Welcome back! It was very strange not being there with you, and watching the event, vicariously and compulsively, on the streaming feed on the web over the course of a week. For me, Burning Man has been a learning experience from the beginning, and I have learned so much this year, only this time I’ve learned it by not being there.
It has been incredibly painful going through the motions here, maintaining a typical existence, going to work, doing what I normally do. Except it’s been anything but normal, because I wasn’t there, I was here. And I should not have been going to work. I should have been building a dome, contributing to life in our temporary city, hanging out with all of you.
So what did I learn by NOT going to Burning Man this year?
- I’m a burner. If I ever had any doubt that I was not one of you, it’s gone. These are my people. You are my community. We will grow old together. We will celebrate for each other. We will grieve together when each of us passes.
- I don’t have to go to the desert to be a burner, or even to experience the burn. Strangely, as much as it pained me not to be there, I think I actually learned more by going through that pain than I would have by being in the desert. After 8 years on the playa, I know what it feels like to be there. It’s part of me. I know what each day of the week feels like. I feel like I lived through it with you this year even though I wasn’t there.
- The most important thing for us to do is to bring it home. I knew this already, but I’m reminded of it in a big way by missing the event. We have to take the experience of Burning Man, what we learn out there, and find a way to share it as best we can with everyone around us. We have to create experiences in our local communities that start to teach people what it is like to live in a way that is immediate, and self-reliant, and not experienced purely through transactions. And it’s very important that we do this not just for our little burner community, but for as many people around us as we can. See what we’re doing in New York at http://figmentnyc.org.
- Participation is about more than just showing up, or posting on a blog. One of the many lessons of Burning Man is that the more you participate, the more you learn, the better an experience you have, and the more you contribute to the lives of those around you. Not participating at Burning Man is a squandered opportunity. We need to bring this same spirit of participation home, too. As soon as we leave the playa, it all comes rushing back: obligation, self-interest, limitation, all the baggage you left behind when you went to the desert. We have to remember that the more you give, the more you get. And we have to use our energy to do what we can to fix our society, and our planet. But participating, with our hearts open and our eyes wide, is the first step. We have to do it out here just as much as we do it in the desert.
- It is important to communicate to non-burners what Burning Man is REALLY about. One thing that has been really hard about this week is seeing all the press about Burning Man, and realizing just how misrepresented our event and culture are by the media. One article about a community event in New York this week actually started with this sentence:
“Every year around this time, thousands of artists, recreational-drug enthusiasts and Phish fans flock to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada for the countercultural fete known as Burning Man—a bastard love child spawned by Hunter S. Thompson, Bozo the Clown and Joan of Arc.”
And that’s just the FIRST sentence… It doesn’t get more accurate (or start to make more sense) from there. People who haven’t experienced Burning Man (or who went to the event, but didn’t really “click in” to the experience) are simply unable to understand it. And the media exists to reduce experiences and concepts to easily digestible soundbytes. So if they don’t understand it, look out.
Spoiler alert: Burning Man is not actually about illicit or hedonistic activity. It’s really about community and personal expression, and through the tremendous personal investment and struggle that people go through to get to the desert, to survive there for a week, to create art there, and to be a member of the community, they learn a lot about themselves, and become better people.
This is the story we need to tell more. To anyone who will listen.
- I will be back to Burning Man in 2010. If I’m breathing, I’ll be there with you in 2010. Nothing is going to keep me away two years in a row. Yes, it’s a pilgrimage. It’s something that everyone should do at least once, like climbing Mount Fuji or going to the Hajj. But then you get hooked, and you can’t stop.