Today the world lost a pioneer of the human experience whose evolving vision has transformed the lives of millions of people over the past three decades. Larry Harvey first decided to “burn a man” on a beach in San Francisco in 1986, a simple gathering around an effigy that quickly evolved into one of the most radical expressions of human creativity of our time: Burning Man.
Mere hours ago, Larry’s passing coincided with the final night of Afrikaburn 2018, the continent’s regional Burning Man event, held in the Tankwa Karoo Desert in South Africa at the end of each April. On the penultimate day of every burn, the “Man” (or at Afrikaburn, the more collectively-focused San Clan) is burned, and the final night sees the burning of The Temple, a sacred and solemn event where those who have fallen from this realm are remembered and celebrated. Larry’s life were surely echoed in those flames.
For the past three years, I have celebrated my birthday in Tankwa Town with 13,000 other Afrikaburners, with Phoebe joining me for the past two (our birthdays fall 3 years and 3 days apart, and both have landed within the Burn week, making it a serendipitous and transformative location for our personal New Year celebrations). This year, we have left Africa and continue to move across Southeast and South Asia, and are currently nestled into magical Myanmar to celebrate our birthdays on none other than the Full Moon Day of Kasong, which is essentially the Buddha’s birthday (also believed to be the day of his enlightenment and his death/nibbana).
While events in life may coincide, my partner and I are not believers in coincidence. Synchronicities and Moon phases guide us through this life, and we pay close attention to the whispers of the Universe at every turn. The founder of our 3-year birthday playground, passing during the final flames of our dear Afrikaburn while we find ourselves shifted to northeast Myanmar on the birthday of the Buddha, a holiday celebrated by the pouring of water on the Holy Bodhi Tree (shift: fire–>water), is nothing short of a cosmic synchronistic frenzy waiting to be experienced, felt, unpacked and learned from.
At our first Afrikaburn together, under the light of my 29th birthday sunrise, we roamed through the quiet dawn of the desert, drifting on art cars (a.k.a. mutant vehicles) and marvelling at the art installations that make the desert come to life every year. We eventually made our way to the sprawling wooden sculpture, the Desert Lotus, an unfurling flower symbolising divine birth that blossoms when a mind/heart become enlightened. On each of its four petals facing in the cardinal directions was inscribed a word: Awakening, Forgiveness, Release, and Love.
Upon seeing this message I was moved to tears, knowing that I had found my New Year intentions. I continued to reflect, write and embody these ideas as the year blossomed, and upon my next birthday in the desert I inevitably carried them over into my third decade. Having since shifted to Asia where we continue to study Buddhist teachings and meditation, this Lotus has taken on more significance than ever, and now, here, in the nation where Theravada Buddhism thrives in its purist form, another birthday celebrated alongside that of the great Siddhartha Gautama himself is imbued with the spirit of this four-fold mantra.
I have much to write in the days and weeks to come about the journey that has transpired since I last wrote in this space. I have intentionally maintained silence during this time in an effort to expand the ‘Noble Silence’ to which I adhered throughout my 10-day Vipassana Meditation Course at the Dhamma Kamala Meditation Centre (dhamma kamala translates, of course, to “lotus of dhamma“), and give myself space to properly process all that I have learned before sharing it with the world, as I believe it is my responsibility to do.
I continue to reflect on the awakening for which the Burning Man community provided me the space, the forgiveness of others and self required to unfold into a feeling of loving-kindness for all beings, the release of past narratives that have prevented me from healing and moving forward, and the pure, unconditional love that is blossoming within me for each and every living being on this planet and beyond.
For now, however, I note the significance of discovering this Desert Lotus and the messages therein as I turned 29 two years ago, the age that Siddhartha Gautama cast aside royalty and riches and embarked on six years of uncovering the means for human beings to rid themselves of suffering, and who has shown billions of people a way out of the cycles and patterns that make them suffer for two and half millennia. I appreciate the significance of being here to celebrate his birth, enlightenment and ultimate liberation surrounded by so many shining, beautiful Burmese who are a walking testament to his legacy, having fought their way through centuries of turmoil and are now emerging into a world of relative peace, their enduring smiles a tribute to the very core and spirit of Buddhism.
And I simply wish to offer an abundance of gratitude to another great teacher and leader who gave his life to make the world a better place. Larry Harvey, you created a whole new world where people of all identities, ages, races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, religions, beliefs, opinions, persuasions, styles, dispositions, trades, talents and approaches to life could come together as one to create a world they want to live in, if only for a week at a time.
The Burning Man ethos is the perfect example of the impermanence and non-attachment espoused by the Dhamma (the teaches of the Buddha)…we all gather and build and express ourselves in myriad ways and celebrate life like there’s no tomorrow, and at the end of the week, we burn the whole thing down, pack up, leave no trace, and vanish as if we never set foot in the desert to begin with. No money or riches, depending only on ourselves for our liberation, giving from our hearts, teaching others our wisdom, working together for the betterment of all, and committing to doing the work necessary to create the world we all deserve.
Larry’s legacy is our ongoing liberation, our ongoing path to enlightenment in this lifetime, and I send all my love out to his family, one that stretches to every corner of the globe. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the greatest gift of all.