“Wholeness for humans depends on their ability to own their own shadow.”
~ Carl Jung
I have always been serious minded and practical. People who know me might say I’m conservative, conventional or downright square. Growing up in Catholic school, studying science in college, and working a corporate job prepared me for a stable course, and I didn’t stray far from it. That’s why it shocked my family a few months ago when I announced I was going to a festival in the Nevada desert called “Burning Man”.
“You are a 54-year-old suburban mom for God’s sake!”
“There will be drugs and sex.”
“People are naked!”
“That’s not who you are!”
It’s all true. There are drugs and sex at this crazy festival of radical inclusion and self-expression. Some people are naked but most wear costumes. There is also a leave no trace policy, no consumerism and a major emphasis on community participation including gifting without expectation.
Burning Man is an experiment in human consciousness; a pop up city of 70,000 representing all ages and all countries. People respect and care for each other like family, but they have to be self-reliant. Burning Man is like going to the moon for a week and bringing everything you need to survive in sweltering heat or freezing cold temperatures. It offers the good, bad and ugly things in life, right there for the taking. Being the sturdy New Englander I am, I almost didn’t go. It turned out to be both terrifying and the most mind-expanding experience of my life.
But let’s be real. I’m not a big fan of sleeping in a tent or using a Port-a-Potty. After two and a half decades of marriage and child rearing, trust me, I had built a pretty comfortable zone. But several years ago, after turning 50, I couldn’t deny the part of me that needed to grow and challenge hardened beliefs about the way the world worked. I began a mission to do things outside my comfort zone. I went back to school, trained in Consciousness Studies and started asking the Big Question: Who am I really? I had to push to my edges and experiment.
I’d like to say it was easy; that trying new things was effortless, but the fact was I had serious work to do. A painful chronic illness in my early forties had taken a toll on my confidence. I eventually conquered the disease but I was always worried about my limitations. One thing I took away from that time was a little tool I found to handle disabling pain; mindfulness meditation.
If I had not learned to work with my fear and deal with my insides all those years ago, I might still be that serious minded, practical (and afraid) person. I’d just be older. Certainly, I would NEVER have considered going to “Burning Man”.
Admittedly, I did stay in a sober camp and did not take drugs or go naked, but I was able to overcome my resistance to being in such a harsh, foreign environment, with people seemingly out of the Star Wars Cantina Bar and I even pulled together some weird costumes to participate. I allowed myself to be the kind of woman who would go to “Burning Man”.
So, what did I learn about myself? In working with a recent mindfulness meditation class, I had my first-time students remain silent for two minutes and then give feedback on the experience. Here are some comments:
Here is some sample text
“Couldn’t sit still.”
“Coming out of my skin.”
There is clearly difficulty in simply being. Our minds are conditioned to follow predetermined pathways and if we try to alter that momentum the discomfort can be severe. That’s why many spend a lifetime in the small zone of what’s comfortable even though the reality is terribly unsatisfying.
Being still to see who you really are takes courage. That’s why, “Go to your room!” is punishment for children. But, by doing the meditation practice, you can see yourself as you actually are; not as others need you to be. As I learn to accept all my parts, the good, bad and ugly, space is opening new pathways in my small conditioned mind. I am learning to experience life directly and be curious instead of judgmental. Engaging life with “beginners mind” I am having more fun than I have ever had. Even as a child.
Burning man was really just a metaphor for all the things I’ve been afraid to try. Meditation has been the life-changing tool that allowed me to see my obstacles more clearly and minimize their influence. Einstein said, “You can’t solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it.” If that’s true, then shifting consciousness is the only way to find the courage to really grow.
Kimberly Ruggiero works as a transformational coach and fine artist. She has a BS in Chemistry, MA in Consciousness Studies and studied at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Art. Kim has training in MBSR and is certified in Mindfulness Meditation through the Engaged Mindfulness Institute. She leads Mindfulness Meditation groups at The Graduate Institute in Bethany, CT. Kim@mindfulinsightcoaching.com, www.mindfulinsightcoaching.com, (203) 710-5502.