the lion and the lotus
The last couple of months have been a complete and utter hurricane. There are guidelines about all the major life things you shouldn’t do while decompressing within the first few weeks of returning from Burning Man. Don’t quit your job. Don’t get married. Don’t get divorced. Don’t move cities. Don’t end relationships. Don’t start new ones based on the intense loved-up feelings you have raging inside your tiny human heart. Don’t think you’ve found your soulmate. Or at least wait until you actually land to be sure. Don’t keep trying to be at Burning Man by pretending you’re still at a 24/7 party. Don’t walk around naked in public. Try to be normal. Return to your old life. Press pause. Regroup. Process. Deal. Move forward, slowly and carefully, with deliberate intention, and try to gracefully integrate HOME into the everyday default world.
So, what did I do? I base jumped off a cliff without a parachute, of course.
I ripped open the wound of my father’s death and had to let it heal for real this time. I grieved. I released. I walked out of a job that was making me emotionally, mentally, and physically ill. I ignored reality, while simultaneously having to take deep dives into it at a large, intense, successive handful of desperate doctor’s appointments so I could treat the cause of my severe anemia, anxiety, and depression before I lost my insurance. I was biopsied for cervical cancer. I lost my insurance.
I got into a massive, weeks long argument with my best friend who watched me try to cope with old hole-filler behaviors that obviously weren’t working, but were rational for me in the short term, even though I know the result in the long term. I called my ex-boyfriend for help. I went on a rampage and cleaned house and told toxic people to fuck off and get out of my life. I brought new people into my life. I developed severe insomnia for over a month. I went to see Radiohead. Twice. I hustled my ass off to sign web design clients, and slowly but surely, each one slipped through my hands. I realized I hate working alone everyday with no deadlines and no colleagues. I danced. I did enough sportfucking to fill an entire book with dating anecdotes, which I have tucked away in my story archive for later. I cried. I cried a lot. I stopped going to yoga. I stopped meditating. I stopped being okay in any sense of the word. Every day I would wake up and stand in my closet, surrounded by a meticulously curated collection of beautiful clothes and none of it felt like it belonged to me. I spent way too much time in my apartment, and began to feel like I was in a prison of my own creation. And there was nowhere to go.
I started to panic.
At the same time, I levitated off the earth for someone who I am still not totally sure is not an artificially intelligent sex god from the future specifically designed to disarm, disintegrate, and unravel me. (Hmmm, alright robot overlords, let’s make him tall. Let’s make him beautiful, calm, kind, intelligent, mysterious. Ahh yes, let’s make him brown and fierce and put some walls around him. She only likes it if she has to work really fucking hard. Make him feel like part of her ancient star family. Oh right, let’s also make him British. Behold: The Lion. Well, well, well, great job, you fucking sadists. Slow clap. You got me forever.) I unleashed my emotional arsenal with such force that the entire structure collapsed. The night the man burned, that fire came home with me and I burned my life, everyone near me, and myself right to the ground.
Then came the rage. Anger is a rare emotion for me, and in fact, it really is just a scary mask I use to hide my ocean of despair. I don’t know how to hold it in. And out it came. I lashed out because of the endless sexual harassment I was dealing with on Tinder. I raged at the misogyny fire being stoked by the hideous election cycle we’ve been drowning in for over a year. I raged at my father for being worse than anyone. I raged at my weaknesses. I raged at my vulnerability. My stupidity for leaving my comfortable, safe, predictable life. I raged at every man I had been vulnerable and open toward who had bathed in my adoration and light, then just as quickly decided I was too much, too soon, too open, too real, and slammed the door in my face after using me as a sex object. I poured them all into a giant quagmire of dicksand that I wanted to light on fire with a lake of kerosene and a napalm gun. I raged at the world, and wanted it to die. I stopped writing. I couldn’t write because I couldn’t breathe. I was destroyed.
Some days, I thought it would be easier to stop living than to be here, broken apart, shattered. It would be. You don’t have to do shit if you’re dead.
I stayed in bed but couldn’t sleep. I became so depressed that some days the best I could do was drag myself out of bed and binge watch Fleabag on Amazon. You’re the Worst. Casual. Easy. Black Mirror. I watched my own life mirrored back to me on TV, swiping left, screens, faces, endless random 2am chats with other sad, sleepless single people. Every show that’s ever been made. I watched them all while eating box mac and cheese, cheap frozen pizza, and drinking box wine while chain-vaping my electronic cigarette. I sank to the bottom of the ocean. I became a hermit, and denied myself any unnecessary expenditures, slowing realizing day by day how much we depend on buying things to make us feel like a part of society. I avoided everyone. Especially the reality of my life. I got chubby, feeling every pound creep back on and being powerless to stop it because some days I had to force myself to breathe. And I kept trying to pretend everything was fine on my social media end, so no one would really worry.
Everything was not fine.
One night, I was with someone and I actually disassociated from my body during sex. I don’t know that has ever happened to you, but it’s really, really fucking scary. It was like I was programmed to turn off and be someone’s vessel to do with as they wished. I just left. And when I came back seconds later, that day was the day I woke up.
In Hinduism, there is a lesser known deity called Akhilandeshvari. She is the Goddess-Who-Is-Never-Not-Broken. She rides atop a crocodile, and she remains committed to breaking apart and searching inside her cracks and fissures for enlightenment. This is her permanent state, and mine. She is the embodiment of radical, cathartic self knowledge through intense destruction. She is the moment after impact, ground zero, and she teaches us that to truly live inside our own divine reality, we must experience ruin on a massive scale. She is the forest fire. Through this white hot explosion, she rearranges her pieces to create herself anew. More intense, bigger, stronger, massive. She is the event horizon.
When we are at our lowest, our deepest pit of suffering, in a cesspool of our most profound hurts, that is when we are planting the seeds for new growth. We can only be reborn when we die, and this is our curse and our salvation as sentient beings. This can manifest in many ways, but it’s this idea of losing your identity again and again and again that stabbed me through the heart and brought me back to life. How do we change unless we jump off the cliff? How do we explode into ourselves without the explosion? I am she. I am a bomb of transformational juxtaposition. There is no being in control. Control is a temporary state. Chaos is the law. I just choose to embrace it, because deep down, I know that this sputtering, messy, depressing, sleepless insanity is how I learn and grow and get closer to being where I need to be. It’s always there, because the source of my power is the same as the source of my wound. We are one. We are whole and split apart. We break apart and heal ourselves through infinity, because energy never dies. We are kintsugi.
Ruin is a gift.
And so I held on to the rope for dear life and inched toward the eye of the storm, searching for my new temple in the center. When I got there, there was no temple. I had to start building a new one. I started with self compassion. Forgiveness toward me and the people I was angry and sad about. I forgave them. I forgave myself. I went back to yoga. I sat in silence. I bought vegetables and cooked them and ate them. I drank water instead of wine. I admitted that I wouldn’t be able to freelance for a living, and I accepted that as a lesson of my tenacity and bravery instead of a failure. I took a hard, serious look at my finances and got a part time job. I set deadlines. I had some setbacks. I started looking for work in earnest. Slowly, I started sleeping again. I kicked Tinder out of my life and replaced it with friendship. I started to let go of the idea of my old life and strode confidently toward building my new one. I made plans for evacuation and began to dismantle my life piece by piece. I stopped giving a fuck what people think about me. I made amends and apologized. I asked for help and am still asking. I did what I do best, I opened my heart to my tribe and they came to me in waves, offering support, understanding, help, shelter, and love.
Slowly, my natural optimism, positivity, and confidence began to return. I wake up with a smile on my face. I quit the part time job I hated and started selling my possessions. I’m downsizing my footprint and upsizing my opportunities because nothing is holding me down anymore. Each day, with each material object I discard, I aggressively put my energy and time and love into myself. I look for jobs I would love in cities I love. I network with friends all over the country to discuss visits and possibilities. And I trust that my unraveling into a heap gave me the perfect medium to remake myself however I fucking want to, whereever I want to. And just like that, the temple has a new foundation. Every day, I add bricks to the walls. One by one. Every message, every hug, every dream, every savasana, every phone call from someone who loves me is a clue on the path to whatever majestic adventure comes next.
The night before I took my dad’s ashes to the temple at Burning Man, a woman named Silver wandered into our camp. I was snuggled up in a heap of white fur and lights, and she looked intently at me and said “I’m a playa name gifter.” She paused and we looked at each other. “You are Lotus.” I sort of laughed and thought about the lotus tattoo I had been planning before I arrived, and sort of chalked it up to hippie playa magic, because I was very reluctant to give up my already chosen joke name of “Hot Trash Jug.” Later that morning, everyone had gone to sleep and I was wide awake and in need of an adventure. I headed out to deep playa in search of Robot Heart, but was disoriented and directionally challenged as usual. We’d been there almost five days by then, and I was dehydrated and spacey, and rode across the cracked playa floor that looked like an ancient road made of Aztec hieroglyphs and geometric messages from beyond. I was home, and I will never be the same.
It was desperately cold, and I was very, very lost, and very far away from my bed. My anemia made the playa even more physically challenging, so I had to rest a lot, and got tired easily. I took lots of breaks, and as I came to the trash fence, I saw couples getting married as the sun began to rise. I gave up on finding Robot Heart, but could hear the Mayan Warrior beating her drums to the sound of the seconds going by, a celebration of the dawn. A tribe of interconnected human beings all stood at attention in adoration of the light breaking over the horizon. I felt love from every direction. I hugged some strangers who were my family. I got off my bike and laid down on the cold playa floor and started up at the sky, feeling the chill through my faux fur coat. I gave myself a pep talk so I could get home. And when I got up and turned around, there, seemingly out of my own mind, was a gigantic sculpture of a Lotus flower right in front of me.
Lotus flowers grow in dirty, muddy, opaque water, and the more filthy the muck, the more spectacular the bloom. The flower that remains pure and untouched by its muddy bed. The flower that symbolizes enlightenment, and yet needs a hot, dirty mess to grow. This is how I became Lotus. Because I am also always Hot Trash Jug. Playa magic is real.
I later transcribed this magic to myself the best I could on a postcard and mailed it from the BRC Post Office. It was waiting for me when I got home. I read it every single day. And I bloom.
“You are magical. You are capable. You are loved. You are good enough. You are beautiful. You are blooming into the lotus flower that you have always been inside. You are a Burner. Everything is going to be different now and forever. Let it happen. Always remember the magic of the playa.”