5 Ways to Maximize Personal Growth at Burning Man (or Anywhere). ~ Troy Dayton

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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.

(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).

Photo Credit: Shelly Gerrish of Photography for Good

“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!


Troy Dayton (T. Dazzl) – Co-founder of Burner Map. Blogger at Burner Love. CEO at The ArcView Group and board member of the Marijuana Policy Project. Formerly Director of Development at MAPS and 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.





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Assist. Ed: Jade Belzberg/Ed: Bryonie Wise

“heading to Burning Man? – here’s some photos I’ve taken so you can see how beautiful it is. [OC] (imgur.com, click for source, it’s beautiful)

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anonymous Jul 4, 2014 8:15am

Wonderful article, thanks!
I came looking for generic infos on BM, but I've found a truly inspiring post (and a stronger desire to go to BM).

anonymous Mar 18, 2014 11:07am

"Ordinary reality is not designed with personal growth in mind."

What a sad perspective of the world.

anonymous Oct 26, 2013 11:51pm

or you can go and just have fun. Give of yourself, be yourself, enjoy yourself.

anonymous Sep 30, 2013 8:18pm

I believe that being true to yourself is the first step that one should take to achieve personal growth. Let's stop the people-pleasing attitude and be our true selves. Thanks for this enlightening post. This made my day. 🙂

anonymous Sep 17, 2013 8:48pm

I am a second year Burner. I am 67 y.o. I had open heart surgery last Jan (not an emergency) but needed if I wanted to follow my father's genes who turned 90 on 9/15 and because I wanted to come back home to BM this year…..and 2014. Whim, I really like your Four point s. I see myself taking a new approach for the next Burn. I mean I've enjoyed the hell out of the past 2 but I sense I will have a new and refreshing look to it all. Thank you.

anonymous Aug 22, 2013 9:21pm

Be balanced cool , not self indulgent cool it will work for all places in the universes and you will always be seen in fine light !

anonymous Aug 22, 2013 7:43am

Last year was my virgin year at the Burn. It was an experience that I will never forget. Burning Man is loving and giving society where you can be anyone at any time. It allow for full creative expression, externally and internally. I won't be going this year due to a variety of factors, but I look forward to returning in 2014. You are so correct, in that you can or cannot be on drugs… It all about choice and your desired experience. Try or Don't Try… Just Go….

anonymous Aug 18, 2013 11:33pm

I present, in response, Four Ways to Survive Burning Man Without Feeling Woefully Inadequate, also known as "How a 'Radically Inclusive' Place Can Be Really Annoyingly Normative … And How To Not Let That Bother You":

1. You can be anyone you want to be. That includes the person you are now. You don't need fuzzy clothing. You don't need a new name. You can have these things if you really want them. They may keep you warm. Or not.

2. You can be positive all the time and look to connect with everyone around you. Or you can tell everyone to fuck off if you'd rather weep for the Pacific Ocean in front of a pile of recycling by yourself. By the principle of radical inclusion, you are allowed to have your misanthropy if you want to.

3. Even if you don't light things on fire and twirl them around, you may still be cool.

4. Burning Man is full of geeks. Familiarize yourself with the Geek Social Fallacies and avoid wasting your precious time in the city of magic dealing with someone else's need to prove that everyone is, or should be made to feel, included in everything all the time: http://www.plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html

    anonymous Aug 21, 2013 8:14am

    Very well stated and constructive comment Whim. Much appreciated. I'm a regular attendee but my wife won't go anymore.
    The self conscious costume party, criticism of her unpimped bike and incessant sexual advances pretty well has terminally turned her off BM.

    anonymous Sep 15, 2013 1:44am

    I love your point 3 because I think that puts many people off from going. They think – hey, what if I am not as cool as all those insanely cool people in the pix. What if I don't have a 6-pack, what if I'm not a fashion model, what if I don't want to take my clothes off?

    Once you're there none of that stuff even matters. Costumes don't matter – not that they're not fun of course, but they're not for everyone. Playa names – I've never wanted one. I am my playa self. Gifts to give away are nice – but your biggest gift is you.

    At the end of the burn everyone is lifted up spiritually. In this state of mind, everyone looks good – you're glowing, and I am there to witness it. You will never see so many beautiful people in one place as you will at the end of the week at burning man – because everyone is beautiful. Rather than that just being something to say, it's reality. As real as the playa dust you're standing on.

    anonymous Mar 17, 2014 4:05pm

    Very well put Whim.

anonymous Aug 18, 2013 6:11pm

Wow. I've yet to go to a Burning Man.

These things always fill me with an anxiety,
a general, I have no idea what to do here,
and I'm way too in my head to know where
to go, what to do.

It's basically my life in general, so far.