Ordinary reality is not designed with personal growth in mind. If you like conformity, competition, or pretense, then ordinary reality is a great place to be!
If what you’re interested in is personal growth, however, you’ll need to go through the cracks in ordinary reality and find out what’s on the other side. Where can you go to find respite from ordinary reality? Look to retreat centers, human potential workshops, counseling sessions, spiritual practices, altered states . . . and Burning Man.
By altering ordinary reality through environment, art, and community, Burning Man provides unique conditions for healing, growth, and liberation. Taking advantage of those conditions is where you come in.
Here are 5 ways to squeeze the most personal growth out of your Burn!
1. Be Your Odd Fickle Little Self
2. Go for Connection (in all its forms)
3. Start an Evolution
4. Be the Drugs You Wish to Take in the World
5. No Mo’ FOMO
1. Be your odd fickle little self
(Thanks to Scott London for most of the photos. )
“We need to recover the ability to pay attention to something other than the whirlpool of questions and doubts about what is required or expected for acceptance.” – Brad Blanton
We all start out as weird little authentic people with special gifts and the confidence to express them. As we grow up, society teaches us that fitting in is more important than honoring the evolution of what makes us special. We learn to fake it, don masks, and smile when someone points a camera at us.
Almost nowhere else on Earth is there more room for you to be you than at Burning Man. But even here, revealing your true colors might feel risky. Fortunately, you’ve come to the exact right place to take those risks. Instead of trying hard to be liked, acting the ways you’ve learned you should, or hiding your feelings, you can find your voice, show your vulnerabilities, and share your idiosyncratic gifts.
But how can you be committed to authenticity while also being open to trying new things that you are not sure yet are “you”? Partly, it’s about motivation. If you’re expressing yourself in a given way out of a desire to fit in, or to be like people expect you to be, that won’t be so growth-promoting. If instead, it’s done out of a desire to make your outsides more like your insides, or to explore a novel way of being human, there’s where you’ll find growth potential.
As new aspects of reality come into your awareness, new aspects of your identity may crave expression. Trying on new ways of being is just as important as dropping old pretenses. There’s an edge to walk, between who you once were, and who you’re discovering yourself to be.
Authenticity does not imply consistency, so go ahead and contradict yourself – no, actually, wait – don’t!
Burning Man may just be the place where the ways in which you are too much, are just enough.
2. Go for Connection (in all its forms)
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” - C. S. Lewis
So many of us spend so much of our lives grappling with isolation and alienation, wishing for deeper, more real contact. If someone has, by whatever means, arrived at Burning Man, they, like you, want something more. Like you, they want to be close, to love and be loved, to trust and be trusted. If you walk across the playa assuming that everyone wants to be close, so much more becomes possible.
There’s a trick to creating intimacy everywhere you go. Think back on the last time you were attracted to someone. You likely gave them an unusual quality of attention and appreciation, friendliness and respect. You treated them as if they were special, and they could feel it. What would it be like if you gave that quality of attention to everyone? We’re not saying you should be attracted to everyone, or spend the same amount of time with everyone. You can, however, practice seeing each person’s unique and extraordinary beauty, and treat them accordingly. The more you can do this, the more your everyday interactions become magical. And more and more flavors of intimacy become available.
Because intimacy is a function of authenticity, it also takes many forms. Launch your daily playa adventure with the intention to find a new one. Treat people as if they are special (because they are). Then find out what you can create together.
3. Start an evolution
“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anaïs Nin
You did not used to be nearly as awesome you are now. Think back to a time before you had grown and developed into your current form. When you do this, we imagine you feel a good deal of relief. It’s so much better to be the current you!
Now, imagine your future self reading this. When they think back to their old selves, it’s you they’re imagining! They’re remembering who they used to be when they were limited in the ways you’re limited, and they’re feeling a sense of relief to no longer be bound by such limitations. How do you imagine your future self to be different from the current you?
One way to orient toward growth is to guess at what the next steps are in your ongoing development and to reach for them. Every day on the playa is an opportunity to stretch into your new self, to clumsily or gracefully try out new ways of being.
Whether or not they’re aware of it, everyone is trying to reach for the next stage in their personal evolutions. You can support that by noticing what may be trying to happen in others and helping it along. We’re all afraid of being judged as we incompetently try to become more than we already are. You can help offset this fear by celebrating newness. You’ll find yourself celebrating your own newness too, giving yourself more permission to do it wrong, as you awkwardly grow into your future self.
To learn more about starting an evolution, go start one. Invite us to it.
4. Be the drugs you wish to take in the world
Our normal rational consciousness is but one type of consciousness. Whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness.” – William James
Because people seem so self-expressed and bizarre at Burning Man, it’s easy to make the assumption that everyone must be on psychedelics. Surprisingly, most are not. Perhaps they were last night or last year, or perhaps they’ve achieved their profound absurdity through extra-pharmaceutical means. Regardless, only a minority of people are on drugs at any given time.
Drugs don’t create new experiences; they unlock them.
On a new drug in a new environment, you might experience new ways of being that are difficult to recreate on your own. If you’re deliberate about it, you can learn over time to produce within yourself the kinds of states of consciousness associated with the drug all on your own. The next step is externalizing those states to create novel experiences for the people around you. You can be the drug!
Think about your drug of choice and what it makes available to you. Does it help you to feel more free and less inhibited, to take more pleasure in everyday experiences, to love more fully or without reservations? Does it give you permission to experience reality with more flexibility and creativity, to open your awareness to include more than it usually does?
Now, how can you help to create those experiences for the people you’re with, wherever you go? Think about how to facilitate freedom, pleasure, love, expanded awareness, and lucid dreaming with friends, lovers, strangers, and fellow adventurers. Don’t wait for it to happen. Be the drugs you wish to take in the world!
5. No mo’ FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)
“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” H. L. Mencken
Somewhere out there in the sea of burners, you imagine, is a person having exactly the kinds of experiences you think you should be having. They’re always having a good time, never bored or overwhelmed, invited to all the best events, having the best sex, accumulating the best stories to tell after they get home. Why, you lament, can’t your Burn be like theirs?
But you are comparing your insides with another person’s outsides, like comparing apples with the dreams of oranges. When you do this, you cast your attention out into an ideal, imaginary world, and you feel inadequate in comparison. That can turn a momentary negative feeling into something much bigger with more meaning.
There is only one experience you will ever have – yours! You may rise to exalted states of transcendent bliss, only to find yourself cranky and unmotivated an hour later. You may miss the best party on the playa, only to enjoy a simple evening with an old friend. That art project didn’t turn out as planned, and you are left rebuilding while your friends are out adventuring. All of these experiences are needed. When you trust the energetic system of yourself, you find that none of these states are random. They all fit into the magnificent ecology of you.
Integrating experiences is as important as having them. Contracting is as necessary as expanding. You will always be missing out on other people’s experiences. Don’t miss out on yours too!
As veteran Burners can tell you, personal growth often happens at Burning Man whether you want it to or not. Some people are dragged kicking and screaming into the next stage of their personal or relational development. Taking charge of your personal growth isn’t just a good idea, it can also save you the pain of involuntary evolution.
Now, go on . . . find those dusty cracks in the fabric of reality. We look forward to joining you in getting the most personal growth out of exploring them!
Steve Bearman, Ph.D. – Founder of the Interchange Counseling Institute in San Francisco, Steve is a counselor, social justice educator, and workshop leader. In addition to teaching counseling and coaching trainings, he has led workshops on community building, relationships, sexuality, polyamory, gender role conditioning, death, and spiritual practice. This is Steve’s second burn.
Troy Dayton (T. Dazzl) – Co-founder of Burner Map. Blogger at Burner Love. CEO at The ArcView Group. Formerly Director of Development at MAPS and lead fundraiser at the Marijuana Policy Project. Co-founder of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Troy served on the leadership team at the Interchange Counseling Institute and is a graduate of the program. This is his 13th consecutive burn.