Burning Woman: A Birgin’s Experience

September 15, 2010

I’ll start with admitting that it’s impossible to really describe the all-senses, non-stop assault experience of Burning Man.

As Campbell/Kant said, “The best things can’t be told because they transcend thought. The second best are misunderstood, because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can’t be thought about. The third best are what we talk about.”

So, you’re getting third best here.

First off, I’ve never laughed so much in my life.

Secondly, and more importantly, I met someone amazing at Burning Man – myself.

Best moment? Too many. Maybe dancing on a mutant vehicle/art car/boat overlooking the Playa just after the Burn, above a sea of colorful, blinking, undulating lights…or seeing a Double Rainbow the first day, after which everyone ran through the muddy streets screaming, “What does it MEEEEEEEEEEEAN?????”…or our shenanigans with a mannequin head that we found and named Ana and painted a beard on…or the amazing conversation I had on Tuesday night with some dimpled guy named Dean who saw right through me, ripped me apart, made me cry (in a good, cathartic way), then told me I’d have a son named Tyler…or looking out over the horizon from the Death Star mutant vehicle and being unable to tell where the sky ended and the earth began, so it seemed that the rainbow of crazy lights were floating through the darkness of the universe…or dancing with complete abandon with my newfound friends and my amazing housemate inside the giant dome at Root Society…or riding out to the Temple in a dust storm and coming across a line of huge wind chimes as a huge white monster emerged from the dust…or watching the much-anticipated sun rise with thousands of other people clad all in white…or snaking our way up to the edge of the Burn on a human wave of barely-controlled mayhem, risking third degree burns, incineration by fireworks, and death.

Burning Man at night.

Dancing after the Burn

My roommate/travel buddy & I in our dust gear.

The Man at sunrise.

There was much dancing!

Upon returning, I found myself afraid to watch TV and risk diluting my memories. Burning Man was like a dream – surreal, fantastical, much of it utter nonsense. Like the man with the megaphone singing dolphin songs. There were so many unique moments, it was impossible to retain all of them. People there were playful, enjoying themselves, living life. When we left and got back to Reno, everyone we saw seemed so bored, dull & lifeless in comparison.

Walking through the hotel lobby, I realized how much I’d enjoyed not being advertised to AT ALL for an entire week. I also enjoyed not having to think about money. No calculating, no feelings of lack, no negotiating as to whether I could afford this or that or whether it was worth it. I also loved not turning on my cell phone for a week, and the undivided attention you get from people (and the undivided conversations you can have) when no one’s texting or answering a call or checking Facebook. Driving home, cars looked like mutant vehicles – a happy smiling ambulance, a sinister red-eyed semi staring us down. Getting home I only wanted to talk to the people who were there with me, because I didn’t want to have to make feeble attempts at describing the fun craziness of it all.

Before I left, people told me Burning Man would be a life-changing experience. The second day in, when I had one of the strangest and most intense conversations of my life with a beautiful, laser-eyed Australian, I thought maybe they were right. But now I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s going to change my life; I have to live my life and see if it’s changed. I suppose it has changed in that I had the experience; I understand what Burning Man is; I’ve seen the awesomeness of the thousands of lights that have been dragged out into the middle of the desert at night, burning of their own accord, off the grid. I’ve witnessed true magic, beautiful insanity, and joy and love and kindness, and the incredibly creative spirit of humans, manifested in physical reality.

I’d say Burning Man is part summer camp, part manic Electric Light Parade on crack, part circus, part Mad Max beyond Thunderdome, part Woodstock, part rave, part art festival, part Renaissance Faire, part Moulin Rouge. (It’s got a bunch of other sides too – spiritual, yogic, vegetarian, bacon loving, sexual, etc).

I was continuously amazed that all of the art and structures and camps and lights and food and booze and sound systems and shade structures and costumes and decorations had been dragged out there JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE WANTED TO – not to make money, not because it was their job, not because it was expected of them. Pure creation, pure manifestation.

One of the things someone built just because they wanted to.

Another one of those things.

However, surprisingly, I never felt overwhelmed. Burning Man was pretty much what I expected it would be – thousands of giant, sexually mature children, playing and laughing and running around and doing whatever the hell they felt like doing. But then, I did a ton of research before I went out – amassed packing lists, watched videos, read blogs, interrogated everyone I met who’d been to Burning Man. I’m a planner, and planning a trip, for me, is at least half the fun.

I was amazed at how everything always worked out perfectly.There were so many magical moments and strange synchronicities. During the crazy week, I lost only one thing – a necklace, which was probably the one (out of 8) that a psychic told me was oppressing me about 15 minutes before I lost it.

In a totally flat, talc-y space of multiple miles, surrounded by 51,000 people, I frequently ran into people I knew, often right after I asked the Universe for a sign. When I followed my intuition, it would lead me somewhere I’d been wanting to go – case in point, following an urge to check out a statue I’d seen from a distance one morning at 7am after meditating out by the Temple as the sun rose, I ended up in front of the HeeBeeGeeBee Camp, whose address wasn’t listed in the Burning Man directory and for which I’d been searching for 4 days. An acroyoga class had just commenced as I pulled my bike up to the rack. My acroyoga partner ended up being a gentle giant named Pan, who happened to be a masseuse…talk about a perfect morning.

I was baffled that more people didn’t get hurt or die out there. One of the main tenants of Burning Man is radical self-reliance (the other is radical self-expression). On the self-reliance side, there are PLENTY of opportunities to mess yourself up – huge spinning metal lattice globes that could easily slice off all your fingers, structures that reach stories off the ground that you can climb, whenever and however you want to, with no ropes or safety nets or lifeguards. It reminded me of driving in Italy – it seems totally chaotic and dangerous, but it also seems like this causes people to be MORE attentive and mindful – thus, few rules, less order, but at the same time fewer accidents and injuries.

You can see my tiny shadow perched at the highest point of this 40-foot honeycomb structure.

What did I learn? Here’s a short list (and I know many of these are cliches, but when I say learn, I mean that I experienced the truth of these statements, and got to live them):

Let go.
All things are transient.
Nothing lasts.
Be yourself.
Express yourself.
Everything and everyone is you / a reflection of you.
Laughter is the best thing.
Trust the Universe, it will provide for you.
You are loved and supported.
Everyone is a friend you haven’t met yet.
Trust your instincts and intuition.
You are stronger than you think you are.
Snocones and Root Beer Floats are incredible inventions.

I’d say that Burning Man is for anyone who loves adventure; anyone who can appreciate art and beauty; anyone who can take care of themselves; anyone who can deal with dust, extreme heat and extreme cold (the cold was much worse than the heat this year, as far as I’m concerned…but then again, our camp had 1,200 gallons of water and big frigid misting fans); anyone searching for a place to move beyond their fears; and anyone who loves people, and/or who hates what normal society stands for and how it conditions us.

Burning Man gives you a huge dusty free space to shed (or burn) your conditioned limitations and habits and modes of being, to express yourself as you want to, and be accepted for whatever that is.

Black Rock City from above. I was randomly/magically able to fly over it in a private jet.



(*note – This is the first of a series! I will post more detailed accounts of my Burning Man experiences, so subscribe or stay tuned! Posts go up every Wednesday at 11:11am).


11 Responses to “Burning Woman: A Birgin’s Experience”

  1. Lauren said

    love this so much Michelle! I’m the same way, I’ve read so much, talked to everyone I possibly can, watched videos all Burning Man. Planning is half the fun 🙂 and seriously, the double rainbow, I can’t believe it! so amazing and hilarious.

  2. Shannon said

    i love the way you write and totally admire people who can express themselves like this, i can’t :(. for example i’m a planner myself and think planning is half the fun as well, but have never been able to express it that way, weird?! thanks…cant’ wait to hear more about the trip!

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Grant Skoog, Michelle Perry. Michelle Perry said: Burning Woman: A Birgin's Experience http://wp.me/peE74-6o […]

  4. Christopher Smith said

    Beautiful and amazingly accurate, my darling darling friend.

  5. Christopher Smith said

    I just re-read this and almost started crying at work. I really plan to go this year.

    • lunasealife said


      It’s funny, I’d already forgotten a lot of the stuff I wrote about. I’m so glad I wrote this. More this year!!!

      I love seeing our bikes outside the kitchen every morning! 😀

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