“This is not just an event; it's a spiritual journey”
-A participant in the Burning Man temple
You may be wondering why there is so much buzz around the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock, Nevada, a former lakebed that is hot, dry and windy. While most of the year the area is desolate, it comes to life the last week of August when people from all over the world convene with RV’s, trucks and buses to camp out for a week.
This is even more puzzling when you realize that several of the founders of Google, including Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Marissa Mayer have promoted it around Silicon Valley. It is now possible to see billionaires hang out, dispensing sushi to the hungry participants.
What inspired the young at heart to brave the elements in such a remote region for days on end and fight 50 miles-per-hour winds, raising a menacing dust storm?
Urban culture around the world, unlike that of tribes and villages, has few public festivals, typically relying on private parties and public holidays. More and more, we are distanced from one another, as we spend more time watching a screen than engaging with real life.
Transformational festivals emerge out of nowhere and grow from year to year. They mimic psychedelic experience with extensive visionary art and installations. They feature a pavilion with nonstop fast beats, trance music that can rapidly bring you in state, amplified by a light show. Anyone and everyone can dance by resonating to the rhythm.
They bring people outdoors in beautiful areas and encourage the participants to loosen up on their inhibitions. It is natural to socialize, as people drop their pretenses in such a radical setting. It is like losing your mind while NOT losing your mind. You make friends in seconds or minutes, not the typical days, weeks and months.
If we go back to San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury in 1967 during the Summer of Love, we see a steady progression to today. The Flower Children were inspired by an abundance of marijuana and LSD before the full apparatus of the government came down on psychedelics with a vengeance.
Art, music, lights and dancing unite Haight Ashbury, with its Acid Rock concerts at the Fillmore, with the rave scene of the early 1990’s, powered by rapidly developing technology, highlighting smart drugs, ambient music and first-generation VR displays.
In 1986, the first Burning Man was staged on Baker Beach in San Francisco with just a few people. Every year it grew until the city threw them out, and they found refuge in the austere desert. Artists from all over the world now display their virtuoso masterpieces, and then burn them at the end in compliance with the Leave No Trace policy.
Since Burning Man has been produced for over 30 years, it has spawned a generation of imitations across the U.S. and around the world. Lists of American festivals, especially on the West Coast, are readily available on Festival Fire website. You can also find eye-catching lists for Europe, as well as Asia.
These festivals are global, in that people come from all over the world to participate. Burning Man sells out online within the first 15 minutes! Radical inclusion is part of the ethos, as well as the gift economy. No crass commercialization allowed. Many of the participants are producers, and collaboration is the rule.
Since the requirements to initiate a festival are modest, it comes down to finding an attractive local venue and working with government officials to keep it safe and sane. People find beautiful parks all over the world. Japan, for instance, is over 60% forest. Increasingly, lighting equipment, sound systems and computer technology is available in any country.
Governments throughout the world have recently swung to the right, in response to escalating terrorism, such as ISIS, widespread refugees, such as those from Syria, and increasingly erratic weather patterns, including floods, wildfires, hurricanes and earthquakes. While calls for “law and order” grow, nothing can quench the human spirit. It is difficult to outlaw parties, even fairs.
The New Paradigm of the Quantum Revolution, and the emergence from the East of inner science to balance the external focus of academic science, provides ample reason to entertain other possibilities. With digital graphics and 3D printing, it is now possible to make your dreams “real,” and try them out. The festivals offer a TAZ, or Temporary Autonomous Zone, where participants can risk being themselves, or any other persona they wish.
The complexity and stress of contemporary life in our post-industrial society makes seeking refuge in the divine truly compelling. As more and more people discover the God within, they are emboldened to take action to forge a new global society that puts deep ecology and sustainability at the top of the list.
Transformational festivals offer the possibility of a whole new way of collective being. Traditional religion forms the foundation of most people’s spirituality. Yet it is the rare person who gets more than a glimpse of the mystical dimension. Most religions have failed to establish collective enlightenment with any real scale. Buddha was an exception.
New technologies are emerging to give people direct access to the experience of enlightenment, if only for a moment. James Cameron’s Avatar provided moviegoers an extraordinarily immersive 3D experience. Virtual and Augmented reality are becoming increasingly available. Goggle’s Cardboard interface lets you experience V.R. off a smart phone.
While not sanctioned, new psychedelics, such as 5MeO DMT, can give people a direct experience of “God” in 10 to 20 minutes. These psychedelics have been known to turn veteran atheists into believers overnight! Most of the people who went to meet Ram Dass’s guru, Neem Karoli Baba in Northern India, were inspired by extensive use of what is now called “entheogens.”
You may live far from the West Coast of America, let alone the Playa of the Burning Man Festival. You may not be able to take weeks off to travel to distant places. Chances are great that there is a park in your city or region where authorities might be flexible. You start small, and let it grow. No need to build a bonfire or flaunt mostly illegal substances.
I frequent the Science and Nonduality Conference in San Jose, California, produced by a professional videographer, Maurizio Benazzo, and his wife, Zaya, with exquisite taste and an acute aesthetic sensibility. Year ago, he had actually documented the world’s largest fesitival, the Maha Kumb Mela in India, with 70 million people coming and going over a month’s time!
At the Science and Nonduality Conference, the art, installations, music, keynote speakers, panelists and salons turn your mind upside down and inside out. They foster a community around Advaita Vedanta, or Nonduality, distinguished by some of the greatest contemporary philosophers, scientists and gurus, including the likes of Dr. Deepak Chopra.
If you are dissatisfied with a monotonous routine, you may want to consider a transformational festival soon. Chances are, the world, itself, will be much better for your having gone!