BY: Jeff Blum – “Guest Blogger”
The first time I went to Burning Man was in 2010 and when I returned I tried to explain what I had just experienced to my girlfriend at the time. In the middle of trying to describe this incredible experience, I started to cry (and I’m not a cryer!) because I was so overcome with emotion. My experience was that powerful.
She says in that moment, she knew she had to go. She didn’t often see me cry or become so moved, and she claims for the next two weeks I had “Burning Man Eyes.” A literal difference in how I looked as I now had a new perspective on the world. I took her the next year, and then a few years after that I proposed to her at Burning Man.
We got married in 2016 and opted not to go that year or the next as we were busy living our newlywed life.
Truth is, I almost didn’t go this year either. I had been 6 times already and the past couple of times felt a bit overrun with celebrities, Instagram models and Coachella tourists. Burning Man certainly has reached its pop-culture peak, at this point, everyone has at least heard of it and has some opinion about what exactly it is. That was not the case when I first went in 2010.
But then a ticket came my way and things started to align in a way that made it hard to say no. So I said yes, and I went. And maybe it was because I had not gone in two years, or maybe it’s because those celebrities, Instagram models and tourists have all come and gone, but this year moved me. Like in a way that reminded me of the first time I ever went. The values were there, the principles were in place and the community felt connected again. I had the best week of my year and I felt compelled to capture and remember what I had just experienced. So I curated a few posts on my social media which got the attention of Janis (Your amazing leader here at The Daily Feels) and when she asked me to be a guest blogger I jumped at the opportunity.
I spent 7 days at Burning Man and for the first time in years, I have my Burning Man Eyes back.
So let me offer you my perspective. Allow me to share the stories and experiences that have filled my heart, so that perhaps you can better understand or relate to the illusive experience that is Burning Man.
Burning Man takes place in a temporary city called Black Rock City. It’s filled with nearly 70k people and for 1 week it becomes the 5th largest populated city in Nevada. You’ll hear a lot of its citizens call this place “home”, and to me, it’s because the city actively practices love and acceptance of all under one of it’s principles of radical inclusion. It feels like home because you are welcomed with open arms and hearts. You feel you belong and you are taken care of. You are not only encouraged to be yourself but to radically express who you are. I’ve made lifelong friendships with people of all ages, races, and preferences from around the world, and for one week a year, we can all come “home” and celebrate our time together.
This year was no different. I arrived and was immediately reminded of the power and potential we have when we focus on community and love, Vs. divisiveness and hate. At its core, Burning Man is an idea. It’s not something that can be accurately portrayed in photos or essays, but can only be truly understood by being there and seeing it in practice. So while the irony is not lost on me, good ideas are always worth spreading, even if it can’t be a true full portrayal.
Home is where the heart is, and there’s no place on the planet that fills my heart more than Black Rock City.
The time and resources dedicated to the art at Burning Man are worth the trip alone. On my first full day, we explored many of the original installations which not only serve as gorgeous fixtures to the city but also help you navigate your way around. It might be your street is located by that giant silver rocket, or maybe you’re camped over by the enormous polar bear! Art has value and importance here and it’s reflected not only in the large pieces but in the small details of how people decorate themselves or their camp. Art is all around you all the time. During the day many pieces stand out against the breathtaking backdrop of the open desert while at night it all becomes illuminated as installations beam and flash every color of the rainbow. The art is wild, original, often interactive, and unlike anything else!
A NEW EXPERIENCE AROUND EVERY CORNER
One of the harder things to explain and comprehend is the endless opportunity for new and exciting things at Burning Man. It’s impossible to experience everything and every year I’ve gone, the things I’ve done are completely unique. My group often found ourselves ready to leave one party or class, or art installation and simply turning to each other and saying “Ready to go to the next cool thing?”, and we would hop on our bikes and within minutes find something entirely amazing. This isn’t like Coachella or other festivals where there’s a lineup of acts or things to do, this is an entire city that has everything from sunrise yoga classes to all-night raves. It has a post office and an airport. You can go to church or you can go to an AA meeting. This year, I did a naked bike ride bar crawl, got tossed around in a tesseract, danced in an actual 747 airplane turned club, laid in a hammock admiring the sky with a new friend from Russia, consoled a stranger, watched people cage fight and took a foam party shower with nearly 100 others. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I was there for 7 days and every turned corner had something so completely awesome to offer.
Everything is created by the hearts and minds of everyone there. WE, the citizens are responsible for all the amazing experiences. It’s not like these things are planned or made by the Burning Man organization, most everything you experience was made and curated by someone just like you who either by themselves or with a group got together and thought “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…” and then actually did that cool thing and decided to share it with you and the rest of the community.
MY BURNING MAN FAMILY
Burning Man would not be the same without the camp of friends I’ve built. That second year I went with my girlfriend, there was 6 of us in a “Janky Hut.” Named so because I had done such a poor job of planning our shade structure, that it was pretty much falling apart the entire time. My enthusiasm over going and bringing friends overshadowed my ability to properly prepare. Our neighbors took pity on us and let us hang out in their shade structure and we got along famously. The next year we decided to all just camp together, and since they decided to make one of their shade structures a circus tent, we opted to call ourselves the “Janky Circus”, providing homage to both parties. Over the years, the “Janky Circus” has been camp to nearly 100 people from all over the world. I’m incredibly proud of the camp we’ve built because the friendships fostered there go beyond the week at Burning Man. The “Janks”, as we call ourselves, have become family. We’ve flown across the country to attend each other’s weddings, or birthdays. We’ve sent care packages to members in time of need. We support each other’s creative and professional endeavors. We are diverse in age, gender, race and geographic location, but we all have the same heart. I find this is the case with many people who come. The people you meet at Burning Man become lifelong friends, and it’s one of the few places where generational gaps, wealth differences, or any other typical hurdles for friendship don’t exist or matter.
THE POWER OF GIFTING
Note: The photos below were gifted by random strangers with a Polaroid camera just walking by and spreading the love.
If you don’t know already, there’s no commerce at Burning Man. It’s one of the principles: de-commodification. Nothing is for sale, everything is free. There’s no logos or billboards, no company handing out free samples, no advertisements.
You know that feeling you get when you give a close friend a birthday present you just know they’ll love, and when they open it up they totally do? That feeling you get by giving is what fuels this. EVERYONE is so giving at Burning Man that there’s actually an excess. You are literally turning down drinks and food and services ALL. DAY. LONG. People literally stand on the streets trying to seduce you into coming in for some of their amazingly cooked pancakes and bacon, or maybe they’ve made fresh margaritas. I’ve seen camps full of clothing racks for you to pick out a new outfit or services like massages just handed out with no expectations in return. This is not a “barter” system. Free means free. When 70k people all share this “gifting” mentality there’s no need for money. There’s such an abundance of everything for everyone that you couldn’t possibly indulge in all of it, even if you tried.
The removal of money also removes the class system. You’ll hang out and party with billionaires, and near homeless people alike, and you’ll probably never know the difference. You give what you can, to anyone who needs or wants it, and I suppose karma is the only system of accounting.
The effigy of The Man marks the very center of the city. It’s called Burning Man because on Saturday night, the entire city gathers around and it’s set a blaze in a spectacular show of fire, pyrotechnics, and fireworks. There’s no official meaning to why we do this, what ‘the man’ stands for, or what it all means, but I can share with you my own interpretation. There’s a duality for me. On one hand, the man stands for “The Man” as we express in pop culture. The head of the establishment there to keep us all under his thumb. In this sense, it’s a celebration to burn him down. We collectively for the past week have shown that we can co-exist and do amazing things with radical new ideas in place. We are not bound to the old rules and corrupt practices that often run our daily lives. We are in a sense totally free.
On the other hand, I see the man as myself. A temporary being. The time and effort put forth to make the man are astonishing, as it stood nearly 5 stories high this year. All to be enjoyed for one week and then burnt down to ashes. It’s a reminder to me that life is short. That what I spend my time and efforts on. and the people I choose to surround myself with, should be things and those I love. Because in the end, all we really have is the here and now. Being at Burning Man really helps you stay present, and enjoy the moment because you a reminded how temporary all of this really is. It’s why on Saturday night, when ‘the man’ burns, you are literally at the biggest and best party ON. THE. PLANET. The party vibe at Burning Man feels more in line with the energy of an awesome wedding reception or birthday party. Yes, people are drinking and partying, but it’s not because they had a bad week at work, or they’re trying to escape. It’s pure love and fun and camaraderie across all strangers. It’s a celebration of each other, of the city we’ve all built, the art, the ideas – everything. It really is the best party on the planet, and you’ll never find anything else like it.
On the very outskirts of town lies The Temple. The holy ground for the city if there could be such a thing. It’s probably the most energetically charged place at Burning Man, as many use it as a place of remembrance, worship or meditation. The structure is filled with shrines and inscriptions members of the city have made in honor of those who have passed. Every year that I go, I think maybe it won’t affect me as much, but every year I am brought to tears. This year was no different. It’s peaceful and quiet, as you walk through and see letters Mothers have written to their children who have been tragically lost, or photos people have left of their friends who lost their battle with cancer. There are pictures of pets and grandparents, and scriptures of people wanting to let go of their old selves. It’s a place to remember and to honor. Sunday night, the Temple is burned. We all sit in silence and watch as it burns away. People cry, people rejoice, people let go.
This year I found myself reflecting upon the incredible ideals the week had been filled with. I’d gone a whole week without seeing a single advertisement, without stressing about a work email, without feeling self-conscious to talk to strangers or to express myself. I had not seen a clock in a week and time really didn’t matter. While this city is temporary, the ideals and practices are not.
Coming back to the “default world” can be difficult. We’re faced with political turmoil, planetary disruption, corporate greed, and divisiveness… it’s not easy. It’s not all bad, but there’s work to be done.
If you have not yet been to Burning Man, hopefully this blog shined some light on what it is…I also get how it probably just generated way more questions. As I said before, at its core it’s really just an idea put to practice. A new perspective on life. This year gave me back my Burning Man Eyes and I think that’s because those eyes are needed now more than ever. We all know the state of the world we find ourselves in, and I don’t think anyone feels great about it. But if we can look on our neighbors with love and kindness, see the value in art and science, view the importance of self-expression, and see to it that we take care for one another, I think we can start to heal some of these wounds.
If Burning Man has taught me anything it’s that by changing your mindset, you can change your life. And if enough people can change their mindset, we can change the world.
Fueled by hot sauce and the thumpa thumpa of EDM, Jeff Blum has an insatiable taste for parties, going out, and always finding something new and exciting to do. He spends his days developing for the web, acting and producing, or some other form of hustling in Hollywood.
A lover of wild sneakers, the Ninja Turtles and hot sauce, he’s always down to make a new friend. Find a good margarita and he’s there.