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.