Burning Man: A Yogiâ€™s Perspective via YITC Dallas Yoga Instructor Kurt Johnsen
First, please allow me to answer the most common question I've received since becoming a â€œBurnerâ€ two years ago. â€“ â€œNo, it's not a concert, it's Burning Man â€“ so no one is headliningâ€.
And the answer to the second question, â€œNo, it's not a hippie fest like a Dead or Phish show.â€
The week-long art event/festival that creates a temporary city of 50,000 people in one of the harshest places on the planet is an experience or as some of us older travelers might put it, it's a trip!
If you want the stats like where and when it started (1996 and on a beach in CA) the good folks at Wikipedia can provided a much more complete synopsis however I am happy to offer my views of this very unique event.
The location is one of the most unlikely places to party on the planet, a desert of fine almost wispy white sand three hours outside of Reno Nevada. Nothing, I mean really nothing, neither plant nor animal is there most of the year, until the Burning Man crew comes in weeks before the event and layout a clock like grid for the temporary city which partially wraps around a playa of art, a man that stands ready to burn and a temple that makes me cry each time I enter it.
The art which is laid out in the expansive playa is extraordinary, it's one of the hardest things for me to explain, so I will just say it is bigger and more interesting than you are imaging right now. Go to Google Images and you will see what I mean. More than the interesting and sometimes comical art is displayed; it is what is not there that also fascinates me, signage. In fact that is what is my favorite thing about Burning Man, there is no signage, no advertising, no marketing, no commercials, no commerce! The art, the huge amazing thought provoking art, is just out there to be enjoyed, not sold. No dot com is plugged, it is art for purely art's sake. In fact nothing is sold on the playa save coffee and ice (no its not Starbucks). There is no barter or trade system either. One of the themes of Burning Man is gifting, the belief that if everyone shares there is always enough. And everyone shares.
Also on the playa is â€œThe Manâ€ and â€œThe Templeâ€. The Man changes year to year but he is an ever-present (until Saturday night when he is torched) beacon in the playa helping all navigate. Though he is certainly the center of attention in many ways, the temple is what continues to draw me in. The temple to me is a powerful place, a beautiful place where you will see and feel people weeping as they say goodbye to loved ones who have passed on, or perhaps goodbye to parts of themselves they want to release. At the same time you will see lovers renewing their intentions and partiers just seeking smiles, hugs and laughs. To all it is a place of awe and every time I enter I find a quiet respect. During the week the walls become covered with written expressions of the feelings mentioned above. This year was the fist year there was an audio element in the temple, thirty to forty bowls and bells that played a beautiful preprogramed piece that was at least an hour long because I never heard it repeat. The temple burns on Sunday.
The individual camps make up the rest of temporary town, the fifth largest in Nevada while it exists and they are just as diverse as the art they circle. They range from huge music camps that become some of the coolest â€œclubsâ€ and â€œbarsâ€ on the planet and never have a velvet rope, doorman or dress code. There are pancake camps, poker camps, bloody-mary camps, French CafÃ© camps, game camps; there are sex camps and family camps, party camps and sober camps. You think of it and there's probably a camp themed around it. There are also hundreds of camps made up of like-minded friends making the best of a borrowed camper, van or tent that traveled sometimes halfway around the world to share the experience. The campers themselves are absolutely amazing! Friendly is the most common quality and the common greeting on the playa is â€œwelcome homeâ€ followed by a heart felt hug. If I had to pigeonhole the group of campers as a whole I would say they are people â€œyou would most likely meet in a Apple storeâ€ Most all I met were professionals like doctors, lawyers, advertising execs and entrepreneurs. Most of them setting down â€œwhatâ€ they are in their lives outside of the playa and letting their freak flag fly a little. I can say that I am not the founder of American Power Yoga, creator of APY60 or the host of Yoga for Life, I am just the human known as Kurt of Dallas and yes, my flag flies on the playa.
The take away, for me besides the views that happen know other place and at no other time in the world is a resetting. It a breaking away from what we have been lured into as normal and a connection to what is natural. It is not natural to be bombarded by thousands of marketing impressions a day, it is not natural to identify with only what you do for a living and what is expected of you by society. It is the taking back of your own individual identity and finding value in things outside of commerce and status, it is returning back to a natural state.
Burning Man isn't for everyone. The desert can be harsh and honestly camping is not my thing. â€œRoughing itâ€ to me is staying at a Holiday Inn however there on the playa even the dust and the porta-pottys help me put life back into perspective for me. The fact that it is all so temporary is a constant reminder that we are all temporary. The art, the temple the people and even the Man disappear and in the end, returning to ash and dust. It is a reminder to enjoy and appreciate everything because it is all truly temporary, it is all fleeting and the best we can do is to truly be ourselves and to always share.
Until next year, welcome home.