We Fell in Love at A Festival: The Story of Burning Man's Bear & Katiyana

Article by: Laura Mason|@masonlazarus

Mon February 13, 2017 | 11:00 AM

Whether on Valentine's Day or not, there is nothing wrong with celebrating that ever-fascinating thing known as love. There's no question that, as humans, the deeply felt, cosmic kind of amour is one of the most intoxicating and profound emotions your brain will ever have the privilege of experiencing. The coolest thing about it is that love can come out of nowhere, and change your life forever once it hits you. There's no telling when it will happen or why, and there's little explanation for the series of events that bring people together. All we can do, as citizens of the earth, is let it come and savor every moment of it.

Prime examples of this openness of heart, body, soul, and mind are Bear Kittay and Katiyana Williams. Bear is a New York City native who transplanted to plush Silicon Valley for a lucrative career as a tech entrepreneur. Tired of the industry's self-congratulatory culture and ready to live closer to his deep values of love and integrity, he began advising one of Burning Man's founders on a variety of strategic issues around global strategy (and eventually co-founded the theme camp IDEATE), and first went to Black Rock City in 2009. "I knew right away that this was my new sacred home," he says.

Katiyana grew up in an intentional, mostly off the grid community in Sebastopol. In her childhood, she was already a seasoned veteran of in the areas of communal effort, radical inclusion, radical self reliance, generosity, immediacy and civic engagement. Before her first Burning Man experience, she worked as the Director of Operations at a boutique consulting firm, focusing on fundraising strategy and philanthropy advising, as well as coached soccer for almost 10 years in San Francisco.

Both Bear and Katiyana had strong intuitions that they would meet someone special at the same exact Burning Man where they first collided. Below, they tell Everfest how their love story unfolded and how that love continues to guide and enrich their lives today.

Tell us about the moment you first met. What were your impressions, your first thoughts?

BEAR: ​It was quite the storybook way to meet. My friends and I organize a yearly impromptu event on the playa we call the Cosmic Cruise. I had musician friends, including my buddy Cody Dickinson all the way from Mississippi at his first burn join into an improvisational live psychedelic rock ensemble on the top deck of a bus/Elizabethan ship called the Dodo.

​I was singing and playing guitar as the bus drove into the deep playa. Several hours later, in a continuous jam, the bus broke down and its generator stopped. It was deep into the night.

​Somewhat disoriented, I climbed down the ladder to the first floor of the bus and took a seat on the couch. Tired, I opened my eyes to unveil a majestic and pure-eyed woman sitting directly across from me. Looking around the room, I recognized everyone else in it but her. I felt totally drawn to her and was completely mesmerized. I asked her her name and she told me "Katiyana." It was her birthday!

​My way of engaging with her was to introduce her to all my friends. I began very passionate and exuberant introductions of each of them to her. Unbeknownst to me, she knew all of them – quite well actually. It was by some bizarre coincidence that we had orbits of overlapping friends that had organically converged on top of each other. Somehow we just had never come into each others' orbits. She played along with my introduction stories, enjoying my charming attempts to woo her.

We walked as a group back across the playa to our camp. It turns out she was camping with us. I convinced her to join me on a borrowed dune buggy, and shortly thereafter it broke down. I believe it was somewhere around this time when we kissed for the first time. Right around sunrise on Thursday morning, she came back to my trailer with me and we didn't really get much sleep. The next morning my parents, who were camped next to me, caught their first glimpse of her, sneaking away in lingerie out my door. I told them that I was in love and met an amazing girl. They laughed and said, "Of course you did."

Bearkatiyana 2015 3

KATIYANA: It was arguably one of the best nights of my life. Bear came down the ladder [after the power went out] from the open-air top deck, sat down across from me and I perked up and thought to myself, "Who is this talented incredible man?" I was immediately drawn to his energy.

He knew everyone in the space except me, but he didn't realize that I was friends with all of them. He proceeded to introduce me to my friends in a way I had never experienced. He shared who they were, what he appreciated about them, what their passion is in the world, what their contributions to the world were. I was so intrigued and impressed by how well he knew my friends and how articulately he described them, so I played along and let my heart open toward him. I hoped that someday he would speak about me that way.

We welcomed my birthday as the sun rose and he serenaded me with an improvisational birthday song which brought tears to my eyes and deepened my attraction toward him. He convinced me to go on a sunrise dune buggy ride to the temple... We got 500 feet before the dune buggy broke down; we laughed so hard we almost cried, and then there was a silence as we stared at each other and gently had our first kiss. It was perfect. We spent the next 3 days together meeting each others' families and friends, excited and filled with a new love energy that even I questioned the longevity of the connection. I hoped it was real and that he would be interested in seeing me again back in San Francisco.

Two and a half later I look back and feel so grateful that we met in the way we did, in the place we did, with the people we did. That experience taught us how to stay light-hearted in the face of challenges, and that many challenges to come would bring us closer together.

What happened when you both left Burning Man after first meeting each other – how did you keep in touch?

BEAR: ​She told me her number and, of course, I memorized it despite my slightly less-than-lucid state. Our first goodbye was somewhat dramatic: I had been invited by one of the Burning Man founders to join them in the inner circle for the burning of the man, and was feeling the gravity of this new chapter in my life of working with Burning Man. As we were walking together towards the inner circle in the chaos of the pre-burn, I was told I couldn't bring her into the circle with me. She was also needing to leave early for a wedding so we had this very dramatic goodbye where I had about 10 seconds to decide whether or not to go into the inner circle with the fire marshal in front of a huge crowd at the gate. She said, "Go, you can't miss this opportunity." I don't remember, but I think they may have dropped my first "I love you."

​As soon as I had cell reception leaving the event I called her. And right when I got home I called an Uber to pick her up. When a black car showed up I think she was wondering who the hell I actually was. I'm glad she got in.

KATIYANA: I had assumed that Bear's deep, profound, love for me was only temporary, and although I eagerly hoped that he would call me, I was not certain I would hear from him. I remember that when we parted neither of us had phones or anything to write down contact information with so I told him if he could remember my phone number by heart he could call me. And he did. But he didn't call, he sent me a text a video of him getting hit in the head with a bat at a major league baseball game at age 9. It was adorable and my heart melted.

When did both of you eventually realize you were right for one another?

BEAR: ​Honestly, I knew right away. Sure, it helped when I learned how incredible she was in the "default world," that she was so incredibly multidimensional, humble, unselfish and an anchor to so many in her community. But all of these things just seamlessly flowed into what my heart and soul already knew; it was an example of how time sometimes doesn't seem linear because you feel that you are remembering a future that has already happened. That's what cosmic love feels like!

KATIYANA: Even though I instinctively knew right away that we were going to end up together I was skeptical of Bear's "certainty" that I was "the one" and that he was "in love" within hours of our meeting. My mind told me "he probably tells this to all the girls" and "his profound love for me is temporary" and "I am just the embodiment of any woman" and "yeah right, you found 'the one' you don't even know me." However I was also smitten, and secretly hoped that he really did love me that much. I didn't want to admit how quickly my emotions took me over, I wanted to let things unfold and to allow enough time to really get to know one another before I could rationally explain our strong emotional chemistry and deep connection.

My first moment of surrendering to my full love for and future with Bear was my first trip to New York during Superstorm Sandy. Flights were canceled for almost a week, and we ended up in Westchester at Bear's family home. Being in the same space together for almost 8 days straight, we really got to know each other.

I think it was a combination of getting through an intense storm together; his instinct to nurture, care for, and protect me; his love, compassion and his commitment to his family; his philosophies of life, of love, of relationships, of communication, and of the future of humanity. I learned how vulnerable and authentic he was and I opened my heart fully to him.

Bearkatiyana 2015

Who popped the question, and how did it unfold?

BEAR: ​I asked her to marry me at the Fly Ranch, inside of a large hot lake where we were leading tours together. It was the perfect moment – it was her 30th birthday. It was also the two-year anniversary of us meeting, so quite auspicious indeed. I had the ring around my pinky slyly concealed as I got completely naked and swan-dived into the hot lake. I swam to the other side of the lake and coaxed her into swimming over. It was there, with one knee down in sulfuric mud, that I asked her to marry me. She responded "of course."

KATIYANA: By Thanksgiving 2013, 15 months into our relationship, Bear would wake me up like it was Christmas morning asking, "Can we get married yet?" I told him that I would love to spend the rest of our lives together, however, he would have to come up with a more memorable and sentimental proposal than the morning after any all-night adventure in San Francisco.

Bear had it all planned out. We were giving tours of the Fly Ranch property and hot springs, which is an incredibly magical place where we had our first date, two years prior within 24 hours of our original meeting. This is the place where we both really fell in love for the first time.

The significance of this special place in our lives made it the perfect location for Bear to lure me into the 104° water, surrounded by wetlands, a 40-foot geyser, wild horses drinking from the shore, and his parents watching eagerly from the dock. He swam across to the shallow mud flat, I followed him totally in love and sparkly eyed. He got down on one knee, gently held my hands in his, looked deep into my eyes, and with a loving gentleness and a deep knowing that we would be together forever, he asked "Will you marry me?"

What would you describe is the most surprisingly conventional aspect of your union?

KATIYANA: We have always had a strong commitment to family, community and partnership. We frequently talk about our dream of creating a family together and the vision of how we will raise our children together with our friends in our community.

We also have a daily ritual to celebrate, honor, acknowledge and appreciate our love for one another. One of us will light a candle and will say a prayer or wish for the other and our partnership. When the other person notices that the candle has been lit they know a wish has been made. This moment is one of the most special moments of our days. To have an experience of knowing that your partner has acknowledged and expressed thoughtful gratitude toward you fills your whole body and heart with love and comfort.

In sharing that I realize it doesn't sound very conventional. However, the daily habits we have feel like the most conventional thing we share together: morning yoga, daily green smoothies before work. Riding our bikes to work together. These simple daily practices in life seem normal although special and fulfilling.

What is it about Burning Man that brought you together and solidified your bond?

BEAR: ​Both of us had a deep intuitive feeling that we needed to open our hearts to receive pure love. There something about the journey to the desert and total surrender that accelerates and sanctifies the potential of meeting your life partner there.

KATIYANA: I remember telling a couple of girlfriends that I had an intuitive feeling that I would be open and ready to meet the man of my dreams by the end of August, at Burning Man. And I did.

Burning Man is an incredibly special place that allows you to open your eyes, your mind and your heart to new adventures, new ideas, creative expression and pure love. Burning man facilitates innovation, experimentation, creativity, surrender and openness to new experiences and ways of being and seeing the world.

The Burning Man principle that I feel embodies our love for one another is gifting and generosity. It's very rare that Bear and I gift one another in the form of consumer belongings – however, we both come from a philosophy of generosity and share everything. In the spirit of Burning Man we created our own 10 principles of our love and union for one another:

Radical Self-Expression: Communication, listening, honesty, trust and authenticity. Tell your truth with love, even when it’s the more difficult thing to do. Be honest with yourself and one another about your authentic truth. Be yourself and express yourself fully.
Radical Inclusion & Participation:
Act in the best interest of the relationship, keeping each other in our hearts and minds.
Communal Effort: Mutual respect, shared responsibility, shared decision making, compassion and understanding. Together we can get through anything.
Immediacy: Immediate experience, awareness, presence, consideration and thoughtfulness.
Radical Self-Reliance: Encourage each other to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources, and to fully take responsibility for his or her own actions and decisions.
Gifting: Compliments, Admiration, Affirmation, Attention, Affection, Appreciation. Allow the other the gift of freedom to be fully themselves.
Commitment: To growth, to learning, to each other's success, happiness and commitment to the partnership. Being open and encouraging of giving and receiving feedback.
Gratitude: Express gratitude for each other, life and everything we are grateful for. Be kind, loving and cherishing.
Acceptance & Accountability: Accept the process, one another and accountability for your actions.
Fun & Play: Have so much fun along the way.

What are your plans for Valentine's Day?

BEAR: ​Initially the plan for Valentine's Day was to be apart, as I am giving a talk at TEDxStockholm and she is in the middle of intensive work in SF. But, in the spirit of love we decided we wanted to be together on the special day, especially as we just announced our wedding, sent Save the Dates earlier today and always feel a strong pull to be together. So, she is going to hop on a plane tomorrow morning and we are flying together to Switzerland to go to Frost, a burning man inspired European event in the Alps for Valentine's Day before flying up to Stockholm on Sunday to prepare for my TED talk!

Bear and Katiyana are both on Twitter.

This story was originally published on Valentine's Day 2015.