Happiness and my Burning Man Adventure
Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward. ~ Drew Houston
Shortly before my 40th birthday I made one of the most important decisions of my life. I decided that life was too short and too uncertain to put off all of the things I wanted to experience in this world until some day in the future when I would be retired. Heck, given the financial circumstances of my life I’m not sure if I’ll ever truly have the classic retirement where I put in my papers, have a party, get a gold watch and never have to work again. In fact, that will likely never happen. So I decided to do the things I wanted to do as soon as possible.
For my 40th birthday I decided to do a number of events across the country and I set up a distribution list of 40 people I invited to the events. The events included things as simple as the Gilroy Garlic festival, days at a couple of race tracks, my first trip to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Mardi Gras had been a lifelong dream but as big as that was the biggest event of that year was my first trip to Burning Man. Mardi Gras was amazing but getting there simply meant a flight, a hotel and a few hours planning on the interweb. Burning Man would be a very different animal.
First off, there was a ticket to get, logistics to figure out on how to get there. I knew one person who had been before and frankly we weren’t that close and although he hooked me up with a great camp, we didn’t communicate a lot. So I did what I always do and started digging into the research. There was tons on the web, heck there was tons just on the Burning Man event site by itself.
I spent dozens of hours online looking through posts, I spent dozens of hours on online forums reading posts, asking questions. There were so many things to figure out. First of course the tickets and logistics – food, water and such. Then a big one, how to build a shade structure that would provide shade in a hundred degree heat, stand up to potentially seventy mile an hour winds and be transportable and easy to put up and take down. My first year my shade structure was an utter and complete failure. On the third day, the pop-up I had reinforced with rebar stakes folded over in a forty mile an hour wind storm. My next year I re-engineered it with wood supports (reinforced with rebar) and a tarp, worked ok til a fifty mile an hour wind storm cracked one of the wooden supports that had a week spot, duct tape and extra rebar and I made it through the week. My third year on the playa I moved to steel pipes and although I have to retighten things after wind storms, I have survived everything the playa has thrown at me ever since.
My home on the playa has expanded to include some decorative side panels, music, lights, depending on the year a shower set up. I’ve made six or seven trips to the playa before this year, frankly I’ve lost count. I’ve camped with the People United for Nothing, Loadie Camp, on my own a couple of times and with the camp I’m currently with Camp Oh No You Didn’t – a camp that runs a confessional bar, confess, get a drink. I’ll be taking confessions at 9:15 and B this year.
Burning Man is a place like no other. If you described it as an art festival in the desert you’d be right. If you described it as a spiritual retreat you’d be right. An experimental culture with a gift economy, a week-long dance festival, a radical re-envisioning of the world, a drug trip, a week-long party, a sex fest, a sober week of enlightenment, a week of radical expression, a place to go to AA meeetings, a nudist camp, a costume affair, an amazing weeklong camp for kids, 24/7 dance music, a week of quiet, a fire festival, Mad Max, the Wacky Races, a week of working your ass off as a volunteer or employee of DPW, GPE, etc…, a chill week to drink Budweiser and listen to Garth Brooks, a drunken bacchanal and orgy. Or even as I often describe it, a naked, pagan, art festival in the desert. Every one of those things may accurately describe someone’s week at Burning Man. Some may describe it as Nirvana, some as a hot, dusty, dirty week in hell. It will change some people’s lives forever for the better. Some people will leave after three days convinced it is the stupidest most ridiculous thing they ever participated in and scream about all of the money they spent. It is any and all of those things and visually, it is one of the most amazing things you can ever experience. Your first night on the playa with the art, the art cars, fire performers, freaks, costumes and burns the image will forever stick in your mind and I can only best describe it as a sober acid trip.
Now I’ve done this event/trip/adventure enough times now that I have it down pretty well. My shade structure, how much food and water to bring, what food works best for me in the dust. My desert camping gear, tools, bike, supplies for the bar, furniture, tent, carpet, bathing set up and music. Yes, once you get it down it’s quite amazing how comfortable a life you can live in a windy, dusty, sometimes really hot, sometimes really cold environment. Each year I try to do something new, whether it’s volunteering with a different group, I’ve done Temple Guardian, Arctica, GPE, been an approved photographer and participated in several art projects including a couple small ones of my own. This year I’m trying to put my Appalachian Trail training to good use and really trying to minimize what I’m bringing. It’s an overall theme in my life, reducing the number of possessions and living with less. Now to be clear, not living less well, just living with less.
So for the playa this year I’ve reduced the size of my shade structure to minimize my footprint, less but better furniture, cutting my food and water closer, I always end up coming home with gallons of water and leftover food. Instead of bringing a giant pile of possible costumes, I’ve trimmed it down. I’ve even moved to smaller bins that I carry all of my stuff in, the easiest was my desert camping gear. After three months on the AT, I’ve got my camping set up to the bare essentials. But this is car camping, a nice fat air mattress, a couple of small fans, a warm bag. My camp will be decorated with solar lights and glowing dragonflies. There will be nice “carpeted” floor. I’ve also reduced my MOOP potential (Matter Out Of Place) nothing but EL Wire, no more glow sticks.
I’m excited, I finished all but my perishable food shopping today, did a test pack and almost everything is ready to go. So last-minute arts and crafts, a little bit of organizing and some shading for the car and I’m good to go. I love the prepping aspect of this adventure, I love how amazing people are on the playa, I love the people I camp with, they’re awesome and crazy. But the thing about Burning Man for me is that I come back relaxed. Yes, I come back relaxed from the craziest place on Earth. You see the most amazing thing about Burning Man is that it allows you to get out of your life. It’s changing, but there has been no cell coverage so no internet, no way for all the bullshit in your life to track you down. You have to focus on the environment, the event commands your attention and the desert is amazing and yes, even peaceful. After you have been out there for about three days your old life doesn’t exist, only the playa, only the amazing desert a purely mindful pursuit.
I’ll be off to the desert soon, I hope you have something in your life that brings you a much needed break, peace and happiness and as always have a happy day my friends. ~ Rev Kane