I recently completed yet another zoom meeting, this time regarding our Temple Guardians team, and it reminded me once again what’s both great and terrible about Burning Man. Don’t misunderstand…I love Burning Man and love spending a couple of weeks out in the desert with thousands of other Burners every year. But it’s a temporary situation, and when it’s over I return to my normal life; to my family and friends whom I see year-round. I don’t live or die based on what happens in the dust, or what happens in the Temple.
But I realized during this meeting that not everyone experiences Burning Man as a moment in time. For some individuals, it is their entire life. If you’re shocked to learn this, then you may not have been deep in the weeds with some of BRC’s more emotionally connected participants.
My point is not to detail any such experiences or to call them out for criticism. It is, instead, to advise people to keep Burning Man in perspective. It’s there for having fun, for existing outside of yourself for a few days, for living Burning Man’s utopian principles for at least a part of your year. But once you’ve turned it into the most important thing you do, the main support for your psychic well-being, you risk ruining it for yourself and for those around you.
We’re currently in our second major organizational upheaval, and the main reason for these seismic events is that a small percentage of our team have turned the Temple into their personal religion, or their raison d’etre. Once this idea takes hold of Burners, they believe they have ownership of the work and demand ultimate appreciation and approval for what they’ve done. It’s absolutely essential for people to take their missions seriously at Burning Man – especially if it’s a mission crucial to the event’s success. Jobs like Gate, Exodus, Lamplighters, Greeters, and – yes – Temple Guardians must be done right in order to ensure a successful Burn that meets or exceeds the expectations of attendees. But work is simply that – it’s work, and it’s not a test of your personal worth.
Most Guardians, as with most Lamplighters and others, take a balanced approach to their momentary roles at Burning Man. They love the Temple, are devoted to their work, seek ways to support Burners who visit the Temple, and do everything in their power to keep the structure safe and secure before and during the Burn. Carrying that work forward throughout the year makes sense as well. We have to keep the organization operating smoothly, inform fellow Guardians of developments that affect their work, and solve problems that may have occurred during the prior Burn week.
But there’s a pit that some people stumble into, and it can result in a downward spiral into depression or – at the very least – expectations that cannot be met within the organization. Balancing hard work with over-commitment is the key to avoiding disappointment, resentment, and self-loathing. We all need to keep in mind that this is Burning Man – not life or death. For us older Burners who may no longer have active careers, it can be tempting to transfer your lifetime of commitment to Burning Man activities. And that’s fine, as long as we don’t commit our self-worth as well.