This continues to be a tough year of post-Playa bumps and bruises. (And I don’t mean the black and blue Xmas toenails.) Amidst all the controversy I was asked, “Is Burning Man dead?”
NOTE: I am a 17 year Burning Man Participant and Theme Camp organizer. I do not speak as an official rep of the Burning Man Organization.
P.S. Yes, that is my 71 year old mom on the right of the screen, enjoying her first-ever Playa visit. Her experience was amazing and has made our relationship even closer. But that, too, is a topic for another post. Long Live Burning Man.
There was a lie that spread through our community this year like a virus.
This mistruth was far more insidious than any fake trash fence concert, under-Playa tunnel system or elusive “dark rave.”
It continues to affect the way we interact with one another. (You may even still believe the information to be true.)
But I am here to set the record straight: There is nothing wrong with a traditional hug.
By “traditional” I mean that you lean to the left as you embrace.
This year I was ”corrected” close to 100 times by people who explained that the right way to hug was “heart-to-heart.”
This was usually followed by some version of a story about how the traditional hug aligns our livers and therefore creates a toxic exchange of energy. Whereas the heart-to-heart aligns our hearts and therefore results in a more loving exchange.
Now, let me be clear: I think a heart-to-heart hug is great. And if you want to suggest we do a right-leaning hug after we do our traditional hug, that sounds super to me. The more hugs the better.
But what often happens is that people stop me mid hug and “correct” me during the approach. “No…let’s do it heart to heart!”
You may have even done this yourself. I get it, you meant well. Who wants to spread toxic liver vibes?! But what ends up happening is that the loving process of a hug abruptly becomes “wrong.”
1) I see someone I care about.
2) Our eyes light up.
3) We approach one another, arms outstretched.
4) Then as I am beginning to surrender into their warm embrace I hear, “Wait, no…” I am chastised and corrected. NO! BAD! BAD BOY!
This is the exact opposite intention of a hug.
PRO TIP: If you would like a heart-to-heart hug, first complete the traditional hug, then ask for a second, heart-to-heart hug. Don’t bring any judgment, correction, or mistakes into the process.
Now, to address the root of this virus: There is nothing toxic about a traditional hug. A traditional hug is AWESOME.
A hug is the most basic expression of connection that exists between two humans. If you prefer them right-leaning, fine. But a full body embrace is a beautiful thing that has nothing to do with the alignment of organs. (A sexual embrace is much more organ-dependant…but that is an entirely different topic.)
I’m not sure who started this idea virus about toxic hugs. I’m sure it was someone well-meaning, heart-centered, chakra-balanced, and micro-biotic. Or maybe it was a whiskey-swilling trickster.
But I am here to set the record straight.: All hugs are good.
Seriously. Let’s think about this.
How many of your (left-leaning) mom hugs while growing up filled you with profound comfort and safety?
How many of your past lovers’ (left-leaning) sunset embraces left you buzzing?
How many (left-leaning) hugs have you given your children that washed away their tears?
I don’t mean to pull rank here, but I have hosted the weekly podcast, “Hug Nation” for 13 years. Online friends send me every article on hugging that gets published. People are eager to share every new hug technique they learn with me. (Cinnamon Swirl, anyone?)
I have literally hugged 10’s of thousands of strangers – nearly all by learning left. And the connection has always been pure, beautiful, and love-filled.
Heck, we may have even hugged at a festival in the past. If not, hopefully it is just a matter of time. If you are unconvinced by my ranting here, we can plan on doing both a traditional and a heart-to-heart when we meet.
In some circles of friends, the heart-to-heart has become the norm. I have no issue with that (although I have had my share of “head bonk” near misses). Some people have even perfected a hugging approach that severely exaggerates the right lean to ensure they get a heart-to-heart. That is a fine solution if you can do it without making the recipient feel awkward. What I feel called to address is the demonizing of the traditional hug and the act of correcting people as they enter an embrace. There are so many things that need fixing in this world – the hug is not one of them.
So, while I am thrilled to see people excited about any type of hugging, I ask that a heart-to-heart is done *in addition* to the perfect traditional hug that we have all grown up with.
And while I do consider myself a hugging expert, I admit that there are those who know far more about hugging than I. So I humbly bow to the wisdom of Amma, the greatest hugger on the planet – perhaps ever to inhabit a human body. She has hugged over 33 million people. I once waited in line for a full day to receive one of here profoundly love-filled hugs. Guess how this living saint hugged me? Yup. Liver-to-liver.
But this isn’t just about hugs.
It is about how easily we believe what we’re told – and how quick we are to pass it on.
Remember: Experience is truth. Everything else is stories.
We must be in a constant state of evaluating the stories we are told. Believe whatever you want, but do so by choice. Do so with awareness. Do so with a degree of inquiry.
Ronald Reagan once said, “Trust, but verify.” And in this area, I agree with him.
Caution is becoming exponentially important as faux-news sites are being blindly shared in social media among our community.
Skrillex and Diplo did not get booed.
Plug-And-Play camps did not ruin Burning Man.
There is nothing wrong with a hug.
I imagine that refrain must be annoying to people who have no interest in going. And it might be frightening to someone who is going for the first time. Maybe that change is exactly why you are going (or continue to go) to that wacky gathering in the desert.
I admit that I am one of the ones guilty of making that grand claim. After 16 years attending, I can barely remember who I was before I went to Burning Man.
I’ve had pink hair (year-round) for over 10 years. I help run a charity based on Gifting. I do a weekly podcast to recalibrate to my Highest Playa Self. Even my corporate job is linked to Burning Man: My CEO recruited me after watching some of my Playa Tips & Tricks Videos.
I’m not saying it will affect you the same way. But it might. Be open to it.
In fact, be open to the possibility that ANY experience in your life could dramatically change the way you see the world. A setback on the road. An interaction at a truck stop. A massive dust storm. A conflict with a campmate. These “obstacles” can be the very treasures that give your life meaning.
These “obstacles” can be the very treasures that give your life meaning.
Here is a short video answering the question of how Burning Man has changed me.
Side note: To everyone working their butts off to finish and pack up their creations: THANK YOU! I hope to be able to hug you, look you in the eyes and say it to you face…but please know I am GRATEFUL for your artistic spirit and your heroic efforts. I love you.
I hope you can join me on my Pink Ride on Thursday or enjoy some of the refreshing treats at my camp.
This post isn’t going to help you pack.
It isn’t going to tell you how to prepare for dust or stay lit at night. You’ve already read (or watched) all about that.
But I do want to suggest some tips for the preparation of your state of mind.
I’ve talked to too many first timers who have stumbled upon snarky online conversations and become concerned that they won’t be welcomed at Burning Man. Or they’ve seen videos of gorgeous performers, acro-yogis, and go-go dancers and are not sure if they’ll fit in.
But, motivated by their bucket list, they’ve summoned enough courage to go “check out that thing in the desert.”
I’d like to assure you that you ARE welcome. And I’d like to reframe that goal a little:
Burning Man isn’t something that you “check out.”
It is something that you participate in.
There will be hundreds of people inviting you to play with their contraption, climb their structure, write on their wall, sing along with their song, eat their treat.
Say “Yes” to those opportunities.
Burning Man is a gift economy – not barter. People want to give you things simply because they want to make your moment better. They want to do this because it makes them feel good to share.
Have you ever made a meal for a table full of friends? And then had them glow about how much they loved the meal? Remember how good that feels? That. A gifting economy is like that.
Practice being a good receiver. Say thank you. Mean it.
Don’t take the gift for granted, but also don’t feel obligated to reciprocate. If you feel filled with appreciation and abundance – give a gift of your own. But resist the urge to return a gift tit-for-tat as a sort if transaction. (Although tits and tats are both interesting gift ideas.)
Maybe you are struggling to figure out what you should bring to gift.
It is important to expand your concept of a “gift.”
A gift is anything that lifts another person up. Sure, it can be an object like a bracelet or a beer. But it can also be a gesture. It can be volunteering, helping set up a tent, assisting an artist with an installation, doing dishes, picking up moop, or being of service in countless ways.
Maybe you are a dancer, sculptor or musician and you know exactly what personal gifts you have to share. Or you may have no idea. Don’t fret, Burning Man has a way of opening up your perspective to the many gifts you have inside you.
The reality is that WHO YOU ARE is a gift. If you act from integrity…if you act from your heart…if you radically express your true self…THAT is a powerful gift. Don’t get hung up on how that gift ends up being expressed.
Burning Man is a fertile petri dish. All you need to do is just let the spores of your spirit out – and then get out of the way. Always had a hankering to try puppetry? Pull off your sock, put it on your hand and start introducing yourself as “Susan and Sockita.” Or maybe you’ll stumble upon a camp of puppeteers who invite you to participate in their daily performance. Say “Yes!” It will be a gift to them, to the audience, and to yourself. And by following your heart, you are giving a gift to the world. The magic happens when we all let ourselves express from that deep, honest place.
Art is not defined by the result of the paintstroke. It is determined by the inspiration that drives the expression. Let yourself be inspired. Let yourself express in big and small ways. Say “Yes.”
You’re not going to check out Burning Man. You are a part of Burning Man. We’re looking forward to meeting you. Welcome Home.
Come visit me at 8:45 & Esplanade at Pink Heart Camp for iced cucumber water or vegan ice cream. Or join the Pink Ride Thursday at noon. Or do whatever it is that your gorgeous heart desires. I love you.
I was not always accepting of Christianity. In fact, I had a bitter life chapter where I woke up to the Lies of Institutional Religion(TM) with deep anger and judgment towards Christians and Christianity.
Then two things happened:
1) I went to Burning Man and learned how Radical Inclusion gives a framework to support others, even as you disagree with them.
2) I started co-hosting a podcast with my Grandfather, Rev. Caleb Shikles. And He showed me that Burning Man was my church.
Don’t get me wrong: I agree that countless atrocities have been done in the name of religion. And that blind acceptance of any teachings paves the way for horrible things.
But I would argue that the main difference between a student of the teachings of Jesus and a follower of the 10 Principles is the amount of dusty faux fur in their closet.
(NOTE: Near the end of his life, my grandpa actually called himself a “Jesus Man” or “Baptist Buddhist” because he felt that the word “Christian” had come to mean so many things in contrast with the teachings of Jesus.)
While I appreciate the teachings of Jesus, I am not a Christian, by any means. I don’t mean to defend or promote Christianity – only to point out that Radical Inclusion gives us a model for loving our neighbors – be they Jiffy Lubers, Death Guilders, Pink Hearters, or Human Caracas Carwashers.
This applies to “neighbors” on the default world, as well.
The beautiful thing about a religion or tribe is that it gives us a congregation. It gives us a non-biological family to reflect and affirm us. When we are “Welcomed Home” we come to understand that “who we really are” is okay. Not just okay, but amazing. This community acceptance allows us to recognize and cultivate our true selves.
It was Burning Man that showed me the power of this type of community – and the powerful impact on personal growth. But as I grow in the world, I see people blossom in all types of loving congregations. I have seen magical communities grow around Comic-con, Knitting, flow arts, and even the Insane Clown Posse. Yes, god bless the Juggalos.
As we congratulate ourselves for casting off the chains of our socialization, it can be tempting to judge others who have attached themselves to belief systems or communities that differ from our own. But the whole point of Radical Inclusion means accepting those who have taken different paths and express themselves differently. We must remember that in today’s world “being different” can mean clown face paint, but it can also mean being devoted to an ancient tradition or long dead prophet.
It is easy to throw out baby Jesus with the bongwater – but the path of Radical Inclusion means we need to practice accepting everyone.
During today’s HugNation broadcast, I went deeper into these ideas:
[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man’s 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]
I spent some time today reflecting on Radical Inclusion in a Post-P.Diddy-Playa. If you’d rather read these ideas than watch a video, just skip below. (Video begins with 2:16 of mindfulness that you can skip if you are “sparkle-averse.”)
“How many veteran Burners found this year to be like Disneyland? Waiting in line to see the man then once in seeing it filled with tourists, ravers and MOOP.
I think this may be the last year I’m going…”
“I’m so sick of those elitist jerks with their Plug-and-play camps…”
Let’s all take a breath together.
As we breath out, let’s say, “Radical Inclusion.”
This is one of the 10 Principles, and it is important.
It is tempting to feel like we know what is the right way to do things.
But all we can ever know is what is best for us. Actually, it is a lifelong journey to figure out what is best for us.
Socialization covers us with layers and layers of shoulds. Eventually we live a life of patterns that may have no relationship to the true desires of our heart.
One of the transformative gifts of Burning Man is that it pushes us to question our patterns. The challenges and discomfort make us act in ways outside our patterns. In that space of questioning & floating, we sometimes hear our heartsongs. We sometimes feel desires, inspiration, and direction coming from INSIDE us. For many of us, this is a direction we have never experienced. After a lifetime of aiming towards goals given to us by well meaning parents & teachers (and less-benign marketers and politicians) – we may have lost the connection with the inner voice that that says, “This is my bliss. Follow this.” We had it in the crib. We had it on the playground. When did we lose it?
The gift of rediscovering that connection can be so profound. It can also turn us into zealots and make us overly-defensive of the circumstances that broke us free. It can be tempting to feel like the way WE got to that rediscovery is the right way.
There is nothing in the Principles about the size of your tent, the absence of air conditioning, or what tasks you must do yourself in order to qualify as “self reliant.” Must you mine the metal used in your bike? Must you weld it yourself? How about attach it to your bike rack or decorate it?
Or is it self-reliant enough to make the arrangements so that your needs are met?
I much prefer the attitude of a wealthy participant who makes arrangements than a “The Playa Will Provide” drifter who confuses “trusting the Universe” with “Being a burden on others.”
There is a tone of anger sometimes against “plug-and-play” camps. And I understand the fear. The real danger is a separation from participation. But who are any of us to define what the right way to participate is?
Do DPW participate better than Temple Builders? Who participate better than small sculpture artists? Who participate better than art car creators? Who participate better than theme camp organizers? Who participate better than costume artists?
The beauty of Burning Man is that we all find the best ways for us to gift. We all figure out the best way to play our role. The system works because we all answer the question differently. We are all unique cells within a massive organism. Our job is not to define how others should act – our role is to get clear & healthy and help the whole organism thrive.
It may be massage, sculpture, cooking, mechanical advice, attentive listening, carpentry, or philosophy. Whatever it is, it is important to find a way to participate and share your gifts.
In my camp, we demand a high level of participation from every member. This is not because we need lots of labor for the camp to function. While this *is* true, the reason we demand participation is because we know better. After 16 years I can say with a rare confidence, “The more you participate, the more you will get out of the experience.”
Showing up to the party of the year may give you a head full of great memories. But feeling like you are co-hosting this event changes something inside you. Being of service tunes you in to a level of purpose that changes you – or recharges you – in truly profound ways.
Do I worry about the Plug-And-Play camps? Only to the degree that some people may not be pushed hard enough outside their bubble to recieve the gifts available to them in this magical place. They may not get far enough outside of what is normally expected of them to recognize the dormant gifts aching to be shared.
But even then, I do not worry. Because even having a slight brush with this place can change you.
I know because it happened to me.
My first burn was in 1998. I showed up Thursday afternoon, late in the week. I avoided most responsibilities and did very little to help with the camp breakdown. I took much more than I gave. I bet a veteran would have considered me a tourist.
But it changed me. I started to learn more about the event. I started to learn more about myself.
I learned what my gifts were.
I learned to start listening for, and listening to that voice that steered me towards my Joy.
It changed my life. It changed my world. It changed my burn.
Burning Man changes people. When it changes people who have control over significant resources, that bodes well for the planet. I want every CEO and Prince to experience the Playa. I want them to dance on an art car, be gifted pancakes and say what P. Diddy said upon returning from the dust: “#BurningMan Words cannot explain! I’ll never be the same”
This is not a silly idea. More and more I have been asked to speak to business people about the value of Burning Man ideals. They may not even know that they are BM ideals, but they know that being in alignment with integrity and purpose is important. After long careers where the bottom line was everything, they know, deep down, that it isn’t enough.
When I was recruited for my current job, it was based on videos I did about Burning man. The CEO told me, “We are are group of people who have had successful careers. We have built our empires…but now we want to build our legacy.”
So bring on the ravers, frat-boys, tourists & elitists. As each one of us gets in tune with who we truly are, it benefits us all. As each cell gets healthy, it advances the health of the entire body.
We’ve built an empire of dust…now we build our legacy.
I’ve received a number of concerned emails from virgins over the last month. They heard about this magical place of acceptance in the desert and set out to make a pilgrimage. As instructed, they tried to learn whatever they could online so they could be “Radically Self-Reliant.” But along their path of digital research, they stepped into some online Burner dialogues thick with snark. Without knowing anyone and without the benefit of eye contact/body language/etc., the newbie gets the impression that this tone of joking disdain means that they are not welcome.
I try to let people know that Burning Man is not a love fest. It is a fertile ground for expression of every sort. It is a place for harmony and chaos. For cuddle piles and Thunderdome. For heartfelt expression and snarky insults.
And you are welcome there.
Admittedly, I am on the “sparkle” side of the spectrum (and I receive my share of disapproving snark.) So, yesterday I discussed the issue of Snark, Sparkle, & Radical Inclusion from my fuzzy pink perspective.
And here’s a fantastic (unofficial) Message from The Man reiterating that you are welcome in Black Rock City: