A Brooklyn-based Burner is proving Burning Man works beyond the bounds of one week in the Black Rock Desert.
Maria Luisa Lambert is three quarters of the way through her Radical Living Experiment — what she calls “a self-imposed (but open call) challenge to live out the Burning Man ethos all year long”.
She’s documenting her one-year journey via a blog and taking the Burner community — and a growing number of non-Burners — along for the ride via a monthly newsletter.
“The more and more my friends and I go to Burning Man, the more we wonder about the concept of default world and that these should be totally separate places,” says Maria.
“We have to create what is special about [Burning Man] in our off-playa experience. And this project has made me feel more connected to the things that make Burning Man special in regular life. It is like bringing parts of the playa to the real world.”
Each month, Maria focuses on one of the 10 Principles. During that time, she performs one daily small action and one to two large actions that reflect the chosen Principle. She says the small actions are particularly important as they turn change into manageable bite-sized pieces and, ultimately, into success.
“The small daily action is critical. First, by having a daily action, it helps to keep the Principle top of mind. Second, it makes it a whole lot less daunting,” says Maria.
But how small are we talking? Well, for Radical Inclusion month, she committed to saying “Good Morning” or “Hi” to at least two people on her block and to smiling at everyone else.
“Pfffft! Too easy,” you might say, but in a city like New York, these are potentially radical acts of connection.
“Just the act of smiling at people in the morning, which in New York is still a kind of weird thing to do, shifts your feeling of the day and it shifts how you perceive other people,” says Maria.
“And it has made me want to go out of my comfort zone more and share things more with people. It just makes the world a friendlier place, which is what we love about Burning Man.”
Other small actions have included sending daily gratitude pep letters to loved ones (Gifting); interviewing neighbours about what community means to them (Communal Effort) and owning her decisions more (Radical Self-reliance).
Big actions have included eliminating most transactions for a month (Decommodification); running a “vulnerageous” support gathering (Communal Effort) and taking a homeless person out for a meal (Radical Inclusion), although she was turned down twice before meeting and lunching with a homeless guy called Randy.
She’s also invited anybody and everybody to share their own action ideas via this document, and some of her readers have shared their own stories too.
As part of Decommodification month, one Burner wrote: “I hosted the Burner clothing swap! All these Burners I didn’t even
know showed up. We had a blast together and so many clothes not bought/reused as a result.”
And then there was the girl who was inspired to cut her own hair as part of Radical Self-expression month, or the Burner who decided to challenge his comfort zones by walking around with a random, hand-drawn triangle on his forehead all day. He was also inspired to write daily letters of gratitude.
Lessons and Learnings
Since she began the project in January, Maria has covered Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-reliance, Radical Self-expression, Communal Effort and Civic Responsibility. Along the way, she’s met unexpected challenges and discovered new depths to her understanding of the Principles.
“Some months are harder than others — and not the ones I thought they were going be. One thing that I found a little bit trickier than I anticipated was interpreting what the Principles mean in regular life,” says Maria.
“Radical Self-reliance was the hardest month because I had a hard time translating it in a way that was meaningful for me,” she says.
“I didn’t think it was going to be helpful to interpret it as making my own granola or taking transport that was only self-powered or cutting my own hair, which someone later did — inspired by my list. I interpreted it as trying to do things that were out of my comfort zone.”
The framework of the experiment has also proven both hurdle and “a-ha” moment.
“You realize that the Principles are more interconnected, which is a great upside of them, but it can almost be tricky to focus on one Principle at a time,” Maria says.
“For example, Radical Self-reliance on its own doesn’t encompass the full flavour of being part of the collective 10 Principles. We need to have a baseline of self-reliance in order to be able to fully give and to not put pressure on other people, but it is also a community. So there is this push and pull balance between the Principles.”
So, any surprise favorites?
“Civic Responsibility was a funny month. I was really not looking forward it, but it ended up being pretty delightful. The not jaywalking thing was so silly but simple. It made me realize the mind share that was freed up when I adhered to the rules, like not jaywalking or stopping at the lights when I was on my bike,” says Maria.
“Getting to know my local politicians, which was my big action, has also been very fascinating. There’s often this dehumanization of the cops and politicians, but they’re people, too, and they are actually part of our community.”
Despite the difficulties of concentrating on just one Principle per month, Maria feels like this focus has also made the Principles really come to life for her. She believes this project could do the same for other Burners.
“So many Burners want to live a principled life, but when you push them on, ‘What are your principles and how do you make them come to life?’, people don’t know. Either they haven’t defined them or they’re on a list somewhere on a piece of paper, and it’s hard to keep six or seven different things fresh in your mind every single day,” she says.
Maria will be sharing more of her stories and insights as part of a discussion about spreading Burning Man values at Camp Floasis, 4:30 Plaza at 3:30, on Thursday, August 31, 2–4 pm.
Top photo by Mario Covic