Category: anarchy


anarchy ring

An anarchist friend who knows I officiate weddings asked if I could sign their wedding paperwork, and adamantly specified that they don’t want any of the standard assumptions of what marriage means.  They’re in a non-monogamous romantic partnership and are having a child together. They mostly want to get legally married to simplify the logistics of paternity (in VA, a father only goes on the birth certificate if he’s legally married to the mother, or does extra paperwork after the fact), and also to make it easier for him to travel internationally to the country of which she is a dual citizen.

There are only two necessary pieces to do a legal wedding. First, I have to ask the people getting married to answer affirmatively to a “statement of intent”, which essentially just means “do you want to marry this person?”.  The only other legal part is the “pronouncement”: “I now pronounce you married”.  Everything else, I tell all my couples, is there for you to feel married at the end of the process… whether it’s the traditional format of white dress and bridal party and having your dad walk you down the aisle, or creating your own unique ceremony from scratch, or cobbling together different wedding traditions from around the world.

But this couple wanted the opposite.   They didn’t want to feel married at the end of it. To the contrary, they wanted to feel not married. So we had an un-wedding. She wore pants, suspenders, and a hat. He wore a white flowy skirt and a white blouse. For the statement of intent, I wrote some Anarchist Wedding Vows:

Do you agree to enter into a legal contract of marriage with this person? Do you pledge that this legal status of marriage will only be used for the practical logistics of raising a child and travelling internationally together, while continuing to undermine the system from which this status is provided?

Do you agree that this legal status creates no new expectations for your relationship, no new rights or responsibilities in each others’ lives, and no assumptions of either monogamy or gender roles in your relationship?

They both said the requisite “I do”, and then for the pronouncement, I said:

“I now pronounce you legally married, and personally autonomous.”

At the end they shook hands, high-fived, and then tore up their fancy “Certificate of Marriage” (which many couples get calligraphied but doesn’t have any official purpose), and threw the pieces in the river.

This wedding confirmed for me that what it takes to make a great wedding (or any ritual) is being clear on what the purpose is. This couple was clearly grounded in their love for each other, expressed through being really specific about what their commitments to each other are, and aren’t. They honor each other with clarity and autonomy, and it was an honor for me to create a wedding that celebrated that.

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using all the listening tools I haveThere are many voices in me, but when I try to list them all, they boil down to two: ego and inspiration.  The ego speaks the voices of fear and worry, doubt, righteousness, and attachment.  From inspiration comes the voice of curiosity and awe, delight and confidence.

Inspiration rises up in me like a bubble of light ascending through a pool of water.  Her voice is soft and persistent, excited and playful.  “What if!”, she says with a smile, and cocks her head to the side to see if I’m for a game.

Ego’s voice comes in strong and insistent, taking a stand with hands on hips.  Ego builds a cage, sets limits and conditions.  “Only if…”, ego says, protecting.

I’m learning their voices, learning to distinguish between them.  I’m learning to listen with my body, with my heart, with my intuition.  When I know who I’m listening to, I can choose to respond accordingly.

“Yes, ego, I hear you, I’ll pay attention, thank you.  Message received.  Over and out.”

“Yes, sweet inspiration, let’s play.  Say more, let’s explore.”

I’m applying for admission to an Interfaith Seminary, to get ordained as a generic spiritual leader and spiritual counselor.  Part of the application asks for a 2-3 page essay on my spiritual journey.  I was daunted at first, wondering how to put it into words and make it that SHORT.   A friend suggested to just write, and then edit it down later.  I got up early for the several days, before anyone else in the house, and this is what came… (and it comes in at exactly 3 pages!):

My early childhood was mostly non-religious.  We went to a Methodist church as a family until my parents divorced when I was six, then both parents stopped attending and religion was no longer a part of our lives.

Early in High School I got involved in the Christian youth group, Young Life, because a close friend invited me to go with her.  I felt compelled by the social acceptance and sense of community I felt there, and then started believing what was said about Jesus, the Bible, and God.  I found power and meaning especially in the Bible verses that glorified the power of God, emphasizing the works and laws of the spirit as greater than the works and laws of people.

I dove in, and attended all the weekly Bible studies, social evenings, and regional gatherings with other high schools.  I started dating a boy who identified strongly as a Christian, as did his whole family.  I attended church with them regularly, and we spent a summer teaching Vacation Bible School together.

Around this time, my mom started attending a Unity Church of “New Thought” Christianity.  At first, going with her to Unity felt like an extension of my new Christian identity, and I enthusiastically got involved in the high school group there.   The teachings of Unity about “Christ within” gave me an enriched understanding of Christianity that felt powerful and personal to me.  It brought all the history of the Bible into a new and relevant context.  Through new practices of meditation and guided self-reflection, I began to experience a connection with the sacred energy within me.

When my Christian boyfriend came to church with me, he was appalled by the blasphemy of the idea that all people have the same potential as Christ.  He said if I believed that, I wasn’t a real Christian.  After long hours of tearful debate, I conceded that I believed in “Christ within” more than the concepts of sin and salvation that we taught in Vacation Bible School.  He said he couldn’t date a non-Christian, and we ended our relationship.  His family, who had taken me in as a “third daughter”, told me they were very sad I was going to hell.

My new identity as a “non-Christian” was powerful to me, because it was a choice to go against what was socially acceptable for the sake of following my truth.  Looking for truth within me became my spiritual path.

For the rest of high school, I continued attending Unity and developing my understanding of the sacred flowing through all things, including through me.  I experienced deep self-acceptance, unconditional love with my peers, and respect from adults in the congregation.  The summer I graduated, I attended an international conference at Unity Village, where I participated in a long meditation to connect with my purpose in life.  When asked in the meditation “what are you here to do?”, the answer rose clear and strong from deep within me: “to help people learn to love”.   That was the first time I remember hearing the voice of spirit so clearly, and the message has been an important mantra of purpose throughout my life.

That same summer after graduating, we took a family vacation to Moab, Utah.  We camped out in the desert, and slept under a sky of stars that left me speechless.  Driving with my mom and her sister in an open Jeep through the wild canyons, laughing and singing, a new sense of inner freedom rooted in me.   We were “wild women”, full of power and potential, loving ourselves and each other and the amazing Earth that embraced us.

On the drive back to Denver, we stopped at a tiny truck stop on the side of the highway.  I took a walk through the woods to stretch my legs, and walked around a bend to witness a magnificent vista of a grand mountain rising above and reflected in a clear lake.  I stood in awe and gratitude, feeling my connection with the Earth and the spirit flowing through all things.  I got back into the car a changed person, devoted to the Earth on a spiritual level.

That moment marked the beginning of my exploration of Pagan spirituality.  I was fascinated by the practice of honoring the cycles of the seasons and using the elements of air, fire, water, and earth and the four directions for their different qualities.  In college I took weekly walks in the forest for “church”, learning to intentionally tap into that sense of connection.

My mother recently told me that she thought I had given up on spirituality while I was in college.  She didn’t know about those walks in the woods, and she also didn’t know the spiritual side of my academic work.  I majored in Religion, because those were the classes to which I felt most drawn. I studied “Myth and Symbol”, “Use of Dance in Aboriginal Rituals”, and “Images of the Divine in German Literature”. I eagerly explored the Bible as historical document, comparative analysis of Judaism and Christianity, the philosophy of religion, Confucianism, and Zen and Taoism.  These classes enlivened me.  Schoolwork wasn’t tedious – it was spiritual exploration.  In all my classes, I tried to weave the essence of the different teachings and doctrines into my spiritual understanding, and through that practice I developed a multifaceted sense of the sacred that transcended any one religion.  Since then, I’ve found it difficult to identify with any one religious category.

In parallel to my classes in Religion, I found myself passionate about the study of society and culture, and chose to also major in Sociology.  I loved wrapping my mind around all the ways that reality is filtered and obscured by the social meanings that we learn through our culture.  Learning to identify and disarm the social assumptions in my perception and understanding of the world around me became yet another spiritual practice.

My studies in Sociology led me to a determined belief that there must be a different way for people to live together, a culture that intentionally combats destructive social assumptions like racism, sexism, and classism, honors the Earth, and celebrates our connectedness instead of dividing people through economic competition.  A year after graduating from college, I learned about Twin Oaks, an “intentional community” (aka commune) in Virginia that had started in the 1960s and was still thriving.  I visited, loved it, and made it my home for 4 years.

At Twin Oaks I found a group of 100 people who were creating the life I had envisioned.  Working together, sharing, and cooperating were at the center of all social systems there.  I found myself connecting more deeply with people on a daily basis – in celebration and in conflict, but it was the depth of relationship that compelled me.  Our inherent connection with each other was undeniable.  So too was our connection with the Earth, as we lived rurally and ate from the garden, heated with wood from the forest, and worked and played outside most of the time.

At Twin Oaks I practiced the art of having integrity in relationships with others, and with myself – life on a commune doesn’t work, otherwise.  Through observation, mentorship, and trial and error, I learned how to be lovingly honest, compassionate, and accepting of hard truths.  This became a deeply spiritual practice of stepping beyond the layer of emotions and ego, learning to open my heart in the face of fear, developing a faith that what lay underneath my ego was far more powerful, and would lead me where I needed to go.  I attended, and eventually taught, workshops and retreats focused on various practices for creating healthy relationships based on these principles.  This became the bedrock of my current spiritual beliefs and practice.

I left Twin Oaks when I fell in love with a man who didn’t want to live there.  I knew deeply that he was my partner in life, and left the life I loved to marry him and create a life together.  I felt like I stepped off a cliff.  I stumbled through 4 years of early marriage and creating a life in mainstream culture.  My husband and I got tangled up in our differences and shut down to each other.  I sank quickly into the darkness of fear, self-judgment, and blame.  I didn’t recognize myself anymore, and I was so caught in the darkness that the idea of doing anything about it felt overwhelming.  I felt alone, ashamed, and hopeless, lost in the realm of ego.

After our daughter was born, I felt a spark inside me to get my life back on track, a refusal to raise my child in the life I was living.  I slowly recommitted to my practices of self-reflection and opening (writing, tarot, meditation), knowing I had to go through the painful process of looking at my life and facing what I had created, so I could change it.  I knew that the alternative of staying shut down and hopeless would ultimately be even more painful, for me and for the child who was looking to me for love and truth.

I began with the determined belief that a better life was possible, and stubbornly searched until new possibilities emerged.  My husband and I came back to conversations we had ignored because they created too much conflict.  We started to find the magic we had forgotten, the beauty of our differences working in tandem, and the joy of surrendering as individuals to the spirit of partnership between us.

Early in the process of recreating my life, I felt compelled to find a church.   After visiting the Quaker Meeting and the Unitarian Church several times and not finding what I wanted, I gave Unity a try again.  I immediately felt at home.  I cried through the service, and prayed with a chaplain afterwards to remember my strength and connection with spirit.

I started attending regularly.  Though the language didn’t match with what I had come to use for my spiritual experience, the message behind the words rang true.  I felt embraced by the congregation, supported lovingly in my process of coming back to myself.

I committed myself to my spiritual practice again, and the voice of spirit within me came clearer and stronger.  Listening and accepting became easier, and exciting. The teachings of Unity reminded me of the beauty and magic that unfold when I act in alignment with Spirit. My spiritual practice began to expand beyond self-reflection and contemplation, into the realm of action and creation, moving out of my mind and into my body.  I committed to the practice of following my inspirations, even when I didn’t understand them.

This has brought me to a new way of living in the world.  I tap into the web of energy that connects all things, and look to find my place in it, to feel inspiration.   I feel it as a tug within me, calling me forward.   When I struggle to feel the pull, I open again through writing, dancing, tarot, and meditation, listening for the distinct voice of spirit, the now familiar sense of knowing.

My current sense of this Divine Spirit is that it is the energy that composes all that is, the substance of the Universe.  It has a resonance and a movement that is growth, opening, and union.  Any sense of separateness is an illusion that distorts our perception, and this illusion is the source of fear, pain, and struggle.  When I release that illusion, surrender the ego to the flow of Spirit, my life aligns and resonates with all existence.  From that place, I know what is mine to do.

Moment by moment, again and again; this is the work of Living.

pervasive indoctrination

From an article about the Yearning for Zion child abuse case:
“An expert in children in cults testified Friday that while the teen girls believed they were marrying out of free choice, it’s a choice based on lessons they’ve had from birth.”

Of course, ALL of us who believe we have free choice are also operating based on assumptions/lessons we’ve learned since birth… how is this different?

Some lessons learned in the “cult” of America:
– a nuclear family comprised of a monogamous couple is right and moral

– independence = success: trusting other people is foolish, and asking for help is a sign of weakness

– food comes from the grocery store, and medicine comes from the doctor

I don’t mean to pose this question as a way of justifying whatever has been happening in that community of people (which currently seems unknown and unable to be judged until more information comes out) – I’m just using it to highlight our own indoctrination, which often goes unacknowledged (this is the sociology geek in me, still alive despite my choice to leave grad school).

A friend just wrote in response to a depressed and distressed message I sent her. In her short note, she asked:

> tell me what’s in your heart right now that you
> don’t want to see or know! and what is keeping you
> going and sustaining you?

I replied:

Thanks for asking the great questions. What’s true for me that I don’t want to see? I’m changing… my identity as communard, radical lifestyle activist, and polyamorous multi-lovered independent spirit has diffused away, and I feel mainstream and uninteresting, unchallenging to a crazy system. I feel ineffective and unimportant, like my life is just becoming a part of the Machine. I’ve lost a sense of what I offer the world… I’ve lost a sense of purpose and passion. I don’t have a driving motivation behind what I do everyday… I just do it because I’m “supposed” to. This is the life I judged in other people from my lofty seat at Twin Oaks, where my life was grand and important and fulfilling a larger purpose. Now I’m judging my own life from that perspective, and I hate it. AND, the hardest part is that I don’t see a path towards something different, except back to TO, which isn’t a possibility as long as I’m with Free.

These are the thoughts that drag me down. What sustains me? Coming back to the belief that my purpose in the world is to share love and offer the experience of love to whoever I come in contact with. Remembering that I have the capacity to be open and loving whenever I choose it. Writing in my journal and working with tarot helps me remember, and dancing, and sitting in meditation. Crying to Free helps sometimes, when he just listens, and when I feel his love I remember my own capacity to love.

thanks for asking… it helps to acknowledge both pieces.

love,
tickledspirit

I’m at school early this morning because I carpooled with Free, who was going to the ceremony for the kids’ first day of Waldorf school.  First grade and fourth grade — they’ve been homeschooled all their lives!  They’re both looking forward to it…

To balance the last post, I have to say that the one piece of grad school that I’m loving is teaching.  I’m a TA for SOC 101, and I get to lead three discussion sections of 20 students each.  I get to ask the questions I want them to consider, and so far, they actually answer!  I get to say “These are the institutions that have shaped your perception of the world, and this is your opportunity to examine their messages and CHOOSE if you want to continue to view the world through their filters.”  And they look, wide-eyed, back at me and nod slightly (or is that just my imagination?).  We were talking last week about the different institutions through which “society” determines the scope of our agency to act, and when they said “education,” I said “Here I am, enculturating you right now!”

I feel like I’m on the right path when I’m in a room with 20 students talking about culture.  I feel like I’m on a “less right” path when I’m sitting in my office for hours reading about research design and worrying if my office-mates are offended by my smell (I shower almost every day, and I’m adverse to masking my natural “human” smell because social norms tell me it’s not okay.  I’m CLEANER than the people who smear chemicals in their armpits everyday!  These are the things I tell myself when I get paranoid that the people in my office think I stink).  The one compromise I’ve made in the body smell department is to wear deoderant (Tom’s of Maine, of course) on Thursdays, the day I teach.  In the small cramped discussion rooms, I want my students to focus on what I’m saying, not on how I smell.  I thought about bringing it up in class, just acknowledging my reasons for not wearing deoderant, but I think it’s still a bit early in the semester for that deconstruction.  I’m sure it will come out eventually!  I’ve thought about researching and writing a paper on “the social construction of stink.”  I’ll keep you updated…

The main thing I think I need to remember is to not take any of this too seriously.  Find a gentle balance.  Enjoy myself, pursue my interests, and spend time with my partner and family.  We went hiking in the mountains this weekend, and though I had moments of guilt for the reading I needed to do and the papers I needed to grade, I was able to let it go and appreciate the grand beauty of the Shenandoahs.   Swimming naked at the base of a waterfall after a long hike puts grad school in a different perspective.

bridge building

I just finished my second-to-last day of being a camp counselor. It’s been a long and exhausting journey, and I’m relieved to be at the end of it. I’m satisfied now, feeling like I’m on the road to accomplishing what I wanted: having a healthy and opening influence in the people’s lives… and today was the culmination of all of that work with the kids at camp.

Every Friday we have an event called “All Camp” that involves all of the campers and counselors in the entire camp. Each week, a team of 3-5 counselors are responsible for planning it, making it loosely related to the theme for the week. Past themes have been things like “Into the Wild,” “Musical Mayhem,” “Stars and Stripes” (for the 4th of July week), and “Disco Fever.” This week’s theme was “Express Yourself,” and I was on the committee for planning it. I arranged for several of my friends from Twin Oaks and Shannon Farm (another nearby community) to come out and teach juggling, poi, and “advanced hula hooping” to the older kids, and then perform for the entire camp. They came, they taught, they performed, and the camp was enthralled.

What I love about today’s event is that the kids got to experience “alternative” type people in their own comfortable environment. It was a mixture of the new and the normal, which I think helps folks open themselves more to new experiences. The kids got to work with and learn from talented, beautiful, powerful women who didn’t wear makeup or shave their armpits. No one made a big deal about it, it was just a subtle exposure to people doing things differently, and it so happens that these different people are also very very cool and taught the kids some very cool things.

The metaphor in my mind is that all summer I’ve been building a bridge between the camp culture and the culture of places like Twin Oaks where collaboration, personal responsibility, communication, and creativity are of primary importance. At camp, hierarchy and the need for control seem to take precedence over most other things. Today the kids got a chance to choose their own activities, take responsibility for themselves (they left their assigned groups and counselors that they’ve been with all week), and challenge themselves in new creative endeavors.

The camp directors were worried about there not being enough control of the groups, worried about the potential for chaos. I was so frustrated yesterday when we turned in our All Camp plan, and one of the directors started telling me all of her concerns. I wanted to tell her, “Just trust the kids — give them the opportunity to be resonsible and they will be! When you expect them to act up, they will, because you don’t give them the chance to take responsibility for themselves.” Instead, I said “I understand your concerns… I’ll do what I can.” After All Camp ended today, I felt totally validated (though of course, my boss didn’t say any kind of congratulations — I hate having a boss! It’s such a weird power dynamic…)

Ah, back to the bridge metaphor. l feel like I’ve been building this bridge all summer, sharing myself and my ideas with the other counselors and the kids. Not being overtly “different”, just authentic in who I am. (Except for last night at the end-of-summer staff dinner, when the three progressive women counselors ended up sitting with the most conservative male counselor on staff — I was more overt and passionate about my beliefs than I’ve been in awhile!). So, the bridge — building slowly, step by step, and today I opened the bridge, and the kids and staff got to take a peek into this other culture by experiencing more than me as an individual… by experiencing and observing some of the culture itself. Multiple people communicating deeply, loving openly (lots of hugs), and having confidence in their natural bodies. Seeds have now been planted…

And next week, some of the high school campers are going on a field trip to Twin Oaks… crossing the bridge.

For the past few months I’ve been co-editing a column for a new DC paper,  The Washington Spark.  I work with my friend  Sky Blue (the name his parents actually gave him!) on a column called “Beyond the Box”, which focuses on radical and alternative lifestyle possibilities.  So far, we’ve covered the Farm commune, car co-ops, Network for New Culture, Burning Man, and support work for Katrina victims being done by folks from the Rainbow Gathering.

Sky recently wrote a message to the editors’ email list, about the struggles of working on a cooperative project like the Spark.  It’s an independent, volunteer-based paper, and each month we struggle with everyone getting things in on time and following the requests of the managers for word count, photos, and other details.  I thought Sky’s email was an insightful reflection on what it takes to work cooperatively, and I thought you all might enjoy it, too.

—–
The challenges we face with the Spark I think are highlighted by the fact that news media is typically run in a highly hierarchical manner and working cooperatively is pretty far removed from what most people are used to.

The way the Spark is structured and being runs puts a huge amount of responsibility and grants a huge amount of autonomy to the people working on the project, in particular the column editors.  This is of course a double-edged sword.  In my experience many if not most people perform better under deadlines and supervision.  Left to our own devices we tend to put things off till the last minute.  I tend to think of this as largely due to social conditioning.  Being told what to do and when to do it by is what we’re used to.  We tend to need something motivating us.  Making personal choices and commitments and sticking to them, especially when there are no consequences like being fired, getting a poor grade, being evicted because you didn’t pay the rent, having your boy/girlfriend angry at you, is not something we’re particularly practiced at.

The Spark presents us with a great challenge.  Given that the work is volunteer we all must be starting from a place of idealistic belief, passion, or some other perspective or attitude that motivated us to even volunteer in the first place.  But looked at in certain ways the project is non-essential, neither to our lives nor the lives of others.  This can be argued philosophically but it is true from the perspective of our practical and visceral experience.  The only bad thing that’s going to happen if I don’t get my column in on time is that the issue might be late and some people might be inconvenienced.  This is not much skin off my nose. But in that perspective is the death of cooperative group endeavors and activist endeavors that have a more creative and less tangible
impact on the world.

If we fail to have a strong sense of empathy and compassion for the people whom we are inconveniencing by not following through on what we said we would do we are missing a key aspect of the motivation that will make success possible.  Again, lack of follow-through has little in the way of adverse effect on our personal lives. We need to take on a sense of ownership, collective ownership.  If we don’t see our role, however small it may be, as being crucial to the success of the project then the people who care more about the project and are more committed to it will end up picking up whatever pieces gets dropped.  This is a great recipe for burn-out, martyrdom, and resentment.

In terms of the creative and less tangible aspect of the Spark, I would say that there are easily measurable results produced by the paper.  38 pages, 30,000 copies, and over 500 distribution points on a monthly basis is no small accomplishment.  But what impact does that actually have?  We have various anecdotal experiences of people saying great things, and the recurrence of advertisers is a good indication as is the rate at which the paper is picked up from the distribution points.  But that’s still not much.  What I think is really required here to give us the motivation to be solid on producing issues is a sense of long-term vision and a leap of faith.  The vision has to do with the transforming or replacing of the mainstream institutions providing various services with those based on a vision of a sustainable, peaceful, and socially and economically just human society.  Providing viable alternatives to all mainstream institutions, media being a key example, is crucial to true revolution.  The leap of faith has to do with the fact that we can’t really say whether what we’re doing is really helping to change the world for the better, we just have to follow our hearts and trust ourselves that we’re doing the best that we know how at this point and that we’ll continue to learn and change and do even better.  This is the long-haul not the quick fix version of revolution.

What a lot of this boils down to as well are issues of ethics and integrity, primarily in the realm of doing what we said we would do.  If we aren’t prepared to do what we said we would do we need to not make those promises.  So while the agreement of what we’re saying we’re going to do is made with others, in the context of a cooperative group endeavor, the commitment to follow-through must based within ourselves.  We must make it matter to ourselves because no one else is going to make us do it.  And this is what we want isn’t it?  We want to be living in a cooperative, non-heirarchical society right? This is an opportunity to make that happen.

– Sky Blue, Nov 2005

I got home from Burning Man on Wednesday, and since then I’ve been struggling with trying to describe the experience to people who have never been.  It’s a bit like trying to describe what the color orange sounds like — we just don’t have the vocabulary.

I stayed up last night until the wee hours before sunrise, trying to write an article about it for the Washington Spark, an indymedia newspaper based in DC.  The deadline was this morning, and I finally got to a place of having a reasonable, though nowhere near comprehensive description of a small piece of the experience.  I’ll post it here, and write more freeflow about it later as I’m inspired.

The Burning Man Festival: A City of Possibility

The inspirational directive to “dance as if nobody’s watching” is elegant, though it might be more appropriate to say, “dance as if nobody cares”.  In the desert of Nevada for one week each year, it’s true.  As long as you’re dancing (or expressing yourself however you feel inspired), no one cares what it looks like.

Next year marks the 20th summer of the Burning Man festival, a celebration of raw creative expression and temporary autonomous community during the week before Labor Day.  For one week, a city of tents, RVs, and geodeisic domes is created by over 40,000 people on an ancient lakebed (the “playa”).  No money is exchanged; people pack in their own supplies, and share. The result is a mix between a frat party, a commune, a playground, and an art museum.

Collective camps make up the bulk of the Burning Man experience.  Groups of participants organize beforehand to offer elaborate setups of food, space, information, and experiences to share with the rest of the city.  Some of my favorite offerings from camps included the roller disco, homebrewed root beer, daily yoga sessions, a giant teetertotter, S&M workshops and bondage lessons, the Crappiest Lemonade Stand Ever (make your own out of powdered gatorade and water while the camp hosts sit back and watch), and aerial silk dancing lessons and performances.  We passed by one camp on our bikes where we were accosted with invitations to come in and join a party of exotic drinks and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Beyond Black Rock City (the unifying name for the temporary civic area) lies the open playa, which over the course of the week becomes spotted with interactive, experiential works of art.  From giant statues to quirky installations,  over 150 artistic expressions are scattered across the desert carpet.  Anyone is welcome to display a piece of art, and some artists receive grants from the festival in order to finance their creations.

The real power of the experience for me was in the openness and essential limitlessness of the event. There’s no established program; things only happen when someone decides to make them happen.  There’s no established social rules about acceptable behavior, beyond a basic value of civic responsibility.

Cultural rules give us a sense of what to expect, providing social safety which is at the same time comforting and limiting.  Traffic rules provide smooth flow with other travellers.  But when people are for the most part on foot or on bicycles, interactions can be negotiated in the moment.  For the power of direct engagement with other people, I’m willing to accept a few near-misses and ungraceful swerves, at least for a week.  For one week of freedom from expectation, it’s worth it to put the extra energy into intentional navigation of every interaction.  This is the power of this temporary autonomous zone, where we can choose to make this daring and ineffecient tradeoff for a limited amount of time.

Burning Man isn’t a model for a sustainable alternative society.  Instead, it offers an experience of new possibilities, a look at what lies beyond our normal limits of experience and expression.  The lessons of Burning Man are about empowering the individual, with the intention of creating a community based on both self-reliance and trust of others.  Individuals expressing themselves fully, in needs, desires, thoughts, and fears, create a strong base for a powerful collective.  I experienced this in the final days of the festival, once I trusted myself more in seeking out what I really wanted.  I got silly with strangers.  I explored new art forms.  I walked in solitude across the vast playa on a self-directed mission to pick up scattered trash.  I asked questions that seemed irrelevant, gave away random gifts from my bag, rode my bicycle naked, and offered to assist a struggling juggler.

Coming back into larger society, I want to carry these lessons with me.  If I see someone doing something interesting, I can ask them to teach me.  If I see something that needs to be done, I can do it.  If I’m lonely, I can find someone to play with me.  If I’m curious, I can step forward and experience more.

I just filled out this brief survey about activism for someone’s senior thesis, and I figured I’d post my response here.  Enjoy!

Hi there.
I got this survey through the “anarchist academics” listserve I’m on.  I actually wrote my undergrad thesis (sociology) on activism, too!  It was mostly focused on student activism and determining motivation.  I loved working on it — I wish you a grand journey in your exploration!> 1. How do you identify yourself as an activist? i.e. What “kind” of
> activist are you?
I’m a “lifestyle activist.”  I put my energy towards exploring possibilities and bringing them into reality in the world, in my life.  I live in an intentional community (commune) of 100 people where we grow our own food and sustain our lives through our collective work.  We’re constantly having to explore the challenge of how to work together and make decisions together without hierarchical power structures.  We’re effectively a “laboratory” for creating effective tools for communication and sharing.A large part of my activism is sharing this possibility with other people.  I travel to colleges and conferences to facilitate workshops and classes about life in community, and I write a periodic blog about my experience here.  When I talk about the reality of our lives here, I help open people to the idea that a very different world is possible.  And it’s not just that communal living is the way to go — if this is possible, this way of living that is so far beyond what most people think of as real, if THIS is possible, then so much else is possible too.

> 2. Do you think the world can change for the better? Please explain your
> answer in 100 words or less.

People make choices based on what they think they know and what they fear.  When people are aware of more possibility and give less power to their fears, they’ll make choices that will change the world “for the better”, because they’ll be actively engaged in intentionally creating the world they want.  This is a neverending process of change — we aren’t going to reach a perfect utopia where we have it all figured out and don’t need to change anything else, because that would become stagnant, passive, and unintentional (leading to the need for more change!).

> 3. What three books (title & author) have most influenced your worldview
> as an activist?

Living My Life, the autobiography of Emma Goldman
Days of War, Nights of Love (CrimeThInc)
Hope for the Flowers (Trina Paulus)

enjoy your work!
tickledspirit