I don’t put much weight in dreams. They’re certainly entertaining when they happen. Some days I wake from them feeling great, some days not so much. More than that, they don’t seem to have much purpose in my life.
This morning, in my dream, while I was stealing some grape seed oil from somebody’s house (as one does), a young boy appeared and asked me what people do at a Decompression. Knowing somehow that this had to do with AfrikaBurn, I replied that people have a good time and party.
“But why do they need to decompress?” he persisted.
I stopped siphoning the oil, determined not to pass up a moment of knowledge impartation, and responded. He listened intently. I spoke passionately. I gradually woke up while engaged in my monologue, which is why I remembered this dream enough to relate it. And this is what I said.
It’s a little difficult explaining why people miss something like Afrikaburn to somebody who hasn’t been there. It’s not just about what they do or dress like or how much they party or connect with people. It’s more about the freedom they experience.
Imagine a place, a world, where people smile back when you do. People who say hello and are willing to have meaningful and heartfelt conversations with complete strangers. Imagine nobody pointing at you and laughing with their friends because you are dressed in a way that is different. Imagine instead that they celebrate your unconventional dress because it makes you feel amazing. Imagine people being interested in you without any care for your body type or your skin colour or your gender or whether you are dressed in a suit or in a bikini. Imagine a place where you are freed from the pressure of fitting in.
Imagine a week in time when you are not concerned about emails and deadlines, when you are free to focus on what matters to you, and don’t have to manage other people’s expectations. Imagine living to your own schedule, adapting and adjusting as you need, without pressure, whether you are spending your time with friends, strangers, or yourself. Imagine people understanding your need for alone time, and giving it to you without question. Imagine being able to be present, your mind uncluttered by analysis and unrequired planning and organisation. Imagine that you have energy and time predominantly available for your own needs and desires.
Imagine simply being. Imagine expressing yourself within a community expressing itself, together holding space for each other, without forcing opinions or experiences on anyone else. And without feeling forced by anyone else. Imagine respecting and being respected in turn. Imagine consideration at a new level, as though every person were another one of your family. Imagine having a place to belong and be.
Imagine nobody telling you to stop doing something that you’re enjoying. Imagine experiencing joy in other people being and enjoying and expressing wonder. Imagine the unencumbered freedom and peace and joy that you may not have felt since childhood. Imagine being able to resolve issues and hurts and conflicts with care and consideration. Imagine a community of people with the playfulness of children and the maturity of adults.
Imagine being in a place and a time where play is encouraged. Where creativity is celebrated. Where intelligence is on par with art, organisation as important as the nebulous, formality alongside informality.
Imagine having a taste of this world after coming from and then going back to a world filled with signs telling you what’s allowed and what isn’t. No rollerblading. No skateboards. No breast-feeding for the sake of the gods! Dress this way. Act this way. This is appropriate for here but inappropriate for there. How did we become such an authoritarian people!
For many, the existence they know is devoid of the freedom they experienced in a desert kilometres from what we call civilisation. In many ways, life and people are more civilised living in tents without Internet access than the concrete cities most humans call home. And once that freedom is tasted, going back to the slavery we have become accustomed to is jarring.
This is one of the reasons why many people need to decompress, and reacquaint themselves gently back into a society and culture that is riddled with rules that don’t serve our inner child.
Decompression is only a part of this integration. The long term process is to learn how to bring the freedom and creativity and care and consideration of the Burn world back into the default one. Creating a life that is predominantly playful, creative, loving, considerate, immediate, expressive, environmentally friendly, community based, civilised, and generous is an aim for every burner. Living the principles as best as we can all year round makes for a more uplifted life, that doesn’t depend on a week-long escape in the desert.
Decompression is a reminder of what we can have and be. A reminder to smile more. To express more. To love more. To find more ways to keep your feet dusty and your heart full, in whatever way your life allows.