Burning Man 2011 – The Light at the End of the Temple


This year, I made it a priority in life to make it back to Black Rock City for the 25th Burning Man. And after returning, I had initially found myself in the complicated state of “how in the hell can I summarize my 7 days in the inter-galactic desert in one blog post?”. To be truthful and honest and straight up, I simply cannot. Burning Man is one of those things that has to be experienced in the first person. Nonetheless, it was a big, fantastic week in my life, and I have decided to pick one individual, personal story from my trip to share that I feel conveys a big reason why Burning Man is in its 25th year.

My Burning Man strategy, that has developed over the course of 3 Burns (2008, 2009, 2011) and 20 or so days I have spent on “the playa”, that is the actual desert/dust bowl that Black Rock sits on, is pretty straight forward. At night, I go out and explore the energy–party, dance, and hang with amazing people into the wee hours. During the day, I go to lectures, guided meditations, and spend a great deal of time exploring the spiritual side of things. At Burning Man, you can truly create your own experience–and much of it happens by serendipitous encounters with great people and teachers.

On the Saturday of this year, I was at a guided meditation at one of the spiritually focused camps (Red Lightning), and met a new friend. Neither of us had any plans, but both had intentions to spend time in the Burning Man temple, called the “Temple of Transition” this year. So, we set off on our bikes across the playa towards the Temple, which sits at 12:00 on the Burning Man clock grid.

There are three big burns (celebrations upon which massive pieces of art are set on fire) at Burning Man. On Friday night this year, they burned a gigantic Trojan Horse, on Saturday “the Man” burned to cheers and music blasting, and on Sunday night the Temple burned in complete silence.  People are drawn to Burning Man for the counterculture, the party, and the universal love that flows through the experience. But, it is my sense that the connection with the Temple is what brings people back year after year, and truly differentiates the experience from any other “Festival”.

The Temple, in structure, is an ornate, gigantic art piece. This year, for the first time that I know of, the temple was significantly bigger than “the Man”. Throughout the week, many burners journey out to the temple with specific, personal intentions, and many others might figure out their intentions when they get there. Many people hang up pictures of loved ones that they have lost. The temple is decorated with pictures of husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, parents, dogs, cats, best friends, and lovers that have passed away in the previous year(s). Many people write in black sharpie on the temple about ex-girlfriends/boyfriends that they want to emotionally leave behind, or write specific intentions about how they want to grow as people. Others share inspirational or motivational quotes or sayings.

Click to View (if you can’t see image below):Video of the Temple from a hot air balloon:

You can physically feel the energy in the space. It is a mix of sadness, strength, suffering, and hope. The idea is that when the temple burns on Sunday these feelings of heaviness, sorrow, and loss are released, while the intentions to better ones self and breakthrough the tough times are crystalized and/or memorialized.

When we first got out to the temple, which is the furthest point away from everything, we explored and took in the experience, then decided to sit in the middle of it all. There had to be at least 100 people sitting with us and another 100-200 walking around the perimeter. It was very quiet, but there were chimes playing in synchrony at all times.  I borrowed a pen and paper and I wrote down what I wanted to personally wanted to work on and my intentions for the next year.

While sitting there, in a deep meditative state, I experienced this profound, universal connection with all of the other people we were with. The feeling hit me physically, and I became deeply connected with the individual pain and suffering of the group surrounding us, and of the Burning Man community as a whole. I began to think deeper about this feeling and expanded my thinking to my friends and family back home, other people that have been in my life, and then to all of humanity.

What I find really cool and special about this experience in the Temple–is that I figured out something really important about the essence of Burning Man. At its core, and most profound state, Burning Man is a powerful ritual and vehicle to heal. It is a place to let the pain, suffering, stress and sorrow go. It is a place to make peace with oneself and release what is not wanted or holding us back. When the Temple burns on Sunday night–so do many negative memories, addictions, and attachments. As the Burning Man community sits together around the Temple in silence a very heavy weight is lifted.

Most people are initially drawn to Burning Man for the idea of a wild and crazy party (and it certainly delivers in this department), but I truly believe that most people come back year after year to let go of what is holding them back from the past, to connect deeply with the present, and to help manifest what they want for the future. This integration of the past, present, and future IS the actual party.

Click to View (if you can’t see image below): Video of the Temple Burn on Sunday Night:


  1. Aaron says:

    Great post Dave! Thanks for the insight into your burn. When I first visited the temple this year I went up top to look down on the crowd of people laying in the center. I too was struck by the overwhelming sense of emotion, suffering, and hope that comes from so many feeling life so deeply together. It was an immense and very “connected” feeling – amazing to feel the full spectrum of sadness->joy in one big wallop. Looking forward to burning with you next year, and I hope this year is as fruitful as the last!


  2. Dave Ford says:

    Aaron, I’m right with you brother… I think a lot of people had really similar feelings–and many others stayed away because they didn’t want to “go there”…. I think it is quite the statement that the Burning Man peeps put so much focus on the Temple this year—as opposed to the Man…

  3. Jessica says:

    I am elated that Liam and I got share at least one shiny, golden nugget of your (our) experience with you.

  4. mike connor says:

    I was on this years temple crü ( i’m the only one that spells it with an oomlat but I’m’ trying to start a trend.) This is the 5th temple I’ve worked on and it was a beast. We all worked until we dropped… and then got up and did it again and again.

    I enjoyed reading about your spiritual experience at the temple. The only time i get choked up around the temple is one it burns and those dust devils spin out and start doing their tormented dance.

    Since the temple moved you so much, i would encourage you to get involved. If nothing else, just show up and give them 1/2 a day of your time. Great way to make friends.

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed the project.

    • Dave Ford says:

      Mike, thanks so much for reaching out! Glad you liked the post….. And yes, I’d love to help with the temple in some capacity next year.. I can definitely give some of my burn!

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