Life Lessons I Learned At Burning Man

It’s almost been a year since I wandered to the playa for the first time. With Burning Man right around the corner, I’ve been thinking more and more about my experience there, and I wanted to share some things I learned. While there are plenty of Burning Man guidelines online, this isn’t about the basic necessities to bring, this is about the something more that the playa provides. To everyone venturing to the Burn this year, let yourself let go, be free, set your heart on fire and open yourself up to the wildness of life. To those who can’t make it, remember how beautiful life can be when you let it. Here’s a piece of Burning Man that I hope everyone can carry with them wherever they are.

Burning Man Arrival: Wiping sleep from my eyes, I gazed out the windows of our rented U-haul just past sunrise. After the usual instant confusion of waking up in an unfamiliar place, I kept blinking to try to absorb my surroundings. In the distance, mountains protected every angle. Before us, a barren desert-like space stretched out as far as I could see. Hazy, white dust danced throughout the air making everything still seem like a dream. That’s how the rest of the week would feel. I had arrived at Black Rock City aka Burning Man.

I entered Black Rock City straight off a summer of music festival hopping. I was full from all the new friends and experiences I gathered. Yet I was still slightly heartbroken from graduating college, moving across the country, and leaving a special someone behind in the process. The whole summer had been one big lesson in letting go. Prepared or not, I had no choice but to let the day and journey of Burning Man begin.

Aside from the basic Burning Man lessons like “Leave No Trace” and pack lots of water, Burning Man taught me something more. Something more about myself. About people. About this great big/small world we live in.

And here are the lessons:

-Very early in the week I learned that every place has a balance of good and bad. Not everyone everywhere (not even at Burning Man) will always be welcoming or nice. The light needs the darkness just as much as the darkness needs the light. The world needs the balance to keep going.

-Spending time at Burning Man means learning how to pick and choose anything within sight or arms reach and make it work. In life certain situations, objects, people, breeze, dance, storm right on in. Sometimes you have no other choice but to take what’s around you and create the best situation possible. Don’t go searching for something more. Make the most out of what you have.

-Whether good or bad, people touch your life and give you certain things at certain points in your life. No matter what happens, appreciate it for what it was. I’ve been in so many whirlwind romances that are over as quickly as they began. Mystifying, dizzying, filled with fire but then abrupt endings. So many people will exit and enter your life. People leave. Sometimes they never come back. Appreciate it for what it was and move on.

-Before I got to Burning Man I visioned it to be something like a trading/bartering zone of sorts. I didn’t quite yet understand the meaning of “gift giving.” I made a bunch of Burning Man passports: small notebooks with scattered inspirational quotes, a pen and plenty of free space to let thoughts free flow to handout and give to people I connected with, but I still didn’t quite understand the whole concept of gift giving. Everyday someone (usually a stranger) would put a necklace around my neck or a hat on my head or hand me some sort of knickknack. But as the days went on and the connections between people grew deeper, people were giving me items that were “theirs.” When I’d try to return the items, the owners would tell me to keep them. It was then that I questioned, “What is a material possession anyway, possession of any kind?” If you truly love something, shouldn’t you give it away? If you’ve worn something or used something a gazillion times shouldn’t you want other people to experience that same love and joy?

So then I put flowers in my friends hair, dressed them up in my jewelry, accessorized everyone. I met a man on the dance floor and when I departed I wrapped my favorite headband around his head. “Until I return.” When I returned I realized that I wasn’t getting that headband back and even though it was my favorite headband, it was okay. When I look back on my life, I won’t remember all my accessories and knickknacks. I’ll remember the moments I shared with people, the way people made me feel, the goosebumps a certain moment, place, song gave me. I grasped the concept of gift giving and I let it take me to new levels. I started giving away pieces of myself, building deeper connections with people in my camp, opening up to strangers in ways I normally wouldn’t. Burning Man taught me the true act of giving and what it means to be open and generous. If you open yourself up to others, the universe will open up to you in ways you didn’t think possible.

-One of my favorite sayings written on the temple: I love still. No matter what keep growing, giving, believing, loving.

-Another favorite writing on the temple: As we journey we must remember to remember who we are. And that life is more than who we are.

-As the temple burned, small pieces of wood, paper, memories, swirled above our heads. When someone loves you/when you love someone, they spark a flame in your heart that burns forever. They stay a glow fire-red dancing above us. People we love never truly leave us.

-Burning Man is not a festival but a way of life. An example of what happens when you let people be whoever it is they are or want to be.

-As we waited in the line of cars to leave Black Rock City, I jotted down lingering thoughts in my journal, one last lesson the playa left me with:

I greeted Black Rock City as the sun was rising. Days, hours, lifetimes later we leave, changed people, as the sun rises again. We ride in the opposite direction of the sunshine, leaving behind all of its sweetness. Now we must remember to carry on the joy Burning Man has given us. The ability to be free and childlike, the gift of truly giving, of letting go and forgiving.

From our position in the packed car, we can’t look back. All the colors, beauty and brightness that come with the new day are behind us. We ride forward. To create our own beauty, our own reality. We continue onward.

15 thoughts on “Life Lessons I Learned At Burning Man

  1. Wow. What an amazing story! Your perspective of your experince captures the essence of not only Burning Man, and of truly any festival experience – its captures the beauty of human life. I’m grateful to have been “gifted” with this message as I prepare for my 1st Burning Man in a few days – what I see as a ‘pilgrimage’ for me to begin a new life and be reborn into a new world!!

  2. Great story from a true believer in what life has to offer…thank you for the message..It was so cool I read it twice..all take is good….

  3. Though BM 2012 was to have been my 14th return home, I found myself at my default world
    home instead, contemplating the true meaning of the event, as if for the first time. I will come back and reread this for inspiration as I prepare for BM 2013! From wherever you sit, it’s going to be a great year!

  4. Beautiful. And the most important lesson, as you said, is to carry the lessons learned at burningman with you and live them as you continue on with your life

  5. I too experienced the playa for the first time last year. The one thing I left with was as you stated “burning man is not a festival but a way of life”. I took away from that the emphasis how I can be a better person. How I can strive to be more excepting, more tolerant, more frogiving in the default world. But more importantly, the best person you can be, is who you are. Too often we try to live up to someone elses standard. When in reality we should each set the standard by being the best we can be. I wish I was ging home this year but alas other family prioriites take precedence as they should. I hope all those that have the chance to read this also get the change to go to burning man and experience how life can truely be fasinating.

  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It will be our first burn as well and we’re certain that it will be just as memorable and life changing as yours.

  7. You have a lot of wisdom to share. Thanks for the gift! Can’t make it to BRC this year but this makes me feel like I was there…

  8. thanks very much, just found this via the JRS. some good words. This would have been my 13th year in a row. I felt I need to make space for others to enjoy the festival. So, stayed home.

  9. Last year was my first year as well and before I even left the playa last year, I knew I wanted to go back. Because of the ticket situation, I ended up not journeying to the playa this year. I’ve been upset for a while about it, but I still contributed art to a project going to the playa.

    The days leading up to the beginning of Burning man this year were difficult and frustrating for me. A couple days into Burning Man, I realized I needed to stop being upset about not being there and think about what I received during the experience instead of what I’m missing this year – it’s helped tremendously. I realize the whole experience is a gift that we share with to one another with a payoff bigger than you could imagine going into it. I don’t feel like I “lost” something when I sent away art that I worked on for days to become part of a project to share with others on the playa. Going to Burning Man forced me to do things I told myself I couldn’t for so long. Overcoming those hurdles has helped me in so many ways and has opened a new world to me that I once felt trapped in, alone. I am still sad about missing out on the experience this year, but I’m looking forward to living in a default world where more people have had the experience of Burning Man 🙂

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