5 Steps to Simplicity Lessons From Burning Man

Burning Man (BM) is an annual week long gathering in the hot and sulfuric sandy world of Black Rock Desert, Nevada.  This year about 68k burners entered the playa.  People who are part of the BM community and are returning to the festival refer to ourselves as burners and first time burners are called virgins. There are several other names for other sub groups like people that live in luxury and are high-maintenance are many times referred to as “sparkle ponies”.  I definitely tried to avoid being termed a sparkle pony, having only a small tent and bringing only very limited things with me.

This year (2013) was my second burn. I had my first burn back in 2011 thanks to David Weekly who gifted me a ticket and introduced me to Burning Man.  I had always lived with the burner culture around me throughout college, having studied in San Francisco,  we would go to crazy fire show filled fundraisers for some of the coolest camps on the playa during spring while other college students were busy with frat parties,.  The first burn left me feeling overwhelmed, and it wasn’t until a life shift that took place this summer, and receiving a last-minute e-mail from my friend Anima Sara LaVoy saying “you really should reconsider” that I decided, I needed to go  ”home” again. 

Less Is More

I decided to take less items this year and joined a camp around social entrepreneurs, called Ideate, that was run by some amazing folks. Before leaving I decided to help paint the inside of the large truck we were taking to the playa, as I realized it would be a great way to give to my community my time, and also meet other Ideaters. Ideate was part of Ideate Village which housed Playa School, where they held TEDxBRC this year.  The camp itself had many social entrepreneurs that included folks from Singularity University, Camp Bayesian Conspiracy, and a sprinkle of others who were friends with the camps members.  My “family” was filled with loving people who worked hard to create a zen like atmosphere. Our camp had some amazing buddhas  that were transported to the playa, as well as an amazing kitchen of loving Hare Krishna cooks.

Instead of trying to find a RV to join, I decided to pay for the Burner Express Bus or as we called it, Burner Bus. the best part is that this bus gets it’s own special driving lane, so while everyone else was waiting in the long cue to enter home, we zoomed past to the playa.

Give Your Time- Learn To Make Something

Since my decision to join Ideate was taken at the last minute, I decided to pay my dues, but didn’t have enough time to sort out joining the food plan. I took food of my own, but soon realized that eating with the camp was part of the bonding experience so I traded time washing dishes with the Hare Krishna Kitchen staff of our camp for some amazing vegetarian food.

I found out through a fellow “ideater”, that there was a volunteer spot for some folks who wanted to put their hands and selves to use while at home, so my friend Max Sung and I decided on day three to go venture to the “V-spot” or volunteer space at center camp.  At the spot we got to meet other people who were looking to find things to do, and learned more about the option to light the city.  The lantern lighting routine was amazing, and as there was only spot for one person, I allowed Max to have the spot and go walk around wearing a white robe and lighting up “home”.

Create Home Anywhere

Read the ten principles of BM if you have never read them, and see how many of them you can leverage outside of the playa in a way that would still lead you to flourish and be “successful” in whatever way you define success.  The ideas of  Burning Man have inspired numerous companies, the most famous ones that are connected to BM being Black Rock Solar, Burner Map App, and Burners Without Borders.

I found the Burners Without Borders camp while walking on the esplanade and learned that the idea came when numerous burners decided to help out during the New Orleans flood issues. Burners Without Borders was born that year, but since has given small grants to impactful causes throughout the world, including a project to empower Burmese photojournalists.

As there are many burners from around the world, the idea to start a burner meetup could inspire you to get connected with other people who understand the value of sharing and giving in the home you create outside the playa.

The Temple Of Reflection: Ask Yourself What You Want

As each burner creates their own experience, the value you create in making your burn great is up to you. While you might end up in many dance spots and have a blast, try to also take time to visit the temple. Each time I enter the temples of home, I realize how much I’ve changed. For people who go each year to BM, the temple can be a great time to reflect and recognize shifts the have made within and outside themselves.

Although there are many things unique to BM, the main thing that I have learned is that it teaches me how people can come together in tech world, that artists, scientists, wanderers, dancers, explorers, doers, and thinkers of all sorts can bond and create something for a week to prove that temporary doesn’t need to be less deep. Burning Man leaves me with a thought, if we can create this much, connect so much better, and experience such vast amounts in just one week of being a community around things other than working for money, then imagine how much we can accomplish if we take some of the creative ways we solve problems here to the world outside.

That’s exactly what many burners have been doing. As the news of tech deals and celeb attendees tricked into the media around this year’s Burning Man and many people wondered if Burning Man is getting too trendy to attend, I was reminded about the core reason I had a great time this year, we created our own experience.

In 2010, I was a Virgin (first time burner), having been gifted a ticket by David Weekly. I had been overwhelmed and felt I needed a holiday after the burn. Yet, in the two years that followed since my first burn I had mentally evolved, and decided to go to BM to do what I wanted and living the experience on my own pace.

You Create Your Experience Everywhere

I was already on a path of owning less, I call my home that I share with three guys in the Presidio (San Francisco), the awkward free zone, because I wanted it to be a place where we could lose all those narratives that society stuffs us with in life. Many of the adventures I had the first time on the playa, such as ending up at a 5-course meal on a 10ft long table, inspired me to do fresh things when I return home. I realized I could create anything I wanted and that whether at Burning Man or my home, I could make my community, myself, and hopefully the world better by being open to more strangers and creating a family around me anywhere.

I’m now in Bangkok and although many of my Ideate family members are far from here, I ended up attending a cool summit here around social entrepreneurship thanks to Christopher Pruijsen, an ideater I made friends with on the playa. It is true Burning Man is great for connecting, but if you open your eyes and look around there are mini homes everywhere, they just don’t have as awesome art cars or crazy playa adventures.

Filed under: Culture


Naureen Nayyar

I am a creative thinker that enjoys making complex ideas simple to be understood. I studied biology prior to switching into a political science degree and I have been involved in writing short stories and for a newspaper since I was in high school. Since my parents live in different continents, international development and travel have been always topics of interest in my life.