Part 1 of my Burning Man guide left out one crucial element: the community. Burning Man is nothing without its people. There are ten principles that guide the behaviour of the Black Rock citizens, and those principles are the topic of this post.
Note that each principle begins with the official Burning Man definition.
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
This principle goes beyond having no restriction on ticket sales; it creates an atmosphere where you are welcome everywhere, regardless of your age, sex, race, outfit etc.
I always feel like I am ‘coming home’ when I arrive at Burning Man. This I attribute to the community’s unconditional acceptance and respect for people. It feels like family.
I can be rather shy in ‘the default world’, but in Black Rock City, the barriers between people are torn down and I am not just free but actively encouraged to talk with everyone and anyone. It is liberating. It is radical inclusion.
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
None of the principles are embraced so enthusiastically as this one. Burners are like snowflakes: each one unique in design and mesmerizingly dazzling. At Burning Man, you are not just allowed to wear anything you want; you are encouraged to do so! The more outrageous and intricate you make your costume, the more supportive the community becomes.
Burning Man is the perfect place for self-exploration as well as self-expression. Let your curiosity off the leash and try to push some boundaries. No one will judge you.
If you want to stretch your mind, there are talks, workshops and discussion groups on nearly any topic under the sun. If you have something to say or perform then Center Camp offers a free stage.
Finally, the amazing art and art cars of Burning Man (discussed in part 1) all stem from the principle of radical self-expression.
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
The Black Rock community is generous and welcoming; the Black Rock desert is not. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a more inhospitable landscape. It is a high-altitude desert with scorching heat during the day and biting cold at night. The dry air continuously wicks the moisture from your skin and dehydration is a constant danger. The deceptive weather can change from suffocatingly still to a blinding whiteout (dust storm) in minutes, leaving you disoriented and choking on the alkaline dust.
Since you cannot buy anything at Burning Man, you must bring everything you need yourself. That includes shelter, food, water, goggles, masks, repair kit etc.
Attending Burning Man is not like climbing Mount Everest. Nevertheless, there is something oddly satisfying in erecting your little tent, roughing it out in the dust and relying on your own strength and preparations for a week.
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.
In the default world, gift giving has been replaced by commerce except on a few well-scripted events such as birthdays and Christmas. However, since gifts are expected on those occasions, the fun for the giver is dulled and for many it becomes a chore.
In contrast, burners habitually give for the joy of giving and without presumptions of reciprocity. We give not only to friends but to strangers too.
The gifts range from the small (a Burning Man symbol made out of last year’s burn nails) to the large (a sleeping bag to help the guy who brought too thin of a blanket.) They can be transient (a frozen Margarita to take the edge of the heat) or a service (a massage to unknot that corporate back.) The gifts are as inventive as the Black Rock citizens are, and that says a lot.
My finest gift was a beautiful leather kilt, hand-made on the spot by a Cirque du Soleil costume designer!
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
Money makes the world go round, and with so much of it around, no wonder our heads spin. I personally believe capitalism has done a lot of good, but I still breathe a sigh of release when I return to Black Rock City, a rare haven in our globalized world of commerce.
The rule is simple. You are not allowed to buy or sell anything at Burning Man, nor are you allowed to promote any commercial enterprise while at the event. (Bartering is not officially banned, but strongly discouraged.)
There are three exceptions to this principle. You can buy ice since it is impossible to bring and store yourself. For less obvious reasons, Center Camp sells coffee, tea and other drinks. Finally, as an extension of the porta-potties, you can buy RV sanitary servicing.
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
Volunteering is a virtue at Burning Man. Nearly everything that gets done (ticket checking at the gate, the lighting of street lamps, peace keeping, information kiosks and anything happening in the theme camps) gets done because people freely give their time to make it happen.
No one will force you to work at Burning Man. My first instinct was that I had come too far to work, and I just wanted to have fun. I later realized how counterproductive that attitude was. Creating great experiences for others was more fun than being the receiver. It connected me to the community in a way that wouldn’t have happened if I had remained a spectator.
There was a difference between enjoying the street lamps of Burning Man and volunteering with the Lamplighter’s Guild to lift them to their hooks using my own two arms and a long pole.
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Volunteering is one way to participate at Burning Man, but there are other ways to get involved. Most of the activities and art installations at Burning Man draw you in and make you a living part of it. You are invited to play the instruments, climb the sculptures, activate the contraptions, fire the flamethrowers, hold the kites and ride the art cars. Burning Man is a shared event, and you are encouraged to participate in it.
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
If Burning Man sounds like unchecked madness to you, then this principle should put your worried heart to rest. People look out for one another at Burning Man, but there is a different feel to public health and safety there than in the default world. Instead of safety for the sake of avoiding lawsuits, there is safety because we care about the people in the community.
Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Fifty thousand people descending on a fragile landscape for one week should lead to the quick defilement of the desert, but it does not, thanks to this important principle.
Firstly, you cannot leave stuff behind. If you brought it and it hasn’t gone through your intestines by the time you leave Burning Man, you must bring it back.
Secondly, you cannot mess with the environment, like digging a hole in the sand. The many public burns at Burning Man are carefully prepared so that they don’t leave any burn scars.
Special honours go to the clean-up crew who volunteer weeks of labour to restore the desert to a pristine condition each year.
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.
Burning Man somehow feels more ‘real’ than other places. Your normal life, worries and reservations, everything that prevents you from being present in the here and now, fall away like dead useless skin. What lies beneath is tender, but it allows you to feel in new ways.
Your senses are sharper, your mind works more clearly and your emotions are given free reigns. It induces a ceaseless state of mindfulness. Your body, mind and soul are wide-open and embracing life. It is a giddying high that I rarely experience in the default world.
I have never taken anything stronger than alcohol, so this is not the effect of some drug.
This principle is the hardest to understand before you’ve been to Burning Man, but the easiest to recognize once you are there.