Burning Man Disconnection

Posted: September 11, 2010 in Burning man
Tags: , , , ,

For those of you who have been to Burning Man this post will ring for you, for those of you who haven’t been, maybe it will provide some further insight into why we go.  Below is a link to the primary site to get you some background if you want it:


To most people Burning Man is a freaky pagan bacchanal in the desert, ok there are elements, and a portion of the population maybe there for nothing more than the party, but for a lot of us there’s a lot more.  Burners as we refer to ourselves come to the playa for a lot of reasons, the party, the art, an unmatched experiential week, to reconnect with distant friends, to find and/or be ourselves and for me more than anything else to get completely out of my “default world” life for a week.  I’ve always liked the term “default world,” the world outside of Burning Man is the world you default to where you fall into the standard expectations of the world regardless of what your true nature tells you to be.  That is the difference on the playa (the ancient lake bed where the event takes place), you have chosen to be in this particular world and chosen who you want to be while there from what you wear, to how you act, to even what your “playa name” will be.  Many people at Burning Man take a new name, one that also is more reflective of who they are.  Again, in the default world your name was assigned and like everything else on the playa your name is a choice.

However after spending a week on the playa, in this wonderful and wacky world you have to leave and return to your default life.  For a lot of people this leads to a dip, a little depression as they return.  Particularly after their first, or “virgin” year this dip can be fairly pronounced.  There are a number of reasons why this occurs.  First of all, the spectacle of the event.  At the event you are surrounded by open and affectionate people who are truly nice to each other almost all of the time, people are happy.  Shaking hands on the playa seems weird and impersonal, on the playa almost everyone hugs.  The creativity and innovation all around you is mind shattering, from the amazing engineering that goes into creating camps, large art structures and art cars to the pure innovation and beauty of the art.  Also on the playa you are fully engaged in life, there are few guard rails at Burning Man and one of the main principles of the event is radical self-reliance, in essence you are responsible to take care of yourself, you can see the other principles below:


Finally, on the playa you are not judged.  As I am fond of saying, there is always a bigger freak ten feet away, even in the default world.  The difference is that at Burning Man that freak is fully on display and easily identified and because everyone is letting their own freak flag fly you don’t feel ashamed of your own.  Now think about that for a few minutes, everyday we are all concerned about what does my spouse, partner, family, friends or even strangers think about me, what I am wearing, how I dress, what I say, think about a week were no one cares and you can just be who you want to be, wear what you want to wear, act anyway you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else and no one will judge you for it, in fact some people might even love you for it.

The world I’ve just described is pretty special, some might say impossible, they haven’t been there, in my five years on the playa I’ve seen everything I’ve described above and more, from the impossible to the insane to the divine and I’m not even taking time to talk about playa magic, I’ll save that for a separate post.  The world I describe above is also at direct odds with the default world that we come back to, and unfortunately even burners often turn into default world jerks the second they get back into cars to head home, cutting each other off in traffic and falling into default world driving patterns.  Then as you stop at gas stations and restaurants on the way home, you get the questions, “coming from the Burning Man?”  Sometimes the questions are from interest and sometimes they ring with judgement, either way the questions make you feel separate and different.

Returning back to your life, the world seems somewhat dull and colorless, the spectacle that was your life the week before is painfully absent.  The freaks are once again all undercover and if people know you were at Burning Man they often ask questions meant to probe at how different you are, or are just plain stupid, “did the man burn early again this year, ha ha ha?”  As if the only reason we go to the playa is to watch a single burn.  All of these things conspire to isolate burners when they come back, it’s not all bad, some truly want to see your pictures and hear your stories, to live on the playa vicariously through you, but they are in the minority.

For someone like me this time can be especially hard, most of the people who I am closest to emotionally are distant geographically and so where many burners can turn to these people or local fellow burners for support and a hug, many of us are reliant on telephones and computers to feel connected because these people aren’t physically close.  However, electronics do not substitute for the huge drop off in genuine physical human contact that the playa provides and you feel like a junkie going through withdraw and the dip or depression comes.  Happily for me over the last five years changes in my life have helped me lesson these feelings and in fact I attribute my time on the playa for a lot of this growth.

I have some advice if you are in this funk and that is ride it out, don’t alter your relationships or make giant life changes at this time, it will be a temptation.  Many people suddenly dedicate their existence to the playa and Burning Man when going through this, an admirable thing to do but wait before you pull that trigger.  Just breathe and let it wash over you for a couple of weeks.  The good news in all of this is that the dip will even out, it will, I promise and then after it does, the good things that you gained from the playa, the good feelings, the memories, the connections, the introspection and the growth will still be there.  The good things you picked up on the playa last soooo much longer than the dip, so hang in there kid and we’ll see you in the dust next year, the man burns in 357 days!

  1. […] home and the default world, they really are drastically different.  Many people feel a little post-playa depression, and some of that has to do with the gear shift.  So my solution has always been to spend a night […]

  2. […] Burning Man Disconnection September 2010 19 comments and 2 Likes on WordPress.com 4 […]

  3. Samsa Lila says:

    And what is drab? The subtle rose tint of flowers? thats drab? Leaves on the trees in the fall? Is that so drab? It does not equal up to a multi colored L Wire Art Car? The world is not gray, it is more magnificent than any lighty toy or large piece of art. Find the beauty in the subtle things in life as well as the large and spectacular!!

  4. Samsa Lila says:

    One more thing: Lets not forget how beautiful nature is outside of Black Rock. I love coming home because I made my home a good place to be. I love my week at burning man, but I do not call it “home”. I like to call it “bizzaro home” instead. Home is home. Home is beautiful. Burners, go find a nourishing music scene out there, there are lots of great events and concerts where people hug instead of handshake, and love to fly their freak flag. Love the trees and the animals around you if you are lucky enough to live in the country like me 😉 I feel shocked and displaced after Burning Man, but I refuse to believe in a default world. Its all the same world, and Black Rock is a beautiful desert in Nevada, its not a portal to another dimension. It might feel like that, but really, its on the same planet you are on right now!

  5. Samsa Lila says:

    Wow….these comments and this blog is amazing. I am going to save it for future endeavors and thoughts.

  6. 1.5 cents: =)

    Max your body out – deprive it of water and sleep, send it through multi hour white outs, let silicate burn into your hands with massive camp upkeep… mental exhaustion from anticipation, prepping, planning, follow through, lovely abuse on physiological and mental levels………..

    of course your body and mind will crash. It’s only natural.

    That crash would perpetuate this cycle of lust in me…. and I would make my entire existence about planning, preparing, communing, partying with the crew…. and about 5 years into that I realize my life was stunted…. that I was wrapped into a concept of something so freeing, that I was actually fettered by the idea of it.

    I hadn’t seen a differen valley or peak or body of water….. every year I would spend all my time welding and building and prepping and doing…

    and I noticed my life lost so much color and depth and actual experience.

    So now… that drab complexity of greys and uniformity in the real world is altered for me. I might not go to the burn anymore, but I carry with me the energy, creativity, enthusiasm, LUST FOR LOVE… into everything I do, and I color my world with that mentality… and I draw outside the mother fucking lines… I draw that color all over and I press hard on the crayon and that wax bleeds onto the pages of my life and other peoples existences… so in new cultures or cities or experiences I always have what I learned from the Burn without being tied into the cult like fervor of jaded wanderers confused about their ennui. It’s like no one ever crashed from a trip before.

    Let me assure you…. these crashes happen all the time, every day… from little lost loves to the end of a spiritual vacation with a lover.

    It’s just that the stark schism between that moon like existence to the office chair caterwaul against the psyche…. it’s so unnatural a dichotomy.

    So one day, I just decided…..

    That energy, love, spirit for adventure and passion for human connection doesn’t belong to one week a year. It belongs to all 52. When I realized that, the Burn became totally moot to me…. and I stumble forward into oblivion with burgeoning passion in my heart and exploration at my doorstep.

    It’s an amazing force.

    But you let it become less important if it only exists on the playa.

    Never limit yourself. It’s not just the playa or the dream of that world. It will eat you up and stunt your growth in life. Never limit yourself to one week a year, or even the 2 weeks a year people pine for from an office desk….

    As Maude says,

    “A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. *Reach* out. Take a *chance*. Get *hurt* even. But play as well as you can,Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room.”

    So… go live and love some more. Don’t wait. The Burn is so much bigger than Nevada… don’t let it control you. Control it… and

  7. Penny says:

    I have to say that my first burn this year was MAGICAL. I likened it to being in the land of OZ, after which the ‘default world,’ as I first heard of the term, was like returning to Kansas, the world of black and white. “Why in the world would Dorothy want to go back to that dusty, boring old farm?” I asked myself after my first BM adventure. But then I suddenly remembered all the wonderful people I had waiting for me at home and reminded myself that one cannot remain in the land of dreams forever. Eventually the clock strikes twelve and turns gilded carriage turns back into a pumpkin (or in this case, a brightly lit art car turns back in to a Honda Civic, lol). It still seems like such an unnecessary schism, since there’s nothing against bringing a little color back to the default world.

    BM 2010 is over. Instead of being bummed out about it, I feel like I have something to look forward to next year, and that humanity isn’t as hopeless as I had once believed because of the good will, charity, and limitless imagination and drive I experienced that week. I can tell, however, that my default world friends and family don’t get it. Some of them find it exciting, although they’d never go; and some of them think it’s just plain dumb. All agree, however, that they’ve noticed a change in me. They saw I seem livelier and happier since my return. I’m still buzzing off the whole experience. I don’t know how long it will last, but I don’t plan to let it go to waste. Have an awesome year, everybody, and see you at the next burn!

  8. Monica says:

    This was my first burn. I’ve been soooo sad that it’s over.

  9. fyi, this has been floating around and I figured you might enjoy it. Nutmeg Alfredo, BRCPO

    The Arctic Monkey’s Post-Playa Decompression Guide
    > In the interest of helping give a concise, helpful, guided re-entry
    > into civilization after being at Burning Man, I wrote down a series of
    > rules for Radical Re-Entry. After seeing four email threads flare up
    > and two potential life-changing events start up with various friends
    > over the years, here’s the short version:
    > Monkey Re-Entry Rule Number 1:
    > Wait three weeks before you make any life-changing decisions.
    > But let me change that up a bit so it makes more sense.
    > When returning from the playa, you will be hot, dusty, tired,
    > exhausted. Your body will have undergone immense stress, and if you
    > live in a vastly different environment, your body will likely react by
    > getting a cold (especially if you kissed anyone at the Space Froggie
    > Free Kissing Booth).
    > Step 1. Take a shower, hippie. Shave, shower, steam everything off.
    > Take two. Or three. Then go to sleep. You need it.
    > Step 2. Clean your gear. Wash your clothes, car, stuff, or pack it up
    > into the Burner corner of your house. Pack it away and dry it out.
    > Recycle, do your garbage, and wash your dishes. Get it put away.
    > Step 3. Breathe. Go through all your Burner stuff from this year, sort
    > and organize, and then happily stash it away for good memories for
    > later.
    > Now that your physical needs are out of the way, let’s go to the mental
    > needs.
    > Yes, it was! Wow. Did you see that one guy with the thing? Those two
    > girls? That…why are you looking at me like that? I’m just trying to
    > explain it to you.
    > Right. The people who didn’t go are going to eye you with either
    > jealousy or trepidation, and your social acceptability standards while
    > on playa are different from the real world. While you CAN expect the
    > world to change to fit the Burning Man model, it seems to work better
    > if you don’t try to put your shoulder up against the wheel of the Real
    > World right away until you figure out how that whole leverage thing
    > works as more than just a metaphor. A single butterfly may make
    > changes to the world’s weather, but sometimes they just get blown into
    > a bug zapper by the wind. Slow down there, Mr. Burner Evangelist.
    > You’ve got 360 days before you’re heading back to the Awesome. Let
    > your own brain process the nifty neato cool awesome, then hand it off
    > to others.
    > You just don’t get it.
    > Okay there, Mr Cranky McCrankerpants. Did you forget to take your
    > 5-HTP afterwards? Are you still dehydrated? Are you wondering what the
    > $3,490 charge for “snacks” might be on your visa bill? That’s your own
    > stuff and it’s not up to the people around you – your loved ones, your
    > hamster, your dog, your listmates, your campmates, your neighbor – to
    > make accomodations for your emotional state post-playa. That’s
    > entirely your bag of playafied emotional entanglements to work
    > through. Take a few more minutes to consider what you’re saying on
    > email to people. Reread, check your emotions, and maybe put down the
    > phone to keep yourself from doing irreparable harm to your
    > relationships because you didn’t sleep for a week and are still seeing
    > the Sleep Deprivation Leprechauns in your dreams. Slow down. Put your
    > gear in order, wash your dishes, go for a long walk. Then go back and
    > talk to your friends. If this is directed at people you camped with or
    > your patience level is abysmally low,
    > ?maybe you should also take what we in the business call “A Chill
    > Pill” and go shut up in a dark corner with some Funyuns for a while.
    > Not bitching people out for supposed insults or slights or yelling at
    > people for their “stupidity” is a good way to keep and maintain your
    > friendships. Also, try not to play Mr. Huffy or Ms. Huffy about
    > imagined or unimagined stuff that went on or didn’t go on at the event
    > that you failed to communicate and ergo, the other party SHOULD have
    > known by magically reading your mind/emotional state. You will keep
    > people from thinking you’re a total whackjob and/or raging asshat who
    > can’t communicate. And you may keep your friends, instead of driving
    > them before you.
    > And now back to Monkey Rule Numero Uno, PERIOD. (See? I ramble, but I
    > return to the point.)
    > Do not quit your job. Do not divorce your wife, husband, sister, dog,
    > parakeet. Do not sell all your possessions and move to Tibet to be a
    > monk. Do not ditch your car and travel the world. Do not found Hobbit
    > Camp. Do not plan a giant zeppelin for next year’s Burn. Do not move
    > out of your house, break up with your girlfriend, boyfriend, get
    > married, move in your playa lover, sell your car, ditch your friends,
    > or make other rash decisions after you come home. This is important,
    > because the playa is still going to be in your brain, and the effects
    > are like that of rareified stupid sometimes. It will make total sense
    > to have a threesome with your significant other and someone in an
    > enormous rabbit costume at the Burn; in reality the ears get caught in
    > the ceiling fan. Make sure if you have major life decisions to make,
    > you make them AFTER you settle down and settle in. The emotions and
    > the stress will still be in your system for some time; do not allow
    > them to unduly influence y
    > ?our life.
    > Take some B-vitamins, some 5-htp, drink plenty of water and eat a good
    > meal or two that you cooked yourself, go to bed early and read a good
    > book. You earned it. That major life-changing decision will still be
    > there in three weeks, and if you reduce the sheer volume of stress you
    > have, it will make those decisions easier to deal with AFTER you have
    > time to put away all the other issues and emotions post-Burn.
    > You might not pay any attention to this little guide, or you might
    > say, “That’s for suckers! Real Burners quit their jobs and go work in
    > an iron foundry with those guys they met that one night on the playa
    > or go get married with that beautiful playa nubnub in Vegas! We don’t
    > need your stinkin’ recommendations, Monkey!” And you would be right
    > (and I will happily watch you run off while popping my popcorn and
    > pulling up a chair). But if you want to have an easier time recovering
    > from the playa, you might take a little time down to remember what the
    > rest of your year goes like, and adjusting your brain, your living
    > patterns, and your emotional safety nets accordingly. It really does
    > help, especially if you THINK you got all the dusty bananas out of
    > your tent before you packed it away.
    > Anyway, that’s it. Don’t stress. Pack your stuff away, and wait three
    > weeks before making any life-changing decisions.
    > Oh, and be nice to people. At the end of three weeks, you can be a
    > jerk again if you want to.

  10. Enjoyed your article, thanks for thinking about these things and I especially appreciate how you capture some of the magic there, and I do hope you’ll write about that, as well. you’re a great writer, nice and colorful for me. My write-up from my trip (11th) is here: http://tinyurl.com/septtheeleven2010 – my head is still buzzing. and all the hugs, love, smiles, serendipity, is still washing over me. and, it is hard coming back. though my life is pretty sweet, there’s nothing that compares to opening my tent, looking out at a fresh new day and those mountains!

  11. ^Rhino! says:

    Thanks for the post. It rings true.

    Off playa, many are driven to thoughts of suicide or worse. If ANYONE needs the help, get in touch with me at the Burningman Tribe at Tribe.net. Our 2-year old group, the Radical Life Institute, is precisely what’s needed. Partly self-help and partially supporting others, our intent is to aid the burner with the funky down feelings who’s attended the event and needs encouragement.

    Well done, zdeaconblue. We all need to be reminded of what you’re saying. You get four stars from me.

  12. inky says:

    I can appreciate this point of view, and see how one might feel that way. Other than feeling physically bad, I don’t share that emotional thing. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty much able to be as weird and individual as I want at home as I was at Burning Man? While there I was thinking now is the chance to be “myself” yet I didn’t see much difference from my at-home “me”. It could be that my disability of six years has shaken up my perspective because before that I think I was much more reserved.
    Looking forward to the next burn! Aside from those who just party and get high there, I love to see people so laid-back and enjoying life so much.

  13. jeremy says:

    thanks for this post… it is 100% dead on for me after my first burn last week.

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