7 “Spiritual” Lessons From My Week at Burning Man – Part III: Self, Society, Spirit

Adam Gilad
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PART III: Self, Society, Spirit

(This is Part 3 of a 3 Part Series on “Burning Man as Spiritual Teacher” by Adam Gilad. Adam is an Emmy-Nominated producer and author and leader whose teaches how to awaken through freedom into love.)

4. Our Socio-Economic Values Need To Be Aggressively Revised

In some ways, you can view human culture as an ongoing battle (a true “dance macabre”) between fear and love.

In this corner… fight or flight.

And in this corner… face and embrace.

We live in a harrowing new age of anxiety where every flu-ish duck, every mile of melted ice-cap, every new demonic breed of hurricane, every act of violence, every call for jihad or vengeance or imperial wrath unleashed is shuttled around the globe at lightning speed.

Ignorance of what we humans are wreaking upon the planet and its residents – and upon each other – is no longer bliss.

It is a cop-out.

Yet, what are we to do?

Can we really feed all those starving children? Get jobs back for those good people in the factories of Detroit and North Carolina whose lives have been auctioned off to the vast sweatshops of Guangzhou? Stop the slaughter of elephants, rhinos, sea-life and who knows what undiscovered flora and fauna in the Amazon, the very lungs of our biosphere?

I wish I could.

As I’m sure you wish you could.

But you and I are specks against the monied machinery of destruction.

Things need to change, and only the greed-addled, vestigial rearguard of a filthy, reckless industrial economy (yes, you – Brothers Koch and “Fox and Fiends”) are paving a path of lies to prevent the necessary changes.

The changes will come sooner – or too late.

The hoarding of wealth in the top 1%, decimating the good people of the middle class. Fracking of the water tables. Wiping out the large fish supply of our oceans. To say nothing of the fact that more and more, we are a security apparatus with a country rather than a country with a security apparatus.

Eisenhower warned us. Jesus warned us. Tom Paine warned us.

Endless growth and profit-as-highest-human-purpose are unsustainable and, because we possess limited resources, ultimately a villainous philosophy.

Now let me be clear, because this has become a (well-funded) knee jerk subject…

Our Western liberal economic system has liberated humanity from misery and penury more than any philosophy or religion ever. And infinitely more than any socialist ideal.

Our wealth and economy is perhaps humanity’s most astonishing achievement.

It’s just got a bit off the rails, ladies and gents.

Our economic freedom needs to be tempered with wisdom and responsibility and brotherhood, and right now those forces are being pummeled (read: lobbied) into retreat.

Or as Bill Maher put it, ‘yeah, I know what you’re thinking: ‘But Bill, the profit motive is what sustains capitalism.’ Yes, and our sex drive is what sustains the human species, but we don’t try to f**k everything!”

Breaking free into a new level of an evolved, wise economic society is NOT something that can be done, as Russia and China have tried and failed, with top-down coercion.

It is something that has to bubble up from the wisdom and goodness and far-sightedness of the human spirit.


What does this have to do with Burning Man?


Because Burning Man is not merely the party of all parties. Not merely a rave in the desert.

It is an experiential visioning of a new way of being…

And core to the experience are the 10 Principles that founder Larry Harvey sketched out about 9 years ago. Everybody who goes gets a copy of these Principles. Everybody knows them.

The idea is to not only live these values on the Playa, but to bring them home and make them part of our daily lives. Here they are as articulated by Larry Harvey, with my summarized, extracted lessons…

Principle I: Radical Inclusion
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
Spiritual lesson: there is no “other.” Othering is the source of division, hatred, genocide.
Principle II: Gifting
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
Spiritual lesson: we are each most whole and happiest when we operate from generosity and a sense of abundance.
Principle III: Decommodification
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
Spiritual lesson: the best things in life don’t have logos on them
Principle IV: Radical Self-Reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
Spiritual lesson: it’s all you, baby. No excuses.
Principle V: Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
Spiritual lesson: to create is to awaken continually. Water your seeds, and shelter the saplings of others.
Principle VI: Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
Spiritual lesson: we’re in the game together, folks. There is no such thing as a “self-made” man, or woman.
Principle VII: Civic Responsibility
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
Spiritual lesson: be smart, be nice, keep your agreements, hold the container meticulously.
Principle VIII: Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Spiritual lesson: it’s the Boy Scout rule. It’s true for campsites. It’s true for your friends and lovers. And it’s true for the eco-system.
Principle IX: Participation
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Spiritual lessons: come out of the shadows and shine your light, muthafucka!
Principle X: Immediacy
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience
Spiritual lesson: be here, now. Always.

In sum, these 10 sound simple.

In practice, they are profound and challenged by distractions, fear, heart-contraction, convenience, greed.

And most destructively, these principles are challenged by cynicism. Any one or any organization that sets itself us as “moral” is bound to invite sticks and stones. And especially when it’s done on this massive scale.

Are the principles kept immaculately by everybody?

Of course not, although I love picking up MOOP (“matter out of place”) on the Playa when I pass it, and it warms my heart to see others doing the same, unprompted.

And ironically, as my son has mordantly pointed out, two main benefactors of Burning Man are the oil industry, filling all the RVS converging in the middle of nowhere, and Wal-Mart, whose Reno shelves are stripped bare by the pilgriming hordes.

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