About a month ago, I had the unique opportunity to visit Black Rock City, arrive before the gates opened, help run the world’s largest coffee shop, and scratch the very surface of the amazing experience that is Burning Man. << Great overview video! — 4 mins long…
Of course, this will be the topic of a good bit of future writing, but I thought it was worth sharing a dozen life lessons that I picked up, or had reinforced during my first Burn. If you adopt even half of these, and make them a regular part of your own life, I think that you’ll really see some positive changes in yourself and the world around you.
1. Stay hydrated. As simple as this sounds, most people don’t do it. People are advised to bring 1.5 gallons (5.6 liters) of water per day to Burning Man, and three liters per day has been shown to have a great positive impact on health,even for people who aren’t partying in the desert. Many Burners carry their H2O in a metal bottle (usually decorated with fabulous stickers) clipped to their belt at all times. Adding a similar approach to your Default World* routine is an easy way to insure you’re getting enough water. With a liter or half-liter bottle, you’ll know you’re on track if you’ve refilled 4 (or 8) times between waking up and going to sleep.
* The “Default World” is, according to the Burning Man Glossary, “The rest of the world that is not the playa** during the Burning Man event.”
2. Dress up (and down). One of the great things about Burning Man are the outfits. Bunnies! Unicorns! Bodypaint! Max Max-type ensembles. Wigs. Plain black T’s, adorned with group logos.Kilts. Bikinis. Custom tool belts. Or just some sunscreen. People feel free to get as dressed-up, and as undressed as they please, and it’s all good. So, next time you go out, why not don a kilt, or a wig, or a fun and outrageous outfit? Too shy to do it yourself? Sounds like a good excuse to get some friends together! Or find a suitable place (and possibly some good company << NSFW ) in which to enjoy the day au naturel.
** Playa is the Spanish word for “beach”, and what the Black Rock Desert is referred to by Burners, perhaps a bit tongue in cheek…
3. Give hugs, get hugs, laugh and smile! People at Burning Man give and receive a lot of hugs, which are scientifically proven to release oxytocin, a chemical which makes us feel happier and more connected, improves heart health, and relieves stress by reducing cortisol levels in our bodies. Laughter is the proverbial best medicine, so figure out what makes you laugh, and do that! (I’ve recently discovered The Bugle Podcast – now I give myself a daily dose of smiles and laughter any time I have to commute somewhere – what’s YOUR guaranteed recipe for laughs?) And smiles are contagious – so, again, find reasons to smile.
Notice what makes you smile, and recreate that. And find out what makes the people around you — coworkers, friends and family — smile, and do that too!
4. Clean as you go. One of the Ten Principles of Burning Man is to “Leave No Trace” – the Black Rock Desert is left as pristine after the event as it was before – and this is largely due to a philosophy of, first, trying to avoid creating “Matter Out Of Place” (MOOP) and by picking up any MOOP that you come across in your adventures. You can make the world a better place by applying this in your daily life, by not committing those tiny acts of littering that we’re often guilty of, and by picking up and throwing away any MOOP that crosses your path (old newspaper, cigarette butts, candy wrappers, etc.)
5. Stay shiny. Awesome people will totally get the nod to Captain Mal and company, but this bit of advice comes from the fact that the desert, at night, is dark, and to avoid being run into or over, everyone illuminates themselves with, well, all sorts of neat things. EL-Wire is a big one, LED’s are great, but all sorts of illuminating devices make an appearance. But why save all this shininess for one week out of the year? Next time you’re doing anything low-light, why not add a little luminescent bling to your outfit?
6. Value your time. With the Burning Man What, Where, When book listing over 1500 unique events, ranging from the “Deathray Solar Forge” where you can use a Fresnel lens to create your own pendant to a “Naked Pub Crawl” and every imaginable in-between, the Burn, like life, has too much on offer to waste time. But that’s just what many of us do, in many ways, both at work and at home.
The average person has just 700,000 hours on this planet.
Do you really want to spend them in front of the television or your office desk when you could be doing something amazing, like taking a horseback ride, going on a jet-ski safari, visiting a petting zoo, partying like LMFAO, writing a NANOWRIMO novel, rehearsing your TED speech, or any of about a million other awesome things?
7. Let your inner child play / release your inner artist! Burning Man is all about art and play – but those things can take many forms. For example, I was riding my bike around for a little adventure, and found a zip-line which I had a blast riding down in the company of a lovely French woman. Most people would agree that that was a playful episode, but consider the people who built and operated this “toy” – that sort of creativity is a form of play, too! And art can range from classic paintings and sculptures to massive art cars pumping out heavy bass beats and awesome displays of light and fire. It can also be performance art, by one person, or many – or it can just be grabbing a box of crayons, a few friends, and some coloring books, blank paper, or what have you. Board games, card games (I’m a huge fan of Cards Against Humanity) – anything that gets people together and gets them laughing and smiling. Everyone has an inner child, and an inner artist. Let them out to play more often!
8. Adopt polyphasic sleep. To make time for all of the above, you might want to think about adopting polyphasic sleep – I’ve dabbled with this before, notably on my last deployment to Afghanistan, but at Burning Man I was pretty much forced to adopt it, due to the fact that I was running the world’s biggest coffee shop from 3 am to 7 am. This meant that my options for sleep were limited, due to the noise/light levels during the day, and the fact that there was so much to do at night! Back in the Default World, I’m using a segmented sleep schedule, and getting lots done!
9. Live small. Most Burners occupy a relatively small physical space during the Burn – I lived out of a little two-man tent, but saw camper trucks, mobile homes, and some awesome yurts constructed from easily obtainable materials. The bottom line? These small spaces are cheap, functional, and sustainable, and there’s a whole movement dedicated to creating and living in such spaces full-time. Me? My love affair with “tiny life” began when I moved to my current duty station, and started out living in a studio apartment above a garage, then went to Afghanistan where I lived in a cozy little fobbit-hole. Now I live aboard a boat, the Gypsy Danger.
None of these exceeded 200 square feet of space, but all are quite sufficient for 1–2 people to live cozily and comfortably, and all had great potential for sustainable electricity – the Gypsy Danger also has great potential for riding out climate change and zombie apocalypses!
10. Clean as you go, redux. If you’re going to live tiny, though, you need to live neat. I am not the world’s neatest person, but my week in the desert reinforced the importance of simplifying your possessions, and then keeping them in order. French chefs have this idea perfected, with a little thing called mise en place. Give it a try in your home, your office, your car!
11. Walk and bike more. Cars may get you to the Burn, but unless you’ve got a Mutant Vehicle, they stay parked for the week, and everyone walks or bikes to get where they’re going. It’s great for the environment, it’s great for your body, and it’s a great way to connect with the world around you. I don’t live in a particularly bike-friendly metropolis, but even so, I’ve started to try to bike back and forth to work at least a few times a week – and I challenge you to do the same! I also walk almost everywhere on my base – a great way to get the blood flowing and maintain a very basic level of fitness.
12. Volunteer. Volunteering can be its own best reward – and it’s a great way to meet new people, learn new skills, make your community a better place, and build your social networks. At Burning Man, almost all the staff at the Café were volunteers – and asked why they would come “work” during a week when they could have just been partying, I got many answers. A few people said that they were introverts, and the volunteer environment gave them a safe, comfortable reason and way to interact with other people. Others said it gave them an “anchor” for their otherwise free-wheeling schedules. And many just loved helping people!
What reason are you going to find to volunteer more this year?
13. Give Gifts. There’s not much you can spend money on at Burning Man — coffee and ice, that’s about it. Instead of a cash-based economy, you’ll find that gifts are the order of the day. I enjoyed reading a free book from Camp 451, amazing pommes frites from Midnight Poutine, a blonde wig, assorted bracelets, a ride on an art car, a vodka-spiked lemonade, a hug, free lectures at TEDx, a ride on a zip-line, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and various other useful (at that moment) or fun things.
So, how can you translate this idea into the Default World? I challenge you to use your imagination, take your best shot an Tweet me a picture to prove it!
So, that’s my top 13 takeaways… Feel free to Tweet your thoughts to me at @E_H_Carpenter, and if you liked this story, follow me here on @Medium, recommend this article, and share it on social media… Until next time, have a supercalifrajilisticespealidocious day, keep flying, and stay shiny.