I placed his ashes in a beautiful gourd bowl that he grew, cured and finished. I scattered most of the ashes in special places but kept some with the intent that someday, some of my ashes would be mixed with his to be scattered. Then I arrived at the place where keeping some of his ashes in the gourd, which was in my china cabinet, seemed wrong. I knew he would not want that. It was time to release the last of his body.
I had no idea if I would like the experience of Burning Man or ever go again, doing so was a pilgrimage for Joe. Yet as soon as I arrived on the Playa (the other name for the Black Rock Desert) I knew I was hOMe. And with my first bike ride out to The Temple, I was in awe.
I brought several other small things that were ‘Joe’ that I was ready to release. It was Wednesday of the week of Burning Man when I was ready to place everything in The Temple. I rode out just before sunrise to the open Playa past The Temple. I made a little shrine on the ground, being with each object, my own ritual of release. I took many photos of this shrine from different angles, playing with the light of the rising sun. Then I took it all to The Temple and placed it in a corner on the upper level, placing everything in a way that felt right. I took many more photos. Then I walked out of that area of The Temple with the decision not to look at any of it again. I was releasing it.
While I spent much more time at The Temple, I never did go back to that corner. I knew as more things were left by other people, my shrine would change. I was choosing to let it go and not be attached to how it looked.
Then came Saturday night and the Man burn. The Man burns with huge fireworks, explosions and BIG partying. I decided rather than go with friends to the Man burn, I would watch from The Temple. It had an upper level with balconies that would provide an excellent view and I liked the idea of being ‘close to Joe’. I knew I would need to be early enough to get a spot so I rode out past the already gathering crowds around the Man and stopped to pee at the porta potties closest to The Temple and from there took a photo of the Man. I rode to The Temple and was delighted to get the prime spot on the side of The Temple with the best view of the Man. I settled into my spot and remember thinking: Here we are Joe... Burning Man!
And of course it was time to take a photo so I reached into my bag for my camera... It was gone. I thought it had fallen out of my bag into my bike basket so I went down to check. No camera. Then I remembered, I took the photo of The Man just before I went into the porta potties so had my camera in my hand. I had placed my camera on top of the toilet paper dispenser and left it there. So I got on my bike for the 10 minute ride back to the potties, knowing that as fast as people were arriving I would lose my prime place on The Temple. I got back to the potties and tried to remember which one I had gone in. It was dark so one by one searched each with my head lamp. I did not find it.
The party was growing around the Man, I knew my place on The Temple was gone. I knew I would never find my friends in the 10’s of thousands of people. And my PHOTOS were gone! Joe’s shrine, my ritual on the Playa, all the amazing experiences, people and art I had taken photos of for a week. Gone!
The Playa is a place of catharsis, I have a friend who says he only cries at Burning Man and he cries a lot there. Standing in the dark at the potties with a growing party all around me... I lost it. I had only one impulse. I wanted OUT. So I started riding into the far open Playa. Crying in agony. So much pouring through me. Every cell in my body wanted JOE. My Beloved. I wanted his touch, his eyes, his presence... I wanted him... HERE NOW! My chest... My Heart... Cracked open WIDE.
I rode and rode... Far out to open dark Playa. I found a large metal art installation with no lights on it. I turned off all my bike lights and climbed high up onto it and found a place where I could sit comfortably. I turned off my headlamp and let the dark envelope me. I had ridden for at least half an hour, crying and hurling anger at The Divine the whole way. No matter how far out into open Playa you go... The lights and the pulse of sound that is Black Rock City follows. Looking back at 50,000+ people, I could also see the Man. All week his arms are down at his side in a walking position. The day he burns, his arms are raised above his head. In surrender. I too surrendered to my pouring grief.
I put my head back, looking into the expanse of dark sky & stars above me... When suddenly a realization flooded deep into my core. I was deeply and pathologically ATTACHED to some PHOTOS of the THINGS I traveled a long dusty way... To RELEASE. I laughed and laughed and laughed. And looked up at the huge open sky... And felt Divine Gratitude. Divine Love. My wide open Heart filled with Peace... I. Am. Not. Alone.
Then I got comfortable on my big metal chair, playing with the expansiveness of the stars and how that far away, I could hold 50,000 people and Black Rock City in my hand. With my Heart-Opened-Wide I had a great time playing with that much human energy juxtapositioned with the expansive of where I was. Watching the fireworks, explosions and burning of the Man and feeling/hearing 50,000 people reacting to it... I felt joy pour through me and flow out into the expansive sky.
I experienced what I was seeking... A deep transformative release. Not a release of Joe’s place in my Heart or the profound love we shared. A release of the weight of grief. A release of the painful yearning of wanting him back. Of recognizing and letting go of the agonizing mind game of wanting a different story. Of wishing the story of Joe, cancer and last breath... Did not exist. The story does exist. Yet peace replaces pain when attachment is released. The wisdom inherent in uncertainty expands with detachment... Allowing infinite possibilities.
This story has a postscript. Beyond a powerful lesson in detachment I also received three profound love offerings, Divine messages from three beautiful Angels in human skin.
The morning after the Man burn I wanted to be at The Temple for sunrise. Almost every morning all week I would ride past The Temple for sunrise to meditate and do yoga. That morning I rode all the way past The Temple and to the temporary fence that marks the far border of Black Rock City. As I opened my eyes from meditation with the rising sun, I became aware of a man quite a distance away but also at the fence facing the sunrise. I could feel our connection as we both did some sun salutations. We walked to each other in the full sun and spoke of how connected we felt while sharing that sunrise.
Looking deep into his eyes we went into each others arms, snuggled and shared smile-filled kisses. Standing together, breathing together, swaying with the energy of the Playa. Heart to Heart. Creating Love. Being Love. I breathed in his masculinity. Leaned into his body. Embraced his Divine Masculine. The Divine Masculine that for so long, I experienced through Joe. The Divine Masculine I had so deeply mourned for, just a few hours prior... Present again in this lovely man. We bid each other life Blessings and parted. My first Angel, reminding me that The Divine Masculine is always with me. Always.
Later that day, a sweet young woman approached me and asked about my carved whale bone necklace. She was from New Zealand and thought it was Maori. I told her about the Hawaiian man who carved it. She asked ‘can I give you a gift’ and handed me a necklace with a little vial of ashes and said they were from The Man, gathered just that morning. It was only after we hugged and that she, my second Angel, walked away that I realized this little vial of ashes from The Man was once again The Divine... Reminding me of The Spiral Dance. Ashes to Ashes... Dust to Dust. Releasing simply allows more room to receive.
The third Angel I never met. Burning Man is not a spectator event. It invites participation. Giving back, volunteering is a large part. A number of people give back by tending the lost & found. Nothing is left on The Playa. All the found things are brought to the Burning Man offices in San Francisco and carefully catalogued. Hundreds of cameras and phones are lost and to help find their owners a website is created about 6 weeks after the burn. On the website volunteers place 4 photos from each phone or camera. And while I made peace with losing it, I went to the website. After the great fun of looking through hundreds of photos, I saw my face. Four of my photos. My camera found. When it was returned to me I promptly deleted the photos of the gourd and the shrine’s.
My third Angel was someone who found my camera that night in the porta pottie. She is not my Angel because she returned it... She is my Angel because she took it away.
The Man burns Saturday night with huge amounts of fireworks, explosions and the roar of the crowd. The Temple burns Sunday night and is set on fire simply by people holding torches. It burns with 10’s of thousands of people in reverent silence. Its name in 2011: ‘The Temple of Transition.’
I will always have a deep connection with the Playa, Black Rock City, it’s people and especially The Temple newly built every year... Ready to receive. I will return every year... Open to what is waiting there for me. Going hOMe not so much to a place... Going hOMe to my own Heart & Spirit... Going hOMe to Dance with The Divine. So. Be. It.