The organizers of “Burning Man” start disseminating information about the weeklong event to all ticket holders long before the event itself. Contrary to a commonly held belief, “Burning Man” is not a chaotic, anarchistic group of crazy artists, musicians, and ex “hippies” getting together to hang out and smoke dope in the desert. Oh no….no..no. This year two members of my family attended the event and I learned just a little bit about the true meaning of “Burning Man”. I’m going next year.
To understand how the community of “Burning Man” operates, the best place to turn is to the Burning Man Survival Guide, …part of the literature the ticket holders get when they attend the event. To quote directly from the guide “Our community’s ethos is built on the values reflected in the 10 principles. “Burning Man” is understood not as an event, but as referring to a way of life lived consistently with these 10 principles. They are meant to be taken as a whole, as a set of commonly understood values that have arisen out of the history of the Burning Man experience”.
WOW….this is so cool!…says the anthropologist in me. Burning Man, in the (roughly) 25 years of its existence, has actually evolved a coherent culture that re-creates itself year after year. The culture is based on very specific principles! Going through each principle in detail here would take too much time, but I am going to focus on the principles of “Radical Self Reliance”, “Radical Self Expression”, and “Radical Inclusion”. I am focusing here because of the expression of pure bliss I witnessed in my husbands face when he returned from Burning Man, and his comment that he felt “bathed in oxytocin” (the “love molecule) the whole time he was attending Burning man. It just seemed to me that these manefestations must have something to do with his immersion in the “ethos” of Burning Man. On further reflection I reasoned that, to have such a feeling of “well being” and “contentment” when sharing a harsh environment with so many others must have directly to do with following principles about how to relate to yourself, and to others. So, I’ve been thinking about it and here is a theory I have developed.
First of all, regarding the principle of “radical self reliance”..the survival guide states that “Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise, and rely on his or her own inner resources.” So, I see this as an emphasis on self empowerment. You, on your own, are enough. You can take care of yourself. You are whole. If you combine this with the principle of “radical self expression”…which states that you as an individual are encouraged to share all of “who you are” (for example by the way you dress, your art, your “expression”.. all “parts” of yourself, if you will)…then you are allowing your true self to be seen….all of you. Ergo…all of you is powerfull….it’s all good! The third principle of “radical inclusion” seals the other two together, in my mind. To quote from the “Survival guide, again, with the principle of “radical Inclusion… ,”anyone can be a part of Burning Man”…no prerequisites exist for participation…. It seems to me that this is the principle of automatic and unconditional “positive regard”. You are accepted for who you are and what you bring, with no hierarchies. Everyone is equal.
So, now thinking about the feeling of “love” that seems to flow between “Burning Man” participants (maybe not all the time…there is a “law enforcement” presence of sorts), I’m thinking that the human connection people discover there must come truly and fully from the “heart”. Given that each participant is encouraged to feel “whole” “self sufficient” and “empowered” for who they truly are, the reason to “connect” is not about really “needing” anyone…it is about “wanting” connection, pure and simple. Of course, you can help someone who needs it, (and this is encouraged) but its different than that desperate need people can sometimes feel to find someone to “complete” them. You are already complete. Related to this, there is no money exchange at “Burning Man”, except in the instance of two locations where you can buy ice and coffee. Other than this,….”Burning Man is devoted to acts of “gift giving”. The value of a gift is unconditional. “Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value” (again, this is another principle from the Survival Guide)
So, these are my thoughts. I have never been a part of such an “experiment” in community as this. It’s a chance to connect with people in such a real and immediate way…..(By the way, cell phones, laptops, and tablets don’t work at Burning Man.. Its all BE HERE NOW. ) When my husband Darrell came home, he was totally disoriented and needed to take a couple of days just to adjust to the “default” world. (another Burning Man expression) He couldn’t stop talking about his experience and the wonderful time he had with everyone there, including our adult daughter Simone . How can I not want to go?