My first Burning Man in 2017 was a very stressful experience for me. Back then I needed a lot of strictness/rigidity in my days to be comfortable. Needless to say, this is antithetical to the super-hippy vibe of Burning Man.
When an event was scheduled to be at a certain time & place, I expected it to be there (it very rarely was). When my camp-mates said “OK, we’re all heading out in twenty minutes!” I was ready within nineteen minutes. I would become very stressed and anxious that no one else was close to ready. And that we just kinda hung around for fifty-three minutes waiting on everyone. I only have seven days in the desert!! I can’t be wasting thirty-three minutes “hanging out” when there’s so much to see and do!! No one will ever be ready on time if there aren’t consequences for committing to being ready at a certain time and then not being ready!
I half-jokingly but mostly-seriously lived by the motto “everything must be efficient.” The culture clash was intense. I adjusted by the end, though. Nowadays I’m far more float-and-experience-stuff based, both at festivals and IRL.
Perhaps the best part of that first year at Burning Man was adopting the rule of “Anytime something makes you think ‘hey, I wonder what that is/what’s over there?’ you go and check it out. What else you got going on anyway?” Not only is this the most freeing and exciting unleashing of curiosity ever, it also teaches you the power and joy of serendipity.
Serendipity is perhaps the greatest low-key spiritual experiences every/any random human can have. The feeling that the universe conspired to put you in a position of extreme good fortune and beauty without you having done anything to deserve it is a brush with the divine.
How great is the feeling of serendipity? It turns out there’s a way to make foie gras that isn’t just cruelty-free, it’s actually amazing for the geese in question. The geese roam around their natural setting and “just happen” to find lots of very fatty foods, which they gorge on. The foods were, of course, strategically placed by the farmers to be found. The geese get very fat and very happy, living in goose-heaven (before they’re eaten). Apparently the method worked so well and made such excellent foie gras that the farm in question was barred from foie gras competitions for “cheating.”
I fully expect that if a friendly AI does ever take over humanity, we’ll find ourselves living in very serendipity-filled environments, where amazing things seem to just happen to us, because we don’t see the AI placing them when we’re not looking. Burning Man is an attempt by humans to make such a high-serendipity environment, and it’s fantastic. The whole place oozes with spirituality because you can’t keep having such perfect experiences and not feel like there’s something magical guiding you exactly where you need to be.
It is, of course, a total illusion. We made this wonderful place on purpose. :) But even in the wider world, where no one is placing such experiences every few meters, serendipity can be cultivated. And cultivating serendipity should be a major part of any trip. The rest of this post is a few tips on how to do that, which I will use as an excuse to show the remainder of my highlight photos from my trip. :)
Explore Without Expectation
The most serendipity-deadening place in existence is your home (or hotel, or whatever). It is vital to get outside and move through the world. Generally, the slower you go the better your results. Taking a car directly to your next destination is barely better than sitting at home. Walking gives you time to see a million side-alleys and distractions that can take you to unexpected domains.
While touring Santiago I walked past a laundromat that the owner decided was also going to be a shrine to art. It was as spiritual as any of the churches I entered, and felt distinctly more special because I had come upon it by accident. It was a place of sacredness set aside in the midst of functionality, and only I knew about it. (As well as other people in the area that needed laundry done.)
This does mean that physically fit people have a distinct advantage. You should expect to walk for hours every day. You will likely be tired by the end. It is worth it. In fact, the physical exertion heightens the experience and the memorability.
You don’t always stumble on amazing discoveries. Take joy in all the small wonders along the way. Sometimes you find a feral-cat-village that a local community set up, and you spend some time just watching the cats watching you.
Ask Forgiveness Rather Than Permission
See a bunch of people going into a cool-looking church? Follow them. If they really don’t want you there, they’ll let you know. You may end up being treated to an amazing vocal performance in spaces designed specifically to sound ethereal and haunting. Rest, and listen.
In that same church there is a triple staircase that’s just the coolest.
And on the lowest floor you’ll find three models of a boat.
Roll With The Unexpected
My stay in Santiago de Compostela was cut a day short by a flight change. At first I was very irritated, but upon reflection, it was a great opportunity. I had done everything I really wanted in Santiago, and I was now forced to spend a full day in Bilbao, Spain, which I hadn’t originally planned on. This let me visit the Guggenheim museum there, which was really cool!
And the city itself is so fantastically gorgeous that it’s almost embarrassing. You can’t walk two blocks without being knocked off your feet.
The Real Serendipity is the Friends We Made Along the Way
Seriously, there is nothing more magical than other humans. As amazing as experiences with non-human spaces and objects can be, it’s the humans that will alter you the most, and make living worthwhile. Talk with other people, and if you hit it off with someone, keep that going. Learning about yourself is great. But the new relationships I’ve found are, by far, the part of my travels that mean the most to me.
Come to think of it, next time I’m going abroad I’ll post something here. Maybe I’ll get a chance to meet some of y’all face to face. :)
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Thank you for sharing this.