“We made it!” I gasped when the first hints of light created deep blue swaths of color on the dark sky.
Music pumped from the Mayan Warrior’s sound system while its lasers sparkled and shot into the sky as if they sought to reach the stars. The DJ danced to his music in the center of the bus with his entourage around him. The crowd, enthralled by the music and the light show, moved rhythmically to the driving beat with their backs to the rising sun.
“Shall we?” my sweetheart asked.
“Oh yes, it’s time,” I said. I turned to our new friend Gregg and touched his arm with my gloved hand, “we’re going to celebrate the dawn with a bottle of champagne. Would you care to join us?”
His face brightened with surprise: “sounds great.”
We stepped from the crowd towards sunrise. Lasers continued piercing the darkness with criss-crossing patterns, but each beam of light lost its length as the darkness faded. Yellow and orange streaks appeared at the horizon. Some may say the heavy cloud cover blocked out a beautiful sunrise, but I think it created an intricate canvas for the growing light to paint upon.
“This is the real light show,” I said as a pink tints made their debut. “Even the most next level lasers can’t compare with Creation.”
The playa became white again and the mountains surrounding the flat lake bed appeared out of the darkness. We stopped far enough away that we could still hear the music, but not be distracted from the dawn. My sweetheart gave me the bottle of Champagne. I popped the cork and offered the first drink to Gregg. I took a deep breath as if to inhale the scenery and watched as the strip of sky between the earth and clouds became vibrantly yellow, orange and pink.
We drank our Champagne and soon the men began talking shop — both in the field of sound and music, they spoke in a language that I couldn’t understand. That’s when I unsheathed a pair of rainbow silk fans my friend and somatic healer, Muse, gave me in Spring.
As I touched the silk, her voice echoed in my mind: “These fans are medicine,” she said upon presenting me with the gift. “They will open your heart and give you more confidence; they will allow you to integrate more of your body into your dance; they will help you take up more space.” I didn’t understand what she meant. Why should I take up more space? For months they sat on a shelf.
Until that dawn.
I unwound the silk from the bamboo ribs. Wind immediately danced with the silk flagrantly showing off her natural talent. I hesitated for a moment, positioning my body so the silk could move and bend unobstructed through the air. Every color of the rainbow glowed in the morning light. Spreading the bamboo wide, the silk followed and softly, gently caressed the space around me. I lifted my arms and watched as the silk mirrored my movements, large rainbows flowing from my hands.
I moved my arms in large arcs and my hands in flicks to create waves of color — the wind danced with me. Together, we celebrated the morning star; together, we paid homage to the Creator of All. As I danced, I felt beautiful, free, and connected with Nature in a new way.
Vibrantly opulent colors at the horizon continued to announce the morning star, but to the west, clouds softened every hue.
Suddenly, it hit me: I understood what Muse meant. The fans helped me move in new ways extend my body in all directions, I was dancing without the constriction and confines that I wanted to break, and in opening my arms I was opening and stretching my chest and shoulders — I felt confident and effervescent — a far cry from the way I normally danced. Like a flower, my soul bloomed with the rising sun. Joy coursed through me as the sun first peeked over the horizon; I had to share my newfound expression of Love.
I saw a couple embracing not too far from where I swirled and played with the wind. They, too, appeared to me as a perfect reflection of Love. Approaching the strangers, I did not feel one iota of doubt or self-consciousness. I let the fans lead the way, guided by the wind’s breath and the slow movements of my arms.
As I came close to the couple, they turned and looked at me with smiles on their faces.
“Do you mind if I celebrate you for just a moment?” I said raising the rainbows into the air.
I danced around them, extending the expression of my love and devotion to meet theirs and converge in reverence to the day.
“What’s your name?”
“Whisper,” I said, introducing myself with my playa name. “What is yours?”
“Out here, I’m Radical, and this is Kam.”
“It’s lovely to see you here,” I said. “Can I give you a hug?”
“Yes,” Radical extended his arms.
Kam opened his arms next, “thank you for the celebration.”
“I couldn’t help myself, you two are so beautiful — I was drawn to you.”
They both smiled at me and then at each other.
“Recently,” Radical said to me, “I’ve become interested in signs and symbols — as a way to communicate with — you know — Creator, Universe, One, Source, whatever you want to call it.”
“I understand you, whichever term you want to use,” I said.
“Ok, so, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but in the story of Noah, the rainbow appears at the end of the flood, communicating divine mercy — it’s an act of compassion, kindness, and love. It shows divine favor. And recently I’ve been thinking, the most compassionate and loving thing we can do for ourselves and others is to forgive,” despite his smile, tears sparkled in his eyes reflecting the sunlight. “I’m overwhelmed with the beauty of this moment. I feel so loved — seen — by the Divine. I’ve been feeling this gentle nudging in my heart and spirit to forgive, but my ego gets in the way. Now I’m seeing my true path — it’s one of forgiveness, love, compassion, mercy — for myself and everyone around me. The deepest desires of my heart and spirit — this force of Love that’s greater than us — it sees me, it knows my desires and it’s telling me I’m supported.”
I put my hand to my heart acknowledging the power of his statement. “I have been feeling the same way. I never considered that rainbows are a symbol of love, but that’s what I’ve been feeling, too. I brought them out to celebrate and appreciate the dawn. And your movement towards forgiveness, I can relate so well to your experience. I have also been wanting — needing to practice what I consider ‘radical forgiveness’ for myself, for the people I love, for strangers. And like you, my ego is the one that holds me back. But you’re right, that’s what Spirit wants from us. Even deeper, this moment, you — you’re also showing me that Spirit sees and hears my deepest desires. I wrote a list of intentions before I came to Burning Man. And our interactions right now are fulfilling, well, pretty much all of them!”
Kam raised his eyebrows and looked at Radical with a knowing smile: “I told you that you’d meet your mirrors on the playa.”
Radical beamed, “we are reflections for each other!”
When Gregg and my sweetheart joined us I introduced my new friends. Together, we rode past the lighthouses, through the speed-of-sound hoops and to the BAAAHS (an art car resembling a sheep). We danced, we took a slide through the sheep, we climbed to the second story and we talked about our lives, our experiences and our dreams. We even ate freshly baked chocolate chip cookies! Someone had the foresight to bring a portable oven and we were lucky enough to find them.
The sun lifted higher into the sky, the BAAAHS pulled away and we knew it was time to get back to our respective camps. On our way, we rode to the temple, which had yet to open.
“It’s incredible the amount of manpower and care this construction requires,” Radical said. “And then for it to burn.”
I marveled at the stacked boards that created an airy, ornate pagoda. “Last year, watching all the art burn helped me learn to let go. We work hard, we want to create something with our time on earth, and ultimately we die. But it’s glorious. Our lives can be a work of art, created just for creation’s sake. And to make an impact on all those who witness it, however brief we exist and however many people we encounter.” I thought of the fans and Muse’s message to me. How could I have known the medicine she spoke of would connect me to others, spread Divine insight, and help me manifest my soul’s desires.
“Maybe that’s part of the lesson of forgiveness. Maybe it’s an art. I know it’s a process of letting go, but it can also be the way we have an impact on others. Forgiveness is Love. Shouldn’t we give that to ourselves and others freely? We will burn away at the end of our lives, I think the question we have to ask ourselves, is how can we make our lives something beautiful? Even if it houses pain, like the temple. It can still be beautiful and an expression of Love.” Radical took off his backpack and began rummaging through it. “I want you to have this,” he held out a glass figurine.
An angel, with large wings and folded hands, looked up at me.
“I put this in my backpack last night,” Radical continued with a soft voice. “I believed I would meet an angel — I needed, wanted an angel. It’s you. You saved me spiritually this morning. You restored my faith. The Divine spoke to me through you.”
“What an incredible gift. I humbly accept it, but I wonder much I deserve it since the fans did most of it.” I held the gift in the palms of my hands and thought of Muse and the ripple she started. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me. Our entire experience has been an incredible alignment. I feel like it was destiny. Like I was in the right place at the right time, and that I followed the soft voice that told me to celebrate you. And as we are mirrors, you are my angel, too. Meeting you and having this connection is exactly what I wanted coming to the Burn.”
“Please come to our camp,” I told him. “This evening we’re having a party and I would love to give you a gift so that you have something to remember me by.”
Radical agreed, but we knew the challenge of meeting again on the playa — forgetting an address, losing track of time, or getting swept away in some other moment. We all said our goodbyes, thanking our lucky fortune for meeting each other.
As our bike paths diverted, I held the angel in my hand with gratitude and asked her to bring them to our camp that night.
All photos and videos courtesy of Radical and Kam.
Moving the body while clearing the mind is a great way to touch and express emotions that ultimately block us when we get stuck in them. I’ve kept a yoga practice for years, and it has been integral in helping me gain flexibility in my body and mind.
And then I tried ecstatic dance.
Based on three principles (free movement, no talking, and respect for oneself and others), ecstatic dance sounded fun when a friend described it. She said the radical self-expression and silence takes the mind-body connection deep, and with more freedom than a yoga session, it facilitates a unique healing experience.
From the moment I signed in, I found the ecstatic dance community welcoming, friendly and inclusive: the perfect antidote for the disconnected feeling I had from constant travel. While I was waiting for the session to begin, however, I felt uncomfortable and awkward. Free movement. What did that mean for me? What did that mean for everyone else? Would they look at me and judge me? Luckily, the MC guided us to “think less, feel more.” We were encouraged to start with very small movements, if any — some people sat in meditation. Closing my eyes, I was able to tune into my body more and think less about what my body was doing, I simply did what felt good in the moment.
It wasn’t long into my first session before I stopped thinking altogether and let my body flow, connected to the music.
The freedom of making shapes and dancing like nobody is watching helped me let go, yet totally express myself. Sometimes, I feel a disconnect between my body and mind, but it doesn’t take an anatomy class to know they are one. And as I am able to let go in my body, I am also able to let go in my mind. I can tell where my body is congested without judging it and I think these spots are connected to my emotions. I move through them. I move into them. Feeling deeply and fully expressing these feelings is liberating. It allows me to integrate emotions.
The best ecstatic dance sessions (in my opinion) incorporate live music in the DJ set, and just recently, I was in San Luis Obispo, California and dropped into a session with multi-instrumentalist DJ Ryan Herr.
Having played ecstatic dances for over ten years, Ryan has find-tuned his set to include a variety of tempos and styles while covering an array of world music, electronic beats, live improvisation, and original tracks. At times, Ryan layers live instruments on top of recorded music and, at other times, he completely brakes away from the computer and creates music on the spot. Ryan chooses from various instruments including a mandolin, guitar, and electronic hand drum.
When I asked him about this technique, he said he uses the pre-organized tracks to “blend and flow into something live…and unplanned.” Oftentimes, these improvisational moments allow Ryan to feel that he and the dancers have “arrived.”
“What does that mean to you?” I asked.
Ryan explained: “I’m attempting to have an interaction or conversation [with the dancers]…if you go back to indigenous cultures there was no separation between drummer and dancer. They were the same thing. One couldn’t happen without the other. I’ve always tried to keep that relationship, at least with dance music. That’s part of the reason I do something completely spontaneous because that is dropping into a direct connection that is only happening here.”
And, truly, our shared experience with ecstatic dance proves the unity between drummer and dancer. Like the dancers, Ryan is able to feel into the music and he has the freedom of I constrained expression to access the healing aspects of music to help him move through emotions.
Ryan noted that because ecstatic dance moves away from performance and convention, it allows both dancer and musician to experiment more. The lack of expectations of ecstatic dance has helped Ryan “develop as a musician. People come to be in a movement space. It’s less of all the eyes are on you as when you’re on stage, it’s more free-flowing. And that energy makes me feel like I can go off the beaten path; there I’ll stumble across awesome things and I’m able to save that on my pedal for later and I can turn that into a produced song.”
Likewise, I take the space and clarity I gain through the course of a session into my daily life.
Everything about ecstatic dance sessions combines to form a unique resource for dancers and musicians alike. It allows us to express ourselves without constraint or judgement, which leads to emotional circulation and new pathways of creation. We unwind and relax, we let go; we create space, and in the space we find freedom.
The track below showcases Ryan’s live instrumentation on top of an electronic song. For more of Ryan’s music, visit his website ryanherrmusic.com.