I just returned from Burning Man. I know it's like all the rage now. It used to be counter-culture and now your neighbor went and your niece and, gasp, maybe even your boss. You could almost say Burning is the new black. And the buzz is even higher as all 80,000 of us shuttle back into our lives - a transition lovingly referred to as 'reentry'.
In spite of it's new trendy status, it still strikes me how polarizing the topic is. When I tell someone I go to Burning Man the reaction is never one of ambivalence. The Burn elicits its fair share of envy and curiosity, but even more often are raised eyebrows and judgmental tones at the assumed rampant sacrilege that I must certainly be a part of by attending this week-long festival. I'm guessing they're picturing that I spent the whole week naked and high, plotting the downfall of modern society as we know it ... I guess that's partly true.
I've heard it said of the Peace Corps that it's the hardest job you'll ever love and I think Burning Man may carry a few (albeit much more briefly endured) similarities with this statement. This journey includes an 18 hour drive on both ends, heat exhaustion, countless smelly port-o-potty trips and a dirt factor that's like beige baby powder invading every pore of my body. I find that somehow with all that, I re-emerge feeling cleansed. How is that possible?
Maybe it's the shared hardship; the gifting economy, the expectation that you'll show up as you are, who you are in the now and ready to be ... real. There's something empowering about surrounding yourself with people who don't expect you to be anything. It starts to become clear that all we're hiding from are labels: proper, acceptable, professional, mature. These become meaningless when the goal is not to show all the ways you're better than your neighbor but rather, to simply connect with them.
Ok, my earlier statement of plotting the downfall of modern society may be a little harsh. There are no acts of terrorism planned, no governmental coups scheduled (maybe a fashion coup or two, but trust me, those will be lots of fun). There is however, a commitment to a shift toward a new kind of society; a society that values individual expression and expansion over the ability to perform and conform. One with more focus on understanding and expansion than judgement and limitation. And yes, sometimes this looks like more nakedness; maybe a love-in and some eye-gazing - can you blame us?
I get it. eye-gazing can be boring and uncomfortable, love-ins are so 1970s and nakedness is well, so naked. But have we as a society ever stopped to question these infrastructures and assumptions that we cling so tightly to? Namely, what's so important about hiding the human form? Would the world end if we all followed suit with the burners and lived a little more often in our birthday suits?
Just imagine: women could play shirtless Frisbee just like all their male friends and men could saunter around in skirts to air things out a bit in the summer heat. Let's be honest, I've seen how much you dudes love your utilikilts. You can call it whatever your want, but yes, you look very sexy in your skirts - and you know they're comfy. Plus, isn't it time we give guys a few more options and, gasp, expand male fashion beyond the width of their tie (or when you're from Colorado like me, the color of their plaid shirt)? Live on the wild side with me and the rest of my burner friends - We'll let you see what's under our kilts if you show us yours...
Two days into the whole thing you realize:
1. The dust will never. ever. be gone.
2. Just how little nudity and normal fashion rules actually matter. There's some mental shift that stops regarding Victoria's Secret as the body ideal and just sees exquisite humans that are both fascinating in their variation and inspiring in their creativity. It's not a cliche to say we're all beautiful in our differences. There's real, shapely, individualized truth in nakedness (physical, mental and otherwise) that's richer than the self-flagellation, self-limitation and self judgment that's part of the current 'real world'. Like Coco Chanel said:
'Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.'
The beauty I saw on Playa was not about toned abs or absence of cellulite. It wasn't about yearly income or shiny cars. It was about people fully sharing who they were. Tapping into, sharing and expanding the complex, flawed, genuine soul within each of them. Once there's space to notice that no body is perfect and that all are in a constant state of mental and spiritual growth, it becomes easy to find beauty in our collective imperfection on all levels.
Part of the power of this is that in embracing and accepting others, I found myself personally more able to face the often greater challenge of extending myself the same courtesies. By the end of the week, I feel pretty damn sexy in all my topless booty-shorted fabulousness and I can tell you that I'm perfectly where I need to be in my life journey - burning miracles never cease.
So yes, there is nakedness - if you choose. Yes, there are drugs if you choose as well, often taken more with a mindset of expanding perception and perspective than for the purpose of numbing and hiding. And yes, there is talk of a new regime. One that centers around love and acceptance and actually seeing someone for who they really are.
There is so much depth in humanity when you draw together 80,000 people from around the globe. 80,000 people ready to start from scratch; ready to challenge what they know and ready to rewrite the limitations of both themselves and who you were before you got there. If you've never been, I encourage you to question your assumptions about the whole thing. Hell, I encourage you to question your assumptions about yourself. I hope to see you there next year - maybe topless, maybe we can eye-gaze. All I know is, if Burning Man is the new black, I can't wait to get back to black.