Day 3: Conflicted

My heart,

How far do you think one has to walk not to hear the incessant buzz of humanity? A distance before nature is louder than our electric chaos? I imagine it’s far. I didn’t get there today. I must have walked for about ten minutes only. I could go no further. It was 10:00 am, and I opted instead for shade.

The sun begins to bake in the early hours here in the karoo, sustaining thorny shrub life and sticky nodule covered creations. They know how to exist here. We do not. We come to a sanctuary, amid black rock plains, rugged, outstanding vegetation, embanked by lilac cardboard cutout mountains — as if a child drew the escarpment profile on the horizon — a place where the night sky offers a magnitude of exquisite lighting and display and what do we do? We cluster. We build. We expand with our backs towards her. We root into infrastructure so that we can dominate a space once more. I don’t blame us — this is our way of surviving out here. Without it we could not enjoy the black rock or bright stars. But still it leaves me a little sad somehow, as though I wished we were a more integrated species, better adapted. It also makes me wish, on some level, that I was part of this side of the spectrum, the desert side, and not the noisy, cluster building side.

The Burn’s presence — once you’re here — is inescapable. You can either befriend the beast and find which one of it’s breathing rhythms you can breathe in harmony to — you cannot breathe with her all the time, she never sleeps. Or you can cast yourself out to the desert, sitting on crystal studded, charred plains, fighting the inundation. But you won’t win. Her reach, once you’ve slipped into the penetrated ranks, is too far.

So I sit here, feeling utterly conflicted, an outlier among the stoic rock of the desert, knowing I can’t exist here, but not knowing how to exist there either. I now face a new challenge all together. Not how to describe it, or explain it to other humans who haven’t yet been. But how to somehow learn from it, how to be at peace with being an active observer, passive in my judgement, when I know in my heart that I am immovable to its lure. Which breath of the Burn can I breathe? How do I fit in?

I have no interest in experiencing life in a chemical or herbal or fermented or otherwise induced state of technicolour intensity. I marvel at all of life just as we are, as she is, overwhelmed and permeable too often to her all encompassing ways. She doesn’t need to shout or convince you of her grandeur. She doesn’t need the overstated regalia. She simply is, there. And if you wish to see her you must walk. Away from the radius of the beast or perhaps, deep, deep into its heart. Away from the amassed creative explosion of the human mind or what about to the very centre of its intensity. Will I find my breath there, amidst its desperately joyful grasp on life, at once filled with calm and hysteria?

These morning walks into the desert, to sit beside the shade of a kameeldoring will no doubt become part of my necessary observing. But can I just say, that on day 3 in the Burn — “responsible adulting” — intoxication, explosions and extremism look an awful lot like escape to me. I’m not sure yet what into. I’m a novice here — I don’t know all the ways of the Burn. And mind you, it is a beautiful, mindful escape to behold, a desire to exist temporarily within the Playful Pretend and then to silently slip away, not a trace or scar left behind, but the same scorched earth marks, year after year. But blowing up an anvil? This strikes me as a poor attempt to compete with thunder. They do say, imitation is the finest form of flattery. Are the heavens flattered by our desperation to make loud noises, I wonder.

I do not want to leave here having judged it all. If you cannot lose yourself in it, the next best thing to do is to try and understand it. I am already coming unstuck in my attempt to do so and because I can’t just get in my car and leave, and clearly came here because I felt called to this very predicament, seeking to find understanding without joining them, is the only way through.

I’ve worked so hard and travelled so far inward into my own psyche, my past, my patterns, that the thought of needing or wanting to lose myself holds little appeal. I’ve only just found me. You couldn’t offer me enough LSD, acid, changa or E in the world to want to tamper with this trove of self discovery. Yes, there is immense fear mixed into the fold. How could we know how our brain chemistry would respond? What if you break you, what if you can’t go back? Is the technicolour worth it?

Here I sit, realising, I may have begun to discover my perimeter. Strangely, but not entirely unexpected, it lies about 1 km outside the periphery of where the defined reach ends. And yet to everyone inside it — it looks like I’m nowhere.

But as long as I know my perimeter, my sense of space, I can begin to understand the lengths and depths of my Burn breaths. And it doesn’t matter if to everyone else, that is indeed nowhere. With my swaddled complexity now a little less raw, I got up and returned to the Burn, leaving the desert and its ways of existing out here under the scorching sun.

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