Tips & Tricks #18 “Being Shy at Burning Man”

This is a video reply to an email question I was sent:

“I’m heading home for my third burn this year and I am wondering what advice you’d give me… I don’t know if shy is the right word but it’s the word I’m going to use. I’m shy. And one of the ways this affects me in BRC is that I don’t feel like walking into camps. Even camps I know are there for everyone, I just feel like I’m an outsider, or like I don’t belong or am intruding on everyone’s happy time together. So let’s say I came by Pink Heart and saw you and wanted to come over and say hi. I’d feel like I would be interrupting whatever conversation you were having or I’d stand there awkwardly not wanting to bother you but wanting to say hi and I just don’t know how to not feel like I’m bothering people or like I’m a random stranger and not one of them. Or even just going in to the camp and… just hanging out or flopping on a couch or whatnot. It all feels so… I’m not sure. Like I shouldn’t because I’m not part of something/the camp/the friendships.

The gist of my response:

I feel this too!
I try to remind myself: Everyone here is here to share their gifts. Receiving those gifts completes the equation.
Appreciating art, enjoying a shade structure, sampling a morsel, noticing an outfit, complementing a camp vibe. This is all part of a Gift Economy!

Pink Heart (my camp) spends so much time furring couches, building structures, figuring out logistics. When we see people enjoy our gift, it lights us up! Your Joy gives me Joy.

The same is true when people appreciate my outfits, a talk I share, the ice cream we serve or the vibe of our camp.
I LIVE to share these gifts. Literally.

You receiving it lights me up. Without you, I am nothing. (That was the the title of a Burning Man doc a few years back.)
For a chef, the gift of a meal would feel empty if nobody ate it. The chef’s joy comes when his meal is appreciated.

You mentioned being a bother. And quite honestly, there may be times when time is tight, a conversation is deep, or a crisis is going on. There are so many distractions, but a patient, polite person is a WELCOME distraction!

You don’t NEED an excuse to interact, but if it makes you more comfortable, ask:

  • “I love your_____. Can I take a picture of it?”
  • “Is this your camp? It is gorgeous! Mind if I soak in the glory of this hammock for a sec?”
  • “When you have a sec?’ – and then just stick around.

In the default world – if you walk up to my front porch, into my office, or approach me on the street;
I assume you want money, a signature, or in my pants. That is the consequence of a transactional world.
Everyone has an angle. What do you want out of this interaction?

But the magic of Black Rock City is that we remove that dynamic. And so we allow a new reason to interact: To share, to compliment, to appreciate, to get to know!

It is totally acceptable to say, “You look like a fascinating person. I would love to know a little more about you.”
Of course, this only works if you mean it.
(If you only say that to attractive, half naked young boys or girls, then may have slipped back into a creepy, transactional way of thinking.)

If someone is in a “I’m just here to hangout with my friends” vibe, THEY are the ones out of place. They can do that in the private area of a camp.

Being shy is forgetting about the supportive participatory BRC social dynamic and falling into the judgmental default world dynamic.

The antidote to shyness in Black Rock City and everywhere is the same: Switch to a gifting mentality.

I want to learn who this person is.
I want to share who I am.

You – the real you – is a gift. Just like every miracle of this Universe.

Your gifts and your participation are what makes the magic work.

I hope I get to experience YOU.


About the author: John "Halcyon" Styn


Halcyon is a 21-year Burning Man participant and co-founder of Pink Heart camp. He is author of "Love more. Fear less." and producer of the Burning Man short film, "The Pink Path." He's won Webby awards for his over-the-top personal site & his "Love On Demand" video podcast Halcyon co-founded the San Diego based "1st Saturdays" homeless outreach program based on Burning Man Principles and coaches people how to be radically self expressed in the default world. You can find his full Playa Tips & Tricks series at

16 Comments on “Tips & Tricks #18 “Being Shy at Burning Man”

  • Elizabeth says:

    “Did you make this?” “Is this your camp?” Easily the two most door-opening phrases out there. We work all year long to create whatever art or experience we want to gift, and we almost ALWAYS would love to talk about it. To hear your thanks or admiration.

    The best gift I ever got was two Rangers who came by as I was taking down the really random art my first year. I was feeling the let down of Sunday as the city dissolves around you. Not sure if I even wanted coming back. Then two rangers asked me if I had made it. They said it made them smile or laugh every time they went by. I haven’t missed a year since.

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    • Carolyn says:

      If I was there I would have helped you . I’m going this year for the first time ever. I hope to make some friends. But will make the best of it

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  • Beautifully said, Elizabeth!

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  • Tiger says:

    There’s nothing wrong with being shy at Burning Man. It reduces the risk of catching herpes.

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  • Pooh Bear says:

    Such a great post. Shyness is probably my number one issue in life and Burning Man is where it resonates most. Let’s face it, there are more interesting people I want to know more about at Burning Man than anywhere else in the world, yet I always feel a little unworthy. I always feel I’m not interesting enough or cool enough or young enough or hot enough, something. I know intellectually this has nothing to do with Burners, who are the most welcoming and kind people I have ever met.

    I suspect this is something a lot of Burners suffer from. I think, if you really find a home at Burning Man, you have probably grown up feeling a little like a freak in the default world. So you are used to hiding the most unique parts of yourself, sometimes to the point of losing track of the things that make you, you. Letting go of that reticence and allowing my true self interact with others is not easy, even knowing it is perfectly safe to do so.

    I’ve had a conversation with some Burner friends recently. I’ve never walked around naked on playa, but I’ve been considering it this year. Not as an exhibition (believe me this would not be a public service) but as a way of conquering that shyness. I have no idea if that would work, or if it would be a good idea, or if I would do it, but it shows the depth of how far I would go to overcome my shyness.

    So thanks for this. It’s good to know I’m in good company. If I see you I will give you a big hug. I promise to have cloths on.

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    • THIS. Thank you, Pooh Bear! “if you really find a home at Burning Man, you have probably grown up feeling a little like a freak in the default world. So you are used to hiding the most unique parts of yourself, sometimes to the point of losing track of the things that make you, you. Letting go of that reticence and allowing my true self interact with others is not easy, even knowing it is perfectly safe to do so.”

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    • Carolyn says:

      Hello I would to do the same this will be my first time going. Me and my friend. I don’t know how it’s going to work .but we are going to make the best of it. I hope to meet some people to maybe help us along .but probably not going to happen. But I would like to think outside the box since I won’t know anyone there. If you have some ideas please let me know.

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  • HumbleDoer says:

    Hey John,

    I just wanted to thank you so much for this video (and all the rest!!!) and share a little nugget of my own personal experience. After wanting to go for 10 years and researching every little facet about the Burn, I finally made it in 2013 (as well as last year). The main reason why I didn’t go was that I was super shy with social anxiety and had no social group that had heard of, let alone wanted to visit, TTitD. I tried and tried to find people local to me that shared the same interests, but always came up empty handed. By pure chance, the world gave me an opportunity and I seized it with all of my with all my heart. A roommate was dating a gal that had been a few times and she was really excited to share her perspective with me. After hours of conversation, she invited me to attend our local regional with her later that summer. Best decision of my life! From then until now, I have met some of the most fascinating, kind, hardworking, empathetic souls I have ever encountered and they have all become my chosen family.

    Since my first regional, I started to watch your videos and follow your camp’s projects and haven’t stopped since! We have never met, yet you have gifted me so much that I will be forever grateful. My first year, we were camped fairly close to you guys (7:30 & Esplanade), so I would always walk right by you guys on my way to the 9 o’clock plaza and beyond. Every time I walked by, I would tell myself that I wanted to find you and give you a hug and thank you for all your gifts, and every time, I would seize up in fear and continue walking. It’s odd, as I was and still am much more open while on the Playa, but I think I just built you and your camp up too much in my head that I was afraid of the rejection you mentioned in the video. Obviously, looking back now, I see how silly that is/was, but that experience combined with this video has taught me a lesson that I won’t soon forget!

    Unfortunately, due to financial troubles this year (lost job), I won’t be able to make it out to the Playa with my camp or my projects. It sucks, but it is what it is. What I would like to state now is that visiting you next year and giving you a hug and thank you is going to be one of my top priorities for the week. In fact, I’ll likely make an effort to track you down on build week when it’s a little less hectic (with people, that is, I know it’s always hectic building your camp!).

    PS: Watching your videos before my first year inspired me to color my hair bright pink. So, I went to my local store and found some dye and low and behold, your fantastic mug was on the box! That memory sealed my belief that everything is connected and the world will offer itself to you if you are open to accept it. I know that’s a silly conclusion to come to while buying hair dye at the grocery store, but I cannot rationally explain emotion, only feel it.


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  • Robo says:

    The best conversational openers are, ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘So, what do you do for a living?’

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    • Norma Jean says:

      I disagree strong with this. These questions work well off-playa, but at Burning Man, the last thing I want to think about or talk about is a 9-5 job, mine or anyone else’s.

      I have found “What cool thing have you done/seen today?” is a great way to have conservation, because then your interlocutor is talking about something they’re excited about, and you get to learn about that ramen-on-a-tightrope camp a block away.

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  • Corvus says:

    “For a chef, the gift of a meal would feel empty if nobody ate it. The chef’s joy comes when his meal is appreciated.”

    That’s the whole theme behind “Babette’s Feast”

    An excellent, if rather slow, film about the gift of a meal.

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  • Some Guy says:

    For anyone curious about the nature of the phenomenon of shyness or looking to understand and mitigate their own shyness, I highly recommend the book “Shyness” by Zimbardo (yes, the Stanford Prison Experiment guy). It delivers both a deep theoretical and experiential understanding of the topic as well as a program practical exercises for the shy person.

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  • Kye Brackett says:

    This may be oversimplifying the whole matter, but for some this may resonate, and if so, by all means use it.

    As a generality I regard shyness as a CHOICE rather than a DISEASE.
    Meaning, there are times when, even a shy person, finds that their shyness is somehow conditional. Which has me feel that it is a choice, and a choice made because at some point IT SERVES YOU TO CHOOSE IT.
    A ‘disease” however, is not conditional, and you NEVER have the option of getting away from it. It’s always there.

    So whenever I’m around a group of friends and there are new people in our midst, I remind them that Shyness is a choice, and since it is in no way useful to you or us, I would ask you to avoid that choice. If after “practicing” that for a bit, you find that you prefer your shyness to what may be gained by not choosing it, then by all means, HAVE YOUR SHYNESS.

    Although this seems simple, it does help you get out of other peoples heads and making choices based on what YOU think THEY’RE thinking, (And you can’t REALLY know what they’re thinking unless you ask, which would require that you release your shyness), which may not be what they’re ACTUALLY thinking at all.

    I think that with rare exception, People at Burning Man CAME to Burning Man to meet people and get to know them, and are generally aware that the word “stranger” is not one we prefer to use.

    Hope this helps. John, I LOVED how you handled it. The “gift” thing is one I’ll put in my arsenal for those who approach me with this same “affliction” (hee hee).

    And Willow…I hope that I get to meet you and make your NOT choosing shyness a totally and completely worthwhile experience.

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  • Andrea says:

    Thank you Halcyon. I came to my first burn in wonder that radical inclusion would actually include me, and you gave me a hug and said “I am glad that you are here”. Those are the words I wrote on the postcard I then mailed to my step daughter.

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