The Playa provides. I heard that sentence countless times before I ever made it to the desert. The meaning was explained to me as the power of manifestation. I was, of course, familiar with the concept of manifestation, which as I understood was the power to create the world around you. Sometimes it is a constant flow, other times it blossoms like a flower, beautiful if only temporary. But I can’t say I had any conscious experience with it before I reached Black Rock City.
My first trip to the Playa was an odyssey in and of itself that took 9 years to complete. My dear friend Eva, a veteran Burner who encouraged and motivated me to see it through, hinted that sometimes the combination of the elements and the energy, mixed in with all the default world programming we’re saddled with, is enough to crack you open like an egg. A few days of intense heat, complete whiteouts, self-inflicted sleep deprivation and a little dehydration thrown in for good measure, and I was feeling like Humpty Dumpty himself. I didn’t realize how much baggage I was carrying with me. We all have, or will have, baggage at some point, but I normally try to travel with no more than a carry on. I realized that Burning Man was not normal given my default conditioning. The next thought slapped me in the face even harder: perhaps it wasn’t my surroundings that were abnormal; perhaps it was my programming.
I found myself meandering through Black Rock City late one night, loitering here and there to have a drink or a look at some art. Then I found myself on the 3 o’clock spoke between the Esplanade and The Man. I pulled up a piece of playa and sat down to take it all in. I was in a quiet little bubble amidst the cacophony. I don’t know what compelled me, but I looked towards the Man and made a request. I asked to meet someone I could have a great time with for the rest of the week. I wanted to meet someone with whom to share the Burn and create a memorable experience. Once I put that out there I got up and continued on my way.
Less than an hour later I scaled the Tower of Babylon and was peering over the city in the middle of the night. Two people, Space Man and Janneke, were chatting close by when they turned and asked me to snap a picture for them. I obliged and struck up a conversation. It turned out that they were also from Los Angeles. Janneke and I hit it off famously and we soon sauntered off towards the temple together.
We spent the rest of the night, and most of the morning, canoodling and enjoying each other’s company at the temple. The two of us couldn’t have been cozier. It must have shown because a photographer asked if she could take our picture to use it for her website. We were watching the sunrise when Janneke confided in me that shortly before we’d met she asked the Man if she could meet someone to spend some time with for the Burn, preferably someone who lived in L.A. That’s the moment I was struck by the realization that manifestation might exist and was not simply wishing in New Age garb.
Janneke invited me to her camp the next day for dinner. She made red beans and rice for the entire camp. What ensued was what we named “The Funnest Night Ever”. A group of us set off into the deep playa to view art. We were blessed with balmy temperatures all evening. We flitted from art installations to art installation. We hung out at the Denny’s at the End of the Universe where we laughed until we were in physical pain. A couple of us would occasionally mention to each other that we’d really like some whiskey, and on cue someone appeared with a flask to quench our thirst. We made new friends—that we keep in touch with to this day—and danced our asses off on the Purple Palace. To top it off we ran into a guy at o’dark thirty who was doling out hot, homemade ramen noodle soup replete with fresh green onions, sliced pork and home made noodles. We were kids in the bodies of adults for an evening. I saw the magnificence of Burning Man the way only the eyes of a virgin can. I felt blessed and blissed, and I understood the power that resides on the Playa. I will always treasure that moment.
As for Janneke and me, well, we dated for a short time after getting back to L.A., but in the end it wasn’t happily ever after. It certainly wasn’t ‘a playa thing’ either. I count her as one of my dearest friends and always think of her fondly, especially when I recall the night we met. The two of us make it a point to spend time together and laugh often. I think the Playa gave us both exactly what we asked for and I think both our lives have more texture as a result.
I reflect on the entire experience from time to time and ponder its significance. New friends are priceless; especially the wonderful ones that now inhabit my life since this chapter began. The notion of manifestation was something I didn’t expect to believe in, let alone experience. The healthy skeptic in me tries to explain it away, but it’s something that happened and can’t un-happen. It was real. How could it affect the rest of my life?
What I have difficulty doing is carrying the belief in manifestation with me through my life in the default world. Occasionally the faith and fearlessness I found out there in the wind and dust falters and I struggle. I remind myself that I’m human and it’s my lot to struggle now and then. That’s when I summon memories to silence my internal skeptic and keep it at bay…for a time anyway. It’s then that I dig a little deeper and question if the magic really resides in the desert or it’s something we haul out there with our furry costumes, tents and water every year. I think the magic dwells inside each of us; a fountain tucked away that is the source of our spirits, often still but ready to bubble when given the opportunity. And when 50,000 magicians—unwitting or otherwise—collide in such a manner, things happen that defy the logic of default thinking. It’s a critical mass of energy and creativity that manifests something to keeps us coming back every year. We forge a home where we’re all welcome because of our behavior, not despite it. My hope is that we all learn to use that power in our lives every day like a flowing river from which we can draw what we need when we need it, rather than as the appreciation of a flower that blooms only once a year.