Courtesy of Delilah Giblin
Some would say this was not a wise decision. I exhausted my bank account on party supplies and gas. I ditched the second week of school even though I am completing my certificate requirements this semester. And I took off for the alkaline flats of northwest Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, where nights are freezing, days are scorching and the dust storms are so thick you can’t see ten yards in front of your face. Annoyed with myself I thought, “What the fuck am I doing here?”
Everyone asks themselves this question at least once over the course of a week at Burning Man. Why would anyone want to go to a Mad-Max-meets-raver world where fine dust or “playa” lines your lungs, and the constant thump of bass echoes in your ears?
This year, I made my third pilgrimage to this lifeless environment along with nearly 70,000 other people to spend the week at this freak show of expression. I dragged my 19-year-old sister along for her first “burn” to share with her the place that has influenced me.
It’s not just a music festival or the world’s biggest party. It’s a enormous social experiment: an alternate world where people expose their alternate personalities. You can be anyone you want. There are no rules or money, only 10 principles to influence the Burning Man community: Radical inclusion, gifting, de-commodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leave no trace, participation and immediacy.
Combine these guidelines with blood, sweat, lots of tears and some mind-altering substances and voila, Nevada’s sixth largest city rises from the dust — only to disappear with the wind two weeks later.
By now I have learned not to expect anything and to be open to everything Burning Man has to offer.
The over stimulation of senses along with substance influences awakens a gateway to interpersonal transformation. Burning Man is no more than a huge adult playground with blinking lights and jungle gyms. Beneath all the fun and games, a reveling therapy session is in progress.
In this realm, an evening romp around the playa with friends can easily turn into anxious buddies splitting from the group, and treading the oblivion of flashing lights and loud noises together; while the rest of the pack decides what to do.
The question of what to do at this place is never-ending and the options are countless.
Immediacy: do what you want when you want to. As with the “default world,” or life outside Burning Man, there is no time like the present to act.
Fear of missing out, or FOMO, causes more stress than creative drive. “What should I do?”
Radical inclusion: welcoming all parties for no other reason besides they are human.
Everyone and anyone can be a part of Burning Man. There are no qualifications.
Radical self-reliance: be self-dependent and handle you shit
You never know what to expect when leaving camp. Will you stay up all night? Will you be hungry or cold. Are you going to ditch your friends, walk, or ride a bike? The need to be prepared is constant.
Gifting: sharing the wealth of joy and creation with the surrounding community.
While being self-reliant is a must, in some ways the playa provides. Random folk on the street may offer you bloody maries and bacon or give you a hug when you’re feeling bummed, or an art piece may calm you down from a psychedelic panic attack.
Radical self-expression: Burning Man is a place to explore who we really want to be.
In this accepting atmosphere you create your own character and even dress the part.
De-commodification: ridding ourselves of the pressures by our culture’s advertising and things we don’t need. Relying solely on our own better judgment.
The purity of self-directed choices without influences from the media allows for a deeper understanding of our desires.
Civic responsibility: use common sense. It only takes one spun-out rotten apple to spoil the whole party.
The world is full of bystanders and people that lack the ability to think critically.
Communal effort: a shared sense of drive to accomplish a task otherwise impossible.
With a common goal for people to create and bond over anything is possible. People come together from all over the world to create and participate in the anthropological feat of Burning Man.
Participation: be a part of what is happening. If you wanted to do nothing then why did you drag your ass to the middle of the desert?
Everyone always has something to contribute, whether it’s telling a joke mocking new age hippies, or helping someone fix their bike.
Leave no trace: go beyond pack it in pack it out. Pick up the litter aka MOOP (matter out of place) when you see it. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make the world a cleaner place.
The impact 70,000 people have on any environment is immense. Loose feathers from people’s culturally appropriated headdresses and empty beer cans blowing in the wind all to be caught by the trash fence that surrounds the playa
Burning Man grows at an exuberant rate each year and a fair amount of attendees are clueless to these guidelines. These are the people that need to learn them the most.
My friends and I take these guidelines to heart. Because they are humble, simple ways to travel through life; accepting, contributing and independent.
Beyond all the trash, burnt fossil fuels and drug use there is something magical happening, life lessons being had. Hopefully more positive than negative is coming from the chaos.
When my sister and I entered the gates the enthusiastic greeters told us welcome home and it is true: It is home for the expressive weirdo in us all.
During the closing circle at my camp we all expressed the overwhelming gratitude and love we share for our playa family. My sister said she had discovered a type of love she didn’t know existed.
Every time I make the journey to Black Rock City I learn more about love, life and what it means to be a part of the communal world.
Simple human connection and expression is what it’s all about. Participants contribute whatever they have to offer, whether helping people get hammered at their Kool-Aid vodka bar, teaching Kundalini yoga workshops or displaying their art.
By the end spending all my financial aid on the trip was worth it to get the full human experience and range of emotions that, once home, leaves me thinking, “What the fuck am I doing here?”