Burning Man Takes a Look Inside

IMGL3864You can’t get to a particular spot along the coast in Big Sur in any of the usual and normal ways.

You can’t, for example, just head down Route 1 listening to the stern yet comforting voice of the GPS guiding you confidently, determinedly, to your destination. Because you will be told that you have arrived when you are right in the middle of one of the many bridges that span the coastal highway, and if you take the suggested right turn, you will plummet to the sea.

And you can’t just open a map on your phone and find out exactly where you are because … silly you … there hasn’t been cell service for miles. Many miles.

So you continue on for a bit, hoping for the best, hoping for a sign, hoping to be able to find a place to turn around, if it comes to that. But how many more miles should we go? We were due at a certain time, and that time has arrived, and we don’t know if we’ve missed the entrance to where we were supposed to be, or whether we simply haven’t come to it yet and should just keep going.

Eventually we decide to do things the old-fashioned way. We make a U-turn and return to the entrance of the state park we whizzed by earlier and ask: “Have we passed Esalen yet?”



We’re conflicted even just saying the word.

We know a bit about the Esalen Institute, more by anecdote than formal inquiry. We know it as a center of the Human Potential Movement, we know that it might be the high church of the religion of no religion, and we know that writers and thinkers and questers of all natures have come here on spiritual journeys. And while we would never question the motivations behind a spiritual journey, we’ve also speculated, as a schoolboy might, about the nature of those activities, both psychological and otherwise.

If you have to be someplace, this isn't the worst place to be
If you have to be someplace, this isn’t the worst place to be

And oh yes of course, we’ve heard that Esalen is spectacularly beautiful, soothing to the soul and body, a place of power and inspiration.

What we don’t know in this moment, though, is how the locals view the place, and the local now standing before us is a big-hatted park ranger who is already a little annoyed with us because we hadn’t come to a full stop at the guard station quickly enough for his liking. So we’re off on the wrong foot and now we’re asking about that Esalen place, and we’re not sure at all at how this query will be received.

“No, you haven’t passed it yet,” the ranger says maybe a little too loudly but thankfully non-judgmentally. “It’s about 20 minutes down the road. There’s a sign.”


Megan Miller is the director of communications for Burning Man. She is bright and engaging, and she tells us that she first came to Esalen at the age of three with her mom, who was making a trek from their home in Alaska to Mexico. Esalen was a stop along the way. It was supposed to be a brief visit, but it wound up lasting longer. Megan is standing in front of about 50 people in a large tent that is about 15 feet from the edge of a cliff that dives to the sea. It is dark, and you can’t see, but you can hear the surf pounding the rocks below. (more…)

VIDEO: Welcome Home — A Reflection on Burning Man

It’s easy to think of Burning Man as something that pushes against the tides of mainstream Western culture. But it’s not as simple as that. One look at the art in Black Rock City, with its brooding inversions of churches, temples, and other religious symbols, and you’ll see that Burning Man is deeply in conversation with the traditions and values of the West. Sometimes it’s heated, sure. But it can also be soulful, even transcendent. Just watch this sermon by Brian Baker, Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento, California, from right after he returned from his first Burn in 2015, and observe how powerful a mixture this can be:

How Burning Man Changed My Life: Slowly but Surely

(Photo by Ales aka Dust To Ashes)

(Photo by Ales aka Dust To Ashes)

I have always envied people their transformative experiences at Burning Man. Friends, acquaintances, strangers whose stories I read on the internet. “Burning Man changed my life!” they say, and point at one  instance, one specific moment where they realized their life was going to be different moving forward.

This will be my 12th year in a row of attendance at the event, and I’ve never experienced that lightning bolt of differentiation.

Burning Man HAS changed my life, though, just not in the way I expected. It occurred to me recently that my life would be entirely unrecognizable if not for Burning Man. Transformation has snuck up on me slowly, over this dozen years of participation. (more…)

Immediacy and Impermanence

[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.]

(image used by permission Photo Credit: John Chandler, 2013..Believe by Laura Kimpton)
(image used by permission Photo Credit: John Chandler, 2013..Believe by Laura Kimpton)

There have been some recent losses in our community — suicides and accidents — that serve as stark reminders of the impermanence of it all. My heart goes to the friends and family impacted by these losses. For those of us connected through social networks, both personal and online, we are entering new territory. No generation has shared and mediated grief through digital space like we do, and no generation has been so removed from religion. In the spirit of continuing the exploration of how we talk about impermanence in a radical, creative culture, I’d like to share the following reflections. (more…)

Hug Virus Epidemic

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.
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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!”

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.17.35 AMYou 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.
Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 8.59.30 AMA 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?)
Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.16.58 AMI 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.


Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.20.03 AM

“It Changed My Life!”

“Burning Man changed my life!”

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.

Halcyon's Schedule

Sabbath on the Playa


Friday evening of my second Burn, I had one of the holiest meals I can remember. As the stars came out, a big group gathered at camp Sukkat Shalom, lit candles, gave blessings, drank wine, and fried up crispy, savory latkes for each other to eat. It was an ideal way to ground the frenetic energy of the week in preparation for the following night’s burn. The cross-section of Burners interested in gathering to welcome the Sabbath was unlike that of any other on-playa scene. The wine, talk, and song flowed late into the night.

In subsequent years, the scene has been crazy. An overwhelming number of people show up. While I think that’s a great sign, it overloads the camp, and food is scarce. No theme camp’s gift is inexhaustible. But this year, Sukkat Shalom is crowd-funding a blowout Shabbat dinner experience. Here’s why I hope you’ll support it. Disclosure: I know and love lots of the people who run Sukkat Shalom.

The next-level Sukkat Shalom Shabbat dinner will begin under a blinky dome with LEDs that respond to the group’s singing as it welcomes the Sabbath, the holy day of rest and reflection, which ends at sundown on Saturday before the Man burns. The multi-course meal will be served at a Bedouin-style communal table in a subtly designed sound environment. It will be a sacred celebration, but it will also be a full-spectrum stimulus any Burner will love.

Sukkat Shalom is not a religious camp. Its name means “shelter of peace” in Hebrew, which is a thoroughly Jewish concept, but surely it’s one that makes sense to anyone who’s ever been to the Black Rock Desert. The camp calls itself “Jew-ish” (emphasis on “ish,” a term I personally can’t stand), but it does so in the name of inclusivity. It’s a camp run by some Jewish people and some non-Jewish people, and it has no religious requirements or expectations, but it’s framed by some Jewish concepts that apply beautifully on the playa. Shabbat is, in my opinion, the most powerful. Who doesn’t feel the specialness of Saturday at Burning Man?


I think about religion the whole time I’m in Black Rock City. There are so many pieces of religious life there if you’re inclined to look at them that way. The annual trek out there can feel like a pilgrimage. One of the central architectural features of the city is its Temple. Over the course of the week, time is demarcated by a series of ceremonies and offerings, the burns being the biggest examples. The desert itself is a classic site of personal revelation.

But the most powerful part of Burning Man culture is that it’s not prescriptive. These components of the experience are not specific representations of religious ideas. They’re archetypes of them, there for participants to share through their own lenses of meaning, even totally unreligious — or sacrilegious — ones. Just like the Temple is for everyone on the playa, regardless of what it means to them, I think Shabbat can be, too.

So consider supporting Sukkat Shalom’s Shabbat dinner on Indiegogo and help celebrate the sacredness of Friday night at Burning Man.

Images courtesy of Sukkat Shalom

Playa Wins: The Gooey Coat

Temple of Juno


Now that we’ve talked about our playa fails, let’s talk about playa miracles. The little wins and big scores that happen at Burning Man are part of the magic.

My first playa win came before I even got to the event. When the car overheated in Fairfield, Calif., my friend and I experienced our first playa fail.  But when we found a rental agency with one pickup truck in stock, we had our first playa miracle. They didn’t even ask us if we were going to Burning Man — heading to the desert can be a deal-breaker for most car rental agencies. Three hours after pulling off the highway we were back on the road and rocking out to satellite radio.

On my first night out in Black Rock City I lost my coat. I was riding my bike and suddenly the coat was gone. The coat was the color of playa dust — perfect, because it never looked dirty. This feature also made it impossible to find because it was camouflaged on the ground. I finally gave up, mad for losing it and mad for littering. I hoped it would make its way to someone who needed it.

The next morning I visited my friend Thumper at his camp. He put on a fresh pot of coffee and I settled into a lawn chair for a session. We were catching up and having a good laugh. “That bike your husband loaned me is a real cream puff,” he said. “It made it about 10 feet before breaking.”

I told him about losing my jacket. His face changed. “Hold on,” he said, “I have something for you” and ducked into his trailer.

He emerged carrying a coat on a hanger. It’s almost the same color as the one I lost but a vintage style with a furry shawl collar. I tried it on and it was a perfect fit. When he told me “It’s from the Gooey collection” my eyes welled with tears. Gooey was a friend — a lit firecracker, a generous soul and a Southern charmer. Her ashes went in the Temple after she decided to end her life.

One more burn for Gooey and warm nights for me. I know she’d want me to have the coat and I can’t help wonder if that’s why I lost mine. Coincidence? Miracle? Divine intervention? Call it what you will, there is magic in the desert.

Tell us… what was your playa win?