Art for the Temple: Baggage
After Burning Man 2014 I had the idea of physically carrying my baggage from one place to another. Originally I was thinking this would be a street theatre piece. After a wild year of relocations and heartbreaks and generic 24 year old confusions, Black Rock City sounded like the perfect place for my performance.
I couldn’t have predicted the emotional impact physically carrying my baggage to the Temple would have on me. Each moment around the journey was perfectly serendipitous. I wanted to drop into the process, into the walk, into the memories, into my surroundings – and thats exactly what I got.
I have always loved the place where ritual and performance blend together. They hold so much in common requiring focus, commitment, witnesses and some sort of procedure. Choosing to do this performance at Burning Man, and walk my baggage to the Temple, charged the event with aspects of ritual for me. The Temple at Burning Man is a sacred contemplative space. I don’t actually know if Burning Man prescribes anything more onto the Temple, but people leave all manner of things and memories they wish to release there. People also leave manifestations, have celebrations and marriages, meditate, or witness and contemplate the choices other people have made. On Sunday they burn the temple and all three years I’ve attended it has been a solemn and heartbreakingly beautiful event.
This project had blossomed during a frustration driven bout of artistic angst. I devised the idea of writing all my potentially inflammatory sexual history on bags in bright garish colors and walking around some city, probably San Francisco, as a big “F*** You! I do have sex!” to all the haters that had bred a deep-seated shame into my psyche around my supposed vices. The ideals of radical self-expression and radical inclusion made Burning Man seem like a really safe place to perform and process
I decided to carry five bags of different sizes. I wanted enough bags that it would be impossible for me to carry them all at the same time. I wrote words on my baggage, although not all of them were focused on my sex life. I also wrote the word Acceptance on one of the bags which at the time seemed irreverent but in the end became a critical point in my performance turned ritual.
I am a very kinesthetic learner. I’m still reeling from the amount of information I got about myself from this seemingly simple act of carrying some old vintage bags from my theme camp in the city to the Temple, a mile or so away.
I could only carry two or three bags at a time so I was constantly going two steps forward one step back, essentially leap frog-ing my luggage along the road. I had heard the phrase “one step forward, two steps back” a thousand times but to actually walk it for over an hour taught we that there was nothing wrong about oscillating between moving forward and backtracking. I can be terribly critical on myself for backsliding around certain emotional issues. My inner critic is on me all the time for pining over lost connections, or feeling sad or angry about something “I thought I had gotten over.” What I learned walking it was that:
Things take time
Different issues process at different speeds
3) If i’m going to try and tackle everything at once there is going to be some backsliding.
I think the way I chose to take my bags says a lot about me. I decided I wasn’t going to talk and initially imagined I would do it all by myself. I was going to carry the bags, not cart or bike or drive them. I was going to take it all at once. I’ve since thought of other ways one might have decided to deal with the concept. You could carry each bag, one at a time, from camp all the way to the temple, making 5 shorter easier trips but in the end probably taking more time. You could test your endurance and take all 5 bags, strapped onto your body, and carry them without stopping, potentially at the risk of hurting your body. I feel like the path I chose was a good metaphor for how I deal with my emotions on a daily basis.
I hadn’t gotten very far down the road with my leapfrog system, which was suiting me fine, when two young men on bikes approached and simply picked up the extra bags I couldn’t carry. I briefly attempted to pantomime that it was my task to carry them, but they weren’t having any of it. They insisted on helping me. If they had to help they at least had to follow some of my procedures. I wouldn’t allow them to put the bags into their baskets on the bikes, explaining through pantomime that they had to be carried in the hand. Happy to help the men on bikes accompanied me all the way to the Man, the namesake of the festival, which resides in the middle of the playa. They joked and sang and pondered who I was and what I doing, while I walked alongside in silence. I was astonished at my reaction to someone else helping me. It was very hard. I really wanted to do it all myself. In hindsight I’m so thankful to those two gentlemen, and a third friend they summoned halfway through, because if they hadn’t helped me get through a third of my trip I would have been truly exhausted.
I hadn’t visited the Man yet but coming upon him I was immediately drawn to the gateway in front of me. The theme for Burning Man last year was Carnival of Mirrors, and the base of the Man was surrounded by a maze and midway. The gateway on this side of the man happened to be a grinning devil, mischievous and compelling. I felt in my gut that this threshold needed to be crossed. My demons had to be faced before I could leave them behind me once and for all. I stopped and thanked the three gentlemen on bikes silently before steeling myself to take each bag through the portal one at a time. Some bags were easier than others, and I was surprised at the adrenal response my body had when I looked the devil in the eye and defiantly crossed beneath him into the sanctuary around the man. It simply seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
I began my system again and passed through the portal facing the road between the Man and the Temple. Looking over my shoulder I saw two dancing elephants intertwined with the words “Leave all despair behind, ye who enter here.” The unexpected contrast from the Devil gate caught me completely by surprise and I was delighted by this other threshold. The words resonated with the “rightness” of my actions. And the elephants felt like a call from the universe to remember my journey and all I learned from it. Filled with a curious uplifted feeling I continued down the road to the Temple.
About halfway to the Temple from the Man I made the discovery that I could in fact carry all five bags at the same time. I carried them a short way but it was extremely taxing on my body, causing my arms to ache and my shoulders to strain. I went back to an even simpler system, as I was tiring, only carrying two bags at any time so it would take me three trips to move forward instead of two. I also decided that despite the pain it might cause me I would carry all of the bags into the temple once I reached that final threshold.
I was terribly worried the the Temple Guardians wouldn’t let me leave so much within the sacred space. In the end there was no cause for worry, but this fear that, taking time to process my own emotions will take up too much time or space, is a relatively constant one. I don’t allow myself to cry as often as I might like to, fearing I’ll be shamed or criticized. I don’t let myself stay angry or upset when I might just need to feel my feelings. So instead I carry them around like a heavy weight. Having my fear rear its head to absolutely nothing when I arrived at the Temple showcased them outside of my own little inner dialogue. I’m the one most invested in my emotions and for the most part no one is going to be bothered if I choose to express them in healthy ways.
Finally I reached the perimeter around the Temple, bikes scattered all around it. I was preparing to gather up all my bags, strategizing how to get them all at once so no one would bother me, when another man came up with a shining smile and picked up two of the bags. His presence was so sure and so giving, and he didn’t say a word. I gave one small protest, then finally getting it, walked into the temple with a kind stranger from the community helping me. I burst into tears.
I got it. I can process all this crap alone but I don’t have to. There are lots of people out there, some who I know and some who I don’t, that want me to be free of whatever plagues me and are ready to step in as allies. I know this applies to other people because I offer it up all the time, a hand extended to anyone in need. But it finally, truly landed that this also applies to me. Sobbing as I walked, I marched inside and set my bags down. The smiling man gave me a warm hug, looked into my eyes, and then left me with space to wrap up whatever it was I came to do. I arranged my bags somewhat haphazardly, wiping tears from my cheek, half-heartedly choosing which words to have facing outward and which ones to leave facing the wall. I gathered myself for a moment and then feeling like there was nothing left to do began to leave.
Before exiting out the back of the structure I took one last look over my shoulder at the bags. The only word I could see was Acceptance, unintentionally placed by my own hand, a final sign from the universe that the process was done, this leg of the journey was over, and all that was left was to accept what was given to me.
The day had been bright and clear through my whole trek, but as I left the space the temperature dropped and the dust picked up turning the world to white. With my task complete and my baggage left behind it mirrored the way I felt inside. What next? Another friend of mine, after hearing this story, felt that the winds had picked up to sweep my baggage away. Both interpretations feel relevant.
I’m still recalling and realizing things i’ve learned from my process. I would recommend a similar project to anyone curious to physically explore their emotional landscape. I’m happy to chat and collaborate with anyone moved by my journey.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to revisit this journey in an upcoming production with Turning the Wheel, “Stardust and Water.” Learn more about this production on TTW’s Website.
Photo Credit (Thank You!)
James Wind Photography: http://jameswynd.com/