Our new theme for the NEW CHI Institute is “Enhance Your Human Experience.” We offer self-help exercises and tools for cleaning and calming the human vital field. Toward this end, I traveled to Burning Man, partly because it is only two hours away from Reno, and mostly because it is a hotbed for freedom of expression and expansion of consciousness. Some claim Burning Man serves no purpose, so it gives us the option to ﬁnd ours.
So, what did I find there? There was a huge variety of experiences to choose from. On the surface, it seemed to be dominated by extremely loud music, which shook our tent and internal organs all night long until about 7 AM with 50,000 people, mostly in hippie clothes who seemed to like to drink and do drugs or walk around naked in the hot alkaline dust. However, below this surface, I found a thriving network of mutually supportive social systems and tens of thousands of kind people devoted to volunteer service, acting within a simple system based around mutual allowance of freedom of expression such as this 20-foot high wheel with no purpose besides making sparks and drawing a crowd. Notice the difference between day and night!
Burning Man allows for a huge variety of creative and artistic expression. Tens of millions of LED lights and amazing art projects illuminate miles of desert from dusk until dawn, and attendees found many ways of serving the community.
I was most impressed with the Zendo Project (www.zendoproject.org), which offers “soft landings for bad psychedelic trips.” It is much more than that. It is an alternative solution to the psychiatric epidemic, presenting that the death of a relative, a bad breakup, psychotic breaks, getting fired, or many of the other traumas that sometimes throw our routine habits of coping into chaos, are not judged as abnormal but are viewed as opportunities to reorganize and expand our consciousness, to enrich our ability to navigate in the world by the simple method of being supported and accepted in a safe environment. The volunteers are not even supposed to suggest new coping skills or other solutions. There is just the opportunity to sit quietly and witness the emergency as a potential emergence into a bigger world. A difficult psychedelic experience or a painful breakup can be frightening but is not necessarily bad. Having a Zendo volunteer or a supportive friend sit quietly with you can make all the difference. Consciousness disrupting experiences are often among the most enlightening and freeing steps someone can take.
I remember once when a friend was acting very intense and saying that Steve Jobs was talking to her, trying to control her mind through her iPhone. The claim seemed absurd, especially since Steve Jobs died years ago, so I tried to guide her away from the Steve Jobs thing. She got more and more intense and left. The next day, her mom, a psychotherapist, called me suggesting something like delusional paranoia. I had recently read a book about how software programmers often design apps like Facebook and Google to be more addictive, to keep us in their program and to influence our purchasing decisions. I realized that, while the details of my friend’s experience didn’t exactly fit, she may have been experiencing the effects of some of this addictive programming, which is now omnipresent. Truly, the software we use on our computers and phones is designed to gain control over us. I wrote to her that her experience had foundation and she immediately calmed down and felt much better. But why did I judge her for including Steve Jobs in her story? Why couldn’t I have just witnessed her experience in the first place without judgment, as taught by the Zendo Project? Can much of the mental health epidemic be resolved simply by listening without judgment? Does this approach make it more productive to seek growth in consciousness through psychedelic drugs? It seems possible.
But what if there is a medical issue? The Zendo Center does have medical and psychiatric intake for everyone who seeks help there to catch emergencies and to help assure the disoriented guests that they do not have medical problems and can relax. This fits very well for those psychedelic trippers who are seeking to expand their consciousness through psychedelics, but it also applies to common daily traumatic experiences that can throw us into a crisis or growth opportunity, and presents a whole new model of trusting our bodies to find a better way, rather than having the socially accepted better way imposed on us. The visitors at Burning Man often don’t accept the socially accepted way, anyway. This is what allows Burning Man to be a hotbed for creating a whole new way of living in our world.
I am not a “Burner.” I am a scientist. I didn’t really feel like I belonged at Burning Man. Maybe I would have stayed if I liked to drink and dance. Upon returning home after just two days, the principal thing I noticed was the delightful, soothing sound of crickets and frogs instead of the nonstop internal pounding of the LOUD music. My journey to Burning Man was exciting and expansive and yet, it was a great pleasure to be home again. I will probably try it again someday.