want, need, can, paid; pick all four?

You may have seen those venn diagrams; it’s sometimes three circles and sometimes four circles. (You can play with the concepts to make them cleanly mutually exclusive:)

1. What you want to do(/be/have)

2. What’s needed

3. What you can do or are good (enough) at

(4a. What people will pay you for or (4b) what you’re resourced (enough) for)

And the idea is that you find something to do, a job, a career, a team, a project, a mission, a passion that checks all these boxes, or falls under all the concepts/categories, or falls into (the overlap) of these circles.

But this doesn’t always work.

You might not want to do what’s needed. You might not be good enough to do what you want to do, or you don’t have enough time, money, energy, youth to become good at it. Maybe it’s too competative or it doesn’t pay enough, etc.

It can be really hard to find the sweet spot of all these things. And some people don’t care, and some people convince themselves they don’t care, and for some people it hurts. There’s also the issue of more considerations besides these circles, actually. You need time for relationships, friendships, family, maybe music or expression, etc.

This is all a really complicated problem, which, again, some people contingently nail and some people contingently don’t. This is for all sorts of reasons. Maybe you saw your childhood friend’s mom yell at your friend, or maybe you got really sick when you were four, or maybe your older brother was really, really, really successful, or maybe something terribly embarrassing happened on your first date.

A butterfly flapped its wings, lawful causes and conditions ramified, and now you really, really want to do this narrow, narrow project, or you’ve got this obsession, or you have to do something exciting, or you need novelty. Or nobody understands what you’re trying to do. Or you’re just doing this normal job that’s supposedly meaningful, and you even endorse that it should be meaningful and you know you’re very lucky, and you’re just miserable or you can’t get yourself to think about the things and excel.

I know a bunch of people where, no matter where you plunk them down, they are at least seemingly happy and successful, interested and excited, within six months. And let’s say you are not that.

Meditation can help in a few different ways, and, as I’ve noted before, this is an investment over months or years, and there are risks involved.

(a) The first way meditation can help is that, over time, nonarbitrarily, in ways your future self retrospectively endorses, it changes what you want and how you feel about what you have in the meantime. This affects (1) above, of course. Maybe a huge part of what you’re doing is because you need to impress your parents or outcompete a sibling or be accepted by your peer group (except that’s all been stale for years or decades), and meditation (and therapy, and journaling, and focusing, etc.) helps you unpack all of that in a way that actually affects your System One, as it were.

(b) Second, in part because of (a) and in part because your mind starts working better and better, there is more of a chance that you can gain valued abilities and do so more efficiently. This affects (3) and (4b) above. I’ve seen ossified minds become information sponges.

(c) Third, you might think that meditating is not going to change what’s needed, but meditation is, in part, an epistemological method, and that affects your concepts/ontologies as well. You might be conceptualizing “what’s needed” incorrectly, in subtle or overt ways. You get to refactor all your categories and concepts, examine your preconceptions and presuppositions. It becomes safe, even strategic, to disagree with the experts. New needles become available for threading. And, this does happen at an intellectual level, but it also affects your true, deep down drivers of action. And so you might find that there’s niches and teams and projects and sole proprietorships that are in fact critically needed, and in fact you can come to describe them in exciting ways that gives you tons of status, and in fact it’s important and you know it’s important so you can sell yourself in a way that gets you on the team, and you actually deep-down care so it’s easy to hit the ground running and achieve. Or you scrounge up some money and go write the book or do the research project, etc. And you have the resilience to weather the uncertainty.

In any case, it’s really, really possible to be massively, competently, felt-intrinsically motivated to go after a thing, to come to be among the best or the very best in your high-status subsubsubsubdomain, while not torturing yourself in the meantime (e.g. to motivate yourself) and not torturing yourself in the case you fail (e.g. employing regret strategies). And then you can start pursuing things based on expected value and also weather higher variances, all things being equal, because you’re completely on your own side.

And, so meditation can be (opportunity) costly and risky, but it can also change the trajectory of your entire life, the next many decades, and the benefits keep compounding once you get over the hump.

clickbait title: you are so bad (real title: benevolence, subtle imposition, manipulation, and control, and ideology)

There’s a weird thing that can happen to a skilled meditator. I imagine it affects almost everyone to some degree, anyone who’s making solid progress.

The meditator, over time, nonmonotonically, becomes more unified and self-consistent, more directed, more self-possessed.

But we don’t always know the ways in which we are bad, harmful, acting in ways that our future best selves would retrospectively disendorse, towards ourselves, towards other people, as members of groups, communities, the world.

Some of our bad stuff we know is bad, but like, say, 20% of our bad stuff feels forever resignedly unavoidable.

And like, say, 50-80% of our bad stuff feels good and right, even critical, sacred, of-course-it’s-justified-it-would-be-unthinkable-otherwise.

We affect the people around us in so many ways. And we want very particular things from other people. And, one doesn’t always think of it this way, but we all want the entire world to go in particular, highly specific ways. We want even the whole entire world to be a particular thing.

So, all the time, we’re influencing people for better or worse, in accordance with our beliefs, plans, and goals, most of which laid down in childhood.

And so, we have conversations, we participate in groups or communities, work shoulder-to-shoulder on valued projects, we have casual sex, we engage in committed relationships.

(1) overtly

And, on the overt side, if someone is telling you that you’re hurting them or that you’re being a bad actor, yeah, maybe they’re being ridiculously unrealistic. But, especially, if “you had or have no choice”, or “no one could be expected to act differently in such a situation” or “they should have/be/been (more) X to accomodate me, anyone should have/be/been (more) X to accomodate me,” etc.—maybe stop and think—wouldn’t the better you have found a better thing to do? To avoid all of this in a good way? Wouldn’t you have been more sensitive, more accommodating, or just smarter? Wouldn’t you have predicted this was going to happen hours or weeks out, regardless of who was “right” or “wrong,” or how you needed to seem or how you needed to prove something or show them or cause them to look stupid?

Wouldn’t you have just done a better thing if you’d had the bandwidth and resources?

And don’t you and them and everyone deserve that better thing, no matter how (seemingly) hateful you or they have been?

(2) subtly

And, on the subtle side, even or especially if something good seems to happen, for you, for both people, for a group, even if, when questioned, the other person or people profess that what happened was good and is good. This could be for casual conversation, or intense conversation, or helping or “helping”, or sex, and especially when the other person is younger or less experienced on some dimension. (Like, maybe you did a weird, subtle thing to get someone to like you, that you wouldn’t be proud of it if it were brought to light.)

If there’s a quiet voice in you wondering if maybe something didn’t go quite right, or a quiet voice wondering whether there should be that first quiet voice. Or maybe there’s a voice proclaiming that you deserved it or they deserved it or how could anyone have done otherwise in your position or how could they have expected otherwise…


All our dark (sexual and revenge) fantasies, whether we are the object of feels-so-good-harm or another person is the object of feels-so-good-harm, whether or not it was always intended to stay a fantasy or a small part of you is always, always hunting to assemble the conditions of safe reification—unfortunately none of this stuff stays buried when a meditator is working through their entire mind.

All of our weird filamentary, flickery, high-dimensional beliefs, the really crazy stuff like, say, all men are inherently disgusting/violent/dangerous and they need to know it and feel it deep in their bones in every waking moment, or, like, say, women need to be behaviorally/emotionally/sexually controlled for their own good, all that stuff that gets in our heads, somewhere, for weird childhood reasons, misinterpreted parent stuff, abuse and bullying and trauma, sitcoms and horror movies and porn at an impressionable age, the media landscape—none of this stays buried when a meditator is working through their entire mind.

None of this stuff stays buried for a meditator or has actually ever been buried, in some sense. It’s in our behavior, it’s in our character. Not in every moment, perhaps. And maybe heavily compensated for but not buried, in some relevant sense.

And when I say it doesn’t stay buried, maybe people don’t notice it, don’t conceptualize it, don’t experience it as such, don’t feel it, don’t mind it, accept you and so forth. This is especially if you’re in a low intensity, low-pressure, time-abundant, and resource-abundant environment.

But maybe people start experiencing you as creepier, sketchier, more intense in a bad way, more volatile in a bad way, more labile in a bad way, more emotionally extortative.

Or you’re even just more charismatic and confident, but something feels uncomfortable and maybe in a cumulative and compounding way.

Your will unifies and some of what you think is good or is unexaminedly bad hasn’t burned off in the light, yet.


If you’re lucky or skillful or have good feedback, this could go by fast or go by softly. Everybody’s got different stuff. But it can be bad enough that it can be good to isolate oneself, especially if you can’t tell whether you’re hurting other people or extending your timeline.

And it’s not all unavoidable. The better you understand what’s happening and the more you know what to look for, a skillful meditator can avoid much of this (though likely not much of it, too). Raising and working through problematic material on retreats and in quiet hours alone, leaving less of it raw and open during the day or, say, work week—please don’t read this and resign to terrible things happening. That’s not the message.


We affect the people around us in so many ways. We become the average of everyone around us and some people take up more space than others, for better and worse. And we want things, including being good to other people on their terms.

And there’s this irony that, while intending to become better people for ourselves and others, there’s this possibility of wittingly and unwittingly becoming more dangerous in small or large ways while you’re doing it, to the degree that it can be done irresponsibly, out of ignorance or desperation.

Infinite details, infinite constraints, and we’re trapped in hyperspecific, ultraspecific patterns, beliefs, thinking, desires, plans, goals…

So many details. So many considerations. So little time, money, energy, mental bandwidth.

So many ways to do harm. So many ways to fuck up.

It’s an extremely high standard, that of harmlessness, that of benevolence, that of competent compassion that has humility in the face of one’s one ignorance and arrogance and even then.

There’s an important thing, here.

Becoming better isn’t self-abnegating.

You don’t have to, say, crush yourself, maybe isolate yourself for a time, but you don’t have to do something before you can. Nothing is required of you that you cannot do. One merely diligently applies correct method on the cushion and in life, which includes improving one’s understanding of how to do that. That can be agonizing to sort out, but there’s a simplicity that can be tacked towards.

Again, it’s not that you have to add more and more will, more and more checks. It’s that you naturally come to find, with correct method, that doing the right thing is elegant and effortless and actually gets you what you want which includes what everyone else wants.

This vast, vastly high-dimensional combinatorial optimization problem, this feels good, feels effortless, is good, gets good things, elegantly takes into account all the details without having to enumerate them…

One thing going in one direction, without self-conflict.

Your mind wants to do that for you. Your mind is trying to get that for you. There’s a sense in which it already knows how and a sense in which it doesn’t. And that’s what meditation is for.

It’s an ideal, sort of exuberant harmlessness and compassion (and fun and intimacy and everything all at once), but, as those hundreds and hundreds of practice hours go by, plus embarrassing and hurtful mistake after embarrassing and hurtful mistake, holy crap how far one can get, year after year after year of self-transformation.

Fish-in-water, it’s really hard to imagine how good it can actually get, buses and meteors and running out of money and friends and lovers walking out, all things being equal. (Let’s create a world where everyone has a safe opportunity to do this. Like right-after-as-soon-as people get all the good stuff that they normally get in high school and college but without all the messed up stuff of pop education.)

ideological commitments

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.


A dove-house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders hell thro’ all its regions.
A dog starv’d at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.






false dilemma is a type of informal fallacy in which something is falsely claimed to be an “either/or” situation, when in fact there is at least one additional option.


Nondualism primarily refers to a mature state of consciousness, in which the dichotomy of I-other is “transcended”, and awareness is described as “centerless” and “without dichotomies”.


win–win game is game theory which is designed in a way that all participants can profit from the game in one way or the other. In conflict resolution, a win–win strategy is a collaborative strategy and conflict resolution process that aims to accommodate all participants.




So there are these things like equilibria, where a thing works because one or more things are balanced or complementary in a way that’s likely self stabilizing or self-correcting.

And there’s this thing one could call adversariality, where benefit is sought in a way that could preclude benefit or cause damage to another party.

And there’s things like the anvil problem or burn rate where incorrect proximal choices preclude all future optionality and cause permanent failure along some dimension.

And then there is evil, corner-cutting, resigned destructiveness and unresponsiveness, the seeing as good and manifesting such that which is actually bad.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and all that, terrible choices, terrible tradeoffs. And we all have our bad karma, our not-yet-burned-off-if-ever destructive reactivity. And there can be and usually is tremendous competition overtly or just beneath the surface, often pretending to be something else.

And those who are resigned or those who are secretly competing will dismiss, downplay, minimize, obfuscate, and reappropriate language and messaging in a self-serving way.

And so, amidst all that, I’d like to make some claims.

  1. Engaging an effective self-transformative method, all things being equal, over time, will cause a person to be less subject to a myopic, desperate idiosyncratic selfishness, that is a trying to turn everything into something tailored just for them, that probably doesn’t even get them what they themselves want and is also not good for the people around them or everyone, and will potentially involve corner-cutting and destructiveness.
  2. And, all things being equal, modulo contingency and ignorance and lack of training, engaging in an effective self-transformative method will cause a person to be better at designing and (if called for) leading small- and large-scale human systems. That is, such a person will be better at tracking and account for what’s good for individuals, parts, organizational/cultural/societal wholes, externalities, and globalities, the entire planet. They’ll be better able to hold the whole thing in mind, its fractal unity of local-to-global-and-back-again feedback loops, truly in part because their mind is more flexible and unified and can account for they themselves as part of such a system.


Transformative practice has a lead time, a direct cost, and an opportunity cost. Who keeps the lights on and who keeps the local and global from falling apart while a bunch of people are off meditating and making a lot of mistakes while they’re doing it. Of course the world is turning right now, and lots of people are suffering, and lots of people are trying to and succeeding at improving things, stably or not, in ways that I personally probably can’t grasp or appreciate right now.

So there’s a bootstrap problem and a starting point problem and a fog-of-war problem, as it were. And an intimacy challenge and a meaning challenge and a resource challenge.

In any case, all things being equal, I’m going to throw in my lot with the people who are intending to, as skillfully and responsibly as they can, put in 1000-5000 hours of practice, in the midst of everything or in intensive retreat, while honoring or renegotiating as best they can all current or future responsibilities and commitments, those people they care about and who care about them, people who just can’t or won’t do the same thing right now, and all those financial and logistical details and lost opportunities/opportunity costs, for a better life for themselves and everyone, stably into the future, not losing sight of correctives in the neighborhood of the concept of emptiness

Post-conceptual meta-goodness and changing in the deepest of ways

So, what’s good? Like really actually good, not clunky blocky stilted cringy good?

Or we could say, what do you desire that you endorse desiring?

Or we could say, what are you always already in motion trying to get, whether you realize or it not, whether you’re reflectively thinking about it or not?

There will be maybe lots of things, probably one or more things is in the intimacy or connection space, partially involving in-real-life interaction or perhaps partially involving, say, creative expression. And then there will probably be things involving safety and achievement, including stuff that involves feelings of exhilaration or excitement or deep satisfaction or meaning.

Importantly, there will be ways in which all of this is deeply personal and idiosyncratic. For you, it’s not just some abstract “intimacy” that is good or feels good, but your highly personal, highly specific version, what you might even call “the real thing.” And the same goes for everything else you’re trying to do, be, have, achieve, etc.

That is, some or even much of what’s happening around us or will happen to us, we have no preference about, but for some things, we have exquisitely precise preferences, perhaps especially for care and safety, mutual understanding, and sexuality.

Sometimes we want really, really specific things, and there is no substitute.

Perhaps the whole point of everything is that we create a world where everyone can pursue their personal desires and goals.

It’s all fun and games when people’s desires and goals are complementary and compatible.

And/but there’s another way of looking at desires, goals, and goodness.

Sometimes desires and goals can be both problematic and fixed.

For example, you want a really, really, really, really specific intimacy thing or sex thing or achievement thing, and sometimes other things are so good or more important that you can set that thing aside, but some things, for whatever reason, are so important that you can’t.

You can’t set it aside, even though, for example, you’re having trouble finding someone complementary to do it with or arranging your life to be able to do it.

I think for some people, the reason their relationships keep failing or life situations keep failing is because of extreme specificity in wants/needs/desires that are ill-suited to present, contingent circumstances. (There are of course many other reasons.)

So, when faced with extreme specificity, one might strive even more mightily to find the right person or to arrange their life in a particular way. Tremendous collateral and direct good can come from this and also agony. One might also finally resign on getting a particular thing. There can be peace and dignity in this and also agony.

With tools like meditation, there is an additional option which is to change ones deepest wants/needs/preferences. Some preferences can be changed with relatively superficial introspection or exposure to new environments or people. Other preferences can “go all the way to the bottom” and seem immovable, even if they cause tremendous distress. And these sorts of things can be a reason to invest in hundreds or even thousands of hours or meditation, even with its risk and opportunity cost.

If you decide to meditate to change deep things about yourself, that can take months or years, and patience and forebearance are assets here.

But, I’m definitely not saying “crush your desires.” Nor am I saying indiscriminately indulge them, though I’m way more on that side. Your desires are your desires until and unless they’re not.

Desire and perceived goodness aren’t arbitrary even if there’s tremendous idiosyncratic contingency in them and nor do they change arbitrarily.

Whatever desires you’ve got, whatever is good as far as you experience and can tell, it’s desirous and good until and unless it isn’t.

So let’s say you’re not crushing or smashing yourself, and little by little things start to change, even while some things are the same as they ever were. And eventually something deeper starts to change, but you can’t even let yourself imagine that this even deeper and more problematic thing will change. And then that finally does too…

So at first one is sort of trying to solve problems and achieve goals (and ignore them and resign on them).

And then with meditation (and therapy and journaling) one realizes that, at least sometimes, and then more and more, it can be possible to not just solve problems but also “dissolve” many problems and not just achieve goals but also to replace goals with better goals.

So there’s this meta-dimension that starts to come into focus. This perhaps whole new degree of freedom with which to relate to self and world.

And, eventually, as you get more and more of a taste of this moving through the contigency of desire/problem/goal space, you might start to ask what is even good anyway?

So much of what you thought was good, that felt immovably intrinsically desirable or good, turned out to be more contingent and more movable than you thought. (Again, you never have to give anything up in any deep way until it’s safe, natural, and effortless to do so. And until then it’s yours and if it’s good it’s good. And if it would hurt other people you then be careful or don’t do it unless there’s a way to make it safe for them.)

So then is there a higher good or more unconditional good? Or, like, what’s the goodness beneath the goodness? Or, maybe better, what are the dynamics of veridical goodness? As language and ontology and concepts are not arbitrary but loosen and start to move… And what’s good or what things are good for or what leads to what starts to move…

Or how does one even plan and live when what’s good is slowly and steadily changing, now?

Over time one starts to get a taste of the unconditional and one starts to get a taste of the laws that govern the dynamics of goodness. (Kant, by the way, I think says that the only instrinsically good thing is the good will.)

And then one can start to live in harmony with one’s own trajectory of self-transformation, in the knowledge that one’s ontology/concepts and one’s evaluation of that ontology or those concepts, one’s assignation of good and bad, is fluid. Not arbitrary, but fluid. And so there becomes sort of a goodness behind the goodness

This goodness might be called post-conceptual meta-goodness, or the goodness that is reflectively aware of its own construction, or reflective participation in the good will, or resting in (ever more) unconditional goodness or enlightened goodness.

To be sure, I personally am blindsided all the time by being arrogant, horrible, destructive, belligerent, stonewalling, creepy, sketchy, abusive, cowardly, selfish, ignorant, impulsive, perfunctory, hateful, feuding, controlling—in all sorts of subtle ways and also just blatantly obvious ways. It’s just right there. Put me in a wide range of unfortunate circumstances (i.e. life) and I’m just a jerk or worse. If I’m lucky people will tell me; if I’m unlucky they won’t or I’ll think I’m being gaslit.

And/but, also, there’s this call towards goodness and this discipline of goodness. Actual-oh-fuck-I-was-wrong-again-and-I-hurt-someone goodness. Actual-wait-this-goodness-isn’t-good-oh-I-misconceptualized-goodness-again goodness. Actual-flexibly-stably-intrinsically-motivating-fluid-extreme-problem-solving-problem-dissolving-ability goodness. Goodness that frees you, goodness that unleashes you, goodness that empowers you. Goodness that supports you in fitting yourself to the world without diminishment.

A bunch of stuff in the list below is more than a glimpse, now, more than a taste. Stable things somewhere or overtly if I think to look…

(And I would like to note that my life is currently all kinds of a mess.)

And it’s kind of weird and exciting that you go through a few rounds of atman dissolving into brahman (what?!), a few rounds of making deeper contact with the source (what?!), and there’s a sense in which you are not you, that was all a misconceptualization (what?!). (I still believe in neurons and forces and fields.) And also you feel like you had to give up everything, and I mean everything, at least once, to get a bunch of it back again.

And also you feel pretty normal. And the world is pretty normal, albeit you’re not confusing the map with the territory, or at least hugely less so.

And also, noting the possibility of getting hit by a bus or a meteor or cancer, you feel like this is barely even just the beginning.

And that’s exciting.




  • Is this good for me?
  • Is this good for you?
  • Is this good for everyone?
  • Is this good for me and you and everyone?
  • How do I know?

See also:

meaning (crappy stage model)

My suspicion right now is that generally speaking there’s sort of a holy shit phase, a disenchantment phase, and reenchantment phase, though there will be overlap and exceptions:

1. Eventually a bunch of weird stuff starts happening, some of it really unpleasant, like reality is breaking, reality is reshaping, reality isn’t real, stuff like that. And, a la Romeo’s great FB post, this is sort of map/territory confusion, where one’s representations of reality are refactoring, not reality itself, as it were. But you’re experiencing refactoring of “how everything seems” from the inside.

2. Then at some point you do get some insight into how everything you’re experiencing is representation in some sense, created by your brain, and isn’t “reality directly.” That’s a pretty solid insight. This is sort of the main part or near the end of the holy shit phase. And this is “emptiness.”

3. Then you eventually get into a lot of the Zen stuff: nowhere to go, no goal, no escape, stuff like that. And then maybe something like “one taste” where there’s a sense in which everything you might do is the same. And things become very normal because all your representations are settling down again. Everything just is what it is. This is like the disenchantment phase. Could be good and bad.

4. Then, I think you sort of get to reenchantment phase. Where, everything is working really well and connecting up to everything else in the right ways. And then, previously—what could a blade of grass blowing in the wind possibly mean, unless you’re experiencing schizophrenia or on LSD or pscilopsybin(sp?). And, also, previously, one probably overinterprets or misinterprets that glance or blink or facial expression from their friend.

BUT, to a highly trained and transformed mind, where everything is wired up better and better, with better and better abstractions and chains of implications—

That blade of grass blowing in the wind does lightly sculpt one’s models of cause and effect, does have a tiny little bit of something to say about the weather, does have a tiny bit to say about their significant other’s or coworker’s mood, does have a tiny bit to say about traffic patterns on the highway. And that becomes true for, like, everything.

So my suspicion is that EVERYTHING, fractionally and legitimately, becomes suffused with import and meaning. It’s still possible to make all sorts of mistakes of course and have blindspots. This is a lifelong thing. But I expect that the world, every little sensation of self and other, becomes imbued with meaning, with (grand) pattern, reenchanted. And it’s not overwhelming because you’re wired up in the right ways; everything is simple and effortless, all things being equal, relatively speaking.

I’m maybe getting little previews of that latter thing now, ease and meaning, while still all sorts of blindspots and suffering and etc.