Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Spirits of the Playa: Temple (In)Visible

"In our noise-obsessed culture it is very easy to forget just how many of the major physical forces on which we depend are silent —gravity, electricity, light, tides, the unseen and unheard spinning of the whole cosmos." ~Sara Maitland, A Book of Silence

The interior of the temple is a ways from the Esplanade, the party strand of Burning Man where the alcohol and bumping beats are served non-stop.  Far out on the desert Playa, outside the walls of the temple courtyard, art-cars thrum with music and activity, bikes pedal by at that slow pace the desert sand demands, and people meet and share lives.  But stepping inside the temple, there is a different thrum, of energy, the only sound from people shifting onto their knees, adjusting their crossed legs, of Sharpie markers scribbling words onto the wood of the temple walls or the pads of paper provided.

The shared sorrow of the hundreds gathered beneath the intricate wood carvings is visible in photos, memorials brought to honor those lost over the year, in the words scribbled everywhere, people saying goodbye, celebrating, letting go.  All of this will burn on Sunday, the final night of Burning Man, when they torch this temple.  The energy is heavy and palpable, as one by one, people let go of what they're holding too tightly. 

I pick out a blue Sharpie and take a piece of paper from the pad left on the bench, sit on a step, close my eyes, and allow the words I need to write to take shape in my mind, in my body.  The tears I was warned would come flow freely, but it's okay, because even though some people are taking photos, most are sitting in silence, tears streaming down their faces. I write my words, fold the paper carefully in half, and slide it, tight into a space where it won't blow away.  My friend holds me, unaware of what I'm trying, daily, to let go.

I walk outside, worried my ride back to the camping area will leave without me.  The dragonfly art-car is still parked, its music playing low, a few of my fellow travelers chatting about the Burn, about the high number of newbies like myself who are still learning the lingo: "How's your burn?" refers to your state of being this week, not the inevitable sun damage from life in the desert.

Temple taken over as white-out begins.

We're leaving on Saturday, before the temple is torched. It stands now over my shoulder, graceful and strong, holding so much within its walls. I wonder what it will look like on fire, and how that would affect my sense of saying goodbye to the pieces I've left inside. As I'm thinking about the spirit of the burn, differentiating this place of solemnity and honor from the party mentality of the streets of the camp, the roller disco where we skated to 70s hits, the hula-hoop camps serving sweet-pink-strong drinks, one of the dreaded dust-storms rises, slowly whiting out my view of the Temple.

Sound is limited to a radius of five-foot conversations, the present moment is clearly all we have, and all that I just experienced is gone. Waiting out the white-out could take hours, and our car decides to slowly make its way back toward camp.  We board beneath a dragonfly wing, climbing a ladder to the top of the car, to roll through the white dust, hoping we're heading the right way.

Burners on their bikes appear out of the dust in shadowy slow-motion, follow our wake for a moment, and then disappear once more, ghosts of the Playa.

I look back at where the Temple should be, knowing that I won't see it again, and say a silent thank you, for taking what I needed to let go.

Top of Temple in white-out.

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