[I wrote this a few weeks a ago, and it’s holding up… not tooooo terribly? Still more to do, always more to do. Maybe there will be a large phase change at some point of some kind. Epistemic status: wheeeeeeeee]
So, I seem to be careening towards the end of something, with ever-increasing speed. It maybe possibly doesn’t seem to be a sharply classic axis of development (if there is such a thing), but it’s in the ballpark. Maybe I’m gonna blow it, but I don’t think that’s a big deal. I’m grateful to my past self for accumulating all this smart, honest content, here, where I can spout intricate, messy craziness that can be really wrong but still relatively safe and provide lots and lots of value. I do worry that I’ve written some things that were contingently misleading enough that they cost people real time in getting where they wanted to go or would have wanted to go in current or future retrospect. But, here I am and here we are. Better and better until we get hit by a bus or not.
When I achieved (accidently, desperately smashed myself into) stream-entry, for a few days afterwards I experienced respiratory drive depression and dizziness from, I assume, low blood pressure. As soon as I noticed it, I expected it was because the sympathetic activity of my autonomic nervous system had sharply dropped (and/or parasympathetic activity had ramped sharply up) and that slow-changing homeostatic equilibriators(??) in my physiology had to readjust. [Ed. threat response dropped sharply] The body has a bunch of collections of complementary systems, where one is a fast responder to homeostatic pressure, which can keep compensating for a few days, and then there’s a slower to adapt, but less costly to maintain, system that catches up over time.
I’m experiencing a rolling version of this now [Ed. it’s over for this round]; every few days I experience abrupt drops in global muscle tension (and I assume) increases in vasodilation and decreases in blood pressure. So I like keep getting dizzy walking around and it fades over a few days and then it happens all over again.
Immediately after stream-entry, before I knew I had experienced stream-entry, I noticed that there was a strange expanded diameter of clarity in the center of my vision. Not that big of a circle, but big enough to notice. It was distracting when watching tv or driving for a few days. I’ve had all sorts of changes to the visual (and whole sensory/experiential field) over the past couple years. That circle widened (I think?) until there wasn’t a weird extra circle in the middle of my vision anymore. Just the whole thing was different and it was difficult to concretely call up the experience of the difference between before and after. And it’s [all experience is] brighter, though it’s not brighter all the time–if I’m in a weird metabolic regime or my blood pressure is slightly wonky (glucose/ketones/oxygen aren’t fully keeping up for whatever reason).
More recently, when I close my eyes, the lights and flickering and blobs and patterns are so bright, more structured, more meaningful. (It’s not distracting me or interfering with sleep or anything like that.)
The entire field, all the sense doors, are pretty damn integrated, but very obviously not entirely integrated. Cognition, thinking is so much easier, so much less manual because everything I need is prereflectively feeding into the right places. I don’t have to go looking for it.
Will and effort are still there, though attenuated. Nothing has recently changed with time-bending [a thing that’s supposed to happen eventually]. I had like a scary seeming ego-death-ish experience that was totally handleable as it was happening, and I didn’t feel all that different afterwards [had a few more of these].
So, yeah. Why do I think I’m getting to the end of something? What about cessation of suffering or happiness independent of conditions [Ed. this is happening now I think] or something profoundly spiritually good combined with overwhelming gratitude and a sense of completion?
The main reason is I’m sort of running out of stuff to process, to the point that, in some sense, all that’s left is action. Months ago, I kept thinking I was near-done, but I’d discover additional huge pockets necessitating processing and then large refactorings needing to happen after that. You start to get more and more of an accurate sense of what’s left, maybe.
When I say all that’s left is action, I sort of mean that there’s, in some sense, nothing left to do but doing things. You sort of run out of technical debt in your mind; you’re all caught up, you can use your mind if needed, but you’re not caught up in your mind. There’s a sense of huge amounts of unnecessary complexity, loops and routes and bypasses and gates and blocks and fantasy and comforting and chattering getting sorted out, ironed out. And the big jumps of realizing that there was a huge amount of phenomenology you weren’t effortlessly already aware of seemingly have ended; the whole volume and surface of the body is alive, the whole body shimmers, coextensive with the mind. Like I said above, it’s not fully integrated, but I’m not expecting to encounter additional totally new (to me) qualities or qualities that I knew in some sense were there but they weren’t available all-at-once with everything else. I recently started using the previously groan-inducing (to me) term ‘bodymind.’ It fits. The system still gets stuck at times, but when the system moves, the whole system moves, and that wasn’t the case before.
And there’s just not that much left, as far as I can tell. I’ve reached entirely new and surprising vistas before, become aware of months if not years being left, but I’m not getting the impression that that’s going to happen again. We’ll see. Maybe there will be clicks or jumps of like things with self or will or effortlessness or integration/unification of the sensory field.
Another thing that’s happened, possibly the most valuable thing to me, and I expected this to happen, was how my world started to make more and more sense in a very realistic and concrete way (nonmonotonically). What I was doing, why I was doing it, my place in the world, what other people are doing, how the whole things works, what’s good and bad about that. Basically, my plans kept getting better (nonmonotonically).
What made me write this post is that the practicality of my thoughts and my stance towards the world just keep increasing. I was trying to point to some of the core things, and one of them seems to be that the inputs and outputs of my cognition are becoming more and more and more sensorially concrete–like, prereflectively, effortlessly, what are the outcomes of my actions going to be in terms of the actual sense doors. What’s actually going to concretely happen, as far as I currently expect and believe, is the thing that is ramping up and up. My decisions are becoming more and more based on how am I actually going to feel, what are they actually going to say, do I actually want that, what can I do differently… Perhaps everyone already does this, I mean, of course? And I was doing this too? But something on this axis is optimizing, and it’s very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very good. Maybe some other facet will become more salient as things continue, but the sense of being unconditionally on top of my world, on top of all my shit (even when there’s endless things left to be done) combined with a sort of ever-increasing effortless end-to-end concreteness sort of currently feel like The Thing(tm). For me, anyway.
When I say concreteness, it’s not like washing dishes becomes totally good and absorbing or something like that. Maybe that will happen; I don’t care. And I don’t feel, like, boring or unimaginative. And I’m looking forward to writing material with extreme philosophical intricacy and precision about all of this, more than I ever, ever have before, and much of that will be very abstract, not concrete. The concreteness is more just like, ok, and this is cliche, but not mistaking the sense doors (or sense field or whatever) for something other than what they are (for what it is). The external world is out there but all I’ve got are these sensations, so I’m gonna optimize them. My internal world is in here, but it’s empty, insubstantial; in both cases map is not the territory, so I’m gonna frickin’ optimize the map.
I burned off, frankly, endless amounts of disendorsed but gently regarded fantasy violent misogyny (among fifty billion other things), and/but sex is still intense and good (nonmonotonically). I’m still enjoying tv though for different reasons [Ed. this seems to be fading now]. And I’m moving towards, perhaps, I think, I suspect, something like utterly-all-consuming local and expansionary compassion. (Big surprise; we’ll see. If so, I’m confident that it will be non-grim, non-naive, hilarious, connective, and exciting. There’s a whole world out there, and people are hurting, and there’s still nukes and the promise and peril of technology. And increasingly so the promise and peril of especially mind tech.) You want the people around you to be happy and you want the whole thing (the whole world) to work.
Some additional important things. At times I thought I was going to have to give up things I didn’t want to give up, that I would have to make terrible choices. But always, and I mean always, it turned out that I didn’t have to give anything up that was truly good. I had to examine so many sacred beliefs, so much sacred phenomenology. And, for me, at least there was endless experiential and philosophical and moral puzzles to solve. It was very, very cognitive while I was still refining my methods, and it’s still intermittently very cognitive. And even when it’s not “cognitive,” understanding/insight, fodder for prereflectively using your mind well, for making good choices, what you use to win in dharma combat–true understanding in your bones–is everything. Sometimes I had to make hair-splitting comparisons or pay attention to hair-splitting phenomenology and the whole system was so, so, so, so, so jammed up. You have to be willing to look at your most sacred (and terrible) untouchable (unfixable; seemingly) things, but you get to keep the good stuff. Good as in good-good, not boring-good or society-good or creepy-sex-thing-good or melodrama-good. You get to keep the good-good things in these things. And you never, never have to give up anything until you’re ready. It’s not your fault; this is hard. If you try, it’ll just take longer. FINE, I for sure used iron will and self-crushing, but I had to undo ALL of it, ALL of it, and maybe that made things take TWICE as long; so if you can get away with not doing those sorts of things to yourself, DON’T. If the world has gone joyless and grimdark and you have to resign yourself to some nihilist buddhist or materialism thing then you’re making an error somewhere. This will surely happen at times, over and over again, maybe, and don’t fight it, but also it’s ultimately an error.
So, where to, from here?
It’s a cliche in meditation-land, but the problem is in our minds, people. AND MINDS CAN CHANGE. You think you’re too stupid, too fucked up, too broken–that the world will never make sense to you, that you’ll never take world-facing valued actions, that you can’t write a call to action or go on tv or write a book or found a dynasty. No. Minds can change down to the very, very, very bottom. This is the good news. I’m almost thirty-eight [Ed. I am now 38.]. That’s like five-hundred years old in something years. I felt pretty fucking ossified. Is that weird? But with the right methods the whole thing just sheds what it doesn’t need and moves. Shockingly so. Shockingly so. Shockingly so.
The bad news is how currently hard and dangerous it is. Selection bias and survivorship bias. People who don’t get stuck make it all the way, along some of the axes. And we don’t hear about the people who bounce off or hurt themselves very, very badly. And most people are somewhere in between. And what’s the goal or the bar? Non-self-crushing, non-naive, world-centric, large-scale compassionate coordination?
I’m still an arrogant, not-finished, paranoid loner. [Ed. a lot less so now]
Though, not exactly, and I’ve got plans.
I couldn’t have done this without all the material already out there, both directly and indirectly. I didn’t benefit directly from e.g. /r/streamentry, but I benefited from people who did benefit from e.g. /r/streamentry. Critical pieces. And so it goes, back in time. Doing this is so hard, at least until you finally, confidently settle on the right methods. And figure out your super-weird, idiosyncratic puzzles and blocks to making straightforward progress (and they keep popping up as you go).
I also benefited from local community. Because of my contingent starting conditions, I wouldn’t have made it without the support of the people around me. And sometimes I extracted that support via emotional extortion. N-dimensional chess manipulation. I’m still making it up to them, and I’ll be doing so some time. And they hurt me. We’re all hurting each other.
(I also absolutely couldn’t have done this if I were not a white male with hair with an engineering degree, software development skills, a supportive family and most importantly stratospheric levels of belligerent self-entitlement.)
So can we do better? Buddhism is doing its thing. Some people went to Burma and came back. Ingram wrote his book. Culadasa wrote a book. Ken Wilber. Shinzen. Dozens of people like them. Hundreds of people who supported them. All of it.
Ingram is rocking a my-uncompromising-truth-which-non-coincidentally-has-a-lot-of-truth-truth thing. Culadasa is rocking a “here’s one path described with world-historical levels of detail, modernized terminology, and a new theoretical framework.” Shinzen is rocking a clarity, precision, unification, history and science thing. And, as far as I can tell, there’s dozens of good teachers out there now doing their thing that happens to be less visible to me.
What I intend to bring to the table is philosophy-grade precision, analytical phenomenology, rigorous epistemology, and a unification with depth psychology. And local and global safety. Let’s crack this thing. Let’s do it safely. Ingram warns of the dark night. Culadasa claims you can avoid it. Shinzen (I think?) downplays it.
As the mind tech improves, what about the possibility of triggering a global dark night? What about an uncontrolled explosion in use of the powers (yes), as Ingram refers to them?
I don’t mean to piggyback on the nuclear and AI apocalyptic warnings, except that, ok, I do; it’s convenient and it’s good memetics. But these are real concerns. Really real. All of them. If we’re really serious about disseminating tools that are truly catholically accessible and powerful enough to actually work (help people have experientially and interpersonally good, world-centric lives on their own terms) as well empower people who choose to do so to work towards making safe, world-scale changes then we have to take all possible risks seriously. And the clock is ticking. And our private and public struggles are real.
We are all seeking something good and real; we are fish in the water of ourselves and world, of our presuppositions and the ways in which self and world could be different, and we don’t even know it. Differences and vistas of expansion, changes of mind as shocking as gaining new limbs, new senses. We don’t yet know how far apart we actually are and how close we can become. Can neural prostheses and metacortices train the mind at the highest grain of precision, teach us about the good, teach us how to be together with each other in a non-wireheady way? Where does that precision and those degrees of freedom come from? Maybe we’ll hit on the right electrodes or fields on the right neurons by chance. But neuroscience and even academic psychology do not speak the language of the soul, the language of the soul experienced from the inside. Philosophy comes closer, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant. Brilliant, critical, irreplaceable, foundational. The Buddha and lineages. We are their descendents and for all that’s gone wrong, for all we’ve lost that they had, we still have things that they don’t. There is still a need to put it all together. One’s deliberate, reflective precision is only as good as one’s method and metalanguage. My ideology is the surpassing of all contingency in service of those definite goods I can’t yet even conceive of, in the language of my mind, body, and heart that I can’t even speak yet. There is still a need for a science of mind from the inside. Husserl, messy as he was, was on to something when he indicated that the one true first philosophy is phenomenology