In preparation for Burning Man, I came across a billion videos on YouTube posted by the pink-haired burner John “Halcyon” Styn. They were not only very informative but I also had a sense that Halcyon’s heart was as pink as his coiffure, that he was caring, loving and supportive and wasn’t just another burner using Burning Man as a place to score sex, drugs and House & Techno.
I watched so many of his videos in the few days preceding leaving for the dusty city in Nevada that I started to constantly say to Jane Doe, “Halcyon says that we should have a bottle in the tent in case we have to pee in the middle of the night.” “Halcyon says that he always brings a full package of new socks.” “Halcyon says…”
I was so annoying with my Halcyon citations that soon I began each of them in a similar way a Muslim always follows Muhammad’s name with “peace be upon him,” by starting with, “My best friend Halcyon says…” Jane Doe picked up on this and this became a joke of ours, as she started to refer to him as “Your best friend Halcyon.”
I watched a video of his with helpful hints for the virgin, which took me about 5-minutes to realize that he wasn’t talking about those with intact hymens but first-timers to Burning Man. I found this helped relieve some of my anxiety that I would be dropped like a Navy SEAL into hostile territory to fend for my own. He assured me that I would be dropped into friendly territory and even though I had to prepare to take care of all my own needs, my cherry would be popped in the company of more “been laid-ins” than Bin Laden’s, offering plenty of beauty and support to help me feel at home in the desert.
Halcyon also talked about not getting caught behind your camera trying to document everything and missing the experience of Burning Man. He said you can capture a few special moments that you want to remember but then suggested you set your camera aside, being a feeling and responding actor in this John Waters-esque movie instead of a director of photography safely distant behind the camera.
Whether about experiencing life or relating to a loved one, the most respect and “juice” you can give to them–and yourself–is by being fully present and involved. How many of us listen to our friends share their traumatic problem of the day smiling and nodding with one ear as our other ear is thinking, “I have to do the laundry, walk the dog, take a yoga class…” or some problem of ours which is countless times more important than theirs? I think most of us do this, forgetting that our ears were designed to listen and not smile, nod and do Sudoku.
The scary thing is that most don’t see anything wrong in this, as our society has conditioned them to think that efficiency and multi-tasking is more important than being there for your significant other or friend or for what is happening in the present moment. We watch the sunset with our lover as we check our emails on our cellphones. We have a romantic dinner with our partner as we interrupt his sweet nothings answering text messages.
They say prayer is talking to God and meditation is listening to Him. It seems like most are more concerned with begging for scraps of sustenance from a made-up old man in the sky than listening to the wealth offered to us by the ones we claim to care about the most. Maybe that wealth is just an opportunity to exercise our muscles of compassion that we talk so much about in our Buddhist classes but seem to forget when we leave the sangha. It seems there are a lot of yogis with firm and tone bodies but flabby hearts.
Compassion requires both an open heart to feel empathy and care and a strong body to take action. With a closed heart and strong body, the only actions one takes are about making his or her life more comfortable. With an open heart and a weak body, you become the cliche New-Ager philosopher who talks a good game but helps no one. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sartre, Kant and Nietzsche are dead and the world doesn’t need any more philosophers.
I am not saying you should go out there and feed the hungry, clothe the poor and protect the world from politicians. Maybe what I’m saying you should do is shut up or, in nicer terms, speak less and do more. Stop talking about God and live godly. Stop talking about the downtrodden hungry and go down to the soup kitchen and grab a ladle. Stop talking about truth and be truthful in your words and in your deeds so your word isn’t just noise but actually has value.
And stop talking about compassion and instead sit quietly, listen and be there for another–not just in body but with a caring heart that, if it could speak as much as our loquacious ears seem to, would say, “There is no place I rather be now than with you.”