From the Burning Man website: Gifting: “Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.”
I was at a regional burn once, and an acquaintance who was new to the burn scene grumbled to me that she hadn’t seen any of this gifting thing that everyone was talking about. Five seconds after she was done speaking, someone ran up to us to give us some handmade soap. The “gifting thing” is an integral part of burns, and is truly everywhere when you are open to it.
In the most obvious form, gifting appears as people giving physical gifts to one another. Some people bring jewelry they have made or notecards or CDs or artwork. People give away massive amounts of food and alcohol to one another.
Another ripe area for gifting is giving of your time and effort to others’ projects. Helping someone set up their tent, cook a meal, or finish their art project is a precious gift in the limited time on the playa.
One sneaky way that gifting manifests is simply in being able to acquire whatever you need, right when you need it. Through asking out loud for what you’re in need of, someone at a burn is likely to come up with it. Random items that you forgot, the tools needed to make a repair, the perfect word or touch to brighten your moment. There’s a saying, “The playa provides,” and this is magically true in Black Rock City.
Gifting is wildly present in the elaborate theme camps and art installations at Burning Man. People pour thousands of dollars and countless hours of labor into the most insane, intensive, intense artwork and camp environments imaginable. There’s a sheer madness to the elaborate nature of playa offerings that can only be seen as pure gifts from the people whose lives they represent.
And at its purest form, gifting can be seen as the totality of everything that people do at Burning Man, because nearly every act provides something for others as well. Every performance, every spoken word, every radical expression becomes a gift to the community around you. I’ve even been gifted simply by being witnessed.
At Burning Man, I can receive from others, knowing that what they give is a gift with no strings attached, and I can give to others knowing that they are receptive to soaking up my gifts.
In Black Rock City, the principle of gifting brings a purity to relationships that no matter how much we give away, leaves us all with more.