Of Principle Importance: Catharsis 2017

I’m a believer.
I believe in the power of Burning Man.
I believe what we are doing is important.
Twenty years ago, I could barely find anyone who knew what “Burning Man” was.
Today, most people have heard of it and *think* they know.
I have happily responded 1000 times to the question, “Isn’t that the big rave in the desert?” I love educating people. I love acculturating people.

Every year I meet more people whose lives are transformed by their experiences at BRC or another 10 Principles-based regional Burning Man event.
(Heck, *my* life has been transformed. It inspired me to start a theme camp, a weekly podcast, and a homeless charity now in its 8th year.)

20 years ago, it was an act of courage (or stupidity) to let professional colleagues know you were a Burner. But today things are different.
The perception of Burning Man is different.

More than ever, I believe what we are doing is important. And this feeling was never stronger than it was this month at Catharsis 2017.


I don’t know how many people attended Catharsis on the Mall. I don’t know how many theme camps were represented.
I just know the way I felt when I was there.

It felt like it was HUGE.

Not necessarily “huge” in acreage or attendance, but it felt like what was happening was massively important.

I saw pictures from last year’s event that blew my mind. Then I heard a talk at the Burning Man Global Leadership Conference about the behind-the-scenes work that went in to navigating the political red tape and legal labyrinth. I knew I had to be a part of it.

[Here are photos from this year’s event ]

That’s why I flew 2500 miles for a regional burn just a few weeks after bringing Pink Heart our local Southern California YOUtopia Regional. Luckily, the Pink Heart Baltimore tribe is strong, and was already planning to bring the East Coast version of our fuzzy pink camp.

Pink Heart star tent under the shadow of the Washington Monument

Burning Man events always fill my well. But there was something special about being on the National Mall among hundreds of Burners that filled me with profound inspiration…and hope.
Hope for our community, for our country and for the world. (Sound like hyperbole? I told you…I’m a believer.)

Admittedly, I had developed a two-dimensional view of Washington DC. I imagined a grey city filled with corrupt politicians in neat suits and flag pins parading as protectors of disingenuous values and the needs of the common man.

And yeah, that’s there.
But just like Hollywood attracts the best and brightest artists from every small town across the world, DC attracts the passionately civic-minded. (And just like Hollywood, a certain percentage of people lose their way and become jaded. Winning and competition overshadows the initial desire to follow the heart.)

DC attracts the people who grok Do-acracy in the same way that Burners grok DO-ocracy.

“The system needs work. How can I help improve it?”

This is the underlying principle of Burning Man, our Country, and life, itself.

Black Rock City, The United States, and the miracle of Life were not created as “finished products.”
There are all “self-correcting systems”

A change in environment reveals a weakness, and then the system adjusts.This is a feature not a bug. This is THE feature.

Some people look at the world, or Burning Man, or their marriage, or their life and say, “This is fucked up!”
The Burner path is to avoid victimhood and discover/create the solution. We are empowered to be Participants in our world. We do not attend an event, we help create it. Patriots understand that this is how America works, too.

photo by Kelly Revak

This principle of Participation is the foundation of the United States of America. “For the people, by the people.”

And, miraculously, there is room within “the people” for the dusty, counter-culture freaks that I call family.

The three day event concluded with a surreal march through the streets of Wshington DC, in front of the nation’s capital.
Walking down the streets of DC alongside the Abraxus golden dragon, I felt like a “freak virus” had been unleashed on the city. Crazy costumes, colored hair and bohemians “bringing the weird.”

It was beautiful.

The police cars blocked traffic for us. The system made space for us.

There was no negative reaction to our “virus.” The body did not reject us. No antibodies were created to fight the freaker army (who, by the way, returned to the Mall for the third time this year!) Our dusty strain is a permanent part of the system. We’re integrated…. as rare – but critical – spices in the melting pot of our cultural stew. Our symbolic statement of creative freedom was happening on the front porch of our country, in bold daylight, with no apologies or shame.
I looked around and beamed, “We are Americans.”

As I marched, the rising sun warmed my face after a cold night dancing on the lawn. There was something so vibrant about seeing that golden dragon next to the capital. This wasn’t a group of artists assembled in some dark warehouse or inaccessible desert. This wasn’t art confined inside the borders of a canvas, or walls of a gallery or GPS coordinates of a dry lake bed. This was Art with a capital “A,” on the same cultural stage walked by the mythical figures of our historic past.

[Check out my live streams and commentary from the march here: Part 1, Part 2 (interview with Distrikt’s Jennifer Headly), Part 3]

It was as if the underground was breaking through the crust of the default world. Disrupting tectonic plates of conformity and shifting the landscape.
Look around today… the foundations of capitalism, Racism and sexism are riddled with cracks from the Occupy, BLM and “Me, too” movements.
The world NEEDS golden dragons right now.

Rally the troops, it’s time to support each other, to build, to create, and to dance.

What we’re doing is important.

My Happy Place


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 HugNation.com. 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 www.PlayaPrinciples.com

9 Comments on “Of Principle Importance: Catharsis 2017

  • Audra says:

    Always enjoy your gift of writing. Another well written positive and how to article. Thank you again

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  • robert c verdecias AKA Naked Gourmet says:

    Thank you to all that went to Washington DC
    Bringing the beauty of the playa
    The playa change my life. I have a special group of seniors that see my heart from the change that BM has given me.
    Gifting is a weekly joy in cookies & candy
    I become the greeter With my top hat warm smile
    And happy WELCOME to them.
    Helping them like family.
    I miss the playa yet I have it in my heart every week.
    Respect & my love is what I share with my seniors
    They know it is from the heart, now that I am ill my seniors are now the ones giving me the greetings Showing me the respect giving me the care treating me as part of their tribe giving me the gift of healing with the joy they share.
    Naked Gourmet

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  • Jerome says:

    Halcyon you have a gift for writing. It was so enjoyable to be at Catharsis with you and the others! -Jerome

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  • Amen! I’m so glad you joined us at Catharsis. Indeed, it was huge! In ways so deep, so opening, so transformative for our nation and our community.

    As someone said to me at Catharsis, “We are on the nation’s ‘playa'” (referencing the massive national mall.)

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  • Jon Dumbelton says:

    The reason no one reacted is because you ARE the mainstream- we’re not “freaks” or counter-culture & haven’t been for at least a decade now. We are Silcon Valley, censoring all the opinions with which we disagree; we are the mob justice movements, insisting upon hate-speech laws to silence those who question our narratives of abuse without evidence. We are the Man, those who can spend thousands of dollars to get loaded for a week in the Black Rock, without the bums & penniless hippies & street artists who brought their visions from the lowest depths to the high desert in glorious varieties. We are the Man, the moral busybodies in charge, the ones telling everyone else how to live their lives. “We” are the problem.

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  • Diane says:

    I too knew I had to go to #catharsisonthemall when I first heard about it at the GLC last year. Being an east coast burner with a (mostly) west coast camp, I often miss my playa buddies throughout the year. But Catharsis was amazing, truly a healing and cathartic event. I participated in Equal Means Equal’s piece about the suffragettes, and was moved to tears throughout. The Burner world is so good at creating safe spaces for us all, I’m very lucky to be a part of it.

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  • Pineapple says:

    Nice Article-
    Tanks for you words and experience !

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  • Pineapple- Ventucky Burners says:

    Nice Article-
    Thanks for your words and experience !

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  • Road Runner says:

    So beautiful, so wonderful, so hopeful – so good. Love to all the Catharsis folks, love to you Halcyon!

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