6 Unexpected Lessons from Burning Man
Burning Man is a festival that takes place in Black Rock City, Nevada every year from late August through early September. Over 50,000 people create a community that celebrates art, inclusion, radical self-expression, decommodification, and leaving no trace. The event takes its name from its culmination, the symbolic ritual burning of a large wooden effigy ("the Man") that traditionally occurs on the Saturday evening of the event.
Burning Man seemed like a place that disrupted belief systems and accelerated growth, and I knew I had to go. I felt called, excited, and terrified - how was I ever going to survive without running water for a week?
What happened next was the stuff dreams are made of. After a 14 hour journey from LA, we made it to Black Rock City (AKA "the playa”), set up camp, and the real adventure began.
Burning Man is based on 10 principles:
The only thing you can buy on the playa is ice and coffee, so you need to bring everything on the playa you need to survive: water, food, shelter, emergency supplies, clothes, toiletries, toilet paper, if you need it, you better bring it.
There are no sponsors, advertising, or transactions on the playa. You're encouraged to play every day - see art, bike around, meet people.
Burners give without expectation of anything in return: food, booze, costumes, yoga classes, lectures, jewelry, momentos, and more.
You're encouraged to be yourself, whatever that looks like. Your self-expression is respected and celebrated, which is incredibly liberating.
Everyone is welcome on the playa, and most camps are set up to offer people a place to hang out. No velvet ropes, guest lists, entrance fees - just good vibes and good times.
Creative cooperation and collaboration are necessary for the city to thrive. If someone needs something, it’s part of the culture to help out however possible.
If you see that someone needs help, you help them. It's that simple.
Leaving No Trace
Everyone commits to “leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather,” which is a big task given that there’s over 50,000 people attend Burning Man. Whatever trash you create you must take with you off the playa. Also, if you see any MOOP (Matter Out Of Place), it’s everyone’s responsibility to pick it up.
Everyone's participation is expected and celebrated.
On the playa if you don’t do/say/stop and look at it when you first encounter it, you might lose your chance. If you want to do something, seize the moment.
Here are my 6 unexpected lessons from Burning Man:
1) Choose Love.
We’re all just people on earth for a short time. Loving each other feels good. Give more hugs. Tell people what you like about them. Connect from the heart. Give more freely. The more you do this, the better you feel.
2) Be Active Every Day.
On the playa we rode our bikes for 15+ miles a day. My legs were bruised. I had scrapes on my shins from the bike pedals. My hands were dirty. And I was really freaking happy. I know that being active is as good for my body as it is for my mind. I make time to move my body daily.
3) Connect From The Heart.
Being disconnected from technology reminded me of the power of heart-centered communication. Now, that’s what I crave. I use “airplane mode” on my phone more often. It feels good.
4) Respond Immediately.
If I look at email or a message, I respond immediately. If I’m not prepared to respond, I don’t look. Being more discerning about when I look at messages has helped me be more present and get more done (on and offline). I've also learned to value connection over perfection, and have limited over-analyzing my responses.
5) Remember Challenges are Temporary.
Biking on the playa is typically easy, but sometimes the fine dust piles up and it becomes hard to pedal, practically immobilizing. I learned to stay steady and keep pushing, eventually, you'll get through it. Same goes for tough times in life.
6) You Are Enough.
Every day, every hour, our inboxes and newsfeeds try to show us what we should be saying/thinking/doing in order to be successful/happy/relevant. My experience being self-expressed and free at Burning Man reinforced that I'm doing my best and I'm enough, just as I am.
Sharing my experience and reflecting on my journey has been a gift, so thank you for reading. I'm grateful for you!