Updated: Sep 1, 2019
As I return from a long week at the annual Burning Man festival – where you can meet children or the elderly , singles or families, high-level CEOs or yoga teachers, entrepreneur or story tellers – I cannot escape reading and hearing the views and criticisms people have about this event. As with many things, seemingly everyone has a strong opinion, including those who have never been there.
Some describe it as a “bunch of naked hippies” that go to take drugs and party, while others say it is where big business deals are negotiated and signed. Many more say it’s the most profound and transformative spiritual experience of their whole life – a powerful transformative experience that I witnessed on one of my camp mates.
Here are some of the interesting questions: Why does a week-long gathering of 70,000+ people in the desert of Nevada attract such various individuals? Why do many end up arguing on social media about the sense of “the playa” (the large open space at the center of the camps)? And what is this big gathering all about?
There are many ways to go to Burning Man. You can go alone in a tent, rent an RV with friends, or even join larger groups and camps in accommodations that are often very upscale. (One camp even looked like a boutique hotel – totally defeating the purpose of going to Burning Man if you ask me…)
I was there as a part of the Faux-Mirage camp – unofficially the Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap camp; you cannot use any brand name at Burning Man – 300 individuals gathered together to gift the event with various offers, from free therapy sessions with psychiatrists, to yoga instruction, meditation classes, healing sessions and much more. I was there not as the ex-CEO of TOTSY, not as the entrepreneur, but as a healer and meditation teacher. And that is pretty much how I felt, saw and experienced the playa.
I passed through hundreds of camps, experiencing many of the wonderful gifts given at most of them. Sadly, it must be noted that some camps of “burners” come only to enjoy with no gift for others; so very far from the true spirit of Burning Man, and what helped it grow over the last 20 years from a small gathering on a beach in San Francisco to an internationally renowned event.
I also experienced gifting, giving, receiving, loving, friendship, surrender, opening … all around me I saw magical transformations. I saw people holding high-level business meetings. People praying and hugging, people circling up around others who needed support inside the temple, people spontaneously offering special gifts and expecting nothing in return. I saw people walking around naked or dressed as Native Americans, as robots or birds, as spirits or Star Wars heroes, free from being judged or classified, or put into any box. I saw people laughing and dancing, crying and rolling over. I saw people still and calm, surrounded only by brothers and sisters that were caring for them and holding love and support in their eyes.
"This is not just an event it's a spiritual journey,"--someone at the temple.
So how is this magic happening? I will not pretend to have decoded all the keys to such a special place, but certainly the intent with which most individuals come to Burning Man makes it special and makes it so much different from any other festival or concert, any large gathering with techno music and camping. The intent is what makes the event different, and also the individual experience. What are you coming for? What are you looking for? What are you expecting? All of this will determine your experience, what you will see, what you will receive and ultimately how profound or superficial, how brief or how long, your experience will be.
If you come to party, you will party. If you come for healing, you will be healed. If you come for love, you will find love. If you come for sex, you will find sex. If you come to numb yourself with drugs and alcohol, you will numb yourself. If you come to seek a higher power, you will find a higher power on this ancient Native American sacred land. If you come to meet like-minded people, you will find them. If you come to meet some of the most powerful CEOs in the world, you will meet them. If you come to just watch the wonderful night sky, you will be blown away by the view of the Milky Way …
Some of the principles, the intentions of the founders (whom I had the pleasure to meet this year) are the following:
Radical Inclusion – no one is excluded, no matter who you are.Gifting – you come to give something to others.Decommodification – one of the key elements is the absence of cash; nothing can be bought or sold.Radical Self-Expression – be yourself, be who you want to be.Radical Self-Reliance – going through the hardships of nature and living in the desert.Communal Effort – we all participate in common tasks from cleaning to cooking.Civic Responsibility & Leaving No Trace – we are conscious and responsible for our actions.
It is because we all share these intentions that we get something very different from the festival.
Intention is the core of all conscious life. It is our intentions that create karma, our intentions that help others,our intentions that lead us away from the delusions of individuality toward the immutable verities of enlightened awareness. Conscious intention colors and moves everything. Master Hsing Yun
In life, because we’re busy or lack the time to enjoy the stillness of our breath and of the moment, we’re often surfing a wave of activities and tasks throughout the day, switching between email and meetings, from text messages to phone calls, between friends and colleagues. We rarely set a precise intent for our actions and instead assume the action itself contains the final intent and goal. What do we want out of that call? What do we envision as the outcome of that meeting? What does this next step in our life have to bring to us? Taking the time to determine the intent, to visualize it, and to take a few breaths as we set it up can make all the difference in the outcome.
At Burning Man, as in life, you will receive what you give; you will create what you intend to. So never forget to set a clear and strong goal for any action you take. Never forget that by taking the time to give and to act from a place of service, you might receive much more than what you could have ever found by just seeking. As I changed my outlook on those two fundamental elements in my life, I found myself “in the flow” instead of having to fight for things to happen. Because we act from the source and not against it, encounters and synchronicities then can multiply and grow.
“According to Vedanta, there are only two symptoms of enlightenment, just two indications that a transformation is taking place within you toward a higher consciousness. The first symptom is that you stop worrying. Things don't bother you anymore. You become light-hearted and full of joy. The second symptom is that you encounter more and more meaningful coincidences in your life, more and more synchronicities. And this accelerates to the point where you actually experience the miraculous. (quoted by Carol Lynn Pearson in Consider the Butterfly)” ― Deepak Chopra, Synchrodestiny: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence to Create Miracles
There are a few powerful books on this subject that provide more examples and proof of how simple those rules are and how those laws work, always, like the law of gravity does. Some of the most happy and powerful people in the world have understood this and have used these tools for a very long time. Ping me if you need any reading recommendations.
I will leave you with a powerful video about the magic of Burning Man in 2012, and ultimately the magic of the world around us.
PS: If you want to see a great short documentary on Burning Man, watch "Charlie goes to Burning Man"