People new to the Burning Man often think that this is a sort of festival. One where you can play dress-up, take cool photos with friends, and party all day long.
But to think of the Burning Man as such would be disrespectful not only to its founders but to the whole community that keeps the heart of the event beating. Burning Man is more than just a festival. It is not a week-long party or a camping trip in the middle of the desert.
It is a nine-day event where a network of people inspired by the values reflected in the Ten Principles and united in the pursuit of a more creative and connected existence in the world come together. The Black Rock Desert becomes a temporary city where people from all walks of life gather, where strangers are welcomed with open arms. It becomes a city built on giving and sharing, a community that thrives not on monetary value but selfless participation.
So yes, the experience is very different from the typical concerts and music festival experience.
What Are The 10 Principles of Burning Man?
There are 10 guiding principles that reflect what Burning Man is all about.
One of Burning Man founding fathers, Larry Harvey wrote the Ten Principles in 2004 as guidelines for the newly-formed Regional Network. But these principles do not necessarily dictate how its participants should think, talk, and act during the event. Instead, they serve as the foundation of the community and shape its culture and its philosophies. These ideals have always been practiced and encouraged since the time Burning Man was created.
The Burning Man welcomes all. It doesn’t matter if you’re 90 years old or a toddler of two years. You will be welcomed, and you will be respected. Because you will be a part of their community, you should also be as welcoming and as respectful to others.
It also doesn’t matter if you’re wealthy or financially challenged. You will be treated as an equal by everyone. This is a refreshing breath from our regular society.
It is a community where money has no value, but rather a gifting system. You give gifts or crafts you made to people without expecting anything in return. If someone gives you a gift, thank them and give one in return.
There are no conditions and there are no rules when it comes to giving gifts. It is unconditional, and the gifts themselves are priceless. They were created with the intention of making you smile, of knowing the value of their hard work and their selflessness.
Brands and sponsored ads have no place in this event. When you get there, take a good look around you. You’ll see that some people have covered up the logos on their shirts, bags, and even cars. You’ll see that most of the gifts are handcrafted and unique.
You’ll appreciate the humanness of the gifts, the characteristics that made them special. There are no brands and logos that sometimes reek of expensive material comfort. Here, gifts are meaningful pieces of their creators and not commodities.
Burning Man may be a community built on sharing and giving, but you should never take advantage of the community’s kindness. It is a long event and you need to prepare for that. So bring everything that you will need with you – food, water, tents, sleeping bags, cookware, LED lights, trash bags. Really, bring what you think you will need at the event.
There are a few who can get by with only a few resources. They depend on the community’s generosity to help them through the week. But remember, the community may be a very giving one with a deep gifting culture, and relying on others defeats the purpose of self-reliance.
All of us are unique. We all have a way of expressing our own artistic nature. The distinctiveness and uniqueness of each individual are clearly seen during the Burning Man. This is why you’ll see people in elaborate costumes, colorful tents, intricate accessories, and creative bikes. You’ll see magnificent art pieces. Some are interactive and fun, and some simply evoke emotions.
So don’t be surprised to see someone crying their heart out in front of an art piece or hugging people impulsively. Don’t be surprised if someone sang or danced in front of you or even recite a poem they wrote. The Burning Man encourages its community to showcase their creativeness and individualism and share them with everyone.
Burning Man draws people from all walks of life and different parts of the globe. As such, it is made up of eclectic communities with their own network of like-minded individuals that protect and nurture each other.
Most of these communities or camps are well-established and have been participating in Burning Man for decades. They put a lot of effort into their gift to the whole Burning Man community – from planning to preparing and building their gift.
Burning Man is a community where you can be totally free to express yourself. However, just because you have the freedom to do so doesn’t mean you can get away with breaking the law. Burning Man is still subject to local, state, as well as federal laws. And as such, all its participants are bound to follow the laws. In fact, you will be asked to download the Burning Man Survival Guide so you’ll know the “rules.”
Civic responsibility also includes making your art pieces as safe as possible for the community, especially if it is an interactive one.
Leaving No Trace
As you respect the community and its people, so should you respect the land and its environment. There are no trashcans in the Burning Man, which is why you need to bring trash bags with you. Nobody will pick up after you. You have to clean up after yourself.
If you see trash, don’t wait for others to pick it up; do it yourself. If you belong to a camp, help ensure that you leave no traces of your presence.
And don’t think you can get away with being sloppy. Every year, a color-coded map is made available on burning mans website or social media for all to see. Breaking the Leave no Trace rule can easily get you banned from setting up camp next time.
If you want to fully immerse yourself in the Burning Man experience, then you have to actively participate. The community, through the years, has built a deeply engaging spirit that is palpable in the gifts they give, the art pieces the camps share, the smiles and hugs they freely give.
So if someone asks for your help, give help. If someone invites you to see their gift, accept and appreciate it. If someone offers you food, eat and share yours. You are free to ignore the offer, of course. But you might miss out on learning something new or gaining new friends outside the Burning Man community. You might even miss the opportunity of getting to know yourself a little more.
Burning Man breaks our habit of doubting people and saying no simply because we can’t relate to their art pieces or experiences. The event encourages us to discover new things and new insights. And actively participating in the community is your key to this.
Immediacy is a concept of bringing oneself into the now - this moment, this experience, this environment, the people that surround you. The Burn allows you to explore immediacy in the hopes of discovering yourself.
The journey to getting to know who you really are is difficult, especially since there are a lot of distractions. But there are no set schedules at Burning Man. You have time to explore communities and camps. More importantly, you have time and the chance to embrace the moments as they unfold.
What is Burning Man like and How is Burning Man different from festivals and concerts?
More than just a popular annual event, Burning Man is a journey of getting to know people and, in the process, getting to know yourself as well. It is a surreal experience, a unique gathering of people, a breath of fresh air.
It is also a spiritual journey where you can let go of past hurt and sorrow and leave them at the Temple. And as the massive effigy of Man burns on the event’s last day, you can’t help but contemplate your experience and value what you have learned, how it’s okay to let go of your worries and just enjoy the now.
We are slaves to our jobs, responsibilities, financial obligations, and worries. We are slaves of our mobile phones, our laptops, the internet, technology, and money. It’s rare to find something that can truly captivate us and make us stop and appreciate the beauty of what’s in front of us.
Burning Man gives us all these and more. It makes us appreciate the gift of giving and the value of sharing. It makes us live in the moment, explore new things, enjoy new experiences, and connect with people.
Words may be able to describe it in many ways, but they won’t be enough to truly capture the moment. To understand what it really is, you have to experience the Burn.