Some Thoughts on Burning Man: To Be Creative or Not To Be

The organizers of Burning Man sometimes will self-reference the festival as a ‘project.’ It is a project: an amazing sociological study of communities, self-reliance and sustainability; a laboratory for alternate city planning; turning the idea of commerce on its head. There are idealistic and utopian aspects of Burning Man that render it an unsustainable model for long-term communities. At the same time, there are many aspects to the festival that are revolutionary and paradigm-busting, which is a powerful component. It makes you feel like there are possibilities, in a world where we increasingly feel trapped and our choices diminishing. The Burning Man model is wrapped up in a premise of total acceptance, free giving of self and resources, and a spirit of “we’re all in this together.” This blanket of a ‘giving culture’ in effect becomes the default spirituality of the festival – a spirituality that accommodates all beliefs and excludes no one.

My synopsis of Burning Man: a mind-bending, fantastical smorgasbord of alternative community, art, sacred space & place – and of course all the hedonism you choose to handle! There is so much to draw from – and ponder – and implement – and create with the inspiration and modeling for community I experienced at Burning Man. It was a big party to be sure – but so is the awe-inspiring;

  • an over-arching Wild West spirit of adventure, discovery and “can do” – what I experienced as an
    encapsulation of the best of a quintessentially American experience;
  • an economy based on sharing and giving of gifts and resources – with no money or barter;
  • the artistic inspiration felt in the largest architectural and monumental art installations, down to the
    pimpified solar-powered and electric golf carts that go zipping up and down the campground neighborhoods;
  • a dogma-free, all-inclusive sacred temple space and ideology based on compassion,
    giving and equanimity that permeates the context of everything that transpires at Burning Man.
  • being constantly amazed, dazzled and delighted by max creativity and the colorfully unexpected surprises rolling around the next corner at any given moment  . . .

Black Rock City, Nevada - the site of Burning Man FestivalSo much to think and talk about.

I don’t know Bob Paltrow personally but I feel we had a similar experience as “virgins” at Burning Man. (Cathy Smith sent me a link to his blog) I had an abbreviated trip arriving early and leaving on Wednesday, well before the Burn. It’s an incredible event of enormous scale and impact. I appreciated reading Bob’s thoughts.

Burning Man is not about the dust and discomfort and heat or occasional rain. It’s about being in a great, albeit temporary, city where you can find lots of things you like in such an unusual natural venue. You can find things you don’t like or don’t want to do but they’re easy to avoid. You can create your own experience at Burning Man and make it what you want it to be — in fact, you must do that, and the culture of Burning Man demands that you be creative. It does not provide for you but what you provide for yourself and each other.

My month of September began at Burning Man and ended at World Maker Faire in NYC. They are completely different settings and different events, but they are connected to a common vision of what we can do as individuals and together in small groups — and what we must do to thrive.

3 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Burning Man: To Be Creative or Not To Be

  1. Thanks Dale. You and Maker Faire have inspired me to visit Burning Man as soon as I can. Think big!

  2. I’d like to learn more about this movement of creativity — this struggle to thrive. I saw Tim O’Reilly’s tweet, then I noticed a tweet with one of my favorite quotes: “Some people are so open-minded that their brains fall out.” And then I read this comment by Dale: Burning Man embodies “a spirituality that accommodates all beliefs and excludes no one.” He also confirms that it deserves its reputation for hedonism. I don’t think I’d last two nights. Ideas (including beliefs) have consequences. A bazaar for spirituality is laudable, but I can’t help pre-judging Burning Man on this point. It sounds like a place where old hippies and young wannabes go to reminisce about the 60’s, wishing they’d been at Woodstock and that the Summer of Love never ended, and adapting whatever technology they can find to accelerate their journey toward The Singularity. It’s the “whatever” attitude. People are so eager to find whatever works — and whatever feels good — that nothing ever gets sorted out. Is it the harmless hodgepodge of a packrat collecting whatever smells possibly useful? Or is it the ravenous appetite of the Borg? What’s the destination? And what will people think and believe when they arrive? So to close my rant I’ll return to the spirituality comment. At the beginning of Divine Comedy, Dante says the “whatever” people get what they choose — on the edge of the Pit of Hell. D.L. Sayers notes that “their failure lay in not imagining better.” C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” In the spirit of inclusion, I won’t argue here that his vision of Heaven is the right one, but it merely sounds to me as if Burning Man is aiming too low.

  3. Wonderful, thoughtful post, Dale. I want to attend Burning Man one of these days, but opportunity has been grudging on this point.

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