In line with Burning Man’s theme this year: Cargo Cult, I realized through my last post that I have a lot to say about groups. I found myself writing about physical parties, organizational dynamics, power plays, and psychology. At some point I cut the document in half, seeing that I had plenty of material to comprise a separate post. Reflecting on my past, I can see I’ve gone through a variety phases and undoubtedly changed my mentality around groups several times. I have been an enthusiastic leader (elementary school), a nasty conformist (late middle school), an eager follower (early high school), and self prescribed individualist (late high school).
Since my institutional education days, I have struggled with larger group dynamics. I fit in just fine (social conditioning works on me) – but there is something about congregations en masse and elements of power play that I find unsettling.The constant push and pull between wanting acceptance and recognition versus doing what you want or what you believe is right, has the ability to be a traumatic experience. People do funny and fucked up things within organized circles. By the time you are thirteen you have already been through your fair share of social conditioning, which includes hazing and teasing, as well as acceptance and support.
Let’s be honest, I judge groups based on feeling judged within them. Life is absurd like that. My sentiment is that social circles often fall into a trap of complacency. They agree with each other too much, they look up to someone as their leader, they talk a lot of shit, and they are exclusive. That’s why it can be easier to hover on the periphery. When you are loosely affiliated with a crew, you can’t be fully rejected because you were never totally IN anyway. You can also jump ship and not feel like a total asshole because you were never a committed member to begin with.
To a certain degree, I am comfortable with being uncomfortable… I can hover at the boundary of groups and hold hands with my loneliness. I do not know how many others do this. I feel as though people are often fearful of not associating with a group, so they subscribe to whichever one fits best or is most convenient. This is unappealing to me. I want to observe and experience a community before putting my heart into one. And this is very much what I was flirting with during Burning Man this year.
My non commitment to social circles has been much to my success and my detriment throughout life. I build close, tight-knit relationships with those I resonate with, which affords me an amazing network of loyal friends. However, I have also suffered being cast out and attacked by people who take my solitary nature personally. While selective about which communities I put my energy into, I realize my short comings in this arena. And perhaps my solo adventures on the playa during my Burning Man vacation facilitated making myself more vulnerable and open to considering some of these things.
This year, at Burning Man, I fell in love with groups. Not one group, but 3 or 4, and not just physical groups, but the idea of groups, too. It got all up in my face how I wanted to be a part of a camp or gang of hooligans. Groups are powerful, much more powerful than we are alone. And powerful is one of my core desired feelings. In an organization or posse, you have the ability to build and influence an empire (even if it’s only a mini empire). By developing relationships with those around you, you cultivate trust, and through trust you increase your level of impact.
Without further adieu:
Love Story #1: World Domination Summit Camp
I stood back on the black plastic tarps underneath the expansive shade structure and watched four rows of human bodies at work. I was impressed. The sea of flesh flowed gently with the movement of arms and legs, up and down, side to side, swaying slowly. Camp members, geezers with tanned and saggy skin, were weaving in and out of the crowd pouring water into thirsty peoples mouths as they craned their heads back.
This was the Carcass Wash. A daily event hosted by the PolyParadise Camp, where you go to wash and be washed by your fellow burners. Nudity optional, you only undress to your own level of comfort, but it is the rare attendee who still has their undies on. They give a grand orientation and dress the experience in the practice of communicating your boundaries and the ritual of touch across cultures. In my opinion, they did a great job of instituting caring, yet professional touch between strangers, and were exceptionally efficient in cleaning an amazing amount of people with surprisingly little water. And what a sight to see.
I looked over to my left and there stood an attractive young gentleman who I had noticed going through the lines from my vantage point. I hoped to strike up a conversation with this enticing man, since he stood so close, and decided to offer him some water. We began chatting, and he asked if he had seen me here yesterday? I laughed because I wanted to be flattered and would have liked to believe that he had noticed me. But I tell him no, he did not see me there yesterday, and I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen him before. From there I learned that he is a life coach, at which point I became acutely interested in what he had to say because I am always curious as to how people pull that off. I expressed my enthusiasm in his profession and told him how I am trying to learn more about consulting and location independent work.
Oh yea, did I mention I was NAKED? Yes. I carried on a conversation, in a my birthday suite, with a young man who happens to do something I am particularly interested in. I can’t say that I cared too much, as there were so many other naked people that it wasn’t a big deal. However, this guy had put boxers on. So while I was attempting to have a semi-serious conversation about business related things, I couldn’t help but notice that I was in the nude, speaking to someone I found quite attractive. Thank God lady boners don’t show… I have to laugh at the fact that something people describe as a nightmare was my reality. There I stood, naked, talking to Mr. Good-Looking-Lifestyle-Designer (Mr. GLLD) and decided life is pretty damn fantastic.
We continued talking and he tells me I should try getting more involved by attending events in order to meet people interested in coaching and location independence. I nod and say, “Yea, I attended a conference earlier this year with a ton of entrepreneurs in Portland, the World Domination Summit (WDS).” His eyes widen and he tells me that he was there too and so was most of his camp! Perhaps this is where he recognizes me from?
I am ecstatic that we have discovered this because now we have something totally awesome in common and I am hoping he agrees because I am determined to make him my friend. He invites me to his camp that evening and says I should definitely come by to meet everyone. As we part ways, I am thinking that this interaction is another thread in the blanket, another one of these ridiculous small-world coincidences. Of course I would talk to the one naked guy at the Carcass Wash in the middle of the desert who attended WDS! Coming to Burning Man was worth it.
After the sun set, I hopped onto my gold spray painted bicycle and began pedaling my way counter-clockwise around the circle shape of Burning Man. It was a bumpy ride from 8:30, where I was stationed, around to 2:45 where I was hoping to find the camp filled with WDS’ers. I bounced up and down on the springy cruiser seat and squeezed the honky horn every once in a while, in a friendly “hello” or “watch the hell out” fashion. In the darkness my dim bike lights and lack of brakes forced me to ride particularly cautiously to avoid any sort of collisions, making my progress slow, but steady.
I weaved in and out the packs of pedestrians, straining to see the street signs and looking carefully at the camps I passed. I wasn’t quite sure how I would recognize them, but kept my eye out for the red, cone-shaped tent Mr. GLLD had mentioned in our earlier conversation. Coming upon such a structure, I pulled my bike up next to a few others and joined some people settled around a hookah. “Hey, my name’s Lara. I met Mr. GLLD earlier, am I in the right camp?” They assured me I was. Success! I was welcomed into the circle and began to learn everyone’s story as we passed the hookah around.
People wandered about camp, blurry-eyed from naps, getting ready for the night, putting on face paint and make-up and passing around bottles of booze. Mr. GLLD himself joined us at some point and I learned little tidbits about his past and how he ended up pursuing various opportunities. It was a light-hearted and hard working crew, all thrilled to be sharing their time together at Burning Man, as well as their passionate work pursuits.
As we rallied for the evening, it became clear to me how committed many of these people were to each other. They weren’t just camping together, but wanted to build an experience based on shared memories. There was a strong group mentality that encouraged everyone to contribute and to stick together (at least to some extent). Getting ready to head out for the night, we all huddled up. A few members spoke about their current experiences and their appreciation towards everyone at camp. With our arms wrapped around one another, we swayed and hum-hahed our agreements. After a few minutes, the sentiments died. Hooping and hollering, everyone got rowdy and gave a final cheer before mounting bicycles and speeding down the dusty, pot-marked roads to whatever adventures awaited us that night.
More musings and love stories about groups to come. ~ Strength & Vigor ~