meditation and superpowers

(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)

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[This is a one-sided, not-fully-thought-through, and poorly edited response to an ongoing thread on the google group. There’s been an ongoing theme of what you can actually do with a human brain–what are the degrees of freedom and what’s the opportunity cost?!topic/medstuff/J9PYBxMwBPY


>> […] [oracle vs expansion] […]

I put a lot of emphasis on working effectively with consciousness in it’s “natural” state. And, in that state, I’m am in some sense treating the unconscious as an oracle. Or, rather, something that feels somewhat phenomenologically separate that’s governed by laws not yet fully understood.

I haven’t put a lot of thought or effort to working within cultivated states of consciousness. I think I’ve mentioned that I got bored after playing with the second jhana for like twenty minutes and got bored after a few deliberate lucid dreams. (I have spontaneous lucid dreams every once in a while and I sometimes do informal experiments in them.) This lack of interest in cultivated states of consciousness is partially a personal bias for a variety of reasons which I won’t go into here.

More generally applicable is my heuristic for learning to work with consciousness effectively no matter what state one is in, which places a natural emphasis on working with day-to-day waking consciousness. Another reason is my general pessimism for the ongoing utility of altered states. I think even someone like Ingram has to spend a few days on retreat before he has a perfect “read-write” conscious workspace. And, at that point, my impression is that contact with consensus reality is tenuous at best. But, I’ve never actually had that conversation with him or anyone.

Now, that’s not to say that something interesting might be possible at moderate or large opportunity cost. People with brain damage do sometimes get genuine “superhuman” powers, and sometimes in the mathy domain (like actually useful math synesthesia and lots more). This seems to have something to do with disinhibition. That is, one part of the brain keeps another part from firing as hard as it could, for whatever reason, and it’s like brain damage can remove the brakes. It’s plausible that one could permanently knock out some [inhibitory] circuits–I suspect that that’s exactly what classical buddhist enlightenment *is.* Again I’m pessimistic that consciousness/meditation has the right levers to do this for arbitrary circuits, at reasonable opportunity cost, at least, but maybe not.

Another thing is the “quality” of consciousness. Meditation, say jhanic meditation, typically removes aspects of consciousness. And then what’s left is more obvious and possibly more directly accessible and manipulable. That could be enough. Another possibility is “phase changes” in consciousness–like, *maybe* one get access to qualia and mental moves that truly aren’t possible in normal states. Maybe. I don’t think it’s the case that truly “unconscious” processes (always otherwise unconscious) could become “conscious,” but I can think of plausible arguments where that could actually be true.

I don’t have your intuition about digits of precision within the human nervous system. You may be interested in the work of Paul Smolensky and also Douglas Hofstadter’s “Waking from the Boolean Dream.” For a long time, I’ve been interested in the interplay between symbolic and nonsymbolic processes in the human brain, and in addition the neural instantiation of both. Smolensky is working on high-level but neurally plausible models for how symbolic activity and logical operations almost “ride on top of” nonsymbolic machinery.

There’s also the question of how much of this is actually accessible to consciousness. I’m more of mind that anything resembling logical operations in consciousness is something of an illusion. That’s not to say logic isn’t real and apprehended in consciousness, just that true “logic” (as opposed to informal prose, poetry, and holophrasis) is an achievement, not a native mode of the human brain. I think that “symbolic lock” (compositionality) and “logical interlock” (useful symbolic computation) are more a byproduct than how a brain actually arrives at answers like 99% of the time. I don’t think the brain is using some sort of hyper-efficient logical encoding–I think anything resembling efficiency-without-loss-of-precision is more likely to be domain-specific evolutionary hacks. I could be totally wrong though.

I’m of a mind that eureka moments are produced by vast, impersonal waves of updates and feedback amongst many, many intertwined submodules–surely that’s lawful, and I bet we’ll eventually have a handful of equations that explain the whole thing. But, I think it’s unlikely those equations will describe the instantiation of logical or symbolic operations. Epiphenomenal? And, yet, symbols or, rather, “percepts” or whatever do seemed to get passed around, and long chains of inference during sleep are a thing. I could be wrong…

major breakthrough, I think

(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)

[New? Start here:]

I’ve written that I wanted to extract invariants from Focusing, Internal Family Systems Therapy, Coherence Therapy, etc. (“healing;” constructive engagement with self and reality), and I wanted to incorporate these into a genuine meditation practice (“awakening;” mind and ontological flexibility and transparency) that preserved the goals of all of these, all at once. (“How big can your practice become?“)

There was a seeming impedance mismatch, different mental muscles, gears that wouldn’t turn at the same time, no intuitive models to tie it all together, typically a big feeling of context switching and switching costs.

But. So.

I think I may have cracked it, or at least the first(!!!!) iteration of it. Check out my updates to the Tacit Updating and Foreground Background Meditation posts:

I’m seemingly experiencing a cascade of changes reaching into core issues going back decades, that haven’t ever budged, no matter how many quality-of-life improvements I’ve made, in so many other ways. But they seem to be, now. A lot. In almost unimaginably good ways. And I’ve barely started with consistent application. (I’m at about two hours of continuous practice and application, as I write this.)

Anyway, I really hope people find this useful. Please let me know what seems to be working and not working, for you. If you’re confused or it’s not working, it’s my fault and my hasty writing, not you.

I’m a bit “manic” right now, due to all sorts of life stuff going on. But this seems to be the real deal. 🙂 Time will tell; for this unified protocol to be “real,” cumulative, lasting change in inner experience needs to be evident, over hours to weeks to months to years. And, of course, equally if not more importantly, outer behavior, habits, actions, engagement with the world also needs to show cumulative, lasting change. Ideally, new stuff needs to become possible, over and over and over again, that was impossible before, that was barely imaginable before. Deeply personal, deeply idiosyncratic, deeply valued, becoming imaginable and possible. That’s change…

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some brief thoughts on mastering extreme stuff

(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)

[New? Start here:]

Let’s say you want to get into some extreme state, and to do that you’re following some sort of protocol.

The protocol is an abstraction. It leaves stuff out, no matter how good it is. It might map imperfectly or crudely to reality. The protocol will be an imperfect transmission: regardless of what the creator intended, usually something will be lost when it’s committed to words. Regardless of the words that the creator writes, those words are subject to your interpretation, no matter how careful you are. Your understanding of the words will change over time.

(One type good transmission is layered. It has useful information for people at multiple levels of skill and understanding. In some sense, the protocol grows with them as they engage with it.)

So, I’ve written before, a couple times in length, about how to work with explicit information:

And I’ve written about what can go wrong when you do so:

But I actually want to take this post in a slightly different direction: When you engage a protocol, you’re potentially pushing in narrow ways. You’re potentially going to get imbalanced.

Like, if there’s opponent processes for attention, e.g. stabilizing it or letting it roam free, or for injecting stuff into consciousness versus suppressing it, you might be systematically cultivating one side but not the other. (Except, complicate that by ten-fold or 100-fold, dozens of exquisitely, dynamically balanced, symphonically coordinating processes.)

Systematic, one-sided development will potentially lead to unbalanced operation of the system. This can potentially lead to bad stuff happening.

You can guard against this in a few ways.

One way is to suss out the balancing pieces of the opponent processes and explicitly develop them, too.

Another way, is to be extremely open to going off protocol or to be extremely open about your interpretation of the protocol: maybe you’re leaving out tacit stuff that the creator intended; or maybe you’re a case that the creator didn’t consider and you need to be doing at least a few more things (or many). In general, you may want to be sensitively feeling into your interpretation of what you think the creator intended, explicitly keeping in mind that it’s an interpretation. If you have the time and energy, you generally want to be taking apart the creator’s intentions and rebuilding the thing: it might look the same from the outside, the same words that the creator wrote, but your inner model of what’s going on has been upgraded, possibly many times. You might, hopefully, be always experimenting, always playing, always feeling around the edges for more, better, fuller.

Another way is to be more patient, to back off at times, or to take your time. If you keep pushing on one side, it does seem the brain eventually gets the message that you’re not going to stop (cue unknown protein and epigenetic accumulators, here), and it works to automatically and “intelligently” balance out opponent processes in the correct way, possibly better than you could have done.

In any case, whenever you’re developing something explicit, it’s highly likely you’ll need to be developing tacit, implicit stuff, too, some of which you’ll never be able to make cost-effectively explicit, because all explication is ultimately imperfect abstraction.

You want to develop everything, all at once, to bring everything forward, together. Otherwise, if you’re going for something extreme, it’s going to stall out, either neutrally or dangerously.

This may need to be on the order of years.

But, sometimes, if you want a skill, or an achievement, or a state, or a way of being, or some kind of meta-engagement with the world, or particular stuff baked into your mindstream…

This massively complex, highly coordinated, highly general thing… This complex system that you’ve been carefully intervening in, possibly over years…

Well, that’s possibly what mastery entails…

(But that doesn’t mean it can’t necessarily pay off, every step of the way.)

(And, of course, there are opportunity costs, and this most definitely isn’t a cognitive free lunch.)

(And I don’t mean to say that sometimes you shouldn’t focus very narrowly and sequentially on different subskills to the exclusion of others.)

(And, of course, of course, engage with other people’s maps and models, from people who’ve gone before you. But their values and goals may not be precisely coincident with yours.)

For so many reasons, you may ultimately need to leave all other’s models behind… Or, rather, your model needs to transcend and include all other models you’ve encountered… Your model needs to explain or explain away their model.

The map is not the territory: Your complex system is not an abstraction. It is the really, actual, real, reality-flux-stuff out there in the world or within you.

Mastery means engaging with the territory, as much as anyone or anything can actually engage with really-real-reality, as a separate thing than all maps used to map it.

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Tacit Updating, Meditating in Place, and Unlocking Habitual Response Patterns (and Feldenkrais)

(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)

[New? Start here:]

[This is a bit of a continuation of this post.]


1. Tacit Updating

tacit – “tac·it /ˈtasət/ adjective ‘understood or implied without being stated.'”

Techniques like Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) and Coherence Therapy (CT) can require lots and lots of languaging. To be sure, when using these protocols, there is a huge, irreplaceable, critical, felt, tacit, non-language component. But, again, there is that huge, symbolic, language component.

At times, it seems that the linguistic component is necessary for anything to happen at all. You have to say it; you have to say the right words for the magic to happen.

That being said, I have found, over time, that I can get positive shifts to happen, using nonverbal mental moves that I don’t fully understand. Getting these nonverbal shifts was confusingly unreliable, even though I seemed to be pretty good at manipulating lots of juxtaposed nonsymbolic cognition in mind at once. And I felt like I had teased out, at least intuitively, all of the nonverbal moves that parallel the explicit IFS and CT instructions.

Basically, it *felt like* I was applying the nonverbal, invariant mental moves that I’d teased out from stuff like IFS and CT, but I wasn’t getting the effects I wanted.

Turns out, I seem to have been neglecting important interleaved and concurrent moves involving background or “peripheral” awareness.

I think why verbalizing seemed essential for a consistent effect is that verbalizing “just the right thing” requires you to “properly” attend to something that was hanging out in peripheral awareness. Having made that connection, it seems that you can do the “properly” part, vis-a-vis peripheral awareness, without necessarily needing to do the verbalizing part, though there’s a tradeoff.

So, here, try this:

1. Attend to an issue using foreground attention.

This could be a problem, a concern, a pattern, an upcoming event, a past event, etc. In any case, it’s bugging you and you probably have emotions around it. It’s a thing.

Or, maybe it’s not a thing, yet. With practice, you can pretty quickly start to get a nonverbal/tacit/implicit “felt sense” of a “thing,” all together, all at once. The “real thing” could be pretty complicated, with lots of issues spinning off, but you can sort of “ball up” enough of it, or find a way to twist your attention to vaguely cover it in a way that kind of captures the sense of it. Sometimes it feels like you’re inventing or tying it all together on the spot, you’re fashioning a workable attentional object, making something into a “thing.” It can take some practice to get the right “thing” from the right “angle.”

Once you’ve got the thing…

2. Gently stabilize foreground attention on the nonverbal, “felt” sense of the issue.

You’ve really got to gently keep it there. It’s ok if your attention hops away intermittently, at least at first, but the thing has to be stable enough that it only goes into peripheral awareness, without it disappearing entirely, and you can hop right back. You should be able to gently stabilize your attention on the thing for seconds at a time.

Once you’re stable…

[Update: Regarding step 1 and 2: With foreground attention already slower moving or even pretty stabilized, lighting up background awareness and listening closely, where’s attention already drawn, what’s already coming up, don’t jump too much–incorporate, bring it all in, and, and, and, but, but, but, how quickly can you notice, allow, incorporate, all together, all at once…]

[Update: Some judo you can try is to simply good-faith-begin to do or intend towards canonical foreground background attention, with some neutral object in self or environment, and, attention and emotion will typically actively resist, stuff will reactively get stirred up–they want to go somewhere emotionally salient, they want to turn gears on relevant life issues. So, give your mind that, but not with reverie (though that will be mixed in), but with rounds and rounds of tacit updating, mixing and moving between fb/bg meditation and tacit updating, with reverie and intuitive moves filling in the gaps.]

3. Concurrently ask all parts of peripheral awareness to listen to a) foreground attention and b) all other parts of background/peripheral awareness. Stabilize this question/intention.

This has a “you really need to gently keep it there” feeling, too. During normal waking consciousness, the contents of peripheral awareness are continually changing. (This is obscured by foreground attention doing its endless bouncing around and sort of drowning/dimming everything else out.) According to Culadasa (and, I guess, very loosely textbook neuroscience) “subminds” send and receive via consciousness. What you’re doing here is, “(gently, respectfully) holding everything still to get everything’s attention, and then asking everything to listen.”

This is sort of inconsistent, but my thinking was that parts of the brain somehow need to be “activated and paying attention” in order to “unlock” their habitual behavior. And, if “everything” (or at least more parts of the brain than usual) are continuously paying attention, then complex, sequential, interconnected updates can happen all in a row.

At this point, you have foreground attention stable on an issue and background awareness is relatively stable, open, and listening…

4. Maintain foreground stabilization and background receptiveness and “actively, patiently” wait for seconds, until “done.”

Typically, I’ll start shaking or one or more motor loops will start firing after a few seconds or sometimes longer, five to fifteen seconds or more. And, basically, I’ll maintain everything until the shaking stops and/or I’ve reached some sort of tacit sense of completion. Sometimes after that I’ll pick up a new angle/issue and do it again, or I’ll pick up the old one again to see if there’s anything more.

After one round, if I picked the right “angle” on the issue, usually something fairly significant has changed, cognitively and/or emotionally. It has a similar “significant and permanent” feel as if I had done IFS or CT, etc., on it.

The downside is that I usually don’t really understand what just happened. Sometimes I’ll get a bit of a sense of what’s going on, or I’ll get some flashes of imagery or memory. But, usually, it’s just that I’m no longer thinking, feeling, or doing something that previously seemed locked-in-stone habitual or reactive (though it’s not always the thing that I was hoping would change or go away, at least not on the first or multiple tries!). Or, I’ll have a sense that something changed, but I don’t really be able to put my finger on what, at least at first, or ever.

So, this is not good for sort of model building, narrative building, or being able to crosscheck some of the things that you think you just did. (It’s possible that I’ll figure out how to smoothly dial up and down insight while doing this, vis-a-vis the tradeoff below or via another channel. This is a work-in-progress.)

[Update: I just want to add, as I get more and more practice with this, that it does seem to often be becoming more transparent as to what’s happening, emotionally and psychologically (synchronically) and why (narratively; diachronically). This is very new, as I write this. I’m still exploring angles and dimensions, and it may be possible to improve on all of this in many ways.]

The upside to this process is that it’s really, really fast. Usually it takes less than a minute, if not mere seconds, especially with repeated practice. (Compare that with IFS or Coherence therapy, which can take hours or days to get anywhere. But sometimes that’s what you need, especially if insight or narrative-building is critical.) I will assert that, perhaps, this process “forces” ALL possible emotional and cognitive updates to occur, up to that point in time, for that particular issue (again, remembering that an issue that’s too “thing-like” can be limiting–exploring how issue-ness affects all of this could be very fruitful).

So, to recap:

  1. Attend to an issue using foreground attention.
  2. Gently stabilize foreground attention on the nonverbal, “felt” sense of the issue.
  3. Concurrently ask all parts of peripheral awareness to listen to a) attention and b) all other parts of peripheral awareness. Stabilize this question/intention.
  4. Maintain foreground stabilization and background receptiveness and “actively, patiently” wait for seconds, until “done.”

Please let me know what your experience are with trying or doing this process. I’d like to keep fiddling with this, while remaining open to what’s “actually” going on, to really keep teasing out the minimal, comprehensive, consistent, inner process to achieving safe, legitimate transformation. (And, again, I’ve got this thing for processes that can be seamlessly woven into meditation and daily life that symphonically enhance and don’t get in the way of living.)

2. In Situ Meditation

in situ – “/ˌin ˈsīto͞o,ˈsē-/ adverb & adjective ‘in its original place.'”

Here’s another thing I suggest playing around with.

Normally when we meditate, or at least when I meditate, there seems to be this grand rearrangement of foreground attention and background awareness. There is this sense of “gathering” or “recombobulation” of “settling down” of “smoothing things out” of “becoming present,” or “bringing stuff online.” Basically, getting ready to meditate seems to take this big reconfiguration of mind, at least with respect to how I’ve defined meditation and how I habitually engage in it.

I’ve tried hard to minimize “grand reconfiguration,” to sort of have the lightest touch possible. But this still seems to be a thing for me, even though I’ve mitigated it over time.

So, I’ve tried to make doing sort of the opposite into a thing too. That is, very explicitly, very carefully changing nothing (as best I can) while simultaneously becoming aware of my entire mind exactly as it is. For now, I’m calling this “in situ meditation.” But, it’s more of a spot procedure than a meditation practice, a way to more organically, continuously, “unbrokenly” drift towards the more canonical foreground background meditation protocol, if desired.

This can also be a iterative procedure, where you “do it,” then relax and then “do it” again, over and over, with some kind of break in between runs.

So what does this actually entail?

I do it in two pieces:

First, I become aware of what’s under the spotlight of attention. (From start to finish, this has to happen within milliseconds because otherwise your act of doing it is going to greatly influence whatever the mind is doing. You’ll sort of drown out what the mind was doing before you got there.)

Then, within milliseconds after the first part, I brighten background awareness and/or sort of cover what background/peripheral awareness is already doing with “more awareness” trying not to disturb what’s already going on out there. Importantly, this all has to be done without attention being captured by something in peripheral awareness, otherwise your mind will “reconfigure” and you’ll instantly be pretty far away from what the mind was already doing before you got there.

Now, from here, as I mentioned above, you can sort of slowly, continuously ease into a more canonical foreground background meditation. Or, you could use this as a jumping off point for some variant of choiceless awareness.

One thing I especially like to do (and which I would especially like to point out) is to gently hold everything exactly as I found it and wait for a bit. That is, I gently hold the foreground and background of my mind as I found them.

There seems to be some sort of “secondary attention” that exists in this state, a sort of “secondary spotlight” or metacognition that can roam around a bit and take things in, examining both foreground attention and background peripheral awareness, without letting primary foreground attention make its next jump or for the contents of background peripheral awareness to shuffle and change (too much).

If you do this, once you get the hang of it, I think what you’ll find is that you’ll often have been in a seemingly “narrow trance state.”

Here are some of possible features of your mind that you’ll find when you look around:

  1. It may have a sense of utter and total certainty, sort of the same feel as like when you’re dreaming.
  2. It may have sort of a narrow “corridor” feel. Most of peripheral awareness will be quite dim or unused, and only what’s highly pertinent to the current mind state will have content.
  3. If you cast that “secondary attention” further out, you may notice that your entire musculature has a very “precise configuration” feel, that you’ve subtly configured every muscle in your body to appropriately “micro respond” to this particular mind moment, including the future implications of this particular mind moment.

(For more on the “temporal microphenomenology” of mind, I suggest “Ghosts of Consciousness” by Herbert Demmin. For more on the in situ phenomenology of mind, I suggest Investigating Pristine Inner Experience by Russell Hurlburt. These books are dense and intense, highly recommended if you’re in a hardcore mood. I am grateful they exist.)

Now, if you continue to hang out using that one-two combination above, something interesting might happen. You might notice an almost visceral “unlocking” sense, where that dreamlike certainty seems to recede and that muscle configuration, which previously seemed rock solid, absolutely necessary, will acquire a sense of looseness and possibility.

It’s interesting, that unlocking. Where you take that newfound freedom, in that moment, is up to you… Seriously, though, I’m still exploring the potential of catching out these in situ configurations. Please let me know what you find.


The above is sort of the meat of what I wanted to get across, but there’s a related connection, between attention and body awareness, which I wanted to get across, too.

Learning and change are somehow tied to attentional processes. Conversely, there is at least one study out there the claims mindful listening has a *worse* learning outcome than half paying attention, and I think the evidence that a brief period of “unconscious incubation” is helpful is sort of mixed. Anyway, I haven’t reviewed all this literature systematically. But, it seems clear that there are certain times when paying attention is magical. And, perhaps “paying attention” is wayyyyyy to simple as per all the above; for good stuff to occur, I suspect there are important additional sub-distinctions in the temporal, spatial, and cognitive deployment of attention as well as the interplay between attention and peripheral awareness. But, *anyway,* I wanted to make some comments on one effect I’ve noticed.

Take walking, say, a basic walking rhythm over level ground, with plenty of space in front of you to keep walking. As you’re walking, you may find that you have some flexibility–you can sway your hips or move your arms differently or whatever. But, if you’ll examine, you may find that the “core muscle movements” are like a “dynamic steel arch,” from foot to pelvis to foot, which sort of has an “unchangeable” feel. Like, there’s no wiggle room, of a certain kind, in there. As long as you’re walking, that “dynamics steel arch” is going to do its thing (and keep you from crashing into a wall or the pavement) and it’s not really open to modification. It has an unmodifiable or “locked” phenomenology to it. (Do you agree?)

However, if you maintain awareness on those “locked” muscles (and again, they may be moving in a rhythmic pattern, which still responds reflexively to the environment; and you really have to suss out and stabilize your attention across the right muscles), there will eventually (over five to twenty seconds) be a palpable sense of unlocking or at least a localized looseness that will manifest over less than a second or two.

It seems you have now opened that (rhythmic) motor pattern to modification. Neat trick, I think.

If you buy the theory that nervous systems evolved for locomotion and that thinking evolved from motor plans (or even if you don’t), all of this may open additional lines of theorizing for how to modify beliefs, habitual behavior, automaticity, and all sorts of stuff.

I want to give a hat tip to Feldenkrais, here, because he was an early theorizer and playing with his stuff allowed me to notice the above.

The Feldenkrais method has you pay close attention while you do carefully chosen movements for a very large number of reps, say twenty-five. I think what his protocol does is it unlocks motor patterns; while simultaneously giving you lots and lots of practice reps; while simultaneously exhausting the muscles and forcing you to find a more and more efficient use of the muscles in play (possibly in relation to posture and gravity).

Regarding body stuff, plenty of other things are important, too, but Feldenkrais was a key puzzle piece, for me, in greatly improving my general quality of life. His stuff especially contributed to why I can sprint again, after working with many other tools and techniques across many different modalities.

If you’re curious about exploring this for yourself, I suggest Awareness Through Movement. It is a tedious but excellent book. (Side note: if you have generalized muscle tension issues, look into sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, overall caloric intake, and most especially choline, but not choline-plus-inositol.)

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Mindfulness in Daily Life, Culadasa, the Dangers of Keeping Stuff Out of Consciousness (7000 words)

(General content note: A lot of my thinking has really changed since the old days of this blog. There’s some weird, mean, and polemic stuff in there.)

[New? Start here:]

[The writing gets pretty uneven in the second half, but it’s all there for a reason… Sorry. I’ll presumably pick up those threads more clearly in the future.]


The pop mindfulness advice for daily life seems to be, “pay really close attention to what you’re doing,” like, “pay really close attention to your experience of eating an orange.”

This is not horrible advice for an absolute beginner. That absolute beginner may begin to get a explicit sense of what it feels like to deliberately pay attention. He or she might begin to get a sense of the difference between “paying attention” and “reverie.” That’s great!

But it’s impoverished and incomplete. It’s the barest of beginnings. And I feel like people can get stuck there, stuck paying really close attention or “feeling their body,” and, maybe, maybe, maybe fumbling towards improved interaction with a complex world.

I was hoping that Zen might have more sophisticated tips for interacting with a complex world (which is silly because Zen eschews complex models). After all, as Shinzen Young puts it, Zen has a bounciness(?) that’s missing from, say, Theravada or Western vipassana. In Zen, sitting has an *action* a *doing* to it. “Just sitting” is *active,* and it’s one of the simplest “actions” you can *do.* It’s a microcosm, a laboratory for daily life. But it’s still just a single action. There’s a big leap between “just sitting” and “living.”

I’ve looked a bit into “wu wei” from China, i.e. “effortless action.” And, of course, Tantra. I think I’m closest to Tantra, philosophically: extreme emotion, cognition, sex, disgust, horror, passion, appetite, competence-in-action, whole-hearted engagement with a complex world.

There’s truly brilliant stuff in Tantra, including its expression threaded through Tibetan Buddhism. But, as a collection of practices, it’s arcane, at least as far as I can tell. As a collection of practices, it doesn’t seem to fit me and most Westerners. (Again, remember, I’m a random dude on the internet who mostly engages with all of this stuff deliberately but haphazardly through books, blogs, and his own practice, not via lineage holders, teachers, and practitioners.)

So, back to Zen. I had hopes for it in its elegance and simplicity. Zen’s models are impoverished, but that impoverishment is deliberate, or at least a deliberate gamble. And I wanted that active nature. I wanted practices that I could *do* alone, at home, where I could really focus and practice and train my brain and mind, but that would have smooth and elegant transference to engagement with the world.

I’ve written before that I think about meditation in three ways. One way is as a controlled laboratory in which I can conduct experiments. Another way is as a microcosm for the world, the world in the small, so I can practice skills in a reduced world to then express in the real world. And finally, I look at meditation as sort of weight training for the mind–highly general movements, like the main powerlifting exercises, that provide general transfer, and raise the overall waterline, for a wide range of contexts. That’s three ways.

But, so, Zen. I’ve always wanted more. As far as I’m concerned, meditation typically breaks down on contact with the outside world. The real world is too complicated, too varied, too changing. It seems that one is just supposed to “figure it out.” Meditation was traditionally practiced by monks. And householders. But, in my understanding, life is probably more complicated now than it was then? I’m not going to bet on that, but, probably?

It seems, I think, that the Buddha told a householder to pay attention, or something, even though she didn’t have the time to meditate? And that would be enough, according to the Buddha, to achieve (in my words) classical buddhist enlightenment?

And, then back to the Zen monk thing. So, there’s this book, Opening the Hand of Thought. It’s got some nice models, though, as per usual, it has issues around pushing stuff out of consciousness (more on this below). It’s not quite in line with my goals, past, present, and future. And it doesn’t have good long-term maps. But it really helped me during a particular point in my practice. The guy who wrote that, Kosho Uchiyama, has another book, too: How to Cook Your Life. I was really hoping it’d have good Zen advice for living.

I realize these books get thrown together, translated, or edited by students. And they’re probably written in bits and pieces possibly over decades. Quality is going to vary and they’re not necessarily going to reflect whatever the teacher is thinking at any particular contemporary point in time. (But it’s still better having such books out in the world than not. They’re infinitely better than nothing, however partial and potentially misleading they are.)

In any case, I was really disappointed with How to Cook Your Life. It seemed to boil down to, once again, “pay really close attention to whatever you’re doing,” even worse, “to the exclusion of all else.” (I’m paraphrasing; I’m making up these quotes.) That’s advice for living your life? Really? Not useful at all.

“Pay really close attention to whatever you’re doing, to the exclusion of all else.”

But what if you’re engaged in a complex, ill-defined activity with an ambiguous goal? What if you’re a parent trying to figure out how to talk to your kid? What if you’re an executive operating on like six different time horizons at once?

What is a meditation system going to add, here? Isn’t it better to maybe read up, engage domain-specific models, experiment and reflect, if there’s time, and just *do* the thing, in all its messiness and complexity? That’s *not* the same thing as “pay really close attention to whatever you’re doing.”

Because, you might be doing lots of things. I don’t mean multitasking. I mean sophisticated deployment of attention, working memory, paper, electronic documents, email, conversations, notes, and on and on and on. Or laptop to meeting to laptop. Or notes to document to web to notes to document to messaging app to significant other to etc.

Meditation *can* indirectly, obliquely, greatly enhance all of that. But you have to be a little bit lucky or smart. There isn’t much *explicit* help on applying meditation tools and attainments to daily life.

Sure, the Buddha had lots to say about daily life. And there is more recent stuff out there, on the order of centuries to millenia: Marcus Aurelius’ Stoic Meditations or Lojong mind training. Or even CFAR’s rationality toolkit. These *are* heuristics for engaging with a complex world. I’m going to talk a bit about David Allen’s Getting Things Done, below.

I think the best way to use that middle-distance kind of stuff is to spend a little bit of time each day working with it, returning to it, reviewing it on breaks and trying to apply it. And eventually it automatizes with periodic review.

But I still want something more.

I want mental models for the micro-movements of consciousness. What’s the best way to use foreground and background consciousness in the midst of daily life? What are the pitfalls of the deliberate training of consciousness for daily life? What does fine-grained, millisecond deployment of attention in a complex environment look like? Between novices and experts in that domain? For expert meditators that are nevertheless novices in a particular domain? What are the limits of the deliberate use and training of consciousness?


I think it’s good to be able to select and arrange the contents of consciousness. To lay things out in order, to be able to backtrack, to almost be able to create a heads-up display, or a cockpit, or a breadcrumb trail, or a workspace, or an arrangement of control surfaces, or multiple models in mind at once, or multiple hypotheses, or any arrangement of discrete uncomputable felt senses or cognitive objects or concepts or reminders or goal hierarchies, etc., and so forth, and to let it all go in nonsymbolic flux. Yes, working memory is limited, but a full context load isn’t discrete, it’s layers and layers of potentialities.

Over time, for me, as metacognition has seemingly improved and improved, I’ve become more deliberate in how I arrange attentional and awareness manifolds. “What I’m doing and why I’m doing it” has become more deliberate, more continuous, and more salient. I like to have a strong, implicit sense of, “what I’m doing and why I’m doing it”, if at all possible. And if I don’t, I explore whether it’s time and cost-effective to engage directly with that sense to potentially add nuance, layers, and specificity to it.


So. Where does Culadasa fit into all of this? I’m struck by how *isomorphic* our understandings are, of foundational aspects and issues of meditation. Me and my haphazard experience with neuroscience in grad school (and endless reading) and my endless reading of pop and obscure meditation books from lineage holders and random crackpots, including Theravadan and Tibetan methods. And me trying everything out for months and years in a disciplined but inconsistent way. And Culadasa with his neuroscience background and Theravaden and Tibetan training. And his years of experience as a meditator and meditation teacher. It’s really good and neat that we’ve got some convergence. Interpret as you will.

I’ve always thought that exquisitely nuanced mental models and surgical application of practice is more *efficient* than endless time on cushion. Total time on cushion is critical, but reading and thinking is just as critical, in terms of total time spent. That’s how I roll. That’s wayyyyyyyyyyyyy more efficient than just doing and doing vaguely. That’s why I think I’ve gotten to where I’ve gotten (in understanding and original reapplication) with hundreds of hours of meditation but far less total meditation time than lots of people holding forth. Anyway. You be the judge. I insist.

Anyway, anyway.


So, Culadasa. Culadasa is huge on Shamatha. I think his whole new book is going to explain, over hundreds of pages, how to keep more and more out of consciousness, how to be able to empty consciousness at will. I’m kind of iffy on the general safety of doing this and I’m kind of iffy on the utility of doing this. Culadasa sees it mostly as a means to an end. He’s very pro classical buddhist enlightenment. Fine; that’s great. Bottom line, I think Shamatha is more of a potentially good goal to have than I did before being influenced by Culadasa’s work.


What I’m going to do from this point forward is say some things that I think are right with the Culadasa’s approach, then my concerns, and what I think might be better and how my goals for a meditator might differ from Culadasa’s.

Flat-out, regardless of what I write here, read his new book when it comes out. The way I want to summarize his approach in this context is that it’s a toolkit that’s intended for overlapping but different goals than mine; but, it’s a toolkit that’s wholly compatible with my goals for a meditator. Indeed, much of his toolkit is isomorphic to the toolkit that I messily describe on this blog.

Let’s take some highly salient examples, considering my carefully bulleted but rambling mess of my post on my Foreground Background meditation practice:

*Culadasa’s technical term “attention” is almost isomorphic to my “foreground.”

*Culadasa’s technical term “awareness” is almost isomorphic to my “background.”

*Culadasa’s use of the term “ignore” is almost isomorphic to my “don’t push it away, let it hang out, there’s plenty of space.”

My intention here is to help you line up Culadasa’s toolkit with mine, so you can move freely between them, and to increase your confidence in both. So much overlap.

And Culadasa, with co-authors, I expect will go into much more detail than I do, over hundreds of carefully edited pages, presumably written and rewritten over many years and hundreds upon hundreds of hours.

Read his book when it comes out! Buy it! I think it’s going to be a classic for decades and decades. I hope it stays available until the end of time.


But again, Culadasa’s goals are different than mine, and I think his approach has dangers.

Culadasa’s focus is on systematically learning to keep more and more information out of consciousness, and then maintaining that state, in order to make classical buddhist enlightenment more likely to happen. (“Enlightenment is an accident; meditation makes you more accident prone.”)

Follow his instructions with skill and finesse, in part by stabilizing attention on one thing and not anything else, and, eventually (months to a few years), during a meditation session, consciousness is going to be mostly empty. And, intermittently, consciousness will be completely empty.

And I think Culadasa presents doing that as a pretty unequivocally good thing (TM). Of course, Culadasa I think maintains that being able to do this is not the point, that its a means to an end (the end being classical buddhist enlightenment). And, I expect, nondogmatically, Culadasa expects that you can use his toolkit with any meditation system or belief system.

And, again wonderfully, I believe Culadasa maintains that doing meditation as he teaches minimizes the chances of experiencing really horrible stuff a la the so-called “dark night,” which I’ve written about a few times before [1,2]. It seems he really believes that working in the right order will minimize the chances of bad things happening. (Such as, I’m guessing, temporary psychosis, suicidality, depression, and generally fucking up your life, finances, and relationships, in the extreme.) He could be right! I really don’t know.


Ok. But learning to empty consciousness just seems so… one-sided and extreme. The habits of mind that are being explicitly cultivated are single-minded (pun intended) and all fall on the side of keeping stuff out.

I suspect that a conscientious, patient, sensitive, mature-in-general meditator is going to naturally balance out the meditation practice with more well-rounded habits of mind (flexible, articulated, context-appropriate). Just living one’s life may be counterpoint to hours spent in meditation. And meditation plus daily life can and is intended to have a wonderful symmetry.

And presumably consciousness basically returns to normal after a meditation session, for the vast majority of the journey. But still. How many intense people, who really intend to “go for it,” are going to be “conscientious, patient, sensitive, mature-in-general?” I still think a lot of people are going to hurt themselves.

I’ve always thought it to be far safer to put the bias on putting things *into* consciousness, to turn up the volume on subtle stuff–that it’s just too dangerous to feed the capacity for keeping things out of consciousness (in that indirect, oblique way that “deliberately” keeping stuff out of consciousness seems to work).


Here’s some creepy stuff for you:

You know Jeffery Martin? (As far as I know, he has nothing to do with Culadasa. I’m just making a wider point, here.) I have mad respect for Jeffery Martin, by the way.  (I’ve ranted about his stuff before, too.) Possibly he’s doing intensely irresponsible stuff. I haven’t looked systematically into him. But the way he makes observations and collects data? Mad respect. Anyway, anecdotally, with his system, people are reporting a really consistent, stable, pleasant experience in the end game.

But, if those people get into a situation where a “normal” person would experience strong negative emotions, Martin’s study subjects *give off objective indicators of experiencing those emotions even though they report not consciously experiencing them.* Like, say, if a normal person would be anxious in a particular situation, Martin’s subjects, again who report feeling fine or good, are in fact perhaps shaking, have a loss of fine-motor control, are pale, have increased heart and respiratory rate, and may in fact look really anxious, upset, and jittery. Again, I haven’t witnessed this; it’s anecdotal and second-, third-, or fourth-hand. I think Jeffery Martin himself may have been the one to observe and note this effect and has been completely up front about it.

Anyway, I interpret the above as that, for these people, the brain is registering and reacting to “bad” stuff just fine, *but then not injecting it into consciousness.* (Now, I’m not saying that this is definitely what’s going to happen if you work Culadasa’s system, by the way. I’m saying there’s a risk of this happening, in whole or in part.)

And, I say, “creepy,” because keeping stuff out of consciousness might be just fine if you have a chronic illness or you’re parasite-ridden and dying and there’s no medicine or all sorts of stuff. And I could see it being fine for anyone to have access to this state if they want it and they can figure out how to do it in a non-sticky way.

But, OH MY NON-ANTHROPOMORPHIC GOD. It seems that consciousness is one of the main ways that some parts of the brain talk to other parts of the brain, how some parts of the brain coordinate with other parts of the brain, how some parts of the brain constructively engage with other parts of the brain in ways that are in the overall best interests of the system as a whole.

Consciousness seems to be the only “place” where people have the opportunity to legitimately, responsibly, deliberately and constructively work with “problematic” emotions and beliefs. (All sorts of good, essential stuff happens during dreaming and deep sleep, too, but you–and your journal, or close friend, or therapist–aren’t there to constructively participate in those states.)

My concern:

*Permanently keeping all sorts of stuff out of consciousness might essentially arrest emotional and cognitive development.*

Whatever “neuroses,” defensiveness, overreaction, “irrational” fears, incorrect beliefs, bad habits, etc., etc., etc., you’ve got, if you’re in an as extreme state as the Jeffery Martin’s study subjects or trainees, you’ve maybe basically stuck yourself with all of that *forever.*

You’ve arrested your own development. You’ll experience behavior but have reduced access to the genesis of that behavior, no matter how useful that access might have been.

(Actually it seems the state is potentially reversible. But all this stuff is tightly linked with prospective memory, which gets fucked up for them too, at least in the end game, and so possibly planning functions are messed up, and it all just seems pretty awful and horrible and hard to escape.)

Anyway, I’ve said before with great power comes great responsibility. The subjects of Jeffery Martin’s work are sort of an extreme case. But I’m making a slippery slope argument.

My point is that working Culadasa’s system likely comes with similar risks, though maybe not as extreme. I’ve talked about experiential avoidance, before. You’re giving yourself tools for keeping stuff out of consciousness.

And, major point here, even if you’re not *deliberately* using those tools to keep, say, painful or scary stuff out of consciousness, your brain has been watching closely for every hour upon hour of meditation: short-term it feels better when this stuff is out of consciousness, and your reflexive habits of mind are taking note of this. It’s all very Pavlovian and automatic. It seems pretty likely that bad stuff is automatically going to be less likely to come up over time, preventing it from being consciously, constructively engaged with. And you might be more likely to behave in unconstructive ways with no way of ever understanding why or healing yourself or engaging more deliberately with the world. This is a potential danger.

And, you might be learning to ignore and block subtlety, block still, small voices, the whispers of care and concern that aren’t currently being accounted for by your current goals, mental models, concepts, and so forth.

You might be learning to ignore subtle, valued, quiet, important information, urges, values, etc.

Perhaps a gentle, sensitive meditator will attend to such things outside of meditation time, cultivate them, enhance them, listen to them, address them, articulate them, complexify them and thus continually be transforming their lives over time. (And also, work with such things using such tools as Focusing, Coherence Therapy, IFS, etc., to thereby radically transform their emotional and cognitive lives, when indicated.)

I want to qualify a bit that any kind of meditation is probably going to build equanimity, which I’m using in the technical sense (see, say Shinzen Young), the ability to safely experience intense emotional states. You’re building skills that make it easier (safer) for the brain to inject intensely negative stuff into consciousness, too, in a good way. And, again, Culadasa’s work has increased my degree of belief that one can learn to safely, temporarily keep stuff out of consciousness. I want to be clear on that. Meditation gives you many positive tools too, and everything hopefully balances out or the positive stuff “wins.” But still. There are dangers, here, for some people.

In any case, in Culadasa’s work and most meditation books, working with “contentful” consciousness seems to be left almost entirely tacit, even though it could be an integral part of “morality” piece of buddhist training, also known as the first and last training. I get that content is kind of designated as a distraction towards the final goal. But, geez, as Ingram says, something like, “make sure you have a life that you want to wake up to.”

If you spend 1-10 years *not* attending to these still small voices or engaging with them in sophisticated ways, even if “just,” hopefully, on the meditation cushion, I’d expect it to be that much harder to *start* doing so after you’ve instilled such powerful and pervasive mind habits not to do so. You’d have to be damn patient to find even hints of a flicker of positive subtlety and nuance–you could set a strong intention, but you might not have even a hint of sense of what to set an intention for, and you’d have to wait for hints of a flicker to start popping up in awareness, though that would presumably accelerate over time.

Again, a patient, sensitive meditator might train in a very balanced way, however tacitly. They’ll naturally maintain and enhance valuable and important subtlety and nuance as they go. But not everyone will, and those people are going to get ever-more neurotic and dogmatic and messed up.

I guess my point is that the contents, and potential contents, of consciousness are complex, subtle, flexible, nuanced, and evolving. It is the stuff of your life, from reminders to pick up milk on the way home, to the faint whispers of your deepest cares and concerns as you slowly grow into them over a lifetime. To so habitually, so extremely ignore all of this, at least explicitly if not in actuality, just seems like violence to the mind in service of a fetishized end-goal, no matter the actual utility.


Keeping lots and lots of stuff out of consciousness, as a general rule, isn’t skillful. That might be fine in meditation, as a means to end, an “evocative contrast.” But, really, the general goal should be “right contents in consciousness at right time.”

And, to tie all this together (and there’s still much more, below), Culadasa’s work has increased my degree of belief that the *entire* contents of consciousness can be safely “managed.” I still think that’s fraught, but, at some point, one has enough tools and capability that it starts being irresponsible and unsafe to *not* move in this direction. With great power comes great responsibility.

I said above:

“I think it’s good to be able to select and arrange the contents of consciousness. To lay things out in order, to be able to backtrack, to almost be able to create a heads-up display, or a cockpit, or a breadcrumb trail, or a workspace, or an arrangement of control surfaces, or multiple models in mind at once, or multiple hypotheses, or any arrangement of discrete uncomputable felt senses or cognitive objects or concepts or reminders or goal hierarchies, etc., and so forth. Yes, working memory is limited, but a full context load isn’t discrete, it’s layers and layers of potentialities.

“Over time, for me, as metacognition has seemingly improved and improved, I’ve become more deliberate in how I arrange attentional and awareness manifolds. ‘What I’m doing and why I’m doing it’ has become more deliberate, more continuous, and more salient. I like to have a strong, implicit sense of, ‘what I’m doing and why I’m doing it,’ if at all possible. And if I don’t, I explore whether it’s time and cost-effective to engage directly with that sense to potentially add nuance, layers, and specificity to it.”

“Mental moves” are “hardware constrained,” and they fall into natural classes based on what parts of the brain you’re flexing at any given time. Constrained. We’re not magical souls. But. Still: There are infinite possible mental moves, in an infinite-dimensional, infinite space capable of instantiating an infinite number of conceptual infinite-dimensional manifolds infinitely interrelating, not to mention an infinite number of possible physical actions (body and speech) in any moment.

At some point, possibility and potentiality start to become more salient in real time. It becomes obvious, at times, even pressing, that your mindstream could be behaving other than it is. You could be thinking different thoughts, traveling down different paths, that the frames and maps you’re running are partially incidental. “This is what’s happening right now,” becomes a question mark, manifold, pregnant, undetermined, not inevitable. Necessity and non-necessity of the next moment become a game. “This is what’s happening right now, and this is how I must respond,” becomes, “Really? Are you sure?”

You perhaps start to see where consciousness is “sticky” where gears and mental movements are sticky. You perhaps have a taste of consciousness that’s more like a superconducting or frictionless fluid, inner stances that can arrange and rearrange contra the world, in complex, multilayered, experimental configurations. You can arrange and rearrange your inner landscape to cover self and world in novel, responsive ways. You aren’t bound by prior false dichotomies, false dilemmas, objects, categories. Symbols and language become a game instead of a cage, or something. Layers of maps and territory and really-real territory become distinct concepts if not referents. Anyway.

This is not to say that your magic genie mind just gives you whatever you need at any given point in time. Lots and lots of the time there’s a, “well, fuck, a really useful thought, concept, mental move, idea could go right there, but I don’t know what it is so here we are.” And that’s taking into account your entire repertoire of techniques, metatechniques, maps of how to go beyond technique, and so forth.

And the mind will probably never be completely transparent. You’ll never be “done.” Moving attention over the right objects in the right order, combined with having the correct collection of objects in peripheral awareness, keeping *those* salient, too, while you’re moving attention, can cause emotional healing, belief updates, etc. No matter how much meditation you do, or careful reading and thinking, you don’t always know the right questions and order ahead of time or, at the very least, you still have to go through the motions deliberately. That is, you very often still have to use your executive function to walk your mind through steps that it will never (at first, or ever) take spontaneously. And walking through those steps can profoundly change you (cf. e.g. Coherence Therapy). Bottom line, your magical meditative superconducting mind fluid, unfortunately, isn’t necessarily going to spontaneously do lots of things for you. Some things, surprisingly and wonderfully, but not everything, not ever.

I guess what I’m trying to do here, as per usual, is to responsibly hammer home that meditation will never be a panacea, even if it’s still radically, pervasively valuable, for some people, some of the time.

But learning to interact effectively with your increasing awesome magical mind fluid, you becoming a part of your magical awesome mind fluid (ahem), is part of the practice.


Anyway, so, consider:

You take responsibility for where your attention is directed. You take responsibility for sensory and non-sensory peripheral awareness, brightening it, bringing it online, allowing all parts of self to inject useful, relevant information into consciousness.

And, well, now what? You’re here, now. But you’ve just stopped a lot of gears from turning. You’re temporarily arrested your default mode network. It was doing stuff; it was driving you. And now?


Here’s one way to slice up states of being:

  • doing, where “awareness of mind” gets in the way
  • doing, where “awareness of mind” is helpful

Sometimes you should just “do the thing,” which might involve tons of meta and reflection and threading of behaviors. But, uh full meta, as in, generally keeping tracking of the entire state of your mind, wouldn’t be helpful. Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way, to not incur a monitoring cost, a meta cost.

There are other times when coincident global meta, simultaneous with whatever you’re actually doing, *will* be helpful. Or will be helpful for 1-10 minutes at the beginning, of whatever.

It’s good to differentiate between those cases, and to not also that as your meditation practice continues, and more and more monitoring behaviors automatize, stuff that incurred a cost in the post may not incur a cost in the future. And, when you reach that point, you’ve achieved a net win with respect to your prior local maximum. (See Culadasa’s metacognitive introspective awareness.)

I’ll poorly summarize this especially poorly written section as, sometimes you should pay attention to how you’re paying attention. But, other times you should just pay attention and do the thing.


Another thing which may or may not be salient is your tacit, nonverbal sense of, “What you’re doing and why you’re doing it.” This is an aspect of “sati,” usually unfortunately translated as “mindfulness,” literally translated as “memory.”

“What you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

This is a powerful, tricky thing, where you can get in your own way if you’re not careful.

Meditation, very, very early in your practice teaches you the difference, as you’re sitting there trying to enact a meditation protocol, between “You’ve totally forgotten what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” and “I’m at least remembering to do the thing that I intended to do.”

Outside of meditation, knowing whether you’ve got this sense, and what’s in it, and how nuanced it is, and how many layers it has (and time horizons of those layers) can be very powerful.

Let’s unpack that a little bit:

Synchronic complexity: “I’m doing this thing.” vs “I’m doing this thing with these six pieces that all alternate depending on what happens and there’s all these exceptions and there are these completely different regimes that are all relevant and if this happens I’ll fall into the regime with three pieces instead of six.” This is what driving a car is like until driving automatizes. If you’re pushing yourself, you’ll be doing new things as complex as driving a car often. Or you’ll be doing things that you periodically want to de-automatize to tune all of the pieces. “What you’re doing,” can be deeply intricate. You might get a sense that “what you’re doing” could fill a whole book (… or a whole blog).

Diachronic complexity: You might look at G. E. M. Anscombe’s definition of an intention. You might be doing X which will be done in five minutes, and, simultaneously, in that very moment, literally doing Y which will be done in a month, and, simultaneously, still in that very moment, literally be doing Z which will be done in a year. You’re doing all of those things at the same time; they are the same thing. That can all be folded into that sense of what you’re doing. And/or that “one” thing you’re doing may actually be serving many, many purposes simultaneously: You might be doing W, Q, and R at the same time, on the same time horizon. (All of these have fancy names in the goal pursuit literature, and it can be worth reading. But those are theoretical constructs. You can feel this stuff; you can live it.)

And, so, implicit versus explicit, and when? When should you just feel it, and when should you put words to it, and when should you actively try to complexify it? Or really work it out what it is you’re doing, over minutes or months? And what about the difference between what you’re actually already doing, the missions of your minds, or what you think you should be doing?

This is where you can get in your own way.

With great power comes great responsibility. Sometimes poking at, “What you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” hurts it. Sometimes it heals it. Sometimes it energizes it. Sometimes, often, “you know better than you,” and there’s a powerful intelligence at work in what you find yourself already trying to accomplish. Sometimes “goal factoring” leaves you with an anemic, unmotivating, impoverished mess. Other times it saves you. Sometimes you get stiff, inflexible “rule-governed behavior” that is net nonstrategic. Other times you can feel into and write down what you’re doing and it’s crisp enough that it hugely levels up your game. Or you can write it down and it frees up your mind for more theorizing because you can always go back and look at what you wrote later.

There is a danger of constructing “shoulds” and ending up in so-called unmotivated, akratic states. If you end up with a “should,” but you’re just sitting there, then, and I’m half joking, to be sure, something has gone horribly wrong. If I get a “should,” sometimes I’ll sit with it for hours because I metacognize that I’m working myself up to it. Other times, a deep part of me knows that I’m gravely mistaken about the best path forward, and I wait or journal or a myriad other things until I can consciously understand what the problem is.

But I would think maybe two days is usually perhaps the longest that a “should” state is productive. Maybe a couple times a year up to two weeks of “should” could be ok. Sometimes “deep knowledge” is being realized or computed, deep down, and it takes a while to surface but it starts messing stuff up on the surface long before it surfaces. “Deep drives” and “deep brain” is probably a whole other post. But, suffice it to say, there are vastly smart parts of you, ever-vigilant, continuously calculating whether certain goals are going to be achieved. And they will laugh at your confused, pathetic, puny “shoulds” and burn your life to the ground if you don’t listen to them (e.g. depression). If you figure out how to listen to those parts of you, and they will *not* be fair, and they *will* be rigid, and they perhaps do not care about you as such (plenty of other parts of you care very much about you), and they are ancient and cryptic and they barely speak english (or your native language), but they just might light your life on fire, and produce great works, great art, awe, gravity, beauty, lizard brain and neocortex united, in a good way, complex and fragile human value, with the fury of a thousand suns.

What are you doing and why are you doing it? Be patient, be methodical. You are probably going to die. How shall you live? How will you be open to that question in each moment? (Probs meditate.) And be gentle. Sometimes, “watching a movie just because,” is the right answer.


So, here’s some more. Three levels:

  1. Protocol
  2. Beyond protocol
  3. Protocol embedded in “beyond protocol.”

Protocol, instructions, step-by-step guides are very powerful. Humans think or stumble into counterintuitive parts of mindstream phase space and they show other people noisy, imperfect ways to get there. You’re not going to stumble on all that stuff by yourself. You’re just not. But, at some point, again and again, you’re going to need to go beyond protocol: maps are not the territory, patterns are not the territory. The territory is always happening for the first time and patterns are a leaky abstraction and your goals are not the goals of the map maker.

I wrote about leaving instructions behind.

And differently.

Even more powerful is to be able to use other people’s instructions and protocols, squeezing every last bit of value from them, without become trapped by them, being able to see through them in real time to the actually territory you’re manipulating and playing with.


Another thing I do I’m calling “natural meditation” until I think of a better name.

“Ok, now I’m going to figure out what to do,” often comes with taking a particular habitual inner stance, with attention and awareness. But you’ve already clunkily biased your path forward and response. Notice this habitual stance taking. Can you instead come on board softly, changing nothing, not immediately reconfiguring attention and awareness and subtle muscular tension, but letting everything keep it’s original configuration and momentum? What might you learn about what’s already working, what was already happening before you came online?


Another thing I do is so-called “choiceless awareness,” but I don’t typically use it as my main meditation practice. If I’m lost, hurt, confused, whatever, I keep attention company and just go with it forever it goes. I let consciousness become a frictionless fluid, letting it rearrange continuously itself as it wills, as attention skips and scans and flits. I just keep perfect pace and let it happen, watching where we go.

Under conditions of “environmental isotropy” where I really don’t know what’s next, and there’s truly *nothing* I can do at that particular moment (e.g. exhausted, end of the day, nothing to be done until morning), I find that choiceless awareness minimizes suffering in the absence of obvious “meaningful suffering” that I could choose, and can sometimes lead to insight under environmentally isotropic conditions.

If I have more cognitive bandwidth and response capability, at that particular moment, I might perform other moves of mind. I’ve sometimes described the below as “holding the felt sense flat, so it doesn’t twist into known, extreme attractor states and waiting”:

  • asking – asking for one or more relevant felt senses to enter awareness; can let attention be claimed by one of them or can hold off for a bit to see if faint, valuable new stuff keeps appearing at the edges
  • allowing/waiting – something is already there in attention or awareness, neither increasing or decreasing attention or awareness on it, so as not to disturb it and to let it stabilize
  • coaxing – if it’s stable enough, then gently applying attention or awareness to encourage it to grow, being careful to still allow it to move so preconceived notions don’t override it and cause it to motivationally wither (there’s a sense of energy to these, a motivation, a “this has a hint of ‘might work’,” and especially keeping everything else as gentle and still as possible so it doesn’t get drowned out be a big movement of mind)


Another thing I do is sort of “unsymbolized updating” or “tacit updating.” I attend to an “issue” and gently keep my attention there, and then I ask all of peripheral awareness to “gently pay attention” and for “all parts of my mind to listen” so that “everything can talk to everything else.” And then I just patiently wait with all that gently stabilized and maintained. Try it, see what happens. You may find things… changing, at the very least, in ways that are at least initially, if not perpetually, difficult to put your finger on. Inspired by all the usual suspects (e.g. Focusing) and Culadasa’s models of mind for meditators.


And yet more stuff I do:

Of course there’s additive meditation. Over time, additive meditation become more and more automatic, positive emotions and care and comfort coming online faster than deliberate thought, to soften blows, protect, comfort, care. You can teach yourself how to take care of yourself. This doesn’t mean you hide from reality. This means that you face reality with an inner army of active, intelligent cognitive and emotional inner resources.

More simply there’s “cognitive chaining” and backchaining. If I’m thinking about something, I leave breadcrumbs or stack felt senses in an *ordered* way, so I can move back up if I complete or exhaust a line of thought. Of course you can use external reminders, too, and I do so all the time, but sometimes you need the entire big, fresh, flexible felt senses, or external tools are more distracting then helpful.

“Cognitive placing” is similar to chaining but it’s simply done in an unordered way. It has a move spatial feel, everything arranged in peripheral awareness where you know where to reach for it if you need it.


And of course there’s deliberately adverting attention. There’s deliberately priming peripheral awareness to prefer various kinds of information if it becomes available. There’s stabilizing attention and hunting through peripheral awareness before making a selection. There’s surveying all of peripheral awareness all at once. There’s coaxing attention into new covering configurations, zooming in and out, teaching it to “grasp” new sensory and cognitive objects and highly unnatural “multiobjects” and “discontinuous objects” and seemingly higher-dimensional cognitive objects that make your eyes cross and your brain hurt.


And there’s cultivating an appetite for “yes, buts,” for nuance, for anomalies, gleefully adding complexity and exceptions to your repertoire in lieu of compression that would enfold and obviate them.


And finally there’s reverie and spot reverie and action reverie, getting out of your own way, letting your mind and body take over, letting gears turn, deliberately thinking really hard and then your mind and body take over and completely surprise you. Spot reverie is repeatedly getting out of the way, for milliseconds to seconds to minutes, so your mind can turn gears in mysterious ways and then coming back to deliberately think again, over and over again.


This post hasn’t even touched on meta-management of your mindstream–GTD-esque systems that manage and potentiate and de-potentiate objects and mindstream occurences on longer and longer timescales, and how to work effectively and safely with those… And then there’s GTD-esque systems vis-a-vis your mindstream and reality as a whole, because, of course, reality influences your mindstream (it had better) and your mindstream and reality can become this seamless thing, where everything you ever know and can know is happening now but that enfolds an infinity of time horizons all simultaneously, probabilistically balanced and managed in the present moment with bounded rationality and limited cognitive resources and probabilities and inaccuracies and errors and urges and desires and longings and hopes and fears and can you metacognize that, all at once? Can you take responsibility for all of that, all at once? How big can your practice become; how big can your mind become; how big can your hope become; how big can your life become? When it all shatters and you realize how small you really are? And yet there’s all of this and you still want it and you can barely hold onto it all and it’s all a product of your biggest as-yet-undiscovered confusions and immaturities as well as your highest and noblest aspirations at this particular time in your life and what might you eventually become and everything might depend on everything else and the clock keeps ticking and there’s no time out the clock doesn’t stop and you must eat and sleep and shit and interact and age and relate and live.

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