Sunday, 7 September 2014

Burning Man

Is This Real Life?

Burning Man is the most incredible place on the entire planet. This is my feeble attempt to try to put its wonder into words, as well as explain what makes the experience possible and why it's not for everyone.

"What is Burning Man?" Is a tough question to answer. On the surface it's a week long 70,000 person flash mob in the middle of the desert full of hippies, drugs, parties, art, music, LED lights, and the craziest, most nonsensical things you can think of. However, to understand its energy, I have to go over the 10 principles.

The Temple

But before I go over the ten principles, I must first explain something. If I didn't, you'd probably think, "There's no way 70,000 people abide by and respect all the principles." Burning Man is a ten hour drive from the nearest major city (120 miles from Reno, but 15'000 RVs and trucks don't quickly zoom down a one lane highway). It has brutally rough conditions including extreme heat, extreme cold, conditions completely unsustainable for any form of life, flash floods, and severe dust storms and mini tornadoes caused by winds that can reach up to seventy miles per hour.  If you want water, food, electricity, or shelter, you have to bring it yourself. You can't buy anything, and the land provides nothing but endless sand, dust, and rock. For these reasons, only true Burners make it out to the Playa. No one that doesn't belong would ever subject themselves to these conditions. This is what makes the ambitious vision of Burning Man possible and maintainable even with 70,000 people.

The 10 principles:
Radical Inclusion
Radical Self-reliance
Radical Self-expression
Communal Effort
Civic Responsibility
Leaving No Trace

If you're a Virgin reading this, these probably just seem like buzz words, so let me illustrate a few.

Leaving No Trace: Burning Rock City is a legitimate city for one week of every year. There are 70,000 people, street signs, buildings, fire departments, and medical centers. If you go there at any other point in the year, you will literally find no trace of this. There is NOTHING left behind. It will take you hours of combing through sand if you want to find even a single piece of plastic. There are no signs, structures, vehicles, people... NOTHING (except endless sand, dust, and rock).

Decommidification: You are able to buy ice. All proceeds go to Burning Man. Private contractors are allowed to provide services to drain and refill RVs. Other than that, there is exactly one location where money is raised for charity by selling coffee and other hot drinks. Money is not spent on anything else, which brings us to...

Gifting: people set up pop-up restaurants, hold classes, provide music stages, but no one EVER asks, "how much?" If you share something, it's free. End of story. I had heard rumors of bartering, but that doesn't actually exist. You give and ask nothing in return. When you are offered something, you simply enjoy it and say thank you.

Gifting - Burning Man Style

As I say what I'm about to say, please keep in mind that Burning Man LLC itself provides very little. It lurks in the shadows, sets up street signs and fire departments before anyone arrives, and operates with the goal of invisibility. Virtually Everything else is provided by the people.

When you go out on the Playa at night for your first time, you won't believe your eyes. You can look in any direction in a full circle, you will see miles and miles of lit up spectacles. Walk a hundred feet in any direction and you'll run into a music stage, building, giant art piece, or camp site. You may stumble upon a fifty foot art car dressed up as a shark, or a 200 foot wooden box that may or may not have a purpose. Some groups that come will spend literally millions of dollars to provide an elaborate ten-story art piece that will be burned down after only one week of existence. Nothing I can say will do it justice. It is just endless amazement. Take what you see at a carnival, remove the provider of the features and somehow end up with 1,000  times as much to see or do. That is the Playa.

No Photo Could Ever Do the Playa Justice

Now I must attempt to explain the most important part of Burning Man: the people. We all have a similar spirit and mindset; that is why Burning Man works. I implore you: try to find a single person at Burning Man that feels the slightest bit of contempt toward homosexuality, or doesn't desire to fill their heart with more love, or wants there to be no nudity, or believes that atheists are evil, or thinks that drug users are criminal scum, or thinks that the Orgy Dome is scandalous and inappropriate. You'll be extremely hard pressed to find one. If you fit any of these criteria: stay at home, Burning Man is not for you. If you are open to all of these ideas, then please come. The Playa will be your new home.

Burning Man is a city of 70,000 of these beautiful, beautiful people. During the day they walk around half-naked adorning amazing, self-expressing costumes. There is no costume theme for Burning Man. You'll see it all from steam-punk, to Hello Kitty onesies, to the mythological shirt-cock (look it up if you don't know). At night, everyone is lit up in the most beautiful display of LED lights. Every person and bike must be lit for safety's sake, but aesthetics dominate the experience.

Now that I've touched just the surface of the mindset that makes up Burning Man, let me talk about the day-to-day. Burning Man is whatever experience you want it to be. If you want to wake up early and expand your mind and body with hours of yoga and meditation each day, you'll have plenty of options. If you want to learn about new topics, watch TED talks, and participate in discussions on novel ideas like compersion (beautiful word I learned at Burning Man), you'll have no problem filling in your daily schedule. If you want to do lots of drugs and dance the night away to whatever kind of music you like most, that certainly won't be a problem. Even if you just want to have copious amounts of sex with strangers, Burning Man is likely the place for you. And if you are an art lover, you will inevitably leave having seen less than half the art that exists in BRC. Keep in mind that everyone that comes to Burning Man is expected to add to the overall experience and never simply take-away. When you have 70,000 people all providing, the opportunities to take advantage of are practically endless.

The Embrace

Perhaps giving you a taste of what my virgin-Burn-experience was like will help give life to these concepts. I had many extreme highs as well as many extreme lows. I didn't get enough sleep all week, I had the worst experience of my entire life, I swallowed unfathomable amounts of dust, I got into an emotionally devastating fight with my girlfriend, our RV caught on fire, its toilet and sink were clogged and unusable the entire week, I failed at bringing a loved one back from a bad trip, and despite all that, I never want to miss a Burn while I'm still healthy enough and financially stable enough to go. It was the most amazing week of my entire life.

Some other things that happened: I had the best experience of my entire life (within two hours of the worst). I woke up in a place so fantastical that I went back to sleep waiting to really wake up, finally to realize that it was actually real life only after that fourth time I woke up. I met an internal-wish-granting-wizard that created tears of joy in my friends eyes after saving them from their personal burdens. I ate grilled meats that tasted like manna from the gods because my body had adapted to the environment I was in. I saw many amazing DJs, pieces of art, sunrises, sunsets, and unique rituals. I listened to talks about psychedelics and open relationships. I participated in an event on sensual eating, but left early in a lust-filled spontaneous trip to the Orgy Dome with my partner. I watched gladiatorial battles at the fire-filled Thunder Dome as spectators climbed to the top of the elaborate jungle gym, shouting and cheering for the warriors below. I visited an architecturally gorgeous temple dedicated to recently lost loved ones and then joined 50,000 others in a solemn dead silence as we watched for an hour as it burned to the ground. I ventured miles into the desert to the furthest lights I could see to find mobile dance stages and cream cheese hot dogs. I made many new friends and had wonderfully deep conversations with people whose names I never learned. I saw more penises than in the rest of my life combined. I saw sides of friends that I have never seen before that warmed my heart. I learned a lot about myself and grew as a person. I drank a vodka-cranberry at the cost of having my bare ass stamped/branded. I experienced the single greatest moment of joy in my entire life, and there's so much more that I can't even share for a variety of different reasons. Seriously, if the above is what I'm sharing, just imagine what it is that I can't share!

The Thunder Dome!

I'm not particularly inarticulate. I can explain most things accurately and sufficiently. However, you just have to believe me when I reiterate that no words I can write will do justice to just how fantastic it is out there. I've been many places around the world in my life, but no place holds even a candle to the amount of amazement contained in Burning Man. When 70,000 people actively and aggressively gift and participate to produce a creative, loving, vast playground, epically beautifully things can happen.

The Playa at Night

If you need ten hours of sleep each night, your macro vegan breakfast, thirty minute hot showers, weekly manicures and facials, and the ability to check your iPhone every five minutes, then Burning Man might not be for you. If you are willing to work hard, give to the community, and make large sacrifices in order to experience the most wonderful gathering on the entire planet, then make sure you don't miss the next Burn.