Beneath the flashy displays of art and technology, the massive sound systems, and the scantily clad attendees, Burning Man is a visceral rite of passage that beckons participants to embrace the mythic journey that is their life.
In traveling to Burning Man, one leaves behind the realm of social norms and linear time (forget what you know about sleep,) and enters into a world of transformation where, for just over a week, anything is possible.
For many, Burning Man is the greatest party on earth. While this may be true, this physically, emotionally and psychologically grueling event is also the closest thing American culture has to acollective ritual of death, transformation, and rebirth.
I attended Burning Man in 2011, after spending much of my final college semester writing about the festival and its significance as a modern day ritual for my studies in anthropology and religion. In deep synchronicity with the timing and focus of my own life, the theme of the Burn that year was Rites of Passage.
Freshly graduated, I applied for a scholarship ticket, was invited through some miracle to camp with a group called Fractal Nation, and prepared to fully immerse myself into the transformational journeythat is Burning Man.
I danced harder then I ever had, partied on a Golden Dragon with internationally renowned musicians, helped manage one of the biggest stages on the playa, and didn’t sleep for nearly four days. I also had the pleasant experience of being left in the desert, only to find a better, more exciting way home.
Burning Man influenced my life in countless ways, many of which I am still discovering. Experiencing a devoted gift economy (the playa is a cash-free zone,) dancing to some world class DJ’s, and witnessing the cutting edge of American art culture was just the tip of this hot and dusty ice burg.
Yet perhaps the biggest gift given to me by that that massive expanse of sweltering, alkaline desert, the one that continues to effect my life every day, was the discovery of my community.
Today, three years after my first burn, my everyday life is a reminder of the Burning Man ethos and community. I currently live in an intentional community household with people I met, in one way or another, through Burning Man. Most of my friends and collaborators throughout the West Coast festival community stem from my involvement with the initial Fractal Nation camp, and many artists who I had previously only know through their music I now consider dear friends.
Burning Man catalyzed many relationships in my life that were key to helping me discover an inspiring, deep, and meaningful community of like minded souls.
When you meet people on the playa, you share a deep bond with them, one that cannot be simulated or recreated through any other means. Just the sheer intensity of the environment alone, creates a space where the superficial formalities and concerns of daily life simply melt away, and allow for a rapid rate of human connection.
It doesn’t matter who someone is in the “default world.” If you meet at Burning Man, you share a genuine and profound kinship. What happens next is up to you.
Recently, the festival has gotten a lot of media attention, mostly focusing on the negative aspects of its growth, its popularity in certain “Tech Elite” circles, and how much it has changed over its nearly three-decades of existence. Like it or not, either through fashion, popular media, or sheer word of mouth, Burning Man is now a mainstream fixture in the American cultural imagination.
No, “it’s not like it used to be,” as many veteran Burners continue to mourn. But then again, nothing is. Nothing as dynamic, creative, and iconoclastic as Burning Man could ever stay the same.
I have not returned to that mystical expanse of flame and sound since I first set foot on its soft, powdery soil three years ago.
Whether or not I ever go back (I plan to,) the spirit of Burning Man transformed my life, deeply empowered me, and was essential in helping me discover my community, my family, and my tribe.
What has Burning Man given you?