How Burning Man Changed My Life: Slowly but Surely

(Photo by Ales aka Dust To Ashes)

(Photo by Ales aka Dust To Ashes)

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.

About the author: Brody Scotland

Brody Scotland is a native Californian and recovering shy person who enjoys hugs and snacks. Brody first attended Burning Man in 2004, found out that she doesn't actually know how to “go to Burning Man,” and started volunteering in 2005. Her mission in life is to increase the amount of happiness in the world, and she would like someone to teach her how to carve a wooden bear with a chainsaw. These two things are not necessarily related.

13 Comments on “How Burning Man Changed My Life: Slowly but Surely

  • DhammaSeeker says:

    Thank you, Brody, for continuing to kick ass and allowing Burning Man to transform you and transforming Burning Man all at the same time! Mahalo!

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  • Sasha says:

    I love this so much.

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  • Cheryl Howard says:

    Thank you for this very thoughtful article and for your contributions in making the Black Rock City the special place it is.

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  • Rachel says:

    “Consciously choosing.” Very thought provoking. Thank you, Brody.

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  • TED27 says:

    I understand Brody.
    And beautiful expressed.

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  • Tranny says:

    What if you don’t want your life to be transformed? Seems there’s a lot of seekers out there with a head full of expectations and hope that their whatever-their-lives are will change as a result of buying a ticking and showing up.

    It’s better to be content with your life and just try to have a good time, rather than placing ‘please let this (everything) be transformative (whatever that means)’ on your participation.

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    • Brody says:

      If you don’t want to transform your life, you won’t. It’s not necessarily something that HAPPENS to you- you do have to participate in that as well, and be open to it, and actually act.
      I’m not going to make any value judgments about what’s “better” or not- everyone has to do their own thing. Expectations are resentments waiting to happen, so…

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  • Cleulady says:

    I know what you mean. Transformation takes time but if you keep making the commitment, it’s inevitable. Brody, you’re the best. Thanks for all you do!

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  • blue buddha says:

    Well I am living the changes in my life everyday from things I discovered at BurningMan. Sad I will not be there again this year. Hi to you Brody and say Hi to the ZERO for me.

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  • Daniel says:

    I heard and read a lot about trans-formative experiences at Burning Man. I find it to be a powerful thing if that really happens to people. However, I don’t think one has to necessarily transform at all if it is not relevant or appropriate to them.

    I am sure one can have a great time, maybe the time of one’s life, and not necessarily be changed-just happy to have had the experience. I think a person can change their perspective on life, or their philosophical outlook, if they come to some realization or different point of view resulting in their Playa experience.

    I guess it depends on where a person is in his or her life when they go there, whether or not there is anything to change. The impression I get is that a lot of people have never taken stock of what is truly important to them and what isn’t, until they go to Burning Man and have some kind of eye opening experience or observation.

    I intend to have a good time there, but will be surprised if I change; not that I have anything against change that is good, or represents growth, evolution or enlightenment.

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