5 Ways You’ll Get Dissed by Burning Man

by Steve Bearman & Troy Dayton
Check out the list of Steve’s workshops at Burning Man 2017

AfrikaBurn 2013 – Tankwa Karoo National Park, South Africa Photo by: Simon O’Callaghan

Burning Man is not your enemy, but it’s also not your friend.You’ll surf the dust storm, or be swallowed up by it, and Burning Man won’t help or hinder. It is, in that sense, indifferent to your fate.

Despite this indifference, Burning Man will, if you let it, shower you with gifts. The playa provides, right?

Unfortunately, much of what the playa provides is not what you asked for. The playa’s greatest gifts do not appear, at first glance, to be gifts at all. They often seem more like hardships, deprivations, misadventures. Don’t be fooled.

Resisting the challenges the playa provides is the surest path to a safe and predictable burn. Embracing those challenges, however, is the road to playa magic. If you want to be transmuted by the alchemy of the playa, you’ll need to let yourself get thoroughly dissed by Burning Man.

Here are the 5 key ways Burning Man will dis you if you let it:

1. Disorientation
2. Discomfort
3. Distraction
4. Disruption
5. Disillusionment


Most of us go through our lives in a state of over-orientation. We think we know who we are, where we are, and where we’re supposed to go. If you’re lucky, Burning Man will take all that away from you.

You aim your bike to meet a friend at a camp across the playa. As soon as you think you are headed the right way, a dust storm sweeps in and destroys your sense of direction. You’re navigating toward those blinky lights over yonder. But, alas, those lights are on wheels, luring you in a fully unintended direction. For that matter, where did you leave your bike, anyway?

When you find yourself disoriented, there are two basic ways to respond. You can either attempt to regain control by reorienting to your internal map. Or you can accept that your internal map is too small, oversimplified, or just plain wrong. That’s why you got lost in the first place.

The thing about maps, is that no matter how much is on them, there is always far more that’s left off. The amount you know is dwarfed by how much you don’t. The unknown, it turns out, is where most of the action is. The unknown is full of mysteries and subtleties, whole ways of being you have yet to discover. To cross over into the unknown, however, you need to walk off the edge of your old map.

Burning Man is the perfect place to master the art of disorientation. When you find yourself somewhere unintended, perhaps that’s where you were really headed all along. It just wasn’t on your map. When you find yourself confused, perhaps it’s time to let go of tired old interpretations, to seek new meanings. Surrendering to the confusing, liminal freefall of disorientation takes practice. A bigger, richer map will be your reward.

Eidolon Panspermia Ostentatia Duodenum (EPOD) by Dallas Swindle & Michael Christian http://dasivdesign.com/epod/


If you’re interested in comfort, might I recommend a lovely hotel in Reno? Everyone speaks politely, and they change the sheets (almost) every night. You’ll love it.

If you decide to come to the playa, however, I have a different recommendation. Don’t be a victim of discomfort. Expect it, choose it, and move in its general direction. Pursue the path of discomfort, and you will become more free.

Burning Man is sweat and sunburn, dust in your sheets, rutted roads, sleep deprivation, noise that won’t quit. Discomfort is inevitable.

Being uncomfortable really just means you’re feeling something that you’re trying not to feel. Part of you is hot. Another part of you is trying not to be. You can, if you choose, minimize your heat discomfort by using air conditioning, sleeping through the midday blast, and staying in the shade. There is a cost, however, to minimizing discomfort. You feel less. You truncate the range of what you allow yourself to feel. If, on the other hand, you allow the heat, get into it, immerse yourself in it, heat paradoxically stops being uncomfortable. It just becomes heat, neither good nor bad.

This is true not just of heat, but of confusion, loneliness, embarrassment, anxiety: whatever it is you’ve been trying not to feel. If you give yourself permission to feel the things you’re really already feeling anyway, you’ll expand your range. You’ll have more options for how it’s okay to be. You’ll become more free. Discomfort points the way to freedom.

Luckily, you don’t have to walk the path of discomfort alone. All around you, other people are also feeling all manner of feelings. Commiserating together can be helpful. After all, that which does not kill you can still make you pretty irritable. But there are far better options than just complaining. You can encourage each other to feel at your full range, act it out, go all the way. Offer each other a hand through discomfort and out the other side.

Altered State by Kate Raudenbush, 2008 Photo by: Ryan Swift

Altered State by Kate Raudenbush, 2008
Photo by: Ryan Swift


Like with all significant undertakings, it can help to approach Burning Man with intentions for your time there, goals to achieve, desires to fulfill. If you keep your intentions at the forefront of your consciousness, you can – hey, is that a marching band? They’re all dressed like fish! Come on. We have to see where they’re going . . .

Sorry. I’m back. What were we talking about? Oh yeah – how distracting Burning Man is. Trying to get shit done on the playa is like trying to accomplish a task in a dream. Whatever crosses your path has the power to make you forget what you were trying to do in the first place.

Goals are necessary. Goals make shit happen. The central problem with goals, however, is that they’re defined by what you already know in advance. If you’re too goal-oriented, you’ll miss out on the fortuitous and synchronistic distractions the world brings you, experiences you couldn’t have known to plan for.

Unfortunately, most of the distractions the world puts in your path do not seem refreshingly superior to your preexisting plans. You’re on track to do something fun, or necessary, or life-changing, but instead you end up babysitting someone having a bad trip, or in a conversation you can’t figure out how to get out of, or helping someone fix their outfit, or trying to hunt down where you left your water bottle. By the time the distraction passes it’s too late. You’ve missed out, FOMO realized!

The real distraction, however, is the fear of missing out itself. If you think something better should be happening, you’ll be distracted from the magic that is always available here and now, whatever you’re doing. Your goals and intentions are distracting you from your as-yet-unknown destiny. Your big plans are distracting you from small moments of perfection.

Really, the entire event is just one big distraction from the rest of your life. Or is the rest of your life the distraction? If you’re at Burning Man, it might be time to lose track of the difference.

“Embrace” Built by Pier Group for Burning Man 2014. http://embrace2014.com/ Photo Credit: Trey Ratcliff


Burning Man is an exercise in controlled chaos. On one side of the balance is control. On the other, chaos. Play it safe, and you can be sure to leave Burning Man the same person you were when you arrived. Push yourself to your edges, and you risk becoming something new.

You find your edges in moments, not of your choosing, that destabilize, disturb, and disrupt your normal ways of operating.

You know the moments I’m talking about. Your altered state is several notches more altered than you intended. You’re arguing with your partner about what agreements you made and who broke them. Your tent blew open while you were gone and all your stuff is covered in dust. You just had an unprecedented experience of intimacy with someone, but you don’t know where they’re camped. The workshop you took, or the party, or the sunrise, has blown you open, and you’re more vulnerable than you’ve ever been.

Each of these experiences is momentary. You can try to wait it out, endure the moment until it passes. But such moments are also rare opportunities. They disrupt your limiting beliefs about who you think you are.

Limiting beliefs really do limit you. In reality, you are an exquisitely complex, dynamically shifting being of extraordinary beauty, growing and evolving and improvising all the time. But you probably don’t generally think of yourself that way. Instead, you believe yourself to be a fixed cluster of preferences and memories and personality traits. You are far more than that. You’re much greater than the sum of your parts.

Involuntary, disruptive moments, not of your choosing, crack the shell of your limiting beliefs. By the time you reach one of these moments, your defenses have already failed you, so you might as well surrender. All you’re really surrendering is an obsolete, limited view of yourself. That self was never really you anyway. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an I. Then fun gives way to something far more interesting.

“Bike Rack” by Mark Grieve & Ilana Spector, 2007. Photo by Waldemar Horwat


I really expected more from Burning Man. Didn’t you? I thought it would change me. But it didn’t take. I’m not really sure where the fault lies, but I suspect if I read enough articles lamenting about how Burning Man has changed, someone will tell me who to blame.

If you are waiting for Burning Man to do something to you, get ready to be disappointed. Depending on just how high your expectations were, you might even receive a visit from disappointment’s older cousin: disillusionment. If you think Burning Man happens to you, you’re missing the point. You’ve become a consumer and stopped being a participant.

You are Burning Man. It is made of you, and it will only be as stunning, as inspiring, as life-affirming as you are.

I’m sorry Burning Man has failed you, but fulfilling your expectations was never really its job. Once you give up on the idea that Burning Man will grant your wishes, you can step back out into the dust, and figure out how to become the Burning Man you’ve always wished for. Take charge of your fate!

Contribution and service and generosity are what make Burning Man come fully to life, so when you’re sorting out what kind of Burning Man you want to become, it helps to think of someone else. Think of someone you care about who’s going to the burn. Imagine what kinds of experiences you wish they could have there. Then do what you can to help create those experiences.


Trust me, this is how your burn will go. You won’t get where you thought you were going. You won’t feel how you wished you would feel. You won’t wind up doing what you meant to do. You’ll end up being someone different than you thought you were going to be. And on top of it all, Burning Man will fail to do for you what you hoped it would do.

Given all that, why would anyone want to go, never mind keep coming back?

We keep coming back because each of these disses holds a hidden treasure. They push you off the edge of your old map, immerse you in a wider range of feelings, reveal the perfection in whatever you’re doing, confront your limiting beliefs about who you are, and inspire you to take charge of your fate.

Getting dissed is inevitable. How you relate to getting dissed, however, determines the difference between misfortune and liberation. This, of course, is not just true at Burning Man.

Come to Steve’s Workshops at Burning Man 2017!
Tues, 12:00-2:00, Psychedelics of Interpersonal Contact, Camp Soft Landing (9:30 & G)
Explore how the person sitting next to you can be the most potent psychedelic of all. Come learn to generate altered states through human interaction!
Tues, 5:00-7:00, Naked Counseling, Camp Contact (7:00 & E)
Expose yourself to naked counseling! You’ll heal body shame, be seen as beautiful, and learn to love your body exactly as it already is!
Wed, 11:30-1:00, There is no ship: Swimming Free in the RelationseaCamp Mystic (2:00 & G)
The illusion that relationships exist provides a sense of security, at great cost. Learn to set yourself and others free, in every moment of relating.
Wed, 1:30-3:30, Speed Counseling, Camp Contact (7:00 & E)
Far more gratifying than speed dating. Get the best counseling of your life in 6 minutes! Learn to change other people’s lives just as fast.
Wed, 3:30-6:00, Deep Dating on the Playa: Intimacy Now!, Camp Contact (7:00 & E)
Learn and practice the rules for getting real and going deep with anyone, anytime. Bring a date or meet one in this experiential class.
Thurs, 1:30-3:30pm, SAFETY 3RD: RISK ALL FOR GROWTH & FREEDOM, Camp Contact (7:00 & E)
Are you willing to get hurt, gamble your identity, and risk your sanity to wake up and break free? Come put safety in its proper place: 3rd!

Thurs, 3:30-6:30pm, Ending Jealousy Permanently, Camp Contact (7:00 & E)

Transform insecurity into loving yourself, scarcity into deepening intimacy, codependency into enjoying aloneness in this interactive class.

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 Interchange’s year-long Counseling and Coaching Training Program, which has been running since 2002, he also leads workshops on community building, relationships, overcoming anxiety, gender role conditioning, healing body shame, death and grieving, and spiritual practice.

Troy Dayton (T. Dazzl) – Co-founder of Burner Map and blogger at Burner Love. Troy currently serves as co-founder and CEO of the legal cannabis investment and research firm The ArcView Group and a board member of the Marijuana Policy Project. He cofounded Students for Sensible Drug Policy and is a founding board member of The National Cannabis Industry Association. Troy previously served on the leadership team at the Interchange Counseling Institute and as Director of Development at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).