Burning Man 2014 was my best burn ever. Here’s why.
AS LIFE GOES, SO GOES THE BURN
Burning Man is ultimately a reflection of life. But it’s not a normal mirror… it’s one of those “funhouse” mirrors which lets you look at certain parts of yourself in new ways. If there’s a part of yourself that you want to examine, Burning Man can magnify that for you so it looks huge, or distort it to give you new perspectives on what your other available life realities might look like.
2014 has been a year of self-exploration for me, and I brought that same mindset to the playa. In January, my company went out of business. While that was traumatic in itself, it more significantly marked the end of years and years of sacrificing every other part of myself to keep that particular dream alive. I was completely drained, and the gift that 2014 has brought is the opportunity to completely refill my gas tank. Burning Man came along at the time when I finally began to feel full and recharged. I have been working part-time, but now I finally feel like I have my whole self at my disposal and I’m ready to jump fully into something again. Burning Man is for bookends.
I have been exploring different life priorities. Different ways to schedule my time. Different things to say “yes” to and to say “no” to. Different ways to make myself more mindful, more present, more grounded. Different ways to have fun. Different ways to have purpose. Burning Man is for setting intentions, and deciding how to live.
This year I’ve given myself a lot of love. Love which I neglected to actively give myself for many years. This year I’ve also been able to find ways to give love to friends and community more than in the past. Best of all, I have found a woman I love to love. Shana and I can enjoy and explore each other anywhere, but with all its challenges and its gifts, Burning Man is a fantastic place to dig deep into a partnership with somebody. Burning Man is for love.
This was my third burn, and also my third camp. My experience with each camp has been great, but in totally different ways. After camping with Oontzpouch and Shady Waffle, this year I camped with IDEATE. The transition to join IDEATE was a transition to a larger camp, a more outward-facing camp, a camp with more purpose— a camp on a mission. Specifically, IDEATE is on a mission to do two things:
1) Turn ideas into action
2) Bring the 10 principles of Burning Man to the rest of the world
One example of how IDEATE turns ideas into action is how, in the camp’s first year (2012), they built a system which would scan your body, 3D print a portrait/sculpture of you, and then use a quadcopter drone to deliver your portrait to you wherever you were on the playa, using a location transponder you carried around. One example of how we bring the 10 principles of Burning Man to the rest of the world is by bringing the rest of the world to Burning Man. This year we invited all sorts of influencers to experience Burning Man with us. We were joined by over 40 international visitors, primarily from Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, Spain, and France. We also brought in ambassadors from the press. Nellie and Sarah were two reporters who camped with us this year for their first burns. You can read Nellie’s piece in Re/code (IDEATE This: I’m Living at Burning Man’s Tech Innovation Camp) and Sarah’s piece in TechCrunch (Elon Musk Is Right, Burning Man is Silicon Valley).
Speaking of ambassadors, we also organized a speaker series, hosting all sorts of authors and thinkers. We even hosted the one-and-only Dennis Kucinich… here’s a short video I filmed of his appearance:
At another point in the week, Grover Norquist stopped by our camp for a brief visit during his first burn. IDEATE likes to serve as the connective tissue which links Burning Man to other worlds. And even within the Burning Man world, someone actually did an in-depth statistical analysis, and found that IDEATE is among the most “connected” camps that exist.
Last year I had visited friends at IDEATE, and I knew they were my kind of people. This year it was an obvious decision to join because Shana is a co-founder of the camp, and I wanted to dive in deeper to her community. In fact, I ended up in a leadership role for the camp this year, in charge of distributing roles and responsibilities among all members of our massive camp. At one point, this got really frustrating for the small group of us who were leading the camp. There were so many new people who needed hand-holding, or didn’t understand the extent to which Burning Man requires everyone to do work. There were so many successful and busy people who were slow to take on the obligations that I needed them to take on for the camp to be successful. There were so many new people we didn’t even know.
When I was feeling frustrated, my friend Lilia sent a note out to our leadership team which reframed everything. She reminded me that all this work was our opportunity to give a gift to all the new people. Experiencing Burning Man for the first time is such a gift, and we were providing that gift to a lot of people. The fact that so many of them were strangers is all the better. This was part of our mission, and it serves to spread the principles of Burning Man. For a minute the “work” had seemed unfair and unbalanced. Then Lilia reminded me that it was a gift, and it became so much more fulfilling. This was the first year that I really felt drawn to think and talk a lot about the reasons we do all of this, the 10 principles, and the philosophy behind the party. All the better that this was my first year in a camp for whom exploring topics like these is an everyday occurrence.
At one point in the week we had several Burning Man employees come and speak to IDEATE about the history of Burning Man. One of them (my friend Rosie) described the evolution of a burner. It’s typical for people to arrive their first year with the idea that Burning Man in mainly significant because it’s the best party in the world. That’s what I thought my first year, and that had been my frame. But over time, people start to see it differently. For me, this was the year I was really hungry to view the event through the lens that IDEATE offered.
The first time I came to Burning Man, there was so much I wanted to see. I had a long list. I made an effort to visit all my friends at all their camps. Our camp did most things as a group. We went to Robot Heart all the time. But we didn’t go because we had decided it would be the best opportunity for personal growth… I think we went because they played the best deep house music on the playa, and we wanted to experience “the best”. We had a small camp, and when I wasn’t doing something with that group, I felt FOMO. In retrospect I didn’t really give myself full freedom to do whatever I felt like doing in every moment. I had too much of an agenda.
This year I’ve learned a lot of great language “reframes” from the dynamic duo of Shana and Amanda. Early this year they taught me about JOBI. JOBI is an important concept that everyone needs to learn about: It’s the opposite of FOMO. Instead of the “Fear Of Missing Out,” JOBI is the “Joy Of Being In.” I felt a lot of JOBI during this burn. Sometimes I was challenged by things I thought I really wanted to go to, but I practiced JOBI… wherever I was became absolutely the *best* place for me to be. Then one day at lunch I was telling someone about JOBI and he said, “Have you heard of JOMO?” I said, “Never heard of it, what’s that?” He proceeded to blow my mind with this: “It’s the Joy Of Missing Out.” YESSSSS! There were so many awesome parties that I was missing! Why was I missing them? Because I was doing exactly what I should have be doing, which means that whatever I was doing was, by definition, more awesome for me at that moment than the awesome parties! So began my festival of JOMO. By the end of the week I had really nailed the right attitude.
An example. Every year, the whole event climaxes with the burning of The Man. I have never found this to be as compelling or interesting as most people seem to find it. I previously tried to make it feel more meaningful than it naturally did. I always went with a big group to get as close as possible. Loud noise. High energy. Hot heat. Epic experience… but did I really ever enjoy it that much? This year, we were walking towards the man but decided to JOMO that “epic” experience. Instead, we peeled off and wandered over to see friends at First Camp. As the Man burned, I couldn’t feel the heat, the music, or the manic energy. Instead, I was about a mile away, sitting in a lawn chair, next to Marian, one of the co-founders of Burning Man. We drank hard cider and chatted. It was perfect. How did I end up there, feeling so much JOMO and JOBI? I guess that’s the power of experience.
Historically, I’m really good at working hard. In 2014 I refocused on playing hard. Now that I’m recharged and ready to work hard again, I had started worrying about how to maintain a healthy balance while doing so. How could I have it all, dialing back up my career ambitions without losing everything else I have been enjoying about 2014? Then I just stopped worrying about it. I’m going to have a healthy, balanced life. I’m just going to do it. I am going to make everything fit. There will always be tradeoffs, but I believe that whatever tradeoffs I choose, I will be making the right choice, or at least a choice I can accept with ease. I can say “no” to a thousand things, but each time I am also saying “yes” to something else. Already, it is true that I never waste time. Now I hope it will also be true that I never regret what I do or don’t do with time.
At Burning Man, everyone gets what’s called a “playa name”. It’s just a nickname you use at Burning Man. An alter ego — something that everyone on the playa calls you. You don’t need to set out to find one. You’re just supposed to wait until a playa name finds you. For my first two years, no playa name found me. I was Brent. Then, a week before this year’s burn, Shana and I were talking about something. We don’t remember what. But as she was talking she said the word “unlimited.” She paused, and said the word again, and somehow we both instantly knew that it would be my playa name.
I have unlimited capacity. I have unlimited ambition. I have unlimited love. I have unlimited patience. I have unlimited ideas. That is, there is no limit to the number of ideas I have, and by their very nature, my ideas eschew limits. The scope of my interests? It is unlimited. You have problems? I have unlimited solutions. What can I learn? It’s unlimited. What can I do? It’s unlimited.
However, being unlimited requires me to remain focused and attentive to the way I spend my time. Check out the haircut that Amanda and Shana carved into my head.
It’s a maze. Inputs from my left brain and right brain eventually converge on the circle in the back of my head. I suppose the circle itself is unlimited, but more importantly it marks the location of my cerebellum. The cerebellum is important for attention. It’s important for happiness. But mostly it’s about giving your movements precision. Imagine I decided I wanted to touch your nose with my finger. If I had a problem with my cerebellum I would reach out for your nose slowly and erratically, making many mid-course corrections along the way. Luckily for me, my cerebellum is in impeccable shape, and I am about to move my fingertip in a rapid straight trajectory to touch your nose.
<touches your nose>
So, as long as I maintain a focused, balanced mastery of my own attention, I believe I will continue to feel unlimited. And if I don’t feel like I have any limits (apart from physics, mortality, etc) it’s pretty hard to argue that my existence is being limited by anything of consequence, isn’t it? Isn’t that nice?
Burning Man, thanks for letting me peer into your funhouse mirror again in 2014. I see myself in a whole new way. I am Unlimited!