What Really Happens at Burning Man For 2021
I went to Burning Man because one of my closest friends is a camp leader at Burning Man. He goes every year and he invited me to Burning Man because he thought that I would embody the principles.
These are the principles, by the way, and I want to go through them in detail so that you can see the full 360° experience from my time there in 2019 which was the last in-person, on-playa Burning Man.
"Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community."
This is completely true! My experience in 2019 was my first and only time ever at Burning Man and even though I had done my research, I love electronic music (which is the majority of the music at the different sound camps), I was very familiar with partying and the psychedelics that are often consumed on the playa, I still had no idea what to expect. Upon entering Burning Man after hours and hours of driving and then waiting, I was welcomed by costumed greeters who encouraged me to lie in the dust and make a dust angel, which I promptly did.
"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."
This is also something taken seriously at Burning Man. As there actually is no money physically exchanged on the playa unless you are getting coffee at the bar in the Centre Camp or you are buying ice, everything is about exchange and gifting, which is just a one-sided act of donating something that you have.
The beautiful thing about Burning Man is that everyone brings everything to the playa and you can’t really mail anything to the playa for the week that you’re there in the duration of the event. One of the girls that I drove down with in the giant RV was actually creating her gift en-route that she would gift to people on the playa which were roller bottles of essential oil blends. Literally, on the way through each American city that we passed through, she was blending scents of lavender, patchouli, ylang-ylang.
It doesn’t matter if you are one of the biggest camps featuring world-famous DJs like Flume or The Crystal Method at your camp, money is not flaunted or even really used on the playa and you come there with everything you want, including your gift.
"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."
This is a really important principle that basically shows up as no promotions or advertising of any kind of company. If you are wearing a shirt with a logo or showing up in a truck with even a brand name on it, be prepared to have it mocked, vandalized, or even criticized.
"Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources."
This is a really beautiful rule that only comes once you get to Burning Man and you spend a few days at least fully understanding the experience. Let’s just say it’s the world championships of partying. You may head out for a quick bike ride but come back to your camp hours later with unexpected adventures. There’s no cell service and you are basically just one of the 80,000 free-range humans in that desert. You’re really either going and flowing with the elements like the heat and temptations of free alcohol and partying wherever you go so just make sure that you know yourself and have a strong compass if you want to survive.
"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."
This can show up a bit radically on the playa when you see how many people are highly sexual. The event is actually very sexualized in the sense that nudity is encouraged, embodiment is a standard and lewd humour and crass jokes are just the norm. Some of the workshops you might find will commonly be workshops around pleasuring and serving penis shaped pancakes. Everything from the music playing to the costumes being worn are all very sexual as you dance in a desert with many beautiful young people.
"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."
You will most likely see this when you discover the art on the playa. Not only are there art cars with traveling soundstages and full-on DJ booths on wheels, but also just amazing works of art that are built and fully brought out there by incredibly talented world-class artists.
"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."
This is one of the trickier parts of Burning Man because you might go there and experience the vibe with no consideration for the fact that Black Rock City which Burning Man is held in actually does have its own enforcement and law. There are police on the playa and they are literally just trying to make sure that everyone has a safe time, not just a fun time. It's not uncommon to see police looking into different camps if there are safety issues or investigating potential partying over-doing, like the rare overdose and such. Police are also meant to enforce illegal drugs entering the playa so raids can happen.
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."
This is a big rule in the whole sustainability of the event. If you or your camp entirely leaves trash, even just a little bit of litter, you potentially could be blacklisted from ever returning because this is an event meant to stretch well on into the future and if trash is being disposed of carelessly, that’s not good for the environment and that’s not good for future generations. You could also be fined if you relieve yourself on the playa and not in a porta-potty.
"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."
This is a principal for the shy people who come to Burning Man and really have no idea what to expect when there are extraverts all around partying and playing and getting into all sorts of group activity. Not everyone is going to be down to hit up the Orgy Dome or jump on a trampoline before dancing on an art-car. There really is something for everyone at Burning Man, even kids in the designated Kidzville! I watched a magic show in the middle of Kidzville and I even saw authentic pho being served for free passersby on playa after hearing of the morning ultra-marathon that happens every year. Everyone is encouraged to take part and have their own adventure, whatever that looks like.
"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."
Immediate experience basically reiterates and brings the point home that this is not an event where you are going to be on your cellphone texting and posting on Instagram. It’s going to be a complete immersion into the desert, with strangers and the people that you come with, and basically whatever exists on the playa. There is absolutely nothing to worry about and I would encourage every single person that I know to head to Burning Man and prepare and research because it will be a guaranteed transformation in your life and I think for the better.
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