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Burning Man 2016 : debriefing

What do you have to burn to become who you really are ?

I went to Burning man (if you dont know what that is, just google it) for the first time two years ago, and I'm preparing myself to go for the second time. It is a good moment to debrief what I learned through my last experience there.

The first place where I could be everything I am

After only few days in the desert, I realized something : as a new burner, I could have been just amazed and surprised by all the freedom, the diversity and the craziness of the people there. I could have needed some time to adjust, have felt like my vision of the world just crashed, and a little embarassed about meeting naked people. It hadn't been like that for me. Quite the opposite in fact ; I had the feeling that the outside world was finally matching my inner world. That everything was finally making some sense.

In my usual life, I can express all the parts of myself, but never at the same place. My spiritual side expresses itself in a meditation group, my bdsm side in a bdsm party, my slut side in a stripclub... Every one of these places has a different dresscode, and a different behaviour code. At Burning Man, for the first time of my life, I felt whole. I could dress with my strip clothes and go to spiritual workshops. I could wear everything I wanted without any judgements from others, or not wearing anything at all without any guy staring stupidly at my breast. And even if I was still adjusting my behaviour to the place I was, to enjoy fullly the experience, I didn't have to hide at all that I was behaving differently in other places.

So I felt more free than I never did, and I felt home.

Community and responsibility : the organized and responsible hippie

In my teenage years, I was kind of a hippie (and I guess I still am). Hippie is the closer word to describe my social group then, but I would say it was some kind of fusion between punk and hippie movement, so it was way more “let's try to be the drunker and higher possible in the cheapest possible way” and way less “peace and love”.

And they have specific values, like any social group. When you go to a festival, what is cool to do? If you had a free ticket or if you entered without one, you are cool. If you are drinking the cheapest but strongest alcohol possible, you're cool. If your bag is almost empty because you just need two shirts (you can just turn upside down your panty the second day, of course), you're cool. To do a summary, the less you care the more respected you are. I tried to be like that for years, and it took me a long time to not be ashamed to buy expensive things or to need a huge suitcase to go travelling.

Then I went to Burning Man, and I met the organized and responsible hippie. This community has principles such as “radical self-reliance”, “communal effort”, “civic responsibility” and “leaving no trace”. If you want to survive in the desert, to be self-reliant, and more than that, giving to others, helping others, you have to be organized. You have to really think before and do a hell of a preparation. If you bring a lot of very useful and cool stuff for you and the others, you're cool. If you bring good food, good alcohol, good everything, even if it was very expensive, you're cool. And you are here to give, not to take. So if you pay your entrance ticket, you're cool. Actually, you can even choose to pay your ticket more as a donation.

Everybody is encouraging everybody to be responsible : showing the example of helping others, or cleaning the trash, remembering your friends to drink water, volunteering... It was the first time I was around as many people like that. It made me more responsible, it gave me a sense of community that I hadn't really delevoped in my life before. And it built my faith in humanity.

Loving yourself to love others

I was welcomed in this family camp, so colorful and peaceful, and I registered for a surprise exercise. And this is how I discovered the Mirror Exercise. Standing in front of a mirror, looking at yourself in the eyes, and calling you by your name to tell you the things you love about yourself, and to apologize for all the times you judged yourself. Not easy, and beware, high chances to cry at the end. Why? Because we are so not loving ourselves. When you walk on the street, look at the people crosing your path : you can be sure that half of them (minimum) are judging themselves today.

And at the end of Burning Man, I began to love myself way more, and to notice something. To take an example, when I'm truly thinking I'm beautiful, just the way I am, that I'm not even looking suspisciously at my belly, I think that all the other women around me are beautiful too, just the way they are.

I learned that we are judging others only because we are judging ourselves. And even if some things remain (I'm still looking suspisciously at my poor belly that has done nothing to deserve this treatment), after all the inner work I did about that, I love myself more than I ever did, and I can love others more than I've ever been capable of.

Non sexual intimacy

At Burning Man, people are hugging a lot. And in my camp, we had even a giant cuddle puddle for people to... cuddle. And for the first time, I heard about this non sexual intimacy thing. And I suddenly realized that I had never done before very long hugs or cuddles to someone I wasn't sleeping with. Thanks to my experience in Burning Man, and a lot of other experiences since, I learned how to interact with the body of someone else in a loving way without a sexual connection.


It occurred to me at Burning Man, during a tantric dance workshop, that I had some consent issues. It could be a lot of different things : when I'm sleeping with someone, and I know that this person will expect to have sex again with me, and if I'm not feeling like it, feeling pressured. Or when a guy hit on me but I don't like him the same way, letting him put his hand on my hip because “it is not a big deal”. I realized how it could be difficult for a woman to really know what she wants or not sometimes, and to express clearly her boudaries.

Few days later, I did a workshop about consent, and since I learned a lot more. I spoke about it with a lot of women, and they were all having some consent issues sometimes, and not knowing how to handle some situations. I gave a workshop about consent for strippers in Sydney. And I know amazingly more how to check if I want to do something or not, and how to express it to someone.

First bondage suspension

I did also there my first bondage suspension. I was curious about that since my 17, looking to the bondage photoshoot of a friend. It was an open event. You could come to watch, but you could also register for the experience, and every hour they were choosing randomly 5 people. I was feeling so ready, so in the present moment, I was sure I was going to do it. And yes, I had been picked. The guy who tied me up did it such in a sensual way, and I experienced what it was to give up your power, and trust life in trusting someone to take care of you. It is very close to meditation, and at the end you have an endorphin rush. Who needs drugs?

Since I explored more bondage and BDSM, it brought me so much joy and understanding about myself, and it all began in the Nevada desert.

Giving is easy when you know you will receive

Yes, there is no money at Burning Man. So is trade the economical system? No, it is giving. You prepare everything for yourself, but after you think to others, and about what you could give to them. It could be a smile, a hug, making breakfast, holding a workshop, giving a massage, an art performance, some body painting... And while you are thinking “how could I give more?”, you are receiving a lot. Because everybody else is asking himself the same question. All the time you receive something you need : a coffee, a shower, a nice compliment, emotionnal support if needed...

Coming back to the usual world, something became clear : if we are all so afraid to give, it is because we think we won't receive. We are afraid to have a lack of something : money, material possessions, and most important, of love. You have to believe you will receive and being take care of to give freely to others.

I will stop here. I didn't talk about the Forgiveness Box at the Temple, the Orgasmic Meditation workshop, the art sculpture I helped to build... maybe later. For now, I can say that remembering all of that is making me feel infinitely grateful for my time at the Burning Man two years ago, and amazed by the way it planted the seeds that had grown since in the most incredible manner.

This year, I will have a totally different experience. I'm ready to work way more, to participate as much as I can. Also I don't have the desire to party a lot, and not to take any drugs. My intention is to give, to help, and to learn new knowledge that could support me in my projects. I'm not saying the details now... because who knows what will really happen. But I can't wait to tell you everything about it when I will come back all dusty and changed.

With all my love,

Emy Phoenix

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