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How Burning Man inspired me to open myself to what’s possible

Let’s face it. We all feel it. Even if we don’t say it, we think it. We wrestle with it. We even hide it. There’s something we want to change about ourselves. It could be the way we look – Maybe we want to lose 20 pounds. Or, it could be that we want to find more success in our love life, by seeking a new relationship. We then set these ambitions into action. Initially, we launch grand plans and go fiercely after our goals. Nothing’s going to get in our way. We’re determined, we’re in the moment, and it feels great. We feverishly hit those hour-long spin classes. We put ourselves out there to find that perfect love connection. We’re feeling open to change. But then something happens. We find that despite our best intentions,  the motivation dwindles. And almost as quick as it started, the fire fizzles.

W hat Happened?

If you’re asking this question, it’s time now to tap into your spiritual side for more clarity. As this is where you’ll uncover the ability to do whatever you set your intention on – be it dropping 20 pounds or scoring big in love. Look from within. When you’re able to do this, anything becomes possible. I discovered the importance of this in the most unlikely of places… in the middle of Black Rock Desert, at Burning Man.

A couple of years ago I went to Burning Man for the first time. I didn’t exactly know what I was in for. Naturally, we all envision an experience to look and feel a certain way, and we subscribe to the expectations we construct in our minds. So we think we have it all figured out, and ourselves mentally prepared. But then sometimes we get blindsided by the unexpected, completely changing our perspective. It’s that unanticipated gem – The person you meet who changes your direction. The life-altering experience that opens your eyes to seeing things in new light. Or the note you write that sets you free. In this way my experience at Burning Man changed my outlook on some areas of my life I had been trying to find more clarity on.

I’m going to confess right upfront that when I first flirted with the idea of going to Burning Man, I had a healthy level of caution, and maybe an even larger serving of judgment about it all. I know myself – I’m not a camper. There isn’t much that attracts me about pitching a tent in the middle of a usually uninhabitable landscape, taking up residence in a camp amidst a sea of 70,000 strangers, enduring the sweltering desert heat of the day and near freezing my Brazilian buns off at night, and surviving near-blinding afternoon dust storms just in time to do my make-up for a night out in “Black Rock City”.  Could I seriously be volunteering to  wake up each day with a fresh layer of dust in my hair, to shower without a bathroom door (only every other day), and to think of packing every piece of food and every tool I would need, and enough water and refrigeration for four days?

I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. I mean, i anticipated it would be the experience of a lifetime – one for the books! But I’m pretty set in my ways and I far prefer my feather bed to an air mattress. I thought, “Fernanda, maybe this isn’t for you.” I had my doubts and I kept wrestling with the question like a ping-pong match in my head: “Should I go?” “Should I not?” “Should I go?” The struggle was real.

It was true, i did feel like a fish out of water in the Black Rock Desert. But unexpectedly, magically, the harsh experience changed me. By the end of it I was no longer the same person who came to Nevada just 96 hours earlier. In fact, the entire  ordeal made such a big impression, empowering me with overwhelming new self-discovery, and opening my eyes to some lessons I had long been needing to learn.

The big one for me was leveraging the power of openness and acceptance, and channeling this into the areas of my life I wanted to improve upon. I discovered that by embracing these two mindsets so many possibilities can be opened up. I want to share these stories with you, as I do with my clients in the gym, because the valuable nuggets of insight I picked up at Burning Man are applicable to anything that you may want to improve in your life, (and can be especially helpful in keeping you on track toward achieving weight-loss or fitness goals). It all starts with a willingness to embark on a journey of self-discovery.

I had finally decided that I was all-in. I was going to Burning Man! But this was a very last-minute decision, considering that most people plan for months ahead of Burning Man. First, you would secure a camp to stay in. Then there’s all of the gear, food, water, and the list goes on. But not us – when we first arrived at the gates to Black Rock City we didn’t have very much planned out. So, after we entered we visited a few camps to see if we could find a new home for the next four days. I found it most surprising that the people already settled in those camps were not very open or accepting of us and nobody welcomed us to stay. Granted, they didn’t know us, but this attitude felt so inconsistent with the idea I had of ” the spirit of Burning Man”. I had thought it was all about embracing people, community, and shared experience? Within those first few hours driving around I became increasingly frustrated and started losing my patience. It got pretty heavy for me, and I began judging. I wondered, “Did I make a mistake by coming here?”

We pressed on. We kept driving around and searching while I grew more and more unsure of myself, questioning whether I had made the right decision being there. But I was there. And I had a choice to make: I could make the best of the situation and find the meaning in all of it, or I could remain closed off and judgmental – only guaranteeing a negative outcome. I knew I needed to change my mindset because I was already feeling the heaviness of judging so much. For me, that’s my personal stumbling block and I needed to tap into a quiet place within myself to look for guidance.

hen, the unexpected magic happens.

We arrived in a camp, and met these people; so nice, so sweet, and so welcoming. They approached us like angels, like we were their sisters. Not only did they share their space and food with us, they were so excited for us to be at our first Burning Man. These people were strangers who instantly felt like our kin. And right then something for me just clicked. It was that sublime “aha” moment that made me take a step back and say, “Fernanda, if these people can give you the gift of acceptance even though they don’t even know you, and say, ‘Welcome, you’re part of our family now’, just think of how beautifully things can turn out?” It’s when you don’t give up, you go to that place within yourself and open your mind to accepting what’s around you, that you will be rewarded with a unique experience.

Once I was able to tackle my mental block, I found myself enjoying being in the camp with this group of really interesting, smart people. We talked and I listened to them share their stories. I got to know who they were and what Burning Man meant to each of them. I immersed myself in some deep conversations, heard touching stories, and shared many laughs. It was much-needed soul food at the end of that long day and I learned so much from them. None of this would have happened had I been unable to tap into myself, into that place where I allowed myself to open up to new possibilities that challenge the usual way I think about how things should be.

The value of my experience was enriched when I heard of a friend of mine who experienced something similar. She was lost, going through a dark time, and dealing with a sticky break-up that was spilling over into other areas of her life. She too was invited to go to Burning Man. She didn’t know anybody, but she decided to go anyway, hoping for some perspective and clarity to take back into her life and fix it. Once she arrived in her camp with the people who had invited her, she knew something was off. Their interaction was awkward, there was tension, and she was not connecting well. Although she tried her best to adapt, the situation didn’t turn out as she’d hoped. She took off on her bike to get some space, but very soon a harsh dust storm hit and she found herself hopelessly lost in the darkening desert. As if it weren’t traumatic enough that she didn’t want to be in her camp, now she didn’t even know how to find her way back. She felt angry about the whole situation, asking herself, “What am I doing here?”  She just wanted to go home. She felt sad. Alone. Unloved. Disconnected. Hopeless. Stranded.

During the 24-hour period she spent adrift, something remarkable happened for her. She was struck by the connection between what was happening at Burning Man and in her life outside of it. “This is exactly what I’ve been feeling in my life back home”, she told me before she started to cry. I encouraged her to look within herself for the meaning and to continue this journey of self-discovery. It was then that she met two amazing people who would embrace her, accept her, and love her throughout the whole Burning Man experience. They took her into their camp, supported her, and gave her exactly what she needed. She realized that there is so much we can receive, from anywhere or anyone, if we just allow ourselves to be open to it without judgment – without our controlling voice that says, “What I need is this, not that.” By the end of Burning Man, my friend felt very full in her heart, happy and ready to start putting her life back together.

The last story I’ll share is one that’s far more personal, about the power of letting go – like a spiritual cleanse for the mind and heart. You may already know that at Burning Man they construct a beautiful temple where people go throughout the week to pray, mourn, discover, meditate, and connect. They write notes and bring pictures to leave in the temple – possessions that are meaningful to them or their memory of someone. On the last day of the festival the temple is burned down, which is symbolic of being released from the pain that a picture, possession or memory holds.

When I went to the temple I was overwhelmed by the energy. The raw emotion was palpable, and I could feel the true heartbreak afflicting some of the people who had come there to purge.  It was not something I would usually do, but the energy of this place motivated me to sit and write down some of my intentions for different areas of my life that I want to improve upon – with my relationship, my work, family and so on. As I did this, I started to face some things that I had been wanting to let go of. I sat suspended in that moment with my feelings, and with the reality that I had been failing to do so. I looked at the notes I had written and all the messages and memories came flooding back into my mind. This was very hard, but I knew I had a choice make again: I could walk away and say, “I don’t want to deal with this bullshit. I’m going to go party!” Or I could really focus on my intentions to find peace with these things once and for all.

I returned to that place within myself I had explored earlier at Burning Man, and while looking at the notes I had written I asked, “Does this particular item or feeling serve me?” If the answer was no, I taped the note to the wall. As I began to release, the list grew longer. I began to realize that the notes I was writing down were relevant to so many different areas of my life. It was one of the first times I’d had this kind of spiritual awakening, when those intentions of what I want to change about myself were staring me in the face. I put it all out there, and it made me feel so good. It was a priceless moment of unexpected self-discovery.

I share these stories from Burning Man with my clients because I believe that in fitness, the physical body and the soul walk together side by side. It’s not enough to just go to the gym to reach your fitness goals, much like it’s not just about signing up for the latest dating app on your phone to find your perfect match. What it’s really about is being open to exploring different parts of your life and connecting with your purpose. You have to be open to exploring your inner self. If you don’t like the number on the scale, you need to have an open mind to figure out why things are not turning out the way you want. That’s where you’ll find your answer. I always try to tap into that place with my clients, to help them define their intention – their why power. That comes from your own self-discovery, and the connection with yourself.

Then the fire not only reignites, it sizzles.

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