I hadn’t even planned on going to “The Temple.” I heard others mention how they “needed to go” there. Why would I need to go? I really hadn’t had any recent losses. It sounded like some sort of obligation— like “needing to go” to church…
It was my first Burn, just my second full day. I was sort of on my own—my wife had been once but chose to stay home. I was trying to take it all in, exploring on my bike. I came across the Temple while crossing the Playa on my bike to get to somewhere else. It was an impressive, very interesting structure—“guess I’ll take a quick glance inside…” I thought.
Once inside, I was impressed by the emotions I felt more than the architecture. I felt waves of sadness tugging at me, pulling me—almost a physical sensation. This is weird, I thought. I stepped outside and the feelings subsided. Curious, I went back in. Again I felt a pool of grief that got exponentially stronger as I ventured further in and as I stayed longer. I heard some people sobbing, some laughing, but mostly it was very quiet. I felt myself being pulled into a vortex of quiet sadness. It then welled up inside of me, wanting to come out. I needed to sit down.
I found a little space to sit in, elevated off the ground a bit, a very private nook. I began to sob.
I remembered that my dog was dying; my wife had stayed home to care for her. A neighbor, my age, died suddenly a few months ago of alcohol related problems. My dad was recently diagnosed with a rare and vicious form of skin cancer. My mom is doing OK but has only partial kidney function and like dad, is in her 80’s.
I realized that my parents were dying—maybe not today, but dying nonetheless. Many relatives and friends had already died—not so recently, but dead just the same. And in reality, I am dying, my wife is dying, my brothers and sisters, my friends, everyone I know—all moving towards death.
In a way—some way I can’t really articulate—I felt “we all dead already”…in the ultimate scheme of things. Not through the narrow slit of time we usually look through called “the present”, but in the big picture—we have all come and gone it seemed.
I sat and sobbed and grieved. I thought of everyone I had lost during my life, everyone I was going to lose. I thought of my grandparents—my mom’s parents who had been so nurturing to me in my childhood, how I missed them so dearly. I found a pencil and wrote a little message to them on the wood structure nearest me. Then, I looked around through my tears. I saw a myriad of messages and photos others had written—all seemingly to grandparents. It was like I’d sat down in a little epicenter of grandparent grief!
I suddenly realized that my grief was a part of universal grief–just a drop in the bucket of human loss and suffering. We have all lost and are all losing, everyone here in this temple—everyone, everywhere in all time, all losing loved ones, all dying.
Yet I am alive—I take a breath; all of us sitting and breathing here are alive. Those who have passed live in us. We are all one. While we are breathing we are alive. Each breath is a micro life/death cycle. It’s good to breathe, it’s good to be alive right now!
Slowly, I collect myself and get up. Out into the bright sunshine, I find my bike and ride back to my camp. Now I understand what the Temple is about. I understand what my wife had said about my going to Burning Man: “It will change you.”
by Dean Martin