Most people think that Burning Man is a bunch of naked hippies doing drugs in the desert … and they’re right. But Burning Man is also much more. It’s become a giant social experiment. It has launched movements, shaped global organizations, and brought creativity to a whole new level to those who are brave enough to face the heat and face themselves in the infamous dust.
Here are a few things I took away from my virgin Burning Man experience and am implementing into my life. I think it would be fascinating to see what happens if the rest of the world took a lesson or two from Black Rock City.
1. Be radically generous.
Think about the last time you gave someone a gift just for the sake of doing it. How much joy did it bring you? It feels great to be generous. Burning Man is set up on a gifting economy, not a barter system, contrary to popular belief. If people give more than they take, then the whole thing works out beautifully.
Admittedly this will only work if people are implementing another important Burning Man principle: Radical Self Sufficiency. Imagine a society in which everyone was not only self sufficient, but also enjoyed gifting for the joy it would bring both parties. It sounds insane to most business-trained people, who’ve been taught that success means earning more than you are spend. But who made that rule? Who decided that earning piles of money is the most important thing we can do?
The founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, are Burners. They’re responsible for Black Rock City showing up on Google maps. Google, while they do indeed earn piles of money, have also open-sourced more information than any other organization. I was lucky enough to have a meeting with Chade-Meng Tan, the 107th employee of Google and creator of their Meditation training program the week after my first Burn. As he was giving me a tour of the campus, I saw a giant shark fin in a courtyard. I asked him about it and he said that two Google employees brought it back from Burning Man and promptly mounted in the main courtyard. (Just for fun.)
2. Watch the sunset or sunrise.
If you’re feeling depressed, chances are you haven’t seen the sunrise lately. Everyday, twice a day, nature puts on this spectacular performance. Most of us are too buried in our phones or too busy earning piles of money that we don’t take a moment to pay attention. Nature pays attention to those who are awake. The more we celebrate her, the more she takes care of us.
When you congregate 68,000 people in a dried up lakebed with no cell service or wireless, you can rest assured that sunrise and sunset become highly celebrated performances. Every evening at 7:40pm, thousands of people climbed on top of their RV’s to watch as the giant golden orb dropped behind the mountains. When the last sliver of light is eclipsed by the landscape the playa is filled with cheering, whistles and bullhorns seeming to say: Thank you Surya for another amazing gift of a day. See you tomorrow.
There is a saying at Burning Man, “The Playa Provides,” meaning that almost as soon as you can conceive of a desire, it’s there in front of you. Many people ask why manifestation occurs at such a fast pace there and I think the reciprocal exchange between humans and the sun has a lot to do with it.
3. Have more fun with your wardrobe. (Enjoy some radical self-expression.)
We have a limited number of days left on this planet. We might as well look good as we are hurtling towards death. Don’t worry about season/ fashion/fitting in. Wear what makes you happy. Let your outfit be a version of your radical generosity. Give the gift of you to all who have the good fortune of entering your event horizon.
4. Leave it better than you found it. (Leave no trace.)
The only way Burning Man gets invited back to Nevada each year is because of one of the most important principles, Leave No Trace. The goal is for no one to know that Burning Man even happened. Imagine a giant party lasting seven days with tons of people doing things beyond your wildest imagination. Then imagine the kind of mess you’d expect to clean up. That is not the case with this group of people. People are trained in the 10 guiding principals of Burning Manbefore they come, upon arrival and to some extent by their fellow Burners leading by example. Everything you bring in with you, you take out. That includes, ash, water, trash, and food. Nothing stays in the desert. You’re responsible for your own trash, so you make less of it. People are much more conscientious of waste when they have to ride in an RV with it for 12 hrs. Water gets evaporated, cans get recycled, food gets composted and wood burned.
I went to a football game one week after Burning Man and was appalled at how sloppy, lazy, and dirty everyone was when there was a “system” for removing trash. People couldn’t be bothered to take their trash a few feet to the trash can, instead they just left it in the stands or thrown on the side of the street. (And people say hippies are dirty!) Next time you go to a movie theatre or sports stadium, do everyone a solid and pick up your trash.
5. If you want to do it, do it now.
Everything is temporary. If you get an inspiration, take action. Have a desire? That’s nature using you as a vessel for creativity. Take action, now. This is highlighted at Burning Man because much of the art burns a few days after everyone arrives. The week climaxes with the burn of the giant man. If you don’t make time to experience some of the art, it will never happen again.
Michelangelo’s best sculpture was said to have been made out of a piece of ice. It was temporary, fleeting, designed to be enjoyed in the moment. Theater is the same; live music, sex, children, and puppies. All of the things that bring us the most joy are made even sweeter by the fact that we know it will not be there forever. They must be savored now. At Burning Man, you cannot get someone’s number to txt them tomorrow to delay the interaction. You either interact now or the meeting is likely gone forever.
6. Turn off your fu*#!ng phone!
Just do it. For an hour, a day, whatever you think you’re brave enough to handle. You’ll feel like a meth addict reaching for your pipe for a while, but push through. Be stronger than your electronic addiction. Instead of connecting on a social network try connecting with your actual human network.
This is why we are here on this planet: to connect, to teach, to learn. The one became two for the joy of becoming one again. Turn off your phone and enjoy connecting to the people/ world/ wonder happening around you RIGHT NOW.