The very first adventure for Our Bigger Picture was to go to Burning Man. For the past ten years or so, John and I have mused about going to Burning Man. We were curious, and living in the Bay Area we knew people every year who went and loved it. Every year we said, “maybe next year”. But this year was different. This year we were embarking on this great adventure down to South America, and a trip to Burning Man seemed like the perfect kick-off to our new life. Oh, and we were unemployed.
The opportunity to go to Burning Man sort of fell in our lap. All the pieces fell into place exactly as they needed to with only two weeks notice. We got an invite to a camp, we got tickets, we found an RV (we certainly weren’t taking the brand new rig we planned to live in!) and got bikes. We even avoided a monsoon rain that closed the gates for the first time in the festival's history. However, it is a lot of work if you are a first timer. A virgin burner, as they say. And we already had a lot going on. So, on what seemed like our tenth trip to the hardware store for more supplies right before we headed out, I told John this is getting ridiculous. His response was, “Oh, we sailed right past ridiculous. We are on to the absurd”.
But it was all completely and totally worth it.
Over the years I have seen many blogs and other media reports on Burning Man with lists. Top 10 things they learned at Burning Man, top 5 things they loved about Burning Man, or top 10 things Burning Man is or isn't. So in keeping with that theme, (and the idea you just have to go to really “get it” which is true), here is our "Top 5 things we loved, learned and now understand about this magical community in the desert":
1. It's a shared community.
Everyone comes to this community with a sense of giving. Not an expectation of taking, which is so prevalent in our real world. That shared sense of giving, multiplied by 70,000 people is a pretty powerful force. It's not just giving of things (drinks, food, water, sunscreen, you name it) but a real giving of ourselves to other people. A pervasive feeling that everyone you meet is open and friendly and well, nice. We found that just taking the time to talk to and get to know total strangers all day long was extremely gratifying.
2. It's about radical self acceptance.
One of the most beautiful things at Burning Man is just the sense of complete radical self acceptance. Because one of the mantras of Burning Man is radical inclusion, meaning everyone there is a participant, not a spectator, everyone feels a sense of belonging. Once you get your vehicle pass and tickets, and you go through the last gate, the greeters get you out of your car, give you a big hug and say "welcome home". It may sound cheesy but it was so fantastic. That shared sense of community creates a feeling of belonging, which each and every one of us has struggled with at some point in our lives. That sense of belonging gets rid of all those little voices in your head that say, "I'm not good enough, rich enough, ambitious enough, thin enough, pretty enough, creative enough," blah, blah, blah... Many people said to us, you might not get what you want out of Burning Man, but you'll get what you need. John's first free drink at a keroke hammock bar (yup!) was preceeded by a hug from a guy with blue hair, pierced everything, combat boots and a mesh speedo. Just random acceptance - and it was amazing. A big part of this road trip adventure we are about to embark upon is about freedom. And a week without those crazy voices was pure freedom.
3. It's a spiritual experience.
The first afternoon, John and I rode around to the see the art work. The Man, Embrace, the Temple and the Mosque of Books. As we went into each scuplture or building, it was quiet and contemplative. In the Mosque of Books, there were thousands of empty books and everyone was writing something in one of them. Some of the book titles I saw were "Make a Wish", "I'm Sorry", "Say Good Bye", and "My Command". When we got to the temple, it was an overwhelming sense of prayer. There were offerings at the temple's center for loved ones lost, marriages dissolved, farewell to beloved pets...everything and everyone. There were bits of wood to write your offerings on and every moment I was in there it just felt peaceful. Unlike so many other places of worship I have been into, there was no fear or judgement in this temple. It felt more connected to the universe, more alive and moving, more kind and giving than any church I've been in.
4. The struggle is an important part of it.
I think many people are a little put off by the environment in which Burning Man takes place. I know we were. We thought it was a lot of trouble to drive all the way out there, in the middle of a very inhostpitable place, without any facilities, and camp out. Was it really worth it? Well, yes, it is. And the struggle everyone must go through is part of the shared experience. I know there has been controversy over tech money (or any money) coming in with their fancy camps, private chefs, and monster RV's to have everything catered to them. As I rode by one of these camps and saw how closed off they were to the rest of the community, I couldn't help but think - those poor people. They aren't going to get the same magic as the rest of us. It takes an open heart and mind to create the shared community. The whole experience is built on leaving all the pretense of money and status behind to connect with everyone else there. If you try to minimize the struggle, you won't get the audacious payoff. It's the struggle in life that makes every challenge worth it, and those fancy camps won't get the radical self acceptance the rest of us got. Too bad. So, is it a pain to be covered in dust from morning til night, pee in stinky port-a-pottys, eat only granola bars & nuts, and barely get a 2 minute shower for a week? Yes, and if you think you want outsource that part of your Burning Man exerpience, you're really going to miss out.
5. It's really fun.
There is a general sense that for the entire time you are at Burning Man, you just do what you want. There are lot of activities during the day that are all acutally spelled out in a schedule you get when you arrive and everyone is free to explore. Or you just go out into the playa and see where the day takes you, which is what we did. And we quickly settled into the mantra: wherever we were, that's where we were suppose to be.
Daytime beers in the middle of the playa. We had a cooler in our basket!
It may not look like it here but roller skating in the desert is fun. But hard! All the sand gets stuck in the wheels.
This guy has been here since the beginning I think.