you held me when my body spasmed
It's this that makes the dream so true:
we're in it in the flesh that is ours in the real world.
It's this that reminds me that perfection exists
and not without.
"Breathe into me," she instructed me with a steady whisper.
It was day 6. You held me when my body spasmed, whispering into my ear between the sobs uncontrollable, “I have you, take my energy, let me ground you.”
My panic attack had been discreetly building over the week. Under the surface it rose slowly beneath my skin, which itself was weakening with each passing day from so many sun kisses. The elements wore me down to the moment when I exploded in a full-body reminder of the past. It was all a bubbling forth of trauma from years ago, reignited this week by an exhausted body set aflame by the spark of an unexpected fighter jet that awoke my resting PTSD, a beast I thought I'd put to sleep...
At Burning Man we don’t just check our shit at the literal line in the sand when we arrive. "Here's my baggage, good sir, now let me enter fantasy land - onward and upward!" Nope, bodies don’t work like that. My panic attack was a stark reminder that this is real life, and that even in my fantasy, I’m not invincible. Yet it's this that makes the dream so true - we're in it in the flesh that is ours in the real world. It's this that reminds me that perfection exists with pain, and not without. It's this that reminded me that the fantasy isn't a get-away-vaycay, but a get-to-it place to heal and relearn how to breathe. It's like how the two sacred structures at the centre of Burning Man are constant visual reminders throughout the week: we can look to freedom and celebration in the structure of the man, and remember our depths and our pain held in the solemness of the temple. We hold space for a week to cry tears of joy and of pain, and then we let it all go, and go.
On day 2, days before the moment she took me in her healing arms, I was sitting with eight other friends in a giant silver swinging bowl, dressed in nothing but our sweat, and refreshed after having just shortly before swirled and laughed through our dust masks in the dustiest of dust storms. We had then landed at this desert form of a traditional Russian sauna, and were now relaxing afterwards to the sunset over the Black Rock Mountains, taking turns recalling highlights from the first two days of our Burn.
So... beautiful moment, sunset, cleanliness, nice people... we settled into it... But then, right as we were reflecting, the golden sky was suddenly filled with a sound so piercing it drowned our voices. In an instant we saw the screaming fighter jet take its first swoop overhead, and circle back. What the F - at Burning Man? Why?? I thought, while in a jump of excitement, one of our little naked bunch (who was sitting next to me), jumped up in pure unadulterated joy (which is an awkward thing to do and accomplish in a giant swinging bowl filled with clothes-less people and swinging bits) declaring “This is a gift - it’s a gift! How amazing the military would choose to do that for us!!” His puppy dog smile didn’t know my heart had stopped for a moment, and then proceeded to race at a speed that matched the zoom of the engine in the sky above. The fighter jet zoomed off with a thunder that echoed behind it. It had made its presence known.
It took a few moments and several side glances while our friend calmed down his patriotic exuberance, and we were able to re-calibrate back to the glow of the sunset and normalizing nudity. We began again to share the moments that had blessed our lives in just the short time we had been at Burning Man… ...when again with a deafening crack of a shock we were caught off-guard by the second and this time louder and lower swooping of the fighter jet.
With shear instinct, my upper body went into a loose fetal position over my knees, which wouldn't have been that clear to the rest of the group, as we were sitting squished on a circle bench already, still inside this giant swing. I knew in my mind that nothing was going to happen to us beyond a show of power, might and steel, but my nerves reacted out of fear for what they've experienced before. My still naked neighbour friend resumed his ignorant shouting of "It's a gift! It's a gift!! Hahahaha!" So much boyish laughing. Fucking fuck. He clearly hadn't noticed my complete drought of enthusiasm or crippling body language. But it wasn't the time to explain to the group why this truly was the opposite of a gift to me - it was an instinctual reminder of death and destruction I’d seen in lands that felt then so far away, yet were strikingly clear all-of-a-sudden in my mind’s eye. He doesn’t know, he doesn't know. I told myself over and over again, in-between the thoughts of concern for anyone else of the 70,000-ish population currently in the Black Rock Desert at that time who’ve also encountered military action before, in settings not quite so splendid as this... I let my vulnerable and exposed body be silent until we were home - yet still shaking in my skin when we arrived back at our camp, a friend hugged me so as to calm the energy pulsing along my limbs. Burning Man revolves around a gift-giving culture. And this was a gift, when the chemistry of physiology neutralized into healing.
Back again to day 6, when the jet returned for the third time with a crack and a bang and its even lower speeding display of power streaming ever closer right over our heads - everything in me shook in response. In a split second my control was gone, the power was taken. Again my mind knew there was no danger, but my body could not cope. I was reminded of the real world in an impulse of visceral memory...
And then you caught me in your arms, strong and knowing. Your eyes had seen, discerned and aware with that genius lens of yours you saw my need as it happened before I collapsed.
You held me when my body spasmed, whispering into my ear between the sobs uncontrollable, “I have you, take my energy, let me ground you.” Another friend realized that it didn't help then to tell me there was no danger, and he joined from behind in an embrace that was truly medicinal. With grace I was passed to yet another friend who was in the dark back room of the RV, safe. "Just let yourself cry," she said, bringing me closer to her, "I'm here, you're safe." I cried until I could breathe steadily again, grounded by the safety of people who saw me stripped of my power, and responded until I was whole again. They healed my body with their bodies. Friends, you are my solid ground, and I thank you deeply.
This week I was seen. I was seen in my nakedness - both in physical form, and in the manifestation of my mind firing at a speed I couldn't control. The frustration of that incident was that it all happened out of my control, and that is a small symbol of the power and destruction of military action and occupation. The frustration was that I had healed long before this week, and hadn't felt my anxiety that high in a long, long time. Yet for it to surface again during Burning Man, a week where I had also experienced some of my highest highs in a long time, was a shining example of what makes the beauty that I experienced at Burning Man so striking... I don't seek pity for my anxiety through my sharing of this post, but merely want to expose this stark example of how friendship has manifested itself in my life. How people heal each other. To be honest I am just so grateful. Like I'm re-discovering love all the time, and this was one of those times.
It is that cliche truth that we are beautiful in the ways we hold each other during the un-beautiful. The way I saw us together as people at Burning Man was a deep reminder of how love should be and is - when we see each other in our nakedness, and when we use our power to recognize, restore, and bring out the beauty in each other. We do not only party our faces off in the desert because everything is perfect all the time - but it is from this grounding of friendship in the shit storm that we dance so free. It is from this shaking, and from your energy, why released I can dance so free.
She instructed me with a steady whisper,
"Breathe into me."
you held me when my body spasmed,
you admired my hips,
you saw my glow when I was distracted.
thanks for witnessing,
I see you.