Learning Radical-Self Reliance


Photograph by Ian Kluft


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

Radical Self Reliance is a very important and tangible contribution to the Ten Principles. The Black Rock Desert is an arid, alkaline salt flat that lies at an elevation of 3,907 feet. It is, in many ways, an extreme environment. There is no water there, and no chance of finding food or shelter. To survive, you quite literally need to bring everything: water, food, shelter and a strong constitution, physically, emotionally and spiritually. If you were to go backpacking in other harsh habitats, like the Sierra Nevada Mountains, for example, you would still have to be self-reliant. You would need to bring things like shelter and food, but if you didn’t, you could at least acquire water or forage for food. In the Black Rock Desert, you wouldn’t be able to find any of these resources. To journey to Burning Man, you need to be Radically Self Reliant. You need to be prepared for this intense, unyielding habitat.

There are many different inner resources that you’ll need to utilize and explore when planning for and attending Burning Man. Even though you’ll be surrounded by fellow humans that will help you if needed, it is your responsibility to bring everything to the Playa that you’ll need for your survival, comfort, and enjoyment. You’ll need to plan ahead, and communicate with other members of your group or camp. You’ll need to stay organized and be thorough. You’ll need to ask yourself some tough questions before you even buy your burn ­­­ticket. “Am I ready to put myself in a very unforgiving physical environment, a place that could easily kill me? Am I ready to spend dozens or hundreds of hours planning, creating, preparing, crying, building, emailing, bleeding, and packing? Am I ready to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars? Am I ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, that may change me forever?”

But, it is your personal skill set that can really make the Burning Man experience shine. If you are a welder, create an art car! If you are a massage therapist, bring your table and gift your fellow Burners with stress-relieving body work. If you can make a wicked Bloody Mary, bring your cocktail skills to the Playa. Do you know how to get that perfect crisp on bacon? Volunteer to do breakfasts for your campmates! For many Burners that we know, this selfless service, this contribution of their personal time and effort, is the most rewarding part of the entire experience.

While preparing for the Burn and on playa, your discoveries are all about deepening your knowledge of self; you become aware of the true aspects of what you need, and what you have to give. This could be something as simple as the amount of water that you need for a week in a desert, or how much noise you can handle when trying to get some sleep. It’s about finding your bliss, whether that is singing your heart out or teaching safe sex practices. Veteran Burners know this, hence the love and support given to all Virgin Burners – there is nothing that can fully prepare anyone for their first Burn. Once you have made these discoveries, application is key. The next commitment is “exercising,” which brings to mind notions of action, efficacy, and repetition that all result in greater inner-strength. “Relying” is a vital aspect of this. When you are under pressure from this extreme environment, you need to recognize that you and only you are responsible for yourself and getting all of your needs and desires met. Freeing yourself and others from the illusion that someone else is responsible for your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being is radical and essential for the Burner.

Each of us is responsible for ourselves and the shared experience that we want. There’s temptation within this concept of Radical Self Reliance to start defining things through selfishness or isolation – but a functioning radical self-reliance within a community is about independence and interrelatedness. Interrelatedness is based in a clear sense of self: knowing what you can and cannot, want and do not want to contribute and receive. From this place of the self that is steeped in community and the other nine Principles, all that you give is a gift; one that is free from the chains of obligation or expectation. It is not that any one person must do all things, but that each person really knows what they do and is responsible for bringing that to the community.

We will be exploring in upcoming weeks many different ways that Radical Self Reliance may apply to you. We will delve into many interesting topics such as swamp coolers and psychic vampires; shade shelters and meditation; transportation and manifestation; starting your own theme camp and connecting to your higher self. Check back on a weekly basis to join us once again in exploring this Principle, and thanks for reading!


4 Responses to “Learning Radical-Self Reliance”
  1. Hmm…a week in the desert…I’ll probably need like 12 gallons of water at least!

  2. Tristen Dubz Waters

    The standard is 1.5 gallons, per person, per day. So if you are out there for 7 days, you should bring about 10.5 gallons according to that calculation. It is always better to have to much than not enough! I personally like to shower at least every other day, so I think I usually bring 14-15 gallons for 8 days. Also, stay tuned here for my next article, which will probably be about water!



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