Everyone has a different reason to attend burn events like Burning Man. For some, it’s an opportunity to let go, get a little crazy, and escape life. For others, it is all about the community vibe, culture, and connecting with like minds. For me, it was all about creative expression and "living a dream" for those few days a year.
Burn events presented me with a blank palette on which to express myself in ways that seemed impossible in my daily life. As a musician, artist, and free spirit, the burn was an outlet for energy that became contained through my day-to-day life as a productive member of society with a day job.
For 5 years, I was a religious attendee of Austin’s regional burn, “Burning Flipside,” as a card-carrying member of Redcamp. Each year, we'd invest months in planning and meetings. We’d build structures, discuss how we would give away a bunch of liquor, logistically plan how to get our infrastructure out to the playa, assign camp leads, and have fun at our weekly meetings. One year, we even wrote and choreographed a full play for that year’s theme, Dr. Tiki’s Medicine Show. As a white-collar desk jockey, I was able to live my passions each year by escaping to flipside.
At the burn events, I adhered to the credos taught to me: “unconditional giving,” “radical self-expression," "radical self-reliance,” “community,” “leave no trace,” and “no spectators.” The event was unlike a concert experience, where we came as consumers. I found that Flipside was best approached without a consumer mindset. The idea was that if everyone brought their gifts to the table, the experience would create itself. In my case, I’d spend hours playing solo piano under our red dome on my Fender Rhodes or roaming with my sax. I might serve up free vodka-infused drinks to people that visited our camp in between greeting them or smoking them out and having in-depth conversations about the meaning of life.
Then, in 2012, things changed for me. Actually, I changed. I realized that I didn’t need to go away to some far off unsustainable transformational festival to live the life I desired. Instead of escaping life to live the values for only one long weekend per year, I could live the rest of the year with those same values. So, I quit my day job and focused on "living a dream."
I joined a touring band to express my musical artistry. I created a “silent disco” company to create unique events and bring people together in an interesting way. I started producing guided meditations and doing yoga and pranayama breathwork to create psychedelic experiences and explore infinity in different ways. For the community and culture vibe, I took a trip around the world and stayed with locals everywhere. At home, I threw intention-based parties and provided some great food and drinks; we even did mini-burn ceremonies sometimes. At local Austin meetups, people come together for interesting topics like mindfulness, the planets, travel, art, crystals, and other metaphysical stuff. I began to live the life of a burner without actually going to Burning Man. Well, sort of...
It's impossible to generalize as I have been, but as Burning Man continues to grow, surely you can still get a taste of this as a yearning seeker -- the catalyst. Yet the festival's growth has contributed to a slew of articles about how Burning Man changed or how it’s become just an outlet for people to consume, get wasted, or have unbridled sex. Instead of bringing an experience, you can just buy one, even though money is technically frowned upon in an unconditionally-giving society. Instead of leaving no trace, you can let someone else to clean up after you. It seems that many who attend are looking for an experience, but unwilling to create one.
Burning Man has always been an adult fairyland where you could satisfy any intention, no matter how whimsical, magical, far-out, seemingly-impossible, or even depraved it may sound. That is what is so magical about it. It is a reminder that we can create our own reality. It is the same for life! We have the power to create our own reality with our intentions, actions, and awareness, and we don’t need to escape reality to do this. Being stuck in a day job or life that isn’t living up to potential, transformational festivals can be the catalyst to help one transform into that we wish to become, as they did for me. The catch is, you must be the change you wish to see, and YOU must initiate the transformation if you want it to be sustainable.
Of course, just like at Burning Man, life is not always easy. Between the dust storms, supply chain issues, travel expenses, bugs, and ‘shit happens’ events, things won’t always go your way. The crazy thing is that these setbacks are also a huge part of what make the experience at Burning Man -- AND IN LIFE -- so impactful. When we embrace the hardships next to the good times as opportunities for growth and introspection, we make the rapid progress that really helps us grow and live up to the term “transformation.”
In the end, if you can't make it out to the desert to transform yourself, it's ok. With a measured effort, some faith, and a little bit of magic, we can create a utopia where everyone can express their potential as a contributor to the wonderful world that surrounds us. We can experience the joys of unconditional giving, the connectedness of working with like-minded people towards a common goal, and the contentment of living a dream. To do so, we must be the transformation to which we wish to escape. Only then can we experience the joys of Burning Man – without the dust storms.