I have always envied people their transformative experiences at Burning Man. Friends, acquaintances, strangers whose stories I read on the internet. “Burning Man changed my life!” they say, and point at one instance, one specific moment where they realized their life was going to be different moving forward.
This will be my 12th year in a row of attendance at the event, and I’ve never experienced that lightning bolt of differentiation.
Burning Man HAS changed my life, though, just not in the way I expected. It occurred to me recently that my life would be entirely unrecognizable if not for Burning Man. Transformation has snuck up on me slowly, over this dozen years of participation.
My now-husband, my circle of friends and loved ones, my full-time job: all in my life as a result of Burning Man.
Instead of one great schwack of a transformative experience, I’ve slowly been refining my life every year with the help of the cyclical nature of the event.
As the swell of energy builds towards the playa, I start to shed things that are not essential to my life in favor of Burning Man-related activities and work. Lazy days are a thing of the past, less-close friends start to get the “see you in September!” talk. Every year, I get to define what’s important to me, where I spend my remaining time and energy.
Post-event, I get to choose what to keep in my life for another year. Sometimes the non-essential things stay gone: habits, hobbies, people who are not a net benefit to my happiness. That space in my life can be kept free for new adventures. Occasionally the new adventures even follow me home from the playa and get added in to daily life. For me, the important thought is that I am consciously choosing, year by year, what to pick back up after the event and keep, and what to add into that expansiveness created by the removal of the non-essential.
Some people have to sell everything and move to Barbados to effect life change at that level, but Burners do it every year. Just run an art project or a theme camp or build a Mutant Vehicle, and you’ll understand how everything non-essential just falls away as that unmovable deadline draws closer. It doesn’t seem possible to live an unexamined life when you have to evaluate each activity against Burning Man preparation.
That’s why it’s funny when people say it’s just a party. Sure, you can SHOW UP for the party, but there’s been people behind the scenes for months, working hard to ensure you’ll have somewhere to party. Art to experience. Mutant vehicles to ride. Theme camps to visit. Hundreds if not thousands of people spending months of their year in service of art and community and creativity, so that you can (potentially) have a transformative experience. Or get sucked in and start making art yourself.
So yeah, Burning Man changed my life, and now I work here so that Burning Man can potentially change yours.