Ever since my early festival days when I thought drugs, partying, and driving from show to show were what life was all about I’ve dreamed of going to Burning Man. I wanted to expand my mind by using large quantities of psychedelics, be around people who were cool with it, and to see how this group of people came to form this awesome party. I thought Burning Man was THE party of the year; I had no idea it was SO much more.
Fast forward to this year, I had put attending Burning Man on the back burner (hehe) and had no plans of going until an opportunity wildly found its way to my doorstep (THANK YOU, SPACIOUS). In a matter of twenty-four hours my whole life was turned upside down and I found myself preparing for my first Burn.
I think it’s important, before I dive into my first Burning Man experience, that we cover the 10 Principles of Burning Man. You know, just so you can get a better understanding of how this city operates and what it’s ‘all about.’
Radical Inclusion - that’s right, every single person NO MATTER WHAT is welcome. We welcome and respect the stranger. NO prerequisites exist to be a part of the community.
Gifting - NO THIS IS NOT A TRADE ECONOMY! You give your gifts FREELY without the expectation of anything in return - it is given unconditionally (just like love should be).
Decommodification - An environment free from advertising, branding, or corporate sponsorship. People cover up labels/ brands on almost everything or create their own mocks of large corporations.
Radical Self-Reliance - The ability to rely on your own knowledge, preparedness, and knowing you are enough to make it out alive. Use your ability to discover things as YOU need.
Radical Self-Expression - There is no right or wrong way to express yourself. This can be done in how you dress, move, speak and everything else (bike decorations?!). Just get out there and do something that is YOURS and makes you feel FUCKING AWESOME!
Community Effort - We’re all in this together, surviving in this hot ass desert isn’t easy so let’s work together here. We work together to create a space of collaboration and cooperation.
Civil Responsibility - Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants.
Leave NO Trace - We show mad love for the environment and leave no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. Let’s try to leave the Playa better than when we pulled in.
Participation - Through moving together, participating with an open mind and heart, we can create a community of love that shines so bright it can inspire change for the greater good. Play, sing, dance, touch, feel, don’t just stand and watch, bring your energy and ideas to share!
Immediacy - ‘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.’ MY FAVORITE CORNERSTONE OF THE BURN! It led to quite the adventure for me!
My first step to prepare was to reach out to my large community of friends who have been doing this for years, to learn from my ‘elders’ and gather helpful information. I knew the basics, I checked out the website, I had a basic packing list and gear, but I wanted to hear from my friends what they had learned over the years. I wanted to gather any information they might have to go in as prepared as possible. To me, it was a primo step in my radical self-reliance process. For the most part, my burner friends were awesome, they shared some insightful tips from their many burns and reminded me that taking care of myself while on Playa was the most important thing. While others, which shocked me, turned me away on the premise that this information gathering was indeed NOT radical self-reliance and shut the doors on me. This was the first sign I was about to embark on a trip that was going to shift my perspective, change my relationship with myself and others, and create some space that I never even noticed I needed.
I spent a total of 10 full days on Playa, which allowed me to come in early to help build and set up our village and stay late to help breakdown, de-”moop” (Matter Out Of Place), and say a final heartfelt goodbye to Black Rock City. I feel that my time and experience was so beautifully complete as I got to see the city grow, fill up, and be full of life from beginning to end.
Each day on the Playa is different, not one moment was the same. My only constant was breathing in and out and riding a bike around as my main mode of transportation. Every person has their “own burn” and each experience can be as different as day and night, black and white, but within each moment you can see how these things complement each other to make the experience whole.
Alright, enough of the woo-woo shit...Burning Man BLEW MY MIND. There were moments when I was so overwhelmed I wanted to scream and hide and get the hell away from everyone, but the moments of awe and wonder, love and compassion, are what have stuck with me and remind me that the world is a pretty awesome place.
Luckily, I was able to camp with an established group of people who know how to do this right. Camp Contact, part of Anahasana Village (7+E), was what I liked to refer to as the “Four Seasons of BM,” without being one of those shit “plug and play” camps (yes, I ended up judging those people a little bit, I find it takes away from the experience but whatever, MAN it’s YOUR burn). We had air-conditioned tents, a shade structure large enough to house 150 tents, a living room and kitchen the size of my apartment, an outdoor shower, creative workshops, and almost everyone was there to create and share in an intentional way. Some days I had a hard time leaving our camp because we had so much going on. Some of the best workshops and events I went to were hosted right in my very yard; thousands of people came from all over Black Rock City to play and learn with us.
To be 100% real had I not had this awesome community, I may not have enjoyed my experience as much and I also may have legit died from the elements. *pro-tip: find a camp/ community to go with that you have common interests with whether it’s art, yoga, movement, sex, music, or anything else! You’ll find the right people for your needs and it creates a safe place in such a harsh and intense environment.* Camp Contact provides workshops/ talks/ and a safe space to express oneself through movement, trust, and physical contact to the Burning Man community. It’s a great place to find yourself and lose yourself at the same time. It was a safe space for me to explore some things I wanted to dive deeper into and to find new things I didn’t even know I was into (read: BDSM, contact dance, acro-yoga, polyamory, living in an intentional living space, veganism, deep eye gazing, and belly to belly breathing).
For the last year I have been digging deep into how I feel about interpersonal relationships. Do I believe in monogamy? How do I view marriage? What’s the deal with Polyamory? Can open relationships be successful? How can I learn to express my sexual needs in a healthy and kind way with my partner/s? How do I identify as a sexual being? Etcetera and I spent a fairly decent portion of my Burn diving into these questions in a very real and raw way. I found myself attracting people who were in open/ poly relationships and who were comfortable with discussing their experiences both good and bad. Many of the workshops/ talks I explored allowed me to let go of the fear of judgment from others and allowed me to become secure enough to explore these topics. My biggest fear in exploring all of these questions was that I will be judged by people for wanting something I know deep inside to be true but is significantly different from “social norms.”
The environment of inclusion that is created here allows you to see past fears of judgment and explore and express things you would normally be afraid to do in the ‘default world.’ This beautiful space allowed me to embrace a part of me I had been hiding away for years. It allowed me to see my truth fully, without judgment of self, so I can share from a space of love and attract what I want into my world. What I left knowing is at the end of the day, no matter how you feel about relationships, the best thing to do is to express your truth to allow people to see you fully and let things grow organically from there. COMMUNICATION AND HONESTY ARE KEY in any type of relationship no matter how you want to label it!
My favorite workshop was the “Shakti Goddess Meditation”. Over 60 women from around the world of all ages, colors, orientations, shapes, and sizes gathered together to move and meditate on our Shakti, primordial cosmic energy of Mother Earth, that as women we all carry within. There was a moment in this workshop where I actually felt my solar plexus chakra (our fire and truth energy center) open wide and shoot out white light energy that made me feel pounds lighter and more sure of myself and my truth than I have ever felt before. It was an amazing 2 hours of moving, meditating, and dancing with my sisters as we created energy to share and receive freely in a safe space. At one point I looked around to take it all in, I made deep eye contact with the other beautiful women in the space and felt seen and could see each individual's truth and energy shining through. We danced topless, howling, crying, and sharing in our Shakti goodness in a way I have never experienced before. I cried and I ripped some shit open and found release. I had a moment of forgiveness for the shame I carried around in my body for years for simply being a woman. It was one of the most freeing and positive moments I have ever experienced. The time spent in this workshop made me proud to be a female, no matter what I look like compared to beauty standards, it made me truly love and embrace feminine nature for its intrinsic beauty.
While I had mostly awesome experiences that helped me dive deep into my truest self, and to release judgment of myself and others. I also had some experiences that were not so great and I want to be real with you all about some of those too. I saw more naked man penises than I have ever wanted to see, I had terrible saddle sore from riding a bike across miles of desert for 10 days, and a few less than pleasant interactions with men who felt entitled to make comments or touch my body in ways I was less than comfortable with and did not consent to. I think it’s fair, to paint a true picture of my experience at Burning Man, that I share both the awesome light and the deep dark shadows that can be found within the limits of Black Rock City.
Burning Man is a real life social experiment, meaning that all types of people and experiences are there. It is not this beautiful perfect utopia that we/Instagram want us to believe it is. With such a large gathering there is no way to not have some sort of “asshole/shit-head” interactions in the mix. Over the years Burning Man has grown from a small festival held on a beach outside of SF to this massive yearly event where 75k+ people from around the world flock to a temporary city for a week. It has become a major “bucket list” item for people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some people make their way to BM with the hopes of crossing paths with Silicon Valley’s money makers and top investors, others come to find the best DJs and wildest parties this country has to offer, and while many come to discover themselves others come to discover how many people they can have sex with or drugs they can do. With every experience there is good and bad, dark and light, they are not mutually exclusive and they are alive and well in Black Rock City.
I spent much of my time in the hot hot desert TOPLESS and it was AWESOME! I have never felt so free or so secure in my body, it was the perfect place to work through some serious body issues I have suffered with for my entire life (severe body dysmorphia, anorexia, and bulimia). This experience allowed me to begin to TRULY LOVE my body for the first time ever but it also sadly opened me up to some less than pleasant experiences. As I said before, there are all types of people at Burning Man and everyone is there for a different reason. I didn’t experience too much creepiness but I did experience some, which as a female I think it’s important to address head on. I spent a lot of my time exploring and explaining what true consent is and felt very safe to do that for the most part.
At Burning Man, you develop relationships extremely fast. They move from first meeting, to first date, to love, to an end, all within a matter of hours, and if you’re lucky maybe even a few days. I fell in absolute LOVE with a man, who I will call Soul Shaman, just by holding his hand for 20 minutes. We spent three beautiful days together, doing yoga, exploring the Playa, pulling oracle cards together, snuggling, and we culminated our relationship by watching the man and temple burn together. We have barely spoken since, we may never see each other again, and we shared no more than a kiss together, but he restored my faith that people are truly there to connect in a deep meaningful way and made me feel super safe. Soul Shaman allowed me to explore deep and intimate connection without any expectations of sexual relations and it was one of the most meaningful times I have ever spent with a man. It also made me realize that intimacy is so much deeper than physical. It made me want so much more than just a strong physical connection out of my sexually intimate relationships and created the trust that there are men out there who are looking for the same.
A few days before meeting Soul Shaman, I had spent time with another man, who I will call Crypto. I thought he was an absolute doll and super fun to be around. We spent our few nights together exploring deep Playa, riding bikes, jumping on art cars, dancing to house music and testing out some MDMA. We kissed our first night together and while it was alright, it was definitely not something I wanted to do all of the time. Mostly because there are so many things going on at BM that I didn’t want to share mediocre kisses with my temporary fling and end up missing anything.
Fast forward to night three of us hanging out, we were out at the trash fence dancing at the ‘Daft Punk’ party and made our way to the Mayan Warrior/ Robot Heart party for sunrise. We had some MDMA and were having a nice time when we decided to have a rest in an art car. As we were laying in the art car, he kept coming in for a kiss and I kept giving him my cheek - sign number one, I was not into it. After about 15 minutes of laying in the art car with the MDMA in full swing, Crypto says to me, as he pulls a large bag of MDMA from his backpack, “Here do some more of this MDMA, so when we have sex later it will be that much better.” I immediately opened my eyes and felt super uncomfortable, at this moment I just was so unsure of how to express how this comment made me feel so I did the one thing I knew to do - get the fuck away (radical self-reliance). I told him I needed to find a restroom (aka Port-O-Potty), jumped on my bike and moved away from the discomfort I felt and spent the cold sunrise dancing by myself, exploring deep Playa, and thinking about how his comment made me feel. I have a hard time with expectations, especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships and sex. One should NEVER expect that someone will have sex with them, or will want to kiss you. I have never really been strong in standing up for myself in these types of situations and even now I still find it a little difficult to do but this experience made it apparent to me that it’s something I need to start doing; not only for myself but also to make it clear that consent needs to become a much larger part of our cultural dialogue.
We ended up crossing paths quite a few more times as the week went on and had a few more uncomfortable moments, and while I know I should have addressed these moments head on, I was unsure on how to share with him how uncomfortable he made me that night. I did try to address some other issues with him and I was met with defense and dissonance and felt that my energy was not served by trying to discuss anything with this human on a deeper level. So, as you can probably guess, we did not spend any more time together and our relationship came to an ultimate end.
The best part of being at BM, is that at any time you can change your experience, you have the choice to walk/ ride away from anything and it taught me that doing that is completely OK. There is NO need to find an excuse to remove yourself from a place you no longer want to be, just do it. Which, in the ‘default world’ can be challenging, but this experience has helped me back home and allowed me to really honor my time in a positive way with people I feel safe with and love to be around. We can spend so much time wasting away, trying to maintain relationships that don’t serve us and we don’t even realize how much they can weigh us down. It’s OK TO SHAKE SHIT LOOSE! No reason to hold on to people or things that don’t elevate us, if it doesn’t make you glow or grow, let it fucking go.
Somewhere around my 8th day on Playa, at a workshop about open relating (as you can see relationship navigation was a big part of my burn), I was in a group with two men to workshop how to find a compromise in a group dynamic. We were asked to discuss what our desires were as individuals, what we wanted from the other people in the group and then had 5 minutes to negotiate how everyone could have their needs met and then to put it into action. I expressed that I would like a head and neck massage from one of the men and a foot massage from the other - YES PLEASE. One of the men (Man A) expressed he was a bit uncomfortable and that he would like to just chat and get to know us and see what he felt comfortable doing as we spent more time together; while the other gent (Man B) said he wanted to receive a massage from Man A and to kiss me. We negotiated (kissing was not part of the negotiation) and dove into putting it into action. Our discussion agreed that Man A could take his time and let us know what he was comfortable with, Man B could massage my legs and feet, and we would chat to get to know each other.
As Man A became more comfortable he asked if he could give me a shoulder massage and we all got a little closer. I was enjoying my massages with my eyes closed when Man B came in and tried to kiss my face! I freaked out and jumped, pulling my face away while saying “WHAT THE?” We continued on and Man B tried AGAIN! Luckily, the experience was over quickly and we were asked to talk about our time together as a group. I was gathering myself to be brave and call this guy out about consent when MAN A jumped in and stood up for me! It was one of the most reassuring moments of my burn. I felt so much love and trust for this almost stranger for standing up for me. He explained that anything other than a “HELL YES” is a NO and that you should NEVER assume a woman/ man/ partner wants something without checking in. He not only stood up for me but he checked in with me during and after. He asked if he could massage before he touched me and he asked if I was alright after Man B went in without consent. Man A, we need more men like you in the world, I know I may never see you again and honestly, I am not even sure what you look like anymore, but THANK YOU! You truly have no idea how much your simple act of standing up for what is right, for standing up for all women, meant to me and to the women of the world.
I left Burning Man, not thinking of the moments I felt discomfort but of the moments that followed. My faith in myself and of basic human decency was restored and realized. These little stories are only the tip of my experience, but these are the parts that I feel ready to discuss right now. It’s important to me that people know Burning Man can be whatever you want it to be. It can be a huge rager of a party for 7 days with all of the drugs and sex you could ever want, or it can be a place of self-exploration free of judgement from the ‘default world,’ it can be a place to come and share your art, movement, love of food, conversation, crystals, and who knows what else but at the end of the day it is an experience that you create in the moment (immediacy).
Burning Man is a way of living that comes together in space and time for only a fleeting moment and if you’re lucky enough you may find yourself there one day, in that right time and space, with the other open minded, creative, and exploratory beautiful humans. It is proof that nothing in life is permanent, so you may as well take a chance and try something new, shine as bright as you can, and trust only in yourself to feel fulfilled and to ultimately stay alive against the elements.
There are no words to truly explain the experience of Burning Man; it cannot be contained, it cannot be labeled, only experienced in the moment.
travel light, travel often,