I recently returned from a mysterious adventure to Burning Man, a desert arts festival in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. Words cannot completely describe the Burning Man experience. This big, dirty, week-long party provides an atmosphere where virtually anything goes, where people can do what they want, sporting fictitious names, costumes, or no clothing at all.
Organizers build a city—population 68,000+and at the end, they burn ‘The Man’ and their fabulous art. Everyone celebrates and then goes back home to real life. Radical self-reliance and ‘leave no trace’ values require all participants to haul everything in that they need for a week, live simply and yet with colorful flair, and then pack everything back out.
The best way to describe it is to imagine yourself, for real, in the bar scenes in the Star Wars movie . . . with the funky music, mutant vehicles, and foreign-looking creatures. It’s intense, extreme, noisy (all night long), busy, and dusty—it’s another world. Creative energy flows off the charts.
I’ve been to Burning Man eight times now. I’m hooked, but maybe not for ‘normal’ reasons.
Every year, we take a team out to the ‘playa’ to serve participants, or ‘burners’ in any way we can. We take extra food and water for those who are hungry or thirsty. We venture out of our theme camp and get to know our neighbors. We set up a big, shaded tent and welcome folks to step inside to experience things like a ‘spiritual cleansing’, ‘original root recovery’ (getting back on the path of meaning for their life), a special spiritual encounter, or an interpretation of their dreams.
Many burners are spiritually hungry, looking for purpose and True Love. Burning Man has a side to it that I would call ‘dark’—many camps and activities center around getting high or getting laid. Our team aims to provide a safe haven, help, and hope for folks who may be looking for something ‘beyond’.
We get to connect with the most precious people on the planet, folks we would otherwise probably never cross paths with. Our hopes are to give encouragement or touch wounds tenderly and with the intent of bringing physical or spiritual healing. The amount of burner tears and hugs could tell us that perhaps we are making a difference, reminding us that we are so often strategically placed in someone’s path at just the right time. But that is true no matter where we are in life—if only we would be more alert and deliberate.
The catchphrase of the week, “Leave No Trace” does in no way apply to the meaningful relationships that begin at Burning Man. I am forever changed by the honor of encountering so many people on sacred ground—the Spirit meeting together with our hearts.
Desert Adventures at Burning Man