5 Truisms from Burning Man That Will Change Your Poker Life

What is Burning Man?

The most popular response to that answer is "life changing." But what does that mean?

I imagine it’s different for everyone. Every event you experience is life changing. Burning Man is no exception to that rule.

But the dust and the desert dole out a dizziness of change. It’s raw. For the virgin burners it’s unexpected but, most importantly, it feels bloody good.

There's something for everyone in Black Rock City. Here are five things that I took away from the desert and would love to see implemented more widely in poker.

1. Hugging

When you arrive at Burning Man someone will greet you, ask you to step out of the car, and hug you.

The First Hug
Hug each other instead.

It’s not just any old hug. This is a meeting of the hearts. It means something to the hugger and seconds after the compression squeezes out your judgment it means something to you.

Nobody shakes hands at Burning Man. It’s all about the embrace.

It’s uncomfortable at first -- particularly hugging the naked people. I developed this habit of grabbing an ass cheek during my embraces. They didn’t mind.

Who doesn’t want understanding and acceptance? At Burning Man it starts with that hug.

The hug is a statement. You can trust me. I am safe. It boosts all sorts of happiness chemicals. It makes you feel good. It’s the ultimate icebreaker.

Everyone who sits down at a poker table should be forced to hug everyone and that includes the dealer. You don’t need alcohol or drugs to break down those walls of seriousness.

All you need is a hug. Do it, and watch those walls come tumbling down. The ensuing poker games will be wonderful.

2. The Power of Service

When I was a kid I suffered from racial and xenophobic abuse. I was also poor. I think this turned me into an angry, selfish little man.

Over time I matured and mellowed. Nothing special happened to me; I guess I happened to me.

Philip Gruissem
Reducing suffering everywhere

This maturity led to introspection and I started to change. My values shimmered away from self-related modems to more service-related ones.

Yet, at the core of my being, the foundation of who I am, I always seem to think of myself first. This is not how it works at Burning Man.

There were 45 people in my camp. We shared a community area. Each time I entered people were giving their time, energy and bodies to other people.

People would listen, do bodywork, paint toenails, shave hair, apply make-up, read to each other, sing to each other, tickle each other or spend time working on the maintenance of the camp.

Poker is a game where we take from other people. That becomes acidic in its effects on your psyche if you don’t have tools to deal with it. One of the key components to personal continuous improvement, and health in general, is learning about the power of service.

This was a problem that plagued Philipp Gruissem. To end his suffering he helped create Raising for Effective Giving (REG). He has cured his suffering by ending the suffering of others.

Gruissem takes money from poker and donates it to causes where the most good can be done. This translates itself into the ending of suffering for sentient beings, the saving of lives, or to invest in the research of the many ways suffering can be reduced and happiness promulgated.

Play that one hand.

3. The Now

Burning Man can be whatever you want it to be. You can create a Wi-Fi zone, take your laptop, set up an awning and multi-table online cash games during the day and live cash games at night.

I left my laptop at home. I only used my phone for note taking and photograph creating.

I had no work to do. I had no electronic devices to bother me. And I had nothing to worry about. The future wasn’t on my mind because the moment that I was in was always so meaningful.

The past was welcomed into the moment because Burning Man is a place for the past to be pulled apart and cast into the dust. This was great training for poker.

It was a training ground for presence. There is only one hand. Play that one hand.

4. We Are All Flesh & Blood

Perhaps it’s my exposure to racism and xenophobia but I'm sensitive to being corralled into a specific group of hierarchical order. 

The rail
Rail or table, we're all one.

At Burning Man we are all one. I know that sounds very new age hippy, but it’s true.

It’s the one place on earth I sensed that everyone was comfortable being his or her authentic self.

There is a hierarchical order within poker. It exists. As a writer, I feel it. I don’t like it. It makes me feel uncomfortable.

I am on the periphery. I am a side event and the players are the main event. I get it. But I also see factions within the playing community.

This is one of the reasons players mock other players. It’s a belief that they are somehow better than the person who has just luckboxed his or her way to victory.

There is no room for such bullshit at Burning Man. Everyone has to pull his or her own weight. There's no room for primadonnas.

Everyone is flesh and blood and that’s all there is to it.

5. Gratitude

Burning Man is a place for healing. I spent a lot of time in the presence of men. It wasn’t something I went into Burning Man intent on pursuing but it became apparent to me during my early forays into the workshops that I have a fear of men.

Pavilion room WSOP
Be grateful for every hand.

I know I'm using a very broad brush here but if someone is going to kill, rape or abuse someone my money is on the perpetrator being male. This creates trust issues for me and I worked hard on softening this during my time in the desert.

It was during these interactions with men that I started to truly understand how grateful I am to have lived the life, and continue to live the life, that I live.

My leather boots are still full of hellacious tales of zombies who changed men’s lives forever through myriad axioms of abuse. I saw Hell's Angels balling their eyes out. We all helped carry the dead out of those tents.

I practice gratitude every single day. I write about it in my journal. I practice it at meal times and in the evening during my check-in with my wife. Gratitude is another happiness chemical producer. It makes you feel good. So bury yourself in it.

Poker is freedom. Poker is fun. Poker is a wonderful life. Be grateful for it.

Every single hand.

Every single bad beat.

Every single chip.

Because if you aren’t here, where would you be?

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