4 Things I Didn't Expect To Gain From Burning Man


By Emma Bowes

Burning Man.

How can I possibly put it in to words?

It’s almost impossible to describe.

It was always a bucket list item for me. Something I had heard about for years and wanted to go and experience. It was something I was going to tick off, along with learning to ride a horse and learning to surf. But I have to tell you, after experiencing my first Burn, I’m hooked. I can’t just leave it as a once off, tick-it-off-my-list type thing.

I’ve already confessed to Leon that I HAVE to go again next year (and maybe every year after that!).

I knew it was going to be fun. The pictures and stories from friends told me of that. I mean, it looked like a week long party in the desert. Why wouldn't I have fun? We did do lots of dancing, met so many amazing people and had ridiculous amounts of fun, but my Burning Man experience was about so much more than just raving in the desert. Here are 4 unexpected things I gained from my week in the desert.

1.     Human Connection

People were just so god damn friendly! It struck me the minute that we arrived. We flew into Black Rock City, and as soon as we stepped through ‘Immigration’ I was hugged by the Black Rock City Customs Officer, and he welcomed me home. It was my first time, but he still said welcome home.

And that’s what the week felt like.

It felt like you were returning to a place of true belonging. A place where you could be you, in what ever form that looked like. A place where there is no judgement of any person there. Everyone is accepted as they are.

Everywhere we went, people would give you a hug to say hello. Shaking hands was way too cold. People were giving proper, meaningful, connected hugs. And not just a hug with a little pat on the back, like we normally experience in day to day life. These were BIG hugs, where you actually feel the other person.

A hug where your hearts connect. I’ve experienced these types of hugs before with some of my more spiritual friends, but never with complete strangers.

One of my most memorable hugs was from a man, he might have been 45-50 years old.  He walked over to me and gave me a hug and just didn’t let go. I hugged him back and we began to slow dance! We stayed like that for about 5 minutes, slow dancing together, feeling each other’s souls. It was one of the most intimate and touching experiences of the whole week.

To be seen by another person without speaking a word to each other. SO. FREAKING. SPECIAL.


It made me realise how closed I usually am when I meet people. I don’t open myself up easily to strangers. It usually takes me a long time to let someone in. But at Burning Man, everyone is open. People are looking to make a connection on a deeper level. They don’t care about your job title, or which suburb you live in. They don’t care about how much money you earn or what car you drive. 

What they want to know is how are you? Who are you? What do you love? What has your favourite experience been? I didn't once get asked "So what do you do?"

People weren't trying to work out which box, or social set you fit into. That just didn't matter.

It shouldn't EVER matter, yet in our day-to-day life it often does. 

Since being home I am finding I am engaging more with people in every interaction I am having. I am making eye contact with the girl behind the counter at the grocery store, I am smiling and saying good morning to people as I walk past them, I’m introducing myself to people in my gym class instead of smiling and getting on with the class. They are little things, but they are filling my day with a little bit of love in every interaction.

What you give, you get back in return.

Give love, receive love.

Give connection, receive connection. 

After all, without human connection what do we have? 

2. Being totally comfortable in my own skin.

Wearing a leotard 24/7 isn’t normally my thing, but one of the principles of Burning Man is Radical Self-expression. That means expressing yourself in whatever way feels good for you. And because it’s hot, like seriously hot, the outfits are usually barely there. People wear all sorts of crazy outfits or nothing at all.

And no one even blinks an eye.

I saw naked people of all ages, walking around and owning it. From 25 year olds to 75 year olds, it didn’t matter. Everyone was equal.

There was ZERO judgement, people were encouraged to be comfortable with who they really are.

I would never usually feel comfortable walking home from the beach in just my swimmers. I’ve always felt self-conscious about my stretch marks, my cellulite and my mummy tummy mound where my abs used to be.

But at Burning Man, I walked around in a leotard or bra and undies all week, and didn’t once stop to think about my imperfections.  

Self-expression  .

Post Burning Man, social media is flooded with pictures of super-models and beautiful humans striking a pose in the desert. But if those people were there, I didn’t see them, or at least they didn’t stand out. They blended in with the 70,000 other people who were all expressing themselves.

At Burning Man you are seen for who you really are.

You can do anything or try anything without any repercussions. In our normal life, we are judged on what we say, what we wear, what we do, how we act or what we look like. At Burning Man, none of that matters. Everyone is dusty, and dressed up in costume. You can be yourself and not feel like you have to prove yourself to anyone. There is so much love and acceptance, you can’t help but feel comfortable exactly as you are.

3.     Social Responsibility

I realized I completely sucked at being socially responsible back home. I learnt over the week in the desert, what it means to truly be socially responsible. 

One of the principles of Burning Man is Leave No Trace. That means everyone is responsible for their own rubbish. There are no trash cans or rubbish collection. If you create rubbish, you deal with it. Everyone carries a little trash bag and picks up any MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) that they see on the ground. That could be paper, glitter, feathers, plastic, wood chips. Anything that doesn’t belong in the desert is considered MOOP.

Normally any other festival I have been to, the ground would be strewn with plastic and glass bottles, paper and rubbish. At Burning Man, there isn’t any rubbish to be seen. Occasionally a random feather will come blowing across in front of you, and instinctively you pick it up and put it in your MOOP bag. As a participant of Burning Man I felt socially responsible for the environment. I knew if I didn't do my bit, then it would affect the experience of everyone else. 

More than just the rubbish, social responsibility is the sole reason that Burning Man even exists. It is a participatory festival, meaning that everything you see and do, is provided by other festival goers. Every piece of art, every art car, every bar, every workshop, every food stall, every gift you receive, is provided for the pure enjoyment of others. With zero expectations of anything in return.

Everyone does their bit, to create this amazing event.

It is the input from the collective that makes the experience so special. 


Since being home, I have become so much more socially conscious. I’ve accepted that I have a role to play in my little neighbourhood, and it isn’t up to the garbage man, or the street cleaners to keep our streets clean. At the park, the kids and I are picking up all the rubbish we see. At school pick up, instead of waiting and talking to the other parents, Ollie and Mia helped me pick up all the rubbish in the gardens outside the Prep classroom. When I walk our dog, I take an extra bag to collect rubbish in and bring home with us. It’s hard to believe that I didn’t always have this attitude. But when life is so rushed and we get caught up in the busyness of it all, it’s easy to shirk responsibilities and leave it for someone else.

I've realised my actions affect the experience of everyone around me.  

4.     I want to live large

The biggest take home for me from Burning Man was opening my eyes up to the endless possibilities in my life.

If someone can make a huge piece of art in the middle of the desert, then what can I do with my life?

If I can meet people who have sold all their possessions and are on a road trip to Mexico to follow their dream of setting up a Youth Hostel, then how can I dream bigger?

If I can meet people who are shaping their life to do all the things they ever dreamed of, then how can I shape my life too?

I met so many people who were living the life of their dreams. Some might call them gypsies, some might call them wanderers, I call them brave AF. Because they aren’t held down by preconceived ideas about how their life should look. They aren’t paralyzed by a need to feel security from material possessions. They have realized that life is about experiences, not possessions.

It’s our experiences that create memories that will last a lifetime.

I am determined to live large. I am inspired to dream big. I want to LIVE life. And I want my kids to learn to live life too. 

And THAT is why I have to go back to Burning Man next year.

I want to feel the deep connection. 

I want the reminder to be social conscious.

But most of all I want to be reminded of the endless possibilities.