This facet of the BM experience was a complete surprise.
The majority of the BM environment was a non-stop party, with loud music, happy people, and various forms of celebration. There were sections of meditation, domes dedicated to yoga and relaxation, but even these held a joyous energy and subtle vibration of excitement.
On the top edge of the playa, halfway between the burning man structure in the center of the clock face and the 12 o'clock position, lost in the wide open desert, was a temple.
This temple is built by the BM organization, and is destined to be burned on the last Sunday night of the festival. The first temple was built I believe as an art project by a private group, as a memorial of sorts for a mother who had taken her own life. Since that time it has become a staple of the BM experience, and represents something integral to the entire experience.
This series of pictures is simply to show the size, and seclusion, of the temple.
This first picture is from a random spot in the desert. Each subsequent picture is taken from a position 50 paces closer.
For the most part the structure is made from plywood that has been carved into intricate patterns on a big jig, some sort of CNC machine, possibly a new fangled water jet type. With daylight flowing through it, or moonlight mixed with subtle internal lighting at night, it is beautiful.
It has an exterior courtyard, defined by a fence made of the same materials and similar artistic work.
When you set foot on the grounds, you enter an emotional micro-climate, different from everything else at BM. There is almost complete silence, interrupted by whispers, occasional soft acoustic instruments, and weeping.
I'm sure the experience is different for everyone, but for me this was a place of raw pain. The structure started as bare, fresh wood, but as the week went on, it was slowly covered with writing, pictures, offerings, and every one of them was heartbreaking. The community seems to bring all their suffering from the previous year, or whatever is ready to be offered up, and pour it into this structure.
Then they burn it to the ground. Or offer it up to the heavens as smoke and heat, if that feels more uplifting.
The structure itself is a non-too-subtle parallel to the beautiful, proud, and utterly fragile human condition.
I visited this place three times during the week, and each time was overcome.
There are volunteer temple workers, all members of the community who volunteer for 4 hour shifts around the clock, throughout the week. The only rules have to do with not interfering with the experience of others i.e. no loud music, and no fire of any kind, incense or smoking or anything, near the structure until the night it is to be burned.
I can't find adequate words.
I sat on the floor and opened up to the absence of my brother for the first time in years. I hope for others there was healing. My biggest emotion around Brendan is missing, and that doesn't seem to lessen with time. There are so many new things going on that I would like to share with him, and the inability to do that is constant.
If anything the temple took me out of my isolated experience, and opened up the raw nerves of the community and species. In a gathering so dedicated to the joy of life and community, the temple was a stark contrast to the downside of forming close relationships.
How BM chooses to deal with this dichotomy, or this truth of our condition, again whatever angle you prefer, is amazing. Come together, acknowledge the joys and sorrows, pour them into effigies, and set them on fire.
If you can't tell, I'm still processing.
Brendan's initials were on the temple when it went up.