09/05/2014 12:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Burning Man Isn't Perfect -- And How to Come Home


Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound, shared a story about how he was shamed by a student after returning from a wilderness adventure he led. "You took me out there, but you didn't teach me how to come back!!!" The experience of learning what you are made of in the natural elements, experiencing epic creativeness, collaborating in a way you didn't know was possible, connecting with strangers with a depth you hadn't imagined, and than being dropped right back into your own life... can be a tad discombobulating.

Now that you have washed your clothes, dusted off your shoes, and finally removed the playa from your hair (did you remember to change your air filter?), you are slowly metabolizing your experiences, making sense of what will stay with you, what you will leave on the playa, and how, or if, that epic transformational moment you experienced at sunrise/in the temple/on the roller rink/at the fence will translate into the default world.

Last year I had great fun writing about the experience of being at Burning Man. This year, I'm writing about not going to the burn. Go figure. But I committed this year to finishing a book. I'm not asking for your sympathy, I wasn't the only one left behind, there were many burners back home holding vigil for you.

When you were out there dancing in the dust, finding your edges...
...We were watching the live stream from over air conditioned cubicles.

When you were feeling out of sorts and wondering if your outfit was really all that...
....we were posting old photos from previous years on FB (and you know we looked good).

While you were opening your hearts to strangers, finding new levels of bliss, rage, joy, and pleasure...
...we were criticizing Burning Man.

While you were sweating in the hot heat of the sun, freezing at dawn, and getting your bikes stuck in sandpits, we were sitting in front of our computers...finding connection...though you.

Heck, we might have even gone through the 7 stages of grief.

Denial and Isolation: We talked about you a lot. We texted about you, FB messaged about you, and wrote articles about you. It was just like we weren't there.

Anger: There were haters among us. They wrote articles shaming Burning Man, as if this made them (and all of us not going), mighty and right for not going. (We'll talk about the haters later.)

Bargaining: We sent texts promising we would go next year, and some of us decided on Thursday to screw it all, packed the bags and joined you.

Depression: This is not to be confused with decompression, but lets call it #FOMO (fear of missing out).

Acceptance: And then you were all gone, and all of the messages looking for tickets and rides silenced, we finally settled into living our life at home as if we were living Burning Man. We grabbed the horse by the reins, eye gazed with our boyfriends, started chatting up strangers at the grocery store, wore that leopard skin miniskirt we just picked up at the thrift store on a hike up a mountain, and handed out cookies to everyone we passed on the trail.

When we found ourselves three hours from home for three days without a change of clothes or a tooth brush, we claimed that we are always in the right place at the right time and went with the flow.

We got a healing session. We offered something to someone they weren't expecting to receive.

And...what can I say, there is nothing like BEING at Burning Man. But it isn't the only place to go to feel magic, it just happens to be a singular location that a lot of people show up at all at once and say yes to experiencing magic together.

But hey, lets go back to one of the point of this piece, which is that Burning Man isn't perfect... and now that you are back from your week of epic adventure, people are nay saying your experience.

One of the biggest complaints flying about is that the rich kids isolated themselves at the far edges of the city and didn't share their toys. (This is different than people creating midnight movie theaters and placing them in the farthest corners of the playa, or building a ridiculously large art car in the shape of a duck...those are generous and extravagant gifts for everyone to experience). But as for K street, the cliche begs to be put to good use: Does art reflect life? Or life reflect art? And are we really saying Burning Man jumped the shark because some of the people attending didn't live the 10 principles?

Jesse Houk, DJ and 11 year burner, posted a rant on Facebook that was too good not to share and hit the nail on the head:

Every idiot can start a 'counter culture' and many people do. But most of these movements fizzle out before they can be tested on a large scale. Burning Man back in the '90s was wild and crazy and free of rules and regulations, sure, but anyone can throw an event like that when only a handful of carefully selected and like-minded people attend. The true challenges of a counter culture arise when such a movement is exposed to all levels of society in large numbers. So in essence, THIS is the phase where the Burning Man experiment actually gets interesting on a philosophical level, and this is the time when the productive and world changing ideas that Burning Man produces stand a chance of being implemented by the default world. After all, the current testing ground of Burning Man is no longer a Utopian one, it has become a real-life mirror of society. This is not an embarrassing side effect of popularity (like the NYT article suggests), but rather an amazing opportunity to test and fine-tune the very foundations of the 10 principles. So anyone who backs out of the BM experiment in this phase with the reasoning that it used to be better with less rules and more hippies, is basically someone who tunes in for just the first quarter of an NBA final. Whereas right now, we're well into the 4th quarter, it's a nail biter, and we're on the friggin team!

Ok, now that we got that covered, you were just about to share your experience of watching sunrise at the temple when the crusty old burner you were chatting with dropped the, Burning Man isn't what it used to be 'cause there's too many people bomb on you.

This is just a matter of simple math, people. In 1990, when Burning Man first started on Baker Beach, the world population was just over 5 billion. In 2014 the planet has over 7 billion. #nothinglefttosay

Alright all you are home. And that wild experience commonly known as Burning Man is reduced to photos, memories, and an amazing team of people still out there picking up your moop.

The one thing that Burning Man gives us for sure, is the continued example that you can't cling to the past. It will burn. And something else will rise in its place next year.

And now all you can do is Catch And Release.

Catch every judgement about what is wrong, and release it. And then...wait for it...another great cliche put to good use... become the change you want to see. Start planning how to green your camp next year (you can practice at home). Imagine what you can give that won't involve buying anything (then practice on unsuspecting strangers in the grocery store). Create your plan for a planet where we all share resources equally (and bring your plan to your city developers).

Be the epic magic you want to experience every day.

Dress up like the archetype you most want to embody and see who talks to you.

Buy a bunch of scarves and hand them out on a cold winter day, and experience the satiation that comes with generosity.

Sit for awhile, rushing off to nowhere, without checking your phone, and see what wants to happen.

Thanks for bringing it back with you.

Welcome home.