“Is Burning Man over-rated?”
This question has been lingering in my mind during the first afternoon and the second morning of Burning Man, when I looked at the dusty desert, the African-like infrastructure, the nomadic tents in disarray, and the people of all colors dressed in strange costumes.
“Is Burning Man over-rated?”
Seven days from now, if someone asks me that question again, my answer will be a resounding, “Fuck you, you mother fucker!”
Burning Man is the guardian of humanity’s diversity. The most extreme, to the point of being considered evil, ideas are religiously guarded here. Ideas and behaviors about Nudity, Sexuality, Bondage, BDSM, Drugs, LGBTIQ, and many other ideas and behaviors that are not allowed in the mainstream (default world) are preserved and developed here.
Of course, it’s not a good idea for these ideas to spread easily to the whole world, and some of them maybe have to be confined to a small environment because most human societies aren’t ready for it yet. e.g. open nudity, sexuality, complete de-commercialization, breaking all the rules and boundaries, for many societies with a low level of productivity, would bring about a humanitarian catastrophe such as a mass starvation, but there has to be someone in the world to experiment and develop these ideas to prepare for the future form of human society.
So, Burning Man is kind of like a laboratory where humans keep the smallpox virus. These viruses can’t be spread, but they can’t be eliminated either. Because once eradicated, biodiversity is harmed. Many of the deviant behaviors that the hippie community has been guarding for 30 years, such as LGBT, are now being accepted by more and more of society. Perhaps some
of the other ideas that are guarded now will become mainstream somewhere, sometime in the future.
To summarize, my 7-day Burning Man experience has greatly broadened the boundaries of my own world.
I have absolutely no idea what the impact of this will be on me. It must not be ‘better’ in the traditional sense, just ‘more diverse’.
If you look at it from the default world’s point of view, these practices teach people to be ‘bad’. Because it is too avant-garde, too egotistical, too intense. With its acceptance of nudity, its understanding of the LGBT and SM communities, its embrace of a new social form, the Burning Man experience is by no means guaranteed to turn myself into better people, or at least, worse person before we become better person.
It makes me go from being familiar to being unfamiliar with the world around us, from taking for granted the rules and conclusions of everyday life to being far removed from them. It doesn’t teach me anything new, it just changes the way I look at the world. Once this sense of alienation from the world of absence is created, there is no way to get back, just as there is no way to return to “innocent” once it is lost, and there is no way for a language to become unknowable once it is learned. The process is profound and irreversible. One of the most essential questions is: What is good? What is bad? When this criterion is rethought, everything in the default world needs to be rethought all over again. I had no idea where this path would take me until now.
In the movie Black Swan, Nina is a good girl who can perfectly portray the White Swan, but she lacks the kind of evil inside her that the Black Swan needs. Eventuallythrough drugs, jealousy, seduction, betrayal, and attack, she ends up forcibly kissing the male art director and biting his lip bloody, exploding the wildness that has never been awakened within a good girl. Having become a ‘bad girl’, she is finally able to switch between the roles of Black Swan and White Swan with ease, and becomes a more complete person.
While Burning Man also gives the power of the White Swan, what is so unique about it is that it gives the participants the power of the ‘Black Swan’, the power to betray, to destroy, to oppose, to let go of oneself. We can summon and use this evil, destructive power, and we ourselves can become that vicious incarnation with the skull on our chest. Burning Man is a place where the evil power of the ‘Black Swan’ in my body grows and explodes. This is something I never expected before I traveled to Black Rock City.
What I experienced in Burning Man I never thought was the only correct solution to the world. No extreme is the only solution to the world. Should we always brake, or should we always hit the gas? Is it more correct to steer to the left, or to the right? There is no answer to such questions, because there is no one solution that is always correct. The only correct solution is what to do when you should do it.
However, after expanding the boundaries of whatever we do, or after maximizing each of the two opposites, it gives us more space, and choosing the most appropriate point within that space is our own freedom. The yin and yang in the bagua diagram, black needs to be absolute black, and white needs to be absolute white, with black and white in some kind of balance, is the way the world works. The world is balanced by two forces: and the stronger each of these two forces is, the greater the space of freedom that can be pulled apart in the center. The best sports cars have strong engine and good brakes, and both of these levels are pulled to the extreme to allow for a better ride, whereas a broken car, just doesn’t pick up speed even when you put the gas in, and doesn’t slow down when you slam on the brakes, so the person who drives a broken car has less freedom than the person who drives a good car.
Burning Man pushed these boundaries. The farther the boundary is pushed, the more inner freedom we get.
Humanistic Reflections on Burning Man
Burning Man is a place where the ego of an individual is systematically removed. This ego is tightly connected to the default world, and we enter with our ego and spend 8 days letting it slowly melt away. On the NV-447 highway from I-80 to BRC, I kept complaining, “Why cannot they run Burning Man in beautiful mountains and lakes?” Now I know why.
Being inside a desert (not strictly a desert, just a lake bed that dries up in the summer), a place that is uninhabitable for humans, sandy, hot, and doesn’t offer any of the services provided by modern civilization creates a feeling similar to that of a village on the surreal planet of Tatooine, where the SkyWalker grew up in Star Wars. This feeling is much like the external conditions of the outdoors, and gives a sense of relaxation much like the outdoors, causing our everyday thoughts to stop. When thoughts stop, perceptions intensify, slowly shifting from the Thinking mode to the Being mode.
When entering the gate, the old burner would ask all the new burners to roll on the dusty ground. The dust in Black Rock City is as fine as prickly heat powder, and once it gets on, it doesn’t go away easily. Once you are covered in white dust, a part of your ego will be loosened. While the love of cleanliness is a modern aesthetic, rolling around in the wilderness is something that has been hidden in the human body since ancient times. This ritual awakens ancient preferences and dissolves the mind’s thoughts.
I was one of the very ill-prepared types. I only bought a top and pants from Reno, and then rushed into Black Rock City in shorts. When I arrived, I realized that most of the people there dressed up in costumes that they wouldn’t wear in the default world, and I became an avatar of myself, so I simply wore pants and went topless, and I felt like I was part of the world. After I changed my appearance, another small piece of ego on my body seemed to be loosened.
Extremely poor living conditions make people put their attention more on the spiritual level. Monasteries, practitioners know the truth in this. The material scarcity, rather than making one feel out of place, seems to have the strange effect of making one feel a greater sense of freedom. No matter what it is like in the default world, the experience here is similar: tents/caravans, toilets that don’t flush, dust in the sky, riding the cheapest bicycles, no cell phone reception or WIFI, and this is also a sense of equality. A sense of equality is hard to create in one’s own head, and the details of the default world reinforce this inequality, from the obvious, such as the different classes of airplanes, to the order in which the names are listed, all of which are reminders of the inequality of human beings. Being prettier and more successful than everyone else is a lingering pressure at all times, weighing heavily on everyone’s mind. And here, the environment creates a world where this pressure is removed and one returns to the original, pure human condition. One’s own ego continues to fall off.
People we meet on Burning Man, even groupies who have been together for 8 days, can all just talk and dance together without asking each other what they do in the default world. For new acquaintances, we only want to know the playa name, not the real name. This is obviously not the norm for a society that is likely to last long, and we can only think of this week as a vacation, but one in which we get a peek at the shape of a new kind of society, and the changes within ourselves inside that world. This experience breaks something that will act on our world of absence in the long run.
Burning Man is a vacation away from ego
Burning Man is like a masquerade where everyone meets without their identity in the default world. But unlike a masquerade, where you put on a mask to hide your face, Burning Man is about taking off the mask and revealing your heart.
Burning Man and Maldives are both vacations. On the beach in the Maldives, we let go of everything in the real world and just be with ourselves; and in Burning Man, I not only let go of everything in the world, but I let go of myself.
A vacation away from the ego is a true vacation.
On Burning Man, we can have a new name, a brand new costume, not talk about the past, and simply live in the present. To drink, to dance, to learn, to experience. What happens when each person you know you’ll only see maybe once in your life? What happens when you know that you don’t need to have any pressure to show yourself off in front of strangers?
If you gave me a choice between the Maldives and Black Rock City, I would choose to return to Black Rock City without hesitation. This kind of vacation of losing ourselves is something we all need so badly. We’ve been living with a heavy ego on our backs for decades and need to let it go for a while, even if it’s just for a few days.
The retreats within Zen Buddhism had a similar effect, but it had to be said that they were too boring and one-dimensional. And here is one that perfectly achieves a similar effect of a retreat, and adds too many interesting ingredients, playing and practicing at the same time.
Complete melting away of the ego
It’s nice not to have an ego.
Someone asked, “Have you found yourself these days?” I replied, “No, I just lost myself. “
The ego is always there, no need to look for it. It judges in our ears when we choose which dress to wear in the morning, it nags us when we see our report card, and it’s there every second we’re awake, scrutinizing everything about ourselves with a critical eye.
We really want to let ego go away.
With no ego, there is no embarrassment, no fear, no stress, none of those kinks that you normally have, just expansiveness, wisdom. No mind constantly telling you what you want, what to worry about, what you should do next, just total presence.
For example, there are some questions that are quite representative. You can say “You are beautiful” to someone without pressure, and feel very good about it. I think the look in the eyes at that moment is very similar to the look in the eyes of a child/fool — straight, focused, unblinking, deep, and slow. Who’s looking? I don’t know, not myself anyway, maybe it’s just an awareness watching.
Why do we often ask for “slowness” in meditation? It is because when sensation is very delicate, the brain cannot process the information too quickly. When the hand touches the surface of another person’s finger, the information of the fingerprint, the temperature of the hand, and a lot of information flows like a big river, but if it is too fast, the information cannot be processed and will be lost. Therefore, the degree of speed of physical inspection basically reflects the amount of information obtained by the fingers. In turn, when one’s movements become slower, the amount of information gained becomes greater as a result.
During meditation, various methods were used to train total concentration, such as eating raisins, observing the breath, body scanning, and other methods. As the ego slowly fell away and disappeared, I realized that the will to be aware needed to come first. The motivation to become aware of the world must be there, and it must be complemented by the various methods that follow, not the other way around. When the will to perceive is pure, like a horse that outputs a constant stream of power, all subsequent actions are the carriage behind the horse, carried along by that power, not the other way around. Simply slowing down and observing with the whole body is the equivalent of cart before the horse. boredom during meditation is the same as a student with absolutely no interest in physics being pressed into a physics class. Interest is that driving force.
The Brotherhood of Burning Man and the Silicon Valley
Burning Man and Silicon Valley don’t have a direct father-son relationship; it’s not that one spawned the other, it’s a brotherhood. They both stem from the same thing, a deep desire to think different, to break boundaries, to disrespect authority, to do it yourself, to change the world.
This time, I have touched the “wild power” which is at the bottom of the spirit of Silicon Valley. Although I have been to Silicon Valley more than 30 times, my understanding of Silicon Valley in the past seems to be the understanding of a good student who is not very close to me: I only feel his diligence, his persistence and other good qualities. However, I always felt that this kind of experience was not deep enough or three-dimensional enough, and less persuasive, as if it was an unsuccessfully portrayed stereotypical movie character, knowing what he did but not knowing why he did it, especially why he did it with an intensity that exceeded the intensity of other people.
After I got to Burning Man, I got to know this good student as if I had stepped into his heart and saw that within him there was anger built up as a child, disapproval of who he was, and that impulsive emotion within him. These inner wild drives have a deeper explanation for why a good student is good at school, to the point of why he does so well academically. The dark and wild drives are the ones that have impact.
The innovation I used to see started with garage startups. What I saw was an unconventional approach in the Silicon Valley environment, which was more like a tradition or a norm in the specific environment of Silicon Valley. These practices were more like a tradition or a norm in the specific environment of Silicon Valley, but in the Burning Man experience, I saw how each individual, with no resources at all, made the camp’s logo out of the most humble materials, and how they could do things that made my jaw drop in a place where I didn’t seem to have any boundaries, and then I looked back and realized that there is always a boundary inside of me that I don’t even see. I realized that there is always a boundary in my heart that I don’t even see. When we realize the boundaries of our own imagination, we always find possibilities to push on.
It reminds me of Myra’s response to Roy’s mother, Margaret, in Waterloo Bridge: You are too naïve!
Margaret: But, my dear, what can it be that is so terrible? Has there been someone else?
Myra: Oh Lady Margaret, you are naïve.
Margaret (shocked): Myra!
Myra: Yes! Yes! Yes
Myra: Yes, that thought which is now in your mind, which you are telling yourself can’t be true. It is true.
At Burning Man, I often encountered the kind of crushing moments that Roy’s mother faced.
This boundary is not only the boundary of the perception of the world, the boundary of the social contract, the boundary of morality, and even the boundary of the law. This is why many Silicon Valley burners, such as Google’s Larry Page, have been calling for: our society needs to have a safe like the Burning Man, where we can temporarily ignore the current laws of the experimental place, thus giving more space for innovation, and also giving the human society a chance to innovate.
The spirit of Silicon Valley, the spirit of the hippies and the spirit of Burning Man all come from the same spirit. It’s only when you get in touch with Burning Man that you get in touch with the source of innovation in Silicon Valley. That’s the root of the Silicon Valley spirit. I agree very much with Elon Musk’s judgment that “Burning Man is Silicon Valley”. He also said, “You can’t really understand Silicon Valley without having been to Burning Man”. It is this kind of savage and rebellious emotion that has been spewing out from every crevice of Silicon Valley, and then the present form of Silicon Valley has been presented to us.
It’s not just the same spirit, it’s the same people, I have to say. The same people who made Burning Man what it is, made Silicon Valley what it is.
A strong community culture does not live in written documents, but rather visible to the naked eye and audible to the ear that are recited over and over again. There are at least seven of the ten basic principles of Burning Man that I know firsthand. Things like radical inclusivity, leave no trace, de-commercialization, and so on.
Immediacy is the one of the ten principles of Burning Man that has influenced me the most. But I’ve never thought of it as a new rule of life, merely as a distant landmark to which I’ve traveled. After leaving the BRC, wouldn’t I be a fool if I did everything without a brain just because I experienced the happiness that immediacy life brings? I don’t believe that such a life would be any better. And a special life experience, so that one learns to do more immediate in this dimension of Immediacy than ever before, can be in the absence of the world’s need to embrace this concept more easily than other people.
Take me for example. Because there were no expectations for Burning Man, or even that natural affinity for this strange world. Hippy culture, tents, dust, art, bouncing, music, installations, nudity, homosexuality, psychedelics, and extreme expression were not supposed to be my thing. So after discovering a place near the campground where I could take classes, I dove in head first and took 15 classes in 4 days. There are 70,000 people at Burning Man, over 1,500 camps, and this is just one of them, and out of the 300 or so classes, I was only able to take 15 (each class was 2-3 hours long), which is a drop in the ocean, but having the peace of mind of experiencing it all in one place without having to be FOMO made me feel a great deal of freedom. It’s been said that Immediacy is the antidote to FOMO. That’s true. Without expectations, it’s easier to embrace Immediacy instead of worrying about Missing Out.
Another example is the famous And Then There’s Only Love campground. We all got to the gate and then we didn’t go in because we didn’t have our IDs with us and various other problems. We said we would come back later. As it turned out, it was pouring rain, I found a companion, and when I came back, I heard that it was permanently closed as of Friday. That’s one of the regrets of not embracing immediacy.
While wandering around, I passed by too many camps, and if I tried to find the “best camp” with the same kind of judgment as I did with Yelp, I was bound to fail. But if you follow your intuition and walk into any camp and talk to the people there, you will always be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes it’s an old man alone, sometimes it’s a group of people around a campfire, sometimes there’s music and everyone’s bouncing around, sometimes it’s a bar and everyone’s having a drink, and every time it’s an amazing experience. There wasn’t a single camp that I regretted staying at. Was it because the camps themselves were great, or was it because the mind let go of judgment? I think it’s the latter. If we go into the world of introspection with the intention of finding ‘the best ice cream in the city’, we will never find a best ice cream parlor, and the ‘best ice cream parlor’ will always be in our heads, but not in our lives. In the real world, there are only sweet and icy ice creams, stores with cozy decorations, and stores with enchanting music, but there is no ‘best ice cream store’. This concept exists only in the mind, but not in the real world.
Our minds are constantly calculating, finding the optimal solution. This worry weighs on the mind. This is where my old obsession with restaurants and my fear of ordering food came from: the good student mentality made me worry that I hadn’t picked the best one in town, the ones that suited me best, and ended up skimming instead. It’s the same for buying things, for brands. For making decisions, too.
A few days out from Burning Man, I noticed a change in me. I randomly walked into a store on University Ave for Keen’s shoes because I saw them looking good in the window and then immediately bought sandals. Next door, at Fjällräven, I bought myself a new bag and a new hat. These were brands I had never noticed before. I was a bit surprised myself: I’m a person who never buys anything, and the reason I don’t is because I have trouble choosing. I don’t know if this brand is the best, if this bag is for me, and my solution is not to buy it. For decisions, when I’m not sure, I don’t make them.
Obviously, everyone’s antidote to their own life is different, and mine doesn’t have to be right for someone else, but Immediacy has been a great antidote to improving my own life. My restaurant choices, appointments with people, etc. have all been much more manageable lately. Life is better for me, at least, when I know that I must not have the optimal solution and embrace immediacy, embracing immediate behavior as a virtue rather than ultimate global correctness, and embracing the experience of the moment.
This ability, which I perceive to be a little bit like the ability to become stupid in seconds, is that state where the eyes are glazed over, drool is running down the sides of the mouth, and you lose your response to external reactions. It’s the same way with small children, and it’s the same way with high priests in meditation. Let go of the control of the mind and then live fully in the present moment. Allow the pressure of thinking about the future to pass completely through you and fall to the ground, instead of tangling in your mind and inside your body. When the imaginary words ‘best’, ‘right’, and ‘should’ fade from our lives, we live more clearly in the present.
There is no such thing as “3 cats” in the world. The number 3 does not exist, nor does the concept of a cat, but only this small furry thing by my hand and the warm feeling of being touched inside is real. I have always known these Zen views of the world, but I have only experienced them so deeply in the middle of a desert, more than 10,000 kilometers away from home.
Radical Self Expression
This is another of Burning Man’s ten principles that struck a chord with me.
I have a question that’s been rattling around in my head: what exactly is the relationship between Radical Self Expression and Ego Death? Are they opposites, similar to the poles between the brake and the gas pedal, or are
they the same pole? The result of my thinking is that they are the same thing, the same pole.
Ego is the ability to be in tune with society. Under the influence of society, a person chooses to dress in ways that are actually in tune with society. If I were living inside a tribe, I would have colored stripes painted on my face; and if I were on Wall Street, I would be wearing a tie. Self Expression is the opposite of that. For example, wearing a tie in a tribe or putting camouflage on your face on Wall Street is more like Radical Self Expression than social integration. It is an expression that goes beyond social expectations. It’s an expression of sensing what your body needs most and not caring what the outside world thinks. Not wearing clothes is an expression, so is dressing up in fancy clothes, but only being in tune with the expectations of the world doesn’t count (how could our expression be in tune with the world at that very moment by coincidence? Isn’t this coincidence suspicious?) .
When I got back to Palo Alto I bought myself a shirt with no sleeves. It’s a style I would never have chosen before, a sleeveless top with both arms completely bare, like a gangster. It’s the closest thing to Burning Man-style attire I could find inside the Stanford Bookstore. I especially wanted to use this dress to remind myself, even declare myself, that I can be more uninhibited. Keeping some tension between ourselves and the real world at all times, and living comfortably within that tension, is what makes us better.
I was ready to leave my mark on everything I dabbled in. Water glasses need to have stickers on them, backpacks need to have little tigers tied to them, and homes need to have more traces of self-expression. Radical self-expression is an expression of vitality. These expressions are not done because of societal pressures, they are done simply because here I am. I’ve lived, I’ve seen, and I’m leaving some trace in the world. Just as a puppy has to pee around its own territory, a dog without the smell of urine is a dog without vitality; a person without radical self-expression is a person without vitality.
BRC as a City
Black Rock is a city. At first sight, the infrastructure is not as good as in Africa: all tents, dirt, no modern civilization, no high buildings, dusty, people walking or cycling. But this is a highly developed civilization, perhaps even far more civilized than Palto Alto, and it is a wonderful human society: an unparalleled respect for consent, for each individual’s choices (sexuality, expression, preferences), and an adherence to the ten principles that are visible to the naked eye and perceptible to the body. The crowd here is obviously not even close to the same composition as in the US, highly affluent (16% make over $300,000 a year, and I’m guessing the percentage of millionaires is higher than normal), largely white (Asians and Hispanics are present, but not many, and blacks are disproportionately fewer), and there seems to be a slight majority of males over females. One of the most interesting stats I’ve seen is that Democrats are over 50% but Republicans are only 4%. There’s something about the residents of this city that is the same that is amplified in this environment, creating a tsunami of obvious culture.
BRC is a simplified version of the city. The city has an address without a brand. Information is passed on by word of mouth, such as “there’s an avocado breakfast place near 4 E,” “there’s an Orgy Dorm on 7F,” or “there’s a tent making roasted groundnuts at such-and-such a distant 5 o’clock bearing”
Whether the city offers something is the biggest difference, but it doesn’t matter how well it’s done. It doesn’t matter if Combat Zone’s pasta is the best or not. In other words, how could it not be the best? Their pasta was the best at that moment in time because intuitively, it was really good; rationally, it was the only pasta available there at that point in time. How can the only one not be the best?
Returning to the default world, I stopped caring about brands. I rushed inside a shoe store and bought shoes to replace my muddy old ones. Even today I still don’t know the brand of the fuzzy shoes I wore on my feet, only that it was the closest shoe store that made my insides the most comfortable when I needed shoes the most.
Will life be better this way? It should. When we pick a brand, we’re actually layering a layer of mind over real life. It’s not the feel of a soft shoe on our feet, or its color, or the warmth it gives our feet that we care about, it’s the brand’s place in a rational spectrum of the world. That doesn’t feel good; what the body doesn’t feel is a figment of the mind’s imagination, and it’s no surprise that the fulfillment that comes from that imagination isn’t felt.
A city with people living inside. Interesting people are better when they live close together, and all the residents of the BRC are on one floor (which technically isn’t that justifiable, tents are half a floor at best) and have no doors, so you can walk right up to someone’s bedside. There are spaces to chat and linger everywhere, and there are countless living rooms for the camps. Even the farthest neighbors are within an hour’s walk if you really have to. It’s a distance that Marchetti’s Constant finds appropriate for the size of the city. It reminds me of Shanghai in the 30’s, when Lu Xun, Qu Qiubai and many others lived in the neighborhood of Duolun Road, and when Shanghai was still a much more walkable city. Inside the city of Burning Man, friends were nearby and could walk there without making an appointment and visit directly. Needless to say, this college dorm room-like living was quite comfortable. For a city, proximity is important, and interesting people living close by is one of the biggest perks of a city.
What is the ultimate freedom?
Freedom is very often a compromise between oneself and the world. If we can compromise between what we want to do and what society allows us to do, we often say that we have the freedom to do it. For example, if I want to scream, but I am not allowed to scream in a silent apartment at 12:00 p.m., I do not have the freedom to scream late at night. But if we get to a place where we can yell at any time, we say that we have the “freedom to yell” at that time.
But the deeper level of ‘freedom’ is not ‘compromise between ourselves and the world’, but ‘compromise between ourselves and ourselves’. Do we allow ourselves to do any thing? Do we allow ourselves to shed tears? Do we allow ourselves to howl like a wild animal? Give ourselves permission to be naked? Give ourselves permission to look obsessively at a beautiful girl?
These permissible freedoms are not an agreement between the world and us, but an agreement between ourselves and ourselves. When one lives within the countless various engagements one has accumulated throughout one’s history, ‘self’ becomes that unforgiving world that traps one inside a heavy prison.
True freedom is the liberation from the ego. In the state of so-called “ego death,” the police station in one’s brain is closed, the church inside is off duty, and the avatars of one’s parents, friends, and society in one’s brain have shut up. They keep on telling us what to do and what not to do. If they are off duty, the real party begins.
The closest we usually come to that state is a moment of slight intoxication, or even drunkenness. But that’s when the police are off duty, the wisdom is off duty, and even the memory is off duty, so often we do stupid things, things we regret when we wake up. If one can remain in a state of self-meltdown and retain one’s intelligence, that is the freest state.
We ourselves are a large mountain covered with thick snow. Originally the snow was flat and could be slid anywhere. However, as time passes and we ourselves grow, we slide down the mountain countless times, leaving ruts in the snow so deep that it will be impossible to walk without walking inside the ruts that are already there. There are paths in the snow, but they become paths of limited choice. And true freedom is to choose again, to cover the ruts with snow, to return to a state where the whole mountain is walkable.
People “know too much reasoning and yet they still don’t live this life well.” This means that our body does not work by reason, it makes decisions according to its own laws. The saying, “You know a lot, but you can’t lift a 50 kilogram barbell” is easy to understand when applied to muscles. You can’t lift a barbell just because you know you’re supposed to, it’s muscle mass that really counts. We always mistakenly think we can’t lift a barbell because we don’t know we’re supposed to.
The fear we feel inside the world of absence comes not from reason, but from what we feel inside. If you don’t believe me, just imagine the cold-to-the-toes fear that going out right now, stripping down and walking down the street brings, and you’ll know how much this inner pressure can be. It’s not that we can’t do it physically, it’s that our mental muscles don’t have the strength to do it.
Default World is beautiful and glamorous, but there are some artifacts and falsehoods that we usually find hard to detect. In the testing ground of Burning Man, filled with radical selfexpression, unbridled rage, and crazy provocations against the rules, all in the center of a dusty, material-poor desert, there’s a surreal feel to the absurd and bizarre artwork. The world is not always good, but it’s incredibly real. When one takes all the things that are not beautiful (physical, emotional, behavioral, expressive, etc.) and puts them out in the sun along with the beautiful things, it actually creates an overall beauty that borders on insanity. It’s hard not to revisit the default world after trying this real beauty, and to become deeply tired of its singularly refined and unlayered beauty.
They say, “Your uniqueness is your greatest contribution to the world.” I used to think of such statements in a positive way, but my experience at Burning Man has taught me that my uniqueness includes not only my intelligence, my success, and my contribution, but also my flaws, my lack of confidence, my dark side, and all the real but negative emotions in me, which are also my contribution to the world. Only when you accept the part of yourself that you are trying to hide, and accept it graciously, then you are accepting yourself wholeheartedly, and that is the greatest courage of all.
To do this, reasoning is useless, and reading the above passage will not help in the slightest. The only way to do it is to experience it for yourself. Wandering beyond the boundaries, once one has experienced it and realized that it is not as frightening as one imagined, and that the hypothetical world pandemonium did not happen, the fear naturally disappears. If you think that the “white bone view” and “impure view” that Buddhism does by way of contemplation is too abstract, come to the Burning Man and see for yourself what white bones and impurity look like in the real world, and you can indeed save many years of meditation.
After expanding the inner boundary, the “bravery” shown to the world may be “senseless” to the person concerned, that is, to say “Who cares! After familiarizing myself with the logic of the life of Burning Man, I read Elon Musk’s biography again, and I smile: This is exactly the life with a deep root in Burning Man.
How to integrate Burning Man experience into the default world
At the 8G camp, I met a burner with a Detective Polo mustache named Dr. Catalyst. I asked him, “Why does everyone welcome newcomers with ‘Welcome Home?'” and he said, “Home is where you are accepted.”
This quote seemed to be meant for me and added the best note to my understanding of Burning Man.
Being Accepted — This innermost human desire is easier to achieve in a world without titles, resumes, wealth, or even names, or clothes: everyone is simply accepted as a human being in the most basic sense of the word. After all, it is easier to accept a person with a physical body, a smiling face, and basically no difference from oneself than it is to accept a person with countless labels attached to him or her.
While we all feel accepted, loved, and embraced within the default society, the truth is that we never really feel accepted. What does it mean to be truly accepted? How would even our closest family members react if they knew we were going to sell our home and become monks? How would our friends and coworkers react if we walked down the street wearing nothing but a smile on our face? Is it because those people cares about us and strangers we met in Burning Man don’t? But if intimacy resulting in more creates stress and anxiety, isn’t it time to rethink what that intimacy is giving us?
When all the little details that make up one’s self-esteem in his/her resume are gone, the true self that hides under the noise pokes its head out and then hangs out with others who are doing the same thing, and the result is an unstoppable feeling of lightness, joy, and freedom.
The question we need to ask ourselves is: if we can be completely accepted by a stranger, why wouldn’t we be accepted by everyone we meet in the future? If we could have a magic to bring this secret to the default world, then the whole default world would become our Playa.
Burning Man opens up the possibility of a new way of life, and the days that follow will largely require finding a balance between this extreme lifestyle and the default world.
Or, let’s look at the world another way: the whole world is one big Playa, and some of the artworks are too big to be moved over to the Playa, like the skyscrapers, the sycamores on the street, or whatever, and so they’re set up a little further away from the Playa. The whole world is a makeshift art installation site. Today we got dressed up for a change and headed out from our campsite to explore this art installation the size of the entire world. Only I had a new campsite, with an address change from 330G to one at 31N121E. BRC is not a new world after all, it’s a (quirky) part of the world we’re in now.
People on Playa are really no different from the real world. Leaving the BRC, reality’s powerful gravitational field keeps everyone acting according to certain agreed-upon norms. If we initiate it, there should be more opportunities to discover the fun, sincere, interesting and vibrant soul that lies beneath everyone’s mask.
Hugging is an example. Hugging is a lost secret of human society. Many people don’t even know it’s an option. But, if you are the one who initiates it, you will find that the world should respond more enthusiastically than you think. I’m amazed at the depth of stranger conversations on Playa, but all friends start out as strangers. The biggest beneficiary of having greater curiosity and more enthusiasm for strangers should be yourself. By embracing more and assuming that the other person is like you, the world is more likely to be like playa.
Right now I’m in a state of PPD (Post-Playa Depression). It will take longer, maybe months, maybe years, to digest the experience. Back in the default world, I deeply understand why many people come back from Burning Man and choose to remain silent. It is because it is a very personal experience, one that cannot be shared with others, nor can they expect to be understood, and there are even times when they only feel changes themselves, but cannot say what those changes are. It was as if I had been parachuted into a wilderness, shrouded in confusion, deep in contemplation without knowing what I was preparing to contemplate, wanting to talk about it, but not being able to. I took 20,000 words of notes on Burning Man, and that’s only half of it. I don’t expect anyone who hasn’t been there to understand any part of it at all, because even I’m not sure I’ve understood some of it.
Perhaps many years from now, in retrospect, I will realize the impact this experience had on me. And at that time, what kind of self will I have become? I developed a deep sense of uncertainty about my future. And this uncertainty, how should I put it, made me feel something stirring inside me. The place on the direction of these stirring things should be named: greater freedom.