The Secret to Transformative Healing

Sep 04, 2023

What Burning Man 2023 can teach us about collective healing—why we need it and how to do it.

If you spend any time online, you’ve likely seen the news about Burning Man 2023. Burning Man, a week-long campout in the Nevada desert, has faced disastrous weather conditions—contributing to the stranding of tens of thousands of hapless festival goers in less than hospitable conditions. What’s more, police (and attendees who summoned the police) faced ample criticism for driving a car into a barricade of protesters attempting to draw attention to the disastrous environmental impact of the mass exodus (and its venue—the ancestral territory of the Northern Paiute People of Nevada). 

The week’s events have culminated in a public reckoning on the ethics of the event itself, with many claiming that Burning Man, in manufacturing conditions of poverty and survival, facilitates so-called spiritual experiences for the rich and famous—at the expense of those living in genuine conditions of need. 

There has been much vitriol on both sides of the argument. Dedicated Burning Man loyalists claim that the festival is founded on the principles of radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy—noble causes indeed. Others, on the other hand, maintain that Burning Man, in its emphasis on self-reliance and individualism, has failed to contribute to the well-being of society as a whole. 

I stand somewhere in the middle.

Events like Burning Man have contributed significantly to my journey of healing. I have been a dedicated festival goer for the better part of two decades, and I’ve been to many Burning Man offshoots. There is no doubt that catapulting people into difficult conditions often promotes personal growth—I have experienced it for myself.

On the other hand, I have seen how healing so often turns into selfishness—how willing people are to compromise the well-being of others to experience relief from pain. 

This conflict has prompted me to think deeply about what we mean when we talk about healing—our own and that of others. It has made me grapple further with a question that has haunted me since I embarked on my mission of bringing healing to others: how can we create a vision of healing that contributes to the greater good? This article aims to explore that question and provide you with the answers you need to pursue holistic, civic-minded solutions to your own struggles. 

What Healing Is—And What It Isn’t 

There are many ways to think about healing.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines healing as “making free of injury or disease; making whole.” This definition implies that healing—like recovery—is recovering something we once held, a return to a state of wholeness. 

Psychologists commonly conceptualize healing as “the personal experience of the transcendence of suffering,” a definition that explicitly limits healing to the parameters of the self. This definition, I believe, is integral to how we conceptualize healing in an individualist Western society. 

Most of us conceive of healing as a profoundly personal journey. Like any spiritual experience, recovery is different for everyone—and the process is one we must undertake for ourselves. This vision, with its emphasis on individualism, has profoundly shaped the way we think about getting better.

Much of what we consider healing these days is encompassed in the pervasive practice of self-help—a movement that prioritizes self-directed improvement of one’s conditions. Experts have long criticized self-help for its limitations—namely, for its unwavering focus on the self—maintaining that it fails to promote empathy, tolerance, and mutual aid, the very conditions on which collective cohesion depends.

Ultimately, we must all reckon with the inescapable truth that our well-being is inextricably bound with that of others—that personal healing is rarely ever personal. It is my personal belief that all of healing is political—it necessarily impacts the collective. When we get better, we become better citizens of our global community. 

Regardless of where we stand on Burning Man, we must all admit that it has brought a pervasive problem into sharp relief: the tension between personal and collective well-being. The time has come to address a question we’ve long been avoiding: How can we reconcile our needs for fulfillment and self-actualization with the needs of the communities we participate in?

A New Definition of Healing 

As a recovery coach, I typically work with people one-on-one to resolve bad habits and facilitate personal transformation. As a result, my practice is profoundly centered around the individual, building on each client's unique needs to devise personalized solutions to their problems. I have extensively studied every program of recovery and healing modality, and I have implemented the measures common to each of these approaches in my own practice—with one exception: building communities.

Community is widely considered one of the foundational principles of healing and recovery. Fellowship, for instance, is one of the core tenets of 12-step programs. Support groups are integral to most rehabilitation programs. Psychologists argue that communities provide the support, validation, mentorship, and accountability people require to change—with few exceptions. Recovery experts maintain that the opposite of addiction is connection. 

There is ample research to support the above claims—all of which have given rise to a new movement pushing for collective healing. Collective healing consists of an approach to recovery and growth that considers the emotional, spiritual, financial, cultural, and social needs of the broader communities to which we belong. This approach operates from the premise that healing is a process of ethical restoration and upgrade—it requires that we become better than we were before—in every way. By this definition, there is no personal healing without collective healing. 

This realization—that our well-being is inextricably tied to that of others—has revolutionized my practice. It’s the reason I am focusing my efforts on providing community-based solutions to the problem of addiction and compulsion. It’s the reason I am founding an affordable, weekly, all-inclusive support group that targets all types of addictions and bad habits—from alcoholism to negative thought patterns (sign up to receive more info about that initiative). And it’s the reason I have shifted the focus of my own recovery from self-help to mutual support.

This realization has been difficult. It has required me to completely restructure my business—and my life. But it has also resulted in immeasurable pay-offs. I have watched my own recovery expand exponentially. I have developed the relationships I so craved—friendships founded on a common goal. I have received the mentorship I needed to forge a path forward—and the accountability I needed to pick me up when I was down. To that end, I want to share some of the strategies I have implemented in my practice—and how they can work for you. 

How You Can Find Collective Healing 

Collective healing has many benefits. Here are a few:


  • Support: Support is one of the most essential elements of any recovery journey. We need the help of others to push us forward when things get tricky. Having a community of healing works to provide that support.
  • Accountability: Most of us struggle to change because we lack accountability. It’s easy to reason yourself out of making a change, but when others are involved, deviating from the path is much harder.
  • Mentorship and Guidance: We all learn through imitation—by mimicking those who have what we want. Through communal healing, we have immediate access to examples of growth—and we can more easily replicate them.
  • Structure: Communities provide the system we need to guide our healing process, eliminating the uncertainty and confusion that so often accompanies any venture into new territory.
  • Access to Resources: Communities are based around the sharing of resources. When you collaborate with others, you automatically access a broad base of resources and ideas you otherwise would not have had.


Hopefully, you’re convinced. But if not, I recommend you give it a shot and see what happens. You have nothing to lose. 

Here are some ways I have implemented collective healing for myself and my clients. Try one out and see what works for you! 


  • Find a Support Group: So many support groups are available for issues of all kinds. I am a member of several 12-step groups and participate in a monthly grief group and a group therapy session. Consider joining a group that focuses on helping you to overcome a personal issue. Many of these groups are remote—and, therefore, relatively easy to access. 
  • Participate in a Book Club: I recently started participating in an anti-racism book club, which has changed my life. Being able to talk about important issues with other like-minded people has radically improved my understanding of how to implement the concepts I read about, breathing life into the otherwise self-contained experience of reading a book.
  • Join a Virtual Message Board or App: From Facebook to Discord, most online platforms facilitate virtual groups around issues of every kind. Consider searching for a virtual community facilitating discourse on topics you care about. These are typically low-investment, so there’s little you have to do but listen! 
  • Join a Transformative Community of Collective Healing: If you’re looking for an all-inclusive resource that combines individual coaching, group discussions, research-backed strategies, and valuable resources, consider joining Recovering Together, an affordable, weekly support group that packs everything you need on your journey to recovery into one remote weekly session. If you’re interested, reserve your spot here (no payment or commitment required).



The research is in: we grow best when we grow together. Collective healing is available to all of us—in innumerable ways. We have only to reach out and claim it. 

If you want to learn more about any of the above resources or need help kicking a bad habit or compulsive behavior, feel free to contact me directly at [email protected]

May your recovery journey bring you peace and fulfillment so you can more freely share it with others. 


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