Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Five Mile Per Hour Lifestyle

I threw my hands in the air, saluting the morning sun. A giant sunflower rose on the end of a cherry picker's boom. Jack Johnson played quietly, the people listened in peace. It was incredibly slow, unrushed, the other side of the planet from hurried. Just another sunrise over the salt flats of Black Rock City, Nevada -- the crescent moon city that is Burning Man.

This experiment in "radical self-reliance" immerses you in the most extreme conditions of beating sun and blowing sand, testing your patience and growing your humility. Money does not exist. The only things sold are coffee and ice, both as public health measures. You gotta have cold beers for the thirsty and medication for the caffeine addicts after all.

When everything's free, the richest are those who give the most. My first day out I needed a vital part for my bike, and found someone who had exactly what I needed -- all ready to go. We traded stories along the way and had a delicious breakfast of hot-off-the-griddle pancakes. We hit the spot and he gives it with pleasure. I ask, he answers. It's all just common courtesy on the playa.

You spend your days in this sort of social trade. Schmoozing with the pilots at the airport to get a fly above the city. There are no commercials or price tags to tell you how to act, just the spirit of compliment barter, the haggling of the taller tale. When everything's free, the richest are those who give the most.

Ceremony and ritual here are not bound by the holy books of yesterday. Find the artist-prophet-genius within you. I promise it's there in everyone, dying to crack out to invent ceremony continuously, to make the space around you sacred through an approach of respect.

When everything's free you spend an afternoon building a Mayan pyramid out of adobe bricks. Bricks you formed yourself from water and sifted dust. Another apprentice teaches you how to knead clay out of this crusty piece of earth, how to run a wire through the block to form sheets of clay that will be knifed into bricks with a ruler.

The alchemical solvent that makes this all possible is water, a precious fount of life in the desert. The stuff that keeps us from drying out to raisins -- Keep the pee clear and copious, kids! -- the stuff that glues dirt together so you can build with it. We should be careful with our earth's limited water, we don't want the whole planet to turn to desert, trust me.

You learn to trust yourself and your friends. You cement your most special relationships with love refined in the fire of the desert. You go to sleep utterly and blissfully exhausted every night, voice ragged from a long night of tribal storytelling, nodding heads, and smiling mouths. You spend a week devouring the world at a very slow pace.