I’m meeting with my bishop

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I’m meeting with my bishop

I just got off the phone.  Next Tues, I’ll be meeting with my Bishop. What the hell am I doing?  I’ve been an inactive member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 10 years.

[Let me preface this whole thing by acknowledging your shock / awe / disgust / disappointment / happiness / whateverness. I get it. I’ve done far weirder things before, so… just go with me on this for a moment…. ]

I wasn’t just “inactive” though…  I’ve spent many of those years fighting against The Church in many capacities.  Due to my radio / podcasting career, just one month ago,  I had a conversation with a very high ranking official at Church Headquarters that, if shared,  would be a *serious* blow to The Church.

I didn’t share it.

Are you an angry Mormon? Are you full of questions, resentment, or anger toward The LDS Church?  Have you renounced the existence of God entirely? I’ve done all of those things.

Mormonism is in my blood, all the way back. Mormonism is my ethnicity, they are my people, for better or for worse. My great, great grandfather is Ephraim K Hanks, one of Brigham Young’s right hand men. Both sets of grandparents are returned missionaries, as are both of my parents. I served and LDS mission to Philadelphia, PA. Upon returning home, I married my high school sweetheart in the LDS Temple and started a family. Seven years and two children later our marriage ended in divorce.

Yep. I’m that guy.

I struggled to make my way as a Mormon divorced father of two. I was appalled at the lack of good resources for guys who are struggling to figure out the life of a divorced mormon father.  No books. No talks. No good info. Just mindless pro-church or anti-church rhetoric.  My bishop’s only advice was “Stay close to the Lord”.  That’s like telling your kid “Be careful!” as you send him out on his tricycle to play on a busy Interstate highway.  I made up my mind that I would blaze the trail myself, and once I’d learned a few things about how to successfully navigate the strange world of being a faithful divorced Mormon dad, I’d write a book about it to help the millions of other men who would inevitably go through the same thing.

It may suffice to say that I grossly underestimated the depth and breadth of the utter weirdness I would go through during my “trail blazing” years.  I didn’t even think of it as trail blazing… I was just living, man!  If I were to briefly outline “the wilderness” I journeyed through over the past decade, It would go something like this:

  • Jack, the finest christian I’ve ever met who doesn’t even believe in God.
  • LDS Mission: why was I the biggest failure on paper, yet the top leader?
  • Marriage: you’ve been warned
  • College and my crisis of faith: I discover that we are all just a rat in a cage
  • Divorce: sweet relief, or,  the wound that never heals
  • Honesty is rewarded with being disfellowshipped
  • Baptism of Fire – a divine purging
  • The secret underground world of Pickup Artists
  • Hey, wearing nylons and high heels is cool, right?
  • The Paul Duane Show, it is.
  • Making a living photographing naked women
  • I’m funny, right? Stand up comedy and the jokes that weren’t funny
  • The Gurus – messengers in the flesh, messengers in the dream world
  • Burning Man
  • my hottest, highest mess moment: I meet my old friend, my twin flame in the most unlikely of circumstances
  • Church Headquarters hands me a bomb that I could use on them
  • Priesthood Session – my tribe –  arriving where I started, knowing the place for the first time

….which leads us to right now. I’m sitting here drinking coffee, patiently waiting on a copy of my Patriarchal Blessing to arrive (which I have not read in many years), and wondering what it will be like to visit with my Bishop next week.  Here’s the thing.  I have a lot of philosophical and lifestyle differences with the church: “Sex”. “Drugs”. “Adult beverages”. “Prophets” “Priesthood Authority”  “Gay marriage”…. to name a few. If, in some remotely hypothetical sense, I returned to church…. I’m sure I’d be the worst mormon at church, every week.

I do believe that we are all “children” of God – we all emanate from The Divine, and this perspective has life altering implications. This is the core of my faith. I LOVE the teachings of Jesus Christ (although I am unconcerned with whether or not those stories are factual – they are useful, and for me, that’s what matters right now).  I believe that the minute you have decided that you know it all, is the moment you have become completely blind.  I identified as Agnostic for a long time. I always felt that being willing to be agnostic about my agnosticism was the only way to be intellectually honest.  That path has led me to being willing to experiment with all kinds of things… philosophies, relationships, drugs, drinks, and now…. The Church.  I feel a profound connection to the words of TS Elliot:

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

So, there you have it.  Why am I doing this?  That’s somewhat of another story for another day, but for now I’ll just say that I’ve recently had a few experiences that have made me feel really compelled to at least reach out and reconnect with The Church in some way, even if I never become “active” again…  I have totally let go of all resentments and I finally feel free to just see The Church and experience it for what it truly is.  I’m just going to lay it out to my Bishop. I don’t really know where this is going to lead. I can’t even be concerned with where it’s leading, if I am to be honest about this whole process. To be a TRUE seeker of truth, you cannot have any attachment to what the outcome of the experiment is. You just have to run the experiment and accept the results.  So, here I am. Experimenting.

One last thought – I’m sure some of you are wondering “why the hell are you talking about this?”  I have consumed so much bandwidth and airwaves in talking poorly about the church. I know I’ve influenced a lot of opinions in that direction. I feel that the only intellectually honest thing to do, is to share this part of the journey too.

I’ll keep you posted.

much love –

Paul Duane

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UPDATE – Sunday 17 April 2016

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I went to church today (see featured photo).  I went to the ward I live in, in South Salt Lake. I went by myself. I didn’t know *anyone* there.  I haven’t been to church on this basis in 10 years.

It’s just as boring and self-congratulatory as I remember it to be. The only major difference is that I was one of the few people carrying around scriptures in print form.  All of the old grandpas (which is what this ward is mostly made of) were rocking all texts on their tablets and phones.   I was the youngest (and probably ONLY) (not counting the children).  The ward is made up primarily of elderly couples, widows, and a few young families.  Lots of old ladies in my neighborhood that need to be looked after. I can help with that.

I made a few comments in priesthood and sunday school today. Shit was getting out of hand.

Still meeting with the bishop on Tues.

Seriously have no idea what this is all about. Seems pretty silly. I would make

the

WORST

mormon

ever.

The Most Absurd Story

There once was a man and woman who fell in love, got married, and bought an attractive home together.  The husband grew up in a home with many children and an overworked mother who struggled to keep the house clean. Dust, disarray, and clutter were the norm. Though he greatly appreciated neat tidy spaces, it could also be said that he was at perfectly comfortable in a mess.

 

One day, he found his wife pouting on the sofa.  He had known something was amiss for a few days, perhaps it would now finally come to the surface.

“What’s wrong?” he inquired.

 

“I know that you resent me for not keeping the house clean, but I have been so busy with my responsibilities on the committee, my boss has given me extra work, and this flu has sapped up all of my extra energy this week. I know you are always mad at me for the house being a mess. I am really hurt that you are so upset with me. That’s why I’ve been staying away from you, that’s why I won’t hug or kiss you, that’s why I’m so cold – because I know you are mad at me. How am I supposed to be loving to you when I know you are angry with me over something like this?”

 

The husband was shocked. In his own mind, just earlier that day, he had been contemplating how beautiful their home was and how grateful he was for it. The current state of housekeeping was vastly superior to anything he had grown up with. In his eyes, he didn’t even see a mess. All he saw was a beautiful home with an angry wife.

 

He tried to console her, but she did not believe him. She continued to attack him for being angry at her for not keeping the house spotless.  This pattern continued for some time.

 

The husband felt helpless, like a shipwrecked boy floating at sea on a tiny life raft, with no help in sight for months. At times his desperation started to taste something like anger for her construction of this artificial problem – but it wasn’t real anger.  Few things could sadden him more than her accusations of him feeling a way that he truly did not. A deep, profound despair took residence in his heart  as he contemplated the futility of the situation.  There was nothing he could do to convince her otherwise. If he helped more around the house, she would see it as evidence that he was, in fact, so upset with her that he was taking matters into his own hands. If he did not help, she further resented  that he was part of the problem. He was utterly powerless to help her – not because he himself lacked power, but because she would have no part of it.

 

If housekeeping was the only area in which the wife experienced this way of thinking, their marriage would have been salvageable.  Humans typically don’t compartmentalize habits of the heart, though. Her self criticism crept into every other area of life. Money, friends, work, sex… Brick by brick she laid an impenetrable wall, turning their marriage into a stale cavern of tears. Eventually, the marriage ended.  Both were devastated, both had radically different stories about what happened.  So much potential, so little realized.

 

So it is with our relationship with The Divine. (Call it what you want. For the sake of brevity, I’ll call it a few simple things, sometimes I’ll use the word God.) We emanate from a Source of ultimate creative power that we don’t fully comprehend. It is our heritage, and our destination, to grow eternally in our powers of creation.  If a God exists, I am certain that it’s main objective is to nurture us into beings like unto itself, masters of all creative powers.

 

Look at the ancient and modern wisdom that’s been put on the earth: Vast amounts of it are aimed at convincing humans to stop judging.  God has gone so far as to play a cosmic game of Santa Claus – a temporary charade that’s intended to get us going in the right direction, even if we aren’t fully mature enough to understand the real reasons yet.  He’s allowed the perpetuation of stories that should empower humans to relieve themselves of the judging duties and hand them off to someone that’s better equipped for the job: Think of the thousand of tales in all cultures that God, in fact, is the great judge, that there will be a great day of judgement, and thus, no other human needs to be concerned with judging. Taking it a step further into near absurdity,  there even exists a story about God sending his only Son in the flesh, to come down here, get horribly abused, suffer, and die, on behalf of all “sinners” – taking upon him the sins of all the world – just in an effort to convince us humans to CALM DOWN AND STOP JUDGING. There are countless ceremonies, rites of passage, rituals, all of which are a “Dumbo’s Feather” of sorts – intended to give each of us permission to feel “clean”, “forgiven” so that just maybe we’ll stop judging – others, and ourselves –  and get on with the joy of creation.

 

While it’s true that on some level, the wife was judging her husband, it all emanated from judging herself.  In the court of her own self criticism, she became the judge, jury, and executioner – and thus, unable to consider any evidence to the contrary. All of the promises of marriage became impossible and moot.

 

The dilemma of the married couple is a dilemma of human nature, and may be rightfully multiplied by many thousands as we contemplate our true relationship to God.  God loves us vastly more. The minutia we judge ourselves against are, in the grand scheme of things, irrelevant. The consequences of the rift between you and God are cosmic in scale.

 

God does not judge us. As we let go of the baseless assumption that God disapproves of us, as we accept our own unique perfection in God’s eyes, we’ll find that relationship to our Creative Power improving exponentially. This, I believe, is where the bliss begins.

 

much love-
Paul Duane

 

Bill Hicks, 20 years gone.

Bill_Hicks-left in love

Today is the 20th anniversary of the passing of legendary comedian Bill Hicks.  I’ve been contemplating his life today and wanted to revel in the spirit of his legacy for a few minutes.

Bill Hicks is one of the main people that inspired me to take up stand up comedy (which is what led to the creation of The Paul Duane Show).

I feel a certain solemnity – not a sadness, but a deep reverence, even a presence, as I contemplate the wisdom he left behind. Bill was a man on a mission. He seemed to understand the chasm between the present human condition and our ultimate powerful potential – but didn’t mourn the size of the gap. He met us where we are at, took us on a field trip to dick island,  while leading our minds to a higher place.

Bill saw the comic’s stage as a place to do something more than tell a dick joke and get a quick laugh.  It was his pulpit. The son of a preacher, he carried out his ministry without any fear.  He was a Budha of sorts, a being that came to remind us of many truths. bill hicks gods love

Just like any other dear friend in my life, I don’t agree with everything Bill Hicks said, per se, and I don’t laugh at all of his jokes – but I know where he was coming from, and I love him for it.  I was a senior in high school when he passed away. I wasn’t yet ready to hear what he had to say. I would have called him a blasphemer, a heretic, an agent of the devil… but there is a part of me that would have recognized the light and love in his words. There is a part of me that would have been horribly conflicted at the silent but unmistakable recognition that he was coming from a place of light and love – and the harshness with which he would have offended my ultra conservative Mormon sensibilities of the time.  I would have loved and hated him all at the same time.

Today, I am grateful for every experience that has eroded my sharp edges and opened my heart, so that I can simply hear, recognize, and love the words that he left with us. No agenda, no predetermined conclusions, no trying to fit square pegs into round holes…  I am grateful for the life of Bill Hicks.  I am inspired to speak more boldly, to use humor to illuminate the difference between error and truth, and to respect the comedy stage as a place where the sacred act of opening human minds can occur.

Thank you Bill, for reminding us all that it’s just a ride:

Burning Man 2013

A few years ago I learned about this thing called “Burning Man”. I watched videos on YouTube, gazed over countless photo galleries, read  articles at BurningMan.com …  At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I felt called to it. I knew that I had to go. Burning Man 2011 came and went. Burning Man 2012 came and went. The stars finally aligned in the form of two dear friends, Alison Rogers and Glen Sampson. They went to great lengths to help prepare me for the burn, from introducing me to people I’d meet on the Playa to lending me some camping gear, to giving me lists of things I would need to survive for a week in the desert.   Their assistance was invaluable – without their mentoring, my first trip to Burning Man would have been fraught with dilemmas.  If you are thinking of going to Burning Man – you MUST find someone to help you prepare.

I debated a lot over whether I would shoot photos out there or not. Part of me wanted to shoot like a mad man, as I knew the Playa (the term used for the ancient lake bed desert floor that Burning Man occurs on) would be a visual playground. Another part of me wanted to just leave the camera at home and only experience BM through my eyes and other senses.  One of the pitfalls of being a photographer is the strong temptation to experience life through a lens, rather than through your own bodily senses.  I decided to be cognisant of this potential issue and simply allow myself to do whatever I felt like. That amounted to carrying my camera in a backpack about 75% of the time.  I promised myself that I wouldn’t shoot much – that I’d spend my time EXPERIENCING – after all, two of the 10 Principles of Burning Man  are PARTICIPATION ( Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.)  and IMMEDIACY ( Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.)

As a photographer, NOT interacting with my environment photographically would be, in a sense, depriving myself of some level of participation and immediacy.

I arrived in the Reno area around 5pm on Sunday 25 August. The Black Rock Desert – home of Burning Man – is less than 100 miles from the I-80 exit. Sounds pretty painless, given that the drive to Reno is pretty easy.

These 97 miles took from 6pm until 3 am to complete. The migration of 68,000 people along a 2 lane road is no small feat:

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Traffic stretched along highway 447 for as far as the eye could see. It was common for the traffic to be stopped for 30 min at a time. People would shut off their vehicles, get out, hula hoop, walk around, meet the “neighbors”, and find ways to pass the time.

I finally reached the entry gate around 2:30 am. Something very interesting happens when you enter Black Rock City.  They have a welcoming committee: You get out of your car. Someone from the Burning Man organization approaches you, gives you a HUGE hug, and says, “Welcome home!!”  I was only mildly amused by this, given my sleep deprived state. It would be a day or two before I started to appreciate what that meant – and now that I’m “home” in the ‘real world’ (or “default world”, as burners call it), the “welcome home” greeting means worlds more.  For first time burners, aka virgins, they then have you get down in the dirt and make a “snow angel”.  Burning Man occurs on an ancient alkali lake bed. Imagine a desert floor, but instead of sand, it has chalk dust.  A snow angel in chalk dust dirt… I was even less amused at this, but I wasn’t about to begin my Burning Man experience by saying “no” to something. I was committed to being a participant.  So, I got dirty, received my “What, When, Where” guide book, and drove toward my camp site.

I finally reached camp at 3:00 am Monday morning. I parked my car, put on a coat (it can get cold at night in the desert), hopped on my bike, and embarked on my first exploration of Burning Man.  What ensued was a week that is difficult to communicate entirely.   Burning Man is truly like the “zero point field”. It is vast in breadth and depth, both geographically, sociologically, psychologically, spiritually. People from all over the world make the pilgrimage here to experience something that is so profound, it is worth the incredible expense of time, energy, and resource to arrive.  When you are on the Playa in such an incredible assemblage of people, anything can happen.

First a word about The Man and other effigies…  Each year, there are two main effigies built on the Playa by the central Burning Man organization: The Man, and The Temple. Each year a different architect is commissioned to design and build these magnificent structures. At the conclusion of the week, they are both burned.  Burning works of art is part of the Burning Man experience.  It’s a demonstration in immediacy: the present is all you’ve got. Hanging on to the past or the future is a lie and a waste of time. The slice in life in front of you right now is subject to disappearing at some point:  your cat, your job, your significant other, your house, your vacation, and… the artwork at Burning Man. Drink it up. Immediately.

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The UFO section of the man is enormous. There are stairs leading up into the base of The Man. Inside of it are 3 floors.  The man itself reaches  140 feet high. In the center shaft of the structure is a piece of meteorite that impacted the Earth in the 1500’s.

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The meteorite chunk would be left in The Man for the burn. Whoever finds the meteorite in the ashes after the burn gets to keep it as a “playa gift”.  Gifting is a central tenet of Burning Man.

Burning Man is not just a destination in the middle of the north Nevada desert, but a mentality – even a way of life. To that end, Burning Man encourages the development of regional organizations to create art and events on a smaller scale, both to make the Burning Man experience more available to more people,  and to keep the spirit of Burning Man alive throughout the year.  The regional organizations are invited to apply for the opportunity to crreate art that will be displayed and then burned near the man at the annual Burning Man at Black Rock City.  The Utah team created a piece giving homage to Arches National Park and called it Psychadelicate Arch.

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Psychadelicate Arch, Utah C.O.R.E. project. Burning Man 2013

Members of the Utah C.O.R.E. (Circle Of Regional Effigies) stand atop Psychadelicate Arch.

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Psychadelicate Arch  at night.

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Psychadelicate arch burns.

Burning Man is not just a local or regional phenomenon; it is a truly international community and event.  The Russian camp created an incredible effigy, “The Cradle Of Mir”:

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_DSC2980You never know what you’ll find cropping up out of the playa at night. 

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The Idaho C.O.R.E.  (Circle Of Regional Effigies) project.

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Burning Man is a caucophany of the sacred and the profane, each given equal importance on the stage of the mind and heart. Want to commemorate the death of a loved one?  Got it.  Want to learn how to turn your genitals into stamp art? Got it. Want to take tango lessons? Got it. Want to walk around naked all week? Got it.  Dress like cookie monster? Got it. Want to go to the TED Talks and rub shoulders with some of the most progressive thinkers on the planet while dressed like Cookie Monster? Got it.  The pure, whole humanity of the experience is hard to fully describe – it’s like trying to explain the color blue to someone who has been blind from birth.  One afternoon I went out into the deep Playa to explore some of the art installations that were far removed from the center of the city.   I found an effigy dedicated to those who have lost a loved one to suicide:

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On the mummy that hung from the noose, were written messages from mourners:

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The loneliness and sadness of this particular effigy, contrasted against the bleak landscape of the Black Rock Desert, made for a subject I couldn’t adequately describe with just one photograph.

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A man and woman sob and embrace after writing a message on the effigy.

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Here’s the thing about Burning Man:  it’s solemnity is matched only by it’s love of absurdity and play, tough  potties are no joke: it’s absolutely forbidden to relieve yourself anywhere but at the porta potties.

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Graffiti on the inside wall of a porta potty.

Burning Man is not just a bunch of seriousness – whatever you want to find and experience, you will find it.  A couple of my buddies…

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decided to get married…

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….go to the honeymoon suite…

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…and then get divorced 11 minutes later, courtesy of the Reno C.O.R.E. project.

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An enormously long string of balloons stretch up into the sky. At night, they were each illuminated internally with LED lights.  They stretched far higher than what my camera’s frame would capture.

Art cars are a huge part of Burning Man culture. These are vehicles of any shape and size that have been modified to look and function in a novel way.  As I was returning to camp from seeing the hangman’s noose effigy, I heard some amazing music playing.  I followed my ears and found a huge dragon with a dance floor on the roof of it. All vehicles are restricted to a speed limit of 5 mph on the Playa – so it was easy to ride up to the dragon on wheels and listen to the music as it drove along. Soon other people on bikes were doing the same. We looked like a school of fish swimming alongside a whale.  Soon the dragon stopped next to The Temple.  We parked our bikes, and people just seemed to appear out of nowhere, coming into the light from the dark playa, to form an spontaneous dance party. 

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 The music was absolutely beautiful – I’m not good at describing electronic music, but it seemed to be a trance  / house fusion along with some incredible violin playing. I went up into the art car, onto the roof toward the DJ booth, to find that there was a live violinist performing!  Think Lindsey Stirling, minus the stupid dancing and with music that is actually super awesome.  This is the kind of thing that only happens on TV or in movies – and yet, here I was, in this incredibly picturesque environment, bathed in these amazing sounds, surrounded by beautiful smiling people dancing, sandwiched between a dragon on wheels and the sacred Temple.  I honestly wondered for a moment if I had died and arrived in heaven.

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The Mayan Warrior was another one of my favorite destinations. This art car is a rebuilt tour bus. The mask of the warrior was painted by famed painter Alex Grey (some of you may recognize his work on Tool albums such as 10,000 days).  This art car had a habbit of playing the most amazing house music. I spent many hours, several nights, dancing to the hypnotic super groovy music from their featured DJs.  The Mayan Warrior came all the way up from Mexico.

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Though some art cars are moving dance clubs with sound systems that would put many rock concerts to shame,  some cars were just awesome to look at.

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A camp from San Francisco built a skate park.  It was a large bowl in the shape of a heart. I brought my board and spent a few hours riding.  I was the shittiest skater there, but I still had tons of fun.

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If you are going to teeter totter, why not do it all the way? 

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Warning signs are both hilarious and right to the point at Burning Man.

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One camp put on a “flame thrower arcade”, complete with flame thrower shooting gallery, flame thrower ski ball, and quite possibly the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen…

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Flame Thrower Dance Dance Revolution. Each player donned a flameproof suit. It’s slightly hard to see, but there are 3 flame throwers aimed at the face of each player. When you mess up, you get blasted in the face.  No joke.    And remember kids… 20130828_185735

I cannot tell you how many insanely dangerous things happen out here every minute of every day. It’s a testament to the human survival instinct that, in a city of 68,000 intoxicated people playing with fire, climbing on things, riding on questionably safe vehicles… nobody dies.

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Just taking some precautions, you never know what a night on the playa will bring. 3:45 and C is the address I was camped at.

There were some incredible dance clubs that were created on the Esplanade (the ‘main drag’ on the Playa).  At night, I would typically just ride out by myself and let my ears and eyes guide me. As soon as I saw or heard something I liked, I’d ride toward it like a moth toward flame, without a care in the world.  I always found myself in the middle of some truly breathtaking circumstances.

One night I was wandering around, just following my ears to find music that I loved, and I ended up in the Sacred Spaces Village. I walked in and danced my ass off for quite some time. I was absolutely entranced by the music.  The DJ’s set came to an end, and as he made his exit, he said his name. Emanicipator!  This is one of my favorite electronic artists, and I had no idea that he was performing there.  Incredibly delightful, serendipitous things like this happen all the time on the Playa. Some call it “playa magic”.  Though this isn’t his set, this is a short video that might give you a bit of a taste of what Sacred Spaces Village looked like:

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A theme camp for people fighting Alzheimer’s Disease.  (okay, maybe not).

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Burning Man is full of educational opportunities…

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Including TED Talks.  I spent the better part of a day at the TEDx Black Rock City conference. Here’s a photo of Dadara on stage.

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A camp from Washington D.C. put on a comedy / improv class, which I attended.  Super fun stuff.

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Going into Center Camp was a reminder that this was not just a huge camp out: This is an actual, functioning CITY, complete with a public works department, emergency personnel, etc.  Center camp serves as a town square, of sorts. You can buy ice and coffee here (and that is ALL you can buy on the Playa. Otherwise, there is no commerce).  There are several performance stages inside the massive tent at Center Camp.  There are sofas, pillows, art installations, bands playing, people doing yoga, etc.  In a sense, it felt like walking into the cantina from Star Wars IV when Luke and Han meet Greedo (except there are nothing but good vibes at Center Camp).

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El Pulpo Mechanico, a giant steampunk flame throwing octopus.

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Video of El Pulpo in action:

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This art installation was of an skeleton of some ancient aquatic creature. The skeleton is segmented and attaached to ropes and pulleys so that you can make it “swim”. Between the blue light bathing it, the canopy flowing in the breeze, and the motion given to it by participating burners, this creature really did appear to be a swimming ghost of some extinct creature, brought back to life just for Burning Man.

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The photo does not depict it, but these flaming globes are spinning.  This piece of fire art kept eliciting thoughts of “the tree of life” and “cherubim and a flaming sword”.  If that doesn’t make any sense, go ask one of your active Mormon friends about it.

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The DiscoFish, another awesome art car / mobile dance party.

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“I can tell you exactly what it is”, said no burner, ever, abut this thing.

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A couple enjoys a cozy chat in the middle of a dust storm on the Playa.

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…aaand then there’s the woman.

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Truth is Beauty sculpture created by Marco Cochrane. I could not get enough of gazing at this magnificent form.

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Video of “Truth is Beauty”:

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I liked this.  #worstpunever  Check out the website for the Like 4 Real project: http://like4real.com

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Why do you walk around on the playa dressed like Little Miss Sunshine at 6am?  Because you can.

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A daytime view down one of the main roads leading toward The Man.

_DSC2688Burning Man welcomes all ages. From young kids…

 

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To middle aged kids…

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…to old kids.

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Burning Man has a gift culture (It’s one of the 10 Principles of Burning Man)  It is customary for people to bring something they can gift to people they meet on the Playa. One of the guys I camped with, Marc, made the “pickleback” his playa gift. The pickleback consists of a shot of whiskey and a shot of pickle juice.  He brought countless jars of homemade pickles – pickled tomatoes, pickled carots, pickled squash, pickled cucumbers in many styles – to share with people on the playa. He would ride around with this box fixed on his bike and offer the pickleback to as many strangers as he could. He served literally hundreds of them during the week.   I had my pickleback pickle popped this week.  It sounds funky, but a shot of whiskey and a really good pickle actually go together really well.

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The man during the day – still an impressive, imposing structure.

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Some art is meant to be climbed on.

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 At the end of the week, on Saturday night prior to Labor Day, The Man BURNS!

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I love watching things burn, I love fireworks, yes, of course… blah blah blah. I experienced something on the night of the burn that I have never before seen or felt.   In preparation for the burning of the man, essentially the entire population of Black Rock City gathered around it in a massive circle.  Within this circle were about a dozen different troupes of fire dancers – or “fire enclaves”, as they are called in the Burning Man world. Each enclave represents a different region of Burners. For instance, Utah has it’s own enclave.  Each enclave dressed and danced differently. It reminded me of watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics, with each nation having people on the field representing them in a massive performance piece.  Lastly, the various art cars – and there had to be hundreds of them – pulled up around the outside perimeter of this gathering and formed a wall of throbbing sound – it wasn’t coordinated, they were each playing their own music for their own crowds.  The cheering, the fire dancing, the drumming, and the throbbing dance music from the art cars gave the desert a pulse. that you could feel and couldn’t keep out of your ears or guts. The air was ELECTRIC with anticipation and the common positive energy of nearly 70,000 people.  It was tribal. There was something primal and yet futuristic about this moment. I looked around in amazement and realized that this is what my ancestors did.  Insofar as I’m a reincarnated being….  I’ve done this before.  I felt a strange and wonderful sense of reconnection to a part of my human nature that I’ve not  had the opportunity to experience before in this incarnation.

Video of the fire dancers:

Finally, after incredible amounts of anticipation, the playa erupts in fireworks.

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The fire is so hot, it creates a series of mini cyclones that emanate from the fire and toward the audience. Here, we see 2 obviously formed funnels and a third is about to emerge from the blaze. _DSC3662

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I spent a lot of time at The Temple. The first night I arrived, at 3 am, I rode my bike out to see it.  Each year the temple looks different and has a different name, this year, it is called The Temple Of Whollyness.

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Since 2001, The Temple has been a key feature of Burning Man. This year’s temple was designed by Gregg Fleishman.  The Temple building team’s official website explains this year’s design:

[quote ]The Temple of Whollyness will offer Burning Man participants an opportunity to ponder how to become more whole with themselves and the world. An epic central pyramid with an 87’ x 87’ base and 64’ tall, it will be designed with sacred mathematical proportions and constructed using our innovative building techniques. Unbelievably, this majestic Temple will be crafted completely out of geometric interlocking wood pieces that fit together without the use of nails, glue or metal fasteners. The Temple’s name is derived from the idea that spirituality is a balance between three states of mind – to be holy, holey or wholly present. We hope our Temple will be a safe haven for participants to wholeheartedly reflect upon how to live their lives in their divine power rather than letting their polarizing beliefs and the inevitable chasms – the holes in their hearts – lead them astray from joy. [/quote]

A tradition of the temple is to allow people to write messages on the walls of The Temple. Many of these messages are directed toward loved ones who have died. Some are messages to the living, some to one’s self.  The Temple offers a place for contemplation, meditiation, prayer, and reconciliation.  Having been born and raised Mormon, I have grown up in a culture that places utmost value on Temple building and Temple worship. I’ve been to LDS (Mormon) Temples countless times and participated in all of the ceremonies and rites that it has to offer.   I knew that the Burning Man Temple would be impressive, but I was not prepared for what I actually experienced.

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When you enter an LDS Temple, you are asked to be reverent. Upon entering The Temple at Burning Man, I could not help but be reverent. As I crossed the threshold into The Temple, I was nearly overwhelmed with a sense of the sacred. There was a presence in that Temple that I have only ever experienced before in very small degrees.  For my Mormon friends, I want you to imagine being in the Celestial Room of The Temple and then multiply that feeling by 100.  That is a crude approximation of what I experienced.

As I walked around and read the many messages left on the walls of The Temple and felt the spirit of that space, I was overwhelmed with  the realization that people are trying so hard to do what  is right. People are longing for peace, and my heart broke and went out to them all.  My heart was overcome with compassion, clarity, reverence, and peace.  I contemplated my own struggles and wrote messages on the walls to key people in my life – some of whom are not with us anymore and some who still are.   The presence I experienced there was both heart rending, healing, and ennobling, all at the same time. It was impossible to resist tears for more than a few minutes there.   During the course of the week, I spent a lot of time at The Temple. One evening, after having chased the most amazing music all around the Playa, dancing to music that made me feel like I was in a movie – I made my way to The Temple and slept there until morning along with a few dozen other seekers.

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Again, from the Temple Builder’s website:

[quote]At the axis mundi of the Temple there will be 12 ‘x 12’ Inuksuk altar. “Inuksuk is an Inuit word meaning image of a person’s spirit, often used as navigation aids. These structures are composed of stacked rocks in a human form.  Their traditional meaning is ‘you are on the right path.’” The statue will be fabricated out of black igneous basalt stone. For thousands of years, the Black Rock that our city is named after was a welcome sight for weary travelers crossing the arid desert and was a key landmark for settlers on the Emigrant Trail. Our black rock focal point in the Temple will ground the Temple space and also act as a guidepost for those looking for the right direction and a safe passage through this life. [/quote]

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The Temple held a particularly deep significance for me this year. Later in the week, my friend Ben and I were able to place the ashes of our recently passed friend Jason on the altar of The Temple prior to it’s burning.

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The last time I saw Jason was when I dropped him off at the airport to travel back to West Virginia to stay with his family.  His passing was tragic, unexpected, and 50 years too early. I’ve been struggling to cope with his passing;  it’s hard to describe how it felt to hold that container of his ashes in my hands. Placing them on the altar of The Temple to be consumed with all of the other sentiments, sacrifices, and prayers of my fellow burners was my own little sacred experience.

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I am deeply grateful to Ben for bringing Jason out there, finding me on the Playa, and facilitating this otherworldly reunion between three old friends.

On Sunday Night, the final night of Burning Man, The Temple was burned.

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The Temple awaits its sad and joyous fate. The burning of The Temple, with all of the writings and memoirs places inside and on the altar, will create a profound emotional release for thousands of people who have confided in it this week.  It is darkened on the inside, illuminated only by the flames of those who are about to set fire to it.

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The crowd sits in nearly perfect silence as The Temple is humbled before us.

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As the walls of The Temple collapse into a smoldering pile of embers, we are reminded of the ephemeral nature of all things – and the importance of fully experiencing that which is presently before us, as all things will pass.  The burning of The Man and The Temple evoke sentiments of the legend of The Phoenix – a knowledge that ends are not ends, but part of a cycle of new beginnings.  I felt an intense array of sadness, release, and brilliant renewal as I watched these effigies burn.

See video of the Temple Burn here:

It’s difficult to summarize what Burning Man meant to me.  The first night I went out on the Esplanade, I was humbled to see all of the art that had been created with such care, at such a large scale, transported at such expense, all to be burned within a few days.  I spend so much time thinking about ways to make my art and experiences permanent…  it was humbling to see this entirely different way of looking at things.  If one were to get excessively hung up on the fact that these pieces of art would not exist in a few days, it would be impossible to fully, exuberantly enjoy them now.   It made me realize how many opportunities for joy I have short circuited just because I know they will some day fade.  For years I’ve had the attitude of “If I can see the end from the beginning, I don’t even want to start”.  Burning Man challenged me to accept opportunities and fully live them, even if I know from the outset that they will end – and maybe even with some tears. There’s a lot of love that I’ve let slide through my fingers because of this. I’ve allowed this aversion to loss to cheat me out of a lot of good love and life.

I found myself longing to share the experience with someone. Sure,  I was there, I saw it all, but there is something about sharing that makes an experience even more rich.    I’ve done my best to show you some of the beauty of Burning Man via photos, video and words – but ultimately – you had to be there.  I watched many couples around me enjoy the richness of sharing transcendent experiences together.  I want that.  I want to have a brilliant relationship with a woman that I adore.  I am not sure if I’m “ready” for that, but at least, now, I can own that desire to share and create memories with someone. Each year of my life is like one of the effigies of Burning Man. It will come and it will go – very quickly.  So there you have it. I want love in my life. I want to experience the giving and receiving of it.  Life just isn’t as rich when you are a solo artist.

The other big takeaway for me is that I am capable of playing on a much bigger scale than I have been.  Seeing the unabashed creativity of those around me was profoundly inspiring.  I have returned to “the default world” with a new commitment to say YES to opportunity and to play on a much bigger playing field.

Last of all – I have found my tribe, my home.  Black Rock City and it’s dwellers are my kindred spirits and I will return.

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Writing on one of the interior panels of The Temple.

 

P.S.  Check out the collective wisdom of the Burners I met this year on the Playa in the mini interview series, “3 Things”. Click on here to check it out.

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in remission

I have a meditation practice that I do every morning. I won’t bore you with the details right now, other than to say it’s super short, super easy, and most real practictioners of meditation would look at my ritual and call it “Meditation for Dummies”.   At any rate; this morning, the second my ass hit the ground for my daily meditation, a little voice popped into my head with a very specific literary reference.   When the little voice speaks, you gotta listen.  I pulled said book off of my shelf, opened to the specified chapter, and read the specified paragraph.  I don’t know if this is more for me, or if there is someone out there that needs to hear this, but here it goes:

The book is a collection of very old legends about the culture, wars, and spiritual traditions of people who supposedly lived on the American continent a few thousand years ago. I honestly have no idea if any of it really happened or not, but it also doesn’t matter to me. It’s the ideas in the stories that matter.  In this particular story,  a man named Enos was out hunting by himself, and started thinking deeply about things his father had taught him through word and example. The specific reference that the little voice told me to look up goes like this: ” I will tell you of the wrestle I had before God before I received a remission of my sins”.  Spoiler alert: he lives happily ever after.

“Remission” is an interesting word. In modern society, it’s most often used in reference to cancer, indicating that the cancer is shrinking.  Once you’ve got cancer, remission is the best thing you can hope for.  You take steps to make your body a place where nasty cells can no longer thrive; the tumor shrinks as the cancerous cells disappear. One of the few beautiful things about cancer is the deep gratitude that flows from the patient and the loved ones when the doctor announces, “You are in remission!”  There is nothing like the feeling of knowing you are on the right track.

remission

“Sin” is another interesting word, one we hear almost exclusively at church. I’m not a church going man, so I’m going to define “sin” based on my own life experiences: We all know, on some deep level, who we are and what we want to make our lives into.  (Some of us are lost in a fog and have a hard time connecting to that clear vision; that’s another discussion for another day). Sin is any self inflicted distraction that slows us from becoming the biggest, most beautiful, awesome version of ourselves.  To continue with the cancer analogy, sin would be like smoking 3 packs a day while also training for the Olympics (Unless you are Michael Phelps).

I don’t believe in “sin” in the churchy sense, nor do I believe that we must supplicate some angry, jealous God that he may forgive us of our “sins”. I’ve lived that paradigm, and it proved to be nothing but snake oil. Here’s the deal:

Here’s what hit me.  I struggle a lot with perfectionism syndrome. My life is wildly imperfect, but I also hold myself to a pretty fucking high standard. I am painfully aware of many of the tumors in my life. It can be very easy to just look at the tumors and get really bummed out about them.  This little story I read this morning shed some new light: As long as I’m in remission, I can be super stoked about life every day.  Even if I just kill 3 cancer cells, metaphorically speaking, that’s win – because I didn’t grow 3 cells – and tomorrow I’ll kill a few more. I think we all need to give ourselves more credit for the progress we are making. And by credit, I mean gratitude. I have found a lot of power in my life when I spend time each day meditating in gratitude for the good things that are happening. I’ll even kick into imagination mode and spend time meditating in gratitude for the things I intend to have in my life, though they may not be present yet. I just pretend they are, and deeply contemplate how awesome they are.  To the extent that anything excellent is happening in my life, I attribute it to this practice. Gratitude is emotional chemotherapy. This practice can be very difficult at times. Sometimes it makes you want to puke.  Just do your best, and do it every day. It’s been a real force for progress in my life, maybe it will for you, too.

Take a few steps each day to progress out of the shitty situations of your life, even if it’s tiny.  Most of all – go into your imagination and imagine sitting in a beautifully decorated, radiantly lit doctor’s office, imagine him walking in with his clipboard, shaking your hand, and saying, “Congratulations!! You are in remission!”

much love-

Paul Duane

devilhornshand

Never Before And Never Again

In school we get taught that the planets orbit the Sun in space. I don’t know about you, but I always assumed that every March, every August, every December… the earth runs along the same, old, trodden path in space that it has for billions of years.

Take 2 minutes and watch this video:

As it turns out, every point in space is a point that we’ve never been in before, and will never be again.  Think about that as a metaphor for your life.

Every day, you literally are at a point in the universe that you’ve never been in, and will never be again. Every day on Spaceship Planet Earth is unique and irreplaceable.

The next time the sun goes down, look at the stars. Look at the moon. Look at the people walking down the street. Look at the person next to you.  Think of the person(s) that’s in your heart. This moment, both in the Earth-bound temporal sense, and in the cosmic Universal sense – will never happen again.

What are you going to do in this universally unique moment, to make sure it has been played well?

 

 

 

A very sexy number: 1.6180339887…

Every great artist has his mark, some kind of trait that is uniquely his that shows up in all of his works…

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The fascination with the Golden Ratio is not confined just to mathematicians. Biologists, artists, musicians, historians, architects, psychologists, and even mystics have pondered and debated the basis of its ubiquity and appeal.

It has been said that our Creator’s artistic signature is the Golden Ratio, also known as the golden mean, the golden rectangle, or the Fibonacci Sequence. For those so inclined, you can read more about it here.  There are times, when I’m photographing a woman, that I feel like I’m seeing the face of God in  her form.  A woman is a sacred, mystical creature: she is the mother of all living. She is everything a man is not, she is the great mystery that we long to explore.

 

 

Defending Your Life

Is this what happens after death?

In the comedy “Defending Your Life,”  the main character, Daniel, finds himself in the afterlife after getting hit by a bus. In this scene, he’s having a meeting with the person who will be representing him, essentially his attorney, as his life is put on “trial” to determine if he’ll be allowed to progress to the next realm or not.

“Being from Earth, as you are; and using as little of your brain as you do, your life has pretty much been devoted to dealing with fear… Everybody on earth deals with fear. That’s what ‘little brains’ do…  Fear is like a giant fog, it sits on your brain, blocks everything. Real feelings, true happiness, real joy… they can’t get through that fog.  But you lift it, and buddy, you’re in for the ride of your life!”  – Bob Diamond

It’s interesting to note which voices around us are trying to teach us this lesson. Occasionally people arrive on the earth that seem to understand this concept very clearly, and they try to teach us how to move forward, as Bob Diamond explained.   Here are a few that come to my mind:

One of my heroes, the late comedian Bill Hicks, had something very similar to say:

“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”  – Bill Hicks

Author Marianne Williamson said it like this:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

The Christians are taught the same thing:

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”  1 John 4:18

George Lucas, via Yoda:

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” –  Yoda

Franklin D Roosevelt in his inaugural address, discussing the American people and the Great Depression:

“…let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”

After watching “Defending Your Life”, some things start to become very obvious.  As children, we are imprinted with certain fears from our environment.  The script of the film suggests that we are here to work out fears that we failed to conquer in our previous life time, but that’s not a critical, actionable point.  What IS important is to realize that our life’s work is actually very simple:  To identify the fears we came into the world with as children, to identify how those childhood fears are still guiding us as adults, and to conquer them.  I believe that we can make a whole host of missteps throughout life, but if in the final analysis of things, we leave this life different than we were when we came into it – something brilliant will await us.

All human behavior comes down to one of two motives: fear or love: and if it was a “failure”, you certainly were being guided by fear. What were you afraid of?  What’s the common thread throughout all of your “failure” experiences?  Look around you and see what’s supporting your current fears:  Certain relatives? Friends? Your job? Your current lover / partner?  Your church? The TV shows you watch?  The news?

Now is the time to kindly cut those things and people cleanly out of your life.  If you are afraid to do that, too… that’s the first fear you must confront before worrying about any of the others.

The sooner we can conquer our fears, the better, because as Marianne Williamson eloquently puts it, “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”  ….and THAT, I believe, is the hallmark trait of someone who is prepared to advance forward in the next realm.

Godspeed, my friends.

 

 

 

 

33 Signs You’ve Found Your Life’s Work

While rummaging around the internet, reading about how hydrogen bombs work, the origin of mayonaise, and watching some Adventure Time cartoons on YouTube, I stumbled upon a brilliant artilce.  Lissa Rankin, M.D., shares her thoughts on what it feels like to find your life’s purpose and to be working on it. It was too good not to share:

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(originally posted here at The Daily Love)

Lissa Rankin

Author Lissa Rankin, M.D.

 

When I work with patients, I always ask them whether they’re doing their life’s work, because I truly believe that how we spend most of our day, and whether it’s in line with our life’s work, affects our health. When I ask a woman if she’s doing her life’s work, way too often, she stares at me blankly.

So how can you tell? How do you know if you’re doing your life’s work? There’s no easy answer to that question other than, “You just know.” But to give you a sense of what it feels like to discover and then commit to fulfilling your life’s work.

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Shoot for Love pt 2

A continuation of the thoughts inspired by Shoot For Love‘s class, “The Language of Inspiration” (read part 1 here):

If you are going to create something, you’ve got to imagine it first. It’s the spiritual creation that must precede physical creation. Imagination is the blueprint.

Imagination is a strange thing. Shoot For Love got me thinking about my relationship with imagination…

A few nights ago, I was shooting stand up comic Steve Soelberg for his press kit photos. In the middle of our shoot, his phone rings. He’s being asked to do a show in Seattle with Kevin Nealon (from Saturday Night Live) this weekend.

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