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.


Before I got back into the swing of blogging, I’d become discouraged when I thought about where to begin. Should I begin at Burning Man? At Bonnaroo? At my college graduation? Those questions tainted my thoughts before I even started writing.

I was discouraged because I thought it was too late to tell those stories. I was discouraged because I didn’t have a theme picked out or fonts or what type of style I wanted my blog to be. It took me awhile to quell the perfectionist in me and just begin. Just begin with a story. Begin with a word. Begin with any post. I’ll begin here.

I felt I had so many stories to share, but the memories already passed. The time wasn’t relevant. I would be blogging about things that happened months, years ago. But what does it matter? The lessons and meanings from the story still hold true regardless of when the story is told. Begin anywhere. Begin.

Vincent Van Gogh didn’t start painting until he was 27. Bill Withers started his singing career in his late twenties.

Never let anyone tell you you’re too old or too young to do something. You can begin anywhere.

There are no rules to this thing. Sure there are other people’s experiences, but those are only guidelines. No one lives the same life. You can start anywhere you want.

Life is beginning every single second. Even when it’s ending, it’s still beginning. Begin on a Saturday. Begin on a Monday. Begin on a Wednesday afternoon. Begin on a day, on a second, on a whim. Life is always beginning and you can always begin.

Blog Update: Change of Focus for the blog

Greetings friends, family, fellow earthlings,

Welcome to my newly named blog, ‘Smile and Be Free.’

This is my first post on this blog in over a year.

Originally I created this blog to share my love of music festivals. It was called ‘Sunshine Daydream’ and I blogged about festivals I went to and other ways music influenced my life.

For awhile now I’ve wanted to start a blog about healthy eating, traveling, life outside of college, ways to be inspired, ways to travel cheaply, pretty much everything and anything. Life is about sharing your journey with others, and I hope to use this blog as an outlet to share mine.

Here’s to the first of many posts!


The Power of Drumming

Yesterday in my Indigenous Poetry class two Native American men taught us about how traditional native music has inspired rock and roll. After the very interesting discussion involving lots of chatter about Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Dylan, the men knelt on blankets on the floor and sang traditional native songs while playing a water drum and gourd. Both of them had their eyes closed as the music transported them elsewhere. It was absolutely beautiful and soul-refreshing.

Interesting things we learned in class:

-The oldest form of American song is Native drumming.

-While playing the drum one of the speakers, Henry Quintero said, “This is what it sounds like when you’re in your mother’s womb.”

-Back in the day when tribes battled, instead of fighting physically they would solve problems through dance.

-The water drum is alive; it’s combined with all the elements of Earth; it’s the heartbeat.

Lyrics sung during a ceremony of a young girl that I hurriedly copied in my notebook:

“Baby girl, baby girl, baby girl, you can learn, you can learn, you can learn. Bless your mind, bless your mind, bless your heart, bless your heart. Let your heart grow, let your heart grow. Let your mind grow, let your mind grow.”

All class period I was transfixed on the drumming, on the singing, on the chanting, on the power in sound.

Listening and watching reminded me that there are so many beautiful things in this world, in this life. So often our lives become clouded with to-do lists, assignments, appointments, toothaches, heart aches, all kinds of aches and all kinds of pressures. So often we forget that life is beautiful and we need to be reminded. Sometimes only music can do that for me. It goes beyond the pitch in voice, beyond the rhythm of the drum; it’s the something else speaking through the musician. I don’t understand how people can hear drumming and not be moved.

How can you hear that beat and not open your mouth to call to the wild?

How can you hear that and not tap your toes to the Earth?

How can you not be compelled to rise out of your skin and spin, arms out to the Universe?

How can you listen to that drumming, that internal rhythm and not become what we’re meant to become?

Inspiring Quote

At festivals, I have moments like these all the time:

“At that elusive moment when we transcend our ordinary performance and feel in harmony with something else—whether it’s a glorious sunset, inspiring music or another human being—our studies have shown that what we are really coming in sync with is ourselves. Not only do we feel more relaxed and at peace, but this entrained state increases our ability to perform well and offers numerous health benefits.”

–Doc Childre and Howard Martin

The Beauty of Being Outside

“In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man…”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whenever I go to a festival, I immediately shut off my cell phone. When surrounded by trees, fresh air and interesting people, there’s no need to be plugged in to the rest of society. I look forward to pressing the end button on my cell phone and drowning out the electric noise.

I just read this interesting article on about a group of men that went into nature for a little experiment on how technology affects us.

Check it out here.


Mr. Strayer, the trip leader, argues that nature can refresh the brain. “Our senses change. They kind of recalibrate — you notice sounds, like these crickets chirping; you hear the river, the sounds, the smells, you become more connected to the physical environment, the earth, rather than the artificial environment.”

Let’s all try to become more connected to the physical environment rather than the artifical one.