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Ignite. Or be gone.

At Burning Man, I was a virgin, as first-timers are called. Two weeks later, at the 19th gathering of the shamans in Iceland, I was the only uninitiated. And so, for close to a month, in two places on earth that could not be more geologically different, and at two gatherings that could not be more culturally and energetically dissimilar, I have been mulling the meaning of being the outsider and the insider, of the value of both, and of the surprisingly porous membrane between the two.

I began as an outsider to both experiences, I was an empty vessel, a sponge. Everything was new, mysterious, confusing – and that was both exciting and uncomfortable. It was like walking into an ongoing, animated conversation you very much wanted to understand and be part of but couldn’t. I asked the questions– to others, to myself – that a child asks: What is that? What are you doing? What does that mean?

Curiosity is a wondrous thing, and being an outsider is an stimulating place to be. But it is also a lonely place. An outsider is, alas, outside, outside the circle of friendship, the heat of the fire. An outsider is outside collective history, outside collective memory.

And then, a few days in, things begin to change. The experience of yesterday becomes a memory, the memory a story, the story shared. The days together accumulate, the stories accumulate. And one day you wake up and you realize there is a place for you, a place that is held being for you, and you slowly inhabit it. The circle expands to let you in.

Knowing that you can travel afar/
But that everywhere is home.

3 comments

1 Richard Greene { 09.28.17 at 6:34 am }

Anything more on Iceland? Any feelings of envy of a homogeneous country not divided by racial friction? Or were you proud to be from a diverse country?

2 Lauren { 09.29.17 at 6:39 pm }

Yes, more on Iceland this next Wednesday, Richard.

3 Lauren { 09.29.17 at 6:45 pm }

I am thinking hard about your question about “homogeneity.” Because Iceland’s population is so small (less than the city of Portland), many many non-Icelanders work in the country, especially during summer/ fall. So there is considerable diversity. For example: A bartender was from Spain, a barista from Morocco, a hotel clerk from India, a retail clerk from Italy. I have never been anywhere where so many different languages are being spoken on the streets. Also, the country has 11 — yes, I said 11 — viable political parties. I guess one can look at homogeneity/ diversity in a number of different ways.

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