A Trip to the Desert
“Uniquely expressive acts get transformed and elaborated into social rites, and through participation they accrue a breadth and depth of meaning which can only be produced in a communal setting. It is the primal process by which culture is created.”
It’s hard to describe Burning Man. It’s a community, a city, built from nothing, to become nothing.
And it’s no walk in the park simply surviving it. In Black Rock Desert, heat in the day can reach 110 degrees. Temperatures at night might drop below 40. Winds come out of nowhere and cause dust storms that rival those of Arrakis. Playa dust seeps so deep into your skin that eventually your fingers crack and open up.
It forces you to look deeply at yourself, examine why you are the way you are, why you feel and act the way you do; all in an environment that supports you at the same time it’s thoroughly challenging you.
"Well it seems to me, that all real communities grow out of a shared confrontation with survival. Communities are not produced by sentiment or mere goodwill. They grow out of a shared struggle. Our situation in the desert is an incubator for community.”
My first two burns hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s overwhelming being confronted with such a breadth and depth of human experience, especially the parts that don’t fit into your predisposed, socially constructed idea of what we are and how we should live.
It took me multiple visits to transition from intimidated and trying to fit in; to observing and simply in wow; and finally, to participating and contributing—dancing, gifting, and vulnerably roaring for all to hear.
Leaving each experience is beautiful and challenging at the same time. Lingering gifts, like a heart full of love, a deep peace and comfortability with your being, a completely desexualized view of the human body, or an indescribable urge to hug a stranger or share a meal with another, all work to bring the best back into the default world.
But it also hits you like a hurricane. Back to schedules, feeling rushed, and the responsibilities that come with continuously planning everything—a quick deterioration of the beauty that only true spontaneity can offer. An isolation from not living near the campmates that continuously offered so much support and love just a week ago. A slow reverting back to societal standards of what’s fun, what’s work, and the entrenched structures of what’s right and wrong. Not to mention the fucking exhausting news cycles and social media feeds.
“If all of your self-worth and esteem is invested in how much you consume, how many likes you get, or other quantifiable measures, the desire to simply possess things trumps our ability or capability to make moral connections with people around us.”
This year was especially rough as I return to all the responsibility that comes with building one’s own business; after 10 days where my hardest daily decision was to either track down Mayan Warrior or Robot Heart as a sliver of light would begin to mark the dark night’s horizon.
But that same challenge at home after, led to a special perspective while there—an anthropological examination of this city in the desert. What is it about this crazy convergence of humans that creates something so culturally beautiful and meaningful?
While Burning Man Principles like “Immediacy”, “Radical Self-Expression”, and “Gifting” lay the groundwork for what is created, what truly makes this trip to the desert so special for individuals comes down to three core concepts: empowerment, belonging, and love.
The empowerment to truly contribute and make a difference by simply sharing yourself with others.
The inherent motivations to feel needed and necessary I described in my last writing are fulfilled effortlessly at Burning Man.
“People give because they identify with Burning Man, with our city, with our civic life. The idea of giving something to the citizens of Black Rock City has enormous appeal to them because it enhances their sense of who they are and magnifies their sense of being. That's a spiritual reward.”
Black Rock City is an incubator for people to feel needed. All through intentional empowerment and ritual.
This is not a top down managed festival. All the Burning Man Organization does is provide the infrastructure, the platform, for each of the individual artists, builders, and attendees to communally create something special. This city is nothing without what each of us brings out there.
In our day to day lives, it’s hard to believe that me vulnerably sharing myself, all of my heart and all my gifts, would make a perceptible difference in defining who we are and what we do collectively.
But out in the desert, we are nothing without that. It isn’t just asked, it is needed. That level of empowerment of the individual, the camp, the entire city, reassures everyone that they are valuable; they’re not just a cog in a machine, they are the machine.
This important ask and celebration of each unique person showing up and sharing themselves with the collective, is what leads to something even more beautiful.
A belonging built around that self-expression. You just being you is all that is asked. No judgment, just acceptance; and you belong here just as you are.
“You're free to be you, the only person, the only type of person that wouldn't like it here ultimately, that we'd recommend not come, are intolerant people. They get irritated.”
A trust and comfortability that allows one to vulnerably open up or dance the Futterwacken Mad Hatter Dance for hours upon hours with complete disregard for anyone else, and not be looked at twice, or even if that is the case, it’s out of admiration and reverence for your mere tenacity and stamina.
An openness in that culture of community that allows people to walk up to a stranger and say “wow, you are beautiful and loved” or offer a wandering soul on the street a piece of bacon or to hug someone you’ve never met and physically remind one another that everything isn’t just going to be fine, it’s going to be wonderful.
This overarching cultural foundation leads to something even more intimately curated in the camps that come together to build both a home and an attraction.
“The essence of the desert is that you are free to create your own world, your own visionary reality.”
Camp Wetspot is rag tag group of hooligans that were most likely picked last in the schoolyard. We are crafty, we are questionable, and we always know how to have a good time.
During the day, it’s holding down the fort at our western saloon bar called The Wetspot. Here, we play great tunes, serve cold beer, and have some of the hottest attractions in town—ghost pepper tequila shots, the sleaziest bartenders this side of the Mississippi, and a mannequin beer bong whose only other suitable home is on the highest peaks of hell. Not to mention a wheel of destiny born out of pure disdain for decency.
At night, it’s cruising on Yaba, or in tow on a bike covered in fur, lights, and all the other questionable decorations duct tape can affix. It’s hard to describe Yaba. A true beau. It’s basically a 25-year-old Land Rover turned into a two story Flintstone mobile that fucking dazzles at night. Our fearless driver, Scooby, guides this beast to art installation after art installation. Our DJ Mike, who is just coming into his own musical genius, guides the goofy grooving. And the rest of the crew, ready at the drop of a pin to pull off our packs, slowly remove our jackets and vests, and start boogying our asses off until it’s time for the next phase of our nightly adventure.
And between those periods, it’s all loving care and support.
One of our campmates shared that this camp changed her life. Taught her what belonging, community, and love could look like. Another came to me on our final night and told me how a few of our conversations this past year helped change his life’s direction. And for me, I’m constantly inspired by each of them and am partly who I am because of our experiences together.
During one night this year, 15 of us sat in a circle at an art installation that most closely resembled a tree from Avatar’s Pandora, sharing stories of what this camp and its love has meant to each of us. One of the more beautiful moments I’ve ever been a part of.
This belonging leads to something even more special.
More specifically, the capacity to love. It’s something I think about often – what are the preconditions that allow for individuals to develop a capacity to love.
“I've learned never to expect people to be better than they are, but to always have faith that they can be more.”
My own spiritual journey embodies that pursuit. This place and its culture doesn’t just encourage and empower love, it teaches people how to love.
It was just a year ago, that I learned something beautiful out in the desert that will stick with me for the rest of my life. That me just being me, Jordan not trying to be anything or anyone else, just simple old me, has a lot of love to give and a lot of love to receive.
Share yourself completely, cook for others, dance goofily without abandon, gift like you’ll never get anything in return, laugh at how seriously we take ourselves, kiss like there’s nothing outside of that moment, and of course, always connect with all of your heart.
It is a setting that simply inspires it. I’m not talking about romantic love, although I have stumbled on dozens of weddings on the playa, I’m talking about a more basic love for ourselves and each other. Love that embraces creativity and sees beauty in everything. Love that constantly celebrates life and all that it is. Love for both the little and big things that unite the human experience as one. Love as a perspective in how you internalize and draw meaning from all of your experiences.
I always think about how I can internalize this perspective and bring it to each of my moments, and this year I met someone that has succeeded in just that, solidifying my belief in the potential of how love can be embodied by an individual. Just remembering the moments where those eyes, filled with so much love, compassion, and a glint of all-knowing mischief, impacted those they met.
An individual who connects immediately in a way that makes others see the best in themselves; who dances in a way that pushes others to suck more marrow out of life; who inspires in a way that makes others strive to be better than they ever thought they could be.
A reminder of what the smallest or deepest interactions, with a stranger or a long-time friend, have the potential to impact.
All in all, as it always is, my week in the desert is exactly what I need, and as has been the case each year, it’s one of the best of my life.
This one especially comes with a beautiful reaffirmation that I’m on the right path, that I’ve found purpose, and that everything I’ve learned in life, and especially that from the desert, can manifest into something beautiful with continual effort, passion, and patience.
As a close friend always reinforces as we leave the gate, “just knowing this place exists, gives hope in the potential for what we can be as a collective”.
Thanks for teaching me how to love Burning Man.
“Black Rock gives us all a chance to heal, to become ourselves.”