Guide to Mindful Playa Prep (for Control Freaks)

Sometimes we forget that with almost 70,000 burners in Black Rock City, not all of us are the free-spirited, take-things-as-they-come, let-the-universe-show-me-the-way type of people we burners are projected to be.

If you are like me - ultra-organized, a bit high-strung, and somewhat of a control freak - you may struggle with playa-prep. There is just *so much* to do, and *so much* to prepare! Oh to be one of the people who lives like a leaf in the wind! Those burners who seem to so fully embrace the ever-changing nature of the playa and say "fuck it! I'll wear a trashbag all week if I have to!" Even thinking about "preparing" in that way gives me heart palpitations.

No. I cannot be like that. It would be forcing myself to be something I'm not, and isn't that against the very nature of Burning Man?

So with that in mind I present to you (and most importantly, MYSELF) Lara's Guide to Mindful Playa Prep (for Control Freaks:


1) Make a list. Check it twice.

Oh listmaking. You are one of my favorite things to do. And then checking off something on that list? The joy this gives me is probably comparable to the joy some people get from watching their favorite athlete score a point, or some burners get from that first roll in the playa dust. My packing list is EXTENSIVE.
In the few years since my first burn I have actively shifted my attitude towards the list from being something concrete, unbending (costume bags containing each item "Tuesday (daytime): black tutu, black crop top, faux flower headpiece, black gloves...") to being a more amorphous list of things I NEED on the playa, and that I don't want to forget. This year I will be taking this lackadaisical attitude a step further and will just have a bag of leggings, a bag of tops, etc. Woo! Look how loose Lara is getting!

This combination of staying true to my anal-retentive nature and letting myself have a little freedom with prep allows me to feel relaxed that I will have exactly what I need, but not stuck into an over-preparation loop.

Whatever you need to do, accept it and don't compare *your* prep style to anyone else's.

Just repeat the mantra, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darnit, I will get these ten tutus to the playa..."


2) Delegate.

I have seriously lucked out in my yearly journey to BRC. My first year, my sister and her fiance (now husband) told me what to bring, so I brought that. Did I have WAY too much stuff? Yes. But I didn't go wanting for anything.
Last year I was finishing my dissertation during prime playa-prep time, and I knew that if I wanted to finish my PhD AND go to Burning Man, I would not be able to be the leader. Thankfully my amazing friend Steve stepped up and did all the heavy physical and mental lifting to make my return to the playa possible. All I needed to do was load my personal gear in my tiny Scion hatchback and get my ass to Truckee. Steve - you are the best.

This year, due to increased personal and work demands, I am yet again at the behest of my camp for a lot of the prep work. The fact that I live in Los Angeles and they mostly live in the Bay Area... well I'm just not much help when it comes to the big stuff (see: Scion hatchback as transportation unit).

If allowing others to take control is something that is as hard for you as it is for me, here are a few things to make your transition easier:

  • Trust your campmates. Hopefully you have an awesome camp (big or small) and you guys can decide together who does what. Start early. Make the assignments, then let it go. Dr. Strange is going to be in charge of the yurt? Awesome. Let Dr. Strange do it. Mrs. Puddlebutt is organizing the shared resources? Fantastic! Don't micromanage. Give your input and then trust the universe to work things out. If you get to Black Rock and Mrs. Puddlebutt forgot something, one of the other 68,000(+) playa-goers will likely have it. And they'll likely be more than happy to share (though you may have to *pay* with a sweaty cuddle puddle).
  • Don't compromise on your *must haves*. If you will only "wash" yourself with special, handmade babywipes that smell of lavender and children's laughter, then get them yourself. If you can't accept that things will be done different or that you may receive a different product than YOU would do/choose, then do/buy it yourself. Otherwise, go with the flow. Would I choose the same brands as Mrs. Puddlebutt? Probably not, but the fact that I didn't have to choose at all is worth the slight differences. Think about the things YOU MUST HAVE (are you a vegetarian? Are you allergic to certain things?) and then just accept the other stuff.
  • Don't micromanage, don't overextend (see #3 below).


3) Don't overextend!

You want to do everything. Or really, *I* want to do everything. But you (I) can't do everything. Most of us have very busy lives outside of Burning Man. As fun as it is to think about and prepare and dance around to deep house music holding scissors in one hand and a hot glue gun in the other, attempting to do too much will take away from not only the Burning Man experience, but also life in general. "Sorry I couldn't finish this important work proposal, I was designing a giant, flashing, el-wire totem for my camp..." Here's how I am approaching my proclivity to overextend:

  • Help as much as you can help. Then thank everyone else profusely. Like I stated above, delegation is key. You may want to say yes to everything, but then everything you do will be rushed and probably not up to the standard you hold yourself to. No one expects you to do everything, so don't expect it of yourself. Are you awesome at building? Offer to build the bar (before the playa- ON the playa EVERYONE can help). Then politely decline to also build the yurt and the shade structure and the food-prep area and the...
  • Thank everyone else for what they do.
  • Don't overextend yourself personally. This is something I do - A LOT. I happen to LOVE crafting. Hot glue is my god. So I tend to design giant crafting projects, as well as offer my crafting services more than I probably should, given my other work and life obligations.

This year, to combat this overextension, I've chosen to offer my services to my campmates only, and limit myself on my personal crafting endeavors. Instead of making an entirely new costume wardrobe, I'm going to repurpose the many bins of costumes I have from the past. Given that I love crafting so much, I am allowing myself an entirely new bike theme this year, but in terms of the other crafting, I'm cutting way, WAY back. This not only controls my time requirements, but it also controls my costs - another thing I stress about...


4) Control your costs!

Maybe you have a bathtub full of money to spend on Burning Man. I am jealous. I recently finished grad school and started "real life". I now am confronting the expenses I blissfully ignored for the past few years. I choose to go to Burning Man despite my external financial constraints because Burning Man makes me incredibly happy, and the sacrifices I will have to make in order to get to the playa are worth it to me, personally. If you are like me, without a bathtub full of green, setting some limits on what you will spend will let you be slightly less stressed when you hit the road for Gerlach.

  • Like I said above, this year I am repurposing my costumes. As much as I want to buy spools of fabric and shoulder pads and wings, I don't *need* them. I have enough. And despite the AMAZING attire and gear you will see in Black Rock, overdoing it so that you can be "seen" is not what Burning Man is about (at least that's not what it's about for me). This year, I have made myself a promise that to control the financial stress I feel post-Burn, I will limit my spending to shared camp resources and a new utility belt. (BUT if I budge on this a bit and end up with a new set of feathered eyelashes, I will forgive myself.)
  • Figure out what you can share with campmates and delegate who will get what. If you can, make list that will be your "kitty" and decide on an acceptable budget for it. You don't need 14 bottles of aloe and 23 bags of jerky (well maybe you do...) between three people. Think about what can be shared. This will save on immediate expenses (and we all know THESE ADD UP!) and will control for waste. More ways to limit the MOOP before you even start to make it!
  • Do you have a budget? Is it flexible? Think about this BEFORE starting to buy buy buy for the playa. Otherwise you will end up with an entirely new default-world-inappropriate wardrobe, and a big credit card bill next month.


5) Breathe.

I forget to breathe on a regular basis. Seriously. I bet that if you are like me, you do too, though you may not even notice it. If you stop and focus on your breath, particularly at moments of high tension, you may notice that your chest only rises and falls a fraction of an inch. Welcome to my life! So breathe. Actively. Mindfully. Count your breath. Feel the air through your nose and throat. If only for a second, that's a second more of mindful, active breathing than you did a second ago.

  • Your list seems too long and complicated? Breathe.
  • Your campmates can't seem to organize in the way you want them to? Breathe.
  • You've overextended yourself? Breathe, and then ask for help.

Personally, I like to close my eyes and count to three - three in, hold for three, three out. I do that a couple of times while focusing on my immediate surroundings. This makes me feel a little more grounded. (Yes I realize that THREE is far less than the TEN count most mindful meditation gurus suggest, but we all have to start somewhere, and three is about the best I can do. Cut me some slack! I'm just learning how to breathe!)

I then feel what I'm feeling. I know this sounds ridiculous. "Feel what you're feeling! Of course you feel what you're feeling! You're feeling it!" Well, yes and no. Most people - myself included - feel something and then immediately judge it, ignore it, or try to change it. But it's important when you're prepping for your trip to the playa (or any journey in life, really) to just feel what your feeling. Are you frustrated? Excited? Scared? Just feel it. Don't judge. Don't try to change. Don't ignore it. Breathe and feel it. Once you've done that, THEN you can choose how to proceed. This usually leads to a much more mindful, rational plan of action.

When I'm sitting in a pile of costumes, el-wire, and camping gear with a huge to-do list, I usually feel a mix of the feelings listed above. That's when I breathe. I feel what I feel. Then, and only then, do I start to organize.

The person I am on the playa is a much more relaxed, spontaneous, easy-going version of myself. I don't make a schedule for what I'm going to do or see (COMPLETELY unlike my default life - you should see the detail in my calendar). But you also won't catch me in a dust storm without my goggles, shemaigh, and dust mask (and tp, sunscreen, water, gum...). I accept that my super anal, overly-prepared style of playa prep is not for everyone. But if you're like me, approaching your packing-mania in a mindful way can be the difference between "woo! look at my well packed bins! Let's hit the road for Black Rock!" and "uuugggghhhhhhhh" (*cut to stressed burner in a pile of fabric, tarps, and rebar*).

Remember: it's okay to be a little highstrung! Just don't lose the joy of the pre-playa prep in your journey to be BRC ready.

See you in the dust!

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