There is no doubt about it: I am utterly excited to embark on another trip to Black Rock City on Sunday. This will be my second year going to Burning Man, an event that occurs in a city that only exists for a month every year. When asked, “What is Burning Man?” by my peers at work, I often must clarify that I am not, in fact, going to Birmingham, Alabama. Maybe next year? I hear they have great BBQ.
For those of you who have never heard of Burning Man let me share that it is NOT a music festival. There are no corporate sponsorships or headlining acts. Sure, there are famous DJs and bands that perform there, but you only hear about it through word of mouth and happenstance. Burning Man began as a community event in 1986, based on these 10 principles designed to represent the ethos of the community of what is now 70,000 people coming together the week leading up to Labor Day:
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community. (yes, even you!)
Gifting (aka no vendors on the Playa, bring minimal cash, be self-reliant, I gift SPF lip balm)
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
Radical Self-reliance (aka bring your own water, at least 1.5 gallons per day!)
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources. (It’s the desert, you’ll get thirsty!)
Radical Self-expression (aka don’t judge my dancing!)
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
Communal Effort (volunteer, create, share, volunteer again)
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
Civic Responsibility (be kind, rewind)
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
Leaving No Trace (Burning Man’s annual existence literally relies on this as it is hosted on tribal lands)
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Immediacy (put your phone away and live in the moment!)
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.
*bold italics are my own additions
It takes a lot of work and preparation to abandon one’s creature comforts and accesses for a week. The heroes go even longer to help prepare the Playa. But, even though I am only going for a week, it still takes planning. I will probably only truly shower once or twice and will use PortaPotties seven days straight. I will bicycle in “Deep Playa” at sunrise for a camp photo shoot. I will have deep conversations and share magical moments with people I will only meet once. I will share my random food packings with someone that happens to be hungry. I will attempt acroyoga and have free ramen and bacon that is gifted off the back of an art car, also known as a mutant vehicle. I will hear fellow “burners” share their passions about all subjects. I will climb 30′ high art structures and will cry publicly and openly at the Temple for those I have lost in the past, whether to death or just simply time. I will probably even witness a naked bicycle “pub” crawl. And at the end of the week I will watch as the “Man,” a structure redesigned and built by volunteers annually, burns to the ground on Saturday night.
You see, Burning Man is a lot like the best parts of everyday life: people giving to each other and creating art and offering their talents and knowledge. It is the epitome of sharing. Based on last year, I anticipate a difficult “re-entry” into the normal life of living in New York City-the apathy, the waste, the lack of “community above all” mentality.
But still I look forward to my return…
I’ll get on a red-eye back home, covered in a thin but persistent layer of fine dust, running into the strong and loving arms of my amazing husband and warm cuddle of our dog. And that will be a most excellent day too.