Posts for category The Ten Principles


November 12th, 2013  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Commerce & Community: Distilling philosophy from a cup of coffee …

[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.]

Center Camp Café, 2005 (photo by Brad Templeton)

Center Camp Café, 2005 (photo by Brad Templeton)

Sometimes the exception to a rule can deepen understanding of a principle. For example, some critics of Burning Man insist that by allowing coffee sales in our city’s Center Camp Café we violate a tenet of our non-commercial ideology. They say that this is evidence of deep naiveté or demonstrates hypocrisy. My reply is that we’ve never espoused a non-commercial ideology. To be against commerce is to oppose the very existence of civilized life. Even hunter-gatherers engage in trade in order to survive.

When most people say that any thing or act is too commercial or has been commercialized, very few of them mean to say that the practice of commerce is necessarily bad. Instead, they are expressing the feeling that something essential — something that should never be bought and sold — has been commodified. This is why we have always been careful to use the words commodify and decommodify.

Our annual event in the desert is meant to provide an example of what can happen in a community when social interactions cease to be mediated by a marketplace. Until quite recently, all societies have provided many different kinds of rites and rituals – set apart from daily life – that rehearse and reaffirm certain core spiritual experiences that are held to possess an unconditional value.

For example, in the culture created by Burning Man, the value of a gift, when rightly given and received, is unconditional. Nothing of equivalent value can be expected in return; this interaction shouldn’t be commodified. Likewise, love – the love of a parent for a child – should never be commodified. This, too, is an unconditional value, hedged round by a kind of sanctity, and can never be measured in dollars and cents. Read more »

November 12th, 2013  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

How The West Was Won: Anarchy Vs. Civic Responsibility

[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.]

Legends of America, by James Cole, 2008 (photo by Stewart Harvey)

“Legends of America” by James Cole, 2008 (photo by Stewart Harvey)

During our early history in the desert, in the mid-90s, there was a lot of infighting about what the event was for—that struggle culminated in 1996. It concerned what our city was for, and who the entire event belonged to. We started out on the beach in 1986 as a small group of people that I came to call the Latte Carpenters. These were carpenters with a liberal arts education. I was friends with a builder named Dan Richman, who was an artist, though he didn’t pursue it, a talented painter who played flamenco. He convened a little salon of sorts at his house. He’d play the guitar; we’d drink and joke and talk about philosophy and art. It was a little bohemian scene, and that’s how I met Jerry James, with whom I built and burned the early versions of the Man.

Around 1989, members of the Cacophony Society turned up at our beach burns. Cacophony was somewhat amorphous; a “randomly gathered” network of eccentrics united by a publicly distributed newsletter that always stated, “You may already be a member.” Anyone could do events; these were often pranks, or might appropriate a feature of the urban landscape as a venue for guerrilla theater. For some, this was inspired by Dada, and for others it eventually came to be defined by the writings of Hakim Bey, chiefly a book entitled TAZ [Temporary Autonomous Zone]. In the early 90’s, this was widely adopted as an intellectual framework throughout the San Francisco art underground. It seemed to partially explain what was occurring, and that is why this particular book is so frequently referenced in regard to Burning Man. Read more »

November 12th, 2013  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Introduction: The Philosophical Center

[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.]

The mission of the Burning Man Project is to seek out Burning Man culture, as it is described by the Ten Principles, and to link these efforts and communities to one another as part of a worldwide network. Nestled at the heart of this non-profit, another institution, the Philosophical Center, will serve as both the conscience and collective memory of Burning Man. Its mission is to foment discourse that examines the Ten Principles. The motto that will guide this is a quote by William James, “Belief is thought at rest.” This ongoing 10 Principles blog series is the Philosophical Center’s public debut.

We Found Ourselves!

Porta-potty graffiti, 2013 (photo by Alexander Shalashniy)

In an essay included in this blog series, Caveat Magister writes, ”We came to Burning Man because we saw something was happening—we felt its potential all the way down to our bones, sometimes from the other side of the earth—and we were called to be a part of it. Later, maybe, we learned it has 10 Principles, and we started looking to them as a way to aspire to what we were already inspired by.” He is saying that the Principles do not precede immediate experience: they issue out of it. The Principles, in other words, are not an ideology that stands outside of one’s experience. They are a portrait of an ethos; they describe a way of life.

Perhaps the best way to commence thinking about the Ten Principles is to consider their actual language, to engage in a close reading. To begin with, they utterly lack the imperative mood; they are not commands or requests—they do not give permission or withhold it. For example, Leaving No Trace is not a commandment. Although it speaks of what we value, it does not demand allegiance. Agency resides within the actor, not externalized as rules. This assumes these values are internalized, that they arise within each individual as a result of participating in a community, and that we act, in the deepest sense, as a result of who we are. Read more »

September 10th, 2013  |  Filed under Afield in the World, The Ten Principles

To Our Coy Mistress

Truth is Beauty, by Marco Cochrane

Truth is Beauty, by Marco Cochrane

But at my back I always hear

Time’s winged chariots hurrying near;

And yonder all before us lie

Deserts of vast eternity.

– Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress,” 1650

San Francisco, early September, 2013. I awake before dawn to the sound of the garbage truck lurching and braking a staccato samba up my steep street. The clearest confirmation of returning from the land of Leave No Trace is being roused by a heaving, clattering garbage truck, dragging my recyclables of melancholy to the curb. Inside the bin lies the low, slow ache of having to wait another forty-nine trash pick-ups to reconstitute that other awakening experience from which I’ve recently returned. It’s never perfect out there, to be fair; each year it gets harder to inhale the dun-colored dust,  to tolerate the all-night electronica at twentysomething volumes, to flaunt the corsetry of a coy matron.  But it is more perfect than many places on earth, perhaps because it exists in suspended time. The days flow longer and shorter out there, so crammed with dazzle and depth that the sacrifice of sleep feels noble and necessary, and being awakened presents an opportunity to discover new wonders. Adrenaline and cooler-chilled cans of coffee fuel marathon days and nights, punctuated by protein bars and ambrosial encounters with soft-scrambled eggs and maple bacon ice cream. Despite its hardships, it is still the place that rouses my psyche year-round, the week that slowly brakes and lurches up the calendar until it mysteriously crests and suddenly barrels down the hill with unstoppable momentum. Which happened a few weeks ago. Now I am making the jerking, awkward journey up the hill once more.

Black Rock City has a curious relationship with time.  It is unsurprising that navigation in Black Rock City is marked by the face of a clock; in a place where time is so fluid and compressed, the rhythmic cycle of twelve hours is appropriated for other uses. A man base that takes four months and four days to build is dispatched in less than an hour. A relationship that has taken five years to coalesce is witnessed and sanctified in a brief ceremony. An art installation that has been imagined for a decade is auditioned, funded and accomplished in eight months, and evaporated in a flamethrowing fifteen minutes. We wait all year for our seven days in the desert, our touchstone of timelessness. We are willing to abandon most commitments and comforts to spend evanescent hours with dear soulmates, remarkable art, transcendent music, even our imperfect selves.

We want time to speed up so that Burning Man will come again, but once we are in the desert, we want time to slow down to appreciate every moment. Marvell tells his coy mistress, “Though we cannot make our sun/Stand still, yet we will make him run.” Once there, we don’t want the Man to Burn because that means we have to begin counting the days until the Man Burns again.

Once there, we wait at the gate, in line for gifted chai, on the queue for our turn on the teeter-totter of death. But we wait in Black Rock City with an enthusiasm that should be bottled and gifted to every parent of a tired toddler at the grocery store, every arid airport bar, every applicant at the Department of Motor, not Mutant, Vehicles. In our temporary city, time passes with speed and delight because we handle the experience of waiting as an opportunity. We engage with our tutu-bearing comrades, we appreciate our surroundings, we challenge ourselves to celebrate the principle of immediacy. Time becomes an opportunity rather than a penance or a means.

Coyote, artist Brian Tedrick

Coyote, artist Brian Tedrick

Being generous with the time span of the early years, the actual Burning Man event has occurred for around 150 chronological days.  “Had we but world enough, and time,” Andrew Marvell pleads with his love interest, we would be able to be patient for the thing we desire, but our life span does not afford us that luxury. For all of the miscommunications and buzzing generators, the funky smells and rebel yells, Black Rock City is our coy mistress, flirting with the moment. Had we but world enough and time…we could actually make it to all of the things we circled in the What/Where/When. We could encounter every single piece of art in deep playa. We could catch the early early show at the Bijou. We could learn to make kombucha, join a drum circle, and volunteer with the Lamplighters.

We dally with this inamorata for seven, or five, or three days, and impossibly try to cram in a year’s worth of imaginary encounters into that time. We ride from the three to six to nine o’clock plaza on our wheeled chariots, but we never manage to make our sun stand still. It beats down too hard and sets too swiftly, and hurtles us back into the rest of our lives with an abrupt and noisy awakening.

Temple of Whollyness, artist Gregg Fleishman, Syn Barron, and Lightning Clearwater

Temple of Whollyness, artist Gregg Fleishman, Syn Barron, and Lightning Clearwater

So we must bring the light of that sun back to break through the fog of everyday life. The desert has taught us how to radically include, express, and rely. Now is the time to apply the alchemy we have tested in our desert crucible. Now is the time to treat  Starbucks like Center Camp Café, to acknowledge our fellow caffeinators with enthusiasm. Now is the time to rediscover the local newspaper as our resource for a workshop. Now is the time to become a Greeter at the bus stop, the hardware store, the office lunchroom. We cannot wait another year for this ravishing mistress to enrapture us with a mere seven nights of her delights; we must incorporate what we love about her into our lives, to adopt her characteristics, to make her run and not stand still.  We must ride time’s winged bicycle, or its garbage truck, into every rising of the sun, so that our awakening in the desert does not make this year a vast eternity.

Photos: Sidney Erthal

September 9th, 2013  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Radical Inclusion, Plug-And-Play, & P.Diddy

[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?

(Not actually my dad)

(Not actually my dad)

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.

Pink Heart

Our camp gifted iced cucumber water & love

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.

Thank You

Feeling deeply grateful

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.

So when I hear that Zuckerburg helicoptered in, or that P. Diddy was seen at Robot Heart, do I worry that “Burning Man is over?”

The opposite, actually.

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.

***
Additional Links:
Dustin Moskovitz’s recent reflections on Radical Inclusion inspired this post.

My Decompression Tips from last Year.

September 9th, 2013  |  Filed under Participate!, Tales From The Playa, The Ten Principles

Get Radical: Self-Reliance, Inclusion And The Shared Experience

photo by Candace Locklear

Would you lie down next to a clown in the White Forest? photo credit: Candace Locklear

Holy wow, what a week! Let it be known: 2013 was one of the greats. I am in awe of the energy and ideas that swirl and pollinate to create Burning Man. I hopped on art cars, I danced at sunrise, I did an afternoon bike tour — all in full clown-face. I was surrounded by friends and new hires for epic days and nights. I even managed to get some sleep. The weather was belissimo and the dust was mild. What. A. Playa.

Some of the best conversations of my life have taken place on the playa. These conversations can be as brief as a call-and-response to honking the horn on my bike (“Dirty clowns make great dust fellows!”) or as long as a sunrise session out at The Office. One topic kept popping up: Have you had many interactions with newbies?

We can all agree that Black Rock City is huge. First-timers are gobsmacked by the scale of it and old-timers are too. The 2013 Burning Man event population was 69,613 (editor’s note: this figure was updated Sept. 14).

It seems like a lot of you were there for the first time. Welcome.

The redux: I first attended Burning Man in 1998 (population: 15,000). I’ve felt like a new-comer and an old broad. I’ve lived on both sides of the curtain –blissed-out in ruby slippers at sunset or setting an alarm clock so I could work the all-day Media Mecca shift. My friends are a mix of old-timers, volunteers, artists, occasional attendees and newer burners. One friend asked, “Are we all in this together?” Another wondered “Who are all these people and why aren’t they talking? Is it because I’m old?” Our greatest concern: Are first-timers having the same random magic playa moments that we are? I’m curious about the answers to these questions. I had a few people run away from my attempts at conversation in the porta-potty line (usually a source of great stranger entertainment).

Join the adventure, don’t just create your own.

The mega-camp is one way Burning Man has evolved with the growing population. This is a different way to attend Burning Man than when many of us started coming. There have always been camps that provide food and shade. But it wasn’t until I started reading blogs and news stories after this year’s event that I understood how prevalent it is to have meals and water and showers and bikes and sleeping arrangements provided. $1000 for a Burning Man experience? It sounds like making a reservation at a resort. I read about someone organizing a camp that almost ran out of water mid-week for 150 people. My first thought was, 150 people came to Burning Man without their own water? The Black Rock Desert is a harsh and sometimes unsafe environment. What about Radical Self-Reliance? The pamphlet that comes with your ticket is called the Survival Guide for a reason. These “turnkey” camps are housing part of the newer population yet they have created a subculture that relies on someone else for survival and fun.

Say Hello

Another Burning Man tenant is Radical Inclusion. Basically: We are all in this together and we respect each others creativity. I may not like your shiny hot pants unicorn costume and you may not be down with my kazoo or beige granny panties, but we can dance side by side and maybe I’ll randomly cruise through your camp with a tray of bacon and we can share a laugh. That is radical inclusion: a laissez faire attitude that is friendly and open and neighborly. If your tent is blowing over, I am going to run over and help. If you’re making margaritas, let me grab my cup. I wonder if the newer burners know the joy of passing out chilled avocado slices to strangers on a hot afternoon. Radical Inclusion is not exclusive dinners or cocktail parties. The artists who build those big, amazing wood-burning bulls or spinning coyotes want you to interact with their art. They didn’t build art for people to gawk; the art is part of a larger community.

I had a weird interaction that made me question how we are acculturating newer burners regarding Radical Inclusion. Is Radical Inclusion being misconstrued as anything-goes behavior? Let me say: If someone doesn’t want to hug you, that is their choice. Being at Burning Man doesn’t mean you get to do what you want. Not everyone wants a hug. You have to take “no” for an answer. What transpired Friday night was a super-bummer and my friends helped me rally, but still: we could have done without that scene. Burning Man is about creating your ideal self and opening up to further possibility and sharing it with the people around you. It isn’t about anarchy or secret clubs or us versus them.

During our eight-hour exodus to the gate, my BFF & I put costumes back on. “We are still at Burning Man!” was our rally cry. People gave us frozen popsicles, food and shade. Candace, also known as Evil Pippi, says she feels like her most authentic self on the playa. If she had her way, we’d still be at Burning Man. As we worked our way through the parking-lot line we asked people about their experience. Most of the people were first- or second- time burners. Some people were friendly, others seemed uncomfortable when we approached. Was that their Burning Man, staying in an RV and not interacting?

In the years I worked for The Man we talked about not hand-holding people through the burn and leading by example. Do it yourself, it’s more fun that way! But 10 years ago we weren’t thinking about a population this large and turnkey camps on this scale. The Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter, the Survival Guide and the official website are wonderful resources but they aren’t reaching people who don’t even bring their own water. How do we bridge this divide? One friend suggested all turnkey camps register and get a BM101 lesson on arrival. Another suggested we let these burners drive the event into the ground until we’re selling condo plots. Another suggested an acculturation committee. UGH! I love Burning Man and want it to thrive. That’s why I’m reaching out to you, the community.

Dear readers, these are the questions I’m pondering after being off the desert for almost a week. Black Rock City is going through a boom phase. We aren’t a normal city and we need to treat our social experiment with care. I’m hoping to tap into the city’s consciousness for some ideas.

How do we acculturate people who are having such disparate experiences? How do new burners feel about their experience? How do repeat burners feel about this year’s event? Can we get new blood to start volunteering during the event?

Comments are open. Be nice, no spitting.
Love,
Mama Golightly

August 21st, 2013  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Does your gift make the playa less lonely?

[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.]

Is it a pony?

Is it a pony?

I recently told an incredible artist and doer how much I envy her skill set.  People who can build art cars or set up great camps … or even use tools … are heroes to me when they do it for the common good.

“Well,” she said, “we really value what you do.”

“What I do?”  I asked, genuinely confused.  I am so useless on the playa that … this is true … some Media Mecca volunteers once got drafted to set up my tent.

“Well, yes,” she said. “You write these blogs.  You gift us with your writing.”

I nearly choked on my whiskey.

What followed was 10 minutes of one of the stupidest “YOUR contribution’s more important!  No YOUR contribution’s more important!” arguments I’ve had in years.  Because while I yield to no one’s estimation of just how talented a writer I am, writing blog posts from the comfort of my own home, (often) drunk and (usually) naked, is not a gift or sacrifice on the order of dragging a massive construction project to the playa and laboring to set it up in 100 degree heat while alkaline dust whips at your eyes, and then getting drunk and naked.

How is this even close?

It’s nice that we all appreciate each other, I suppose, but I think many of us are a little too easy on ourselves.

The notion that everybody’s contribution counts, that it doesn’t matter what you can do so long as you share your gifts, is a good one when it encourages people to step up to the plate and discover a capacity to give that they didn’t know they had. To find ways to engage with their community that they otherwise wouldn’t, or think they couldn’t.

Too often, however, it’s used as an excuse to half-ass a commitment we don’t really want to make.  To say “I’ve done enough” when we’ve hardly done anything we’re capable of.

Here are some activities that don’t actually qualify as “gifts,” no matter how much you think of yourself: Read more »

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

Does Burning Man culture make us feel better?

BM2012_069

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.

BM2010_010

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