Burning Man (Part 1: What Is It?)

September 27, 2010

in California, Creative Living

The Fire Conclave Performs Before the Burn

Fire performers surround the man before he burns.

Burning Man may be the greatest party on the planet. I’m sure there are other events to rival its Bacchanalian revelry, but Burning Man is unique in part because it is created by its participants. This brings a sense of community, ownership, creativity, and intricately complex variety that I haven’t witnessed anywhere else.

In the empty Nevada desert where the raw earth cracks, and crumbles to dust, and a fine layer of silt adheres to every surface and skin…50,000 people came together this year to create a city that exists for only a week.

Burning Man - A View From Above 2010 - Please View LARGE

Black Rock City, with nearly 50,000 people, exists for only a week.

Black Rock City is a giant playground, a cauldron of creativity, where everyone can do anything, where the whole point is to express yourself freely, to manifest the essence inside of you, to do whatever you like to do, to be present and easy and complete in the world. Burners offer greetings of “welcome home” as people arrive to the expanse of emptiness called the playa because a shared sense of community, belonging, acceptance, and warmth pervade the event.


Friends and a sense of community in the desert.

The rules of Burning Man? Very few. Be who you are. No money, no promotion, no branding. The only things you can buy are ice and tea/coffee at the center camp. Everything else is free–a gift to the community from whomever is providing it. All the bars? Free. Stop and have a drink with whomever you like. The meals offered? Free. Extra costumes, dance events, yoga classes, massages? Free. Your ticket cost covers infrastructure from porta-potties to cleanup, but once you’re on the playa, it’s about giving and receiving, not buying and selling. It’s a Leave-No-Trace event. Bring everything you need–food, water, shelter–and pack it all out. Be kind. Have fun.


Bikes and people roaming the playa.

The Burning Man himself is an iconic figure–slightly different every year but always the same basic form, at the center of the city, around which everything is oriented. Burning Man started as an anti-consumerist, anti-establishment gathering on a San Francisco beach and has evolved into a positive vision and co-created community. It’s a festival that embodies experience, creativity, extreme self-reliance, communication, and positive spiritual change in the world. It has 2,000 volunteers, issues $50,000 in art grants, installs solar power for nearby rural schools in poor communities, and spills over into a culture of art, music, and giving throughout the year.

BM man sunrise

The man at sunrise.

I wish I knew how to really convey the reality of the experience, but I’m not sure it’s possible. This is why there’s a shared bond amongst anyone who has been–they understand what it is to exist in that transitory, creative, communal reality. If you ask someone other than me, you’ll get a different answer about what Burning Man is. Lots of people will also say it’s sex, drugs, and naked people. Sure, that exists, but I hate to break it to you: sex and drugs are happening everywhere, regardless of clothing and costumes. To reduce Burning Man to a ribald party is to miss the point. It’s about self-expression, creativity, and freedom. Everyone has a different reality, a different experience there, but that’s part of the allure. Burning Man is what you make it.

*Please note: None of the Burning Man photos are mine. Many thanks to friends who supplied photos and for those that were borrowed from the web!

{ 1 comment }

sir idleoften September 30, 2010 at 7:30 am

the coolest museum on earth

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