‘Festival’ doesn’t even come close to describing it. Like all big experiences, you can’t pin it down in words, you have to be there. In short, around 50,000 people from all over the world come together in the harsh Nevada desert to create a temporary city, known as Black Rock City, for week. There, they collectively and spontaneously create some of the most wild and colourful experiences you’ll encounter. And when they leave, there’ll be no sign they were ever there.
This is Burning Man, which describes itself as “an annual art event and temporary community based on radical self expression and self-reliance”. And radical it is! It’s also crazy, beautiful, safe, generous and buzzing with life, love and laughter. It’ll stretch you, for sure. But you’ll rise to it and surprise yourself. Trust me. You’ll experience (perhaps for the first time) the complete freedom to be and express yourself in whatever ways you feel like, whether that’s a squeak or a roar.
Given that freedom, and all the characters and creativity you’ll find at Burning Man, there could easily be a hundred life-changing possibilities a day. Dress up like Priscilla Queen of the Desert, or rip off all your clothes and paint yourself blue. Ride around under the stars on a giant neon spider. Climb up an intricately carved wooden temple and scrawl your deepest secrets on the walls, then watch the temple catch fire a few days later, taking your secrets with it forever. Jump on a pimped up bicycle and follow a troupe of fire dancers around, then ask them for a twirl. Or simply pluck up the courage to wander into a complete stranger’s camp and be welcomed with open arms for coffee and conversation. Then if you get tired, just take a seat on a huge red velvet sofa that just happens to be rolling past on wheels...
But for me, the most profoundly life-changing aspect of all was to discover what happens when you give people, en masse, pure unadulterated freedom. Far from anarchy or debauchery, what you actually get is something almost akin to an earthly paradise. Amazing!
There’s no crime, abuse, hassle or even any litter. Not a single cigarette butt or beer can is dropped during the event or left behind after it (following the philosophy of ‘leave no trace’). No money changes hands during the week, everything is freely given and received between friends and strangers. Nobody will push you into anything, leave you out of anything, look at you disapprovingly or give you cause to feel uncomfortable in any way. In fact I’m not sure I even saw anyone in a slightly bad mood, ever!
Somehow, in the absence of society’s usual rules and boundaries, what rises from the hot desert sands (apart from dust, which does get everywhere) is a quite beautiful marriage of liberation and personal responsibility, individuality and community, an outpouring of creative inspiration, expression, mutual support, pure joy and fun. And when you find yourself a part of that, something very, very unusual happens. You feel proud to be a member of the human race, which is a life-changing experience indeed! And you start to think hey, maybe we humans aren’t so bad after all, perhaps there’s hope for us yet. If we can do it in Black Rock City, why not the world? But even if we’re not quite ready to pull it off wholesale just yet, at least we still have Burning Man. Try it!
Send your feedback or queries to email@example.com