Happiness is Burning Man: Coming Home

Happiness is Burning Man: Coming Home

sunset, burning man, photograpy

Sunset at Burning Man

Happiness comes from…some curious adjustment to life ~ Hugh Walpole

I wrote the piece below five years ago for a former blog of mine.  It’s about the depression many of us suffer when we return from Burning Man, back to the default world.  Day 1 fully back in the default world was a little hard.  We’ll see what day 2 has in store tomorrow.  Have a happy day my friends ~ Rev Kane

Burning Man Disconnection

For those of you who have been to Burning Man this post will ring for you, for those of you who haven’t been, maybe it will provide some further insight into why we go.  Below is a link to the primary site to get you some background if you want it:


To most people Burning Man is a freaky pagan bacchanal in the desert, ok there are elements, and a portion of the population maybe there for nothing more than the party, but for a lot of us there’s a lot more.  Burners as we refer to ourselves come to the playa for a lot of reasons, the party, the art, an unmatched experiential week, to reconnect with distant friends, to find and/or be ourselves and for me more than anything else to get completely out of my “default world” life for a week.  I’ve always liked the term “default world,” the world outside of Burning Man is the world you default to where you fall into the standard expectations of the world regardless of what your true nature tells you to be.  That is the difference on the playa (the ancient lake bed where the event takes place), you have chosen to be in this particular world and chosen who you want to be while there from what you wear, to how you act, to even what your “playa name” will be.  Many people at Burning Man take a new name, one that also is more reflective of who they are.  Again, in the default world your name was assigned and like everything else on the playa your name is a choice.

However after spending a week on the playa, in this wonderful and wacky world you have to leave and return to your default life.  For a lot of people this leads to a dip, a little depression as they return.  Particularly after their first, or “virgin” year this dip can be fairly pronounced.  There are a number of reasons why this occurs.  First of all, the spectacle of the event.  At the event you are surrounded by open and affectionate people who are truly nice to each other almost all of the time, people are happy.  Shaking hands on the playa seems weird and impersonal, on the playa almost everyone hugs.  The creativity and innovation all around you is mind shattering, from the amazing engineering that goes into creating camps, large art structures and art cars to the pure innovation and beauty of the art.  Also on the playa you are fully engaged in life, there are few guard rails at Burning Man and one of the main principles of the event is radical self-reliance, in essence you are responsible to take care of yourself, you can see the other principles below:

The 10 Principles of Burning Man’s Community

Finally, on the playa you are not judged.  As I am fond of saying, there is always a bigger freak ten feet away, even in the default world.  The difference is that at Burning Man that freak is fully on display and easily identified and because everyone is letting their own freak flag fly you don’t feel ashamed of your own.  Now think about that for a few minutes, everyday we are all concerned about what does my spouse, partner, family, friends or even strangers think about me, what I am wearing, how I dress, what I say, think about a week were no one cares and you can just be who you want to be, wear what you want to wear, act anyway you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else and no one will judge you for it, in fact some people might even love you for it.

The world I’ve just described is pretty special, some might say impossible, they haven’t been there, in my five years on the playa I’ve seen everything I’ve described above and more, from the impossible to the insane to the divine and I’m not even taking time to talk about playa magic, I’ll save that for a separate post.  The world I describe above is also at direct odds with the default world that we come back to, and unfortunately even burners often turn into default world jerks the second they get back into cars to head home, cutting each other off in traffic and falling into default world driving patterns.  Then as you stop at gas stations and restaurants on the way home, you get the questions, “coming from the Burning Man?”  Sometimes the questions are from interest and sometimes they ring with judgement, either way the questions make you feel separate and different.

Returning back to your life, the world seems somewhat dull and colorless, the spectacle that was your life the week before is painfully absent.  The freaks are once again all undercover and if people know you were at Burning Man they often ask questions meant to probe at how different you are, or are just plain stupid, “did the man burn early again this year, ha ha ha?”  As if the only reason we go to the playa is to watch a single burn.  All of these things conspire to isolate burners when they come back, it’s not all bad, some truly want to see your pictures and hear your stories, to live on the playa vicariously through you, but they are in the minority.

For someone like me this time can be especially hard, most of the people who I am closest to emotionally are distant geographically and so where many burners can turn to these people or local fellow burners for support and a hug, many of us are reliant on telephones and computers to feel connected because these people aren’t physically close.  However, electronics do not substitute for the huge drop off in genuine physical human contact that the playa provides and you feel like a junkie going through withdraw and the dip or depression comes.  Happily for me over the last five years changes in my life have helped me lesson these feelings and in fact I attribute my time on the playa for a lot of this growth.

I have some advice if you are in this funk and that is ride it out, don’t alter your relationships or make giant life changes at this time, it will be a temptation.  Many people suddenly dedicate their existence to the playa and Burning Man when going through this, an admirable thing to do but wait before you pull that trigger.  Just breathe and let it wash over you for a couple of weeks.  The good news in all of this is that the dip will even out, it will, I promise and then after it does, the good things that you gained from the playa, the good feelings, the memories, the connections, the introspection and the growth will still be there.  The good things you picked up on the playa last soooo much longer than the dip, so hang in there kid and we’ll see you in the dust next year, the man burns in 357 days!

About Michael Kane

Michael Kane is a writer, photographer, educator, speaker, adventurer and a general sampler of life. His books on hiking and poetry are available in soft cover and Kindle on Amazon.
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