Burn Babies Burn

This was my third time at burning man but my first time to stay all the way to the end and have a personal encounter with the ‘fire god’ at the burning of the temple on the last day. Read on for more.

Temple burn (photo by Liz Altmiller)

Temple burn (photo by Liz Altmiller)

Despite my cynicism and eversion from religion, already at my first burn it was obvious this was a place for me. Black rock city is one of the few places I don’t have to inhibit my “strangeness”, a place where I can push my boundaries and explore without scaring others or getting arrested.

upgraded mood badges, thanks Ashley Newton for the idea of adding an interactive dial.

upgraded mood badges, thanks Ashley Newton for the idea of adding an interactive dial.

This year I brought practice swords and challenged people to dual. I experimented with latex body parts asking people to explore their sense of touch. Played truth or dare with strangers using my modified mood badges. I even took my first totally naked bike ride (after padding the bike seat).
No other place has so many opportunities for learning new stuff and practicing problem solving. As I explained last year, no other place is so inducing of improvisation and play.

As part of the build crew in my camp I learnt to drill in wood, tie knots, build shade structures and more. Exploring the workshops in the city I increased my jumping distance in a parkour lesson,  practiced clenching each butt cheek separately in a twearking class, learnt some poi tricks, did some metal work, as well as gave a mini lecture on my psychedelic work, learnt about the possible future of genetic engineering from industry leaders and so much more.


I made this.

Revisiting Past Vs. Present
Returning to the same place with some of the same people allowed me to get glimpses of my progress in some domains. Each year I have gone to the roller disco and stumbled around. This year was no different until my eye caught a women who knew what she was doing. The past year I have been learning a lot about the motor system and have been practicing letting my mirror system take over. I looked at this roller disco women and ‘became her’. Suddenly there was stability in my movement. What had changed? I noticed how my head had moved forward over my toes, allowing the toes and feet to connect to the ground and control the movement. My ankles were not strong enough to maintain this posture for more than a few minutes at a time but I was so greatful and amazed at my body’s ability to learn.

Hammock forest with climbable two stories of hammocks. Structurally sound with no knots!

Hammock forest with climbable two stories of hammocks. Structurally sound with no knots! (photo by Liz Altmiller)

Since this was my 3rd year with the couch burning camp which tends to have many virgin burners I could contribute much more to camp then previous years. We were a very small and hardworking group of builders that set up almost everything within two days. We were one of the first camps to have an open bar, music, chill space (and showers for members) even before official doors opened. The efficiency of the small crew was total bliss for me until the third day when we doubled our workforce which resulted in the productivity halving. A strange variant of the bystander effects seemed to be taking place.

On my first burn, the visit to the temple, a place that naturally emerged in burn culture to allow for morning and letting go of loved ones did nothing to me. I was too emotionally blocked to feel anything. Last year I collapsed. Thanks to my connection with Shlomo parts of my limbic emotional system had been reconnected but they had the maturity of an undeveloped baby and were overwhelmed by sensing  everyone’s pain and sadness. I collapsed to the ground shaking and crying like a little baby and could barely crawl out of there. This year I entered more prepared. If this brain can mirror physical states it can mirror emotional states too. I asked Shlomo to walk in the temple with me holding my hand and he agreed to be my emotional container. It wasn’t easy. Tears started streaming down and I could feel the shaking start to take over but I held on to his haמd tightly, sucking his calmness though my skin. I reminded myself that even when hurt this system isn’t a baby. It can walk, it can talk and it can breath deeply. Once breathing was stabilised things were easier. My grandmother had died this past year but I couldn’t bring myself to write her name in the temple. It was too much of a religious act, like writing a note in the wailing wall. Instead, when we left the temple I told shlomo about her. How she was the strongest female role model in my life and how it hurt me to see her stubbornness and belief in religion stand in her way of growth and happiness.
Despite the success of the temple visit later that night these baby networks awoke with wave after wave of perceived pain. I’m not sure I’ll ever know what is the reason for the pain these networks recorded because whatever the reason is, it is long gone but live echos of the original pain remain unchanged by the flow of time. I felt the temple burn might be my last chance to try to get these networks to update their model before I head home and I really didn’t want to head home with all this pain.

Burnt temple. (Photo by Liz Altmiller)

Burnt temple. (Photo by Liz Altmiller)

So there I was sitting in a mostly silent crowd of thousands of people waiting for the torch to be lit. Unlike the mayam of the man burn when all the art cars are blasting contradicting music and stinking the area with gasoline fumes, the temple burn is sober and calm. Suddenly the temple was lit up in massive flames, a wave of heat flowing over the crowd. I was in an almost hypnotic state staring at the largest fire I have ever come close to. Fire is the release of stored solar energy, as Feynman explains and this fire could release the painful stored information in my brain as well, this was the time to burn the babies.  ‘Death brings new life’ something deep in this brain was chanting. ‘We can be like fire, flowing, changing and powerful’. Another part of my brain was doing statistical calculation, understanding that the painful sample recorded early on was still just a sample, not the entire reality. Many babies might never feel this type of pain, and even if it ever had any adaptive survival value it doesn’t have that anymore.

Two weeks in such harsh dry conditions with constant lack of sleep and massive amounts of novelty and emotional upheaval leave some long lasting effects. I’m still tired, my pores overcompensating for dryness are now giving me pimples and swollen tingling finger tips, parts of my dusty hair might need to be chopped off. On the emotional side I’m carefully optimistic. These baby networks are still babies, they haven’t been fully integrated into the rest of the brain and babies are oversensitive and confused and cry sometimes but at least it seems that they aren’t automatically biased to predict and experience massive amounts of pain and now it’s up to my grownup parts together with the incredible support I have from my loved ones to help them grow up healthy.

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