I wrote this a few weeks ago, but, when I read it over, it felt very gross and superficial and “origin myth”-y and also a little chilling-effect-“he’s different than everyone else”-ish I mean is this satisfying/useful/interesting/thought-stopping/encouraging/discouraging/cringe?
And then I got feedback from the question-asker and they were more interested in just concrete, first-principles arguments for why my thing worked. So heh. (I want to do that but not yet.)
Anyway, something above kinda slightly redeems the content below, maybe. And I hate to write stuff and not publish it, no matter how messy or problematic (all things being equal). Or am I just countercountercountersignaling? idk
So/anyway, here it is.
NO GODS NO MASTERS NO GURUS
[…] 2:31 AM
question for you: you figure that (correct me if i’m wrong) your protocol can/will/may/might get people far along the path more quickly/thoroughly/harmlessly than other protocols/techniques/traditions. why, if people have been meditating for millenia, is it that some guy like you can come along and make something better than anything [that you know of] that is already out there?
[don’t mean for this q to be aggressive or anything. feel free to question the framing as well] (edited)
Mark 6:49 AM
can I poast the below as a blog post, with your comment up top? any other q’s?
This will be an incomplete answer. There will be historical and sociological reasons.
And people have been innovating since way before the Buddha. The Buddha was an innovator. Mahayana and Vajrayana are innovations. I know the Hindu esoteric traditions less well (and might already be not even wrong) but I assume there’s been innovation, there, too. Theravada had an explosion of innovation in the past one hundred years. The pragmatic dharma scene (and other meditation scenes and the magick scenes [eep]) are actively experimenting.
And people do take very simple instructions and go all the way, and I think there are probably some pretty effective teachers. And/but then I think more people get some small benefits or get stuck or hurt from simple instructions or teachers.
Also, it sure doesn’t look like it, but there’s still some chance my current system will “only work for one person, Mark.” If so, on to version 734,000.56. I’ve already encountered one system that seemed like it was working for some people for several thousand hours but then basically permanently broke people without outside intervention to pull them out [would have to clarify “permanently broke” more but still].
So far, so good, though, modulo keeping an eye on all sorts of simmering issues with the current material and maybe a few wrong turns as people are accumulating hours and hours of practice. Some people, I think, have gotten at least a little bit hurt, so far, maybe one or two more people solidly more than a little, and the jury is still out on long-run net value and quality of life and impact on the whole human project.
There’s still lots to do—better on-ramps, more accessible language, better prose, more testing and tweaking, better theory, more empirical tweaking, more rigor, more crosstalk with philosophy and neuroscience…
I think some of it has been “right place, right time.”
I was not part of the earliest internet, but I was in the first wave of a people that had access to Amazon books, google book search, and worldcat. I was on university campuses for over a decade and eventually had access to literature navigation tools like Scopus, web of science, and so on. I had access to *excellent* academic libraries that maybe had a weird amount of phenomenology and eastern stuff.
I ended up doing electrical and computer engineering, so boolean algebra was in my blood, and I was doing complex boolean queries as soon as I was in front of search boxes.
I had always had a strong “that’s bullshit” reflex. A strong “I’ll figure it out for myself” reflex. A strong “how does this *really* work” reflex.
My dad claims that we were talking a walk, when I was three or five or something, and then looking at a tree. And my dad says, “look how beautiful this tree is; what are you thinking, mark?” And I said, “I’m trying to figure out what makes it grow.” etc etc etc etc etc etc etc
My dad also says that I stated I said I wanted to be, and I quote, a “magician-scientist,” at some early age. Seems legit. etc etc etc etc etc etc etc
So my dad started doing qigong when I was in highschool. And then I started doing qigong. And then I found “energy work.”
I had an early experience where I did exactly what the author instructed and then I immediately had an experience unlike any I had ever had before.
At the time, I thought the author’s *theory* was bullshit, but, I resolved to collect all the books where the author said “If you do this, then you will experience this.” And then I would try them all out and go from there. So, I used this approach to hillclimb in the resource space. This caused me to incorrectly discard a lot of value but also kept me moving upwards on a real gradient for a long time.
In the beginning of college, I was playing with astral projection and out of body experiences. I thought it probably wasn’t “real” but wouldn’t it be cool if it was.
I started engineering classes, where we talked about “energy.” But this “energy” wasn’t the same “energy” as in the “energy work” books. wtf was going on?
I started reading about the brain and nervous system.
Separately, Ken Wilber’s books blew my mind and protected me a little bit from modernity.
From Ken Wilber I understood that both psychology and spirituality were important, but I was super-frustrated about how to unify them.
All the people on a particular internet forum who were succeeding at astral projection were meditators. (I had been trying to figure out what they all had in common.) So, from that, and from reading Ken Wilber, I picked up meditation. And then I was like, oh, this is independently really important.
I kept collecting all the things and trying all the things.
All this time, I had been interested in curriculum design, pedagogy, and clear instruction. And so all the meditation resources were driving me insane with their lack of clarity and poor organization. Early on, I did think it wouldn’t be too hard to do better. I was both right and wrong.
As I picked apart meditation, I had to get into eastern and western phenomenology, as I got more and more technical.
As my engineering (and physics) classes progressed, I got more into neuroscience. [Somewhere in there I had a couple textbook astral projection/out-of-body experiences, which were nevertheless underwhelming, and that, plus the neuroscience, including lucid dreaming type stuff, made me get bored with this line of inquiry.]
I’ve read hundreds of meditation/phenomenology/science/philosophy books and skimmed thousands of research papers.
Years later, I eventually ended up doing a PhD that involved analyzing EEG. So that was a little bit of training in rigor and tons of thinking about the brain, as well as being adjacent to lots of neuroscience. Neuroscience needs another two hundred years, but still.
More recently, I had a series of very mixed experiences, but these unlocked all of philosophy besides just phenomenology. And I’m grateful for some of those experiences because also I had been trying to find the underlying principles of Focusing, Internal Family Systems Therapy, and Coherence Therapy, and this was greatly accelerated, too. So, all of this greatly boosted the methodological and theoretical side of the whole enterprise, and I appropriated and modified a bunch of concrete pieces as well from a lot of smart people.
And now there wasn’t just the Dharma Overground but also r/streamentry, and real value to draw on was continually being surfaced by these online communities. And contemporary teachers over the past ten years have been getting better and better web presences with more and more easily accessible value. I solidly drew from all of this.
Up until recently, I was really disillusioned with meditation. I was doing everything but. But then, while trying crazier and crazier stuff, more and more intensely, I had a series of canonical experiences and realized I had stream-entered and was now (a few years later) cycling according to the progress of insight. Thank you for your writing, Daniel Ingram. (Also, cycling became undetectable as I kept upgrading my methods.) So, I stopped everything else I was doing and went all-in on meditation.
More recently, I met someone who had kind of surveyed the entire contemporary meditation landscape. I was less up-to-date because I had been doing other things for several years. And they put me in touch with a bunch of pieces that further accelerated things as well as provided very stimulating and helpful interaction around my material.
Then, to get a more full picture, there’s a question of why I did this and not something else. Why wasn’t I idk serving my country and/or planet earth, making babies, relationshipping (even more), or being a traveling robot salesman? Why was I sitting in a dark room alone for thousands of hours. (I mean I did teaching, research, and software, and may yet again, at least transiently, but still. I’ve also done lots of friendshipping and intimate relationshipping, but I could have done more and plan to do more, and etc.)—
I want to go more into the psychology of “why this and not that,” eventually, but, at least for me, suffice it to say, for now, that sometimes one is either so broken, so hurt, or both, plus has enough straight-ish, white, male, nonbroken-home, education, earning-power, support-network, safety-net, entitled-attitude privilege, plus has enough starter puzzle pieces, plus has enough of an inability to learn from other people directly, that one has “no choice” but to “try to figure it all out.”
I liked reading this, at least.