The Crucible Brings the Temple Experience to Columbus, OH, of All Places

Editor’s note: There are actually tons of Burners from Columbus, Ohio. This is just a cheeky headline.


Black Rock City.

We love it, dream of it, long for it. Some of us (ok, me) visit it every day in our minds. And while our magical metropolis inevitably sinks, after seven short days, back to desert dust, a question remains: How do we bring the playa home?

Put another way: how can we, in our daily lives, feel as free, playful, reverent, and loving as we feel on playa?

Rephrased yet again: How can we create opportunities to apply the 10 Principles IRL?

In the five years since I’ve become a resident of BRC, I’ve asked myself this question a thousand times. As, no doubt, have you.

. . .

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David All and Burning Man co-founder Marian Goodell on playa in 2013

“Oh good, you’re here. I have a project for you.”

David All, veteran Burner and former consultant with the Burning Man Project, strode up to my little corner of a coffee shop, blue eyes blazing.

I met David in yoga class at the start of my second year of grad school in Columbus, Ohio, a town that felt a gazillion miles away from my “real” life back in California… and in the desert. Chatting as we pulled on our shoes post-shavasana, David and I discovered we had some big stuff in common: hardcore playa allegiance and solid blocks of life lovingly logged in the Bay Area.

David, a Columbus native, returned to his Midwestern roots to co-found CivicHacks, a startup that helps launch businesses committed to making meaningful community impact. That day in the coffee shop, David told me about an event he was organizing called Startup Storytellers. Fifteen entrepreneurs would get onstage at the Columbus Museum of Art to tell stories about the failures, triumphs, and fears they faced as they found and followed their callings. He wanted my help.

“We’re gonna make this other space for the night, a sacred space — The Crucible. Where normal people can go and share stories about their biggest challenges too,” David explained.

Then, he said the magic words:

“Basically, it’s the Temple.”

. . .

Now he had my attention. David went on to summarize the origins of The Crucible, a concept developed by Harvard business professor Bill George in a book called Discover Your True North.

George argues that all true leaders face a transformational and sometimes traumatic moment that pushes them to the edge of their capacities. This moment metaphorically heats them to the temperature of molten metal, a substance that can only be contained in a specialized ceramic vessel: a crucible. True leaders, George claims, are the people who transform those moments of total meltdown to authenticity and powerful vision.

Crises, trials by fire, and ultimately, rebirth… sounds familiar, no?

The Crucible logo, designed by Kyle Knapp
The Crucible logo, designed by Kyle Knapp

By the time David finished explaining his rough vision for The Crucible, I was in. Here was an opportunity to bring a small dose of playa medicine and magic to a crew who, in large part, had never been to Black Rock City, but, like all humans, would benefit from the invitation to experience authenticity and vulnerability together, from which empathy and connection, with each other and spirit, can easefully flourish.

Not everyone can or wants to take a trip to the desert. That said, there’s no reason why Burners can’t bring the desert to them. Over the following two months, I collaborated with Juan and Aaron, two men of formidable minds and expansive hearts, to co-create an experience in which we’d conjure Burning Man magic in the world beyond the playa.

The Spirit Room by Mel Chin at the Columbus Museum of Art, site of The Crucible
The Spirit Room by Mel Chin at the Columbus Museum of Art, site of The Crucible

Where the Temple is a somewhat use-as-you-wish space already far removed from psychic gunk and digital distractions, our design challenge with The Crucible was to help participants transition from a highly stimulating, outward-focused mode to the quieted, internally-focused state where introspection and deep feeling can arise.

The event went like this:

Guided Meditation on one’s Crucible, led by Juan, a motivational speaker and life coach. Juan cued participants through a mental journey back to their personal Crucibles to help them reawaken the immediacy of that spicy moment.

Storycrafting, led by me, a creative writer and educator. I coached participants through the composition of a narrative recounting their Crucibles, comprised of just six words. This format, by the way, is borrowed from The Six Word Memoir Project, the brainchild of Larry Smith, another dyed-in-the-dust Burner who lived in San Francisco once upon a time. (Burners: wherever we are, we find each other. And with all our powers combined, we make serious magic.)

Larry Smith (center) and bud (right) on playa with Larry Harvey (mannequin) in 1996 at Motel 666’s “Take a Photo with Larry Harvey” station
Larry Smith (center) and bud (right) on playa with Larry Harvey (mannequin) in 1996 at Motel 666’s “Take a Photo with Larry Harvey” station

Sharing, led by Aaron, a yoga teacher and community builder. Aaron facilitated a sharing circle in which each participant to read his or her six-word memoir, after which the group honored the newly minted author with a verbal affirmation.

As I suspected, the stories forged in The Crucible shone as only expertly crafted metal can, all buffed beauty and iron-clad strength.

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As far as I could tell, everyone who emerged from The Crucible walked out happy they had ventured in. You could feel it. As for me, I glowed quietly too, satisfied at having finally found a way to bring the playa “home.”

Aaron, me, and Juan outside The Crucible
Aaron, me, and Juan outside The Crucible

Thrillingly, the story goes on — it looks likely that The Crucible will come full circle this summer, if I can convince Juan and Aaron to come west this August for their first Burn, that is. So, keep an eye on the WWW — you might see The Crucible on playa, concluding… where else?

The Temple.


Top photo by Scott London

About the author: Alessandra Wollner

Alessandra Wollner

Alessandra (Allie) Wollner, aka Lotus, is a writer, educator, and community builder. She helps create the theme camp Milk + Honey, and earned her MFA in creative nonfiction from Ohio State. Her current project is an essay collection on the interrelation of gender language and power. On playa, when she's not dancing wildly, you can find her writing in her notebook atop a 40-foot trailer, wearing a leopard print onesie, at sunrise. See Allie's work at www.alewollner.com

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