“I feel I’m learning the importance of suffering” I told my friend at 6:30 am while watching the sunrise over the silhouette of mountains at Black Rock Desert, Nevada. We had been up all night, at Burning Man 2016, and I was having a moment of reflection. It was cold; I was tired, hungry, dusty, dehydrated and my body ached from our 9 hour dancing marathon. Nonetheless, I was in a positive mood.

I said to her, “When we feel we aren’t enough or don’t have enough, we seek out the very part of ourselves we already own. Much like pinning our nametag on everyone else’s shirt. We may feel better about suffering if we emulate the supposed good feelings of others.” The sun rose higher above the mountains, heating the morning chill.

“For the unconscious, emotional mimicry can feel like a great way to regain short-term emotional confidence and even physical strength. But for the conscious individual the identification of another’s emotional state is a poor reflection of his or her own state. To reflect is to observe, not respond. When we are more conscious of our internal/external world, we can quickly shift our perspective from lack to abundance. Pain and awkwardness vanish; self-acceptance and love appear.”

“How do you do this?” she asked. By this time the sun had fully appeared and the crowd around us cheered with excitement as a new dawn pierced what seemed like forever darkness. Our conversation continued on the playa. Seventy-five thousand people gathered on a dry lakebed, a pop-up city of sorts, complete with a DMV and town hall, art installations and non-stop music from sunrise to sunset.

“See that woman over there?” I pointed to a middle-aged woman dancing joyfully, smiling with her hands in the air. “Observing her excitement is enough for me. I don’t need to be her to recognize that the joy she exudes is inherently mine. The key to unlocking suffering is ownership of one’s life, one’s choices and one’s responsibilities. It keeps the body grounded and the mind clear. You see, the light we seek is already ours. The answers to life’s biggest challenges are buried within our own psyche, gifts ready to be explored, and passions ready to take hold. All it takes is for us to show up, get behind the steering wheel and be responsible for our emotional, physical and mental states. The rest is experiential, and that’s why I love Burning Man. It’s a challenge to stay focused and present among the seventy-five thousand different experiences one can have. I couldn’t possibly explore each one of them, nor do I want to. My experience is enough. I am enough,” I said with a slight smirk. 

“It’s a funny thing to feel the switch in perspective. All of a sudden, your needs are met. I was cold, and now I am warm. I was tired, and now I am awake. I was thirsty, and now I am satisfied. I was tender, and now I am recovered. Life is flavorful when we own it; it just takes our participation.”