On The 10 Principles of Burning Man

It’s become more and more apparent to me over the past few weeks that most people don’t know much about Burning Man.  For those who have heard of it there seems to be a vast variety of opinions on what it is.  I’ve heard things such as: it’s just a place for “hippies to go do drugs”, it’s a “spiritual experience”, it’s “just another music festival”, and that it will be the best and most difficult week of your life.  There were also plenty of people who were hearing about it from me for the very first time.

I’ll be honest, when I first got my ticket I didn’t really know what I was getting into (still don’t as I’m sitting in the airport waiting to officially start the journey) but I’ve read a lot about Burning Man over the past couple of months.  I’ll be the first to tell you that reading can only get you so far.  With that in mind, I’m trying to be prepared without having expectations.However, there are some things about Burning Man that are applicable not only to burners but to everyone.  I thought before I officially go off into the desert (potentially never to return) I’d highlight the 10 principles of Burning Man, which really is at the very core of week, along with my thoughts on each one before my first burn.

The 10 Principles of Burning Man

Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey wrote the Ten Principles in 2004 as guidelines for the newly-formed Regional Network. They were crafted not as a dictate of how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception.

Radical Inclusion

Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

My Take:  The more I researched about Burning Man the more I realized that there was no “one type” of person that went.  The attendees range all over the spectrum. From the elderly, 20 somethings, singles, couples, gay, straight, families with children, hippies, art lovers, crafters, music lovers, and the list goes on and on.  One of the things I’m most excited for is the thought of pure excitement I get wondering who I’m going to meet over the course of the next week.

Meeting new people (people who I had no idea existed) was always my favorite part of traveling.  There’s a quote by William Least Heat Moon- “What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”

The principle of Radical Inclusion helps each burner to come to Burning Man with no agenda.  They aren’t trying to be cool.  They aren’t trying to see a single act.  They aren’t trying to do a lot of drugs.  They come knowing that whoever they are and wherever they’re from they’ll be accepted.  For some, Burning Man may be the only place they find that feeling.


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.

My Take:  When I tell people that you can’t buy things at Burning Man (outside of coffee and ice) they look at me funny. A lot of people hear ‘gifting’ and believe Burning Man is a barter economy.  In the real world, people believe ‘you can’t get something for nothing’ and feel that should apply to Burning Man as well.  But Burning Man doesn’t want to be like the “real world.”  It’s gifting not bartering.  You give your gift without any expectation of getting something back.  It teaches you how to give selflessly- with a pure heart and not some alternative motive of what’s in it for you.

“The point is not to pay back kindness but to pass it on.”  Julia Alvarez

The principle of Gifting exists to encourage burners to bring something to Burning Man they can share with the community.  It’s supposed to help keep you in the mindset that simple acts of kindness can make another person’s day.  Gifts range from helping someone put up their tent, to alcohol, to massages, to bracelets, water, food, music, and whatever else you can think of.

When I first got my ticket, what I was going to “gift” was one of the more stressful things to figure out.  I don’t have a lot of talents.  I’m not crafty.  I’m not very creative.  I don’t have a lot of money.  But the more I read the more it seemed that it was more about giving someone something you couldn’t easily put price on.  Your time.  A helping hand.  A positive attitude.  Then it hit me.  I wanted to give memories.  I bought a polaroid camera and a bunch of film.  I plan on taking pictures of people and giving them the picture to help them remember that moment in time.  I know from first-hand experience how common it is to look back and wish you’d captured more memories along the way.


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.

My Take: At Burning man it’s not what you have but who you are that matters.  You’re not supposed to wear clothes with labels or advertise for any company.  It’s supposed to be a place where 70,000 people can go and get away from all the noise for a week. No ads.  No media telling you you’re less without something.  An oasis away from materialism.

“I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off “ ― Chuck Palahniuk

Burning Man was created by people that we pissed off and wanted to create a change in how our society thinks.  The decommodification principle exists to ensure that Burning Man never becomes what Coachella has.  It also exists to help people realize that they don’t need any material thing to be worthwhile.  Buying that new car or house isn’t going to put your soul at rest.  The sooner we all realize that the happier we’ll be.

Radical Self-reliance

Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

My Take:  Other than gifting this was the one that gave me the most anxiety.  People may argue that I’m a pretty independent person.  That I can handle anything that comes my way.  To that I don’t disagree.  However, I’ve never been the Bear Grylls type.  I’ve never been a huge camper or into learning how to create a 3 bedroom hut from bamboo.  I’ve been to some less than glamorous places and slept in some locations that would give my mother pause.  But for the most part I’ve always been near civilization incase something happened.

That’s not the case at Burning Man.  You are in the Nevada desert for one week.  Anything you want during the week you have to bring with you when you arrive.  Water, food, clothes, protection from the elements, everything.  There isn’t a gas station on the corner that you can run to if you forgot to bring enough water.  No Maccas to hit up if you’re feeling peckish.

Radical Self-reliance is one of true tests of Burning Man.  It’s where you really show that you want to be there.  It’s not hanging out on a beach in Croatia.  It’s exploring yourself in the middle of the desert.  It’s not for everyone.  But I truly think if you can manage to survive you come back with a stronger sense of who you are and what you’re capable of.

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.

My Take:  For years, one of my life rules has been “whatever you are be a good one”.  To me, it’s more important that you’re true to yourself and go with what you feel than to pretend to be something else (even if that something else is deemed “good” or “successful” by society.)

Radical Self- expression may be the principle that everyone knows and understands without realizing it.  For people who know what Burning Man is they automatically think of people in crazy costumes- guys in tutus (Tuesday is Tutu day after all), superheroes- people walking around naked.  Each day is like Halloween allowing for each burner to be whoever they want to be that day.

But it’s not just about the freedom to wear whatever you want.  It’s about how you spend your days.  There’s a spreadsheet of events at Burning Man (over 3,000 lines) and here are just a few examples:

Kickboxing Conditioning
-Kickboxing conditioning is a high energy class that will teach you the fundamentals of kickboxing while blasting your cardio, building muscle and burning tons of fat. The curriculum will focus on basic techniques, conditioning and overall health, while maintaining a fast and fun pace.

Porn & Donuts
-What’s better than a deliciously decadent donut? How about a side of hot porn? Movies start screening at about 10pm. Hot hand crafted donuts are fresh off the fryers by midnight.
Porn and Donuts was started in 2011. Our mission at PND is to serve deliciously decadent doughnut delights to as many dusty hungry burners as we possibly can. We screen top-notch vintage (silent era) pornography in our outdoor movie theater while serving hot, fresh, on playa made donuts.
Last year we served approximately 3,000 freshly donuts prepared on playa (300 pounds of dry donut mix). We even managed to convert one or two vegetarians along the way.

Got Framed
-Got Framed is a fun & interactive art piece for the making of memories. From afar, it’s a life-sized, fabulous frame that captures a notable image in the distance. Up close, it’s the ultimate stage to strike a pose on! With ladders on either side & monkey bars across the top, you can let your imagination go wild. Inspired by the artist’s Abuela, Rosamelia, in Puerto Rico who turned 91 last year, the design is a Baroque style, gold, beveled frame with 91 roses for Rosamelia, identical on either side. The solid structure and ladders inspire awesome participation, encouraging passersby to BE THE ART. Step up, climb on, take a photograph…’monkey around’, change the image, and invite others to join in. Have fun interacting with a large scale art piece and make a memory to take with you.

Drink Tequila and call Da Vinci a Hack
-LeoNERDo stole all his ideas from Tesla, we’ll prove it, over Tequila.

You get the idea.  Some events are fun, some serious, some sexual, and some ridiculous. Whatever you want to find is somewhere in Black Rock City giving you the perfect chance to express yourself however you want.

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.

My Take:  Life is better when people work together.  Few people accomplish anything completely on their own.  Collaboration breeds innovation.  Innovation advances society.  The environment of Burning Man encourages people to work together to create amazing things.  The most common of which is art.  If you’ve never seen the incredible artwork that makes it’s way to the playa do yourself a favor and do a Google Image search for Burning Man, actually it’s important enough I’ll do it for you (click here).

None of the breathtaking art could be created if people weren’t willing to work together to accomplish it.  Collaboration teaches us to put our egos aside, realizing that we’re all in this together so we might as well make it incredible.

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.

My Take: Ah, the lesson most of us have been trying to learn for years.  If you’re in charge of something you’re also responsible for it.  With over 3000 different events burners rely on each other to make sure everyone is held accountable.  There is no “man” to rebell against.  If you do anything disrespectful you’re basically telling the person who took the time to put on the event “go fuck yourself.”

On the flip side, if you’ve decided to enhance everyone’s burn by hosting an event then you’re responsible to make sure everything goes according to plan.  Not just with your fellow burners but with the local law enforcement officials as well.  In the end it’s all about accountability and making sure everyone has an amazing time.

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.

My Take:  This one is pretty self-explanatory, but fascinating.  One week there’s a city in the middle of the desert, the next all signs of that city are gone- like no one was ever there.  It’s incredible that 70,000 people come together and each and every person knows the responsibility of cleaning up after themselves and actually does it.  There are weeks I can’t even get my roommates to do the dishes.  But that’s not an option at Burning man, every bottle, can, wrapper, and container is taken away by those who use them.  You carry a bag around for MOOT (matter out of place) to ensure that you (or someone else) doesn’t leave something on the playa.


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.

My Take: Say yes. To as much as you can.  For as long as you can.   For whatever reason, people choose not to try new things.  Usually, they’re scared they may not be good at it or other people will judge them for doing it.  That doesn’t fly at Burning Man.  You have to be willing to say yes to things you’ve never dreamed of doing.  With so many options and people you have no idea going in what situations you’ll find yourself in.

You can’t be afraid to explore.  You can’t be afraid of doing your own thing.  You can’t be afraid to say yes.  This is true not just at Burning Man, but also in life.  You never know where you’ll end up if you approach things with an open mind and a desire to experience as many things as possible.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” -Steve Jobs

Participation helps people to acquire as many “dots” as possible.  After all, you never know what experience will not only change you, but change the world.


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.

My Take: Regardless of what we’re doing throughout the day: eating with friends, working, exercising, reading, etc our thoughts are usually somewhere else.  We’re terrible at being fully present.  Technology has enhanced the ease for us to be in multiple places at once thus limiting how involved we become in the immediate present.  I’ve been trying to be on my phone less and pay attention to where I am, who I’m with, and what I’m doing more.  But it’s not easy.

We could all learn how to really focus on the now.  Not worry about what has already happened.  Forget about what could happen.  Ignore the pulling urge to think about what someone else is up to and be where your feet are.

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