I had recently moved to the somewhat antiseptic Shanghai, China, and was trying to downplay my natural “eccentricity” to avoid scaring away potential friends. I was starting to feel a little disconnected from the free spirit in my heart, divorced from the boogie-down-Brooklyn in me, and disjointed from my colorful lipstick and even more colorful wigs. Detached from some of the things that made me feel like…me.
And then I found Dragon Burn.
Dragon Burn is the Chinese Regional Burning Man. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Burning Man, it’s an annual iconic, desert-dwelling gathering. But don’t get it twisted- it’s not a music festival- it’s a community of beautiful souls, coming together to share their gifts, talents, music, and most importantly, their love. Like Burning Man, Dragon Burn is based off a few key principles that really resonate with me. These are concepts like radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, inclusion, and decommodification.
Dragon Burn was exactly what I needed and expected…but there were, of course, some surprises.
On one of the first days of DB, one of the organizers asked me what was most surprising about the experience, and in all honesty, I said “the work involved”. Dragon Burn is not a spectator sport. You don’t show up to be a part of a fashion show, to be catered to, or even just to party. At Burning Man, you participate, you give, you love, and you work. Our camp had mouths to feed. Who will feed these mouths? Us. Part of forming a community of people who love each other is forming a community of people who care for each other, who nurture and support each other, are responsible for one another, and who put actions behind their words. Although of course, no one likes to think of “kitchen duty” or “camp setup” as pleasurable, ultimately, it helps us connect to others through the undeniable awareness of what others are doing for us, and what we have done for others. I experienced work as a profound art of giving and caring.
Another major theme in my experience of Burning Man was the feeling of freedom. I was free to be who I wanted, to come and go as I desired, and to connect with others in ways that challenged me but were ultimately absolutely fulfilling.
I was free to dress (or undress) in any way that felt completely genuine to my heart without gender expectations or body shame. Did I want to wear my big Brooklyn (faux) fur coat? Did I want to dress up as Mulan? Did I want to be a dominatrix in all spandex and leather? Or did I want to free the nipple? All was fair at the Burn, which was so, so liberating.
Next, was GROWTH. I was also able to explore various types of relationships, and I was given the opportunity to constantly learn new things through dozens of daily workshops that were given on subjects as far-ranging as Tantra, to mandala-making, to tattooing. I was able to grow spiritually through all of these experiences and form new connections with myself and with others.
I realized how many artists, scientists and spiritual thinkers we have in our midst, which is so, so eye- opening. If you take the time to listen, the stranger sitting next to you on the train could open your eyes to another universe. Even when I felt I had nothing to give, I realized that even my gifts were appreciated- I was able to contribute some of my own knowledge and skills through giving a salsa workshop (yeah, yeah- sprinkling a little Sabor Latino in China 😉 ).
On the final day of Burning Man was the long-awaited BURN. Yes, burn. Fire burn. Ashes, ashes. Everything burns away. We had all worked so hard to build the effigy, or the giant wooden dragon, and now, we were going to burn it. But not only were we burning the dragon, we were also burning our other wooden structures we had so carefully put together. We were burning our wooden bar on which I had served so many drinks, burning our James Brown statue, and even some of our small wooden decorations.
Items I had grown a close affinity to were now going to be ashes. This reinforced to me the art of LETTING GO. Building, loving, experiencing, and then letting go. Letting your love exist in your heart but then allowing it literally to flow into the wind. Creating friendships, connections, and relationships, and then knowing that things may never be the same. But something about the energy, the interconnectedness, and the partnership of dancing around the fire with my new community while everything turned to ashes reminded me that yes, the people, places, and objects, in my life may change, but the love, the universal life force, and the energy behind them will never disappear.
After the Burn, I knew that I would never be the same. I walked into my home and everything looked, tasted, and smelled the same, but I was different. I was absolutely exhausted to the bone, yet felt radiant. I was humbled to the core but sensed a new confidence in my being. I was weird but appreciated.
But most of all, I realized that I am minuscule, tiny. A dot on the edge of this world. Yet somehow, I could see the universe inside my soul.