I burned my wedding dress in the Burning Man temple this year. Or rather it burned while I watched—tears gushing from my eyes, snot running down my face. An unapologetic display of gratitude and grief. Ignoring the impulse to run into the fire and wrap myself in the warm comfort of the past, I chose instead to wrap my arms around me—knees tucked into my chest like a scared kid on her first day of school. Because that’s what it felt like—the first day of a brutal lesson in love that I was only just beginning to understand.
I liked to think I was good at relationships. This was my first error among many—attaching my ego to some version of relating based on doing it “right.” Always the consummate A+ student through-and-through. But when my relationship GPA depends on being a good girl (need to get into college to find a husband after all), then my wants/needs/desires get left behind out of fear of disrupting the class.
So I had to burn down the institution in order to see what was left. Because I knew whatever survived the blaze would not only be true, it would be the raw material in which I could turn lead into gold. The way of the alchemist—sharing her gifts once the inessential has been stripped away.
I met someone at Burning Man this year who asked me a simple question: When do you feel most powerful?
The answer came quickly: I feel most in my power when I dance/speak/move like no one is watching.
When I behave like no one is watching, I move from desire—an internally-motivated way of being that is rooted in truth and profound self-love. When I think others are watching, I notice how I posture myself in order to cater to their needs or assuage my discomfort.
-Who is this person?
-What do they want from me?
-What do I want from them?
-What do they think of me?
-Do they like me?
-Who do they know that I might know?
-Who holds the power right now and how can I get more?
-Do I feel jealous of this person?
-Do I think I am better than this person?
I think most of us go through life in a constant state of external reference—placing our power and agency into the hands of others rather than in the center of our own bodies. This shows up most powerfully in our most intimate relationships—both romantic and familial.
My intention at this year’s burn was to reclaim my power and agency through a revirginizing ritual. To be clear, revirginizing isn’t about denying my sexuality. It’s about reclaiming the original definition of the word “virgin.” In biblical times, a virgin was a woman who was owned by no man. She could own land. She was considered whole unto herself. That was my prayer. To return power to my center and choose relationship from wholeness—not unconscious patterns based on filling some ego-void or antiquated systems intended to deny a woman her holy right to erotic power and fulfillment.
The ritual was simple: walk to the temple in my wedding dress, take it off, and leave the temple naked. I intentionally left a lot room within my planning because I was curious what magic the playa would contribute.
I gathered my midwives (instead of bridesmaids) around 5pm Friday evening. Dana helped cinch me into my ponderous dress while I tried to ignore the sweat dripping between my legs. Lance offered me his arm and we set off on foot—literally, I was wearing no shoes—towards the temple.
We got about two blocks down the road when we met a woman passing out cupcakes. She saw me in my dress and Lance at my side and offered her congratulations. I knowingly smiled and said “thank you,” amused at her hetero-normative assumption about my intentions.
I grabbed a cupcake and said, “It’s my unwedding day.” Curious, she wanted to know more. I told her about my ritual and she laughed. “Wow,” she said, “these cupcakes just came from a wedding."
How fitting that on my unwedding day I should eat the cake first. I had indeed gone through the looking glass. Full circle.
When we stepped out onto the esplanade, people kept congratulating me as they biked or walked by. I simply smiled and accepted their best wishes.
About a quarter of the way towards the temple, a woman asked to take my picture. I could tell by her camera that she was a professional photographer. She moved me around a bit, placing me in the best angle to the sun. When she asked me where I was going, I told her about my ritual. She decided that she wanted to document it. The playa had provided my unwedding photographer.
About halfway across the playa, we found ourselves at a giant rosary with a cross in front. Since I was reclaiming my virginity, I decided embody the Virgin Mother while placing my body against the crucifix. An offering to the Christ consciousness that lives within me. Again, wholeness. Holy masculine and feminine merging within my own body and blood. After all, I had just attended a spontaneous Eucharist at the temple a few days before.
We stepped off the platform and made our way to the temple—stopping briefly for an apropos Bloody Mary along the way. Now literally filled with the blood of the Virgin Mother (and bleeding in my own right given that my menstrual cycle had started a few days before), I was ready to enter the temple’s sacred void.
What was meant to be a ceremonious entry devolved into utter absurdity as a woman—who thought she was singing the wedding march—started to sing the Imperial March from Star Wars. I couldn’t help but both laugh and marvel and how perfect her error was. I suppose I was crossing the threshold into some sort of cosmic death star. I thanked her for her contribution and continued along my path.
I circumnavigated the temple clockwise, my midwives holding space behind me while I sung O My Beloved. It was a medicine song to the Beloved within my heart. I always liked to take a page from Hafiz’s book whenever the opportunity arises.
When I finally returned to the entrance, I slowly weaved through the crowd—pulling my dress close to my feet so as not to swipe the faces of those sitting. When I entered, I noticed the center was completely empty. Folks were gathered around the edges, but there was simply open playa in the middle. At first I hesitated, thinking there must be some sort of ritual happening. Then I remembered—oh yeah…mine.
I moved toward the center and stood for a moment. I wondered what I should do next. Then I remembered: “Just do what you would do if no one were watching,” I told myself. I removed my front veil and gently placed it on the ground in layered folds. I laid my white flower—my unwedding bouquet—on top, then proceeded to remove my back veil and placed it on the ground, too.
Dana then came to me and helped remove my skirt, which fell to the ground in a heavy poof of whipped cream organza, satin, and lace. She then unlatched the many hook-and-eye clasps that bound up the corset and unlaced the ribbon that held it in place.
In one final sweep, I pulled the corset over my head and there I was, naked in the center of the temple with a hundred forgotten eyes watching me. Not sure what to do next, I felt into my center and knew I needed to give gratitude to the garments that had once so lovingly held me. I dropped to my knees upon the dress and fell over—bundling the fabric in my arms. Tears formed around the edges my eyes and my body gave way to rippling—not quite crying, but a sort of activation through my spine. An enlivening. An awakening. A rebirthing.
I then stood, holding the dress against my bare chest and walked to one of the pillars at the edge of the temple. This was when the grief hit me. Through waves of jangled sobs, I made a prayer as I clutched the garment one last time.
“Thank you for the magic and the prayer that was my marriage. Thank you for the great honor I got to carry while in this relationship. I release myself and all others from unconscious patterns and suffering that hold us back from our power. I now choose wholeness and I call in ways of relating based on choice rather than fear. When this dress burns, may this prayer return to Source so that its gifts may be bestowed on those who now need to learn these lessons. Aho.”
As I put the dress between the pillars, a Hawaiian man who had been watching the ritual came up and spoke a prayer in his native tongue. He ended with “Mahalo” and I responded with “Mahalo” in return. I then began to sing a Ho’oponopono song as I turned my back to the pillar. It was then I saw several people had gathered behind me to witness the ritual. I’m not sure what called then to the temple that day or why they chose to witness. But I am grateful for their presence and I hope that through their witnessing, they too got the medicine they needed.
Not standing on ceremony, I quickly walked out the back entrance of the temple and returned to the open playa. The professional photographer came up to me—visibly moved—and wanted to take shots of me as my new self. Another woman came up and offered me a stick of incense as her thanks for allowing her to witness the ritual.
After they were done, I walked naked back to camp—stopping only for a moment to say hello to a marionette art piece of a teenage girl called "Step Forward," who, coincidentally, was dressed in her wedding whites.
I created this ritual not as a “fuck you” to marriage. In fact, I created it for quite the opposite effect. I created it to cleanse my heart of unloving ways of relating that cause harm and suffering to all the lovers in my life. I created it so that I could live my life from sovereignty and choice. I created it so that I can use my power in heart-centered ways. I created it because I want to know what genuine love can be without getting caught in the trappings of seduction and romance. I created it because I want a life where my sexuality is an expression of authenticity rather than a means of validation.
While huddled on the ground at the center of the temple, the words from The Grandmother’s story in my book Reclaiming Eros: A Heroine’s Journey came to mind:
It was in this moment Nan realized how very lonely she had been. Not just in this life but for lifetimes. Nan began shaking and weeping.
“Oh God,” she cried out, “I miss God.”
Unbearable love pressed against her chest. It was a spherical expansion that cracked the edges of her ribs and tore through her skin. As her heart burst forward, the back of her body burned—like simultaneously giving birth to wings and dying in the phoenix’s flames. An involuntary wave of gratitude and grief gripped her throat, and she keened an ancient sound that twisted with both agony and wonder.
“We touched love,” she thought to herself. “Not ephemeral romance, that crunches and pounces and cramps. But love. Pure. Rich. Golden. Love.”
This is the kind of love I want to call into every moment of my life—full-out, unabashed awe of the ordinary and devoid of the kind of pride that prevents us from living in direct communion with those that we love.
Finally, I am reposting a video I created nearly two years ago called SLUT, a poem I wrote for my book—which also happens to the Virgin’s poem. How little I knew then how far the journey to reclaiming eros would take me…and how very clear that this student has a lot more to learn…