Burning Man: Life in Black Rock City

Hello all! Two weeks ago I emerged from the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. I spent seven nights camping in an RV with friends while taking part in the unforgettable festival that was Burning Man. It was one of the top few adventures of my life. I’ll do my best to try to make you guys feel as if you were there with the words that follow.  The weeklong festival felt like such an alternate universe. I cannot recommend it more highly. It is mandatory that you begin planning your BM trip. One thing for certain, the world would be a much better place if we could all attend BM.

I was playing poker this summer when an individual whom to that point I’d known just casually invited me to join Camp Epic at Burning Man. I am so incredibly grateful that he extended the invitation. The members of Epic started attending BM several years ago with only a handful of members. The camp has grown each year and totaled over 120 of us in 27+ RVs for this year’s festival.

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The night that I was invited I was sitting in the hot tub at my house in Vegas pondering whether to make the time and financial commitment to BM. I knew that I’d be joining a camp of people that I honestly didn’t know too well, and truthfully that was the one thing holding me back. I am an introvert at my core. In the past I isolated myself and struggled with vulnerability. Through personal development work I have conquered that battle and find myself much happier. I am just me now. As someone who absolutely loves new experiences I couldn’t turn the opportunity down. I knew I’d meet a ton of great people and that I would thoroughly enjoy myself. I committed that night.

I landed in Reno, Nevada Saturday night and met a handful of my fellow camp members at the Peppermill Hotel and Casino. We had dinner and some drinks, and we BM virgins still didn’t quite know what to expect. When talking to those who had already attended BM, I noticed that they all had a twinkle in their eyes when speaking of the festival. “Just wait,” I was told. I did some online research before the festival to try to prepare myself, but to a degree I wanted to go in blind. I didn’t have expectations. I had two main goals for BM:

1) Exhibit mindfulness as much as possible. Mindfulness has been one of my main overall focuses over the past several years. I feel that I’ve grown immensely through my commitment to being in the Now. I’m becoming better and better at observing my thoughts and how they make me feel.

2) Just listen. Another main focus of mine has been to let go and just listen. Over the years I’ve become very humbled to the fact that I don’t have nearly as many of life’s answers as I thought I did. I’m in tune with the importance of listening and learning from others.

We woke up early on Sunday morning and loaded up the RVs in preparation for our drive up to Black Rock Desert. The drive turned out to be a very special 11 hours. In my RV were three other professional poker players for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect. We talked openly and honestly about the high and low points of our careers, where we are in our lives, and about plans and hopes for the future. It was a cool opportunity to identify with guys who lead similar lifestyles to myself. Traffic was handled such that RVs were stopped completely for an hour at a time multiple times, which allowed us all to exit our cars and RVs and congregate on the side of the two-lane highway. There was one way in and one way out of the desert for us 70,000+ attendees.

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Eventually we arrived at Black Rock Desert late on Sunday night and got our first glimpse of the city in the desert illuminated by neon lights. It is hard to describe that feeling. The amount of time and effort that goes into designing the structures and camps and art pieces to make the neon city go round is unthinkable. Not to mention the creativity. I felt a sense of guilt for being able to just show up and be part of such an amazing camp. It was spectacular, and the fun was just beginning.

You might be thinking, “So what is Burning Man?” For eight nights it is a city existing in the desert between the mountains. It is so picturesque. It is not just a music festival. It is not just a bunch of hippies doing drugs in the desert. It is so much more. I met and spoke with people from all over the world of all ages and from all types of backgrounds. For one week we burners “burn” or escape the traditional capitalistic, competitive, rat race norms that the Man has convinced us is the only way to live. One is free to be unique and himself without judgment as long as he doesn’t violate others. There are no institutions to which we must answer. There are infinite possibilities. At the end of the week we burn a 60 foot tall wooden Man at the biggest party of the festival. There was a spectacular fireworks show along with the burn.

I found there to be oneness among burners where interaction is encouraged and natural. It’s a clear reality that as humans we all long for interaction. There is a real importance to bringing positive energy to all of our interactions, and it’s something at which I’ll continually work. We are not near reaching our capacity, as we don’t recognize the power of talking and learning from others to grow each day.

On Monday morning those of us early arrivals had a camp meeting where our leader discussed how we would function as a camp. Dozens and dozens of our other campmates would arrive later in the week. Some would also leave early for various reasons. At our morning meeting several of the BM veterans spoke, and I got a better sense of how things went down. Our camp included a supply truck containing everything from costumes to batteries to LED lights to backpacks to camelbaks to flashlights. Everything that one would need to have a complete BM experience was at our disposal. At Camp Epic there is not a hierarchy. We are all equals. In addition we had a truck complete with three refrigerators and freezers and tons of shelf space with drinks, complete meals, snacks, alcohol, paper and cooking supplies. My healthy BM diet was pancakes, eggs, burgers, hot dogs, trail mix, cereal bars, turkey roll ups, beef jerky, skittles, and M&M's. 

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Burning Man’s slogan is “A city in the desert. A culture of possibility. A network of dreamers and doers.” Burning Man’s culture is reflected by The 10 Principles found here: http://burningman.org/culture/philosophical-center/10-principles/

I read over the principles multiples times prior to arrival and found them to be so moving. I was curious to see if tens of thousands of us could actually operate according to them while in the desert. The positive energy in the desert is indescribable. I left a changed man as a result of my focus on these principles. I will make a conscious effort to implement them in my day-to-day life.

At Camp Epic we had a barbecue everyday from 2-4 PM where we would feed hamburgers, hot dogs and veggie burgers to anyone in the festival who was hungry. We promoted our BBQ through word of mouth, memorably announcing it over a megaphone to those walking and on bicycle nearby. As the week progressed our BBQ got bigger and bigger as 100+ people consistently waited in line. One of the BM principles is “Gifting” or giving without expecting anything in return. I find this to be so transcendent. Admittedly I don’t do enough gifting in civilian life, and I’ve been inspired to be more selfless. Every camp/burner at BM is asked to gift something. Simply, one should be a net positive to the experience. There is no exchange of money except for a few spots where ice and coffee can be purchased. To name a few, I was gifted champagne, mojitos, pancakes, snow cones and beer over the course of BM.

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I personally had bracelets made with the word “Perspective” printed on them. I gave these bracelets out to many of my campmates and others who I met on the playa. When I’m feeling down I glance at this bracelet and it serves as an instant reset. All pain is temporary and is more quickly and easily soothed by expanding one’s perspective. Like most of you I am guilty at times of being crippled as a result of one bad incident or failure. We are not defined by our failures. Life will provide obstacles and we will mistakes. The sooner we can accept this the better. One can only do her best and control what is in her control. There is nothing we can’t get through as individuals. I am a huge fan of resets as a way of returning to the present. Some of my favorite ways to reset are talking to friends and family, working out and meditating.

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The most powerful reset tool we have is our breath. Up until recently I dealt with a tremendous amount of anxiety about the future, something I’ve rarely if ever talked about in my decade of blogging. I’ve since acquired the ability to realize when my mind is roaming and can generally bring myself back to the present by taking a big breath through my nose and breathing out through my mouth. I’ve recently been able to fully love and trust myself and feel that I’m at an all-time high in terms of overall happiness. In the past I took myself so seriously and was so hard on myself. I’ve now let that go and accept that I will make mistakes. My focus now is to do my best in each situation given my knowledge at that time. The decisions I make today will set the tone for my future, and I don’t need to worry about anything else.

There are so many options for how to spend one’s day while on the playa. I attended a handful of lectures from luminaries including a really cool afternoon listening to Ted Talks. I am committed to a lifelong journey of self-improvement and found the speeches so inspiring. There are workshops ranging from yoga/meditation to skateboarding to breakdancing to reincarnation to proper fisting methods.

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There are all kinds of other cool shit going on. There is a skate park. I rode a bicycle ramp course. There is a roller skating rink. You can play basketball, swing on a swing set, climb rock walls and tons of other structures. Friends and I watched an orchestra perform on the playa while a woman on a trapeze swung above, coordinating her routine to the music. There are multiple camps, ours included, with hammocks to chill on while listening to great music. There are camps with comfortable sleeping setups with pillows galore for those in need of rest while out on the playa. There is an orgy dome for couples, threesomes and moresomes. I watched one morning as a piano was lit on fire and launched through the air (see video below).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZ6p6zEDQoE

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There are art installations of all shapes and forms spread across Burning Man’s seven square miles, and they are true masterpieces. It was so much fun cruising around on bicycle discovering all of the art. My friends and I would hop off and lock up our bikes and get lost in the beauty and creativity.

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In addition there are dozens and dozens of mutant vehicles or “art cars” which cruise around the playa fully illuminated and playing music. At Camp Epic we had one of the best art cars of all, Sparky. We took Sparky out to party nightly. Some of my fondest memories from BM are hanging with new friends dancing on top of our car until the early hours of the morning and engaging in great conversation. I saw two awe-inspiring sunrises while at BM. Some friends and I set an alarm for 4:45 am at which point we awoke and biked out to the deep playa. The thousands of us on the playa cheered and clapped when the sun finally peaked over the mountain range. I had a big smile on my face and couldn't wait to see what the day had in store.

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I really appreciated the introspection I was afforded by this first sunrise. I kept thinking about how lucky I was to be where I was. I have such a spectacular group of family and friends who support me and love me in everything that I do. I wanted everyone I love to be experiencing what I was at that moment.

I’m also giddy to report to you guys that since my last blog entry my girlfriend Justine and I have reconciled, and things are going splendidly. She and I have something so special and undeniable. As I tell her, I’m not sure how I got so lucky. She was unable to attend BM this year due to a schedule conflict but I’m hoping we can make the dream of attending BM together come true next year. I’m currently in Atlantic City, NJ with her and loving every minute! We’re both really excited to continue our journey together. We're both motivated by having new experiences, challenges, learning, traveling, and health and fitness. It’s a very healthy relationship, and I feel as if we have the whole world ahead of us. 

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The party doesn’t stop day or night at BM. This was a huge appeal as I absolutely love dancing to house music. There are DJs spinning different genres of music at camps and on art cars across the festival. I credit dance music for helping dissipate the fear of what other people think of me. I find that dance music is a drug in itself. I catch myself moving to the beat in daily life and need not take mind-altering substances to enjoy it. That said, I very occasionally do and have found them personally beneficial.

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Needless to say I can’t wait to be back at Burning Man. I’m doing my best to operate under the BM Principles in everyday life now. I’m feeling so inspired by it all two weeks later and expect that it will continue. I met some really special people at BM that I expect will be lifelong friends. Check out this time lapse video from the 2013 BM to really put yourself in touch with the experience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=29&v=qNrEqSAviTI

Thank you for reading. I hope that you’re already considering planning a trip to BM. I’m always available to talk about anything via email shannonshorr at gmail dot com. You can follow my poker and life journey, if you wish, on twitter: @shannonshorr.

Love you all,

SS

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