Over seventy thousand beautiful humans expressing their individuality in the middle of nowhere. Overused words like awesome and amazing begin to recapture original meaning when describing the event. The sounds, the lights, the music, the art, the beauty, the humanity...
I've had so many people tell me Burning Man is indescribable. Pictures and words just can't do it. They were right.
But I still have to try. I've had a number of people ask me how my first Burning Man experience went. I've been processing my thoughts for days, and I'm still not clear how to communicate everything that Burning Man is and what this experience meant to me. I guess I'll just start from the beginning and see where it goes.
I've heard the stories about the C-level Silicon Valley executives attending. I've heard how Burning Man shapes the minds that shape the future. I've been fascinated by it for years. A week and a half before the event, a friend told me he could obtain a ticket after I mentioned how much I'd like to attend. Surprisingly, my wife understood and agreed to watch the kids while I went on my adventure.
I was supposed to fly in to Reno and meet up with my guide, but they ran into some travel trouble. The plan was to hit up the Burning Man costume shops together and, with veteran guidance, help this khaki-cargo-pants-wearing "virgin" burner get some appropriate threads. Instead, I went off to Junkees, PolyEsther's, and The Melting Pot by myself. I didn't realize at first how important it is to wear fun outfits and be part of the scenery that is Burning Man (scroll down for some photos of the clothes I picked out).
With a late start, we got our food situated and made it through the line to the Playa by Tuesday at 5am. I slept for a few hours in the cab of the truck until the sun got too hot. While waiting for everyone else to wake up, I hopped on the bike I was borrowing to travel around a bit. I was absolutely amazed that after quite a bit of riding, I only made it to 2:15 and then 2:30 from our 2:00 camp.
This. Place. Is. MASSIVE.
I can't fully describe just how big Black Rock City is. I climbed a tower and took one of the few pictures I managed to snap which hopefully gives you some sense of scale.
Everything is laid out in a semi-circle pattern with a clock number and letter location system. The burning man structure is in the middle with the temple (and many, many art installations) further into the deep desert called the Playa. Here's a picture of the map to get an idea of what I mean (we were located around 2:10 and H near I):
It took most of the day to set up camp where we had two geodesic domes covered with tarps and aluminum shading (see the video below for more on that). My first night walking around was incredible. Tens of thousands of individual humans, bikes, art cars, and camps all lit up in amazing fashion. As far as the eye could see and in every direction, there were astounding sites of wonder to behold. I can close my eyes now and imagine the lights again along with the thumping bass music from numerous sound camps in every direction. It truly is indescribable.
The most unbelievable part is realizing how all of this just emerges out of the desert from nothing but human will and creativity. As I've studied voluntaryism and anarchy ("without rulers") and let go of the religious dogma hindering my thinking, I've started to form a version of what humanity actually is. As NVC says, I believe our greatest desire is to meet the needs of others. Burning Man was a confirmation of what I believe humanity to be: beautiful, loving, expressive, creative, energetic, resourceful, and generous. Everyone greets each other with a hug and when they hear you are a "virgin" burner they rightfully say, "Welcome home." To give you a deeper view of what the atmosphere is like, here are the ten principles that define the Burning Man experience and, in my personal experience, were accurately followed:
1.. Radical Inclusion
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
4.. Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
5.. Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
6.. Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
7.. Civic Responsibility
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
8.. Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.
The whole time I was there, I saw no trash. None. Only tiny specs of "MOOP" (matter out of place) I picked up here and there, almost like a kid on a scavenger or easter egg hunt. I participated and was included to work the perimeter of an art piece burn. There was no bartering and no financial exchange of any kind other than ice and coffee at center camp. People gave me free food, drinks, gifts, and more. It was like a utopia in the desert where everyone gets to do what everyone wants to do.
I received these gifts during the event, including a Sri Yantra necklace which I may do a post about in the future. The "To the Moon" necklace made me chuckle considering the cryptocurrency meaning of the same phrase (it's actually a local burner event, which I may attend some day).
I now know why so many "burners" wear a lot of necklaces and bracelets. These are common Burning Man gifts.
As for my own gift, with little time to prepare, I couldn't think of much other than what I do here on Steemit which is give my time to help others understand important things like cryptocurrency. I put this little flier together and only gave it out to those who I thought would appreciate it. Everyone who received it was truly grateful.
If there is one thing you can clearly say about Burning Man is that it is beautiful. The camps, the art cars, the costumed individuals, the Man, the Temple, and the art installations all represent human creativity and beauty at a level I never knew was possible. Here are some images from the official burning man website just to give a taste of what I mean (please click through to see more images):
As I mentioned, I bought some of my own costumes as well. I don't have pictures of me wearing them on the Playa, but I did lay them out in the hotel room beforehand (the white Junkee hat was a gift):
You can see I also bought some lights which I strung together and wore at night to avoid being a "Dark Wad." There are so many bikes and art cars going in every direction that if you're not lit up, you will get run over. I also used the water backpack, headlamp, and goggles I prepared beforehand along with a much-needed dust mask.
Some people think Burning Man is just a wild event of sex and drugs. I think it's whatever people want it to be and those who don't have personal experiential knowledge of the event might do well refraining from describing what they don't understand. For me, it was a spiritual human experience. My first trip on psilocybin mushrooms took place the night of the burn where they put a torch to The Man. It was amazing. I could write many posts on that night alone which included a euphoric sense of love, peace, comfort, joy, wonder, purpose, and connectedness.
I'm very blessed to have been guided by a friend who practiced as a shaman in his past and has attended Burning Man for over a decade. Connecting with people like Vinay Gupta out there and seeing these "wizards" communicate about things I've previously written off and judged as "not scientific" absolutely changed my reality. Discussing ancient plant medicines as "spiritual technology" and hearing from ridiculously smart, scientifically-minded people how "the magic is real" got me to drop so many judgements and closed-off thinking I've been holding on to. I also ran into @lukewearechange and @virtualgrowth among others at the Decentralized camp where lectures about blockchain technology were taking place throughout the day.
As I put my religious thinking behind me a few years back, I swung the pendulum way over to hard materialistic determinism. I now realize there are many other modes of successful thinking, many of which have served humanity for thousands of years. Just like I've enjoyed and excelled at communicating complicated blockchain technologies to non-technical people, I think I'm starting another journey to explain these "spiritual technologies" to those who are either too close-minded either religiously or scientifically to consider the possibilities of consciousness beyond ourselves.
I'm still extremely skeptical, mind you, I'm just now open to the possibilities. As of today, I still think the amazing things people describe outside of the body are just experiential emergent properties of the human brain. But, for the first time in a long time, I'm open to many more possibilities, further open to being wrong about my assumptions, and I'm truly interested in exploring everything to gain more wisdom and understanding.
Burning Man is an experience where just about anything is possible. I even saw a Cirque du Soleil show! The people I met, the conversations I had, the art I experienced, the beats I danced to, the wonder and awe that washed over me... It all contributed to a once-in-a-lifetime reality that seemed stranger than fiction. It's something I hope to experience again and something I hope you get to participate in some day as well.
I guess I should say something about the fact that, yes, there are some naked people. Many camps have open showers. It was weird for maybe the first day or so and then it just became normal. Why should humans being humans be considered abnormal?
I could go on, but instead I'll end with a short video of the few shots and videos I took with my phone while I was there. Surprisingly, I didn't have my phone with me much at all during the week. I was living in the moment and experiencing it completely so I don't have much to share in digital format, but just enough to keep my memories alive. This video is unlisted because you're not supposed to take pictures and videos of Burning Man to share online unless you get prior permission. Hopefully this will be okay as I made a conscious effort not to photograph any individuals, and it's mainly to remind me of what I experienced. I hope you enjoy it also.
Edit: I almost forgot to mention my experience at the Temple. It's a shrine of sorts where people leave notes for their loved ones who are no longer with us physically. It's a deeply solemn place of quiet reflection that eventually goes up in flames. I walked through it quietly until I saw a sharpie message "FUCK Cancer" scribbled into one of the beams. I grabbed it to steady myself as a wave of emotions flowed over me. I found a place to sit and began writing a letter to my parents who passed away a few months apart in 2007. After over ten years, I thought I had processed all those emotions in full, but here they were rising up within me. I wrote to my parents about the man I've become, about the wife who birthed the three grandchildren they never met, and the experience I was having. I told them how awesome my kids are, the challenges and joy they bring me and how much I love them. I had to write around the large tears hitting the page. I left that note among many others, collected myself, and as I walked out, a woman asked if I needed I hug. I said, "We all need a hug" and gladly received it. It was the type of hug @corinnestokes gives, and in that moment this random stranger was a proxy for my wife who wasn't there. I told her she was a beautiful human being and walked off. It was a powerful moment I will never forget.
If you'd like to see a short documentary film on Burning Man, I included it in a previous post.
Luke Stokes is a father, husband, programmer, STEEM witness, DAC launcher, and voluntaryist who wants to help create a world we all want to live in. Learn about cryptocurrency at UnderstandingBlockchainFreedom.com