“Alright, here’s the line!” declared the Burning Man greeter, gliding his boot across the chalky-white soil before my “virgin” friends. “Everything on this side of the line is work, schedules, all that bullshit, and months of listening to this one,” he points at me, “say ‘we’re going this year!’”
“This is it. If you choose in on Black Rock City – the good shit – come step over the line.”
I’d never had a kid to see them off on their first day of school but as a second-time burner, that came pretty close.
After a whole-souled group leap: “This is your city, you are the main event. Welcome home.”
Hippie Gathering Or Giant Orgy Of Gallivanting Punks?
Ah, Burning Man. That big ‘ol mind-boggling thing getting all the attention these days. Do we know by now? It’s not a music festival, hippie gathering or giant sex party.
Sure, you can jump aboard a “mutant vehicle” (artfully transformed cars and trucks blasting mostly electronic music) parading through campsites to find your fellow passenger is a drumming shaman who’ll help find your spirit animal and will join you in learning the art of shibari. That is, Japanese rope bondage.
So, it’s a wild, indulgent gathering of gallivanting punks of society. Or not.
For the most part, every September in America 80,000 citizens gather on a dried-up Nevada lakebed for a week to create a pop-up city that even holds its own census, providing a banquet of some seriously cool art: a stained-glass replica of a mother whale letting off ocean sounds and half a jumbo Boeing 747, just casually. For those in the creative industry, this is your calling.
I’ve gone DIY sleeping in tents and campervans bringing all my supplies without signing up to a large organised camp. One guy rocked up by himself in his kombi. There’s no right or wrong way so long as you follow Burning Man’s 10 Principles: no MOOP (Matter Out Of Place, aka rubbish), no brand labels (cover your car logos), no advertising, no money transactions except for coffee and ice, and contrary to belief no bartering.
After a dramatic ensemble of fireworks above the illustrious 12-metre tall man burn, the citizens disassemble their city and the desert is to be left without a trace.
What does the burn symbolise? Whatever to you, actually. Erected smack bang centre always in hindsight, he’s particularly helpful when you get lost Deep Playa and realise your Reject Shop compass isn’t working. My first year represented letting go of assumptions on how the world’s supposed to be. This year felt more like a spiritual offering. It’s a round-up reflection of yourself at the time.
Post Playa Depression (PDD) is real so regional Decompression parties, even in Australia, help ease burners back into The Default World. What many don’t know is that the curtains don’t close here. The burners who get it right are those who take the Principles home with them.
Actually, You Won’t Even Get ‘It’ Until Day 3
At another large festival, you purchase a ticket to be entertained but at Burning Man you’re there to contribute. It’s actually difficult for first-timers to know how because you won’t understand the gathering until you’re there. You probably won’t even get it until at least Day 3.
In the beginning, you channel your inner Bear Grylls to focus on tackling scorching heat, “white-outs” (dust storms causing zero visibility), and arctic nights that made scouring Salvos for that P Diddy fur coat worth it. You’re cool and composed, giggling at how creative nipple tassles can be, people chanting “MeowwwOMMM” during cat meditation and workshops on how to give, err, great fellacio.
We marked down sunrise yoga and the United Nations presentation on their sustainable development goals in the events booklet but in typical Burning Man fashion, get side-tracked by our whims of enjoying a bevvie with thy neighbours, creating a human landing strip for powered hang-gliders who look like shooting stars, and attending a lavish white-clothed Shabbat dinner.
Where’s the book now? Kicked underneath the dust somewhere only to be found and reminisced over at home: “Man, look at all the stuff we missed.”
The Burning Man Awakening: Less Hippie, More Human
It’s been lovely but we didn’t really know why.
Then it just clicks.
You get over the fact you haven’t showered for days because wet wipes suffice. Learn to love the dust getting all up in your grill (literally and figuratively) – besides, it makes great dry shampoo. You understand why the heck you funnelled so much money into Walmart. Then you accept the battle of me versus nature. With a soul stripped bare for Burning Man immersion, somehow you manage to find comfort in an unfamiliar world.
The love. Gifting, tight burn hugs (handshakes are of no use here), deep conversations, the willingness to look out for others even if it’s the smallest of stacks.
The nature. 360-degree views of dreamy hues over immense arid land, the sun and moon slow tangoing over a rugged mountainous horizon. Who needs LSD?
The freedom and creativity harnessed on a blank desert canvas, daring us to go inwards turning our fantasies and imagination into reality rather than having it swayed by others.
The mindful consumption and non-attachment to our stuff. How everything we brought was used practically, eaten, shared, gifted or donated.
The temporariness of it all.
We start to live and breathe this primal, humanised way of living that feels new. Silly us, surely gifting our novelty items and spreading energetic newcomer vibes isn’t enough. We start to think how can we really make home a better place?
Voila, a taste of a Burning Man recipe.
Dear Overall Good humans, We Need You
Is it cooked to perfection?
No doubt you’ll come across purists who say it used to be better. Back when Burning Man was less seen as a tourist attraction and something you’d attend for street cred. Back before people arrived just for the weekend party without actually participating in community events. And, only recently, back when there wasn’t internet reception. But hey, RVs were once the offending side. Let it just be a reflection of who the burner communities are today.
Al dente or not, just like how traditional recipes are passed down through generations with the likelihood of tweaked flavours, Burning Man thrives off good folk to share and educate people on its core ingredients – the Principles – to let the culture live on.
Will you cross the line?
Image source: Tales Of Ardour, Rolling Stone.