5 Questions Every Burning Man Virgin Should Ask Themselves

Article by: Chip Conley|@ChipConley

Fri July 18, 2014 | 00:00 AM

We often don’t know what we don’t know. As a first-time burner long ago, I remember how confused yet enchanted I was in imagining the utopian community of Burning Man . Was it going to be the desert wasteland of Mad Max, or would black and white turn to Technicolor as it did in Munchkinland in the Wizard of Oz? I wish a veteran burner had served me up these five questions as prep for what I was about to experience.

1. How are you addressing your basic needs while in Black Rock City? 

Burning Man 2012 Chip Conley Steam Bath Project

Photo by Chip Conley

Water, food, sleep, and air: The basic physiological needs are paramount at nearly a mile high in the arid Nevada desert. When in doubt, drink some water and take a nap. While myths persist that the only two things you can buy at Burning Man are coffee and bags of ice, the reality is that Center Camp also has lemonade, iced tea/chai, hot chocolate, and an underappreciated electrolyte-replacement powder. For everything else, you better be self-sufficient. And, when you’re feeling like you have dust in every imaginable crevice of your body, get naked at the Steam Bath Project in Nectar Village.

2. Where will you refresh and recharge? 

Burning Man 2013 Art Gimbel   24

Photo by Art Gimbel

If you’re an introvert, you need to plan ahead for creating a safe zone where you can retreat from all the stimuli. Typically, that safe zone might be somewhere in your camp, but for many it’s the farther reaches of the deep Playa, the serenity and quiet of the temple in mid-Playa, or one of the theme camps that offer some tranquil music or high tea in the afternoon (just ask about what version of “high” they’re serving). I’ve found it reassuring to have a designated Playa buddy whom I allow into my safety bubble when I’m feeling a little tense or overwhelmed. 

3. With whom will you share your experience? 

Burning Man 2009 Arin Crumley Cc Httpflic.Krp7 Av4m P

Photo by Arin Crumley Creative Commons

The first question most people will ask you is, “Where are you camping?” The “where” is relevant since the more quiet you seek, the better it is to camp on an outer ring and definitely far from 2 or 10 o’clock and Esplanade (facing the central Playa), where the late-night dancing and frolicking is often most intense. But, whom you’re with is more important than where you are. Burning Man can open emotional doors you didn’t know existed, and you may have moments of intimacy and immediacy that will rock you to your core. So, be conscious and intentional about whom you want to share this precious experience with. And, also, most importantly, be open to the serendipity of a new connection you may make as a result of being so open.

4. Who could you be and what could you do if you were fearless? 

Burning Man 2013 Art Gimbel   22

Photo by Art Gimbel

Burners call everything beyond the gates of Black Rock City the “default world” because so much of our normal lives are habitual, rote, and ruled by fear or, at least, convention. Burning Man is a natural boundary disintegrator if you want it to be. You’re a litigation attorney by day, but you’ve always imagined being an artist by night? Find a way to explore that in the desert. Want to strut your sexy, fashionable stuff? Create a Playa name and persona and enjoy hourly costume changes or the ability to feel true liberation in the Critical Tits bike parade. Esteem is often defined in a social context of how people see you, but at Burning Man, one of the 10 principles that define the community ethos is “radical self-expression.” Your self-worth will grow as your fears evaporate and you don’t care what anyone thinks of you. You don’t have to disrobe to be truly naked in the desert.

5. Are you being all you can be? 

Burning Man 2013 Art Gimbel   04

Photo by Art Gimbel

Burning Man is an intense magnifying mirror on your potential as a human. If Joy = Love – Fear, just know that your desert “default” can be joy, and you may be surprised by how acquainted you become with who you really are. As many friends have told me, “The best friend I met in the desert was myself.” In fact, in 2010, we created a camp called “Maslowtopia,” a self-actualizing community focused on helping our campers reach the five levels of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which are mirrored in the five questions in this post. I’ll never forget my New York investment banker friend who came to Burning Man as a transactional junkie who saw everyone as a walking dollar sign. By the end of his transformational second day in Black Rock City, this strong man came to me trembling with tears in his eyes and whispered, “I didn’t realize how small a life I was leading.”

Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs.Svg