13 Life Lessons From 13 Years at Burning Man

An art installation called Bamboo Spire, A 50-foot tall bamboo sculpture, stands on the playa Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2006, at Bu
An art installation called Bamboo Spire, A 50-foot tall bamboo sculpture, stands on the playa Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2006, at Burning Man during the weeklong 20th annual art festival in the Nevada's Black Rock Desert. (AP Photo/Ron Lewis)

The dust has finally settled after my thirteenth year at TTITD, "That Thing In the Desert", the ephemeral psychedelic experience that is often referred to as Burning Man.

Burning Man celebrates the simple notion that "people have permission to be whoever they want to be. It is such a powerful ideal that people will go to the most inhospitable places in the world in order to get a little taste of it." To explain what the event is or isn't would take a few blog posts, so I will not attempt that here. More reading about the event can be done here!

Every year, participants drive hundreds of miles in the scorching heat in search of Black Rock City, Nevada; a barren desert in the middle of nowhere which we call the playa. They come for different reasons. One perhaps is to find nirvana in a sea of mesmerizing music and sense-blinding electronica. It is a place where people can learn through participation, revelry, and inquiry, how to truly connect and experience what it means to be human.

Here are 13 life lessons from my 13 year journey:


  1. Do-ocracy - a thought construct that celebrates the empowering notion of taking individual responsibility. In a harsh desert environment, resources are limited. As a result, most everyone choose to work together to achieve community goals (there are those to choose to pay for a "vacation", a controversy being debated in the community at present). This proactive mentality imbues a sense of personal responsibility where actions are motivated not only by self-preservation, but by a desire to make a difference and affect change through actions.

  • Cultivation of Awe - If you can imagine standing in a crowd of hundreds and peering up at art installations/sculptures up to 100 feet high as they burst into flames in symbolic offerings, you would come away with feelings of awe, veneration, wonder and even dread. That feeling of 'awe' challenges our sense of mortality and teaches us to cultivate tolerance, patience and humility. It gives us new perspectives.
  • 2014-09-18-hybycozo2.jpg
    The beautiful art installation Hybycozo

  • Respect and Accountability - Survival instincts kick in when you are in the desert surrounded by over 65,000 other attendees. One realizes that in order for the festival to work, one cannot coexist peacefully without mutual respect from each member of the 'tribe'. Respect is an essential theme that forces one to look at the whole ecosystem of one's life: respect for self, body, health, nature and others. Accountability enshrines one's individual right to exist, to make decisions, to practice responsibility and to realize that one is held accountable to both self and others.
  • Service to Others - "Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving that celebrates the philosophy of unconditional servitude. "Gifting" does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value." Essentially, being of service teaches and encourages us to be of service to community, friends, city and ultimately planet.
  • Listen to Your Body - In an overstimulated environment with temperatures rising above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, blocking everything out and listening to one's own instincts can be a challenge. Many times I would find myself especially in the earlier years ignoring my inner voice and over-exerting myself - pushing harder, partying harder. What I learned later on is that your body has its own intelligence and the ability to listen and honor its messages helps you to achieve mental and physical peace.
  • The Playa Gives You What You Need, Not What You Want - What we want is not always what we get and oftentimes we react by attempting to control everything and everyone. Burning Man is like a 'wise mentor' expressing the notion that all things happen according to a universal plan. It is that sort of understanding that has given me grace and tolerance in the face of difficulties.
  • Accept Your Fellow Human Being Without Judgment - With over 65,000 in attendance, Burning Man attracts a highly individualistic crowd that has gathered in the name of personal expression. What I've learned is that while I can disagree with another's point of view, acceptance over judgment is the rule rather than the exception.
  • 2014-09-18-burningman14.distrikt_view.jpg

    Distrikt Camp day party

  • Immediacy, Living in the Present Moment - We as a culture are losing the present moment by contact interruption of our digital life. Coming back to present experiences and making time for self and others is very important to our mental wellbeing. "Never take your dancing shoes off"
  • Embrace Your Inner Child - As one of my favorite Burning Man bumper stickers says: "My inner child is an honor student at Black Rock High." BRC is like the earth's biggest sandbox where we all get to play together. This allowance is quite liberating and to be able to activate it in the "default world" leads to much more happiness, creativity and joy in my daily life.
  • We All Share in Love and Loss - One of the most powerful images of Burning Man occur at the traditional burning of the temple. While its name and look may change yearly, the very last day of the event is reserved primarily for this solemn occasion. During the week, people bring symbols of their loved ones, photos of the departed and pleas for forgiveness to the shrine. In effigy, the whole community joins in a moment of collective grief that expresses itself in a reverent and powerfully cathartic experience.
  • 2014-09-18-burningman14.templeHDR2.jpg
    The temple of Grace - By David Best

  • Bridge Differences and Form Communities - Burning Man participants come from all walks of life representing different and sometimes opposing philosophies and experiences. Over a thirteen year span I've learned the importance of bridging different expressions as a means to promote both peace and understanding.
  • Strive to be a "Mensch" - It's a Yiddish term for being a person of strength, integrity and honor or compassion. Getting there is hard, but a worthwhile life practice. Burning Man encourages all of us to be bigger and better than we are.
  • Practice Gratitude - I feel so lucky to have participated in Burning Man for 13 consecutive years. To live where I live (San Francisco) and have access to these experiences is a gift that most humans on this planet may never receive. For that and everything in my life, I am reminded to continually practice gratitude.
  • Join me on my next blog where we'll explore the world of electronic music awakening. We will investigate how some aspects connect our tribal past to our communal future.