After three years, I realized that I don’t need to attend Burning Man ever again.
It turns out Burning Man was something I only needed to experience once. My two return years were vain attempts to recapture that first-year magic and, as such, were doomed to various and escalating levels of failure, disillusionment, and suffering.
I was traveling a horizontal path: seeking after sensations and experiences, certain neurochemical highs (naturally-induced, for the record), a certain state of being that I thought I could only access on that sun-baked alkali playa surrounded by blinky lights, whooshes of flame, thumping bass, and beautiful people.
I now realize I could have alternately chosen a vertical path: join an amazing group of artists, learn welding, build dramatic sculpture, and work year-round to eventually present a massive gift to my fellow party-goers, something for them to gawk at in their altered states and snap forgettable pictures of before they stumbled off to the clogged porta-potties to invert the booze-soaked contents of their stomaches.
(For people to attend the Event for 10 or 20 years sequentially, I think the vertical path is a surer bet. After all, how many times can you attend the same party?)
There was, of course, a third path open to me: simply stop attending the Event altogether after the first year, realizing that I had already fully metabolized that magical experience.
But it’s an easy mistake to make — maybe the easiest — to imagine that the magic of Burning Man inheres in the party itself. Where else do you feel so free? Where else are you confronted with such breathtaking beauty, of natural and artificial origin? Sure, it’s a hassle to get yourself and your camp there. But it’s worth it, right? It’s the only place on Earth you can get that feeling, right?
This kind of thinking makes an idol of the event itself, and it explains why emotions run so high when discussion how to arrange various minute details of the event (ticket sales, ingress and Exodus, etc). If there’s just one Event and it’s all we collectively have, then there’s going to be a lot of fighting over the “right” way to do everything.
There’s something self-punishing in all this. It’s like humanity has collectively decided that it can be truly, deeply and authentically happy for only 7 days per year, and only in the harshest environment in North America. It reminds me of a short story I once wrote: a happy couple lived in an island Paradise, where their every need was luxuriously provided for; except at midnight each night, they were ripped from their beds and plunged into a world of flame and torture until sunrise, at which point they were whisked back to Paradise.
It was a parable about the purgatory of duality that humanity seems to find itself trapped in: you can have incredible highs as long as you’re willing to experience soul-killing lows. Oh, well, that’s life: and at the Burning Man Event, the volume is turned up on all of life, including this dynamic. And people lap it up, year after year: a scoop of euphoria, a scoop of suffering, that’s life. Enjoy your Burn.
It was when I quit my corporate job in July of this year that I realized that my baseline experience of life could be lifted, permanently, without an attendant increase in suffering. What was so different after I quit my job? The principles I used to run my life changed. Instead of focusing on generating income first and shoe-horning my life purpose in afterwards, I decided to make my purpose the priority and let the income follow. That simple inversion has made all the difference.
The 10 Principles that make up the foundation of the Burning Man Event are themselves inversions of principles that run Default world culture. Instead of consumerism, there is decommodification. Instead of endless profit motive, there is gifting. Instead of the alienation, market segmentation and specialization, there is radical inclusion, communal effort, and civic responsibility.
These principles make up the spirit of the Burning Man Event, and I’ve got news for you: the principles don’t need the playa. They live on in our hearts during the 51 weeks of the year the Event is not running, and we can easily bring them into our everyday lives.
The Burning Man spirit is a concentrated cauldron of all that we are missing in Default world culture. Our Default world is missing immediacy, intimacy, and civic participation: the Burning Man spirit brings those in spades. Our Default world criminalizes altered states of consciousness and the exploration of consciousness; the Burning Man spirit celebrates these things. Our Default world diffuses personal responsibility for resource use and stewardship of the Earth; the Burning Man spirit returns responsibility to the individual and the small group. Our Default world has sexualized the human body, stolen our intimacy from us and sought to sell it back to us in a pornographic package; the Burning Man spirit desexualizes the human body and restores to us sensual intimacy, expressed in play, art, dance, music, and poetry.
The spirit of our daily world is a masculine spirit, and the spirit of Burning Man is a feminine spirit. I use these words not to indicate female-gendered or male-gendered people. The feminine spirit simply represents the restive, restorative, and thoughtful energy of the world. A babbling brook is part of the feminine spirit as much as a cold bottle of beer on a hot day. When you go to Hawai’i and truly unwind, you are having a fundamentally feminine experience. The Burning Man Event, a semicircular city focused on art, community, and radical love, sits deeply in a feminine essence.
The masculine spirit is that which values expansion and linear growth above all else, and it has grown sick from overuse in the world. Its sickness is the result of its laser-focused, single-minded pursuit of monetary profit that the world has toiled under for so long. It seeks to ruthlessly exploit every available resource because it is, at root, deeply insecure, living in fear that there is not enough of anything to go around, and therefore that its security comes from aggressively striving to deprive all others of some of their share so that it can hoard up for itself more than enough for itself.
This misperception is a result of the illusion of separation from the fundamentally embodied creative generativity of the feminine spirit. The masculine believes it is cut off, and is seeking to fill the hole. But tragically, no amount of “more than enough” will ever be enough to satisfy this desperate insecurity. There will never be enough oil and gas, enough pornography, enough derivatives trading, enough escapist drug bingeing, enough pristine rainforest converted into monocultured cropland, enough money socked away in numbered bank accounts to satisfy a spirit fundamentally missing unification with its complementary opposite. Left to its own devices, the masculine perspective is literally a hungry ghost, converting all of the world into food for its bottomless stomach.
The masculine perspective is the dominant perspective in the world today, and it is heartily embraced by the female gender, in positions of leadership as well as in everyday life. I see more and more of my female friends deeply embrace their masculine essence, running themselves ragged with corporate ladders and new cars and bigger paychecks and being single moms, maybe, someday, or at least planning to adopt, because who has time to take maternity leave when there’s a company hierarchy to dominate?
This last point is important, because the issue of children and fertility are at the core of the masculine and feminine spirits. The feminine perspective has at its core the experience — not the witnessing, the actual experience – of embodied creativity. The masculine perspective can touch creativity, but it is the feminine that experiences the magic of a tiny seed growing within her to become a living, breathing, embodied soul, and so tastes more fully the inherent, inexhaustible, infinite resourcefulness of the Universe.
Because of this, the feminine spirit has the potential to worry less, care more, nurture more, and with that greater, slower and longer-term wisdom, has the ability to guide civilization onto a more humane path.
The world is in such terrible shape today because both men and women are rejecting the embodied creativity of the feminine spirit, and opting instead for the insatiable lust of the sick masculine spirit. The Burning Man spirit is so revolutionary and essential because it brings us back into an experience of embodied creativity, and gives us an emotive template from which to live our lives.
In this way, the Burning Man Event is really a one-week classroom in writing the software upon which civilization runs. Everyone who leaves the Event changed is a potential programmer, and it is their responsibility to do what they can to reprogram the Default. We’re not called to keep upgrading the Event world — that’s a distraction. We’re called upon to upgrade the Default world. As badly as we need more porta potties, or a better Exodus system at the Event, we need better waste-management systems and more sane transportation systems in the Default world. It won’t matter if we find a way to fit a hundred thousand or a hundred million Burners on the Black Rock Playa if the Default world is quietly burning in the background.
The city in the desert balances on a knife edge for one week, then tumbles back into non-existence. It is an Event, unsustainable by design, a diorama of modern consumer civilization writ small, a one-millionth scale model. Guess what? Our global civilization is similarly poised to evaporate back into the sands of time, unless we find a way to rewrite its underlying software.
In a way, the unsustainable nature of our over-masculinized civilization is the greatest gift humanity has ever received: the opportunity to re-imagine civilization along saner, more balanced, more integrated lines.
It is a chance to create a global currency that encourages stewardship of global resources. It is a chance to decriminalize altered states of consciousness and altered ways of being. It is a chance to desexualize the human body. It is a chance to begin listening to the voice of the feminine, to re-approach an ethic of care and comfort, of togetherness and touch. It is a chance to become softer, more yielding, and in the process more adaptable to a changing climate, a changing global demographic, and a changing state of consciousness.
It is our chance to redesign jobs so they don’t kill our souls but bring us into our joy and passion daily instead. It is our chance to redesign our cities so that they make the most efficient use of energy and resources and give us back food, shelter, and beauty. It is our chance to redesign our transportation systems so they are beautiful, sustainable, and allow us to savor the journey, instead of obsess over the destination.
How do we reprogram the Default world? It starts with listening to the feminine (not women; to the feminine) and allowing that energy to heal our collective wounds. It starts with inviting the spirit that has been excluded in for a conversation.
There are literally millions of thoughts, behaviors and actions that proceed from this, but this is the start of the fundamental transition we must make on all levels: we must respect the feminine with equality and balance our lives with respect to these two perspectives.
There’s so much work to be done to rebalance my personal world. It’s through this work that I will rebalance the larger world. Rather than attend the Burning Man Event, I’ll be committing my time, energy, effort, and money to doing this work from here on out. Please join me, and let’s have a conversation about what we can think, do, and say to effect this transition.