It’s that special time of year again, when 70,000 people flock to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada to create the temporary city and artistic community that is Burning Man. “A city in the desert. A culture of possibility. A network of dreamers and doers,” Burning Man is one of those experiences that can be described many ways and yet is hard to put into words - a music and art festival, a temporary city, a utopian community, a mindset - it is all of those things and more. What started as a small gathering on Baker Beach in San Francisco in 1986 now welcomes thousands of participants from around the world, who all come together to make art, camp out, party, dance, pray, and survive for one week in the elements of the playa.
The art installation Pirámide de Muertos - Burning Man 2017
There are ten guiding principles to the Burning Man event: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self Reliance, Radical Self Expression, Communal Effort, Civic, Responsibility, Leave No Trace, Participation, and Immediacy. These principles set the tone for a culture that is radically different than the one we experience every day, creating an environment where a massive change in perspective causes many people to have “life-changing experiences.” This potential for transformation makes Burning Man a powerful healing experience that people crave and return to year after year.
An aerial view of Black Rock City.
It comes as no surprise that people who love cannabis are often found at Burning Man. Black Rock City is located in Nevada, where recreational cannabis use was recently legalized. Although the festival is known for hosting many psychedelic experiences, the local law enforcement on site has always been strict regarding the consumption of cannabis.
According to Burning Man’s rules and regulations, adults aged 21 and over are permitted under Nevada law to transport and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, but the public use of cannabis is prohibited. Yes, it is possible to get arrested at Burning Man, and because smoking cannabis is much more obvious than many other forms of consumption, it is easier for law enforcement to find cannabis consumers. Historically this has led to cannabis patients to be extremely discreet or risk getting in trouble due to federal law.
The art installation "Charon" a 3D stroboscopic zoetropes.
Many participants are curious if the recent legalization in Nevada means that they can finally consume their cannabis in the open and the answer is unclear, but appears to be “no.” Because Black Rock City is located in a federal park on the federal land of the Black Rock Desert, the federal law takes precedent over the state.
A DJ art car drives through the desert.
Why is Burning Man so popular? What I have learned in my own desert experiences, is that many participants have profound experiences when participating in the playa community. We all crave inspiration and meaning in our lives, a clue that there is some reason for feeling the way we do and doing the things we do. At Burning Man, the combination of survival, freedom, community, inclusion and inspiration creates a unique environment that ignites spiritual rejuvenation. It’s like a new year or a rebirth - you can find yourself in the dust and be whoever you want to be.
This year’s art theme is Radical Ritual, and participants are invited to “create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions….in an attempt to reinvent ritual in our post post-modern world.” Art installations will include Peter Hudson’s trippy stroboscopic zoetrope Charon, Dicapril’s Gummy Bear Pyramid, the world’s largest grammophone La Victrola, and many, many more.
An art installation at night.
I am not going “home” this year and watching all my friends take off for the dust has left me a bit nostalgic and reflective. The thing is (and apologies for sounding cheesy, but it’s true!), the essence of Burning Man lives inside all of us, and we can bring the magic of Burning Man into our everyday lives anytime we want. Here are some ways to spark up your spiritual life here in the “default world”, inspired by life at Burning Man:
- Step away from the screens. Try taking (at least) a weekend off from your phone and computer
- See people. Spend face-to-face time with real life humans and share an experience.
- Go outside. Take a walk, go for a swim, lay in the grass, hug a tree, watch the stars. Whatever it takes to reconnect with nature.
- Give a gift. And expect nothing in return.
- Try something new. What have you always wanted to do but never have the time? Do it now!
- Say hello. Smile, wave, make eye contact with someone you haven’t met before.
- Get artsy. Make time to be playful with music, painting, dancing, writing - whatever inspires your inner child.
- Go for a bike ride. It’s physical, playful, and fun!
- Wear your flair. Put on something you love but never wear.
- Find your flow. Leave the house without a plan and see what happens.
- Expect (and welcome) the unexpected. You might be surprised at what happens with a change of attitude and perspective.
The sculpture "Love" which encompasses the ethos of the playa.