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Shrooms & The First Galactic City on Earth
Fifty-mile per hour winds swept through our camp, slamming plumes of white alkaline dust against the billowing circus-tent we erected on aluminum poles. Thirty of us fought the storm with handkerchiefs or dust masks over our mouths, black-tinted goggles covering our eyes, as we assembled the Heebeegeebee Healer theme camp at Burning Man. By dusk, we surveyed what we accomplished -- a yoga area, healing space, classroom, shaman shack, two giant green dorm tents, Mash-style kitchen, and four-person solar heated shower area with gray water evaporating pools. It had been a year since my virgin Burn, and I was ecstatic to be back in the desert, taking part in the building of the most outrageously creative city on the planet.
“I want to be a Heebee,” Jade said the next morning while piling her plate with the camp’s spinach and mushroom omelet, French toast, and pancake breakfast. Here in the middle of the desert we were eating better than we ever did at home.
Jade wore what would be her preferred daytime outfit for the week -- knee-high 80’s styled striped socks, hot pink or lime green panties and bra, large ski goggles (for the dust), and a “Little House on the Prairie” print bonnet that she loved, but I thought looked homely. I kept my costume simple -- nothing but glossy paisley fabrics bought cheaply in New York’s Fashion District wrapped around my waist as a sarong. Sometimes I would sit cross-legged, revealing more than I realized. Rena later joked about our pictures, “Sarong is so right!”
Jade and I decided to camp separately this year, me with the Heebees to learn Reiki and practice yoga, while Jade stayed at the Whiskeys and Whores theme camp, which featured a Wild West saloon and free shots of Jack Daniels for anyone – boy or girl -- who took a whirl on their stripper pole. “They’ve been guzzling whiskey for days,” Jade said. “I doubt they’ll have the camp ready by their opening party Wednesday night.” It was only Monday and a line already snaked out of the Heebees’ healing space with people signing up for free bodywork. At Burning Man, the only things for sale are coffee and ice – everything else is free.
To my surprise, Jade joined me in the yoga classes, Tai massages, and freakishly loud monkey chants, but on Wednesday, she left to teach a workshop on blow jobs for couples at The Orgasmatorium. I attended a Reiki 1 course by Dragon, a bearded, burly man in a one-piece pink bunny outfit. He set up a massage table in the center of a geodesic dome and spoke with a calm authority. “Rei,” he told us, meant “God’s Wisdom or Higher Power” and “ki” was the Japanese word for “life force energy.”
“It may seem strange to some of you, but you are all energy beings and it’s your birthright to channel in these healing frequencies. I’ve taught dozens of people and they’ve all been able to do it. So can you.” I wanted to learn.
He showed us where to place our hands on our client, how to ground their feet and charge their chakras, how to move prana with our intention and balance the energy flow in the arms and legs. Afterwards, he came to us one by one and had us close our eyes as he spiraled Reiki energy through our scalps. It had a wild effect: I saw sacred geometry symbols cascading down poles of light – without the benefit of a single hallucinogen. A warm current buzzed along my spine, heating up my palms. That energy then funneled directly into my client’s field when we went back to practicing the treatment. After each session, my client and I felt relaxed, revitalized, “on top of the world,” as he put it. We both noted that the healer received almost as much Reiki replenishment as the client did. “That’s the abundance in this work,” Dragon remarked. “Everyone gets healed.”
That night, Jade described the extraordinary two-story tall sunflower she had seen during Tuesday’s girl’s night out and insisted on taking me to see it. After the sun sank below the dark mountains in the West, the temperature dropped by forty degrees and it became necessary to change into a winter outfit. I put on vinyl black pants, a tan suede coat lined with faux fur Holstein cow patterns, and a cowboy hat with blinking flames on the front -- my cowboy pimp look. Jade wore a fuzzy, feathered white hat, but I couldn’t see the rest, as she covered it with an ugly long green coat that I called the sleeping bag.
As we left the Heebeegeebee camp and entered the high voltage flow of the crowds on the Esplanade, Black Rock City’s main street, Jade handed me some special chocolate treats to nibble, just to make things “sparkly,” as she suggested with a smile. Burning Man was a true tripper’s paradise, and we giggled at the school of luminescent goldfish swimming by on art bikes, “Lego Man” dancing in front of a pulsating pixilated LED screen, and a guy who drove a mushroom shaped scooter with his camouflage brown body serving as its stem.
The 40,000 inhabitants of Black Rock City are arranged along a series of semi-circular shaped boulevards, which, like a clock, are numbered from 2:00 to 10:00 with the man sitting directly at noon or midnight, depending how you look at it. We started at 9 o’clock and walked the crowded curved Esplanade all the way through the yellow and green flags of Center Camp at 6:00 until reaching 3:00 far on the other side, a journey that took hours in our state of heightened curiosity for all things shiny, funny, or blinkie. All that time, Jade was convinced that the famous metal sculpture was only a few paces away. Finally, though, Jade snickered, “Jonny, you know that art sculpture we’re looking for? Well, I think it’s mobile.” We broke out laughing. The probability of running into an art piece on wheels among several thousand acres of hyperspace distractions was less than zero.
We gave up on the sculpture and headed into the shadows past 2:00, where the city streets end and the loudest dance parties begin. From a distance, we caught the distinctive grinding beats and industrial saw-like riffs of DJ Lorin (a.k.a Bassnectar), who we had heard was spinning that night. We walked towards the music, climbing through a maze of parked bikes into a surging crowd that jumped, with arms-raised, in time with DJ Lorin and his bouncing waist-long black hair. He had on the same blood-red T-shirt and black eyeliner as the night I had started seeing auras back at the Brooklyn warehouse party.
Jade threw off her green sleeping bag coat, revealing a frilly pink silk teddy underneath (it was worth waiting for). She grabbed me from behind and showed me her best R. Kelly “bump and grind,” as she put it. At first, I gave her the awkward white-guy moves, but then I tried to match the serpentine passes of her hips, following their curvaceous patterns and the natural rhythms of her pelvic area. Jade always complained that I danced with my shoulders and head, flailing as if about to fly out of my body, but here I was enjoying the grounded pleasure of getting dirty on the dance floor.
“Jonny, look!” Jade pointed at a two-story tall sunflower hoisted over the side of the dance floor by a large green crane, its mechanical stem. “That’s the art sculpture we were looking for all night.”
“And it just happens to be lurking over Bassnectar’s set,” I laughed.
“Another one of those Burning Man synchronicities,” she smiled.
I had only ingested a dash of Jade’s chocolate mushrooms and felt a light, pleasant buzz. Up until then, I had to be pretty blasted before my self-proclaimed guides would show up. But at that moment, under the glow of the suddenly present towering sunflower, they announced themselves, giggling in my ear, humming tunes that suggested hexagonal patterns in my mind’s eye in synch with Bassnectar’s low metallic pulses. I welcomed them. They asked me to close my eyes while tracing Jade’s dance moves. “She knows how to follow the energy,” they told me. “You’re learning.”
Behind my eyelids, I saw a computer-animated scene of earth back in its boiling volcanic days four billions years ago, when a single-celled creature magically appeared on the planet’s harsh surface. In fast foward, I watched this small cell multiply and spread, mastering the art of photosynthesis before dividing into more geometrically complex eukaryotes, then into early sponge-like animals, stretching out into the segmented skeletons of fish, crawling and gasping as rubbery amphibians onto land, morphing into lumbering dinosaurs, dissolving into furry mammalian rodents that would grow and shape-shift into apes and chimps, finally straightening their backs as homo sapiens who could raise up their electric antennas in their spines through their crown chakra to receive the higher frequencies of the cosmos.
While viewing this Cliffs Notes version of evolution, I continued to swerve along to Jade’s sinuous hips, concentrating on connecting the energy flow from my heart to my second chakra. I realized how much I fought being present in this lifetime and became aware of this planet’s difficult and dense 3-D vibrations.
“Cowboy, you know the great thing about grounding yourself and unifying your heart with the lower chakras?” my guides whispered in my ear.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s really fun!” they cheered.
With those words, I got beamed from above with a purple tubular light. The effect was so powerful, I looked up to see if a flying disk hovered above the dance floor, but I saw nothing except the starry night and a tiny moon sliver. The beam stayed with me as I stepped away from Jade and my crown and root chakras filled with white light. The energy poured into my electro-spiritual system from above and below, circulating through my heart chakra. Immediately, my back straightened as if tugged by a puppeter, allowing the pneuma to follow its natural course, activating my chest area.
With my heart center suddenly glowing brightly, a gray energetic curtain began to lift from my eyes to reveal a beautiful, luminous latticework of electrified prana stretching across the dance floor, out to the deep playa, and into infinity. I saw a complicated grid-work of white light connecting us all in the deliciously high vibrations of love. Not a hippy, naïve love; this was rigorous and mathematical, full of intricate geometrical relationships that swirled the energy in immaculately constructed designs. At that moment, I remembered the Gospel of Thomas passage, “The kingdom of heaven is spread across the earth, only people don’t see it.”
Temporarily, the timber had been removed from my eye, so I could see the interconnected white patterns pulsing through Jade, myself, the DJ, and dancers, as we participated in this cosmic drama in our physical manifestations. With the illusion stripped away, we were part of an ocean of light -- flowing, moving, transmuting shapes, just as water morphs into ice, hail, and rain. I understood Jesus’ line about “loving your enemies,” since from this perspective we were all divine Shakespeares, creating and playing the roles of muscled heroes and conniving villains, robed saints and debauched sinners, corrupt CEOs and disinterested temp workers. Watching this “immeasurable light,” as the Gnostics called this, I suddenly realized that I had one man to thank for my journey into this sudden mystical awareness: none other than President George W. Bush. I sent him a prayer of thanks, wishing him well in finding his way to the light.
“Jonny, are you going to stand or dance?” Jade bumped me from behind.
“Dance,” I said. “That’s why we’re here.”
I spun her around, placed my knee between her legs, and pulled her into a low and sweaty grind, kissing and stroking her face, dipping her backwards and then pulling her up into me. Dancing with Jade in the whirling white latticework, I saw how it didn’t matter where we came from, even if we represented different galactic lineages, as those familiar voices suggested, or simply hailed from my white trash Colorado-stock, and her neurotic Northeastern upbringing. These concepts were just shapes and images, imaginary constructions of divine light, wanting to know itself in new forms.
After Bassnectar’s set, Jade put on her green “sleeping bag” and we plowed through a mild dust storm to grab vanilla lattes at Center Camp. Jade complained that the dust would give her throat cancer and I clenched up at her bizarre hypochondria. I heard my guides giggle advice about how I needed to lighten up and play more, being judgmental was a blockage I needed to overcome. The purple beam shut off and the white grid was gone. But their presence lingered. My heart felt the easiest it had been since Bush stole the election nearly a year before. That was an unexpected realization. As we stood in line for our late night caffeine fix and I surveyed the costumed, bead wearing, face painted hordes wondering through the Center Camp café, I was struck by just how heavily the political defeat had weighed on me. And that these giggly guides might be suggesting that in order to be an effective political reveler I need first to connect to my heart, and then perhaps help build a movement with other freaky visionaries, like those around me. What good was a revolution anyway, if it weren’t fun and joyful?
At the roaring burn barrel outside of Center Camp, we ran into two friends of Jade’s, Don and Sarah. Sarah crouched on her knees wearing an Uncle Sam hat, preparing for a fire dance, attaching pads to the end of her fire poi chains. She looked up at us and cheered, “Jonny America, every time I see you it brings out my shaman side!” That second her smile flickered into a sideways slit, her head transformed into a giant gray scalp, and her eyes stretched diagonally into wide black alien eyes. Her nose shrank into two narrow nostril pin-points. Sarah had revealed herself to be one of the gray aliens I had read so many negative things about online while researching the Draco reptilians. Instead of being freaked out, I took it all in without a pause, one more piece of initiatory information on the wild side. It didn’t hurt that she looked friendly, and frankly, kind of feminine.
“Look who’s talking,” I said back to her.
Don gave Jade a warm hug and she nuzzled close to him with his arm around her shoulder. I had always felt a tinge of jealousy about their friendship, even though Don and Sarah were married. Don held a lot of the qualities Jade admired, frat-boy humor and a slightly macho attitude. He co-founded an online advertising company worth $850 million, owned his own brownstone in Park Slope, and, although slightly balding, he was tall, built, and Jewish, which would make her family happy. The stud Don didn’t appear to be wearing any fun playa costume. He didn’t need to, as he made for enough of a presence in his simple tan winter coat and blue jeans.
While returning my gaze to Sarah, I heard the same familiar voices giggle, “See, not all aliens are ugly.” I giggled too. Don caught this and he tuned his gaze up to the stars and then back on me. He leaned in so close I could feel his breath. “You’re up there, aren’t you?” he grinned. “I can tell, but don’t worry, you’ll ground when the sun comes up.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Sarah and I have our own E.T. connections. When we first met at Burning Man a couple years ago, we ate some fungi on a golden, vibrating art pyramid and she literally took off her face and showed me the sexy gray alien she was underneath.” Would I reveal to Don what I had just seen? I decided not to.
“That’s incredible. But aren’t the grays bad?” I asked.
“Most, but not all. Aliens are like people. Every one is different and you can’t judge solely by race. Hell, even some of the Lizzies are helping out these days.”
Sarah lit up her poi and began spinning the chains. She was new at fire spining and struggled at it. Uninterested in our conversation, Jade walked over to hold a fireproof safety blanket for her.
“How do you know about the Lizzies?” I asked Don. I was surprised he knew the Pleiadian nickname for the reptilian aliens. I was also amazed that Jade and I just happened to bump into her two friends who claimed to have “E.T. connections” like me. Was this chance, or one of those playa synchronicities?
“While in bed after that first date with Sarah, my spirit was taken up to a mother ship with huge windows overlooking the earth,” Don told me. “I saw thousands of saucers beaming down indigo lights of intention to help the planet ascend, but there were a few ships, some reptilian, I was told, that beamed down negative energies. My ship was full of bizarre and fun creatures, a carnivalesque federation of sorts. They told me they had brought me here because ‘I could handle it.’” Don made quotation marks with his fingers.
“You know, it’s funny,” he said. “People have this tinfoil spacesuit 1950’s idea of aliens, but what I saw were galactic bohemians, David Bowie-like art stars, flamboyantly androgynous healers, and outrageous alchemists. A lot of them had really cool tattoos. They come from advanced societies that have synthesized art and science, so they know how to have a good time. I think of Burning Man as the first extraterrestrial city on earth. It completely integrates technology and visionary art with neo-tribal ritual. I figure most people attending came from other planets originally, they just don’t realize it -- yet. The playa is a portal, preparing us for the cosmic dance party everyone’s waiting for.”
At that moment, a man wearing a black duster and a black fedora stepped up to us next to the burn barrel. He seemed upset. Head drooped, he took off his leather gloves to warm his hands.
“Are you okay?” I asked him.
He lifted the fedora brim revealing cracked red skin around his eyes. He was in his mid-twenties, with a thick Greek-looking unibrow, round chipmunk cheeks, and dark stubble on his chin.
“New Orleans is gone, man,” he said with a southern drawl, his eyes on the flames. “My house is totally wiped out. Katrina took down the whole city. People are dying in the streets, mostly black. Bush won’t do a damn thing. Thousands are holed up in the Superdome and abandoned in flooded prisons right now, left to rot. It’s totally third world. I can’t believe this is America.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said. He tried to hold back tears. I put my arm around him for several minutes, before he tipped his hat, “Thanks,” and walked away.
I couldn’t tell what was more surreal, my alien introductions or the fact that the birthplace of jazz was under water. It all felt like a piece of the new normal. I reported the news to Sarah, Don, and Jade. Isolated in the Never-Never Land of Burning Man -- where cell phones don’t work and no one can email -- we hadn’t heard what was happening off the playa in “the default world.”
“This is only the beginning,” Don said. “America is a broke nation, $12 trillion in debt. Saving New Orleans would cost too much, unless we radically switched priorities from armaments to people. With each coming catastrophe from global warming, corporate entities are going to use ‘the Shock Doctrine’ to take control of traumatized populations. Get ready,” he said. “The fight for the planet is on.”
Walking back to the Heebees that morning with Jade, the sun’s ray’s grounding me for the coming day, we passed by an eight-foot-high café counter serving coffee to a stilt-walking ringmaster and a stilt-walking giraffe, two muffin art cars (one chocolate, one blueberry) racing each other down the nearly empty Esplanade, and a dirty-talking remote control robot that hit on Jade. Our stroll brought back memories of a lunch hour walk near the September 11th Fund’s Midtown headquarters, one where I noted each office, bar, bank, restaurant, shop, and apartment building and I saw for the first time that our entire culture was constructed of places where we work to make money to buy things, or places where we recover before working again so we earn money to buy more things. At the time, I couldn’t imagine a society other than this depressing, monochrome hamster wheel.
But Burning Man offered something different. The festival did without the arbitrary laws and regulations that drew lines between people, isolating them from one another, boxing them in to consume more and more stuff. Instead, the society of the Burn followed guidelines that encouraged participatory culture and community engagement. If a windstorm struck down a party tent or light sculpture, volunteers quickly rushed to put it back up. If you needed a coat or a hug, people would immediately offer these things, living in the spirit of the gift. There was a general trust for each other that enabled people to feel safe to embody the festival’s mantra of “radical self expression,” which exploded in a circus-like spectrum of creativity and playfulness.
Helpful Boy Scout-like “Rangers” in khaki cargo pants patrolled the grounds, rather than body-armored cops with guns, waiting for the next criminal. In Black Rock City, the clashing viewpoints of rugged individualism and collectivism melded into a dynamic social sculpture where the flame-throwing barbarians and leather clad Thunderdome gladiators would pitch in to set up camp, collect ice from Artica (the ice store), or fill in a kitchen shift. These simple societal agreements led to rampant synchronicities like my own, as all of us had our hearts opened by resonating with the higher frequencies around us.
Perhaps Don was right, that Burning Man was the first outcropping of a new galactic culture on earth. But as I saw it, there was still one big problem with Black Rock City -- it only lasted one week a year.