During my week of vacation this summer I went to Burning Man (BM). I was on the fence about it for a long time. Similar to last year, I waited until the last minute to get a ticket. However, like last year, it was no problem and all the puzzle pieces seemed to naturally fall into place. Even after getting my ticket I waffled about whether or not I should go. Burning Man is a time and place where you get little sleep, there’s a million things to do, it’s hot and dusty, and the extremeness can be overwhelming and exhausting. Perhaps, I thought, it would be better to have a stay-cation and rest?
A friend of mine who I spent a lot of time with at BM 2012 called me on the phone. We had discussed camping together this year and were trying to coordinate plans. Her and her boyfriend had purchased a cheap car and had gone on a camping trip by the Yuba River. On the phone she explained that the car was more or less dead and it wouldn’t make the journey. No problem, I assured her, I would take them. And just like that I had committed to Burning Man 2013.
Panicking slightly that I had offered to be their ride, I told her that I was more than happy to make the drive out to Black Rock City with them. I was pumped to camp with them, too, but I wanted some level of independence and flexibility. I didn’t want them to depend on me for a ride home in case I freaked out and left early. I had been looking forward to this vacation for a long time and I wanted the autonomy to do what I liked when I felt like it. The last thing I wanted was to feel guilty for abandoning my friends in the middle of the desert. Luckily for me, my friends are badasses who have no issues making shit happen.
So that was that. I was going to BM, for better or for worse. The thrill of the trip sank in and kept me up at night. I only managed to pack the day before I planned to leave, stuffing rolled socks and lacy underwear into plastic bags, hoping that less was more. Last year I was with an organized camp, whereas this time it would only be the three of us and I wasn’t quite sure how it would all work out.
Even though I now had arranged to camp with my two friends, I felt as though I should approach the event as though I was going it alone. I did not want to rely on them as a couple for company and I definitely did not want to resent them for that either. I also wanted to mentally prepare myself for the tsunami of FOMO (fear of missing out). I desperately wanted to grant myself permission to do BM at my own pace with the least amount of comparison or pressure possible. I had been mulling this over for weeks and had no idea how I would feel once I arrived on the playa. It almost kept me from going, but the adventure was set in motion and the excitement was mounting. I was grateful to have friends as company and build a camp with and pleased that I was freewheeling.
After a 6am departure from Davis, CA and 7 hours of waiting, we made it through the long dusty lines and began looking for a spot to set up our tents. It took a while, but with some patience we found people who welcomed us with open arms. We were very limited in our supplies and incredibly under prepared compared to our neighbors. I felt like a gutter punk kid who was going to sleep in the dust all week choking on gas fumes while our fancy neighbors ran their generator next to my cheap tent. But it didn’t matter. I took pride in the simplicity of it all.
Despite all the back and forth, the worry of being unprepared, and insecurities surrounding loneliness, it was blissful to spend a week on the playa. I take pride in my ability to see the value of showing up and being present in situations, even when it is difficult and challenging. This is also how I ended up doing CrossFit. I often tell myself, when I meet resistance in attending a new class or event, that all I have to do is go – I don’t have to excel or do anything crazy, I don’t have to dance or make a new friend. As long as I bring my body and smile once, that can be enough.
So rather than staying in the bay area for a week and hiding out at my parents house to recharge, I committed to going to BM. I knew that I would regret it if I did not attend and I also knew that ultimately, the option of a good party and friends would be more valuable to me than spending 7 days alone in Palo Alto. All of my last minute decisions lead me to an “Oops, I did it again” moment, where I realized that I felt limited in my ability to contribute at BM and that may cause me to treat it more as an experience than a participatory community(!?) What I am saying is, that while I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to do BM, it relies heavily on people who whole-heartedly care about the city and build it from scratch. Then they return it to the same state the desert was in before we were there. That’s a shit ton of work.
Not only that, the culture of BM is maintained by those who are committed to practicing open mindedness and gifting. Approaching others in the spirit of non-expectation is no small feat and requires vigilance. As an organization, there are people working year round on creating this bedazzling parallel universe and I do not take it for granted. For this reason, I would like to acknowledge that there are endless opportunities to contribute to BM as a place, an event, and as a community. While I set multiple intentions for myself this year, they were very personal in dealing with my own emotions. I am planting the seed that the next time I go to BM, I would like to contribute more towards the experience as a whole and to a group at large. In this way, I am contemplating the core principles of the event and meditating on my own ability to shape experiences for myself and others.
After a weeks vacation in the desert, I have come back refreshed. I am satisfied to say that, despite the harsh conditions, I am rested and healthy. I am grateful for the art, the music, and the friends I bonded with. With my birthday only 2 weeks away, I’m excited for new writing material and bringing a fresh perspective to another year of life.
Our discussion over tea and chocolate continued into the afternoon. Here is what we covered.
Making declarations and logging progress as a way of holding yourself accountable. Leo made the excellent point that telling other people about your goals is a great way to start holding yourself accountable. You can go as far as asking someone to track your progress with you, or keep it as simple as sharing your projects with someone. If you know that even just one other person will be following up with you, you increase your chances of sticking to your word. There are many ways to go about this, many of which I have discussed with Stevo and written about here on my blog. Habit change is a tricky thing and everyone knows we get by with a little help from our friends.
When we experience hope and fear it is because we are attached to outcomes. When Leo said this, I had an “Ah ha!” moment. It seems so simple, but I don’t normally think about my hopes and fears this way. I feel that it is a good reminder of the stories that we are telling ourselves and how we often embellish the outcomes before they have happened. It is refreshing to step back and ask ourselves what we fear about a particular outcome or why we are hoping for something. Then take it one step further and realize we will be OK regardless of what happens.
5 word business plan. An “ah ha!” moment wrapped into a gold nugget right here. This is what my post “Confused? Contribute!” is all about! A simple 5 word business plan. Here it is: How Can I Help You? Run with this.
Whisper marketing. If I haven’t yet mentioned BlogcastFM one hundred times, let me continue to work towards that number. Leo and Jesse both spoke to marketing and getting the word out about what they do. They both prefer to practice gentler kinds of advertising, relying mostly on word of mouth and slow community building techniques. The reason I bring up BlogcastFM is because that is immediately what came to mind when they said “whisper” marketing. Srini, the co-founder and host of the show, asks all his interviewees how they stand out in a world with so much noise. Well, it isn’t by talking louder.
How to title blog posts. Leo has blogging down to an art. He’s very good at what he does and that’s why I attended this event. Here are some bread and butter techniques for titling your blog. First, your title must convey a benefit. Second, it must instill curiosity. Do this in 5 words or less if you can. Some things to think about: Why is what you are writing about a problem? Why should your readers care? Give them a reason! What is the solution? Make sure you include an actionable item to effectively close the post. This builds attention and trust.
Post regularly. From my understanding, it matters less how often, just keep it regular. Once a week, once a month, 4 times a year…
Give away your secrets! Making yourself vulnerable and sharing deepens your relationship to readers by building trust and providing resources. Leo really drove this one home and I think it is a special edge to any blogger. It’s scary to share ourselves with the world. It shows when we do. Really amazing things happen when you share things with others.
The tea and chocolate were incredible and the company was awesome. I have a lot of work ahead of me and attending Mindful+Entrepreneur is motivating me to get my ass in gear. Cheers to taking it to the next level!
P.S. To make it really clear – What is a problem that you have? You are trying to improve your blog but you don’t know how. What’s the solution? Simple homework: post regularly. Make a schedule. Right now.
I recently read a short and sweet article on how to solve issues surrounding purpose and motivation by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. His solution is simple: help other people. Since I am one of many who struggles with finding my purpose (actively struggling here), I believe I would benefit from this advice. Being in my mid-20’s, I can see how self-centered my life currently is and I would like to shift my focus from self-serving to providing a service. I am enjoying this phase and doing self-improvement has always been a passion of mine, but I definitely strive to create connections with my community and I feel powerful when I help others. Babauta explains that the most important element of this concept is the shift in focus, from being concerned about one’s own hurdles or blocks, to asking “where can I contribute?”
In order to shift from self-analyzation to community-contributor mode, Babauta lists some excellent questions. “What can I do to help people in need?” or “What problems are out there that strangers might have, that my particular skill set could solve?” I think that this is a brilliant way to reframe our approach to finding purpose in our daily lives. Though simple, this is tricky because it is a significant change in mindset.
I am experimenting with a 14-day challenge based on this article because getting into the habit of shifting focus is one I would like to cultivate. In my last Interchange weekend we engaged in a practice where we laughed for 20 minutes, cried for 20 minutes, and then sat in silence for 20 minutes. This is the ultra-mini version of the Osho Mystic Rose meditation. The goal of this practice is to “bring out all the poison of your being”. It calls upon us to fully engage in the practice of laughter, tears, and observation in order to clear away generations of pain. The connection for me here is that these things are not so easy, but with regular practice we can make monumental shifts within ourselves. Babauta’s suggestion of lending your focus to others requires you to become more aware of your thought processes and be committed to changing the way you pose questions. The 14 day challenge that I am currently engaged with is just a baby step: I am noticing where and how I contribute to others and my community everyday. I do not push myself to take it past observation, but sometimes it occurs to me “how can I help today?”
Babauta then adds a couple of other steps that are generally great rules to live by. They echo “have the courage to start small.” I have about 20 different 14 day challenges kicking around in my head, but I have to remind myself: Keep It Simple! It is best to focus on one thing. When Stevo and I are analyzing a goal or a task, he asks me what the likelyhood is that I will accomplish it, on a scale of 1-10. If my answer is not a confident 9 or a 10, we back up and come up with a smaller step. In reality, like here and now, of course we all have a bajillion things going on in our lives. But if you can come up with one 14 day challenge, or one intention for your day, your chance of success is much higher. And that’s what we want to do, we want to set ourselves up for success. Why? Because as Babauta writes:
“It’s quite nice.”