For one week every year--from the last Monday in August to the first Monday in September--the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert becomes the fifth largest city in the state. Suddenly appearing in the blazing hot dessert like a shimmering mirage, “Black Rock City” has become the first fully psychedelic city on the planet.
For those who don’t know, the Burning Man festival is a week-long annual event held in the Black Rock Desert of Northern Nevada, known as “the playa,” that celebrates radical freedom and visionary creativity. It’s been taking place, and growing in size, every year since 1986.
Although I won’t be able to make the event this year, in previous years, spending time in Black Rock City ranks among some of the most incredible experiences of my life.
The environment there can certainly be a huge challenge, but the festival itself is truly spectacular, in so many ways, and I’ve had profound experiences there that deeply renewed my sense of hope in our wayward species.
The Black Rock Desert is a flat, 400 square mile, prehistoric lake bed, that’s completely devoid of any vegetation or animal habitats, and the weather conditions there are pretty much the worst that I’ve ever experienced in my life.
When one arrives on the playa, it feels like one is landing on Mars, or like one has entered the post-apocalyptic, globally-warmed remains of a dead biosphere.
Wild and windy dust storms are a regular occurrence there, and during the day, the temperature is generally well over 100 degrees.
The alkaline dust is often so thick in the air that people can barely see more than a few feet in front of them. The playa dust gets into--and permeates--everything, making it absolutely impossible to stay clean.
It’s generally not a terribly pleasant experience to lie inside of a small hot, sweaty tent, or to wander around the sunshine-drenched playa, wearing little more than a protective pair of ski goggles over one’s eyes, and a wet bandana over one’s nose, in the midst of all the blinding chaos.
Then, when the sun goes down, the temperature quickly drops to around 40 degrees, but it often feels much colder, when the strong dry winds blow across the playa.
In addition to these less-than-ideal weather conditions, the whole week can be an intensely socially-overloading, noisy, sleep-depriving experience. Burning Man is no pleasure cruise, that’s for sure.
However, despite all these difficult challenges, being at Burning Man has also been among the most beautiful and enriching experiences of my life! Simply spending a week in Black Rock City can easily be as profoundly transformative as a full-blown psychedelic experience.
Like an LSD journey, it’s difficult to describe this enchanted place in words. Burning Man really has to be experienced to be understood.
It’s a magical place, where synchronicities and surprises abound. Hands down, Burning Man is the greatest art show on Earth--it is truly beyond spectacular, absolutely incredible to behold.
Photographs simply can’t capture the immensity and wonderfully animated, unearthly insanity of it all.
Burning Man is the collective imagination materialized--where every cultural icon, every childhood memory, and every archetypal and beyond-belief psychedelic vision, is brought to life. This truly unique festival is the ultimate otherworldly carnival, the most deliciously surreal, dream circus imaginable.
But what has always struck me most about Burning Man, and what really inspires me, is the incredible sense of community, the enormous amount of generosity there, and the living fact that--for at least one week a year--a truly psychedelic civilization is possible on planet Earth.
Black Rock City is our planet’s first truly psychedelic society. The psychedelic imagination becomes tangible there, no money is allowed to be exchanged, and there is a feeling of almost complete freedom.
Nothing can be bought or sold in Black Rock City; nor is there any bartering allowed. Everyone there simply shares their gifts, their visions, and their creativity with everyone else--and it works! Almost everyone there is psychedelically-experienced and unusually creative.
It’s a whole city--almost 50,000 people--of visionary artists, and a huge percentage of the people there are tripping on psychedelic drugs.
Black Rock City is a post-terrestrial, post-survival society, built upon the spirit of a simple aspiration--to delight and marvel the senses, to blow people’s minds.
It feels as though a powerful ‘morphic field’ is created in Black Rock City; gathering together so many electrified nervous systems in one place seems to accelerate and elevate everyone’s consciousness.
Just about all of the people that I’ve spoken with in Black Rock City report feeling high there, or like they’re tripping, whether they do psychedelics or not.
Being in Black Rock City helped me to realize that the very things that prevented me from going to the festival in previous years--the expense, all the necessary preparations and time off from work, the extremely harsh environmental conditions--are actually deterrents that weed out anyone who doesn't really want to be there.
So the people that make it there are generally pretty special.
Evolutionarily speaking, the citizens of Black Rock City are akin to the first amphibians who crawled out of the sea on to dry land--and, of course, Burning Man’s ultimate geographic destiny lies in high orbit, in the Heavens, amongst the stars.
Attending the Burning Man festival ranks high among the most spiritually-transformative experiences of my life. I suspect that the playa dust in the Black Rock desert may be psychoactive or hallucinogenic, as my experiences there feel like psychedelic trips.
I journeyed into one of the most powerful mystical transformations, and shared transcendent experiences, of my life at Burning Man, while watching the Temple burn on the final night of my first time there.
When ‘The Man’--i.e. the cultural establishment--burns on Saturday night, it’s the wildest party on Earth. However, when the Temple burns on the following night, and burners ritualistically release their grief into the fire, almost everyone there is totally silent.
Watching the Temple burn can be a truly shamanic journey, and, to this day, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of love for everyone there.
Returning home from Burning Man can be a bit difficult, as many people experience a vulnerable period of reentry. After my first time there, I wasn’t able to speak about my experiences there for the first few days without crying, as I was so deeply moved by it all.
Bless all the inhabitants of Black Rock City. I look forward to returning to the enchanted metropolis next year. See you out on the playa!
To learn about the specific design and setup for Burning Man this year see:
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