Satori: Burning Man 2007

10 09 2007

By Derek Beres

Satori, in a rough translation, means “instant enlightenment.” The instant part is not like coffee, or overreacting emotionally. It is the tail end of the Zen koan, a nonsensical riddle that students received from gurus that could not be intellectualized, or explained by language. The way to get to their heart was intuitively. This could happen the moment you heard the koan, or take lifetimes to unravel. In this sense – the reason I named this short documentary from my experiences at Burning Man 2007 after this idea – satori is one of those life-defining moments that, while the parts were present, completed the puzzle. This moment for me is right near the end of this video (not the very end; that’s a surprise all its own).

The reason I attended Burning Man, and have been fascinated by it for some time, is that it is the largest display of the mythological ritual in modern America, and one that is not dogmatic. What I mean by that is explained in the video. While megachurch gatherings collect numbers like Black Rock City, those are very focused and demanding services that are, in a sense, not living rituals. They are recounting mythologies that are thousands of years old, and treating them as if we have failed in life since then and can, if we really try, get back there someday. Burning Man is this day. The symbol – the Man – is not defined or constrained by ideas, especially at the distance of centuries. The festival is a celebration of life, and the burning that occurs is an affirmation of the joys and duties of existence.

Before I went, I had numerous people tell me that Burning Man changed their life. That’s a heavy statement, but now, back home a few thousand miles away, I am quick to agree. It shifted something deep inside of me, and affirmed my faith like never before. Not faith in some godhead or grand theory; faith in humans, in the goodness and kind-hearted nature of people, and in the endless possibilities of the creative heart. I’ve always wanted to take the gods out of the sky and history and make them relevant now; that’s what my personal journey has been about for some time. This ritual does exactly that. It brings you back to yourself. Like the greeting committee at the front gate who, when finding out my crew and myself were Burning Man “virgins,” said: welcome home.

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