About 6 months ago, I went to Burning Man for the first time. And it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve EVER had. Hands down.
I know, people throw around the word “life changing” a lot. But I shit you not, that’s EXACTLY what it was for me. It truly was a transformative, un-f*cking-believable experience and I know it’ll hold a special place in my life for many years to come.
But honestly, it wasn’t all that long ago when I had NO idea what Burning Man was. I thought it was some drugged out, Woodstock-like concert. Or a raging hippie orgy in the desert.
Either way, I saw it as something that just “wasn’t for me”.
I’m guessing that’s what most of you are thinking right now, huh?
Luckily for me, one day, a client of mine started telling me all about his Burning Man experience. About what it was really like. Beyond the dumb misconceptions and stereotypes.
Two things happened that day: 1) My mind was blown, and 2) I knew I HAD to go and experience it for myself. This was not an option.
And now, a year later and with my own amazing experience under my belt, I think it’s my duty to do the same for you. To tell you about the real Burning Man.
Honestly, a shit ton of you will read this and think, “Meh, not for me”. And that’s okay. It’s totally cool.
But I know that a few of you out there, just like me, will read this and something inside will just click. You’ll realize you’ve been waiting for an experience like this your entire life and didn’t even know it.
So in case that might be you – sit your ass down, open your mind, and let me give you some knowledge.
Without further ado, here’s what you don’t know about Burning Man…
You, Yes You, Belong Here
Burning Man isn’t just for drugged-out artists and new-agey flower children (although you’ll find them there too) – it’s literally for everyone.
I think you’d be surprised at how many well-adjusted, NORMAL members of society you’ll run into here.
The camp I was with consisted of brain surgeons, social activists, and financial advisors – from 24 to 60 years old! Hell, remember that client who convinced me to go? He’s a successful, middle-aged politician with two adorable daughters!
So don’t tell me you don’t belong here. Don’t tell me you won’t fit in.
That’s what makes this place so goddamn special: no matter who you are, you’re accepted here.
That’s why you hear about some people running around buck-naked here. It’s not cause they’re sex maniacs. It’s cause here, you can dress up (or down) as crazy as you like, and no one will judge you for it.
There’s a reason why they say, “Welcome home” when you first cross through the gates. I’ve never been in a place where I’ve felt more accepted and un-judged in my entire life.
It’s NOT a Woodstock, Rave, or Batshit Insane Party!
Yes, there’s music. There’s dancing. There’s plenty of people on all kinds of, uh, substances.
But there’s SO much more than that.
Wanna ride around with your friends on a bike obstacle course? Engage in group meditation as harpists strum a symphony for you? Or watch a 40-foot Trojan Horse get shot at with flaming arrows and then burst into a beautiful display of fireworks?
Whatever kind of experience you’re looking for – from spritual to sensational – you can find here (and you can find it sober, seriously).
How about a game of tennis with flaming balls of fire? Or adding your deepest secret to the Shame Memorial and watching it all cathartically burn to the ground? Or witness the most beautiful freakin’ sunrise of YOUR LIFE on top of a grand temple with a crowd of strangers, all sharing bottles of wine, hugs, and even heartfelt speeches?
I could go on and on (and on) with examples but I think you get the point.
Thinking of Burning Man as “just a party” is wrong on so many levels. It’s such a shallow, narrow way of looking at it.
That’s like describing the lunar landing as “just some dude going on a walk”. C’mon!
It’s All About the Gifting Baby (Not Bartering!)
Bartering?? Stop right there. If you ever hear someone say “barter” and “Burning Man” in the same sentence, please kindly shut them up for me.
Burning Man is a GIFTING culture. Huge difference. And, in my opinion, this is EXACLTY what makes Burning Man such a special and life-changing place.
Let me explain.
At Burning Man, the entire experience is centered around giving gifts to others: compliments, food, music…basically anything that can make someone else happy. You are literally surrounded by 50,000 people who all want to give with NO expectation of getting anything in return!
In today’s society, that’s nothing short of a goddamn miracle.
Lemme give you an example. Remember my politican client? Well, he went to Burning Man for the first time a few days before his wedding (I know, crazy, right?). In the middle of the desert, he came across this woman sitting at a typewriter.
Her gift was badass. Basically, if you told her about someone special in your life, she would write up a little 2 page story about them.
Well, he told Ms. Typewriter all about his soon-to-be wife. Five minutes later, she ended up handing him a story so beautiful and moving…he actually read the whole thing at his wedding! That was 8 years ago and he STILL has it with him today. Now how’s that for a gift??
You getting the idea a little bit? These gifts can be creative, spontaneous, and everything in-between. A few more examples:
- A camp that gifted freshly made french toast and cool mist spraydowns (who knew that’d be such a perfect combo?)
- A rollerskating rink just set up in the middle of the desert, complete with skates and disco music!
- Bartenders gifting snowcones if you gift them a song (we gifted them a 4-part acapella rendition of “Sexyback”)
- My friends and I were just chilling when a woman named “Vanilla Jesus” came up and gifted us a 30 min. interpretive dance on her bike…and it was EXACTLY as awesome as it sounds!
- I complimented this gentleman on his rad light gloves and he just took one off and gave it to me! No hesitation at all.
- A “Hug Deli” where you can order all sorts of hugs (I recommend you get the Long and Awkward Group Cinnamon Roll).
Take that awesomeness, multiply it by a million, and you’ll start to get the picture.
All the amazing art structures, the blasting music, the insanely-creative vehicles – all of the beautiful things that people built in the middle of the desert – they’re ALL gifts. No one is recieving credit or money for any of these things. They’re made purely to be shared, to be enjoyed by all.
It may not sound like that big of a deal, but trust. It is. Being immersed in this gifting culture was MONUMENTAL for me.
When I returned to the “straight world”, my entire mindset was different. All I wanted to do was send good vibes to others. With no ulterior motives. With nothing expected in return. And it was f*cking beautiful.
I know it sounds cheesy. But I’m telling you, you have to experience it to believe it. All I know is that the gifting aspect of Burning Man really shook up the way I see the world. And I’m way, WAY happier for it.
Thanks, Burning Man, for that awesome gift.
The Harsh Desert Ain’t So Harsh
Look, I’m no boy scout. Growing up, I hated camping and wanted nothing to do with the outdoors.
So to be honest, my biggest fear going into Burning Man was the harsh outdoor elements: staying in the desert for a week, having to bring all your food and water, sudden sandstorms, no electricity, no running water…
Holy crap. I thought I was gonna die.
But I’m telling you, by the end of the week, not only did I tolerate the harsh desert environment…I ended up falling in love with it!
Now, granted, the Burn I went to had some of the best weather in years. But even taking that into account, I couldn’t believe how much I actually enjoyed this crazy outdoor environment.
Loading your camelbak’s up with water, using baby wipes to shower, finding shelter during sandstorms…it all became part of the adventure!
Yes, you WILL get playa dust all over your body and everything you own. But I’m telling you, not only does that dust look sexy as shit on you, but by the time you leave, you’ll end up missing it.
Hell, I even got over my life-long fear of going #2 in porta-potties (these porta’s are cleaned twice a day and are treated with respect!). My parents would be so proud.
But the best part of it all? By living/breathing/playing in this harsh desert environment for an entire week, you end up getting in touch with nature in this really primal, almost spiritual, way.
You begin to develop a relationship with the outside world (instead of just seeing it as scenery on your commute) and start to see it as an extension of your own home. Seriously, you’ll never see a Burner litter. They even have a word for that: MOOP (Mess Out of Place).
There’s something about being out in the desert that helps you reconnect with what really matters (connecting with others, creativity, caring for our environment) and ditch what doesn’t (our job titles, wearing the latest brands, driving fancy cars)
It reminds you that underneath all the fancy layers we cover ourselves with, at the end of the day, it’s really simple: we’re just humans. Creative, loving, and resourceful humans. And that’s all that matters.
But sorry, I just went off on a little hippie tangent.
Here’s the bottom line people: if I can handle the desert and even fall in love with it…then YOU are most definitely going to be fine.
Call Yourself a Traveller? You HAVE to Go to Burning Man
All my self-identified travellers out there…can I see a show of hands? Alright, this one’s for you.
If you’re a traveller, you crave new experiences. Adventures. Meeting friendly foreigners. Getting to experience a culture completely different from your own.
Sound like you so far? That’s what I thought.
Now imagine travelling to the most unique city you’ve ever heard of, where the customs and social norms are way different from ANY city in the entire world. A community where:
- There is no monetary system. Instead, people just gift and share what they have.
- There are no cell phones or twitter.
- There are no advertisements, luxury brands, or status signifiers (everyone is equal here).
- There is a strong sense of spirituality, but not of any specific dogma or creed.
- Uniqueness is celebrated, not singled out or looked down upon.
Sounds like a cool place to visit, right? I guarantee you’ve never been somewhere like this before. But, wait for it…here’s the kicker:
Imagine visiting this crazy/insane/awesome city, but you’re not visiting as a tourist. Nope.
In this city, you’re a f*cking LOCAL.
And this is why Burning Man is the ultimate travel experience. Not only is it the coolest, most unique place you’ve ever heard of…but here, you’re not an outsider looking in.
Here, you’re on the inside. You’re a part of it. You’re actively CO-CREATING it with 50,000 other people.
Look, I know there’s no right way to “do” Burning Man, but I think one sure as hell wrong way is to show up as an OBSERVER and not as a PARTICIPANT.
You need to throw yourself 100% into it! Stay for the entire week so you can get fully immersed in the BM culture and mindset. Gift freely and openly. Be creative. Explore. Play. Flow. Get in touch with your inner kid.
Open your f*cking mind and heart.
LET GO of what you think you SHOULD do…and simply do what you WANT to do.
If you do all the above, not only will you have the f*cking time of your life, but something else might even happen. Something way more kickass than just a good time…
It Can Change You (If You Let It)
See, there’s a reason why people talk about Burning Man in such a special way. And why I’m sitting here writing this looong ass post half a year after going.
If it was just a fun time, I would’ve tweeted instead: “OMGAAA BM was so fun!!! #goodtimes”. But instead, I’m hunched over the keyboard right now, agonizing over every single word.
Because unlike other festivals, it’s not a place you go to SEE something or DO something.
It’s a place where you can BECOME someone.
It’s not like Coachella or Woodstock where the whole point of being there is to see your favorite artists. At BM, there’s no main “point”. There’s no specific reason for being there.
Think of BM as less of an event, and more of an alternate world. Where, for a whole week, you’re just living in this world. There’s no “point” or specific goal. There’s nothing you have to see or do.
Just like in your normal world, you simply wake up each day and experience stuff.
But there’s a key difference with this alternate world: It’s free of so much of the CRAP that holds us back in the normal world. The need to impress others. The pressure to find your “calling”. The fear of what people think. All that and more.
And when you can step into this alternate world and let go of all those fears, pressures, and layers of SHIT…you get to experience something way cooler than JUST a sweet new world.
You get to experience a sweet new YOU.
And this is exactly why people think of BM as such a special, almost sacred place.
Here, you can get in touch with a part of yourself that you might’ve never known was there. A you that’s not afraid to express itself. A you that’s in touch with the present moment. A you that listens to the heart, and not the head.
For one week, you can become the YOU that you were always meant to be. The real you, deep down inside.
And just like the Men’s Warehouse dude…I think you’re gonna like what you see.
I know I did. And same with my friends. We got in touch with a part of ourselves that week and things haven’t been the same ever since.
Now I can’t promise that everyone who goes out to the desert is going to have a life-changing experience. Definitely not. But here’s what I can promise:
If you go in with an open mind and open heart, and completely and fully DIVE IN, PARTICIPATE, and LET GO…something f*cking amazing will happen.
What that is exactly, you’re gonna have to find out for yourself.
And to those of you still reading thus far, I think something should be painfully obvious by now. Did something inside of you just click? Did your pulse quicken a bit? Is a voice inside of you screaming out, “HELLS YES!!!”?
No? S’all good, don’t worry about it. But if yes…then you know what to do.
Welcome home Burner. I’ll see you out on the playa soon.
Whew, FINAL-F*CKING-LY! I’ve been meaning to write this post for 6 frickin’ months but just kept on putting it off and off. As you can tell, it’s a topic that means a lot to me so I felt a ton of pressure to “get it right”.
Honestly though, I don’t thnk anything I could’ve written would’ve TRULY captured what I wanted to say. So if you find yourself intrigued by BM, please hit me up in the comments or by e-mail and I’ll be more than glad to talk more about it.
Ironically, I finally finished this post right in the middle of BM’s first, major ticket debacle. There’s a good chance my friends and I won’t be able to go this year, but surprisingly, we’re all very cool with it.
The lessons we’ve learned from our first Burn are still with us today. And maybe more importantly, so are the amazing friendships and relationships we’ve forged with those lessons.
I actually think it was a blessing in disguise that I put off this post for so long. Those 6 months gave me enough space and distance to realize that
Yeah, the idea of not being able to go to the playa this year is kind of a bummer…but a lot less so when you realize that your “normal world” now looks a lot more like the playa.