“nothing happens when I meditate; I don’t know if it’s working”
a new TOP-LEVEL SOLO PRACTICE for “unsticking!” [experimental]
“nothing happens when I meditate; I don’t know if it’s working”
a new TOP-LEVEL SOLO PRACTICE for “unsticking!” [experimental]
There’s an intuition I’m working on conveying, which I think applies to circling, bio-emotive/nedera, somatic experiencing, vipassana, concentration, kasina practice, core transformation, IFS, the preliminary/auxiliary practices in my stuff, everything.
For those interested, maybe consider this color sorter:
I would click on bubble sort. (I think this sorter doesn’t quite finish, but the analogy holds).
There’s a low-key, leaky-abstraction sense in which there’s a real, true, final “pixel perfect” state of (body)mind, at the end of meditation. The abstraction leaks, in a bunch of ways, maybe, in that the mind doesn’t know or need to know, at the beginning what rainbows are, that they exist, that pixels exist, all sorts of stuff. And, there’s no perfect, no final end, no fixed goal, etc. And, from the inside, the process needs exploration, experimentation, creativity, and self-authority, not rote/mechanical color sorting.
But, sort of, in some sense, (a) pixel-perfect precision, and (b) something like really-there, absolute, objective patterning/ordering (like a rainbow)— analogously, analogously, analogously—are a thing.
My concern with circling, somatic experiencing, nedera, etc., is that they’re seductive in the ways that THEY PRODUCE EFFECTS unlike just about everything else that’s out there. They are true advances. I’m so grateful they exist.
And/but, long-run, they sort of trade off on local versus global. Like, they can make little rainbows (highly valued breakthroughs, changes, something) in some local area, while fucking up a bunch of shit outside that local area, sometimes, in ways that are hard to detect and realize.
(And it’s all fixable! It’s fine! Lossless rewind, long run. And, for any particular person, doing nedera or etc., is, for sure, the right strategic move for them, in terms of life situation or total path length, or whatever.)
But, almost no system seems to get this “pixel-perfect” thing.
(This is for sure not a denial of nebulosity, emptiness, etc. The “pixel-perfect” thing accounts for these. It’s just an analogy. It’s also beyond arhatship, though; it’s the deconditioning that continues, through proper practice, after arhatship.)
There’s sort of this belief, maybe, with all these systems, that “if I just keep going,” either in a straight line or picking off issues, one by one, as they come up, then “that’s enough, that will get me what I’m looking for.”
And there’s a sense in which that’s true:
The mind IS always working on heading in the right direction, unwinding, unknotting, etc. The mind is ALWAYS working on doing the pixel-perfect thing. That’s what the mind naturally, spontaneously does.
I can’t speak well to other systems, except for local interactions I have with practitioners in them, small-n impressions. But, I think with respect to those systems, and certainly with “meditation” we see side-effects, muscle tension, distress, plus sometimes a belief that “it’s part of the process,” or even “it’s somehow my own fault.” To be sure, even when meditation goes perfectly, it’s usually a rough ride. But when things get rough, people often start mashing buttons harder, because of the intermittent really good stuff that happens in the roughness. But the roughness isn’t long-run costless, depending on what the person is trying to ultimately do.
In any case, there’s a loose mechanism, here, that I can point to, that’s one of the problematic things:
When someone does (a) any sort of reaching, pushing, forcing, scraping the bottom, and then (b) sort of pivots to doing something else, in the next moment, without “cleaning up,” without “taking one’s foot off the gas”—that reaching, pushing, forcing, scraping tends to still be operative, in the “place that the person just was, e.g. attentionally.
It’s like a pushy/reachy/grabby/scrape-y process gets left behind, that’s sort of operating mindlessly and autonomously, in the background, underneath stuff, and it’s dragging stuff around, in weird directions, kind of warping the whole system over time, if left long enough.
And we all start out with “knots” and “slack” and/but these techniques, used unreflectively or not meta-systematically, eventually can start pulling those knots tight, which makes them long-run harder to unknot, and it leads to distress, behavioral rigidity, emotional suppression, and sometimes impulsive behavior or a diminished behavioral repertoire.
Often, especially in the beginning ALL SORTS of good stuff will happen, because the bodymind is exercising new degrees of freedom and really smart about grabbing value, and these techniques are cool and brilliant.
But, there’s also a sense in which they can and do make a mess, a mess that can keep getting worse autonomously, and they all have large tail risk, in my opinion. (So does my stuff, to be fair).
There’s still all sorts of reasons to do these things–to learn new degrees of freedom for the bodymind, to meet cool people, to learn from people with lots of experience. And, the benefit/risk often comes down to the actual person leading, facilitating, mentoring, as well as the actual other people attending the event, because of interpersonal vibe and nonverbal stuff.
And, when engaged reflectively, sensitively, responsively, meta-systematically, all of these tools, and/or the fine-grain best parts of them, have a place in personal practice, of course.
But so few people seem to really get this “pixel perfect rainbow” thing, and so I see SO FEW mentors or teachers who are, in my opinion, correctly balancing local with global, short-run with long-run, when interacting with clients, students, workshop attendees, etc. Frankly, I think it’s because they haven’t gotten far enough to realize that this “pixel-perfect rainbow thing” is even a thing. But they absolutely could. And I could be wrong about something, etc.
“Where do I go next?”
Trying out a bunch of things, having a ton of plates spinning, keeping a lot of balls in the air, being in a new job, a new relationship, a new hobby—these kinds of things will tend to accrue technical debt. Prior to having put in tons and tons of meditation time, there’s sort of just too much going on to easily “integrate” in real time (or in stolen moments, or on long walks, or in meditation), because integration, when needed, takes real time, and sometimes a lot of time.
One can tell they’re maybe accruing technical debt (accumulating karma, in another model) if they have to kind of use a bunch of willpower, or push through a bit, to show up for things or to get things done, some of the time—or, even if not being “pushy,” if one’s “mental checklists” kind of go into overdrive.
There’s an arguable phrase in the software industry world, “always be shipping.” Maybe, here, it’s something like, “always be living.”
Part of having a good life is sometimes doing a ton of stuff, that gets really ragged around the edges, and/or you get really ragged around the edges. But, that’s ok:
Have all the experiences, so you know what’s out there and what you want!
There’s a real/fake way in which there’s always enough time—like, even if things feel crazy, if you were to sort of put everything on your calendar and just show up to everything, that would just work, in some abstract fake world, that ignores how minds work. Everything fits on your calendar.
But the mind doesn’t work like that, and you don’t work like that, and something would maybe break, somewhere, sometimes (demotivation, forgetting things, who knows). The felt complexity is sort of the “inelegances” bursting at the seams, the puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit because the bodymind hasn’t had time to kind of whirl it all around into settled-yet-shimmering elegance. Life sensemaking.
And, so, sometimes, one needs a break, a weekend, long walks, a full-on retreat. And sometimes one needs periods of their life where they’re doing less, or, say, putting e.g. meditation first.
But, when that’s not going on, maybe, then—”always be living.”
It’s ok to bumble through, sometimes at max crazy complexity. Have all the experiences.
If one takes the meditation journey, which does require some time and space, during some periods, for various kinds of nonmonotonicities, including making it over various technical debt payback humps (this is is one place I sometimes equivocated-ly use the term “escape velocity”), then here’s what eventually happens:
There’s a simplicity on the far side of complexity—successive “elegance collapses” (though it’s, on net, much more incremental than dramatic “collapses;” it’s tiny changes over a very long period of time, with maybe a few big whooshes).
Most people, at first, have a few big “mind zones,” two to five, at least: different, big parts of mind space, or, like, maybe everything “in here,” and then everything “out there.” (Also, here’s another thing, too, that’s barely a metaphor: minds are also composed of layers and layers of “virtual machines”).
What happens, through meditation, is that the whole thing starts to integrate and unify (cf. nonduality). There’s just eventually just “one thing,” and, rather than these “zones” having to spend a lot of time sort of translating back and forth across interfaces and impedance mismatch, with gazillions of buggy microservices all bumbling along, runaway processes spinning, with periodic reboots—over time, there’s just one single integrated thing, humming along.
Further, mind (bodymind, memory, something), becomes more and more “content addressable.” [1,2] That is, the mind rearranges itself, more and more, so that “the right surfaces are exposed at the right times,” and information is shipped to where it needs to go, more and more efficiently, with less and less hops and, so, less and less time needed.
(So there a way in which there’s dramatically less and less need for cognition, over time.)
And, so, over time, more and more, MERELY JUST HAVING THE SENSORY EXPERIENCE ITSELF completely replaces “cognition.”
Experience is memory is integration is anticipation, loosely speaking.
Context switching, pre-prep, “post-prep,” becomes less and less of a thing. “How do you do so much? / I never leave my meditation cushion.”
And so when the monk returns the marketplace with helping hands, they are vastly less likely to accrue technical debt, because everything is operating more efficiently, in this simplicity on the far side of complexity.
In the steelmanned ideal, they’ll be able to do so much more—more responsibilities, more details, costlessly, effortlessly, easefully. (And they’ll be, proactively, both solving and dissolving that complexity along the way.)
And, if they do accrue technical debt, as everyone does, in the course of even a single day, they can pay it down much more efficiently, because of extreme practice and skill at omni-directional “refactoring,” as it were.
When things are too fast, too intense, too surprising, in a bad way, or a good way, technical debt will accrue and that’s fine! Over minutes, hours, days or weeks!
It’s about having a good life, and that’s about having concrete, sensuous experiences, with other people, in all their messy contingency. And/but, one is more and more prepared for that, and it gets easier and easier, to just get lost in life in a good way.
P.S. What of the cliche of “broken monks?”
I’m claiming, long-run, meditation makes one more effective.
But, if meditation has been around for thousands of years, where are all the Gandhi-Elon-Musks [sic]? That’s a really long conversation, involving sociology and epistemic viciousness, but here’s part of it:
A key thing is multidimensional, relatively phase-decorrelated, nonmonotonicity. That is, things are getting better and worse along different dimensions and timescales, and, with enough complexity, something is always in a valley, some of the time: For a meditator in the middle of their journey, something’s always broken, at any given time, generally speaking.
And, if a system is relatively fragile, in a technical sense, that is, if, say, four out of five or five out of five pieces are working, then system output is 90-100, but, if only three or four pieces out of five are working, then system output is two or three, then you get “broken monks.”
Instead of five, you know, substitute millions, and so on. Anyway, that’s one piece of this.
But, the whole journey is practically finite, and people do pop out on the other side, and so on. This is just a model, it’s messier than this, and there’s room for proactivity and slack, and so on, but most people will still have hard-to-predict, rough ride, in at least some places.
And this is part of why there can be claims of effortless complexity, while at the same time having broken monks, while at the same time keeping an eye out for Gandhi-Elon-Musks.
There’s a thing that happens for me every few weeks where (among lots of other stuff), simultaneously, (a) it becomes safe to radically not know something, and (b) a little “patch of unknowing/not-knowing” opens up and kind of hangs out, doing its thing, and is eventually filled in with new “knowing,” within, I don’t know, a couple minutes to twenty minutes.
This morning, a really big patch of unknowing/not-knowing opened up, and it hasn’t really closed, and it’s maybe getting bigger? Not sure if it’s going to (a) fill in or (b) fill the whole thing, as it were.
Mostly, but not entirely, just little scattered knots left, maybe. They whirly-untwist, with great regularity, without adding twisty-ness elsewhere, on net.
Or, thousands and thousands of hours until something, and/or just this from now on, or (unlikely) a big regime change; unclear.
Still intermittent “spontaneous” and triggered “nigh-intolerable” suffering, amidst general peace, gratitude, and excitement. Looking forward to the possible possibilities of more and more peace, gratitude, and excitement.
Sometimes, I sort of want to throw in the garbage concepts like arhatship and other milestones. I’d just like to replace it with the concept “better.” I like “better” because it doesn’t assume any particular goal. There’s just better than the last thing. (The reason I use “good” so much in the protocol document and not “better” or even “best” is for local methodological, pedagogical, and philosophical reasons: better can sometimes be problematic for local, in the trenches wayfinding. And best is pedagogically misleading and philosophically twisty.)
I like better not only because it doesn’t assume any particular goal, and one could clarify that as “no particular *fixed* goal.” Better doesn’t make a *thing* out of an end state; it doesn’t necessary connote, assume, or imply an end state at all.
It also doesn’t assume sort of “top-down directionality” or “top-down wayfinding.”
To do better, to go in the direction of better, you just need to take one little step in some better direction.
Ah, but that’s not exactly right.
There is another piece that needs to be added to “better” and that’s “nonmonotonicity.” That is, sometimes, to get to something better, sometimes things need to temporarily get worse. That *dip* is nonmonotonicity. (Monotonicity [as opposed to nonmonotonicity] is never going down [nor sideways??], only going up, but sometimes there’s going up slower, sometimes there’s going up faster.)
Ok, so with “better” and “nonmonotonicity,” there’s still directions/directionality, there’s still *wayfinding,* in terms of (a) what to *do* next, and so (b) where to [hopefully or experimentally] *go* next, for (c) to eventually *get* somewhere (maybe unknown). And that somewhere, the sort of intuitive/implicit/inexplicit/felt *planning horizon* gets longer and longer, farther and farther out, the more skilled and experienced one gets; one navigates deeper and longer nonmonotonicity, as sometimes needed, over time.
And there’s always a next somewhere, and the “final” (not final) somewhere (no fixed somewhere) is always over the horizon. And sometimes one needs to massively backtrack, and that’s ok. There’s time. It’s built in.
And, so, you can just keep going. States, stages, gateless gates, stateless states, unconceptualizable states, pristine states (along some dimensions)—it can be very helpful to have and make maps and milestones. But, traditions recognize that, say, “deconditioning” continues after arhatship. The path always just continues.
You can just keep going—better and better.
Above, I haven’t talked about how all this is sort of “multidimensional.” Things can be multidimensionally getting nonmonotonically better (and so also worse) at the same time, along a vast number of dimensions. There’s local and large-scale tradeoffs, at first. But the sort of “average” of the whole thing keeps getting better and better. And sometimes there’s big dips, even “late stage” big dips. But some biggest dips eventually just never happen ever again.
And eventually one starts exploring something like globality, optimizing the whole thing all at once (via mostly little, local operations), while, challengingly, somehow, everything is mediately/indirectly or immediately/directly connected to everything else. Things deconvolve and de-intertwingle over time, what’s weakly separable becomes weakly separate, gloriously non-interacting, to some degree, and to greater and greater degrees, when it wouldn’t be helpful if those things interacted, but it’s still all connected, somehow. It’s the ultimate puzzle, in part because the final goal is over the horizon and one is learning (and unlearning) better and better goals over time until the idea of a goal itself gets replaced with something better, too.
You can just keep going and going. Eventually meditation blurs and blends with life, being lost in life is the same as being in the meditative state, effortless, costless, engaged, nothing to maintain; it’s just what you are. You get to keep all your tools, they become you, they are you, and also you get to just live, to get lost in life, you can just let go, all the way down, and do what you want because what you want is the right thing to do. (Really right—wellbeing, self-aligned, nonartificial…)
If you have the right method, and by method I mean, sure, some *invariances,* of course, but also something creative, nonstereotyped, fine-grain, innovative, that nevertheless-and-in-any-case can navigate, can travel, in straight lines or along any n-dimensional line, and you just just keep going and going.
Again, you can just keep going and going, better and better.
[Thanks to one of my collaborators whose questions stimulated this post.]
One could imagine a model of mind involving the accumulation and cancellation of technical debt. So, say, a person goes through life and has experiences of types A, B, and C, which add imprints of those experiences to their mind:
One could imagine experiences of these types accumulating further:
But, let’s say a person has inverse operations -A, -B, -C. Then, while meditating, or in the midst of life, that person could apply those inverse operations to pay off technical debt:
Let’s say the set of inverse operations, -A, -B, -C are enough for most life experiences. But, every once in a while something surprising and novel happens, like Z.
A person doesn’t have inverse operations for some things, so, all things being equal, over time, for an untrained mind, that person’s (body)mind will slowly accumulate technical debt over time.
Additionally, say a person goes on vacation or starts taking long walks, all things being equal, they will only ever be able to pay off so much technical debt, because they lack inverse operations for “deeper accumulation.”
In the example above, even if a person pays off all their ABC, they’re still slowly accumulating new technical debt, and they don’t have inverse operations for older and very old technical debt D, E, F, G, H, I… (And, they’ll encounter more ABC in life, so there’s sort of a dynamic equilibrium that people find themselves in, absent meditation or other transformative practice.)
(Recall, so-called “technical debt” reduces slack/creativity/flexibility in the mind and begets more technical debt.)
Ok, so, part of what meditation is, is discovering new inverse operations and building (sometimes temporary) infrastructure to support (and discover) more inverse operations.
So, an advanced meditator will be doing a tremendous amount of undoing, via a large collection of inverse operations, as well as plenty of creative doing, for learning and staging future learning, doing, and undoing.
And, the very advanced meditator will sort of have a fine-grain “omnidirectional undoer” running at all times, and will effortlessly, costlessly, fully embody something like that, such that all their actions are sort of fluid and flexible and (relatively) “karmically free,” because all doing (and experiencing) is self-met with undoing, as needed. And, if something super surprising happens, and a lot of novel, not-yet-invertible accumulation happens, there’s a tremendous amount of latent skill that immediately starts puzzle solving for new inverse operations, as needed.
To the degree people don’t eventually get overwhelmed with all their stuff, everyone already has a lot of inverse operations, as it were, and everyone does get new ones, in therapy, journaling, long walks, talking with friends, and so on. Though, for most people, they are net accumulating technical debt versus net decreasing technical debt, over time. And, learning to meditate, eventually, tips the balance of accumulation versus not to the side of net decreasing (nonmonotonically), over time.
(Remember, local accumulation isn’t bad, in a vacuum; it’s extremely useful! Accumulation can be highly strategic for the purposes of future payoff, and so on.)
It can take a long time to sort of “phenomenologically align” with “undoing as such” to sort of knowingly, directly facilitate, participate, allow it as it’s happening. It’ll of course have always already been happening, to some degree, and it comes to happen more and more, unreflectively, prereflectively, and spontaneously, too. Eventually, it’s just a seamless, costless, creative thing that’s happening a ton, along with everything else in the mind, that the mind anticipatorily and skillfully inclines towards, as needed.
So the above is sort of simplified intellectual model, that leaves out stuff about “concrete sensory impressions,” and much more.
And the “real thing” is felt, sensuous, embodied (and intellectual, and daydreaming, and getting lost in life, and everything).
One does more and more stuff that kind of maps-ish to the intellectual model above, by, well, meditating. Wellbeing, relief, insight can be clues of heading in the right direction, though plenty of clues feel pretty bleh, too, contextually.
Meditation is felt wayfinding, meditation is felt puzzle-solving.
Mark 10:51 AM
Looking forward to doing a done-done-done-done-done post on blog… It sort of was a little alarming, like if I don’t post some sort of “final success story” then people will less likely to something????
But I’m like noooo ahhh this is for sure a new, valid, complete(, imperfect, improving) vehicle/yana! Quite possibly far more complete than any contemporary thing currently doing its thing.
Mark 10:57 AM
What would such a post contain, so the right people have legitimate, credible confidence that this particular thing might be provisionally, preliminarily, a good fit for them?
Mark <1 minute ago
I wonder if [claims of done-ness] asymptotically become more relevant over time, sort of? Where, for like years 0-5 (0-2? 0-3?), one evaluates [new instructional material] on its first-principle-seeming merits. [and, all relevant adjacent information; that’s all one can do.] But then at year 5, 6, 7, something, one is starting to look for what the users are doing in the world?
[This is year two-ish, starting a count from version 0 (now version 90-something). But still, maybe.]
The last couple of protocol commits have had new prose:
I’m not a licensed professional, so my dataset will maybe be smaller and “differently biased” than other people who learn about things that have happened to people. But, in any case, I’ve seen at least three patterns when it comes to childhood sexual experiences. These are based on firsthand reports, rendered abstract, composite, and vague. Again, the bullets below aren’t graphic; they’re very brief and about the aftermath. (And they’re not the main subject of the post.) They go from not bad, to bad, in three bullets:
Again, these are sketches, and the way I’ve rendered them could be inaccurate or misleading for all sorts of reasons.
“Trauma” has sort of become a fad explanation for everything. I think it actually is a pretty good explanation for lots of things, depending on how it’s defined.
I just think of it like this:
Trauma is the result of an experience or experiences. And that result is memories or interpretations that are very hard to “look at.” And the result of that is “areas of mind” that “can’t change” or are “stuck” (because they can’t be looked at). And the result of that is downstream reduced ability to further learn and problem solve, along whatever subtle dimensions that would otherwise touch the “areas of mind” that are hard to look at. And those downstream dimensions can be very counterintuitive, like being able to pay attention to very narrow patterns of color and sound, which can cause very strange and confusing learning and problem solving patterns. People will have workarounds, and/but those workaround will shape their entire lives. (Most people have at least a little bit of weird stuff like this, but it can be much more pronounced for someone who’s had/has lots of “trauma.”)
So, in my very limited experience, childhood sexual stuff had seemed to cause the “worst” trauma (when it did). Again, this is in my limited first- and secondhand experience, so my take could be very weird. But, when looking at how various things have negatively shaped people’s lives, the “third bullet level” effects (as per above) have always seemed to be due to something sexual.
But, now I tentatively think there might even be something that can tend to be even more intense, though is more likely a later in life thing. The example bullets below are nonviolent and nonsexual:
The above bullets might seem a little bland or disparate, but they have to do with a person’s entrenched “plan” or “means to enact their plan” being called into question or seemingly being shown to be inadequate. And these tend to be sort of “social acceptance/prestige/status plans,” and/or “intimacy plans,” and/or “safety plans.” “Plan” is sort of dry, but here I mean, really, “their felt sense of everything in regards to what they were going to do and how it was all going to work and how it was all going to feel and how it feels right now…”
So, as I said above, tentatively, people experience things like the bullets just above relatively later in life, and/but they seem to have HUGE effects on people’s lives that often aren’t immediately apparent (maybe because they are ambiguous at first, take a while to sink in, and are “heavily avoided”). Part of the reason I’m tentative about some of this is because I don’t have a full understanding of ways in which my dataset might be sparse and biased, by the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve talked to, and the conversation topics that have come up, for all sorts of direct and indirect reasons.
But, I’ve seen all the bullets above, a few times, and the slow-growing impact on people seems to be quite extreme. (But, there may have been a bunch of confounds in all cases.)
I’m writing about this, now, even though I’m not confident about it (and it would take considerable methodological rigor to be really confident), just because (a) sexual stuff (when it was problematic for people) seemed to be a big jump in badness for people from anything else I’ve come across. And then (b) this life/plan/social/career thing that I’m describing here in this post seems to maybe even solidly edge out the sexual stuff. Though, if the “badness margin” between sexual stuff and everything else is like “2.0”(??), the “badness margin” between sexual stuff the life/plan/social/career thing seems like “0.3”.
It’s a (kind of funny?) cliché that graduate students get apparently scooped on their dissertations, but, upon investigation, they find that, no matter how terrifyingly similar the dissertation title makes the work seem, the actual work (and their own work) are so narrowly defined that there’s almost no overlap between them.
Maybe more apt is what’s probably a tv trope: A new person (“interloper”) arrives on the scene who’s seemingly got “the right stuff,” say, talent-wise (piloting, acting, writing, something). Usually the protagonist is the person who’s (seemingly or actually) “lapped” by the interloper or “relatively hopelessly inadequate” compared to the interloper, and narrative is sometimes a comedy and sometimes tragedy, horror, or thriller. (Perfect Blue? Black Swan? I haven’t seen these.)
I have seen one white paper that tells a story of a researcher purportedly presenting their research method, which apparently was very successful. And the researcher is implying that everyone should be and should have been doing it his way. And, so the story goes, as the audience was leaving, one researcher muttered to another, “well maybe I should just kill myself.”
I suppose there’s a few points, here.
First, people have early career/”career” (or mid, or late) that calls into question everything they’ve done or will do, that seems to imply unfixable doom for their plans, and those plans can be (at least initially) so deep that they’re, invisible, like water or air, and unchangeable. And sometimes people very obviously break or very non-obviously break, in a slow way, that causes all sorts of downstream problems for themselves and everyone around them.
Second, it’s worth emphasizing the “apparentness” angle. I’ve seen this happen where both people, or even maybe three people, all think they’ve been doomed by the other person’s/people’s work. (Maybe it is a competitive race to the bottom, or something. But, it’s telling that both people, or everyone, thinks that it’s definitely the other person’s work that’s better.)
Third, it’s not clear when “violence” has been done. Sometimes the interloper is just living their life, just has happened to maybe have had some experiences that make them seemingly better-suited to a particular niche. Sometimes they are absolutely oblivious to the (maybe highly contextual and contingent) effect they’re having on people around them. Maybe their only goal is collaborate and benefit everyone. Other times, their whole “vibe” is (reflectively or unreflectively) tuned to do “maximum damage.” The generality and/or impact of their results are overstated. Or, they hide or obfuscate their “origin story” as it were, so that their current or future skill is opaque. They spin all luck as skill (and they pretend it was easy and that they’ve got infinite reserves).
Regarding “violence,” maybe this is par for the course in competitive and “co-opetition” environments, though it can be doubly surprising and confusing when the culture gives lip service to collaboration and mutual support. And, I would expect, though I don’t know for sure, that this is hardly the sort of behavior that will very-long-run produce the best things for everyone.
Even when an “interloper” has the best of intentions, one might hope for more sensitivity on their part. (But this gets especially fraught when, say, the “interloper” is say young, female, and/or a relative minority. There’s the reference class of “fragile male egos,” and “white fragility,” though I’m maybe slant-using that latter term. Maybe they have the best of intentions and/or maybe they are doing quite “violent” thing—but maybe, in past situations, this was the only way to survive.)
The last parenthetical above maybe hints at some of the deeper factors in all of this, as well as solutions.
One might say people’s “stuff” or “plans” are can be too tangled or too fragile/non-robust. Actually, this is probably, usually, the result of trauma.
Someone who has subtly limited options (due subtle, trauma-related deficits in learning and problem-solving) will often double-down and then double-down again and again on some narrow thing that they can get very, very, very good at (all things being equal, if they’re lucky, if the environment favors that skill in some window).
And so that narrow thing (which might not be obviously narrow) sort of has to carry the weight of money, intimacy, safety, acceptance, meaning, prestige, status, etc. If they lose the narrow thing or they’re (seemingly or actually) “competed out” of the narrow thing, then everything downstream of that is threatened. And this can feel catastrophic, can put someone on red alert panic mode, sometimes in a slow-growing, slow-burning way that takes hours or months to manifest. And, this will be so out of left field that they or the people around them won’t realize what’s going on. (Because, to them, of course they’re the best. Or, to other people, the person is so skilled, how could they possibly be intimidated. Or, we’re all here to work together. Or–when the person is up-and-coming—that was a local, provisional critique and wasn’t intended to say anything about that person’s general abilities or trajectory.)
Sometimes it’s less about the particular skill, ability, something and more about something even more upstream–“being the very best at the very best thing,” or something. And, even though that’s pretty general, they’ve still hit upon a rigid, fragile solution.
So, I don’t mean this to be a “spot the fragile, rigid person, who can’t change and can’t collaborate.” We’re all that fragile, rigid person, in fractal ways. And, if someone undergoes a “spectacular blowout,” it may well often be the case that something else was going on, some violence being committed somewhere reflectively/unreflectively/obliviously/directly/indirectly. (The environment may have been deliberately set up as a pressure cooker and imbued with heightened significance. All sorts of things could have been going on.)
Perhaps, more importantly, the experience, from the inside, can be very bad: shame, embarrassment, demotivation, “collapse,” hail marys, abusive behavior towards other people, and so on. And this can be “smashed down” in a way that makes it “sticky” and “traumatic” such that there are knock-on effects that can follow them whether or not they stay in the environment and the situation resolves.
The “solution” is something like catching this sort of thing as early as possible, environmentally, interpersonally, individually, and working to untangle all the “external” apparent nth-order effects as well as the “internal” “plan dependencies.” Delay can sort of cause “epicycles of maladaptive solution entrenchment” and destructive behavior that can beget further destructive behavior, and so on.
Untangling can be via sociological/environmental/culture changes, therapeutic support (getting help in reviewing/error-checking evidence and implications), turf differentiation and negotiation (“oh, we’re doing different things already, oh, we can reduce our overlap and even synergize), and meditation. Usually, people are being triggered by extremely deep “resonances” that can take a very long time to surface and change, and discussion about concrete particulars won’t be enough.
So maybe there can be a series of environmental or personal hacks, patches, shims until the deep stuff can be surfaced and worked with, which can take a long time.
So, anyway, my interest in discussing this is that it seems to be very intense thing that some people will experience at some point in their lives. And, if a group is ostensibly trying to do a hard thing, stuff in this space can tear a group apart.
And, it might take a lot of (initially(?) very unwanted and potentially very up-front costly) work. But, the benefit to an individual, in terms of increased flexibility and resilience can be immense. Similar to the third bullet at the top of the post, the journey can be very intense, and long. There can be the local pain, as well as deeper trauma that’s making change so hard, as well as the challenge of retooling things after the deeper trauma is resolved. A person might end up changing their goals and plans a lot, and this can affect the people around them, friends, family, group members in groups they’re in.
But, hopefully writing this will help people catch some of the effects of these sorts of phenomena earlier. And, hopefully, some people reading this will preempt some of these effects if they were otherwise latent or possible. Intense stuff, but the tools are getting better and better, and, as a culture, we can become more aware of such phenomena and how to resolve them or avoid them.
P.S. In the post, I should have said something like, “once everybody de-rigidifies and differentiates, ‘there’s plenty of room at the top,'” enough of everything to go around and tons of “free energy,” low-cost, proactive, synergistic optionality.
[Longer title: “ok-ness and wellbeing, cosmology, metaphysics, eschatology”]
[I’m indebted to a few people for some of the prior heavy-lifting and thinking in this post. Mistakes mine.]
[I apologize for the minimally edited choppiness of the prose below.]
If you had to pick being in one of the scenarios below, which would you pick? You can modify them as you’d like; it’s not a forced-choice:
(A) Let’s say you’re a billionaire with smart, kind, loyal friends. And, we could just keep piling it on: Say you’re part of a post-scarcity economy in an endlessly stable political climate. Say poverty has been solved; say crime and personal safety have been solved. Say friendly general artificial intelligence has been solved. Say the long-run destiny of human values and morality are well-understood and it’s humane and exciting. Say the fate of the universe is now understood, and there’s a way out. Say we can now enumerate and (re-)print out all possible humans—past, present, and never-before-existing, who would want this for themselves under the conditions they would want it.
(B) Or, let’s say you’re old, sick, alone, and homeless. Sad, scary, tragic stuff. And let’s say, somehow, tragically, something just escalated and escalated: There’s people who really hate you and want to really hurt you, or worse. Dark, ugly stuff.
(C) Or, let’s say things are pretty ok: good job and friends, interest and engagement, maybe a family and kids, and, to be sure, you’ve also got fears and regrets, about intimacy, money, meaning, health, the economy, the political climate, family members… But, overall, not bad, not bad.
First, I want to note that shit happens. We make mistakes, we get hurt, we run out of time, we realize we were wrong, people disappoint us, we disappoint ourselves, we disappoint and hurt other people, we have life surprises, health surprises, we hope, we fear, we dream, we get confused, we chase false idols, we get in car crashes or hit by buses. Life can be hard and painful, whether we have money and friends and health and safety, or not, world-scale projects, or not, cosmic meaning, or not, and regardless of whether many other desirable factors, all things being equal, obtain, or not.
Noting that, all things being equal, there’s still a way that things can be ok (if things are not currently ok). And this ok-ness is extremely, extremely specific and simultaneously also very general. (Cringe, cringe; this isn’t going to take the usual route; keep your hands and feet inside the blog post. To be sure, in any case, this ok-ness isn’t a thing.)
As the cliché goes, there’s indeed a sense in which you don’t need anything outside of yourself for this ok-ness, everything you need is already in you. And, also, there’s a sense in which this ok-ness takes resources—money, food, shelter, time, space, relationships, knowledge, something.
There’s a few broad failure modes that can happen when seeking this ok-ness (if you decide to do so, and it’s ok if you do or don’t, or start and stop, or take a break and pick it up again, later. In no way is it separate from “normal ok-ness.”).
Ok, so, sometimes though, what has to happen, in order to be ok?
Even if things are/seem very not ok, sometimes just a little bit of “grace” is enough. You find an amazing therapist, you find out you didn’t get the recessive genetic disease, a long-lost relative left you enough money to keep you on your feet. Something that you thought would be hard is just easy.
Sometimes it takes a little more than that, or a lot more. You might ask, what’s the hit-it-with-a-sledgehammer option, hit it with a planet, hit it with a galaxy, when it seems like nothing else is working?
This is sort of the meditation option, though plenty of things can feed into that, like e.g. therapy, Alexander Technique, and all sorts of things. (A good meditation system will indicate and incorporate intersubjectivity and movement, in any case. But also a good meditation system will sort of “play nice” with all the other good stuff and people and offerings in the environment that don’t quite line up with the meditation system itself.)
Ok, so what does meditation do, anyway? Why can it sort of be a global option, even if not necessarily the most efficient one (time- and resource-wise)?
There’s a common misconception that meditation sort of makes you ok with whatever’s going on. This is concerning to people who want to be motivated by what’s going on, because they care about what’s going on (and what’s going to happen next), because they want to enjoy it or change it.
(There’s certainly a failure mode of meditation, to add to the two “being ok” failure modes above, which is causing oneself to be narrowly or broadly unresponsive to broad slices of self and world.)
Anyway, there’s a correction to this misconception that meditation makes one ok, regardless of what’s going on, that is, ok independent of conditions. Nuh-uh. More correctly, meditation makes one (long-run!) “well-fit” to conditions, regardless of what they are, and it’s the “fittedness” that yields ok-ness.
(One might ask, well, what if I’m in a crashing plane or being tortured or a loved one just got hurt or… Well, yeah, those things are bad. Things can be too intense, too fast, too uncontrollable… A meditation master will still claim, though… And you can explore the limits for yourself, too, in a “natural experiment” fashion, with hints along the way and better and better models of what’s to come.)
So, actually, the outcome of meditation is extraordinarily concrete, extraordinarily concerned with the concrete details of one’s life and future. (Though, this isn’t sort of a laborious, forced “mindfulness.” Plenty will be unreflectively automatized: If there’s details, sensory details or otherwise, that you’d prefer to not get lost in, that’s generally going to be an option.) There’s things you want to get and there’s things you want to avoid, same as it always is.
So, CONCRETENESS. That’s piece number one.
You’re always going to be living your life. That’s what lives are:
“If[!] you’re going through hell, keep going [as long as you’re applying some sort of Meta Protocol, i.e. going in the right direction]”
And, I like to combine the above with this extraordinarily deep statement/insight:
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” —John Lennon
So, anyway, you keep going and going, putting in the meditation time, and maybe your rigid, impossible future starts to unravel, and you maybe encounter piece number two: EMPTINESS.
Emptiness could also be termed, in my usages, nebulosity, indirectness, luminosity, etc.
When you started, mountains were mountains, physics equations were physics equations. Now, what the heck are mountains? What the heck are physics equations? What is anything?
But, this isn’t nihilism; emptiness isn’t arbitrariness. There’s an implicit/inexplicit lawfulness, a lawful evolution (though even this sentence and its meaning are empty.)
And, further, emptiness is only one side of a coin. The other side is form, structure, territory, actuality, noumena… (That’s depending how you slice all those concepts; there are more precise and consistent ways to render some of this.)
And, in any case, emptiness is only the beginning.
Because the next thing that starts to happen is that emptiness starts to chew up everything. And that includes things like the following:
existence, nonexistence, awareness, nothingness, somethingness, death, mortality, furniture, eternity, will, determinism, goodness, realness, necessity, contingency, duty, responsibility, obligation or lack thereof, freedom, goals, final ends, big bangs, big crunches, heat deaths, simulations, singularities, infinities, time, space, relativity, mortality, cryonics bets, the tides of history, the near future, the far future, quantum gravity, the Planck scale, harm, suffering, sanity, heaven, hell, afterlife, resurrection, eternity, outside-of-time-ness, causal history and final end of everything
One maybe (relatively) unobjectionable claim is that the human bodymind/brain/system/something has a low-dimensional representation of literally everything inside its “unknown unknown” boundary. We contain (represent) the entire universe. (Re “representation,” one could potentially make an argument for something like distributed cognition or question where the representations live or how they’re encoded, enacted, etc.)
For now, again, maybe you’ll grant me that we literally hold (a low-dimensional, variable-fidelity representation of) the whole (multi/uni)verse in us, including our goals, fears, contingency planning, uncertainties, problems, etc.
I’ll further claim that, whether due to properties of consciousness minds, agency, darwinian evolution or entropic dissipation under this universe’s physical constants, something, there will sort of be some finite set of necessary “pieces” that all people are tracking, within that representational unity/totality.
This tracking will be sort of a mixture of explicit or reflective musings, from imagination, religion, fantasy, and science fiction, as well as implicit/inexplicit, practical “doing models” that have built up, “organically,” bottom-up, over time. That will all sort of be mixed together, explicit, inexplicit, and entangled with the environment. And there will be adult stuff as well as childhood stuff, including very young childhood stuff and stuff picked up from other people. For example, you might have a bunch of heaven and hell stuff, which might be initially surprising, if you come across it, but less surprising in retrospect. Depending on your very-young childhood background, there could be miles and miles of heaven and hell stuff, maybe some sort of omniscient and/or omnipotent enabler of timeless intimacy or connection, as well as, say, depending on what you were reading as a teen or later, a future “Omega-point” situated in a manyworlds multiverse, and so on, all side-by-side or “scattered throughout” one’s mind.
And maybe there’s a “beginning of everything” and an “end of everything” and a “timeless/eternal ground of all of that,” and so on.
Point being, the system may not be consistent (well, there are degrees), but the system is reaching for consistency, and there’s a particular kind of envelope or closure or unity that kind of enfolds or connects all this stuff into one unified thing. Sometimes it’s very fragmentary, but there’s going to be thin threads that maintain connection, somehow. (What happens in organic brain damage or neurodegenerative disease is an interesting question, but if a person is awake and behaving even a little bit coherently then there’s a probably shocking “unity”/”totality” for any of that to be happening at all.)
One could call all of this COSMOLOGY (and metaphysics and eschatology).
So, anyway, CONCRETENESS is sort of the unignorable sensory ground, though still a heavily interpreted datastream, from the “outside world,” the thing that pokes you with sticks and surprises you, even if you stop believing in it. EMPTINESS is sort of the liquid ground that makes change possible. And COSMOLOGY is sort of the interpretive representation or encoding or explanation of the whole enchilada, as well as what you should do about all of it, how you should act, how you are acting, what the plan is.
So, in my gestural division, once again, there’s CONCRETENESS, EMPTINESS, and COSMOLOGY.
There’s sort of something sometimes terribly embarrassing, confusing, or scary about cosmology. Cosmology is just as scary, maybe even more scary, than concreteness. Yeah, you might run out of money, or get hit by a bus, and/or die. But, of course, what happens after that?And/or, what does it all mean? And, even if you live? What’s going happen, long-run? What if you get sucked into an interstellar black hole? What happens to your cares and concerns and the people you love, from your perspective?
It can be confusing and embarrassing to the degree how much cosmology matters to functioning in daily life. Plenty of people believe in god. And plenty of people believe in a future eschaton, divine or machine. And some people believe in heaven or the Tao or the multiverse. Or they believe in all of the above, all semi-implicitly mixed together, coming from various ages and sources and thinking and imagining. And, often we’d prefer to believe (“endorse” believing) in one of these over all the rest. (And often that preference is leaving out a bunch of “functionally necessary” features, and something else necessarily, constrainedly needs to pick up the slack, in sort of an explanatory-unity-or-comprehensiveness-over-explanatory-consistency, or something. And it won’t budge, it won’t effortlessly flow, otherwise.)
While money and health, concretes, can be super stressful, it’s sort of the cosmology that “tortures” us, as it were: If we’re, I don’t know, beings of light going to heaven, and we’re here to learn, then a bunch of worldly suffering isn’t as big of a deal. (Or “nonexistence” isn’t stressful, or it is.) So, as it usually goes, part of us may even believe that we’re beings of light (or in a benevolent simulation, or going to be cryonically or state-space-exhaustively resurrected, or whatever). But other parts of us do NOT. And, so money and health are stressful, and there’s also this sort of “cosmological shear” on top of that, the tension between mediately contradictory cosmological components.
So, the reversal, here, is that the fruits/goal meditation is not sort of being ok with whatever is happening or whatever you believe, independent of the details.
In fact, the fruits of meditation, usually mostly implicitly, are radically embodied (concreteness) and radically cognitive (cosmology). (Emptiness, which, in some sense, is the other side of the coin of concreteness+cosmology, is also in some sense a discovered cosmological component, as well as something experienced concretely.) Emptiness does facilitate equanimity, which is sort of, say, an interaction between concreteness, emptiness, and cosmology, which makes change and (transient or stable) unknowing safer and safer, as equanimity “grows.” Equanimity does sort of become a “more and more powerful container of safety,” but it’s, in some sense highly contingent/situated/specific, built out of progressively handling more and more, and more and more skillfully, in a deeply implicit and wise way. So, it’s not detachment but is instead concretely engaged wisdom under emptiness, etc., etc.
So, in any case, all of this is sort of one way of looking at why meditation takes so long—in order to sort of not be “tortured” (as it were, or whatever) by the concrete, sometimes one must refactor one’s entire cosmology, and I think this is pretty typical, because we don’t really get to choose our cosmologies, at least on the front-end. And so there’s a lot that’s very fine and also a lot to clean up, down/in there. And usually this has a combinatorial or recursive or iteratively recurrent complexity, of enacting the dependencies to make something safe to look at, and then looking, and then retracing and juxtaposing along high-dimensional path constraints… (And this is sort of inseparable from refactoring one’s phenomenology, and so usually nonduality, centerlessness, etc., pop out, too.)
And so, eventually, mountains are just mountains again, physics equations are just physics equations, again.
But, like, is there a right answer? Heaven and hell? God? Superdeterministic quantum gravity multiverse? Yeah, sure, up to your personal, bleeding-edge unknown unknown boundary. And, you can fallibly tack towards it.
And, in doing so, you may find that concretes get lighter, wellbeing increases, it becomes safe to not know, and also you do know, but you can say less. I’m not saying you’ll be able to write down novel physical laws or crack open the universe with the right intonation and gesture. But, you’ll be more comfortable with exactly what is, and where you are in it, in part because suffering and sort of even meaning are sort of limit cases of when things go wrong, and, because of grace, buddha nature, evolution, etc., sorting out all this stuff, under emptiness, under ockam’s razor, under unknown unknowns, is shockingly, generally doable, all things being equal, and it makes things progressively more and more ok. (Human minds have stunning epistemic abilities, if bootstrappingly used “correctly.”)
And things become more and more stable, too, while remaining sensitive and responsive to new knowledge, new neuroscience, new physics, new interpersonal surprise:
It can take a lot of work to try to remember that, say, god is infinite and you’re a being of light (or that you’re experiencing focal bias, or whatever), when, say, your bank account balance is low.
But, in meditation, you’ll sort of be tacking towards a global convexity that doesn’t need to be maintained.
More and more, self and world just are, the world is just right there, just as it is, nothing to change, no effort, and, more and more, it’s fine/good/ok.
It’s partly fine/good/ok because that fine-ness/good-ness/ok-ness hasn’t made you unmotivated, reckless, nihilistic, careless. In fact, you’re more safely effective, in part because you’re more careful, more patient, more decisive, more peaceful, more ambitious, more compassionate, more impassioned, maybe even more afraid (in some sense, because it’s fundamentally safe to be afraid) while being simultaneously more equanimous and chill and good-feeling. There’s a deeper thing: sort of less everything and more everything at same time. Sort of “normal” but more “liquid.” It’s a “this too shall pass” kind of thing, but, again, one that is harmonious with situated action, in a (relatively more sensible) cosmos. Anyway, none of this is quite right, but I’m pointing in the direction a thing. All in all, you’ll still fully proactively seek what you want and avoid what you don’t want, and what you want and don’t want will be more liquid but not arbitrary.
Refactoring your cosmology (as per your bodymind, your felt wellbeing) can be a huge, lengthy, overwhelming (implicit, liminially cognitive, felt-sensory) project. It’s an insane project, a crazy project, hard to grasp as a whole, on the front-end. (“Better not to start; if you start, better to finish.”) You maybe should only start after you’ve talked to a therapist, a doctor, made a big, experimental life change, and/or you’ve accidentally already started. One wants methods that are sort of simple enough to actually consistently engage in, while “correct enough” to sort of “work eventually no matter what,” all things being equal.
(But, in a sense, none of this is separate from what you’re already doing, which is just living your life. Some stuff is “deep” and “stuck” but, some “quite cosmological” stuff is getting sculpted all the time, when making a meal, when journaling, when spending time with friends. No separation.)
In any case, let’s say you’re systematically applying a method. And then… “impossible” problems, unexpectedly, unbelievably, are solved and dissolved, one, after another, after another (maybe with very long gaps and low-lows in between each solve), all things being equal. And after several wildly different “impossible” problems get solved or dissolved, you start looking at the remaining problems with more and more suspicion and patience (and excitement).
Anyway, probably some of this rendering is terribly misleading, so don’t take my word for any of it.
Wellbeing and enjoyment are good guides, as well as patiently, gently easing into, say, “intolerable” horror, if you happen to come across any. (There will probably be at least a little bit.) Remember, the whole point of all of this is something like wellbeing, enjoyment, self-alignment, and whatever follows from that. Maybe things are already pretty chill. Ask someone who’s pretty chill what their life philosophy is, and they might tell you about their pretty reasonable thing that works for them, even if it wouldn’t work for you.
Duty, necessity, obligation, should, responsibility, effort, sacrifice, and hardship are not red flags, but they are yellow flags, at the very least. The dashboard can/could/”should” be green, and/but you might have to refactor your whole cosmology to get there, and, while this is very doable, all things being equal (money, food, shelter, health, future money, technique, withstanding) that doable-ness shouldn’t be misinterpreted as one of those shoulds. No gods, no masters, no point (except your own), as it were.
And the “end” result is sometimes described as things like “fearless simplicity,” “carefree dignity,” effortless, costless, natural, etc. The WEIGHT OF ALL THAT COSMOLOGY, doesn’t “weigh” anything at all, isn’t a thing at all; it’s just your effortless being, the very flexible, fluid prereflective seeming of world, lighter than a feather.
(P.S. As for myself, I’m not “done,” by the way! Plenty still to do, but it’s been a relatively smooth and “meta-predictable” ride, for a very long while, etc., etc. At some point, you run out of “meta-surprises,” and you always, always, always know what to do next, as far as I’ve been able to tell.)
P.P.S. “Cosmology” includes stuff like how does personhood work, how do (body)minds work, what is intimacy, what is connection/”connection”, etc.