Posts by Jon Mitchell

September 10th, 2013  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

Rembert Explains Burning Man

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I was honored to have my friend Rem join us at camp this year. It was his first burn, although he’d been threatening to visit for a while. I expected him to have a good time, but, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how good. The second I saw him on the playa, it was clear he was a natural.

Now that we’re back in Reality Camp, Rem’s had a chance to file his two-part Burning Man chronicle over at Grantland, and I’m getting all verklempt about how clearly he Got It. I’m going to be pointing first-time Burners to these stories for a long time.

Rembert Explains America: Enter Burning Man

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Rembert Explains America: Burning Man Forever

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September 5th, 2013  |  Filed under Preparation

How To Work Through Feeling Weird After Burning Man

Hi, Burners. If you’re anything like me, this has been a rough week. Re-entry after Burning Man is always strange, and I think it gets stranger every time.

Fortunately, my friend Hannah is getting pretty practiced at dealing with decompression, and she wrote up a list of suggestions she’s shared with us for the Burning Blog. Read on!

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August 13th, 2013  |  Filed under Spirituality, The Ten Principles

Does Burning Man culture make us feel better?

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It’s always nice when science has your back, isn’t it?

The journal Frontiers in Emotion Science, a section of Frontiers in Psychology, published a paper last month showing that people deal with their emotions differently at Burning Man than they do in the default world. I doubt there’s a Burner who didn’t already know that intuitively, but numbers are reassuring.

The study, which involved 16,227 Burners over four years, found that Burners are more emotionally expressive on the playa. But they’re also more in tune with their emotional states, so they’re more aware and expressive of both positive and negative feelings.

Now, this was a self-reported, on-playa study. Lead author Kateri McRae came right out with its biggest caveat in an interview with PsyPost: If you ask people about their default-world emotional states while they’re all high on life at Burning Man, they might give biased responses. They might over- or underreport how inhibited they are or how well they appraise their emotions at home. So we shouldn’t get too excited about exactly how much of a difference Burning Man makes, according to this study.

But the researchers are trying to get at something bigger than Burning Man itself. They think cultural context — the shared mix of values of a place and its people — can actually change the emotional norms. It might be more socially adaptive to be emotionally intense at Burning Man than it is in the default world. And if that’s so, it’s worth looking critically at the way any cultural context affects people’s emotional lives.

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Burning Man’s context is temporary, and that’s key to this study’s line of inquiry. What we really want to know is whether a brief, deliberate break from our default social arrangements can affect us profoundly enough that we come back to the world healthier and happier.

This is where we tell a story about consumer culture and mass media in the default world versus gifting and the Ten Principles at Burning Man. The default world is repressive, and Burning Man frees us to be ourselves, so the story goes. It’s always tempting to let ourselves feel like we do it better.

But don’t forget that Burner culture is self-selecting. It’s too easy to say that we go to Burning Man because it is an emotionally liberated place. We go to Burning Man because we want it to be that way, and then we try to make it that way.

This study makes an interesting case that cultural context, even when it’s temporary, can change the way we feel and know ourselves. But let’s not get hung up on whether or not Burning Man is better than therapy. Rather, let’s take heart in this: If a bunch of emotionally liberated people want to get together and build an emotionally liberating place, they can. We did.

Photos by Scott London

July 29th, 2013  |  Filed under Spirituality

I’m scared to go to Burning Man

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I’m scared to go back.

I’ll be honest. All the joking and blustering I do about Burning Man is just a cover-up. I talk about being “so ready” because I’m not, and I hope your convinced look will convince me. I think Burning Man is really hard, and I’m scared to go back again.

There. I said it. I am afraid of Burning Man. I said it again. I’m going for the fifth time, and I’ll still be scared the sixth. That, I know.

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June 11th, 2013  |  Filed under Afield in the World

How [freespace] Challenges Burning Man’s Emergent Principles

In San Francisco Burner circles, close to the source, I often hear the Burner’s Dream expressed thusly: Our dream is to bring the principles we embody out on the playa back to the default world.

We want to be as awesome as we are at Burning Man all the time, and we want our cities and towns and neighborhoods to be that awesome as well.

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This June, a bunch of San Francisco Burners fell into the opportunity to take over a 14,000-square-foot SOMA warehouse for $1 and turn it into [freespace], a three-story blank canvas for artists, hackers, farmers, builders, and whoever else wanders in, meant to be a staging ground for inspired experiments in hacking on the meaning of urban space.

Sounds like that Burner’s Dream come to life, right? Naturally, Burning Man got involved. But what does that even mean? Who is this “Burning Man?” Is it the Burning Man organization? is it the fledgling non-profit Burning Man Project? Is it Burning Man participants acting of their own accord?

Yes.

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March 28th, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

The Temple of Whollyness

The Temple of Whollyness has been revealed. It’s a massive pyramidal complex made entirely of interlocking puzzle pieces of wood, without any metal hardware. This kind of construction looks and feels organic, like something naturally produced by intelligent life forms — because, of course, it is.

It’ll also go up like the Fourth of July. Read more »

March 9th, 2013  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music)

Burning Man is a story field

From high above, you’d think Burning Man was just a bunch of objects.

You take the vast, blank field of the Black Rock Desert, place items and humans in a C-shaped formation, and you have yourself a Burning Man.

Now that Black Rock City has found its shape, it looks more or less the same from orbit year over year, although it scoots around the playa a little bit. Our festival of spontaneity begins to look pretty repetitive from high up.

How much more Cargo Cult does it get? We build our city of cars and altar of sticks, we burn the altar, we demolish the city, and then we do it again. We keep having this festival to blow up reality or whatever we’re doing, but reality keeps on being real, and we keep building this C-shaped pile of objects over and over again. Does this not meet the definition of insanity?

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December 14th, 2012  |  Filed under Spirituality

Our Cargo Cult

I love what my friend Caveat wrote about the Cargo Cult theme. He is beyond correct that we’ve got a narrow road to walk through a mine field of cultural explosives. But I have a smaller, simpler question about this year’s theme:

Who is Larry Harvey?

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