dBMblog

5 Ways to Make Your Life More Like Burning Man



by Steve Bearman and Troy Dayton for Burner Love. Photo by Spenser Jones.

So you’ve been to the playa, and you’ve seen the promised land – the promise of freedom, of self-expression, of immediacy and creativity and community. The playa fed you, and it changed you. It provided you opportunities for growth, you took advantage of those opportunities, and you came out the other side more the person you’re here to be in the world.

But then Burning Man ended, as it must. It was burned down, dismantled, packed up into dusty vehicles and carted away. Now, you find yourself without the the steady flow of magic that helped you become more yourself. You’re “home” (in the traditional meaning of the word), and you’re probably wondering whether you can still be the person you liberated yourself to become at Burning Man.

You can be. All you need to do is to make use of these 5 principles:

1. There is no default world
2. Expect more from strangers
3. Form your camp
4. Be part of the generosity economy
5. Embrace impermanence (at least for now)



1. There is no default world

Burners have come to use an unfortunate term when referring to life after Burning Man. They call it the “default world”, as if magic only happens in the desert during one week of the year. This is particularly unfortunate because there is one great secret to bringing everything you love about Burning Man into the rest of your life and to making the rest of the world more like Burning Man. What secret, you ask? As it turns out, there is no default world.

We’ll say it again, because this really matters.
There is no default world.

If it helps, you can think about it this way. Some art installations are just too big to bring to the playa. They need to be left out in the rest of the world. In fact, really the whole world is just one, big, world-sized, interactive art installation. It’s all just a series of temporary encampments in which humans have, through their ingenuity and creativity, figured out how to interface with the wilderness and live together in clusters. Just like the street clock and the open playa, the rest of the world is available to explore and interact with and play with while wearing one costume or another, playing one role or another. There is no default world.

When you start to recognize the true, interactive nature of what we’ll call “the extended playa” (that is, the world-sized, extra-playa art installation), you’ll find that so much more is possible.

2. Expect more from strangers

In a community like Burning Man, you can assume, even assert, the right to approach any random person and have an interesting interaction. There’s room to transcend the ordinary superficial greetings and interviews. You can introduce yourself effervescently, or oddly, or launch right into the middle of the conversation you wish you were having with someone. You can overtly express interest and curiosity. You can play. You can do all this because you expect, more often than not, that your enthusiasm and curiosity will be met with the same. You expect people to be interesting and to be excited by your invitation to play with them.

It’s no different on the extended playa. If you give people a chance to be their more expressed, more playful, more connective selves, more often than not, they’ll take you up on your offer. Everyone everywhere wants deeper connections, more meaningful interactions, less seriousness and more play. If you expect this of the people you meet, you’ll be right more often than not.

Hugs and affection are a particularly important domain in which to expect more from strangers. We all need love, and hugs are one of the best ways to deliver it. Take the risk to go in for a hug. You’ll be surprised how many people reciprocate. Of course some people will be hesitant. They may not even know that hugging is an option! Or they may just be plain scared of hugs. That means it’s your job not to be scary. You can pull this off by hugging people in a way that demands nothing of the huggee. Practice being sensitive to where the other person is at while still expressing your affection and admiration. If you get it right, you may notice them releasing and relaxing. Hugs bring us together. You are just the right person to initiate them.

Not only is there no default world, but there are no normal people. There are, however, many people who have gotten good at projecting the appearance of normality. At Burning Man, the endless parade of people flaunting their unusualness brings joy and excitement. The unusual is both delightful and challenging, enticing and intimidating. Out here on the extended playa, people love the unusual just as much as you love it at Burning Man, but there is such a constant press to conform to social norms, that we sacrifice our wonderful weirdness, our playful impulses, and our freaky freedom just so we can fit in. Without even realizing it, you have probably come to participate in this system of socialization, subtly and continuously discouraging people from coloring themselves outside the lines.

It takes some deliberate effort to reverse that tendency. Part of expecting more from strangers is noticing the weirdness in others and encouraging it to express itself. When you encounter someone who is already weirder than you, instead of looking away or otherwise indicating disapproval, remember the courage it takes to break with norms, and you’ll realize just how valuable that smile or that nod can be. Say “yes” to the strangeness of strangers.

Remember, nearly everyone you know was once a stranger. Expecting more of strangers increases the likelihood that the people you meet will become a part of that sometimes elusive network of connections we call community.

3. Form your camp
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