workshop is that communication is an essential part of a relationship. It is essential to building a relationship, but it is just as important for keeping a relationship healthy over the long term. After the rush of initial intimacy is done, then the hard work starts. Balancing desires, expressing fears, even deciding the most mundane issues, all involve honest sharing of thoughts and emotions.
The tool we use most for communication is council process, which is derived from an American Indian tradition. In couples work this involves the couple taking turns speaking and listening, using a talking piece to indicate which person speaks and which person listens. The intention is to speak from the heart and listen with the heart, and to provide safety so that difficult things can be said without rancor. In this workshop the council is witnessed by the other couples, and each of the witnesses can add a voice that speaks for the relationship. The process is difficult and rewarding.
Another key to relationship is to treat it as a spiritual practice. And by "spiritual" we refer to that which is beyond self. We might find it in a church, or a community, or in a family. And in a dyadic relationship it means finding the spiritual in one's partner. It means finding the Beloved in our particular beloved. It means the recognition that our partner is not the obstacle, our partner is essential to the path.
We also find that physical intimacy is essential to our bonding in our relationship. For many of us this includes the sexual. Yet we have such inadequate modeling for our sexuality. Much of modern Western culture is obsessed with the trappings of sex, and ignorant of how to use it to emotionally and spiritually join the couple. We present what we have learned, and we also learn from our council with others.
Teaching together is not something I expected to do with Mary some years ago. About 10 years ago we were on the verge of separation, probably leading to divorce. We were growing apart then, Mary with a passion for her Buddhist path, and me with a denial of having a spiritual path. With help we realized that we could both change, and that something richer could be created.
The workshop was moving and intense. The couples worked hard, and each added something to their ability to exchange words and feeling with each other. Mary and I also learned more about being a couple through teaching together. We even learned something from the recent meditation and movement workshop, applying it to being in bed together.
In the words of Rumi: Give me ecstasy, give me naked wonder, O my Creator! Give birth to the Beloved in me, and let this lover die. Let a thousand wrangling desires become one Love.
Dance as if each step would save you from destruction.
Breathe as if each breath would be the first gasp of eternity.
Sing as if each note balanced on the knife edge of mortality.
Love as if you and your beloved were the fabric of life itself.
Last weekend I had a new experience. I attended a 2-day workshop on meditation and movement taught by my wife, Mary, and a Santa Cruz dancer/choreographer, Tandy Beal [in the picture, Tandy is on the left and Mary is on the right]. The workshop lasted from Friday evening to Sunday noon. Mary taught Vipassana meditation, which is a simple form of Buddhist meditation that emphasizes mindfulness. Tandy taught a series of movement exercises that emphasized awareness of the body and mind while moving, solo, paired, or in groups. The combination of mindfulness and movement was a fascinating mix. The concentration of meditation was followed by a heightened awareness of the body in motion, and then back and forth between the two modes.
I enjoyed the work. I was able to let go of the anxieties of being judged. I was able to concentrate the mind, although the mind does wander a lot! I was able to move freely, and interact non-verbally with the other people at the workshop.
One situation did need some extra work at letting go. I was the only male in a group with 16 women. Most of the time I was relaxed, yet from time to time I felt a bit conspicuous. It was not a sexual thing at all, since both the meditation and the movement were both quite sedate. It reminded me that I'm usually in a heavily male environment in my technical work, and that what I was feeling was something like what a woman might feel like in my world.
Several BED folks put in an appearance at SF Decompression 2005, Regyna, LittleWing, and myself. We had a small popup with bed just outside of the amazing Erotic Ice Bar, and next to Spike's. Insanely good location. We had a poster, buttons, and handouts. We never did get around to doing any erotic counseling, but we did chat with a lot of visitors and made some nice connections.
It was fun, and I enjoyed meeting some of the other folks in the BED tribe (like Anathema, Captain Erotica, and Red Hot), as well as checking out some of the art I never saw on the playa, and dancing. I even got a mild flogging at the ice bar (by the delicious Red Hot).
And it's not the same. I missed the open spaces, the morning light, the quiet hours, and even the dust. And there was just no time -- I was there for a fairly busy 9 hours. The music was great, but there was no escape at all. I'll try to go again to Decom next year, but I'm still in love with the playa.
And it was also just like the playa. Mostly happy people at play. Talking and laughing and hugging and dancing. Art and costumes and performance. And just like the playa it pushes me toward rediscovery.
It's such a strange feeling. One moment I'm back to being a teenager, and the next I'm quite ancient. I've learned from my wife and daughters how to be a family; I am so much more connected to them than I was to my family of origin. Now I'm learning how to be a member of a tribe. Recently, after my coming back from the desert, my wife listened to me and said "you've found your people." She's right, although I was the one who was lost.
I need to learn this so I can bring it back to my family, my neighborhood, my work place. I need to know that my heart does not beat alone. I need to know that we can survive adversity -- physical, mental, emotional, social or spiritual.
I don't just desire some evidence of the goodness in people. I desire faith in that goodness. The world bombards us with reports of cruelty and disaster. I need a belief that will be stronger than those reports. I need a faith that will tolerate imperfection in myself and others, that will let me see clearly yet not lose compassion.
It's a work in progress. In this moment it is enough to feel the movement and the aspiration.
There's been a bunch of stuff on the BM tribe about hippies. Apparently some folks have the notion that a hippie is a mooch, a taker, and a lazy bum besides. I've been called hippie in the past, and even look the part sometimes. But I'm not a mooch, so somebody's confused.
I'm also a computer researcher, an overeducated liberal, and a middle-aged white guy, basically straight but not narrow, all of which are subject to even more stereotypes.
Let's see, I'm also a musician, a photographer, a backpacker, and most definitely a burner. I do various kinds of volunteer work both on and off the playa, although I'm not much of an artist.
I'm happily married (and monogamous) for over 22 years. My wife and I have started to teach couples workshops on a donation basis. We actually think that we have something to say about communication in a committed relationship.
I try to be kind, thoughtful, and generous. I don't always succeed, being only human.
So I've used a bunch of labels and given some details. But if you really want to know about me it takes a lot more time and discussion. Read the blog. Let me fix you something tasty and pour you a beer. Have a seat and tell me about yourself.
Here's a brief story from BM 2001. There was a large rock mounted on a pedestal, and one afternoon, as I was walking by, a man and a woman were doing a performance piece on the rock. It was quite beautiful. They combined rock climbing with slow formalized dance moves, and they were nude. There were people watching, and about a half dozen taking pictures. I watched for some time. Each of the couple did some slow high leg moves that left them completely exposed. Since they seemed to be accepting the cameras, I also took a picture and went on my way.
That brief encounter struck me with a lot of force, because it opened up ideas about the symbiosis between audience and performer, between voyeur and exhibitionist. There is a bond between the person who asks to be seen and the person who watches. Out of this I've had to confront my own issues about both watching and being seen. In the case of the nudes on the rock I initially felt a bit guilty for watching, although in retrospect they wanted to be seen, and happily performed for quite some time. I think that these days I might be more comfortable about enjoying the performance.
None of this relates to those who do not want to be watched. I've been on the shy side sometimes (less so recently) and completely sympathize with those who don't want to be seen. I also feel for those who might be comfortable with being seen, but not stared at.
The challenge is to come up with a way to encourage the consensual, and to discourage the coercive. That's easy to agree with in principle, and hard to agree with in the details. A difficult area to judge is Critical Tits. In one sense it is a public performance, meant to be seen and enjoyed by the direct participants and the bystanders. However, some of the women riding in it are offended by some of the comments, and some are offended by photography along the route. My dilemma is similar to that of some women I've spoken to about this. I like the positive energy of the women riding, yet I feel put off when there is a lack of respect.
One more time, caught in midstream.
The picture was taken shortly before the burn. I love the fire dancers.
Besides all of the other things I did this year on the playa, I worked through one more barrier. I did a lot of dancing. By myself. To almost any kind of music. And I did not care who was there, or who might be watching.
I suspect that the sight of a 55 year old guy doing this amused some. I don't fucking care. It was just wonderful to move around to the music and enjoy the muscles working with the beat, pushing up against gravity, spinning around when I felt like it.
It was not art. But it was better. It was joy.
I'm back from Burning Man 2005, my seventh burn, and still a bit dizzy from the transition. I'm just going to capture a few things here before I get overwhelmed by the ordinary.
At the last minute a neighbor of mine had her ride bail on her. We scrambled to lighten the load and fit her in. It worked, and I had good company instead of being solo. Sophia's a good person with some amazing stories about her childhood. The miracle is that she's so upbeat after her experiences.
Coming through the gate I felt the strangest sensation - no time at all had passed since I left. Not only was I home, I had never really left it.
I was working with a kind of koan this year. Do I come to Burning Man to live a dream, or to wake up? Something of both, of course, but the balance tipped back and forth like a squirrel on a bird feeder.
As expected, B.E.D. and the Beacon kept me busy this year. The whole 8 days went by in fast forward. My photography suffered some, but I did get some good pix of both the Man burn and the temple burn.
The B.E.D. workshops were fun and taught me a lot. Not that I learned a great deal about expressing my desires and boundaries, but rather I learned more about communicating with groups and individuals about their issues. The improv work pushed me into new areas because I'm much more likely to fill a support role be on the stage. And the response was so positive that I found myself doing "aw, shucks" more than a few times.
I did not get as much time or contribution with the Beacon. I just want to say how impressed I was with the hard work that goes on behind the scenes for one of the great metropolitan dailies. The core Beacon crew was energetic, smart, committed, and full of character. Perhaps the most impressive part is how they take journalism seriously when the whole thing could so easily degenerate into a rant rag.
Camping with the CLEU folks (especially Emma and Gian) was so sweet. They are such generous, thoughtful, and fun people. When I got there and asked about camping near them they just pulled me in. If you have a CLEU pendant, and maybe received a Brain Wash, then you know a bit of what I mean. You can visit www.cleu.org to get some additional hint.
And last, coming home to my wife Mary showed me that my playa home and my Santa Cruz home are deeply intertwined. I love her even more (if possible) than when I left, and we are seriously talking about being together on the playa next year.
In this case it's not another person, but a crazy gestalt of a place, a set of ideals, and a motley assortment of people from all over. I know that it will both break and mend my heart, just as it does every year. May we all burn brightly!
The picture is of an offering to Pele near Halema'uma'u on Kilauea. The Hawaiians really know their ephemeral art!
I've truly enjoyed working with BED in preparation for this year's event. If we can help people avoid sexual assault, or even help people enjoy their time more, then it is worth it. In any case, maybe we'll learn something and do a better job next year.
[I posted the following as a comment to one of Mushirah's blog entries. I'm including it because it captures how I feel with about 10 days to go.]
This will be my seventh burn. It's not a necessity like food or air or water. It's more like viewing the glory of the Sierras, like throwing yourself naked into the surf, like singing the perfect note at the perfect moment, like lying in the arms of your beloved.
There are now only 5 weekend days free to prep for the playa. As usual, grandiose plans will have to wait for next year. This year I'm assembling a new shade structure, repairing my EL-wire toys, buying food, gathering costumes, printing picture sets to give away, and making lists of things to do and people to see (or is that the other way around?)
Socially this year will be strange. Several regulars from previous years will not be there. On the other hand, I'm involved in two volunteer efforts that will probably soak up my lazy time, and I've got some new friends to hang with. The real challenge will be to pace myself so I have enough energy left to pack up and drive home!
Time is short, and so is this entry.
I'm about to be on the East Coast and off the net until 24 July. I'm feeling a sense of withdrawal already, since staying connected via tribe and eplaya has meant a lot to me this year.
One of the things that comes up on the boards all of the time is how Burning Man is not as good as it once was. Usually this comes down to saying something about the added rules (like the one against firearms), or about the way that the BMorg runs the event, or that the art is uninspired, or that the place is overrun with frat boys, or that it is just too big. Those who write these things are disinclined to blame themselves.
Could it have been kept as a private party without rules? Well, yes, and I suppose that private events happen all of the time without making it into the public awareness. But Burning Man took another path.
As Burning Man grew something wonderful happened. The community actually increased its consciousness, increased its awareness that structure was necessary to survival, that what used to be a party has become an example of social change.
I'm not being unrealistic when I say this. I'm aware that the event is far from perfect. There are egos involved, which leads to hurt feelings. There is money involved, which leads to disputes over the portions. And although "radical inclusion" means that I won't be kept out, it also means that a significant number of jerks will show up.
In the commercial world a really successful company increases in size and runs into trouble. There are so many examples where growth has been poison. What I find amazing is how the BM org has handled growth. About 10 years ago it became truly necessary to impose structure so the people attending would be safe, and so the law would not shut down the event. I've only been going since 1999, but my impression is that the rules were introduced thoughtfully and minimally. Nearly every rule can be traced to an observed problem.
If this were an eplaya or tribe discussion there would be a flood of complaints about my posting this or about BMorg. There would be a rehashing of the criticisms listed above. There would be some support, some thread drift, and maybe even a troll or two. And that's the way it should be on those lists. I want this entry to be a bit different.
I don't know the folks at BMorg, but I do respect them. While the official statements can be a bit fuzzy, a trait shared by most visionary groups, I feel that the principles stated on the site are sound, and that most of us who go out to the playa take them seriously. Even as we have a great time.
So, let's dance and play and create. Let's have a great party while practicing kindness and compassion. Let's keep the desert as pristine as we can, while recognizing that perfection is not in our power. And let's take back the joy and the wisdom together from the desert to our default lives.
So what is deep intimacy? All I can say is what it means to me in my married life. It combines physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual closeness. It requires sacrifice and compromise combined with a willingness to accept the most profound gifts. It requires me to examine my life and my self in ways I may resist, but also know to be necessary.
The physical intimacy in my marriage started quickly and has sustained us through some difficult spells. And after over 20 years I am still surprised at its power. When we go to bed to sleep we embrace and talk a bit. We make our embrace last at least a few minutes, enough time to scratch backs and let the bodies relax. Sometimes this precedes more intimate contact. Then we spoon and go to sleep. So simple, so sweet, and so important.
Our mental connection is also easy, since we are both East Coast liberals who find each other interesting. I do computer research, and she teaches Buddhist meditation, so we each have something to bring to the other.
The emotional connection is often the most variable. When we are feel love it is wonderful, sometimes even unsettling in its intensity. When we feel anger the most helpful thing is to realize that we need to see the pain underneath the anger. Seeing that pain with love can turn an angry response into sympathy. Even if it takes a while to get there.
The spiritual connection has taken a long time to evolve, in large part because I had resistance to the spiritual, indentifying it with the religious. What do you expect from a techie? We do find common ground through the mystical, the place where we both believe that there is more to the universe than we can see or experience.
Our key to connecting in any of these modes is communication. Over the past several years we have studied something called council process, which emphasizes speaking from the heart and listening with the heart. We pass a talking piece back and forth, such that the holder of the talking piece gets to speak without interruption, and is heard with respect. When a natural pause is reached, the talking piece is passed along and the partner speaks. We have used this device to turn arguments into genuine conversations, whether sitting in a restaurant or in the living room or in bed. I'm sure that it is amusing for other diners to see us passing the salt shaker back and forth.
That's the bare outline. I'm sure that I will come back to the subject.
The picture is from BM 2002.
This past year I've been thinking about Burning Man a lot. The whole thing has the nature of a series of koans. Who is it that the playa speaks to? What is it saying to me? How should I change? How do I blend it with the rest of my life?
I've mentioned in my initial entry that I'm somewhat more involved this year. I'm in the middle: not a key player and not a spectator, not a real long timer and not a virgin. Compared to past years I plan to be busier, more social, and more contributing. I desire to turn a corner, and find out what's on the next street.
As I was editing this I noticed that Tribe has chosen two ads for me: Holistic Drug Addiction Treatment and Waismann Institute for Opiate Dependency. If these are meant as personal suggestions then I don't think much of their software. Of course, maybe these things pop up for all burners.
Sex and drugs and rock and roll. Oddly enough, I still think these are not so bad in moderation. Even moderation is best in moderation. These days my sex is monogamous, my drug of choice is caffeine, and my rock and roll comes from an oldies station. Perhaps it does not sound as exciting as the riskier stuff, but it makes me happy. And my earlier experiments make me disinclined to be judgemental.
And there are much better ways to seek the ecstatic. Deep intimacy, with sex as an integral part, is so much more than I imagined when I was young. The beauty and mystery of the natural world can shock me into stillness. Music can make me shout or cry, and so can silence.
If you meet a naked Buddha on the road, take a picture. But ask politely first.
In the foreground is an 'ama'u fern along a path in Volcano National Park. The fern leaf is still young, still uncurling, freshly washed, alive and clean.
How can we be truly alive at any age? Earth and air and water and fire sustain this plant enough. But since we walk about on two legs and think and feel we need more. We need dreams and laughter, sorrow and forgiveness.
And we need hope. We need to think that our children and grandchildren have some chance for a good life in this evolving world. We especially need hope when the evidence is doubtful.
I think of the times my parents went through, the depression and the war. They had hard times, the enormous threat of fascism, and the Cold War. Yet they found enough hope to allow me to believe that good things were possible.
My own life has had fewer hard times, but over everything was the atom bomb, the civil rights struggles, endless small wars, and the very real threat that humans have outgrown the ability of the environment to sustain them. How do I pass along hope?
I do not have an easy answer ready. I still feel that it is not too late, that if we wake up enough we have a chance.
In 2002 I took a picture that taught me something. I was trying to get a nicely aligned picture of the sea creature, and another photographer walked up and started taking pictures of the head. I don't think that she was being impolite, she was just intent. I think that I've seen a shot that she took there, at least one from a similar angle, and it was quite good.
So I took a shot with her in it. As a confession, I don't think that I explicitly asked, and I should have (thus doth shyness make monsters of us). After she left I took a very similar shot without her.
The lesson was that the picture including the person was far, far better than the "pure" picture of the sculpture. If you had asked me before I saw the two pictures I probably could have mumbled something about giving the viewer a sense of scale or something. But now I know the difference because I took the two pictures.
What changed was having the interaction between the person and the sculpture. The intent of the photographer is clear (even at screen resolution), and the sculpture appears to be reaching out to touch her. So now I can tell myself that it's not the scale, dummy, it's the relationship.
I still take pictures of places and things where no people are in the picture, and some of them are pretty good. And I'm learning, slowly, how to include the human element, and how that can often make pictures better.
The picture is from Kilauea Iki on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is a relatively rare example of an ohia tree with yellow lehua blossoms (usually they are red). I love the way the new ohia trees start from bare lava and turn rock into soil. I love the beauty they bring to the gray, broken, dry rock, even when I can appreciate the beauty of the rock.
Some places make me more alive. I love the Sierras, the Santa Cruz Mountains, Kilauea on Hawaii, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Joshua Tree in S. Cali, and (of course) the Black Rock Desert. In all of these places the natural beauty combines with experience to create a feeling of belonging.
I don't often feel that sense in a city, even when it's a small and familiar place like Santa Cruz. I like SC, and I go downtown in preference to a "normal" shopping mall, but it is just not home. For all of its quirky, liberal, small town, slightly funky feeling, SC is still a conventional city.
Going to Burning Man is such an emotional thing with me. When the car tops the crest and I'm looking at Empire, I know I'm almost there, so I turn up the music and keep time on the steering wheel. Cruising through Gerlach gets me misty eyed (go ahead and laugh, I do). Turning off the highway has a feeling like I'm a small boy and it's the day before my birthday. And hearing the "welcome home" from the greeters is such a confirmation: I AM home and I AM welcome!
That may be what hooked me the first time. The people there were so incredibly friendly and accepting. I know that I played my part, too. I was ready to open up, to be undefended, to join and help and laugh and dance. Every year I try to learn it better, to become more of the person I truly want to be. Every year I learn something.
Is this a contradiction? I listed some natural sites that I love, and a small city I like but do not love. Why should I like Burning Man, which has 35000+ people?
It's not that I like packed crowds at Burning Man, although the energy of the burn is mostly quite positive. The times I like best are with relatively small numbers of folks who appreciate the moment, the performance, the natural stark beauty, the sunrise, the art. I love it that Burning Man has space and diversity and social energy. I love it that the cars are (mostly) slow and artistic, that the bicycles can go everywhere without being slammed by a truck or SUV, that walking is more often strolling than racing.
Despite the "radical inclusion" mantra, I note that another frequent phrase is "Burning Man is not for everybody." And to make it acceptable for the great majority would dilute the event, and eventually make it unpalatable. I want Burning Man to continue to be a place that challenges me, not just with the physical environment, but especially with the social environment. Even the jerks/idiots/complainers can be my teachers, and I'm truly glad that they are outnumbered by the kind and thoughtful.
I've wandered a bit, here, so I want to get back to the ohia tree. In fact, I want to BE the ohia tree, sprouting up from the barren land and making it more alive. Being realistic, I'm not much of a pioneer. I'm not going to homestead the wilderness. Very few of us are, even metaphorically. But what the ohia does -- increasing the possibility for diverse, fruitful, and beautiful future life -- that is something we can all aspire to and work towards.
So, in part, that is why I will go to Burning Man again this year.
So I've decided to experiment with a blog. And I've never kept a journal.
Who am I? In the deep sense, I don't know. In the flip sense, who wants to know? In the common sense, I'm a married techie overeducated guy born in 1950 who works in Palo Alto, lives in Santa Cruz, and really likes Burning Man. I value love, ethics, humor, passion and compassion.
What I try to do online is what I try to do in the real world. I try to be kind, honest, thoughtful, helpful, and most of the other boy scout virtues. In both worlds I don't always succeed.
Since most of my tribe memberships relate to Burning Man, I should say that I've been going since 1999. I went solo that year, and I've at least travelled solo about half of the time. However, minutes after arriving in a huge dust store in 1999 I was making friends, helping out, and learning to open my heart to the possible. Of course I've had difficulties, felt lonely at times, and had the occaisional argument there. Yet every time I go a bit more of my insulation wears off and I feel more human, more connected, more alive.
This year I've been trying to connect before the event. The ePlaya and the tribes have helped a lot. I'm working with B.E.D. (Bureau of Erotic Discourse), starting to connect with BRB (Black Rock Beacon), and I feel that this will be a very busy year for me on the playa.
I mentioned that I'm married. My wife does not go to BM and does not want to go, at least not enough yet. She has learned that BM is good for my soul, just as I have learned that her separate events are good for hers. We've been married since 1983, and intend to stay that way.
That's enough for this evening. Perhaps we'll see each other on the playa.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.