I celebrated my 29th birthday this year in the deserts of South Africa’s Tankwa Karoo National Park, uniting with over 10,000 other lovers, dreamers, connectors, artists, visionaries, dancers, performers, and just plain good human beings to create Africa’s annual regional Burning Man event, Afrikaburn.
I regard my birthday as my own personal New Years Day, and while I seldom utilize NYE to craft resolutions for the following calendar year, I take the commemoration of my birth into this world quite seriously, and spend weeks at a time contemplating my intentions for the coming year. Leading up to the desert festivities this past April, I was emerging from a series of less-than-pleasant realities and experiences, scrambling to reassert my place in the world, and the words “forgiveness” and “awakening” were already burned into my mind (no pun intended…unless you like puns). At the same time, I was rapidly tumbling into love with an unfathomably remarkable human being, but the concept of romantic love still frightened me to no end. I entered the Afrikaburn experience with the intention to find my intentions and assert my completed dedication of what would be my 30th year on this planet.
On my birthday, we wandered through the wooden (and soon to be burned) art installations that decorated an already stunning landscape. At the center of the Binnekring (the inner ring around which all theme camps and goings-ons of the Burner community were situated), was the temple – the most sacred of all installations at any Burn – which took the shape of an unfolding lotus flower. It was simply titled: Awakening. These temples are intended to “provide sanctuary for you to release, and ultimately burn, all that no longer serves you. And so Awakening is intended to be somewhere you can meditate, contemplate, rejoice, mourn, release and celebrate. A place for ceremonies of love, commitment, farewell and friendship. The lotus, an ancient symbol of rebirth and awakening, invites you to consider what you want to awaken in yourself…” And it was here that I discovered my intentions for my New Year.
Scrawled upon the apex of each of Awakening’s four surrounding leaves were four simple words: Awakening. Forgiveness. Release. Love.
I had found my mantra, my guiding principles, my intentions.
The subsequent months have been an ongoing internal journey to unearth what these ideals mean to me and why they found me in the first place just as I was looking for them. I reflect on them every single day, particularly at the beginning of a meditation or a yoga practice, or under a Full or New Moon. Lately I have been checking in to see just how far I have come this year, and how far I have to go before I reach 30 next April, cocooned by the warm energies of my third Afrikaburn.
Emotions have been high lately, for me and for millions back home and around the world. For a while I thought it was for the same reason everyone else has been so upset (I almost let this post turn into an election rant, but I do not need to dedicate any more writing energy to that…everyone else in the world is). I have realized that in addition to my grief, my good wolf and bad wolf are just doing what they do best: battling for control of my heart, my mind, my identity. Global tides of late have made it hard to feed the right wolf, I’ll admit, but these same tides have been a powerful reminder of the power of Awakening, the power of Forgiveness, the power of Release, and the power of Love to heal our collective wounds, to bind us in collective action and to move forward together towards a more just and loving world.
But what of my progress towards my own intentions as they affect my direct human experience? I feel as my place in this beautiful country becomes a bit more blurred, it is easy to be lulled into a waking sleep, easy to harbor resentment towards those around me who bring me annoyance or pain, easy to hold on to negative emotion, and harder to spread love to those around me.
At yoga yesterday, we were asked to think of what we were thankful for and come up with a mantra. I felt grateful for all of the incredible souls in my life, both here in Uganda and across the planet, filling my list of Whatsapp conversations. My mantra was, again, simple:
I love deeply, and I am deeply loved.
I’m not sure how far I’ve come to be honest. It’s hard to see when navigating the ups and downs of my emotional and mental states, when I find myself lulled into a waking sleep. But maybe Awakening isn’t a starting point? Maybe it’s the end goal? Or maybe it’s easier to mix up the order altogether? Maybe focusing on all the different forms of Love in my life will bring a sense of Release from the pain I carry, and maybe once that pain is released, I can more find more complete Forgiveness for those who have fed by bad wolf throughout my life. Perhaps the first intention, Awakening, hinges upon these three.
I suppose I have 5 more months to figure it all out, but as I sit in limbo between a “high” and a “low” state, I have to use every opportunity I have to reflect on what is important to me. I guess we all should. And maybe it’s not linear – maybe all these intentions work in some cosmic pattern that jumps around and makes absolutely no sense.
Or maybe it’s quite simple. Maybe it all starts – and ends – with Love. I guess all things should.
My favorite lyricist, Nahko Bear, reminds us all to “find your medicine and use it.” I personally believe that we do not need to wait for a New Year, a birthday, a yoga class, a meditation, a prayer, or really anything to set intentions. It is something we can do every single day when we wake up, or any moment thereafter. Reflection is critical to personal growth, and often these words and mantras can do wonders for the soul. I challenge you to find your intention, and use it.
Hopefully, we can all find space for Love in there somewhere. The world needs it.