My first morning at Burning Man was emotional. I felt out of place and wondered if I’d made a mistake going to the playa. Behind my fancy, new sunglasses, I cried a hundred tears, and then sped across the desert on my electric bike to find the only person I wanted to see in that moment. He wasn’t there.
With a perplexed and heavy heart, I raced out into the middle of nowhere, zooming past art installations and heading far beyond the crowds. It was there that my bike fell apart and more tears streamed down my face. I allowed myself the sadness in the sweltering heat, and then a voice inside calmly whispered: “Lauren, it’s broken. It’s perfect. We are all broken and perfect. Just walk home.” My mood changed immediately and I laughed at the whole situation, at the truth reflected back to me in my busted, bike.
About 20 minutes into my deep desert stroll, the man I wanted to see showed up with his dad. He told me he was thinking of me too, looking for me—and then out of the dust, he was there. We hugged, and the two of them tried to repair my ride, but to no avail. Fortunately, they were able to take me, and my wheels home.
This serendipitous moment represents the wonder of Burning Man. The chances of this encounter were so slim in a sea of 70,000 people, and yet out there, it made all the sense in the world. We get what we need right when we need it.
It’s hard to put the experience into words. Burning Man is something unique to each person, and for me, it was a place of rich lessons that I’m still integrating.
Burning Man, for the uninitiated, is an annual weeklong arts festival that takes place in the Nevada desert. Burning Man operates on 10 philosophical principles, one of which is “leaving no trace” — which means that once Burning Man is over, all physical remnants of its inhabitants are gone. There are other major features, such as its gifting economy, radical self-reliance, and the most visually obvious of the 10 principles — “radical self-expression.”
Because Black Rock City only exists for a short amount of time each year, it lacks basic infrastructure like indoor plumbing, cellular phone service, paved roads and electricity. Temperatures are steamy during the day and frigid at night. These conditions create challenges for those who choose to adventure in the dust, but for me, the obstacles were a critical part of the experience.