My takeaways from Burning Man, Including How to Make Everything Play.

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photo credit:

Hello Readers! 

I’m back from a week (or 9 days) in the dust! Although Burning Man has a reputation of being all parties and art, it is also a city with many different workshops, events, and volunteer opportunities to fill up your days. Burning Man can also be described as a third party or entity like a trickster house elf, creating magical circumstances and serendipity, while also destroying your plans and bringing up your inner struggles. Ah, what a wonderful place to work on ourselves!

Along with the usual challenges of heat, exhaustion, physical discomfort (see: dust) and relationship wobbles, I was presented with some wonderful gifts: 

  • Respond to People with Love - While in an Authentic Relating workshop that my partner Ben was teaching, a begoggled young man told me about this concept as one of his life philosophies. It really hit home and felt like something I needed to hear.  I can be a blunt person and one of my flaws is that I can get frustrated or disappointed with people easily, as I value efficiency and have strong ideas about the “right” way to do any task. It was a wonderful reminder to practice kindness. Even though I have not had enough awareness to practice it on the spot, the concept has been on my mind a lot and I hope it is influencing my interactions. 

  • Patience - Dang this one might have been the theme of my whole burn. It comes up a lot for me there as everything happens in it’s own sweet time. Although it’s a wonderful place and most people don’t have an agenda or anywhere to be, the amount of lines and waiting for things can easily get frustrating. Deep breaths! When I think about patience, the other side of it is expectations, which was a big theme for me last year when nothing happened as I thought it should. It would be nice to be able to to find a way to cherish the spacious time spent waiting. Rather than getting annoyed, look around and see who I could connect to, maybe meditate, or use the time to reflect. I’ve usually spent the time waiting for delicious free treats, like Grilled Cheeses and S’mores, so who am I to complain?

  • Make Less Plans, Luxuriate in Unscheduled Time - Burning Man is a place where once a year I am removed from the connectivity of my phone and computer. It is a place where I am free from work and the responsibilities of home. And yet since it was my 4th year in a row, I felt passionate about giving back to the experience and took a page out of my life at home, by overcommitting and over scheduling myself. I was volunteering at my camp doing crowd control for our lovely shower experience, attending a mandatory training for Zendo the peer-support festival safe space that I work at a couple times a year, working my 8hr Zendo shifts, plus Burning Man Choir practice. I hardly had a free day. Early in the week I had one 5+hr playa date with a friend where we casually ventured from one fun camp or offering to another, while having great conversations and really taking it slow, knowing that we had nowhere to be and no phones to distract us. I realized how rare that is for me in the default world, to deeply connect and luxuriate in spacious time; I knew immediately that I wanted to take this home with me and integrate it into my day to day life. Really allowing the magic of the day and my desires in the moment to unfold. 

  • Play - this is the final big takeaway and probably the theme of Ben’s entire burn. Ben, who taught 5 workshops at his camp on top of his mandatory camp cooking and greeting shifts, ending up spraining his ankle on Thursday when he finally gave himself a free window to explore. He found himself stressed, overcommitted and feeling like he wasted his burn. On the ride home he read this entire book on Play. Although I haven’t read the book yet (I’m reading 3 on Zero Waste, one on Belonging, another on Feminine Energy and a novel, all at once!), my takeaways from Ben were a discussion of how we define play, how we played as kids vs. how we play now and the mindset shift of making everything play.

What is Play / How is it Defined? 

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photo credit:

In the Book, Play by Stuart Brown, he defines the Properties of Play as:

  • Apparently purposeless (done for its own sake) - It is not done for a practical or survival value, like getting food or money.

  • Voluntary

  • Inherent attraction - It’s fun or makes you feel good.

  • Freedom from time - You can lose yourself in the activity for extended periods of time

  • Diminished conciousness of self - We stop worrying if we cool smart, cool, or stupid.

  • Improvisational potential - We are open to serendipity, to chance.

  • Continuation desire - We desire to keep doing it. The pleasure of the experience drives the desire. 

How did you Play and how do you now? 

On our looooonnnnng multi state journey home in the RV, Ben asked me about how I played as a child. The first memory that came up for me was playing with my Barbie dolls. I used to love to dress them up, trade outfits, and style them for certain occasions. This particular mode of play reflected well on my prep and time at Burning Man. A week or so before we head out every year, I spend a good day and a half trying on different combination of loud pieces, bright colors, interesting textures and lots of accessories, then pack my outfits into individual bags to optimize my time getting dressed there since its gets hot pretty early in my tent. 

Some other ways that I used to play as a child was by being goofy, acting out scenes, singing, dancing, etc. I noticed that I still like improv and performing, although I am much more self-conscious as an adult. 

As I grew up, I noticed that I still retained a playful voice and character when I was expressing my goofy side. Although my friends like it, I’ve had some mixed reflections from partners about the attractiveness of playing out my inner child. In the few times that that conversation came up, I would become really sad, thinking that I would have to finally leave this fun part of myself behind. Now I understand that it was sadness in thinking that I had to stop playing, that I needed to always be serious (which I am too much already) to be an adult. I am so grateful for this understanding and glad to have a place for both sides of me to coexist. 

Off and on over the last year I had noticed a complacency in me creep up. Even though I travel, have lots of free time, a beautiful partner and great friends, I was feeling pretty ho-hum with my life and often feeling low energy, numb or dull. Recently I found that singing (especially in groups), dancing, and my spiritual practices like tea ceremonies, lead me to feel soul connected, energized and bright. I thought that it had to do with a connection to spirit but now I am seeing that it may have more to do with Play. 

How do I make everything Play? 

This all got me thinking about my work and how I can make games with myself on hitting certain goals and completing tasks. I’ve been known to bogged down with emails and yet I’ve noticed that the notification of new messages gets me excited. How can I take that excitement and run with it before it transforms into overwhelm, boring task dread? I am making time games, changing up tasks on the hour and asking myself often how to infuse my doing with play.  

How do I carry this forward? 

The answer is awareness. Ben and I are making a game of sharing “one way that we are going to play that day”, each morning. If you live alone, maybe you could journal it. I notice that tasks are much less daunting looked through the lens of place. As a chronic procrastinator, I am excited to finally have a tool that can help me get through the must do in a breezy way!

How do you Play or make your work or daily tasks Play? I’d love to hear your ideas.


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