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“The playa provides!” is a common expression used to describe the abundance of synchronicity at Burning Man.
This felt particularly true for me this year; as my first Burn since becoming a mother. It had been three and a half years since my son was born, and I felt we were both ready for the week-long separation. While many parents bring their children with them, I wanted the opportunity away from my family responsibilities to reflect and to grow.
In the last four years a mothering archetype has blossomed within, and yet I had not integrated this personal transformation into the way I show up socially in the world. It felt like there was a split between my home life and social world, and I was hoping the playa would help me integrate who I was in the past with who I have grown into now. Fatefully enough, the theme of this year’s Burning Man was Metamorphosis, and the art on the playa inspired me to consider my own.
Among the dozens of groundbreaking artworks on the playa this year, were several sculptures and installations that drew upon childhood and birth as symbols for larger cultural phenomena. This was the perfect backdrop to inspire a week of meditating on my own metamorphosis as a mother.
Below are four works of art that made this year’s burn the most intentional to date.
The Cloud Swing was an installation that provided 24/7 access to a miniature playground. Participants were invited to embrace their inner child and go for a swing while a sculpture of a cloud form rested overhead. At night, the motion of the rider would transform the color of the cloud into an ethereal rainbow of light that could be seen from a great distance.
While going for a midnight swing, I thought about how my son lives in a suspended state of creativity and wonder. His life is a series of playful investigations interrupted by the demands of eating and sleeping. As a parent, I have had to learn how to be a kid again, how to play without a purpose. The kind of spontaneity and improvisation I have had to embrace to meet my son as a peer in his games, has made my life so much more creative and innovative than it had been before.
I made a lot of new friends at the Cloud Swing and I began to see all those around me as children. We are all just waiting for the opportunity to unlock that sense of wonder that is the doorway to joy.
This sculpture connected me to a feeling I have had about motherhood as a process of being reborn. In the sculpture, we see a woman coming out of her shell and it presented how much becoming a mother helped me come out of mine. While I gave birth to my son, it has been the experience of becoming a mother that helped me understand what makes me tick.
What are my real priorities, when time is such a hot commodity?
What am I ready to let go of so I can make space for my optimal emotional wellness?
What do I really want to contribute to a world my son will inherit?
I believe our children give birth to our highest potential.
For a long time I have been thinking about motherhood as a process of being reborn, but somehow the thoughts lingered in the ether of my consciousness and I never knew quite how to put what I was feeling into words. When I saw Mariposita, something clicked. The sculpture quite literally materialized the numinous concepts in my mind..
The sculpture depicts a woman on the brink of coming out of her shell. Her palms are pressed out towards the open sky, as if feeling the boundary of an insular world lift for the first time. Her hands tentatively explore the strangeness of the air pressing against her skin. Her gaze is on her legs with the sense that she’s wondering if it were time to stand up and explore the world around her.
The egg in which she is sitting, is in a state of disintegration. The bottom is sturdy, and the top is open to the sky. It reminds the viewer of a baby bird, whose just coming to discover that there is a bigger world outside her shell. But of course the creature emerging is not a baby; She is fully matured woman, with the breasts to prove it.
Standing in front of the sculpture, I could finally verbalize that while we give birth to our children we are also experiencing a rebirth. My priorities changed.
I developed new attributes as the challenge of motherhood strengthened underutilized virtues. A spirit of creativity and playfulness emerged as I mirrored my sons needs to explore his surroundings. My ability to be more loving to others grew ten-fold as my son melted my heart. And for me, most profoundly, it began to think about the world I was creating for him with my actions. I came to feel responsible for the world we live in rather than passively accepting the world as it stands. I became more mission driven and focused in my work, because all of a sudden it mattered to me much more that the world would be a better place.
Taken collectively, this rapid change of priorities, beliefs, feelings and personality, was a rebirth. I needed time away from the constant unfolding of life, to understand and integrate that a new me had emerged.
A sort of post-apocalyptic warning, this sculpture of a 14-foot robot-mom holding a giant lifelike baby forced me to confront the ramifications of our hyper-technologized world. The baby stares deep into the eyes of its machine-made caretaker, reminding me too much of my son’s intensity staring into the glowing screen as he watches his favorite cartoons.
Technology is a double-edged sword. While progress demands innovation, anything created has the ability for good and bad. There have been times when I have not monitored how using the technology available to me makes me feel. How do I feel after spending an hour on instagram? How does that feeling impact my son?
When do educational TV programs inspire my sons creativity, and when do they rob him of an opportunity to be creative in our home?
There are so many invaluable tools to help us become more in touch with our humanness, to help us stay centered and mindful, to be in connection with loved ones who are far away. But the truth is technology can have an edge. What may start as a way of bringing in more connection and more insight, can slip into inspiring complacency, numbness, and loneliness.
The harsh reality of this piece sent me home with a commitment to being more intentional in my relationship to media. It is up to me to monitor what I engage with and how it affects me and how what my child engages with effects him.
Burning Man culminates with the burning of the Temple. 70,000 people sit together in absolute silence meditating as the flames rise. Inside the temple are notes from the community about their dreams, their loves, their losses, both personal and collective. If you look at the flames on the far right, perhaps you can see what I see. Figures dancing, as our collective devotion transforms the night sky into a sweeping panorama of red and orange flames. On occasion, a sound of gentle weeping could be heard from someone in the crowd.
When the crowd dispersed, strangers took in one another as family. In that moment, our collective solidarity was tangible as the chill in the air. When I think about the world I want my son to inherit, it’s one where we see clearly the illusion of separateness. That 70,000 people suspended all other activities to share in a collective ritual of healing, indicates to me that despite this divisive political moment, there is still something sacred we are willing to come together in service of: our shared humanity.
Now when disagreements or differences arise, I make an intentional effort to view each person as the innocent child they were born as, struggling to make sense of the complicated world we have inherited.
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