Not only is Burning Man born out of love and made out of love, it also encourages a new type of relating, a new type of embodied love and interaction, one that goes beyond traditional monogamous and polyamorous paradigms.
You are full of love. You may not even know it, but you are full of so much love. How do I know this? Is it the playa dust or the twinkle in your eye? The pink feather boa and combat boots certainly give off an air of revelry and debauchery, but love goes much deeper than that. It might have something to do with the fact that nine months before your birthday, your parents decided that this world could use one more brilliant, beautiful shining face and infused your life with love so that it could become a song, a dance, a celebration.
We’re getting close, so let’s go a bit deeper. I can tell you are full of love because in the words of Thomas Merton, “love is not just something that happens to you, it is a special way of being alive.” We all have those special moments where life grabs a hold of our hearts and doesn’t let go. These are the moments that we all strive for. Never have I felt so many of those moments as I have at Burning Man. Knowing that you were there, or knowing that you are interested in going there, I know you are full of love.
I’m here to talk about this love. I want to discuss how this love develops, what to do with it and how best to practice it. And we’ll start with art.
“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.” –– Osho
In his book “Free Play,” Stephen Nachmanovitch points out that the difference between creation and construction is that “a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.” His point is that a creative act is an act of love, one of the most fundamental expressions we have as human beings. Art, then, is this passionate drive into the unknown, fueled by enough love to overcome every obstacle in the way of its creation.
Thus love is not just one aspect of the Burning Man festival; rather it is infused in its very nature. Some of the best words to hear upon arrival at the Playa are “Welcome home.” Home is where the heart is, where the love is, where you return and feel accepted. It should surprise no one then that Burning Man is also a home of fundamentally strong, deep and loving connections between people. But before I go into that, I need to give a bit of background on how some people practice multiple loving connections in the “default world” through a practice known as polyamory.
“Many people try to live a monogamous lifestyle and find it just does not meet their needs. They come to believe that it is unrealistic to expect any one person to fulfill all their needs for intimacy, companionship, love, and sex, for the rest of their lives.” — Kathy Labriola, “Love in Abundance”
In short, polyamory is the practice of multiple intimate relationships with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. The key concept of this practice is “knowledgeable consent,” meaning that it is required of all participants to disclose their respective relationships status. How many people are you seeing? How serious are these relationships? New poly-partners have a right to know not only your availability but also desires and expectations out of the newly forming relationship so they can adequately decide whether or not they want to enter a relationship with you.
Polyamorist, Burning Man enthusiast and self-proclaimed “sex geek” Reid Mihalko suggests having the Relationship Agreement Discussion before partners venture on to the playa. For example, one might want to ask:
- Would it bother you to hear your partner having sex or see them pre- or post-coitus entering/ leaving their tent with another person?
This may seem like a difficult conversation to have, but it’s absolutely necessary to make sure no one gets hurt (or at least minimize the chances of this happening). For example, I had a good friend who met the love of her life at Burning Man. However, when she returned to the default world, she learned the man was in a monogamous relationship and was given permission by his girlfriend to be promiscuous only on the playa. My friend was heartbroken. If the man was upfront about his relationship status and agreements before anything happened, the situation could have been avoided.
Thus polyamory is not simply doing whatever you want. It means taking an active role in your relationships by taking responsibility for your emotions and expressing your feelings, desires and needs clearly. If this seems a bit wishy-washy and emotionally difficult to you, well, it is. As one partner of mine put it, “polyamory is not for pussies.” At Burning Man, these issues become doubly complicated. Intense emotional processing is certainly not part of a conversation you want to have when riding across a desert landscape on a fire-breathing dragon while looking to snag a couple kisses from a few guys and gals dressed up like space pirates. “Before we go any further, you should know I have three partners already and we all have agreed that blah blah blah blah.” Without ruining spontaneity and spoiling desire, how much do you need to process, especially about things that might happen? How in depth do you need to go with someone you just met and may never see again?
Maybe we should be asking, is there a better way?
“I encourage you to challenge prevailing paradigms that curtail the possibilities for sex and love. Consider this an invitation to move beyond limiting cultural stereotypes about relationships, to experiment, to play, to explore yourself, to learn where you’re stuck and why, and to find out what works for you and what doesn’t.” — Vicki Vantoch, “The Threesome Handbook”
Burning Man is one of the greatest opportunities to challenge predominant cultural paradigms, to experiment and to develop new ways of relating. You may find yourself connecting with people by:
- kissing three strangers in the kissing booth
- being paired up at an erotic chakra-awakening massage, a 10-minute eye-contact jam, a contact improv jam or a partner yoga session
- cuddling with your five new best friends over chai tea as the sun rises over the temple
- deeply and sincerely expressing your undying love to an old friend
- dancing, kissing or cuddling intimately inside a giant egg lit up with rainbow LEDs while a young man dressed as Harry Potter plays George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” on the saxophone (true story)
As the traditional lines of intimacy, sex and friendship begin to blur along with the playa dust in the air, your typical relationship model also begins to break down.
Which brings us to the subject of this article: radical love, a concept defined by anarcho-feminist and author Wendy-O Matik as “the freedom to love whom you want, how you want, as many as you want, so long as personal integrity, respect, honesty, and consent are at the core of all relationships.” Notice again the key concepts of integrity, honesty and consent. Like polyamory, radical love does not mean doing whatever you want.
Basically, radical love means intimately connecting with people at a deep level, at which both of you are comfortable. Radical love rejects the idea that there is an “intimacy line” that once crossed, the people involved become partners/ boyfriend/ girlfriend and must follow all the requirements that this entails (whether monogamous or polyamorous). It distills down the essence of polyamory by focusing on deepening intimacy through honest communication and by respecting the needs and desires of everyone involved.
Matik continues by saying that “there are a thousand or more ways to be loving with someone — sex is the easy part. It’s being creative enough to actively commit to being a loving person on a multitude of levels (cuddling, holding, listening, the exchange of inspiration and so on) that separates you from the norm.” Burning Man allows us to get creative with our love. Smiling at a stranger? That’s radical love. Handing out laminated postcards with quotes by Walt Whitman? That’s radical love, too. Expressions of compassion, gratitude and care? Well, you get the point. Any action that breaks us out of our isolated sense of self and forms a connection, that’s radical love.
At Burning Man this year I explored what radical love means to me. One of my gifts to the Playa was spoken word poetry. My favorite slam poet, Anis Mojgani, explains that “every time I write, every time I open my eyes I am cutting out a part of myself to give to you,” so through my poetry I was able to give my love whenever, and wherever I wanted. Hopefully you too had the chance to experience new ways of connecting and relating, or at least seeing the beauty and freedom of loving more than one.
“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people.” — Pema Chodron
Returning to the “default world” can be quite a shock. The term “default world” has special significance to radical love as we see people return to default relationship models without considering or dreaming up alternatives. In everyday society, many people are not nearly as friendly, open or free to express their inner desires, and it’s easy to shrink back as a result. But it’s life’s challenges that make us grow the most, so as we return to our normal lives, consider the question: How much love can you bring into every relationship you have?
Can you bring tenderness and compassion to everything you touch? Can you take the theme ‘Fertility 2.0’ and spread the seed of this beautiful flower that sprouted in the middle of the desert? Can you see the fundamental goodness and express your love to everyone you meet, even the checkout clerk at the grocery store? Can you call up that old friend you stopped talking to over some irrelevant argument?
I think you can, because I should have specified earlier: You are full of radical love. A love that knows no bounds, a love that is neither selfish nor possessive, an unconditional and free love that savors every moment. Yes, it is radical, some might say revolutionary. But it’s the only way to live, and I mean to truly live, to embrace life in all its complexity and mystery.