I never intend to publish my journal entries, especially not my personal ones. When I die the custodian of them can do as they please, until then they're mine. The following three are an exception to this, determined after the fact. This musing, these entries, are built upon thousands of hours of personal thoughts and hundreds of hours of journal entries. Fair warning, I'm going to make abstract (and likely confusing) references very quickly. This is more faithful to the entries themselves that are a way for me replay the day, word vomit, and serialize complex thoughts from memory to disk and store just the pointer. It's relieving and a snapshot of my thoughts at that time. They lack external detail and only contain internal thoughts I want to remember, this is not a book. Because they're intended for me, and they are my thoughts, I know how to deserialize them.
Over the last weekend I went to my first ever alternative festival: Burning Seed, I had no idea what it was going to be like. I arrived alone unintentionally that is not to say I arrived without intention. I am an anxious person. I'm also a driven person. If I must use what I think are two overly simplistic dichotomies: an extroverted mind in an introverted body. I am always driven to challenge myself and push my own boundaries. However, if left unchecked my mind coheres into a tangled mess of every idea from every character of me. Arriving at Burning Seed my intention wasn't new to me: I intended to anneal my thoughts. I do this often, constantly even. I usually spend about 50% of my mental capacity during everyday life to mind maintenance. This is taxing but without it I have breakdowns: that's anxiety, that's PTSD. This weekend I was to spend 100% of my capacity to mind maintenance, relax and rejuvenate. What I didn't expect is that this environment I was in was to assist in the settling of anxious thoughts I've held for ~10 years through my journal entries.
I wrote these journal entries with pen-and-paper mostly in reflection of the previous day at Burning Seed. I have transcribed these entries from the original almost verbatim. I have made minor grammar and spelling corrections and improved clarity where necessary. These are things I would normally do if I were journaling electronically (my preference) on the fly as I can type much faster. That said, more than 99.9% of these words are unedited, the story is my brain verbatim at the moment. In addition, for publication, I have anonymised the entries in respect of other peoples privacy. This really doesn't matter as my entries are all about my internal thoughts and me, me, me! They could just as likely be imaginary people as physical individuals for all you know and it shouldn't matter.
«deep breath» here we go.
2018-09-29 Journal Entry
Upon entering this world I am greeted by some natives. The "burners greeting" is a warm conscious hug. Not the sort of empty one that may exist in greetings or farewells to friends in the outside world. This conscious kindness and connection that is delivered with such respect and grace in Red Earth City is the first thing I noticed and all that was needed for me to know that actually, this might be my home.
I was anxious arriving into the well established yet radically different community even after the warm greeting. I was not ready to put myself in so much uncertainty as I have traveled here alone. My camp is as far east as they were when I arrived at ~11am yesterday. I setup my hiking tent under the shade. I was alone and questioning whether this was the right decision - should I throw myself in? It certainly was a safe one. I knew I could always walk to the themed camps.
I heard stories of simply becoming best friends with your neighbours. I found the soil hard when setting up my tent. Something that usually is not an issue where I go hiking, and of course, I didn't have a hammer. Instead of finding a rock I approached my neighbour who was quietly reading at the time.
"Hi, I am Aqeel" I said confidently. Standing up and turning around while outwardly looking like every other person you see in a cafe reading: "I am _" with right hand moved to be placed to chest. I borrowed a hammer.
There was something basic yet simply "real" in the greeting. A basic gesture conveying all the human complexity of identification. To me, I feel this is self expression. Indeed as I have been writing about my experiences so far and have only focused on the smallest of human communications, it is what resonates with me. This is radical self expression. I learned more about these creatures during these interactions that I would have from a "default world" hello. Yeah, it doesn't always mean it's useful information, but it's about themselves nonetheless and therefore must be self expression.
Everyone is like this during the day (the night I shall get to). I ventured out to the themed camps excited, lost, and armed with my open mind and attitude. Before I went out I was deciding what to take, as usual, but also what to wear. I was wearing my tailored black dress pants that feel like PJ's and a grey jumper. I am very comfortable in my pants, but I also wanted to express myself a bit more. My brown, classic 3 button jacket. It's formal, but light and very me. However, instead of completing the suit with dress shoes and a shirt. I wore thongs and no shirt. I was telling: this style is canonical, but it is absolutely me - academic right to the inside.
I had (have?) social anxiety since a young age. My family are 1st generation immigrants fleeing persecution in Pakistan. I am the first Australian born in my family. This lead to difficulty in me being able to integrate and socialise. I had no role models of it, my parents were entering a new world much like I am now, but that world is not so kind, in fact it's a bit inhumane to immigrants. I don't blame them for the lack of better social upbringing. I have been getting better. In my late teens I started ensuring I had tissues or napkins on my person. I knew then how I could add/provide in a social environment. It's surprising how effective this was for me. This continued until my late 20's (now) however through observation of my journal entries mid last year, you can see that I have formulated some idea of who I am in this world and society and what my role may be. Approaching people though, despite this and my experience knowledge of friendliness at Red Earth City was near impossible.
My first stop on this initial venture was the unicorn orphanage. A place for orphans like myself. I walked into rather quiet temporary outdoor setup that had ~6 people in it. They were talking among themselves, I walked in and announced my arrival with a hello, a question, and a statement:
"Hello, is this the unicorn orphanage?"
"Well I am an orphan, first time burner, first time at a festival even"
– Welcome, would like some unicorn candy?
(It's hard to say no to sugar)
_ and _ at the orphanage were lovely and walked me around the paddock of Red Earth City, pointing out the sites. They also described the sites and is to do in simple/plain English. This simply factual and logistical tour was comforting and familiar. I had an idea of the perimeter and what "native citizens" do. The information desk was also familiar for tourists like myself.
Interesting, at least I felt like a tourist. Not yet entirely there, maybe it's because that's what I'm used to being. It was decommodification that forced me to loose this attitude. My money means nothing here, my person is everything and only. Even though workshops were run by others, it was my engagement that makes them exist - not the money.
Radical self expression, and decommodification. These two principles alone have shown their power in supporting connectivity. Connectivity providing community, happiness, and information. I identified this within mere hours of entering Red Earth City. Less than an hour in the paddock.
I was still in my shell, afraid, anxious. Am I doing this right? Next to me was a camp offering a "values & goals setting" workshop. This is something in that in hindsight I believe I have formulated but ask me at a time of anxiety and I am uncertain of everything. I stepped in, the workshop starting in 10 minutes and sat down on the outside perimeter nearby someone else on their own who was lying down. This person was _ and they were waiting for their friends to arrive. As I was making small talk, they arrived. I was quickly greeted by "Themed-Character _" and immediately was disarmed by their honest, direct, and probing small talk - my ideal interaction. Also part of the group were _ and _. They are beautiful people: intelligent, creative, rational, brave and honest. I spent more time with them and I was welcomed into their family as _ put it elegantly last night - we stumble across long lost cousins. I have my space alone still where I am writing this entry, but I have the source and gateway to expand myself beyond my thoughts – connection, community, friends.
The Friday night came, I had already freed myself with dance during the day and had a nap to rejuvenate. The day proved how great this city is. The community is friendly, loving and welcoming. We meet once per year, why wouldn't you party? I ventured out alone.
The paddock is transformed with lights illuminating sculptural art pieces. Sound swirls around the paddock through music being played at various themed camps. Step in and let dance rather than wait in a line to give someone your money. Walking about I met some interesting people, they approached me - I was still too shy to approach them by myself.
Recreational use of controlled chemicals is common here. From my experience yesterday interacting with the people using these substances they were just people having fun. Sure, a bit more creative and edgy but no different to interacting with people who have enjoyed a few alcoholic drinks. In fact, from the small experience I had, it was more pleasant of an environment than one fueled purely and heavily by alcohol. This is likely because of the awareness of the potency, dangers, and effects of these chemicals that the users I met have. It's a responsible use culture, something that doesn't exist with alcohol in this country. I make only observations as I realise this is a complex relationship/culture to foster and there are every real factors of addiction and abuse that exist with all pleasure chemicals. To misquote Nietzsche:
Drugs and alcohol make your problems superficially disappear immediately. That's why they feel good. It's fake, obviously.
– Nietzsche, probably.
I had an early (midnight) night on Friday. A reflection would be incomplete without mentioning my first experience of a fire art burn. At ~9pm, Burners congregated at the centre of the paddock for the burning of the tree. This burn was a sort of 'eco-burn'. AFAIK the timber in the tree was produced with no petrochemicals or something like that. I could not help but cringe at the irony. Burning things is quite bad for air pollution. However, the fire was more than just a burning. The tree structure was beautiful, the fire was tall and burned exceptionally clean. It was pure energy as it roared ~20 metres high causing the ground to vibrate around a similar radius. The moon was rising, the congregation was large. This was a ritual, a religious act and experience. The symbol of energy completely consuming an object that you have placed meaning to is powerful. It is no wonder in human history why ritual burning was so common. Today we acknowledge burning people is bad, we recognise our environmental impact too. The burn was conscientious of this and even though it was counter to what it represents it was an environmental sacrifice. Is the symbol powerful enough to outweigh the damage? Is just talking/saying the thing (not) enough? Having experienced this great flame, I can say it was powerful and the irony leaves me with cognitive dissidence. Maybe that was it's job – am now completely mindful of an environmental impact made by humans.
2018-09-30 Yesterdays Reflection
I was outstanded at how much I was able to write yesterday. The above took me hours mostly because I'm writing by hand instead of typing and used most my Saturday. When I was done ~16:00 I felt free, light, happy! I had a delicious and early dinner, layered and dressed up exactly how I would in my everyday life with the addition of my warm led flower crown. I was ready to head out for the night this time with friends.
The sun was setting, I met with my new friends. Before heading out we sat down, held hands, and took a few moments to share our love and energy with each other before heading out together. Basic, simple stuff, but such a strong acknowledgment of our intent to connect with each other. These humans including _ and _ who arrived late Friday, and _ who I met a little earlier I have known for only a few hours. Because of the cultural attitudes, values, and beliefs (my year 10 English teacher should be proud of my CAVB reference) of this place - joy is just easier. We headed out to dance to the sunset connected as friends.
Last night was the burning of the Effigy. It's a ritual burning of a structure is strong in the metaphorical sense. The Effigy is the monument that represents the booming voice, solidarity, and philosophy of Burners. It was the largest structure here at Burning Seed. Tonight unlike the one prior, I started with a connection to the community. As I sit closely with my friends watching the ritual burning begin with the most spectacular fire twirling show, it was natural to explicitly consensually and platonically touch. We were sharing the experience closely with each other, chatting and getting to know each other further. Those sitting around us all with their own group, each with their own natural interaction between each other. Despite differences in personality and their form of expression, we were all connected by a kindness and unity.
Charm was high, gifts floated around - there was a cheese platter on a beautiful wooden panel being passed among us all. Shared goods, shared love, shared respect, gifting. The Effigy began to burn, and the fire began to swirl, the energy both consumed and released was intense. It was a swirling ball of fire that had my eyes, attention, and intention. It let off tornadoes of smoke and dust. This burn had no irony or dissidence. It was simple. With love and kindness being gifted left right and centre during this burn, existing was simple for a change.
The structure collapsed, and the roaring of the fire faded in exchange for the voices of the community. As the structure was deemed safe to approach another ritual follows. Burners removed their clothes and ran laps around the still burning remains. I stripped down in the freezing night to nothing bug my flower crown and joined in the ritual. The ground was warm and dusty, the large remains still very much on fire emanating heat that singed our skins. Spinning in freedom and jubilation also gave a break to our skin as it faces the fire. Hundreds of naked humans and it was no different to when we were clothed. I was as comfortable as if I were naked alone in my own home. I am a Burner now.
Finding my clothes in the dark was a short quest. Putting them back on again my skin was tingling and felt clean like just after a hot shower. My night proceeded with dance until the early AM's.
Tonight is the burning of the Temple. I am feeling brave enough to finally release some anxieties that have been plaguing me for the last decade. I am going to write these on the Temple itself for them to be released in tonight's silent burn.
2018-10-01 Journal Entry
I took a short nap after my last entry. I didn't have the time to write on the
Temple itself. Instead I wrote a short (1 page) letter on the final page of this
book and tore it out. As I was walking from my camp on the edge of the forest to
the Temple I shed tears multiple times. It was the first time I had written down
my abusive ex-"
lovers partners" name down in a decade.
"It's okay to love multiple people."
"It's okay to love your friends."
"It's not okay to hate people because of this."
I started the letter with words of wisdom and statements of facts that only really make sense these 10 years later. This gave me the confidence to proceed in acknowledging _ _'s reality and the grip of the trauma that I have been holding on to. During these mere months in 2008-09 through physical and emotional abuse fueled by jealousy and insanity. I was weaponised and hurt friends and loved ones, simply to what I thought was to please - and make stop. I died during this abuse.
_ exploited me and lacked the intelligence to see the best in me. She lost. Back then she made me believe I was a fool, it's laughable to me only now.
To my dearest friend, friends, and loved ones I acknowledged my actions immediately. I have since been trying to be my best for the memories of you.
Well that was pretty much the gist of the letter that I had not intended to reproduce. What I intended to write about today is the effect of me going through this process. Burning of these handwritten letters was a technique suggested to me by my first (and excellent) psychologist _ _ all those years back. Then, my thoughts lacked the complexity to make the process as symbolic as necessary. I approached the Temple channeling the strength of everyone in the City and with the humbleness that comes with it. It was a religious experience. The Temple was cordoned off already to prepare for the burn; but as I walked with intent, alone, and with a small piece of paper in my hands, I must have caught the eye of a ranger who met me at the barrier and knew exactly what I wanted done.
I felt vulnerable, I have put out in the world what has been hurting me for so long. I hinted to my future thoughts and conclusions that even of now, not yet fully formulated. I so desperately wanted it to burn to release me of this feeling. Let me forget it.
Walking back to camp, meeting with friends, dancing to the sunset.
My vulnerability quickly faded as I let music flow through my body. The burn was pushed back an hour, so we headed back to friends camp to sneak in a cooked meal. As the food was just about done and time to the burn was practically now, _ asked: "How has the past few days been for you Aqeel?"
Reactively I began to summarize these journal entries from the beginning up until now. As I approached closer to the present in my thoughts my impromptu spoken words became less eloquent. I had not yet processed this evening through a journal entry, nor explored those future thoughts, that are those now:
My amazing partner, _ _, and I have had a relationship built upon no expectation of behaviour for 7.5+ years. This is so important to me as it means we are just partners because individually want to be. There is no power dynamic, no pressure emotionally to stay together. For a person that has been scared by entrapment in a domestic relationship due to experience of an abusive one - this new style of relationship let me flourish, as good relationships do. Earlier this year I've identified that I'm polyamorous. At first, I didn't think of it as an identity but rather a logical extension of _ and I's relationship structure (that it can be also). For my identity it extends from how I most naturally hold personal relationships with people. I'm most comfortable when forming deep emotional and intellectual connections with people. Desires of physical touch and affection comes next and rarely the relationship becomes sexual. I'm not a sex fiend, so far from it actually, sex it just another nice way to connect for me.
The last paragraph is what I was talking about in my first two sentences of my letter. In context, it makes sense to why the abuse was so damaging to me. That relationship tore away every one of my core values and punished me for my own personal identity. These are the processed versions of my thoughts as I was somewhat now rambling incoherently towards the end of my answer to _'s question.
By the time I finished my story and the food was consumed, the ritual burning of the Temple that I was so eager to attend had already started. It didn't matter, I had created my release already. From the action of passing that note over to the ranger I began the process that was to occur and be driven entirely by me. My release occurred in the brief telling of this story to friends at camp in response to a simple question. I made my thoughts completely acknowledged as real. Those words and phrases in my head:
"Empathy and Respect",
"Can I, May I, Will I, Do I, Shall I, Could I",
"Truth and Happiness",
"You are self inspiring",
that I'd play on repeat to drive myself to the point I am now from the far madness I was left in 10 years ago had served their purpose. The burning had no action in this, let's be serious it's just a fire. I made the reality myself.
The environment, community, and ritual did make the process more comfortable, supportive, and directed respectively. When we finally started walking to the silent Temple burn. I felt the task was done, this is the conclusion. I was walking alone and looked up to the stars and I felt to slow right down. In the foreground of the stars were bright orange embers. Gently dancing and being swept away by the breeze well in this terrestrial realm. For the remainder of the burn I didn't look down, I was fixed smiling at the idea of my letter being free in this world we create.
I had transformative experience for my mental state at Burning Seed that isn't represented in the journal entries alone. I'm not claiming to be healed, and I'm not sure I would want to be whatever healed means anyway. This experience manifested over a weekend but was the accumulation of over 10 years of mental self maintenance with all of my intellect - that's longer than I've been study physics and I'm doing a Ph.D in it now. You may notice concepts that I've mentioned here in previous posts, I have curated my experience and thoughts carefully through cognitive behavior therapy since my first psychologist asked me to read Man's Search for Meaning to lead me to this point in everything that I do. My process: I consume ideas, create new ones, and attempt to anneal my mind to remove any cognitive dissidence.
No person, action, religion, God, or ritual is the solution to your problems except for the one you create for yourself. Cognitive behaviour therapy is awesome, identify yourself and use it for your own good. Don't duplicate the effort of others, consume it, add to it, and make it your own. You are self inspiring.
Abusive relationships inflict a very specific type of suffering - let's stop that.
I am a man and my abuser was a woman - it happens.
Figure 1: Slowing down on approach to the Temple burn, arms out, absorbing the moment.
Figure 2: Eyes locked to the flying embers, arms linked with new friends.
Figure 3: My little place of quiet on the very edge of Red Earth City where I sat writing these journal entries.