Reflections on Burning Man from David H. Wagner

Reflections on Burning Man from David H. Wagner

This post has been lovingly shared from the site of David H. Wagner.

I first came across David’s work when I read the below article – which I loved and immediately shared. I really appreciated his grounded but straightforward perspective (which is very Straight Woo). As David rightly points out – real spiritual progression is in dedication to a path, not in a party on the playa. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

The original post can be found here.


Today I shared an email exchange with a young seeker in our community. She is considering making it to Burning Man this summer. I have to preface this whole thing by saying I have nothing against BM, I have dear friends and colleagues that go every year, I think it’s actually pretty cool, and overall I am glad it exists. This could just as easily be written about a South American Shamanic Retreat, or a hot new weekend workshop, or someone signing up for a Yoga Teacher Training. It just so happens that it’s about BM. Burning man aside, I think there are valuable points in here about the cross pollination between yoga, spiritual disciplines, partying, and consciousness expanding drug use. Here’s some snippets from the email:

As an elder in this spiritual scene I have seen so much of this over the years. I am not against partying- and the kind of partying at Burning Man is probably a lot more positive than other party scenes you’ll find. But if you choose to go – just be clear what you’re getting into. Many people will talk about it like a spiritual “game changing” experience but in many ways it’s just a slightly spiritualized party. You might experience a little anarchy, or get naked in public, or take some E or some acid, or smoke some weed, or dance all night, or have “deep conversations” with people while doing any of the above.  If you were TOTALLY closed before that, or TOTALLY uptight or TOTALLY un-awakened then it’s a any of these experiences could be profound.

If I could send my conservative Kentuckian cousins to Burning Man, they might come back totally transformed. The young seeker I am writing to is already very open-minded and in the process of awakening, and looking for training, looking for a deepening of her experience. More from the email:

Anyone can FEEL free taking E and dancing naked at Burning Man. But feeling free and learning to be free are two different things.

And… too much of that actually can hinder the experience of awakening. In all my years of doing my work with people, there have been only a handful of people I really couldn’t help. Among them are these people- people who have burned their neurotransmitters out on E, or have built up a whole quasi-spiritual identity. Getting high prevents people from learning to be high.

These sorts of experiences are good doorways. Dropping acid or crossing boundaries in the desert can be good door openers if the doors are stuck. But the idea is to go through the open doors once they’re opened. You don’t hang around the doorway, or deify the door, or the openers. You go forward, you find your vision for life. You live your vision.

Ram Dass has awesome teachings about all this. Once he asked his guru Neem Karoli Baba about using drugs as a spiritual means. Maharaji said “You can use it to see Christ. But you can’t use it to become Christ.” 

My young friend has seen greatness. Now she wants actually live into her greatness.  She is mostly curious and wants to broaden her horizons. Because she is new in the “mystical consciousness” scene, I feel protective.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all into experiencing new things. I guess have a particular perspective being in the field that I’m in and being in it for so many years. I feel protective of you.  I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for you and I see your sincerity, and I want to protect that.

The thing is, people rave about the experience (pun intended). But I think that’s more about the raver than the rave. I see it all the time that people will have deep experiences even at super hokey things. Just the same way that so many people have been in the presence of great masters and have been exposed to great practices and teachings, but only handfuls get the deep benefits.

More from the email:

A sincere seeker will get benefit from even the stupidest bullshit. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
There are so many things out there that are either bullshit, or just some “new thing” that people are doing. But if people are sincere seekers, they will have all kinds of glowing reports about what it is that they’ve tried. If you haven’t already, you’ll hear about ayahuasca, and Ecstasy, and all sorts of things that people have found to be the key to their awakening. Or you’ll have people try to enroll you into some new coaching method, or a radical health approach that is the “answer”.  And often times you’ll hear about these things from really goodhearted people. And for them, in this snippet of time, it may be an answer for them. Bottom line is – you have to stay alert.

That’s the main thing that I’ve seen over the years. I’ve seen that things come and go. And in the moment, they are THE THING for a group of people. And then, like all things, they move on. What remains, hopefully, are the seekers and their sincere intention to live in wisdom and freedom. All of the long-term yogis and path-walkers I know have cycled through dozens of different “things of the moment”. And as we have, we’ve seen countless good people get swept up and lost in these things when they lost their bearings and perspective. On the spiritual path, we need to know what we’re after. And know ourselves well enough to know whether or not we’re on the right track.  It also helps to have elders around. People who have some seasoning and can offer some perspective. Even after 26 years on the path, I feel like I barely qualify – but none the less, when someone like this person has a question, I feel it’s our duty to answer, even if I sound old and lame.

Your beauty, your sincerity, your light – are qualities that so many people are going to lust after. I don’t just mean men lusting after you in a sexual way, I mean organizations lusting after your enthusiasm and your brightness. I mean scenes lusting after your awesome energy and vitality. You’re getting into all of this at a young age, so you will likely have a lot of different ponds to swim in.
It’s all good. Swim in them.
But just know there are a lot of blind people leading other blind people, and some straight up jackals out there too.
Stay alert. Stay in touch with your heart. And you’ll be good. Remember you can always call on me if you need help.

No judgment. No lecture. I’ll be there.

For what it’s worth.


To follow David’s work, please go here.

Image from Scarlet Phoebe

Do you agree? What are your thoughts on the Burning Man experience – can it be a spiritual experience? Let me and the rest of the crew know below in the comments.