#35 Immediacy, Smart Phones, and the Death of Magic

What is the “Immediacy” Burning Man Principle and why does it matter? And how do smart phones and cameras put the Principle at risk?

Bonus conversation after the hug about consent and photography.


– Welcome. I’m Halcyon and this is Hug Nation.

Today I want to talk about immediacy, smart phones, and the death of magic. Immediacy is one of the 10 principles of Burning Man. It is one of the more difficult ones to explain, I think. It just is a concept. Immediacy, be there now. Be present, be in the moment.

And yet the more I live in the world, the more I follow spiritual practice, the more I realize how significant immediacy is on the event of Burning Man and on our lives.

Ram Dass has this incredible book, “Be Here Now” and how often is that the answer to everything that’s going wrong? Not going wrong, but all of the stories about what is wrong is when we are not in the present, when we are not living in immediacy.

Immediacy is significant for Burning Man because so much of the event is about embracing the transitory nature of life. Embracing the fact that nothing is permanent, and immediacy is the practice of living in that moment and not sacrificing the now for some imagined future or some imagined past. The now only exists, everything else is thought. Immediacy is the practice of actually dropping in to that now moment.

When I first started going to Burning Man in ’98 there were no digital cameras, there were no smartphones. The immediacy had a much more visceral feeling to me than it does now. The experience that I had in those first few years at Burning Man was shared between me and the people who were there in that moment. It was only an experience that we had. It was not recorded for the most part. It was not a part of anybody’s memories or recordings. It was, and there was a liberation in that. The ability to be present with people and follow whatever flow, instinct, desire, happens in that moment can only really happen when you can let go of that future. If you are sitting there going, gosh, this music and this fire, I just wanna dance naked. And then you go wait a minute, if someone takes my picture here and that picture gets shown in my office, that’s gonna have consequences. Zoom, we are no longer immediate. Immediacy is no longer on the table. We are now balancing immediacy with security, with the future. And I’m not saying that that’s not irrational or an illogical thing to do. Of course there’s survival instincts that kick in so that we can’t be totally immediate, totally present all the time, which is why having a place where we practice immediacy can be so powerful. So as cellphones, well first digital cameras started to become quite normal around Burning Man. Initially they tagged cameras you know, and now it’s just free for, what are we gonna do? They only register the people who are making documentaries, but in a YouTube era everybody is a semipro. Everybody is making their own TV channel distributed globally. So that person that caught you walking from the water truck back to your camp with mud on your feet and water dripping from your genitals, that footage could be distributed worldwide forever. That is a little bit different feeling. That does affect the ability to totally be free and immediate. And then as cellphones became the norm and smartphones became the way that people are taking pictures as well as just, they were ever present. Suddenly you’ve got this surveillance state even on the playa. For a long time there was no cell service out there, which was a joy, it was a gift, it was a break. Now there’s pretty good service, especially at the beginning of the week. What prompted me to really start talking about this is I saw a bunch of promotion for a new company that is renting or selling a internet hub so that you can have broadband access for the entire time that you’re out on playa. There are reasons why that is important or a good idea. If you were working the event and you have, you’re dealing with correspondence through digital means, through emails or something that involves working the event in some way, then yeah, it makes sense to have the tools needed to do your job well. I’ve heard people make the argument, I have to be online because I have to check in with my family, or I have to be online because I have to check in with my work. Well, that didn’t used to be the case. I mean, people went to Burning Man before there was smartphones and internet access, and somehow people were able to do it. Maybe the bar has gotten lower and lower, so people who were not willing to leave their jobs behind or say goodbye to their family for a week now can go to Burning Man. You could say that’s good or that’s bad. I am leaning on the fence of it’s not great. There is almost nowhere on the planet where you can get a break from connectivity. I believe connectivity while the answer to our prayers is also the curse that is going to rob us of our humanity’s future possibilities. Big statement? I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. When you have a device that is a powerful computational machine that has access to all the maps in the world, I can tell my phone exactly where I want to go and it will take me exactly there, that’s amazing. But what my phone will never do is get me lost and introduce me to someone that I didn’t even know I was supposed to know. My phone will never keep me in a place of stillness so that my mind starts to wander to a solution that is beyond what’s available currently on the internet. The stillness is lacking, the magic is lacking. When we are at Burning Man and we are free from our devices, how many of us have had an experience of playa magic where you find yourself exactly where you’re supposed to be? That rare opportunity to tune into our internal compass is one of the grand gifts of the Burning Man experience, of being disconnected and being reminded that you do have this resource that is not a cerebral thing. It’s not a computational thing. It is magic, it is beyond thought. It is a flow. It is something that allows you to discover, allows you to have fate, allows you to realize a dream that you did not know you had. If you only, the machine can only give you what you’re looking for, but you don’t know what you’re not looking for and something in here, something out here, something that tune into when you truly get present can connect you to the things that you do not know that you do not know. There is a real power to presence. There is a flow state that can happen in true presence. Most people and myself included, rarely get to that flow state. There are times when I’m speaking here, when I lose sense of what I’m doing. I’m just allowing, I’m not looking at my notes. I’m not thinking about the way I’m speaking words, I’m jut letting things out and a sort of magical connection happens. It happens during sex when I’m not trying to use technique and trying to get too cerebral about what’s going on, but just allow flow state to happen, and allow energy to flow, and allow transcendence to happen. At Burning Man it happens all the time. What is the quickest way to snap out of flow state? Check your phone. Surrender your connection to magic to this device and allow it to be your coach. Not your heart, but you’ve dissected your own body, removed this tool that was inside you and given all that power to the external. That is not immediacy, that is, that is a sacrifice of something important, I think. So I don’t mean to argue, I don’t mean to tell anyone how you’re supposed to Burn. Okay, that’s totally, that’s totally false. I tell people how to Burn all the time, or at least I advise the important principles and the concepts of the principles and how I understand the principles to be, and how I believe these principles can profoundly make your life better, but they’re principles and they’re not laws, and so you can do what you want. You can have whatever story that you have that justifies your connectivity or your phone call, or you’re you know mapping something or whatever while you’re on the playa. I think there’s a huge sacrifice. I should say, I am not condemning and accusing because I have fallen into that trap. Last year when I realized how much connectivity I had on my phone, I uploaded pictures and video from Pink Heart’s setup to my Instagram account. I found myself slipping back into the mindset, the mentality and the default me, and the instincts and the urges that I would have to share, to connect, to stay out of immediacy but connected to recording. A photograph by its nature is not immediacy. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t take pictures, but you should be aware, and that’s true with internet and phones, or I mean, and photography. I would say, I’m not saying abolish it and don’t do it. I’m saying if you need to use those things or if you want to use those things, do so with discipline. Set aside times when you are going to put on your responsibility, documentarian or parent or worker, do that thing and then take the jersey off. If you’re gonna be taking pictures, have a photo day or a couple hours to take photos and then go back to experiencing. Experience the event, not record the event. The other option I’d say if you’re taking pictures, what I advise people to do is have like a point and click waterproof camera, maybe a GoPro or something and just when something awesome happens, don’t try to capture this beautiful shot. Yes, it’s a beautiful place. Yes, people take amazing photographs there, but look at the amazing photographs. Allow yourself to be there and just whip out the camera and go click, just to give yourself a way to remember that moment, not beautifully capture it as a artistic expression. The artistic expression is happening. All you need is the memory to bring you back there. Just click and keep going. Don’t think about it, don’t compose, just be. ‘Cause in that flow state you’re making love to life. You’re making love to this energetic experience of present moment immediacy. With so few opportunities to do that in the default world, with so much discipline required, take advantage of this magical place where immediacy is celebrated, where it is one of the core principles. Allow yourself to surrender to the now. Discover what might bubble up, or what might you connect to, or what might you realize, or what might you just feel and go, whoa, I’m supposed to go down this street. Who knows who you missed meeting, what love affair, what life changing experience and conversation that you missed when you let your phone tell you everything. You can get smarter but you cannot find divine wisdom. See now I’m out of the present moment. I’m checking my notes and all of a sudden the magic is gone. So, I will say I value everyone’s expressions and their experiences, and I acknowledge that my story and my needs are different than others. So if you need connectivity, if you need your cellphone, if you need these things you can decide and define what need is, but for many, many, many, many years people went on journeys without their cellphones. People went on excursions and adventures without being able to reach home base. When given the opportunity to have an adventure like that, maybe we should take it. Be present and celebrate the immediacy so that we can tune in to something we may have lost. I hope I can be present with you at Burning Man or somewhere else, or even in this moment right now. Thank you for being present with me. I love you. Let’s have a hug. Grab yourself by the shoulders, and in this immediate moment be grateful for this body and the sensations that happen in the now. The sights, the smells, the physical touch that happens in the now moment, and how much more powerful it is when we are present to it. As we practice presence, as we practice immediacy, how much richness we are open to. We get so caught up in trying to live longer when if we can be present and we can practice immediacy, the moments that we have become so much richer. Life becomes deeper not longer. And so we’re grateful for this physical expression of this body, and we take three breaths together just feeling the breath, feeling ourselves being a part of this one cosmic organism. Three breaths in from the nose and out through the mouth. Ready? On behalf of Grandpa Caleb and all the Love Warriors, Happy Hug Nation. I love you.


Ooh, that’s an interesting point. Nina brings up, at our Midwest Regionals we view taking pictures or video without consent grounds for a serious talking to. I actually have a differing opinion about photography and consent. I think that if someone is in a compromised state of dress such as being naked or if they are topless, or if they are being intimate with someone, anyone, because you never know if that’s their default world partner, then you definitely need to check in with that person before that photograph or video is ever shared with the public. But I don’t believe in a ask before taking pictures philosophy or policy. If I’m in the moment dancing on the dance floor, I do not want to be tapped on the shoulder and asked if it’s okay to take my picture. If afterwards, best practice would be you know a few minutes later when I’m like catching my breath having a drink of water, come up to me and say, “Hey, I got a great picture of you. “Can I send it to you?” And if I say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. I don’t want my picture taken.” You go, “Okay cool, I’ll delete it.” Otherwise, get my information and send it to me. If you’re gonna take someone’s picture, you’re making art of of their art, and so I think there’s a responsibility to share it. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to break immediacy because of your desire to take a picture. I don’t, I love it when people take a picture of me when I’m in the moment and then share it with me later. I don’t mind posing for a picture too, great that’s awesome. But a picture of me truly in my element dancing or talking, or laughing or hugging at Burning Man, I find that to be such a gift. It would not be the same if someone said, “Hey can you hug him again and I can take your picture?” Like I can, but that’s a posed picture. That’s not a capturing of the energy of the moment. So being respectful of people and acknowledging that their image is a part of your art and trying to treat it as collaboration I think is important, but I think treating photography or videography as a automatic breach of consent is problematic. I do think it would interesting to have no photo zones at events, or no photo days. There is the immediacy also I think applies to that experience of what am I willing to share with the people around this table? What am I willing to share with the people in this room? What am I willing to share with the people who have driven through the desert? Who have been following the principles? Who are showing up for this event and have done all that is required to do that? What am I willing to share with those people? A lot, and more than I would be willing to share with my parents or with somebody who’s got it out for me, or who wants to use things against me, or people who are gonna take a video of me crying and hashtag liberal tears, which has happened. You know I cry a lot at Burning Man. I love that feeling of safe vulnerable. Did I use any of those words right? Feeling safe in my vulnerability. Feeling raw and protected, and I feel pretty comfortable doing that in the default world, but nowhere near the way that I do at Burning Man.

If someone was videotaping me bawling in the temple, I would like them to check in with me afterwards and let me know what they’re gonna do with it because you just captured a piece of my soul. Not to borrow or steal from some indigenous beliefs, at least that I’ve heard on TV programs. I’m not sure if that’s accurate or not.

So yeah, photos good, permission good, consent good. Immediacy better. If you’re not with people that you trust with extreme consequences then you don’t get really relaxed. I mentioned sexuality earlier and I think it’s a good model, and I think that you can’t have transcendent sex with someone if you don’t have a massive level of trust.

I used to talk about the “shit the bed principle,” that if you have a partner where if you lost control during orgasm and you shit the bed, if you would be humiliated and they would tease you for that, then you’re never going to reach true beautiful transcendent sex. I’m not saying that you should shit the bed or you would ever need to shit the bed, or I’m not saying that I’ve ever shit the bed. I’m just saying that if I’m with a partner who I know will hold me and help me work through whatever intense thing just happened no matter what, that’s going to release a pipeline to profound energy, and immediacy and presence that is beyond what can be generated through control and cerebrum.

Thank you for being present with me today and helping practice immediacy in this moment. If you’re watching this archive then helping us to kind of extend the very nature of immediacy and hopefully you are present as you received what was happening in the present. If you think that is a distortion of immediacy, I’d like to hear about that too. ‘Cause these are principles to be explored and whatever gets us to our truth, whatever gets us to our magic. Well, that’s the path we gotta find for ourselves. So thanks for helping me walk it, and help walk next to me, and I hope I get to see you again soon.

Make sure you subscribe on youtube.com/hugnation, make sure you look yourself in the mirror and say, you’re awesome. Make sure you chew your food and follow your heart. I love you.

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