Episode 16
E16
Burning Man Live | Episode 16 | 09|16|2020

Eamon Armstrong and the Festivalness of Life

Guests: Eamon Armstrong

What does it mean to be (or not be) a festival?

Andie and Stuart speak with Eamon Armstrong, host of the Life is a Festival podcast about working Burning Man, Fest300, and the Psychedelic Therapy Podcast, as well as the future (if any) of festivals in a post-pandemic world, the nature of transformative experience, and his quest to achieve metamodern manliness without all the toxic masculinity.

Eamon Armstrong is the creator of Life is a Festival, promoting a lifestyle of adventure and personal development through the lens of festival culture. He is the former Creative Director and public face of the industry-leading online festival guide and community Fest300. His belief in the transformational power of psychedelics led him to take part in a traditional Bwiti initiation in Gabon, and to become a trained Sitter with MAP’s Zendo Project.

Sponsor: Dr. Yes’s Forever Home for Jaded Burners

Life is a Festival

Burning Man LIVE

Transcript

ANDIE: Welcome back to another adorable episode of Bernie man live. I’m Andy grace

STUART: And I’m Stuart Mangrum. Um, Wow. What a strange, strange week. This is Andy.

ANDIE: It’s been surreal in so many directions.

STUART: I mean, first of all,This is supposed to be strike week.

ANDIE: Right? Right.

STUART: Where would you be now in a normal year? What would you be doing?

ANDIE: It’s Thursday. Hopefully I would have pulled the laundry out of the car by now, after passing through Reno and sleeping for about 24 hours in my own bed. What about you?

STUART: The same? I’d probably be already doing endless loads of laundry, freaking out my dry cleaner by bringing her a dusty tuxedo and going through gallons of vinegar, trying to clean her, the undercarriage of the truck from all that playa crud. Yeah, but instead I’m sitting here, with all these wildfires.

ANDIE: I’m sure. A lot of people, especially in the U S saw pictures being posted from the West coast. It felt like the surface of Mars, I was in blade runner meets dune, and my dog was so confused. She wouldn’t even go outside.

STUART: Yeah. One of my friends said it was like the apocalypse directed by Villeneuve. We did Blade Runner 2040.

ANDIE: Yeah. And it’s, you know, worrying about all your friends and I know people who’ve already lost their properties and everybody’s got surrounded by fires in all directions. Well, it’s, you know, it’s really scary times and it’s good to be able to connect with each other as we have. Here we are today to do a show.

STUART: It’d be good to talk about something other than the apocalypse, maybe something I don’t know, festive,

ANDIE: festive. I like that idea. That’s perfect. And our guest today is his name is Ayman Armstrong. He’s the host of the life as a festival podcast. And he’s had a whole bunch of Burners on his show, including in his latest episode is with our CEO Marian Goodell.

STUART: Wait a minute. Did you say festival, are you saying, are you saying that Burning Man is a festival now because that word has, has some baggage with it?

ANDIE: Well, funny thing is it Eamon. And Marion did talk about that. And we could talk about that here a little bit more if you want.

STUART: I’d like to talk some more about that. I mean, cause festival, I mean, you look at it, etymologically, it’s just a happy word, right? It’s based on feasting or being festive or having a good time, but. There’s a big difference between our medieval notion of a festival or a potlatch festival, and like say, I don’t know, lobster Fest at red lobster. Right. And a lot of them do seem to be that word. It seems to imply some sort of a passive consumer experience to celebrate some kind of buying of something, an entertainment experience plate of, you know, frozen lobster tails.

ANDIE: Right. In the contemporary sense. That’s absolutely true, but it does have a long history. So.

STUART: All right. Well, we’ll talk about that with Ayman, but first, wait a minute, let’s have a brief word from our sponsor.

Sponsor: Dr Yes’s Forever Home for Jaded Burners

ANDIE: Now that’s festive.

STUART: Yeah. Does my yurt come with a Bullhorn or do I need to provide my own?

ANDIE: Oh, everybody else just gets one. Not you.

STUART: This is the 10th circle of hell.

ANDIE: Our guests let’s talk to our guests. Our guest is Eamon Armstrong host of life as a festival. Hello, Eamon.

EAMON: Hello.

ANDIE: Tell us how you introduce yourself.

EAMON: I introduced myself as Eamon. I’ve never actually had a playa name. When I first went to Burning Man, I met someone at a casino in Reno. I will give you a plant name. And he held my head, never met him and it was very invasive. And he said, you are Zap. And I was like, I don’t think I want to go to Burning Man anymore.

I don’t want to be Zap. I introduce myself as Eamon, depending on the context, sometimes as the host of Life is a Festival and sometimes as the host of the Psychedelic Therapy podcast, but mainly just Eamon. I was the Prince of Parties for a little while, but I thankfully grew out of it.

STUART: I think you made a wise choice, declining Zap, People talking about all these rules for applying names. I say there are only two: somebody has to call you, and you have to answer to it. And as long as you don’t answer to it, it’s not applying it

EAMON: Zap. I wish I’d known that rule. This is the first time I’m hearing of visceral. I think I violated this rule with other people too, where I’ve Chris and them with playa names that they definitely did not want.

STUART: Okay, Zap.

ANDIE: So Life is a Festival. Let’s start there. Tell us about the background of the name and the journey that brought you to that concept and the title.

EAMON: So I actually wasn’t really into festivals per se. Burning Man was my first experience of what was then festival culture for me. So I’ve always thought a lot of Burning Man as a festival.
Sure. We’ll talk about this. So I was Burning Man first and then I worked for the Burning Man special events team and got good at doing social media. So I got hired by a guy named Chip Conley, who many of you know and love. To work on a website called Fest 300, which was a guide to the world’s best festivals.

And in my role as a community builder for Fest 300, I got to meet all of these amazing people around the world that were involved in festival culture. And I also got to have these experiences of personal growth and watch them occurring around me. But what was difficult is this kind of integration afterwards as you go and have this incredible experience, and then you go back to your life and you kind of like.

Go back in your box. And so after Fest 300 ended, and then I did a little traveling, I wanted to start something new. That was just for me. And I thought, what a wonderful thing to just talk to all the fabulous people that I’ve met, about how to make your life like a festival. So how to take all of these peak experiences and silly moments and.

Communal Effort and building things together and to see that into your life. And so life is a festival is about making your life like a festival and it’s actually evolved. It’s actually, even now, it’s even less about making your life like a festival as such. Now it’s more like how to be with the entire world as if it’s a festival so that when things are more difficult, you can just sort of.

Realize that you’re a part of a participant in some glorious spectacle. So it’s gotten a little bit of like a stoic philosophy piece that sort of wandered in.

STUART: So what exactly is a festival?

EAMON: Then I should have something in the can for this and I don’t. As you can probably tell I’m woefully ill prepared for both this interview.

And literally my whole life, a festival is an environment of communal celebration. There’s a sociologist called the meal Durkheim who talked about this idea of collective effervescence. This is one of Chip’s things that he loves. So I’m stealing it from chip, but collective effervescence is this experience of kind of bubbling up together where we sort of have a cathartic experience together.
And I feel like a festival is a celebratory container that creates the conditions of collective effervesce.

STUART: There’s a lot of people using that term that I can’t think it’s anything like that. I mean, is Glastonbury creating a collective effervescence or is it really just a couple of hundred thousand people watching a spectacle on a stage.

EAMON: So interesting. You would choose Glastonbury. I think Glastonbury is absolutely an environment of collective effervescence and an environment of participation. And so part of the thing about life as a festival and talking about Burning Man as a festival is not so much, I’m not afraid that the consumer music festivals are going to dilute the glory of participatory culture.

I actually feel like by considering Burning Man a festival and it kind of leads towards more participant culture for other environments that already have kind of the foundation for it. So like Coachella is different than lightening it up. Lightning in a bottle is still a, you know, you pay for your ticket, you buy food.

It’s not a burn, but it sits a little bit closer to Burning Man. And it wouldn’t without Burning Man. And when people get up in arms about Oh, friends, don’t let friends call Burning Man a festival. I feel like there’s kind of like an abdication of the leadership opportunity of moving all of these kinds of celebratory gatherings closer and closer to participation, because I think that’s what we all really want anyway, because when you’re an, of course y’all know, this is the whole Burning Man thing.

When you build it yourself. The party is much better. The experience is much better and it actually ends up being kind of a teaching experience more than just an experience of spectating and consuming. So. I feel like Burning Man is a festival. It’s also a festival in the vibe of like cultural festivals.

Like Kumbh Mela in India. It’s a festival. And I would like to see the sort of modern music festival growing more towards the direction of Burning Man, particularly through boutique kind of community thrown events, like little smaller kinds of festivals that are being thrown and kind of a Burning Man ethos.

STUART: Yeah, it’s interesting. You mentioned Lightning in a Bottle because they are referred to in several other events kind of, sort of more like Burning Man than like Glastonbury refer to themselves as transformational or transformative festivals. Is that a real, is that a category? Is that an industry category? Is that a thing? And what does transformation really look like?

EAMON: Oh gosh, the whole transformational festival thing. Yeah. So I like calling Burning Man a festival, but I hate the term transformational festival because transformational festival is a super prescriptive term. It’s like, if you didn’t transform, you didn’t do it.

Right. Right. And sort of transformational festival vibe is like, okay, we’re going here to transform. And I think that if you go to a place with the intention to transform, then you’re limiting your ability to actually have. A transformative experience, because your idea of what transformation is, is already kind of locked in your mind.

If I go to Burning Man to have a shamonic psychedelic transformation, then I might totally miss the shenanigans and, and punk prank culture that actually may. Changed my life for the better by disrupting my seriousness. But if it’s transformational, I’m going to transform. I’ve got my owl feathers, I’m all in linen.

I’m ready for my transformation. You’re actually kind of doing the same thing that you would do anyway and not really like letting in the kind of coyote trickster energy that actually is truly transformational. So I think the kind of transformational festival moniker. It’s not really. And I think it’s also kind of passe.

I mean, not that there are festivals anymore, which is sad, but I think it’s seen as a bit of a passe term, although we don’t really have a good term for that kind of hybrid Byrne music festival that they kind of sit in.

ANDIE: Right. So don’t be a transformational festival, but festivals and that kind of experience can be transformational. You’re right. Stewart transformation is a very big word.

STUART: Yeah. It’s another one of those, like. Festival or events, you could go a lot of different directions. I’m really curious about the mechanics about the science of transformation, because there is some emergent science around that. There’s some interesting work coming out of Yale, a person named Molly Crockett and a guy named Daniel Yadkin.

They’ve been doing a multiyear study of people at multiple T word festivals, burning down lightning in a bottle, a few others. And actually tracking changes in their behavior and the most interesting one that they’ve actually put some numbers on is a generosity that people do come away from some of these events, more generous than they showed up measured, you know, not just in surveys, but actually in some experimentation.

One example of that is what they call it. The dictator experiment, where they give you 10 gifts is that you can keep them all or you can give them all away. And it’s up to you. I imagine the number that people give away rather than keep for themselves before and after is, I don’t know. I think there is, there is something there.

We tend to shy away from talking about it because as you said, it does make it sound like, wow, it’s like another thing on my punch list. I gotta have my transformative experience. I’m ready for my transformative moment, mr. Mil,

Fx: violins from Sunset Boulevard clip mentioned

STUART: I think there might be something there. People do change and people self describe all the time. It’s like Burning Man changed my life.

EAMON: Well, and I think that you need to be available for multiple kinds of transformation because you can kind of get into spiritual call to sack of transformation because transformation can really devolve into Naval gazing, particularly if you’re going from one peak experience to another.

And that’s something that I try to emphasize a lot on the podcast. So you go do your ayahuasca ceremony and you have this great experience and you feel so good. You feel good? Maybe not during, but certainly afterwards. And so, well, what do I want to do? I want to go have another Iowasca experience and you can get caught in that you can get caught in trying to leap from peak to peak the actual evolution.

The evolution that I talked about on my podcast is party to serve. You come for the party and then you’re like, Oh, why does my life not outside of it? Why does it suck? Oh, there’s stuff in me that needs to be moved and processed and felt. I need to break out of some of these boxes and then you do that for a while, but you can get caught.

They’re just like, “Oh, now I’m having another transformation. Oh. And now I’m like my golden Archangel self or whatever,” sort of like mythology. You want to paint on top of that. But once you get into actual service with it, integrating it into your life and building practices that help you kind of maintain it.

You start moving from healing yourself, transforming yourself to actually being like, okay, well I need to really transform the society. I need to actually bring this into the world. And that’s part of why I started camping at Burners Without Borders, because I’d done enough of this conscious entrepreneur theme camp, you know, where it’s like we get up and we talk about our medicine work and we talk about these things, but I felt like Burners Without Borders will bring it to the next step. What does it mean to actually give this away outside of our culture and outside of our comfort zone? The point of it all is that if you’re too preoccupied with the idea of transformation, it’ll have the opposite effect. So you’ll just kind of be in a loop of self aggrandizement.

STUART: Or if you think it’s a single event, you know, that blinding flash of Satori rather than the start of a journey, right?

EAMON: Yeah. That’s a great point.

ANDIE: You know, you can go there seeking evolution and be open to that. But I, it would be fascinating to understand the conditions under which permission to, to seek that evolution without chasing that evolution have to exist, because there is a difference between a music festival and the kind of place where that happens.

And if you try to bring it into a music festival space, I’ve tried to just give buttons and people are like, what, what, why would I receive this? You know, you’re not building community. If they’re not gonna close the electrical circuit and receive the gift, you’re just some weirdo that’s trying to hand them something they don’t want.

EAMON: Well, I think that’s why the Decommodification piece is part of what’s so powerful in Burning Man, because I can’t remember who the, I think his name is Weber. Maybe the philosopher talks about I-it relationships versus I-you relationships. I wish I had him so I could reference exactly his name.

But when we’re going through the world and we’re constantly toggling between transactional relationships, like I’m at the convenience store. I want my gum, you are the gum dispenser. And then I’m toggling between that. And like, you’re my friend. I’m trying to have a deep experience with, we’re kind of constantly opening and closing our interpersonal membrane.

And I think at Burning Man, that memory just keeps getting more and more open. So you’re on playa and someone gives you something and. You’re not like, Oh, no, no, no, I’m sorry. I don’t want to donate to your church or whatever it is. You’re like, Oh, this is for me. It’s this opening of the membrane that I think is probably part of what makes the space so unique.

STUART: Yeah, Decommodification definitely does. I think that its most salient effect is that people don’t distrust each other’s motives, you know, in ordinary circumstances when we tend to just treat strangers as economic actors and expect them to be selling us something. And any gift, you know, expect something in return for it.
Uh, those expectations kind of drop away right

ANDIE: Wonder what that’s going to be like now that we’re not sitting in space with one another and having these in person experiences, it makes me wonder about all the festivals that you’ve been to and the things that you must listen to, Eamon. Where are you finding inspiration now that we’re all kind of living the opposite of the experience of a festival and we can’t be face-to-face to build those relationships.

So are you hearing anything good? What’s inspiring you?

EAMON: I really like a yin yoga kind of perspective on things that there is yin and yang, and there’s yang within yin and yang within yin. For those of us who are not on the front lines. And a lot of people are. If you’re not an essential worker, also, if you’re not trying to manage like a crazy family, for those of us privileged enough to have this experience be a slowdown, it’s actually a really profound experience to slow down.

Life is a Festival isn’t like: let’s celebrate all the time. It’s like: let’s meet life in this open hearted way that we would meet an interactive art piece at a festival. And sometimes it’s time for the Man to burn and to go crazy and to hoo ha and do your thing.

And sometimes it’s time for the Temple to burn and it’s time for you to get really quiet and introspective and let that happen.

And I feel like we are very much in a Temple burn season of the world in this moment. You’d mentioned before we had this conversation that you might want to ask me about the future of festivals. I’m not really thinking about the future of festivals that much right now, because I’m embracing my yin and feeling a lot of gratitude, looking for places where I can serve and help out, but also just like what happens when there’s no FOMO, because there’s nothing to be afraid of missing out.

If you’re not like, Oh, I’m going to go here. I’m going to meet this person. What happens inside you? And it’s a little bit like what I love about yin yoga. Have y’all done some yoga before? No, sir. What happens is you’re in this ONE position where everything slows down and then yang stuff inside you starts coming up and it’s hard.

Everything’s quiet, nothing is happening, but gravity, you’re not efforting in any way. And yet within you, these things that have kind of like sat where you’ve held them, start to pick up and be like, Hey, you’re in pain, by the way, are you ready to feel that? And I think for those of us privileged enough, not to be.

Fighting this disease as a medical worker, we actually, I have the privilege of getting some of that yang stuckness out of us in, in this time, just accepting that it’s not festival time. Now it’s time for something different. You also

ANDIE: Your work around masculinity going back to change and personal evolution, because I feel like you’ve mentioned that, especially, I guess the 2010 event, a Burning Man event, you had experiences that led you to start thinking about masculinity in our society and yourself. And I wonder if you would tell us a bit about that and how that evolved.

EAMON: Oh man. Oh man. So Burning Man taught me that I could be feminine without being gay. When I was a little boy. So I was born in 1982 before I knew what sex was being gay was the thing you didn’t want to be. That meant to be excluded and to be gay meant to be feminine in any way, pre sexual, like, I don’t know what, what gay would mean, but it just means to be feminine.

And so I’ve had this really major wound because I’m like a multicolored bird with complex energies and aspects, and I like to sing and wear bright colors and it wasn’t until I went to Burning Man, and I was watching. These super cool dudes gallivanting or allowing the playa with gowns and brunch lady hats.

And I was like, I can be that. And it didn’t seem to be the kind of binary of mainstream gay culture, which to me had felt like such a character culture. And it didn’t seem swishy or sissy or these things. I don’t feel that gayness is that, but it’s in my system being called those names as a little boy.

I was called Flaming Eamon. Which hurt me so much that I go to Burning Man. It’s like, that’s actually like a pretty cool name.

Flaming Eamon. Considering. Yeah. Yeah. But flame and Eamon was just like, no, like I’m not that I’m not that. And so much in me was like, how much am I, not that part of what I do in men’s work is to talk about this idea of the exiled family.

And men’s work is not universal. Masculinity is not universal. Our healing around our masculinity is not, you know, none of this is universal, but for some men, for myself included, there was a process of trying to remove from myself, everything that was feminine and the homecoming of all of those lengths and, and energies and feelings and wants.

I call this the return of the exiled feminine. And it’s a reintegration and wholeness and Burning Man was the playground for me to first see it and then experiment with it. I love to two Tuesday, for example, Tutu Tuesday is such a beautiful gift to CIS gender men, because it’s just tutus, everybody’s doing it.

And then you can try it on and you’re like, okay, well, well what about, you know, what if, what if I kind of have a little wiggle in my tutu? Like it sort of starts to build on itself. I’ve dressed as a grandma at Burning Man. I’ve dressed as a girl bunny at Burning Man. I’ve done a lot and I don’t even think of it as like drag.

It’s kind of like an avatar prism. Accessing these aspects of myself by playing into these different beings that I get to inhabit out there. And it’s such a beautiful playground for that. Yeah. Burning Man has absolutely brought all of this work in masculinity up for me.

STUART: It’s one of the things that I’m most grateful for, putting on a dress more like cosplay than drag show you. Right. One of the things I missed in this year’s quarantine was Brides of March.

EAMON: Oh, yeah. Steven Raspa was into that. Yeah.

STUART: So, but in that men’s work and finding the feminine is it possible to go too far, the other side and start, you know, hating the masculine elements in yourself.

EAMON: Funny. You should say that. So that’s the thing I’ve noticed with any kind of personal growth is you’re always like over-correcting and there’s the righteousness of the recent apostate too. So you’re like, well, now I am a champion against toxic masculinity and I see it everywhere. I look, and then. I fell under this. Like when I first started giving talks on masculinity, it was all about how to dismantle toxic masculinity.

And I was preaching about toxic masculinity from the righteousness of my newly acquired, integrated, feminine. And the reality is, is that we’re all such complex creatures. There’s so many wounds that we have and, um, And nobody, nobody needs the same thing. So there may be a young man who was raised in such a way that there are aspects of his masculinity that he learned to hate.

And for him, this connecting with the feminine, isn’t actually what he needs most. So it’s totally possible to go in the opposite direction. And actually that was part of what brought the spark to something called the mytho poetic amends movement. Have you heard of this? The mytho poetic men’s movement is that like Robert Bly?

Absolutely. That is indeed Robert Bly, but basically what they found is that there was a sort of patriarchal, what we call toxic masculinity, the kind of Don Draper vibe. And then there was second wave feminism. And then there was a masculine response to second way of feminism where these poets who started the methodic men’s movement found that a lot of men had kind of lost their connection to a kind of deeper masculinity.

The way that I think about that is the problem of masculinity being oppositionally constructed at all that it’s like, okay, I’m a man, cause I’m not a woman. So I’m going to force out all the feminine and now I’m a good man. So I’m not a bad man. And to be a good man means to force out all the masculine with the myth of poetic men’s movement did is, it looked back to myths and stories as ways of finding archetypes to explore and align with.

So. From their perspective, the idea of being a man, especially maturing into an adult man with a mature masculine psychology. Wasn’t about what am I not, what do I define myself by the negation of, but actually what about the King? What does it feel like to be the King? What about the magician? What does it feel like to be the magician?

These archetypes are presented as masculine archetypes, but they’re also non-exclusive. It’s not that a woman can’t connect to her magician archetype. So it’s far more inclusive and far more personal in one’s own relation to mythology and ancient stories rather than, okay. I need to be a man. I’m going to have to turn in my man card.

If I don’t do the following things that require me to, to negate something up. No, we’d do masculinity this much. It’s kinda nice. I like it.

STUART: Yeah. That’s fascinating. Yeah. You know, there are other archetypes besides the warrior and Don Draper, right. You know, the father and the caretaker image of masculinity.

EAMON: Well, the archetypes are good because the archetypes are loose fitting. They’re like energies and ideas that you can align with as they serve you. It’s not like a man is a caregiver, so I’m a man and I’m a caregiver. It’s like, I’m a being in a male body and

I can play with different archetypes. Like I love the coyote archetype.

That’s like, I’m going to play with that a little bit. I’m going to see how that widens. My width of being, and it kind of brings us back to the issue with transformation is our egos are so interested in staying the same. And so we get in a groove where maybe we’ve swapped out mainstream culture for a kind of crunchy transformational culture, but then we’re getting in that groove and we want to stay in it.

And I think that the archetypes are good. And trickster energy generally is good. Cause it kind of ends that and says, okay, well what would I be if I were this? How could I experience and connect with the world if I stepped into a lion or an owl or whatever it is, but that fundamentally I’m, I’m simply an infinite being and in a, in a human body, I don’t know.

You even know what the infinite being I actually am is because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to be in a human body, but everything that I do that broadens the width of that, that turns my boundaries into horizons creates a kind of expansiveness. Yes. That makes life better. Allows my leaves to turn towards the light.

And that’s kind of like my guiding north star is how can my leaves turn towards the light.

STUART: So is transformational experience as part of that, the, the unlearning of maybe things that you are forced to do or questioning decisions that were made for you and figuring out your own path

EAMON: Yeah, absolutely. That’s part of why I’m so interested in psychedelics and psychedelics for healing, modern science is pretty much at a place of that.

A big part of what psychedelics do is reduce the kind of holding of what’s called the default mode network. It’s pretty common parlance now to talk about the default mode network, but essentially the default mode network is sort of the regions of your brain forming a network of what your brain does habitually at rest, which turns out is think about yourself.

And a lot of things like OCD, depression, a lot of these are connected to your default mode being one that’s rather negative and rather self centered. And psychedelics across the board, certainly with the FMRI studies of LSD at Imperial college London. But I know there’ve been other psychedelic studies in this way since then that have shown to reduce activity in that network and create the possibility for activity between regions that don’t usually form networks.

And so when you say unlearning, what am I learning? Well, I’m unlearning that I need to be famous to be loved. I don’t know why

I learned that, but I learned it and then I was desperately clawing for fame and now I am not famous, but people know about me and they liked my work and I feel good. And so I’ve kind of unlearned a desperation for fame.
And not that that doesn’t come back, but yeah, I think it’s absolutely an unlearning, a releasing and an opening for the marvelous serendipity of life.

ANDIE: And that was probably its process and not a singular moment where you woke up the next day and said, I don’t have to be famous. It was something that happened incrementally, right?

EAMON: Of course. And it’s asymptotically incremental. It’s always going, but it’s sort of like a curve that’s going towards a line that never quite gets there. I don’t think that there is an arrival. I think that the idea of arrival is an ego thing. If I just do this, if I just have one more Ayahuasca ceremony, if I just do it every year, I’ll, I’ll finally arrive.

I think it’s more, asymptotic where it’s sort of like I’m getting closer and closer is better. And I’m also just kind of like dancing my way through this mystery of life.

ANDIE: And so you’ve got your podcasts, the psychedelic therapy podcast. You probably just touched on some of this, but what’s most exciting for you as far as what you’re learning there is that you unpack that world and dive deeper into it.

EAMON: Well, the psychedelic therapy podcast is great because it’s part of a job, um, which I’m very excited that I have a job that pays me money to talk about sex, Alex. That is super cool. So it’s community building for a psychedelic software startup. That’s building software for psychedelic therapists. And my job is to be friends with everybody.

My job at Fest 300 too, and it’s a really cool job and a good way of being friends with everybody is to interview them and learn about them. And when you do an interview with someone and you’re well prepared and you show up, I just did. An interview with a Dene woman. Dene is the proper name for Navajo. Her name is Belinda Irvine, and we did an interview about considerations for psychedelic practitioners when dealing with native population.

I did a lot of research and I was really prepared and she still blew my mind. And I still like learned so much, but we’re like homies now. And it’s not a one way thing where the company that I work for wants to look good. And so that’s why we’re doing, it’s also like now we have a relationship. And so now when I’m curious as to whether we’re getting something right, When we’re honoring indigenous lineages, I actually have someone who’s willing to talk to me about it.

And who’s already, we’ve built this connection and I know what she’s trying to do with her career and her work. And she’s amplifying her work in terms of her, her speaking, her conferences. So her being on my podcast was of service to her. And so we’re kind of doing this, like. This relationship building thing, and I love it.

It’s so nice. I really, really, really liked podcasting. And the psychedelic therapy podcast has a much more limited scope than life has a festival because life is a festival is kind of the Amun show. Like it’s me. And I talk about my, you know, I don’t talk about myself a lot because that’s, that’s pretty annoying.

I hope it’s not annoying right now, but when you’re, when you’re hosting and you talk about yourself, You know, but it’s still kind of like my journey, the psychedelic therapy podcast is like, this is psychedelic therapist and healers, and I’m interviewing people who let you know. I interviewed a woman.

Yeah. Patient descent who had just started. And she’s bringing all of these beautiful, ancestor altar energy into her work. Now, someone in Boulder, Colorado who is, you know, wanting to do ketamine infusion therapy and who actually is more of a clinician, more on the research side. Well, they can then listen to this podcast and listen to this, this incredible woman, her name’s Flory, Saint Amy.

Can listen to how she’s leaned into her lineage to bring her ancestors into her treatment with her. So she builds an altar and she feels very supported by her ancestors. And she also invites her, her client’s ancestors into the room. Now, if you’re a medical researcher, who’s focusing on ketamine and treatment for depression, that may be a little much for you perhaps, but it also might strike something like, okay, well, Well, are my ancestors part of this?

Is that something that I could even sort of imagine in my treatment? And so what I’m trying to build with this work. It’s just the best way that people are using psychedelics to heal others. And then to share that through the community, it’s like medical, contra-indication super important, how to build your business super important, how to do you know, how not to be a shaman, you know, like super, super important.

And, um, and yeah, I’m having a lot of fun with it and it’s a job; they’re actually paying me to do it. I say they, my incredible colleagues. Yeah, I’m feeling really grateful to be doing that. And it was built on life as a festival, which was built on Fest 300, which was built on volunteering for the Burning Man special offense team.

So there you go.

STUART: Looking back through your back catalog of, of Life is a Festival episodes, I’m seeing a whole lot of Burner folks that I recognize, uh, Marian Goodell. We mentioned Christopher Breedlove, Zac Cirivello, Caveat. Uh, I haven’t listened to the Caveat show. What’d you guys talk about?.

EAMON: Oh man. The Caveat show actually. So I read his book, “The Scene that Built Cities” I’ve really loved his work for a while because I’ll be reading something from the Burning Man Journal and I’ll be like, Ooh, damn, that’s poetic and precise. Oh, it’s Caveat. Duh, of course it’s Caveat. Yeah. Right. His article “Burning Man for White People” was part of how I then wrote about AfrikaBurn.

He just, he’s just stimulated a lot of things for me. So it was really exciting to interview him. We talked about a lot of things, but primarily the collision between Burning Man prank culture and transformational culture. And it actually brought me. Cause when I first went to Burning Man, it was silly play.

You know, we built a grandma’s house art car and we would dress as grandmothers and we’d scold people and, and we’d then forgive them and then have a dance party. Those were my roots. And then in my own reckless self-improvement I got very, you know, and this is kind of what I’m decrying in this interview is the kind of myopic focus on personal growth.

So we were talking about this beautiful collision between these two cultures at Burning Man, and how, in a sense, they kind of like check each other. Yeah. And he sang at the end of it. He sang us a sea Shanty in my house very loudly. And it was, um, I’d like, turn down the mic. I was like, Oh, okay, Whoa, cowboy.

But, uh, yeah, he’s brilliant. And the poetic way with which he describes this culture is something that I really admire

ANDIE: As a podcaster, this is my question. How do you know? Because you’re, you’re having these rangy philosophical conversations. What’s your process? Do you spend a lot of time talking to the people beforehand? Cause you’ve reached out to some people that you didn’t know. And why do you have reason to think it’s going to go? Well, what’s your process like?

EAMON: Ooh. Are you, are you asking because you are looking for your own tips, are you looking, you’re looking for guests,

ANDIE: I’m curious, I’m curious because you have this array of people and and it’s not just, let’s talk about this festival and now let’s talk about that festival.

You really dive into a lot of the things that we’re talking about here. So I’m just curious about that process.

EAMON: Well, first of all, part of what I found with Life as a Festival is that I don’t want anyone to think it’s a podcast about festivals because that’d be boring. You know, actually that reminds me of what, um, Oh, my gosh, I’m blanking on his name, the beautiful proprietor of the front porch art car, Zack Carol once told me early in my career, never write about a festival.

This is back when I was writing. Never write about a festival because it’s boring. You have to write about the human experience in the context of a festival because the festival is to be experienced, not to be written about, but the human experience is to be written about. And that really stuck with me in that all of my early articles were very much like personal journeys and awareness.
And learning about culture through festivals. So Life is a Festival is about life. And it’s really my journey today. I did a podcast with Jamie Wheal who did a wonderful job of criticizing this sort of “I think I’m in the grail castle learning the greatest thing but actually I’m in Hotel California” kind of conscious communities.

Yeah, he’s got great poetry too. And I asked him, okay, well, if I really want transformation, what should I do? And he said, go do a 10 day wilderness. First responder training offered by Knowles. Not only will you be a better person afterwards, but you will be a more useful person, which is a much better kind of transformation than simply spending 10 days in silence or 10 days in the jungle.

Now that’s a bit hyperbolic because 10 days in silence will make you more useful. It will make you. Probably a little more quiet, which can be more useful. But then on the podcast I said, yes, I will go do this. So I went and I did the NOLs course. And then of course in the NOLs course, I then wanted to interview my instructor.

So a big part of the podcast for me is kind of like going with what feels like the next thing for me. One thing is that I don’t, it’s really hard for me when people ask to be on the show. It’s a weird thing. It’s just hard because I don’t want to say no, but the answer is almost always no, because I don’t really choose that way for me.

It’s like, what’s the next thing I want to learn? What’s the next way that I want to expand? And so someone will reach out to me and be like, I really want to be on the podcast to talk about marijuana. And I’m like, well, I don’t care about that. Like, it’s nice, but I, you know, it’s hard for me to respond cause I don’t want to be a jerk and I don’t want to act like my podcast is somehow some precious thing that they’re excluded from because that’s horrible.

So responding to that is hard. But for me, it’s very much like what is the next thing that I want to learn? Where are my blind spots? And does that intersect with the culture that I’m serving? So I did a podcast called grandmother, give me patients from where I interviewed a woman named Joe T ma, who is the convener of the 13 indigenous grandmothers.

She is not an indigenous woman herself, but she has convened them and her dear sister, Loretta… And I was just like, I want to speak to these women. And it was so funny because I showed up with all of my chutzpah and linear thinking, and I wanted to extract my perfect podcast from these, these wise grandmothers.

And they just would not have it. And they did the podcast exactly the way that they wanted to do. And at the end of it, yeah, it was like, but there’s so much we didn’t talk about, like, I wanted to talk about this really big deal thing and Mount Rushmore, and you’ve done all these things and instead. When I look back on the podcast, I was like, wow, this whole pond, the cast was these two brilliant wise women desperately trying to teach me some patience, you know, like that was the point.

So for me, like a winning podcast is sometimes when I’m the fool during it, you know, like I’m ridiculous. And then afterwards I’m like, Oh, teaching moment. Yeah. Okay. You know, you look a bit ridiculous, but the lesson is there and those are some of my most precious. So overall your question about guests on the show, it’s a lot of going with my intuition.

Sometimes it’s easier when someone nominates someone else, because then I feel like I get to choose them rather than someone asking. And I feel like I’m saying no, or yes. So sometimes someone will be like, Ooh, have you heard of this person? You know, sometimes I have some dream guests that I’ve been trying to get on the show.

It took me a long time to get married on the show. And then when we did do it, she really showed up and I could tell she was taking a risk, being really vulnerable and trusting me. And part of how I create that trust is I give my guests final cut on the content. I say like, we’re going to do this conversation and total vulnerability.

And then you get to decide what is released. There’s no gotcha. There’s it’s just like: how much more vulnerable can we get in this journey?

STUART: I love that solid advice. Yeah. We are trying to figure this out, working on this all the time, and I hear you about not wanting to say yes or no to people. I don’t think anybody has ever nominated themselves for our, Oh, wait a minute: YOU HAVE.

EAMON: I wasn’t sure. If you were going to bring that up.

ANDIE: It was a train going down the track at the same time.

EAMON: It was happy.

ANDIE: It was a happy moment to say

EAMON: yes. Well, okay. So in my defense, Andy and I have been talking about this podcast for a while and I felt that, and you can tell me if this is how it was received.

I felt that it was kind of offered in a sort of like if this would be of service to you considering this is something I’ve been doing for a while, we could do a thing. Like would that help you? So I was trying not to do the, like, can I please be on your show? But yeah,

ANDIE: I mean, it really was, it was more like that. We started collaborating as we began to talk about a podcast. I reached out as a fan of, I don’t remember who contacted whom first, but we ended up collaborating on putting together a podcast or meetup on the playa last year and ended up just that Ammon has played a bit of a mentor for me as we’ve learned our way into this world.
And this became something that was. Obvious to do and would be a lot of fun. And so when it was time to release the Marriott episode, it seemed like a good time to get together and catch up. So,

EAMON: yeah. Well, and let me say something about podcasting Stewart. I’m so glad you called me out because that’s good radio. I didn’t really want you to call me out, but I teed you up for it. And the fact that you called me out, like, then we get that kind of bubbly. It’s a little more fun. And the audience is like, Ooh, no, he did. And I’m like, Oh, I did do that. It’s a little more effervescent, little more effort.

STUART: So what do you think is ahead for festivals in general and Burning Man in particular? I know, I know you, I don’t have a crystal ball any more than I do, but are we going to have an event in 2021? And is it going to look different from what it looked like before? I dunno. What do you think?

EAMON: Yeah, so the big focus of my episode with Marian was actually encouraging people to donate to the org.

That was like the big point of why I wanted to do it at that time in this way, because I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know what the chance is, but there is definitely a chance that the event doesn’t happen next year. And Burning Man is three things. It’s the global community. I’m like lecturing to you about Burning Man.

And I’m like burnsplaining. You. It’s the global culture, it’s the event and it’s the project and the global culture is going to be fine. Like it’s already the, the cat’s out of the bag. The Swedes are just going to keep doing it on the coast of Denmark the way they do, you know, like it’s there. So it’s fine.

Burning Man as a culture will survive and it’s already out in the world and giving this beautiful gift the event. And then especially the organization itself are what are. At risk right now. And I feel that it’s really important for Burners to step up and help out. So what I said on the podcast with Marianne is that if you have enough abundance, that you’re okay, then you’re doing great.

If you have enough abundance that you’re okay. And you’ve been able to donate to some of these causes, black lives matter, frontline workers, you’ve been able to help out and you still have abundance. And frankly, that’s a lot of Burners, right? A lot of Burners still have abundance. If that’s the case.

Then buy your Burning Man ticket just as if we’ve gone to Burning Man this year, just buy your Burning Man ticket. And I actually got a message from someone today who said that he’d been gifted most of his Burning Man tickets, but he wanted to buy one today. First of all, it’s going to be Communal Effort that that keeps us going.

I’m definitely, I’m very pro donating the cost of your Burning Man ticket. Right now that being said, Burning Man the event could potentially change for the better in this time off. Marian was talking about how y’all, don’t want to fire people because you’re going to gut the organization, right?

So there are people who need to, they need jobs. They have families. And they’re talented and they’re not going to be producing an event, but they have time to tighten up so many things about the event. Another thing that’s really meaningful is that we’ve got this 2030 sustainability roadmap and that can be accelerated now because more people can be working on it and more innovation can happen.

So I think that if the org has enough money to get through, certainly to 2021 and possibly to 2022, then I think we’re actually going to see a more dialed event and frankly, a greener event, which is, I think one of the two most important things facing our culture right now. Yeah. I did a second interview with Christopher Breedlove also about the future of Burning Man.

And I hope you have him on the show. Have you had him on the show? Oh, but he’s due to come back around again. Okay. He’s a smarter man than I on these topics and a good friend. And when I think of the future of burning, man, I look to just the glorious innovation of the Burning Man community and people like Breedlove and others who I admire and what they’re wanting.

How do you get joy in what we’ve lost? Like what is joyful, yes. That comes out of like the smoldering, no, of no event this year. No event. Okay, well what’s the yes. Yes. Multi-verse yes. Innovation in a new way. Where’s the, yes. So that’s the answer about the future of Burning Man? The future? Yeah.

Festivals, I feel, are the same as I felt for a number of years, which is a move towards more boutique, more community driven, more participatory, smaller events, hopefully less destination show off events. Although I’ve done that too, where you’re like, I’m on a beach and I’m partying. I think it’d be nice to have a little bit less, you know, less of that, the showiness of that.

But I like a community called Desert Hearts. They’re Burners. They throw a small house and techno festival in Southern California and they’ve built such a deep connected community. And so when COVID hit they were actually able to move that online much more easily than something like insomniac or live nation or one of these bigger events, because they were such a tightly woven community right now.

What we really want from festivals, what we’ve always wanted from festivals is community. And we need community now more than ever. So I think that there’s going to be some moves into the virtual and trying to create and connect with an experienced community there. And then as things move on, it’s not going to be like, we get a vaccine and it’s done.

So it’s going to be a slow ramp up. You know, maybe you can finally go to a hundred person event, you know, maybe there’ll be, you know, a hundred people at fly ranch, the smaller things, smaller kind of communities sort of building up. So that’s what I see as, as the future of festivals and festival culture.

STUART: Pretty good for a guy without a crystal ball. Tell me I’m never going back to SXSW, please tell me. I’ve never gone back to South by,

EAMON: I wonder how that will go. I wonder what stuff like South by will do.

STUART: Yeah. You know, I mean, it’s an example of a highly hyper commercialized festival where so many people are to make connections and running on the corporate dollar.
I think there’s, there’s always going to be a market for that, right. For people to go and make sales connections.

EAMON: Yeah. And South By was the Fest 300 list of the world’s best festivals. And it’s got some cool film, festival energy to it. It’s got some cool music stuff to it, but ultimately it really is kind of like a conference kind of vibe.
And it’s sort of hyper transactional in that way. And there’s totally a place for that. But in terms of festivals, you know, it’s a heavy lift to go to South by, well, maybe it’s not a heavy lift, but you have to make it a festival yourself. You know, really

ANDIE: Actually, if you aren’t going there for the conference portion of it, you know, experiencing it a couple of times as a local night where you don’t, you get a badge, so you can go see music and get into the parties.

And it’s like you described the smaller communal scenes. I’ve made incredibly useful personal connections with people on creative pursuits at that event as well in those smaller spaces, without ever having a conference badge and going to sit and listen to a single panelist. So there’s something about the container that certain groups are able to present and say, come to our little meetup and these bands are gonna play and really great connections happen.

And I don’t just mean standing there at the front of the stage, pumping your fist, but because you’re kind of there to make connections, there’s a little bit of a facade that happens where it’s like, okay, it is okay to ask what you do and like check your badge. And I have always wanted to talk about AI, or I’ve always wanted to talk about multi-user games or.

There’s a games track, and there’s the music track in the film and education. So it’s constructed to put you into those little smaller containers so that you can meet people in that vein.

EAMON: Now I realize that I want to take back what I said about SXSW. And being somewhat disparaging because I went to an Amsterdam dance event one year, which is a conference slash music festival in Amsterdam.

And it was totally a magical festival. And it was kind of like, there was all this networking, there was like speed dating, networking in these hotel lobbies. And it seemed like some kind of techno funeral, cause everybody’s in black and like outside these hotels and then do it. And he’s like really fast meetings.

And that in itself was just so culturally interesting and rich. Like everybody’s doing these meetings. Everybody’s in black and this cat Marcus Barnes, who we ended up hiring for Fest 300, just kind of slinked through the room, blowing kisses at everybody. And I was just like, damn man, that’s how it’s done.

You know, it’s what you, it’s what you make it. Life is a festival. Right. You know, if it’s a festival, maybe,

ANDIE: Maybe you’d be able to walk through the blowing kisses if you went by Zap.

EAMON: Okay. I don’t want to be Zap

STUART: Or Flaming Eamon.

EAMON: Layman. Yeah.

STUART: Hey my name has some better legs than Zap.

EAMON: I got to say it’s true.

After this podcast comes out, I’m definitely going to have some Burner friends who like flame and aim and then I’ll be right back in seven, just quivering.

STUART: Oh sorry for that. We can edit that out. If it, if it bothers you

EAMON: I’ve had enough transformational experiences, I believe I might’ve appealed to Flaming Eamon. I think actually it doesn’t hit the soft spot in the same way as it once did.

ANDIE: It’s a festival.

STUART: Life is a Festival. All right. Well, on that note, I think we’re about out of time. God. Eamon. Thank you so much for showing up.

EAMON: Why, why are we out of time? See, this is why I have no time limit on mine because I get so into it. And then I have to edit it a lot later and like, sometimes it’s clunky. I was going to say, what do you still want to talk about?

STUART: OK what do you want to ask us about?

EAMON: I just want to keep talking. I just want to keep talking. So how can I, how can I buy some time while I think of something clever to ask you? Well, Stewart, you named the multiverse right? Is that correct?

STUART: Yeah. Sorry.

EAMON: Okay. So yeah, my question for you is why did you ruin the world? Why, why did you, you know, some, some spell was cast. Where like you’ve put Burning Man in the multiverse, I’m pretty sure of it. And I hold you personally accountable. Not that I had to ask you to hold you accountable.

STUART: lIt just sounded like fun at the time. And I actually wrote a whole nother theme for last year, or for this year. I wrote it last year for this year. There’s time again. That was totally not fun. It was more about, you know, our struggles to maintain our hold on the land out there and contests over what exactly meant home and the BLM and the environmental impact statement and all that. And I liked the way it was written, but it was just kind of boring. And I looked at it and it failed several of the critical tests for me of a good test.

EAMON: What are the critical tests?

STUART: it should reflect what’s happening in the world, which it did hit. But it should be accessible to artists and inspirational for artists to be able to work from.

And it should be accessible to the common Burner in some way that they might be able to connect with it. And even if it’s, you know, putting on a dumb Renaissance costume for the DaVinci theme or whatever. And so, yeah, I just wanted something more fun and, you know, multiverse is just so strange. And surreal.

And for me, it was really just sort of a launch pad for talking about surrealism and physics, all the oddness of the world. And I just felt that was just a much bigger on-ramp for artists to be able to express the theme. And yeah. And now here we are. Now everybody’s blaming me for fucking up the fabric of reality. It’s just a word people. It’s just a word.

EAMON: Great. It turned out to be a big old on-ramp that we all have been pulled along

STUART: No it’s more like a Cloverleaf. It’s a big spaghetti going everywhere. I didn’t want that.

EAMON: You know what, what you just said about themes and I promise I’m not going to just keep trying to keep this interview going, but I do want to say this. I always felt like a theme needed to be something that someone could go crazy overboard on and just get the inspiration and could just go nuts.

But it could also need to be something where if someone didn’t feel that comfortable, they could do a simple thing and still be a part of the whole. So I feel like theming things is a very specific art. I appreciate that you do that art,

STUART: Well thank you. And once again, I’m sorry.

EAMON: As long as you give us a theme for next year, that’ll take us back to the supplier. You’ll be forgiven.

STUART: Think that theme that I wrote about going home hopefully will be the theme for the next Burning Man event.

ANDIE: No it’s sports. It’s going to be sports.

STUART: No it’s, actually, at this point, it’s multiverse 3.0, because don’t ask me what happened to 2.0.

EAMON: Oh, it’s in another multiverse

STUART: it’s out there somewhere. That’s not here.

EAMON: I want to go home next year. So please keep me in mind when you write the theme that I would like to go back to the black rock desert, because it’s very, it’s really special to me and I don’t want it to be not here next year. So it’s on you holding you personally as it is to all of us.

STUART: Thanks for that. And thanks for showing up today. I mean, it’s been a wonderful conversation.

EAMON: Thank you so much. Yeah, this is really good. I love that I’ve listened to some of the episodes. I got to listen in too. I think the first episode you did, and I’m already starting to see how your dynamic with each other is growing.

It’s fun on my end, as a podcaster who pays attention to details about podcasting, to kind of notice how you’re passing the mic back and forth and kind of like how your chemistry is developing as hosts.

STUART: So, yeah, it’s been a pleasure to be here. Thank you for all of your, uh, your love and support along the way.
And that is a show. Thank you everybody for showing up. Be sure to check out amens podcast. Life is a festival. You can find it at his website andarmstrong.com. Listen to his great interview with Marian, lots of other stuff. You can spend hours in there. It’s a fabulous rabbit hole

Burning Man Live (clears throat) Burning Man Live is a production of the philosophical center of Burning Man project. Our web address is live. Dot Burning Man.org. Our email is live@burningman.org, and you can follow us on all the socials it’s @burningmanlive. Our technical producer and story editor is the fabulous Michael Vav. Our producers are Andy Grace, Logan Mirto, and our sponsor spot this week was produced by Dr Yes of burn.life. Big thanks to our super friends, Tanner Boeger, Devin from the Internet, freak ball the clown and Jay Kanizzle. And of course, thanks, Larry.


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