No Pain, No Gain

I understand why people find Burning Man intimidating and feel resigned never to attend – even if they have an interest in the art or participating in the Burn’s unique, principles-driven culture. Given the harsh desert environment, the requirement to bring your own food and water, and the presence of those dreaded porta-potties, I can’t fault anyone for such a decision. In fact, that’s the way I felt as I approached my first Burn. I had to fight through personal apprehensions as the date neared and felt fairly certain I would not survive the experience (I have a tendency toward overblown fears). But the minute my son dragged my sorry ass through the gate back in 2005, I felt a sense of freedom, unlike anything I had ever known. The experience of that first Burn, and each one thereafter, has made a permanent impact on me and enhanced my life. Let me count the ways.

People: After more than 30 years as a corporate executive, I found myself judging people largely on external factors – how they dressed, speech patterns, grooming, etc. At Burning Man, I learned to see through many of the surface features to find the real people underneath. I wasn’t just interested in “accepting” a broader array of people, but in embracing them. And while I began this practice at the Burn, I have expanded it to the whole of my life ever since.

Awareness: For reasons that are hard to explain, I seem to be more aware of the world around me since attending Burning Man. I’m particularly alert to natural beauty, which is especially pleasant during the winter months when we live adjacent to Lake Tahoe. Maybe it’s because spending a week or two in the flat, lifeless Black Rock Desert has taught me to find beauty everywhere.

Sunset over Lake Tahoe. Now I see it. (iPhone Photo by author).

Love: After 51 years of marriage, my wife and I love each other more than ever. Has Burning Man played a role? I think it has. It’s a shared experience that we both love and reflect on throughout the year. It’s a period of time when we rely almost entirely on each other. It’s provided us with a whole new set of friends – many of them quite young – who inspire and energize us and renew our own relationship.

Sex: Burning Man is suffused with eroticism, and its presence adds a dimension not just to our time on the Playa, but to our lives as a whole. Since we began attending Burning Man, our love life has blossomed. Sex is not a fading aspect of our marriage, but an ever growing and improving wonder.

Creativity: Year in and year out, we are amazed and inspired by the creative energy on display at Burning Man. The art is not just aesthetically pleasing, it is clever and innovative in ways that make you re-think your own ability to add fun and enjoyment to the world. Typical Burning Man art engages both sides of your brain by employing both technology and traditional art to create something unique. Sometimes, the best art at Burning Man is of the mobile variety. The art cars are something to behold.

Would it be worth enduring the trying negatives of Burning Man for the plusses I’ve listed here? It is for me.