Shamans and monks have long utilized extreme conditions to transcend the material world and enter the spiritual. Ingestion of powerful intoxicants, exposure to extreme weather, deprivation, pain are encountered to scour the body, realign perception toward the spiritual realm, and act as offering, passing it all over to something greater for the good of the self and the tribe.
In the Native American Sundance, participants dance for 4 days with no food or water, through the heat of day and the freeze of night, piercing their chests and/or backs with hooks that must be torn free. Early Christian mystics would wall themselves up in tiny cells for years, be buried in the desert sands, stand on platforms 40 feet up excoriating themselves. Buddhist monks place a hand in a bowl of sand, except for one finger left protruding that’s burned off as an offering to Buddha.
We started with the ingestion of intoxicants in the form of free cocktails, followed by severing our connection to anything resembling the natural world and entering the pyramid. Wandering through row after row of flashing lights and ringing bells, with no idea how to find the way out, nowhere to sit that didn’t require handing over money, we slowly forgot what, if anything, lay beyond the casino doors.
We deprived ourselves of sleep and greeted the sun every morning. We danced on tables, we made offerings of money to machine and table, we ate until painfully full at ginormous buffet. None of us were strong enough to endure going to a Carrot Top show, but we did have to look at his image constantly.
It’s a place so antithetical to spirituality, it becomes spiritual.
Where others come purely for self-indulgence, to lay out at the pool showing off their plastique, striving to pile money on top of their precious money, we actually came for ritual. A dear friend with a broken heart decided to gather us all and head to this desert to say fuckit, let’s celebrate anyway. And we did, and we poured our money into buying each other food and drink and roller coaster rides.
To an outsider’s eyes, these rituals seem insane: blood and money and suffering poured into the dust for no reason. But for those involved, they carry value precisely because of what’s lost. Fingers turn to dust eventually anyway, why not set them on fire now for love of the Buddha. Money turns to dust eventually anyway, why not set it on fire now for the love your dearest friends. Your friend loses love and lets his tears fall in front of his friends, and he is held, he feels the love that is there and the potential for new love to come.
Where many leave Las Vegas disheveled, hungover, broke, I would say we left handsomely ruffled, thirsty and tired but clear, and though with lighter wallets perhaps, with lighter and laughing and loving hearts as well.