The Meaning of Sunrise

A sunrise on the playa is not something you’ll ever forget. In my mind, it’s like a single fluttering butterfly after an all-night pterodactyl rave. The sky is awash in pastels, the air is fresh and calm, and the creeping warmth of the sun heralds a new day. It feels good to be alive.

Firebirds (Photo by Darrell Ansted)
Firebirds (Photo by Darrell Ansted)

So many people have a sunrise story. In fact, Charlie “Dayburn” Wan’s whole life on the playa is not only oriented around catching the sunrise but also living each one to the fullest. He goes to sleep every night and wakes up as early as 3 am to be ready for the Great Ball of Fire’s magnificent appearance on the horizon. “The sunrises at the playa are everything to me. Nothing can give you better metaphor of life brought by the sun when the land is being warmed up every single minute,” he explains.

In five years of going to Burning Man, Wan’s never missed a sunrise — that’s 48 in a row now. In 2014, he created “Dawn of the Burning Sun,” a sunrise salutation concert and consciousness gathering that pairs introspective music he’s composed with mindful activities focused on connecting with nature, the inner self and emotions. “The sound is emotive, ethereal and cinematic. It was created to provide different experience for dayburners like me to have a serene morning outside of all the dance music” says Dayburn, adding that he hopes this will become an annual event on the Friday of the Burn and inspire others to create different types of sunrise events.

“I advise those who love sunrise parties to wake up at 3 am. You catch the peaks of all the parties and you have full-on energy when the sun is up. Last thing that I want is to feel like I am ‘expiring’ and tired when I see this spectacular sun,” he continues. “If you’ve never done it, I highly recommended this. Many people have followed this little tip and changed their ways of experiencing dawn of the day at the Burn.”

Inspired by Wan’s enthusiasm for a time of day so many miss, we hungered for more stories about sunrise at Burning Man, including the personal epiphanies that rose up with our star. Here’s a peek at what was said and photographed:

“It was my first time there. Had been stuck on the rainy playa driveway for awhile so I arrived at night. I forgot my hardware to set up my tent so I walked around helping nearby neighbors set up. I couldn’t resist anymore so I walked to Center Camp and made fast friends, all the while being in shock of where I was and what I was doing. I had heard about sunrise behind the Temple and decided to venture out to watch on that first night. I posted up on the construction fence of the Temple and pondered all that I thought I knew about life. Then I watched that glorious ball of fire spread the most majestic pinks and purples across the sky. I saw more gazers looking cozy and walked to say hello. I shared stories with many others over tea made by a guy whose name I can never remember. After awhile I went back and slept in my truck. I was hooked. I watched the sunrise every day after that.”
—Storycatcher, Portland, OR

Photo by Darrell Ansted
Photo by Darrell Ansted

“My first Burn 2008. During a horrible night of dust, someone was injured so all entrance was stopped. While we were waiting, my car conked out and I was helped by people I didn’t know (a fellow who sang “children’s” dental hygiene songs). When the cars began to move I had no clue as to where I was going so I stopped and slept in my car. At dawn, I heard the most beautiful chant coming over a loudspeaker, was it Arabic, Hebrew or some other non-European language? Don’t know. It was enchanting and set the tone for a week of wonderful experiences. I wish I could wake up to that every morning.”
—Alex B., Pittsburgh, PA

Photo by Charlie Wan
Photo by Charlie Wan
Photo by Darrell Ansted
Anubis (Photo by Darrell Ansted)

“It was my first Burn, and little did I know that just getting to the playa was only the beginning. Moment after moment I became increasingly enthralled and overwhelmed by everything I was experiencing. Love, joy, fear, confusion but probably most profound was wonder. As the day turned to night and the city lit up, I continued to think to myself: ‘It can’t get better than this. I’m truly in utopia — or my version of it.’ As the night wore on my best friends and I were in the thick of the dancing momentum when a campmate turned to us and noted, ‘The sun’s coming up. I recommend you go take a look.’ As we wandered out of the crowds and towards the expanse of deep playa, we noticed how the energy around us changed. It was as if we had submerged into the depths of the sea — the vibrations and energetic pressure around us were palpable but there was also an entirely unparalleled calm. It was as if every person out there was breathing on the same beat so as to rise but not anger some mythical beast. My closest friends and I found a space of dust to call our own and sat down to watch as the playa shape shifted. It felt as if the night creatures of Black Rock City were changing form in front of our eyes, being reborn in newer, better more energetic ways. As the tip of the sun peaked over the distant hills it was as if an exorcism was occurring. Suddenly and without warning all three of us were in tears. Tears of hope and regret came pouring out of us as if we were filled with some unknown substance that had been holding us back. We sat there as three different souls with different reasons for being there sharing in the same cleansing sensation. All of the ways our past injuries had manifested in our beings had suddenly been set free and we now had the clarity and power to truly start on a path to growing into our best beings.”
—Melanie N, New York, NY

Photo by Fabian Andre
Photo by Fabian Andre

“September 4, 2015. First BM sunrise. Lifted, bright, dusty, surreal, equal. This massively impressive object raising over the settled dust from the night before. It’s like breathing in a new life with new light surrounding you. I knew I was in the right place at the right time.”
—Bettie Taylor, Jackson Hole, WY

Photo by Dan Drelich
Photo by Dan Drelich

“On my second Burn I felt compelled to experience a sunrise. What I discovered Sunday morning was a continuation of the burn. Camps were feeding fires with their unwanted wood and refuse. The mix of orange from the flames and the sunlit sky was mesmerizing. I experienced a connection with the earth, cosmos, and the Burning Man community all at once.
—Dan Drelich, Cherry Hill, NJ

Photo by Charlie Wan
Photo by Charlie Wan

“It’s 2013, my first Burn. I have been up all night exploring the endless excitement the playa provides. This is the biggest and best party in the world with so much to see and do. I set out on foot, trying to navigate through an ever-changing landscape, using landmarks that move and change color, sometimes letting the dust tell me where to go. This works well until my legs become weak from my long journey through the night. The sky begins to lighten as night turns to day. I am tired and lost. I hop on an art car and hitch a ride back to camp. A green dragon rescues me. Aboard I meet Camp Kick It and many others. I also find out we ain’t going to camp. We are going deep playa, further than I have been at this point. We arrive at Robot Heart, where a mass of people and mobile art have come together in anticipation of the rising sun. I feel this is where I am supposed to be. This is my heaven, an out of body experience. Dancing in the new day’s light, happy and at peace, it is time to head home to camp to replenish the body so I can do it all and more when the wolves begin to howl.”
—Matt, San Lorenzo, CA

Photo by Christopher R Blair
Photo by Christopher R Blair

“It was still dark and cold as I mounted my bike in camp and made my way to the open playa. As I got closer, I increased my speed and slowly started to pull my hands from the handle bars opening my arms wider and wider. The rush of watching the sunrise made me feel that life is about being open to vulnerability, creativity, joy, love and connection.
—Darrell Ansted, Boulder, CO

Photo by Charlie Wan
Photo by Charlie Wan

“I didn’t realize how incredible morning could be in a place so hectic and overwhelming at times. It was exactly what I needed without knowing that I needed anything. It brought me closer to the bigger picture environment I was in, rather than seeing small scale. I loved to see the wildly human response of those around me — total awe and gratitude as it rose. Burning Man sunrises are reminders that you’re just human and there’s all this magnificence around you. Even when we leave BRC, the sun will rise incredibly each day as it always has. These fleeting feelings we all seem to experience while at Burning Man don’t have to be so fleeting if we can realize certain jewels, like watching the sunrise with someone you love, can exist in the default world.”
—Nap Okun, Davis, CA

The Lost Tea Party by Wreckage International (Photo by Darrell Ansted)
The Lost Tea Party by Wreckage International (Photo by Darrell Ansted)

“I saw the sunrise eight days in a row this past Burn. Sometimes — OK once — I even got out of bed to make sure I could see that song of dawn. Sunrise is magic. It holds the promise of possibility. The promise of our eternal cycles. It feeds and nourishes our weary bones and brings new energy to life. Sunrise is our chance to begin again, to be present in the moment, to let go of yesterday and surrender our fears to the night. Sunrise is a chance to remember that we’re just a tiny little piece of consciousness, experiencing itself, floating on a speck of dust around a massive nuclear reaction of hydrogen gas — one of billions and billions — it reminds me that we are so insignificant and supremely special at the same time, that life is paradox. And what a wonderful way to have it. Sunrise is meaning. It defines each and every day. And we only get about 29,000 in an average life. When put into that context, staying awake is always worth it.
— Fabian Andre, Portland, OR

LOVE by Jeff Schomberg and Laura Kimpton (Photo by Darrell Ansted)
LOVE by Jeff Schomberg and Laura Kimpton (Photo by Darrell Ansted)

“It is truly the most awe-inspiring, cathartic moment I have experienced. Making it through the vast and freezing night, in a place that feels other-worldly and exposed to the winds of space, the sun peeks over the horizon to show you that everything is still here. You are still here. The earth is still here—and you have another day here on it. You have another chance to soak the sun into your bones, dance, and celebrate and clearly see one another before the sun rests again, and the cycle continues.”
— Britt, Berkeley, CA

Trojan Horse and Temple of Transition (Photo by Darrell Ansted)
Trojan Horse and Temple of Transition (Photo by Darrell Ansted)

Top photo by Nikola Skubi

About the author: Mia Quagliarello

Mia Quagliarello

Mia Quagliarello is a San Francisco-based 'Burning mom.' By day, she does curation, community and social media work at a startup; by night she's either working on her blog, Disco Nap, going out to see live music, or snuggling up with her two kids.

6 Comments on “The Meaning of Sunrise

  • Christi ribinson says:

    Truly the most awe inspiring moment of my life. Melanie N’s comments left me in tears.

    Report comment

  • K~Love says:

    Thank you for this essay and compilation. I love the video. Sunrise at Burning Man is truly special. I can’t wait to return.

    Report comment

  • Gerflash says:

    My most memorable sunrise on the Playa was a few years ago, standing with a few hundred fellow burners, all nude except for each draped in a delicate gauzy shroud, posing for the reknowned artist and burner, Spencer Tunick. He must’ve taken hundreds of shots of us during the shoot in various poses. But what made us all gasp in unison was when he directed us to turn toward the sun, which had now breached the horizon; it was blood red from nearby forest fires. I took it as a cautionary message, coming from our parent star, a mere 93 million miles away, but which was still in mind of us all.

    Report comment

  • Jim J says:

    Beautiful, Thank you for putting this together. I am inspired to witness the beauty of the sun-rising this year

    Report comment

  • Commander says:

    one sunrise I was blessed by a young woman who while in conversation with me, began to channel my mother who had passed a few years before. confusing for both of us, and just what I needed to hear that morning.

    Report comment

  • Rich Hendel says:

    It was Thursday 2006 and my first. I decided to Cut off half of my mustache just to be weird. The very next morning I had it out at sunrise, drum in hand searching for the elusive drum circle. But the sound came everywhere at once. Not sure where to go, I enjoyed the sunrise from a temple. This one was erected from A woman who had lost a child at birth. It was there, at sunrise where I stood face-to-face with a new friend who had cut off the right side of his moustache the night before, shaved the entire right side of his body as well! Neither one of us had ever done this before, yet here we were at sunrise, at Burning Man, stunned, teary-eyed. Magical. Burning Man.

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.