Learn how worship your body with the same reverence you show when entering a sacred space of prayer, says Kitty Cavalier. Artwork:Pedro Sacadura
As a little girl, I loved volunteering to clean my church after mass on Sundays. My family and a few other parish members would polish the pews, switch out the flowers on the altar, sweep the long processional aisle of dust bunnies and organize the hymnals. As a very devoted little Catholic girl, I felt like I was being given a backstage pass to my favorite concert. Tending and caring for what I considered God’s house was a huge honor and made me feel quite elite.
As time (read: puberty) went by, my beliefs about religion began to shift tremendously. As Mae West once said: “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” The church no longer felt even remotely like home – and as for many of us, my spiritual path since has followed more of a curve than a straight line. But there’s been one constant throughout: my body.
“My body is my temple” – it sounds so cliché. But let’s really think about it for a second. A temple is defined as “a space devoted to religious reverence,” and I can think of no greater house of worship than the cathedral of my very own heart. There is no holier a song than the sweet hum of my inhale and exhale. The light in my eyes mirrors the warmth of a candle’s flame. My skin houses and protects me like the smooth, lavish marble of the Taj Mahal, and the flush of my cheeks after an orgasm can put the ceiling of Sistine chapel to shame.
Yes, my body IS my temple. So today I’d like to share with you one of my personal favorite rituals to start 2016 off right: body worship. There is no way to do this ritual wrong. Just like learning a prayer or a hymn, a little heart, a sprinkling of soul, and practice is all it takes.
Suggested supplies for this body worship ritual:
Body Oil (such as coconut oil)
A mirror propped against a wall
A body scrub (like some sea salt mixed with body oil), or a loofah
Candlelight, incense, flowers, or anything else that helps you set sacred space
Music: click here for a free, hand-curated Body Worship Ritual playlist
1. Set Sacred Space Imagine you are setting space for the high holy days of your inner temple. You can light candles, burn incense, place rose petals on your bath mat, fold your towel as you would for a guest, play music, or anything else that evokes the spirit of the sacred for you.
2. Tending The Temple Grounds Step into the shower or bath. As you wash and scrub your skin, do so with the same care, attention and tenderness that you would show to the house of the Divine. Scrub and loofah your elbows and knees with the same softness and reverence you would show when walking into a sacred temple. Imagine that as you caress your body with soap suds, every bubble of soap is like a flower laid down in offering at the altar of YOU. When you rinse your body, feel the water wash away that which no longer serves you, and it’s healing power to make space for something new to enter.
3. The Sacrament of Body Worship Now you have prepared the temple, you are ready for ceremony and worship! Place a soft blanket or towel on the floor in front of your mirror. Position yourself naked by candlelight seated on the floor and bow to the beauty of your reflection. Take the body oil and warm it between your holy hands, using your breath to blow a prayer of gratitude into the oil. Then, allow your hands to be both pilgrim and priestess, as they slowly, reverently massage prayers into your skin. Approach each curve and corner of your body as a different room in the temple waiting to be explored.
4. Encountering Eternity When you feel complete with your body worship, get very close to the mirror. Stare deep into your own eyes and see if you can glimpse the part of you that is eternal, that never ages, and transcends time. Just like that sense of divinity we feel when we walk on sacred ground, that spirit is right there, woven into the fibers of your DNA. All that’s required to encounter it, is the courage to really look.
You’ve been wanting to go for years. Your biggest regret is not having gone back in ‘97, when those two surfer dudes offered you a free ticket and a ride in their VW bus. You almost went in 2003, but ended up at an Iyengar retreat on Maui instead. Whatever. No one cares. You’re a newbie, a Playa virgin, and you’re (finally) heading to Black Rock City to party like a fifth dimensional rock star, and see what all the fuss is about. And you only kinda, sorta know what you’re doing.
Not to worry, dear Burner-to-Be. I am a seasoned Playa veteran, and I have some tips for you:
MAKE ACTUAL CAMP While paying to crash at an established camp with showers and a meal plan and maybe even hot Tantric hookers seems to be all the rage these days, if this is your first Burn, please, please, please resist the urge to go the princess route. Burning Man isn’t just a ritual, it is an initiation, and there is something to be said for driving yourself to Gerlach with a carful of water, kale chips and camping gear, and finding yourself a spot. Hammering rebar into the hard desert earth, pitching your tent, and fashioning your shade structure. Spending the week getting dirty and staying dirty, and being responsible for keeping your nest clean and safe and welcoming.
It’s grounding, the act of making/maintaining your own camp, and it connects you to the Playa and to the festival in ways you’ll otherwise miss if you pay someone else to do it for you. Radical self-reliance (a foundational Burning Man tenet) doesn’t actually mean: Pay people to do shit you can’t be bothered to do yourself. Just sayin’…
DO THE GIFTING THING For starters, Burning Man is a gifting economy, so be sure to bring offerings for your fellow Burners – the heartfelt kind that make people smile, and laugh, and feel delightful. Gifts are a great way to break the ice with strangers, as well as to seed the Playa with your energy. So, make sure your offerings are thoughtful, and high-vibing –handmade key chains, gluten-free hash brownies, extemporaneous odes to noteworthy brow arches – that sort of thing.
HYDRATE The desert has an unquenchable lust for moisture, and thus spends her time sucking every possible drop out of your system. Dehydration can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention, and slurping steadily. Plus, you have to factor in the toll the drugs and the alcohol are taking on your system, as well as the exertion from so many cross-town bike rides. Commit yourself to following the cardinal rule of hydration: if you’re not peeing A LOT, you’re not drinking enough. Period.
BRING A BIKE And lock it – even if you think you’re only darting into Center Camp for a quick chai. Time isn’t ever linear, but it’s especially un-so at Burning Man, where fourth dimensional synchronicities trump your iCal…and some people just suck. Oh, and be sure to put something glowy and instantly recognizable on it so that you can find it in the dark, while tripping your face off.
CLEAN UP YOUR S*** Literally. Take pride in helping to keep the Port-a-Potties clean, and don’t throw shit down the hole that didn’t come out of your body, or isn’t toilet paper. If you sprinkle and splatter, clean it up. Don’t squat on the seat with your Playa filthy shoes and not wipe it down after. Think of the person stepping in after you. Are you leaving the port-a-pottie cleaner than you found it? If not, what can you do to tidy up? This is your festival, Black Rock City is your town. Show some pride. Participate in its maintenance. Lead by example.
CARRY SUPPLIES Carry a bag with you at all times. Put these things in it:
Water Sunscreen Lip balm (with sunscreen) Electrolytes Aromatherapy spray (You. Are. Welcome.) Offerings for others Snacks A ziploc bag for trash Enough drugs to share with those in your immediate vicinity Goggles Scarf or hankerchief
BE A DUSTBUSTER Prepare for Playa dust. It is everywhere and unavoidable, and will turn anything and everything white, including your hair and your car. This is what the goggles and the scarf/hankie are for – to cover your face during those impromptu dust storms that blind you in an instant. It is also why you must tie down everything in your that could possibly blow away. It is your responsibility to keep the Playa pristine. It is your responsibility to keep your fellow Burners safe from flying water bottles and feather boas.
WARDROBE Nights get cold. Wear layers. And shoes you can easily/comfortably dance/ride/leap/skip/run/dance/dance/dance in.
HAIR AND MAKE-UP Don’t even try to brush your hair. It will dread, and be disgusting. Sunscreen is your friend, as are wide-brimmed hats and daytime sleeves. I know plenty of gals like to go the naked/lingerie-clad route, and that’s just dandy, but do be mindful of the intensity of the sunlight on your skin, and take the necessary precautions.
Slather your feet in Dr. Bronners every morning to stave off the dreaded Playa Foot, and don’t even think about walking barefoot on the earth. Playa Foot is essentially a chemical burn caused by the very alkaline dust that comprises the hard, crackly desert floor. It hurts, and is gross; and you, my friend, want nothing to do with it. Trust me.
Bring biodegradable baby wipes with which to bathe yourself. Use them daily. Share them freely. Bring more than you think you need. Abundance rocks.
THIRD BASE ONLY Even if you’re sure he’s your soul mate (or at the very least your twin flame) and every cell in your body is screaming Put it in!!!, you are still wise to avoid penetration during the festival. Even if you’re sharing a tent with your husband, and you’re both totally in the mood, you’ll still probably want to avoid penetration, because Playa dust mixed with sex goo is just straight up gross. Stick with foreplay. Plus, it’ll make the sex you have once you’re back in civilization all the better.
SEE THE SIGHTS Spend some quality time with The Man, The Temple, and the art. Traditionally, we give The Man those energies, patterns and thought forms we are ready to release. Keep this in mind while paying him a visit. Carve out some time to acknowledge the things, people and energies that are no longer serving you, and offer them up; that’s what he’s there for. The Temple is a deeply mystical, feminine structure in which we honor our friends, colleagues and loved ones who have passed on from this realm. Do participate in these rituals. They are real. They are meaningful. They are the energetic architecture of the entire Burning Man experience. And the art? Well, the art is just rad. I mean, where else can you engage (i.e. poke, lick, caress, climb) a giant, flaming animatronic snake skeleton underneath a starry, full moon-lit sky?
DON’T JUDGE Watch your judgments. Look at your contractions. Commit to assuming the best and focusing on the wonderful. Your every thought, gesture and comment absolutely shape the collective experience. So be your best. Radiate that stuff far and wide.
BE AUTONOMOUS As long as we’re on the topic, if you happen to be going to Burning Man with your lover, do not stay glued together at the hip the whole time. Make proper Playa dates instead. Also, create clear agreements as to what sort of extra-relational canoodling is fair game. Arm yourself with emotional/relational tools to deal with what comes up. Jealousy happens, but it certainly doesn’t have to ruin your Burn.
LOSE YOUR CREW Be sure to have some solo adventures – this will open you to experiences you might not otherwise attract/brave in an insulated communal cluster. Wander into the deep Playa by yourself. As well, take some quiet time to yourself each day. Allow yourself to receive and to integrate the magic you are co-creating. Rest. Replenish. Nourish.
BE YOURSELF Finally, remember that what makes Burning Man so amazing is that it is a safe and expansive playground in which you get to be you. Your favorite you. Your most open, authentic, real-deal you. Remember that this is who you really are – always – and that you don’t need to wait for a week-long freak fest in the desert to be it. So commit take this you home with you, and amplify it out into the world where it inspires others to be their own best, most authentic thems, as well. In the name of planetary service ‘n all.
I think that about covers it. Godspeed, my friend. Here’s to your best Burn ever!