Top Five Lessons I’ve Learned From Burning

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PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Alberghini

Burner doesn’t only refer someone who smokes pot. The term burner has been applied to those who attend Burning Man or its related events. Burning Man is a counterculture festival that operates as a Temporary Autonomous Zone, or T.A.Z., whichjoy fire strives to escape the normal expectations of society in order to reconnect with yourself and other people. Art of every conceivable form is celebrated and the cacophony of the event creates magic.

Burning Man has inspired several similar events around the world, two of which take place in Georgia, Alchemy and Euphoria. The events can be very different based on the team that leads each and the intention of the attendees, but they use the Ten Principles, created by Larry Harvey, the founder of Burning Man, as guidelines. I’ve been attending both of the Georgia burns since the first Euphoria in 2010 and the majority of my friends were either met at burns or convinced to come along.

1. Art is everywhere and everything. I didn’t think of myself as an artist until I got involved with a food camp. I made 75 stuffed bell peppers and gave them away to people lucky enough to wander by. The look of delight on each face as they took their first couple bites of steamy deliciousness showed as much joy as one would get from a moving piece of music or beautiful painting. Food can be art and feeds the soul as well as the body. Burns encourage artist participation by setting aside a portion of ticket sales to fund art projects.

2. People from so many backgrounds are attracted to burns. I couldn’t tell you what most of them do for a living because this is one place where it truly doesn’t matter. Most don’t know what they’ve signed up for and it can be somewhat easy to spot virgin burners, but they usually soon understand that anything goes. Attending and participating in burns have changed many people’s views on how the world should be, including my own.

3. Radical self-reliance can be intimidating to first timers but if you’ve been camping, you know the basics. Outside of porta-potties, nothing is provided for you. There are no garbage cans or water fountains. Everything you bring in must leave with you down to the tiniest bit of trash. It’s important to pack smart and reduce what waste you create during the weekend. The community we create is there to help as well. Since everyone is discouraged from leaving the property until the event ends, usually another camp mate may have what you’re missing, or someone can MacGyver a solution.

4. So much work goes into what is an entirely volunteer run event. Alchemy, which is capped at 3200 attendees, has over 20 teams consisting of more than 60 people that handle the logistics of the event. Everything from first aid to an information booth is staffed by volunteers who give up a bit of their time to make sure other participants are safe and enjoying themselves. I was grateful to be selected as both a team lead and to have my art project, Joy’s Art Machine, or JAM, funded at the 2014 Alchemy. It was my best burn to date as I found that the more I put into the event, the more I got out.

5. This is one of the few events left where you’re encouraged to unplug and be “off the grid” for a while. It is always a huge feeling of freedom to turn my phone off and know that I can live entirely in the moment. The only reason for me to know what time it is would be to make it to my volunteering shifts. This makes it much easier to be fully present and to simply listen to what your body needs and wants.

If this sounds like your idea of fun, I encourage you to check out Burning Man’s site to learn more about the events and find one in your area. Many of them sell out quickly and it’s bad form to offer above face value for the tickets, but finding local burners and getting involved in other events and projects that happen year-round is a good way to position yourself to be one of the lucky ones. There are many strong burner communities across the country (and world) who volunteer to help the less fortunate or produce art projects for everyone to enjoy.

My next burn will be Apogaea in less than a month and I can’t wait for the adventure.