So I took some time away from my life under the relentless sunny skies of northern Australia to go and holiday...ummm, under the beating sun of the Nevada desert. Which is to say I went to Burning Man. Again.

After such an event there's generally curiosity from friends who have heard about it though the grapevine - either in some detail or barely at all - asking for a deconstruction of the experience into a few compressed sentences that can neatly tie up why you go there, what happened while you were there (aka 'did you get laid?') and what you took away from it.

This is a part of the equation I'm not alone in finding challenging, and my discussions generally rapidly sidetrack to the time I saw this guy do that thing, man it was awesome. (The free shrugs guy was hilarious, right?)
2013 was only my second visit to Black Rock City, so while I was no longer a burner virgin, I'm still something of a novice - but in the time leading up to the event I put a lot more pressure/expectation on myself to both put more in, and get more back. To come back revitalised, rewritten and rebooted. To be more me than me, with a vague undefined hope that this 2.0 version would be slightly different, but more myself.

...This feels like an unusual requirement - surely we are all just ourselves and we have a pretty good idea who that person is? But do we? Clearly I don't, not always. Free from many of the expectations, judgments, constraints and conformity of our day to day lives, do we really know how we would act or express ourselves? The playa asks you to find out, and for some who rise up to the challenge, the experience has been transformative...Or at the very least they've come back a bit less of a douche. Well, sometimes. For my own part I don't feel I've taken up this challenge to its fullest measure - yet. Sometimes it disappoints me that I don't push my own boundaries enough, maybe I'm just still trying to work out which boundaries to push. Or maybe I don't need to push any at all and should just work on accepting the self that I am.
There's a lot of wonderful posts floating around online about the Burning Man experience; the good, the bad and the ugly. What keeps them coming, what keeps them away, how it has changed, how it will always be the same. From the outside it seems to me that the burn is so often perceived as an uncontrolled pit of self-indulgence and hedonism...which it can be. A free love, clothing optional, drug filled bacchus-fest with a lot of new-age navel gazing on the side. Yes, it can sometimes be that too (in fact I think I went to that workshop).
It can be hard to describe in part because the playa is a land of contrasts. There's often as much happening on the inside (the self) as on the outside (the community), and both are feeding off each other. It's an event that embraces chaos and non-conformity yet there is immense planning and structure at the heart of it; from the carefully designed site, the survival guides, the key set of core principles meant to guide participants' ethos to the pretty damn well maintained portaloos (all things considered).

It's touted as radically inclusive (presuming you have a fair chunk of cash to spare) but many in the community have strong opinions on who they think shouldn't be there. While currency is almost non-existent, that's in part down all the money one spends in preparation for remaining money free for a week. And a large chunk of this cash can be spent on one-time-only outfits that ensure you will fit in with a certain 'image' of a burner (after a lot of wasted money the first time round, I made a concerted effort this time to buy nothing I wouldn't use regularly outside of this event).

There is a chunky program packed to the gills with a mind-blowing array of events, talks, workshops and bacon but on the flip side the concept of playa-time prevails. People may or may not show up to their scheduled events. Where you intend to go and where you end up are usually two very different places. Some events are made up (no, there wasn't a Tina Turner group singalong at the Thunderdome).

Your safety is your responsibility (but did I mention the very well serviced medical tent?) and you're expected to bring everything you need and take it all (ALL) out again but, for an event that is so often centred around the concepts of sustainable and community-based living, camps end up with a lot of waste to haul out (let's just say I probably generate more packaging waste in one week in BRC than I do in two months out in the real world) and the combined effort for all the participants to get there actually represents a pretty big carbon footprint per person.

I also have to admit I scoff a little at any claims by people that they are somehow 'surviving' in the desert. Coming from a region within a country that can kill you in hours if you're not fully prepared, a self-contained event where one is never more than 500 metres from a bottle of water and some potato wedges isn't exactly my idea of survival. Frankly I could get into more trouble on an average weekend out camping locally. I would term it an endurance event rather than surviving in the desert, but maybe I'm just being pedantic.

For me I feel that it's an event that's about sharing and about learning; about yourself, about community, about tolerance and about expression. It's about sharing new ideas, learning how you can bring a little more light and colour into your daily life and making new connections based on a shared experience. But most of all it's about love. I'm not talking about touchy feely 'love everyone' flower fest (though it may mean this for some), I'm talking about the love that comes from self-assured generosity (I make a distinction here between 'self-assured' and 'selfless', more on that in a future post maybe). The ability to give without the expectation or need for anything in return. The ability to accept generosity without feeling obligation. To put an immense amount of time and energy into making beautiful art, to share it, and then sometimes to finally to commit it to the flames. The love that comes from non-attachment and understanding the ephemeral nature of this life, this experience and the love that comes from gladly and open-heartedly sharing your abundance and individual talent with those around you. If you're part of a camp it can also be about learning the role you naturally fall into, and whether that sits right with you. It's one of those places providing a space where you can meet yourself and get to know you, or try on a different you for size and see if there's another outfit that suits you better than the one you've been wearing for years.

Alternatively, it's just an opportunity to dress up as a teapot and party your ass off for the entire week...whatever works

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