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 ~
During my week of vacation this summer I went to Burning Man (BM). I was on the fence about it for a long time. Similar to last year, I waited until the last minute to get a ticket. However, like last year, it was no problem and all the puzzle pieces seemed to naturally fall into place. Even after getting my ticket I waffled about whether or not I should go. Burning Man is a time and place where you get little sleep, there’s a million things to do, it’s hot and dusty, and the extremeness can be overwhelming and exhausting. Perhaps, I thought, it would be better to have a stay-cation and rest?
A friend of mine who I spent a lot of time with at BM 2012 called me on the phone. We had discussed camping together this year and were trying to coordinate plans. Her and her boyfriend had purchased a cheap car and had gone on a camping trip by the Yuba River. On the phone she explained that the car was more or less dead and it wouldn’t make the journey. No problem, I assured her, I would take them. And just like that I had committed to Burning Man 2013.
Panicking slightly that I had offered to be their ride, I told her that I was more than happy to make the drive out to Black Rock City with them. I was pumped to camp with them, too, but I wanted some level of independence and flexibility. I didn’t want them to depend on me for a ride home in case I freaked out and left early. I had been looking forward to this vacation for a long time and I wanted the autonomy to do what I liked when I felt like it. The last thing I wanted was to feel guilty for abandoning my friends in the middle of the desert. Luckily for me, my friends are badasses who have no issues making shit happen.
So that was that. I was going to BM, for better or for worse. The thrill of the trip sank in and kept me up at night. I only managed to pack the day before I planned to leave, stuffing rolled socks and lacy underwear into plastic bags, hoping that less was more. Last year I was with an organized camp, whereas this time it would only be the three of us and I wasn’t quite sure how it would all work out.
Even though I now had arranged to camp with my two friends, I felt as though I should approach the event as though I was going it alone. I did not want to rely on them as a couple for company and I definitely did not want to resent them for that either. I also wanted to mentally prepare myself for the tsunami of FOMO (fear of missing out). I desperately wanted to grant myself permission to do BM at my own pace with the least amount of comparison or pressure possible. I had been mulling this over for weeks and had no idea how I would feel once I arrived on the playa. It almost kept me from going, but the adventure was set in motion and the excitement was mounting. I was grateful to have friends as company and build a camp with and pleased that I was freewheeling.
After a 6am departure from Davis, CA and 7 hours of waiting, we made it through the long dusty lines and began looking for a spot to set up our tents. It took a while, but with some patience we found people who welcomed us with open arms. We were very limited in our supplies and incredibly under prepared compared to our neighbors. I felt like a gutter punk kid who was going to sleep in the dust all week choking on gas fumes while our fancy neighbors ran their generator next to my cheap tent. But it didn’t matter. I took pride in the simplicity of it all.
Despite all the back and forth, the worry of being unprepared, and insecurities surrounding loneliness, it was blissful to spend a week on the playa. I take pride in my ability to see the value of showing up and being present in situations, even when it is difficult and challenging. This is also how I ended up doing CrossFit. I often tell myself, when I meet resistance in attending a new class or event, that all I have to do is go – I don’t have to excel or do anything crazy, I don’t have to dance or make a new friend. As long as I bring my body and smile once, that can be enough.
So rather than staying in the bay area for a week and hiding out at my parents house to recharge, I committed to going to BM. I knew that I would regret it if I did not attend and I also knew that ultimately, the option of a good party and friends would be more valuable to me than spending 7 days alone in Palo Alto. All of my last minute decisions lead me to an “Oops, I did it again” moment, where I realized that I felt limited in my ability to contribute at BM and that may cause me to treat it more as an experience than a participatory community(!?) What I am saying is, that while I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to do BM, it relies heavily on people who whole-heartedly care about the city and build it from scratch. Then they return it to the same state the desert was in before we were there. That’s a shit ton of work.
Not only that, the culture of BM is maintained by those who are committed to practicing open mindedness and gifting. Approaching others in the spirit of non-expectation is no small feat and requires vigilance. As an organization, there are people working year round on creating this bedazzling parallel universe and I do not take it for granted. For this reason, I would like to acknowledge that there are endless opportunities to contribute to BM as a place, an event, and as a community. While I set multiple intentions for myself this year, they were very personal in dealing with my own emotions. I am planting the seed that the next time I go to BM, I would like to contribute more towards the experience as a whole and to a group at large. In this way, I am contemplating the core principles of the event and meditating on my own ability to shape experiences for myself and others.
After a weeks vacation in the desert, I have come back refreshed. I am satisfied to say that, despite the harsh conditions, I am rested and healthy. I am grateful for the art, the music, and the friends I bonded with. With my birthday only 2 weeks away, I’m excited for new writing material and bringing a fresh perspective to another year of life.
How do you know when you’ve got something good?
You know when you’ve got something good when you miss it, your body craves it, and when you can feel it nourishing your soul. It’s a thick syrup of satisfaction. It’s the complete exhaustion of a raging dance party, a 4am ski tour, or completing a century ride. You’ve got something good when pride radiates out of you like a supernova and buzzing electric energy keeps you up at night.
However, it isn’t always that easy or obvious to recognize. There are a million and one messages out there in the world telling you what you should want and why. Sometimes we get confused; are we chasing something because we know it’s good or because someone else said so? It’s challenging to tune out all the noise and check in with yourself to see where you really stand.
And what does nourishing your soul mean anyway? There is nourishment that comes in the form of wholesome Fun Type A: hanging out and talking shit with your buddies or going for a stroll. There is also soul nourishment that comes in the form of Fun Type B: writing at 5:30am, prying your eyeballs open and leaking coffee down the front of your sleepy shirt, rappelling down a rock face even though you feel like you might shit your pants, or giving a speech in front of 100 people. Recognizing soul-fertilizing moments can be intuitive and easy or hard and mysterious. Sometimes you just know. You can feel it straight in your gut, even when an activity is a strenuous pain in the ass, yet you soak it all in because you are pumped for the reward that awaits.
Then there are times you aren’t so sure. Maybe you’ve begun taking things for granted or you are tired and overworked. Sometimes I sit and think to myself “what would my life be like if I didn’t hold on to this idea that I have to write? Or set goals?” In the wake of all other daily activities, I wonder if I am adding to my own stress or pursuing a healthy passion. There is always a pregnant pause in the moments following my contemplation of this idea.
I feel like I know I have found something worthwhile when there seems to be no other way and I would otherwise be leading an entirely different life. Even though there is no clearly defined path, I can’t help but try and forge one in order to continue exploring this thing. In my case, writing is a perfect example.
There are mornings where I sit blurry eyed and half asleep (much like this morning) and ask myself “why am I doing this?” I have likely gone to bed after my roommates and I am up well before. The seasons are changing, it’s still dark outside, and I would happily catch up on sleep and recover from my best friend’s wedding this past weekend. Yet, the alarm has gone off, and hot tea in hand, I know that deep satisfaction is on the other side of this writing hurdle.
Without a dedicated writing practice, I would sleep in and have a shorter list of things to do. I wouldn’t worry about Mondays and Wednesdays and not having anything to post. I wouldn’t have to collect photos or worry about editing them. Without writing, I would have less anxiety based on posting my thoughts online and the fear of looking stupid.
Yet… I do it anyway. My birthday looms of the horizon and it will be my one year anniversary of starting It’s All in the Blanket. Without this blog, I would not receive feedback from several of you about goals and aspirations. Without this writing practice, I would not be as challenged intellectually or experience the swells of inspiration to continue striving for more in my life. I have connected with so many creatives, authors, entrepreneurs, and active community members through my work to create these posts that I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You know you’ve got something good when you look back at all the blood, sweat, and tears and every sensation tells you it’s worth it. You know it’s great when it makes you laugh, dance, and sing that you would do it all over again.
I listen to Jan as she describes a typical week of her life, working during the day and then spending the evenings with friends, usually one on one. The lack of a significant other allows her to dedicate ample time to various friends with whom she enjoys solo dinners and activities as it gives them the opportunity to bond more quickly than in group settings. Though Jan loves having a widely developed friend circle, she feels pressure to balance her time carefully. With three or more evenings a week committed to friends, Jan rarely spends time doing things for herself. Where does all the time go? Plus, with an ever widening network, it feels like she needs to be spending even more time maintaining those relationships.
It is a fascinating thing, growing up, growing older, becoming an adult and adopting all the complications of modern life in the process. More than anything, the above situation makes me feel like I am not a kid anymore. You start juggling jobs and friends and laundry and, wait, don’t forget sleep… Realizing if I don’t schedule a date with someone means that I don’t see them messes with my head. What the hell happened to long summer days of playing in the street, running into someone at 7-11, slurpee in hand, and then splashing around in the pool for the next three hours? And what about getting sunburned in the park while drinking champagne, practicing handstands, followed by a nap around 4pm? What is life without spontaneity and unplanned time? Who signed up for this? Not me.
It’s an increasingly common struggle. How do we maintain our relationships? And how do we prioritize them to know which ones need to be maintained? What about our own emotional needs? And many of us are single! Don’t get me started on couples, especially couples with kids (I could write extensively about how my brother and his young family have given me a new appreciation for my parents having 4 kids before they were 35).
Listening to Jan talk about the joys and challenges of choosing how to spend her time, I could feel pressure building in my chest. I wanted to cut in, interrupt her, shout out “Stop!” Let’s stop. Let’s slow down. We are an important part of our equation. I’ll be the first to tell you that I am going to preach selfishness and taking care of yourself because this is what I am trying to learn right now. How can we take care of others if we aren’t taking care of ourselves? The great part is that sometimes taking care of ourselves means slowing down and having dinners with people. Knowing your boundaries and when you have to take time to yourself is key.
One of my 12 commandments is: If you can’t get out of it, get into it. When I can’t get into something (a party, a date, a social situation, a project, a book), then I back the fuck out. There’s no point in suffering through something if you have the power to change it and do something different. However, if you can’t get out of it, you better buck up and make the best of the situation. Chances are, you will learn something.
Our discussion over tea and chocolate continued into the afternoon. Here is what we covered.
Making declarations and logging progress as a way of holding yourself accountable. Leo made the excellent point that telling other people about your goals is a great way to start holding yourself accountable. You can go as far as asking someone to track your progress with you, or keep it as simple as sharing your projects with someone. If you know that even just one other person will be following up with you, you increase your chances of sticking to your word. There are many ways to go about this, many of which I have discussed with Stevo and written about here on my blog. Habit change is a tricky thing and everyone knows we get by with a little help from our friends.
When we experience hope and fear it is because we are attached to outcomes. When Leo said this, I had an “Ah ha!” moment. It seems so simple, but I don’t normally think about my hopes and fears this way. I feel that it is a good reminder of the stories that we are telling ourselves and how we often embellish the outcomes before they have happened. It is refreshing to step back and ask ourselves what we fear about a particular outcome or why we are hoping for something. Then take it one step further and realize we will be OK regardless of what happens.
5 word business plan. An “ah ha!” moment wrapped into a gold nugget right here. This is what my post “Confused? Contribute!” is all about! A simple 5 word business plan. Here it is: How Can I Help You? Run with this.
Whisper marketing. If I haven’t yet mentioned BlogcastFM one hundred times, let me continue to work towards that number. Leo and Jesse both spoke to marketing and getting the word out about what they do. They both prefer to practice gentler kinds of advertising, relying mostly on word of mouth and slow community building techniques. The reason I bring up BlogcastFM is because that is immediately what came to mind when they said “whisper” marketing. Srini, the co-founder and host of the show, asks all his interviewees how they stand out in a world with so much noise. Well, it isn’t by talking louder.
How to title blog posts. Leo has blogging down to an art. He’s very good at what he does and that’s why I attended this event. Here are some bread and butter techniques for titling your blog. First, your title must convey a benefit. Second, it must instill curiosity. Do this in 5 words or less if you can. Some things to think about: Why is what you are writing about a problem? Why should your readers care? Give them a reason! What is the solution? Make sure you include an actionable item to effectively close the post. This builds attention and trust.
Post regularly. From my understanding, it matters less how often, just keep it regular. Once a week, once a month, 4 times a year…
Give away your secrets! Making yourself vulnerable and sharing deepens your relationship to readers by building trust and providing resources. Leo really drove this one home and I think it is a special edge to any blogger. It’s scary to share ourselves with the world. It shows when we do. Really amazing things happen when you share things with others.
The tea and chocolate were incredible and the company was awesome. I have a lot of work ahead of me and attending Mindful+Entrepreneur is motivating me to get my ass in gear. Cheers to taking it to the next level!
P.S. To make it really clear – What is a problem that you have? You are trying to improve your blog but you don’t know how. What’s the solution? Simple homework: post regularly. Make a schedule. Right now.
Wow. What an evening. I think I’m still high from that bust-your-balls work out. I just competed in my first CrossFit Open work out and it was intense. I wasn’t nervous until Thursday night. Then I had trouble sleeping. I watched as some of the coaches did the workout this afternoon. It was reassuring to see that it was similar to just another WOD. However… that nervousness sat with me till the end.
The count down alone: Three-two-one! Was wild. That “black-out” period sets right in and you just go, giving it whatever you got. I love the reminders to breath. Something so basic and so important, it’s almost laughable, but it really helps to have that as one of your cues. Breath. So simple. Keep breathing, keep moving, no problem. Stop breathing? You’re finished.
I have arrived home from competing in my first CrossFit Open workout and I am sitting down to write for 20 minutes, because it feels like this is a 20 minutes I don’t want to lose. Tonight was magic. San Francisco CrossFit (SFCF) continues to Wow My Pants Off and the community that it growing at that place makes my heart swell huge. “I’m surrounded by badasses!” That’s the vibe.
As I began my burpees, just out of the gate of the 17 minutes of pain, I had my eyes on the ground. The first round of snatches at 45 pounds was bearable, fun, even. Another 30 burpees: heart pounding, ears howling, cheeks burning, breath god damnit! Then the real work begins. 30 snatches at 75 pounds. I am at the bar, brace myself, pull. No rep. This shit is HEAVY. The bar is on the ground again and I am trying to set myself up. Go again. No rep. I’m thinking, “Fuck. This is it. I can’t go any further.” But there is still time on the clock and what am I going to do? Stop trying? Hell no.
Standing by the bar, trying to catch my breath, I look up and find myself surrounded by friends. Friends who happen to be strong, motivated athletes and they are cheering me on. They’ve got constructive criticism, cues, and hollers. Fuel to my fire, baby. Metal to your shins, chest up, eyes up, lock out your arms, break that bar and shrug that shit off the ground like you mean it; land under the bar and pUMP it UP. Lock. It. Out. Done. Rep One. Six minutes later we have 30 seconds on the clock, I knock out 2 more snatches for a total of 25 reps at 75 pounds. Bam, bitches, 13.1!
What an amazing crew. It brings tears to my eyes. I am shouting out to all the amazing athletes who came out to SFCF this evening and made it a night to remember. I appreciate the kind words, the observations, the attention, the camaraderie, the support, and the unconditional positive regard. Incredible. It’s going to be an awesome season.
See you next week.