A Letter to a Virgin Burner
A Reflection on the Meaning of Burning Man
What is the meaning of Burning Man?
The truth is that it can mean something widely different for each of the 60,000 plus attendees, known fondly as Burners.
Some Burners are there to party with friends and strangers alike. Some are there for spiritual healing, re-energizing, or even for a transformation. Some are there for the myriad opportunities to engage in various forms of sexual pleasure and experimentation. And others are there for the incredible art and music.
Others are there to participate in an open community and culture, and to experiment pushing the bounds of society as we know it. Burning Man, the organization, calls part of this idea radical self expression. A gift economy such as the one propagated at Burning Man will absolutely do just that—push us out of our everyday bounds into a land of the radical.
Other Burners might be there to simply surround themselves with love—unconditional love from all beings to each other, many times in the form of a hug, a wide smile, a dance with a stranger, or a hand hold.
Many are in the Black Rock Desert, this week known as Black Rock City, to escape—whether their work, the “real world” (more on this later), their relationships, their obligations, no matter; they escape via substances, via fleeting Burning Man relationships and love, through mind-altering art and creativity, and ultimately through the white ocean of dust known as The Playa. The Playa is also known as home, made clear after hearing multiple Burners greet other Burners with a “Welcome home!”
So what is my advice to a virgin (first time) Burner?
Expectations and many societal norms we take for granted are thrown (and should be pitched in fact) to the wind.
Lose your inhibitions, your fears, your complacency, your mind, your body, your limits, and you could find your heart, your feelings, your soul, and your authentic self.
Only say no to things that don’t charm you. Say yes to EVERYTHING else.
Stop your bike when you see an attractive camp or sign or art car or person. When you see a gleaming speck in the distance, go forth to it. When you have an idea or a fantasy, manifest it! You have the power on The Playa.
Don’t hesitate—there’s no time for it, nor any reason.
Touch everything with your hands, your eyes, and with your heart.
Build something beautiful, or help other people build their dreams.
Everywhere you adventure to, speak to a new person. Give them your eyes and ears, and they will give you the same, plus some in return!
When there is a drum circle, play. And if you can’t play as well as the others, sing. And if you can’t sing, dance!
Dance until your body no longer knows how to stand still, because a still body feels like a static soul.
Let your arms fly like a bird when you dance, or like the wings of a fairy; you aren’t in a traditional dance club where they are relegated to being tucked by your swaying hips and side bodies. Here, your arms would flow like the wind.
Open your eyes, then close them and let the light and sounds permeate your skin, your joints, your muscles, your organs, and your bones. You are a vibrating, energetic being—let yourself be that animal.
Look at the daily schedule and find something you wouldn’t typically do, then do it. Do at least one new thing each day. It might (and will) surprise you.
Gift to others meaningful pieces of yourself and of your best memories, and others will do unto you as you’ve done unto them.
Ride your bike like you’ll never ever fall—you won’t! But do mind where you bike—there are 60,000 people in this city. If you do see another Burner fall, stop and help them get up. Hug them. Lock your bike, especially at night. You’ll be doing yourself and your friends a favor. And most importantly, LOVE your bike—decorate it like it’s a part of you.
Let yourself glow in the daytime with your own radiance, and in the night, drape yourself in colorful el wire, glow sticks, and glitter—you won’t regret it.
Look in wonder at all of the mechanical animals known as art cars floating in the night desert dust and sky. The art cars will be the closest real life fantasy in which you might ever partake. At night, The Playa becomes a Neverland of your making; dream it and you might just see it. Run to the art cars, feel them, dance on them, jump off again and run to another, feeling the dust careening in a wake of wind and white behind you.
Don’t get FOMO (fear of missing out); you are and will end up where you are meant to be and with the people with whom you are meant to be with as long as you are being your authentic self and following what charms you. YOU are what you have been missing.
Regarding regrets, FOMO’s older cousin…for what would you have them? How do they serve you? They will only subtract and detract from your Burning Man experience, and keep you from embodying and rediscovering your most authentic self.
BREATHE!!! Even in a dust storm, when I know you are wearing your goggles and your handkerchief or bandana around your nose and mouth. Breathe deep, diaphragmatic chest and stomach breaths, filling your body from toe to tip of your fingers and crown of your head with reinvigorating air.
And, when you feel stronger about another person than you often do, tell them. Show them. Be the best communicator you’ve ever been capable of being. Technology is not here to inhibit you from being that authentic communicator right then and there, you have no excuses. Don’t be afraid; you’ve already lost everything and you can only gain even more. Be what and how you feel.
Spend a lot of time with your friends, new and old, and with your lover—but also, spend ample time with yourself; you don’t have enough you time in the “real world.”
Do you have trouble being alone? Or do you simply not have enough time alone when in the “real world?” This is your chance! Discover what you love doing when you’re alone. What thoughts come to mind? What are you learning about your preferences and your habits? Do you love yourself? What if you do, and you didn’t know it? Be selfish! Choose that in which you want to partake. Eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, run when it feels liberating, and seek out that person whom you so desire to see, no matter what they might think. This is you. Does it feel good? Burning Man is a wonderful setting in which to nourish your relationship with yourself. The “real world” does not always afford this.
About that “real world.” What makes it more real than The Playa? Our jobs? Our families? Our responsibilities? Our dependencies? Our possessions? Our habits, good and bad? Our judgments? Our relationships and memories of them? Our experiences? Reflect on why Burners call The Playa home. Does it feel like home to you at all?
So what? What makes Burning Man so different? How do I reconcile Burning Man with my “real world?”
The thing is, every bit and piece of our reality exists in its own unique and critical way on The Playa. There are jobs and roles that we play for each other, but this time—voluntarily. We have family, just not necessarily blood relatives. We have responsibilities, and we LNT (leave no trace). We have stuff, much of it ornate, flamboyant, and magical seeming, but stuff nonetheless. We have habits. We have our memories and our experiences accentuating everything in which we partake on The Playa.
So, what is missing? Our judgments. It might take 2-3 full days of being on The Playa to finally get it, but you will get it dear virgin, this I promise you. Your judgments will melt away in the blazing sun and get picked up by a dust storm, spun like a tornado into a smile and a warm giggle of positive energy, manifested as love instead.
And this is when and where Burning Man and the world of The Playa will become your best real world. At this point, you will understand deep down inside of your authentic self why you are here in the dusty ocean at the end of the planet you know. And for the rest of the week, you’ll feel more alive than you ever have. It will be perpetual. Take all of those moments in your life where you experienced extreme highs and lows, powerful feelings and memories, then mix them together and this is how you’ll feel on The Playa when you finally lose your judgments.
Sometimes, you’ll be so ecstatic you won’t even know what to do with your body but share it with others. Sometimes, you’ll feel best when you are alone and reflecting inwards. Other times, a wave of sadness might overcome you; let it. Sadness is just as beautiful and vitally important as is happiness. In this writer’s and no longer virgin’s book, it is the feeling of sadness that elevates happiness so high in comparison.
You will learn a lot about yourself in this week on The Playa. You will learn what you love and what you want to change. You will learn that your phone and your computer and your constant need for connectivity is inhibiting the way you relate to others, and most importantly, the way that you relate to yourself. You will learn that sunscreen, water, lip balm, hand sanitizer, a bike, avocados, chocolate, coffee, sunglasses, ice, shade of some sort, a smile, and a warm, radiant body of a friend or of someone a little more special might be all that you need in this life.
But most importantly, you will, if you follow the above advice, rediscover and reconnect to parts of the authentic self that makes up the real you, the good stuff.
And this is why Burning Man might be a manifestation of the best parts of the real world; because in this place, in this extreme climate and in this unexpected environment full of strangers behaving outside of everyday societal norms, you will find more authentic selves maybe than in anywhere else on this planet.
That is why you are a Burner. A Burner is just another word for your authentic self. And when you reconnect with that part of you, the life sustaining part of you, the good stuff—you will be changed forever.
I look forward to the day that more of us can grace this earth smiling at each other for no apparent reason, because this is the world I want to inhabit. This is The Playa. This is my real world. And it can be everyone’s.
5 days later, as my temporary arm tattoo, “Adventure for Life” continues fading into the freckles of my upper left arm, I re-imagine it the way I’d like it to read: Life is for Adventure.