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Burning Man
by Eliah Levy
A personal account of spiritual purification by fire...
Driving North on the 405, just stopped for 15 gallons of clear drinking water. As I drive out of LA, I feel as if a weight has come off my shoulders. I start to read some material my friend Marcus just printed out off the Burning Man website. "Do not bring a nice bike." Whoops. There's other info too: stuff about food and water, not leaving a trace, wearing lots of costumes & body paint. But at this moment I really have no idea what Burning Man is. All I know is I have a strong feeling to go there!

My preparations include: tent, water, food, bike, Chapman stick (instrument; oh yeah, that's my gig!), 3 battery amps, and a solar panel in a little briefcase. Oh yeah, and some CDs of my music.

On the way there I stopped in Reno to buy a lock for my bike. Reno reminded me that I was glad to leave the "normal world" behind for awhile. By the way I soon find out that for me Black Rock City is "normal" and most other parts of the world operate quite abnormally!

As soon as I exit highway 85 I feel as if I have arrived. There is still 75 miles to go, but I'm accompanied by a convoy of cars, RV's, campers, and something else, I can't really tell, but it seems to be a bus that was turned into some kind of "Mad Max meets WaterWorld driving art vehicle."

When I finally get there I'm greeted with hugs and welcomed home. (WOW! that didn't happen when I moved to LA.)

I set up camp in the dark. Somehow the exhaust on my car melted my bike tire and tube. I wake up in the morning and should be enjoying myself and checking out my surroundings, but instead I'm obsessed with getting my bike fixed. Right away a beautiful couple who's camping next to me offers to lend me their bike so I can ride around. I couldn't believe how big Black Rock City was! There are proper streets and avenues but it's set up so the streets go in a horseshoe shape with "the MAN" in the middle. There were lots of people who had similar setups to me: a car, tent, bike. Some were really organized and into groups making camps with themes, "camp fuck it whatever," "campsluts," etc. Then there were the registered camps. Really organized. Some people were putting together huge sound systems and DJ booths. It was a lot to take in and I was tired so I tried to find my way back. I got completely lost for about 3 hours!

I'm thinking about how I can trade something for a tire and a tube. I talk to some people and learn that I can go to "center camp" and from their find a bike repair camp. Sure enough they came thru for me. I gave them water and CDs of my music.

Finally with my bike working I could relax (really I could have relaxed anytime). Center camp was a tent structure that was hundreds of feet across. Inside there was coffee and chai being served (only coffee, chai, and ice can be bought in Black Rock City). There were quite a few couches with all kinds of people sitting and talking, coming and going: some naked, some in costumes, some walking around like me in shock. The "center" of Center camp was a tiled floor (yes, they put tiles on the floor of the desert!).

On my way back to my camp I made friends with my neighbors at "Camp fuck it whatever." They had a big truck and we all agreed that I should play on the roof. Cool!!!!

The first couple of days at Burning Man was an adjusting period for me. Adjusting to an environment where people can express themselves, share, give, love and generally be themselves. It's hard to explain now but many of us really changed. At first it was like "Hey, I'll give you this for that," but pretty soon it was like, "hey brother, hey sister, I have a gift for you!" Also I noticed that I began to think more about the collective, the community, and less about "I." Many people seemed to share this experience, like we are all taking off blinders that are keeping us from experiencing each other.

So when you would meet someone new you could really experience that person. There were beautiful, deep soul connections happening everywhere.

I'm beginning to understand that by being concerned only with profit and personal gain I was ripping myself off of the gift that was always right in front of me. I used to call myself a "loner." That was just a label to make me feel my "loneliness" was okay.

Anyway, here we are in the desert. By the way, this place (the Playa) is a dried- up lake bed — completely flat, pale, cracked clay. The surface is extremely alkaline. When the wind blows, everything gets covered with this white corrosive powder. I feel a little silly with my new bike (full suspension, hydraulic disk brakes) out there. Most other people had junkers. Or even better, junkers that had been turned into art. There were bikes with flowers, bikes with flowery paint jobs, bikes with other bikes attached to them, bikes that were glowing at night. (A lot of glowing ones! It was safer that way.) So I got crafty, put a little rack on my seat post, attached one of my battery amps to the rack, attached my solar panel to the handle bars, and with a little wiring, plugged in my stick, and I was off (or maybe I was on). I could ride and play music at the same time. If I felt the need I could stop and jam for interested (or interesting) people and gift them with CDs. Basically what I'm saying is that my new specialized M4 was now a Burning Man bike.

As I was saying earlier, here we are in the desert expressing ourselves and each other. I met so many beautiful people and I'll go into that but right now I want to tell you about the Burn.

I knew in my heart that I needed to experience the Burn. I chose to stay and turned down an opportunity to make a lot of money in LA that weekend. I can only laugh when I recall the stress I felt around letting go of that money. So for me that's a big part of what we are burning: attachment to material possessions- Burn it! Greed - Burn it! My own fear, denial — the "foam" that makes things not look so crystal clear — Burn it!

I'm ready to let go. I want to play music for people from my heart, with love and gratitude. Music is a gift and I feel good sharing it. It's hard to explain how powerful it was for me, but I was in tears about realizing the attachment, fear and greed I was living with. With everyone who reads this as my witness, I CAN NOT GO BACK! LETS BURN THE FUCKER! Okay, I'm getting into it now, but it's still not time to burn the MAN.

First all the "art cars" are going to congregate and then all the fire dancers are going to fire dance and then........Wow, what's that pulling up? It's my favorite art car. A painted school bus with a giant canopy on top (think Waterworld flick). There's a band playing some great original "Floydish" music on top, huge flames shooting out of the back, and a pole with (yes!) a pole dancer on the hood. ( I can see, these people definitely prepared for Burning Man a little more than me.) As they do their thing hundreds of spectators gather around to listen to the band, dance, groove on the pole dancers (now there's two). Feel the heat of all the flame throwers and celebrate. A man gets on the hood and starts swallowing flaming swords and breathing fire. Other art cars start to pull up. It seems that we are having a pyro-convention. Everyone's shooting flames up in the air. Somehow it all made sense at the time. The band played, the fire dancers fire-danced, the pole dancers pole-danced, the pyros made huge explosions which were really cool to look at. The art cars paraded around The MAN. Then the fire-dancers (there must have been hundreds!) fire-danced around the man. It was so beautiful. Some were fire-dancing naked and some with "burning art pieces." There were people jumping through a fiery jump rope. This was great, but can we burn The MAN yet?!? First some fireworks. I honestly don't know how they packed so many fireworks into The MAN. After about 10 minutes of fireworks shooting out of The MAN we have ignition. It seems the grand finale of the firework show has begun...The fire (I think by design). As the fire rises everyone cheers. Some are screaming uncontrollably, some are chanting. One man is telling The MAN off: "Burn, burn your drama and your this and your that, burn, burn!" The fire gets big and hot. Some firey dust devils (yes, flaming tornadoes) start to spout out of the fire. Each one producing more cheers and excitement from the crowd. People start to march toward the fire. As I get close I'm keeping in mind that there are thousands of people behind me (pushing forward) and a lot of heat in front of me. There was a moment of fear but I was carried away by a wave of humanity into a beautiful fire-purification dance around the fire. People around me were chanting, ohming, some throwing material possessions into the fire. Some people would get to the center, feel the intense heat and back off. Others would dance around the fire and keep spinning. (You know the rotisserie effect). That's what I did. I asked the fire not to burn me and I gave thanks for being purified. I spun around the fire until I was drenched in sweat. I thought for sure my camera would melt and the soles of my shoes were smoking. There were firemen close by in their fire suits. At times they would assist someone who got too close, or they would act as a heat shield for a photographer. As I backed away I thought of the darkness I was leaving behind. Goodbye selfishness, attachment, illusion of duality and separateness. I am a patriotic citizen of the planet Earth. My favorite time is the Now. My brothers and sisters are all of you! That night I danced until sunrise.
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