Monday, November 06, 2017

EP 040 Jason Fagone on Elizabeth Smith Friedman, Codebreaker

I used to see some amazing obituaries, often in British newspapers, detailing a remarkable life lived by someone who had worked undercover during WWII, escaped from Nazis, and gone on to live to a great old age. Frequently, these people were forgotten or never spoke of their adventures.

Elizabeth Smith Friedman, the subject of Jason Fagone's new biography, The Woman Who Smashed Codes, is one of those rare people, though her story begins with a search for the true author of Shakespeare, runs through two world wars, includes a stint fighting gangsters and rumrunners (and the jealousy of J. Edgar Hoover) and the foundation of the NSA, and ends with more Shakespeare. It sounds like a whole series of detective novels rolled into one, yet Elizabeth was a real person with an amazing story.

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Download, subscribe, rate and review on iTunes

Want to hear more like this?
Pair with Shava Nerad on using cryptography to secure communications or tales of derring-do with Adam Swartzbaugh.

Show Notes and Links

Jason's website
Jason on Twitter
Jason's Podcast

Monday, October 23, 2017

EP 039 Daniel Ingram on Meditative States, Paths, and Ethical Living

Daniel Ingram has a successful career as an ER doctor, but he's best known on the Internet for being a meditator and meditation teacher. He's the author of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: an Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book, which I first read about over on Scott Alexander's blog Slate Star Codex here and here. Daniel made some waves in the dharma community by claiming to have attained enlightenment as an arahat.

On today's podcast, we talk about the different ways to assess that claim, what states and insights may occur on the way to enlightenment, and what to do if you get yourself into a spiritual crisis of one sort or another. We also talk about some of my meditative experiences and how to use a candle flame as a focus for meditative practice.

I feel as though I did not communicate well during the discussion of visualization practices in the last part of the interview. While it is certainly possible to get some level of visualization going within the first day of doing practice, the quality, detail, interactivity and stability of visualizations will also improve slowly over 90+ days of effort. That's about the period of time it took me to develop a fully zoomable and rotatable model of human anatomy with full motion inside my head. It's also the amount of time it should take you to get through the ngondro (preliminaries) of Vajrayana, some of the journeying techniques, Jung's active imagination, and the spirit contact models for various ritual magic systems. I think there's some neurochemistry behind this, specifically an upregulation of serotonergic 5-HT2A receptors, which seem to be connected to creative/optimistic thinking styles. These same receptors are involved in the visual effects of entheogens such as LSD and psilocybin. But that's a discussion for another day. The upshot is that if you think your visionary experiences are good at the outset, keep working for a few months and they will gradually get better.

Enjoy this episode, and want me to keep making more? Download, subscribe, rate and review on iTunes

Want to hear more like this?
Pair with B Alan Wallace on Dzogchen and Dudjom Lingpa or Ben Joffe on ngakpa and Tibetan traditional medicine.

Show Notes and Links

Daniel's website
Daniel on Twitter
His fire kasina site

The Dharma Overground forum

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

From the Archives: Nerdcon Stories 2015

In 2015, the team behind the highly successful and popular Nerdcon video conference, led by Hank and John Green, created a writer- and reader-centric convention called Nerdcon: Stories. I drove up there at the last minute to see a slate of authors who might as well have been picked out for me. While I've seen a couple of the panels online, I don't think these two panel discussions have ever been published by anyone: Tropes, Misinformation and Stereotypes: How to Identify and Avoid Them When Writing Outside Your Experience, led by Mary Robinette Kowal, and No Pressure: How to Keep Creating Once You've Technically Succeeded (Writing After Success), led by Patrick Rothfuss. Nerdcon: Stories may have shut down, but it was a bold experiment.

Nerdcon: Writing Outside Your Experience

Nerdcon: Writing After Success

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Jim Carrey: I Needed Color

Jim Carrey started painting. A lot. He's good.

Jim Carrey: I Needed Color from JC on Vimeo.

Links for Later 9-9-17

  1. A collection of reviews/recaps of the new season of Twin Peaks.
  2. Bruce Chatwin profile.
  3. Comparing algorithms for decision statistics and machine learning.
  4. Narwhals beating the hell out of cod with their tusks.
  5. Searching for silphium, the prized, probably extinct Roman herb.
  6. The impending death of football, as parents stop signing their kids up to play due to brain injury fears. Could not come too soon.

Monday, September 04, 2017

EP 038 Lynne Kelly on The Memory Code

Lynne Kelly is a teacher, science writer and anthropologist of oral and pre-literate cultures. Her most recent book is The Memory Code, which deals with the use of memory techniques including rituals, songs, dances, portable devices, and large-scale geographic features and built structures as memory aids.

She has conducted a series of experiments to replicate memory techniques from the classical memory palace to handheld memory devices such as the Lukasa to rituals and storytelling. Today, we talk about how several early and modern cultures have used these memory techniques, why Stonehenge and Chaco Canyon may have been used as memory palaces, and why they were almost certainly centers for an oral culture's knowledge economy.

As with our other conversations with anthropologists, it's helpful to remember the following guidelines:
  1. Do not confuse industrial technological advancement with intelligence. "Primitive" people, whether distant from you in space or time, were and are at least as smart as you. The less technology they had at hand, the more this is true. Fools die when times are hard, or as Lynne Kelly's colleague Nungarrayi said to her, "The elders are pragmatic old buggers. If they weren't, we wouldn't have survived."
  2. Most often, they are observationally correct even when they are theoretically wrong. We can identify the exact species of animals in cave paintings despite the fact that the artist didn't have a grip on modern biology. Just as any sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic, so does any technology sufficiently different from our own.
  3. People of almost all cultures have been given to humor, hoaxes, tall tales, and flimflammery. Sometimes, when they tell you (or each other) something, they're just having a laugh. Sometimes, they're both having a laugh and expressing something serious.
Photo creditAbigail Heitbaum

Enjoy this episode, and want me to keep making more? Download, subscribe, rate and review on iTunes

Want to hear more like this?
More on memory palace techniques with Ed Cooke or Anthony Metivier. More on pre-literate cultures and magical technologies with Gordon White.

Show Notes and Links

Alexander Arguelles, Shadowing language learning technique.
Richard I. Ford Color of Survival
Nungarrayi- "The elders are pragmatic old buggers. If they weren't, we wouldn't have survived."

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Defining Consciousness

Consciousness: awareness
The word consciousness gets used in many different ways, but fundamentally, it is the quality of being aware of and responsive to phenomena.
It’s what Antionio D’Amasio called “the feeling of what happens,” or subjective experience.
It can also be defined as that which has perceptions, thoughts and/or feelings, or in which they occur.
As soon as we reach this definition, the word “that” in the previous sentence has a lot of work to do. What is that “that” exactly, other than being difficult to define? If we take the definition of subjective experience, we have to ask what objective experience would be in contrast, and whether our subjective experience can perceive the subjective experience of anyone else.
When people ask questions about consciousness here, it seems that they are not simply asking about whether we’re aware of some event or object. They’re asking about the “that”. The whole mind, which feels what happens, or perhaps only that part of the whole mind that feels what happens. In this meaning, it is the thing generated by a sufficiently sophisticated and intact brain, and “correlated” with its function. (Though “correlation” here does not seem to have the standard technical meaning either.)
Sometimes, in modern discourse, it is used as a replacement or synonym for the soul. Some, religiously minded, refer to it as a fragment or instance of God.
Sometimes, consciousness is suggested to be plural, to have different, possibly independent aspects. Some people differentiate, for example, between experience derived from the outside world through the senses, and that derived through introspection or examination of mental processes. Others differentiate between sense perception, introspection, general knowledge and intention. Still others split the concept into eight or ten or more categories. Others may think in scales of access to mental processes and contents—our knowledge of what we experience is smaller than what we experience, and both experience and knowledge are somewhat fluid.
Still others think that because of these intricacies, consciousness is an illusion, nonexistent, or existing only by convention (sticking a name on something that doesn’t really exist). Yet others think that consciousness is the only thing that exists or that we can prove exists, or that consciousness is the fundamental building block of the universe, and everything that is reduces to consciousness or something like it or it and a few other fundamental things.
Any or all of these definitions may be accurate; however, the problem comes with precision. Like a kind of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle for consciousness, the more precise you try to be, the less accurate you become. You’re better off with a kind of loose, intuitive definition
More: Consciousness in Wikipedia has a surprisingly clear article on the subject and various debates on the definition of consciousness.
Originally posted on Quora at

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Tips for the Eclipse

Tips for the eclipse:
  1. Wear proper eye protection. Do not stare at the sun for too long during partial occlusion even with protection. 
  2. Use a filtered telescope + digital camera if you want to see the eclipse itself.
  3. If you don't have a pinhole shadowbox, you can use the shadow of leaves on the ground and the spots of sunlight between them to follow the progress of the eclipse.
  4. Read Annie Dillard's essay on a previous eclipse:
  5. As Dillard's essay, and the tree pinhole camera effect demonstrate, while most people will be focusing on the alignment of the sun & moon, it's the rest of the world that has the most interesting things to observe.
  6. Observe how other people and animals act.
  7. Observe your own state of mind.
  8. An eclipse is a deeply uncanny experience. It is awful in the old sense of the word: awe-full. It's not surprising that people went nonlinear when they didn't know what was going on; people act strangely during an eclipse even with a modern understanding of celestial mechanics.
  9. The light gets weird. Colors get weird. Things appear differently from how they normally do. The dominant colors are silver and indigo, that elusive color between blue and violet, normally only seen in a particular grade of lapis lazuli and in butterfly wings.
  10. Take pictures of the people taking pictures, of the landscape, of the earth and sky together. There will be a lot of pictures taken of the eclipsed sun, but not enough of these other images.

EP 037 Phil Stutz and Barry Michels Return to Talk about Coming Alive

Today on Startup Geometry, we're talking with Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, authors of the new book Coming Alive. Since we last talked to them, they've been keeping busy with their highly successful psychotherapy practices, where much of their clientele consists of Hollywood creative professionals; running multiday retreats and seminars; and writing their second book, which deals with Part X, the self-sabotaging part of ourselves, the devil inside. When we're able to overcome Part X, we become more engaged with life, more creative, and happier.

As one might expect with a discussion about inner sabotage, we experienced technical difficulties with the audio version of this interview. We were able to recover almost all of the contents of the interview in the print version below.

Special thanks go out to the members of The Tools Facebook Group, who asked some amazing questions about how the Tools can be used in very particular and challenging situations.

Enjoy this episode, and want me to keep making more? Download, subscribe, rate and review on iTunes

Want to hear more like this?
Pair with Phil and Barry's earlier interview or read the transcript of that interview.

Show Notes and Links

Phil and Barry's website

EP 037 Phil Stutz & Barry Michels Return to Talk about Coming Alive

[Square brackets indicate unintelligible […] or best-guess sections]

Scott Gosnell: Ok, great, good to talk to you gentlemen.

Phil Stutz: Hi, again, thanks for having us.

SG: So how have you been since the last time we talked?

PS: Good, yeah.

Barry Michels: We’ve been writing like crazy.

SG: I see you have a new book out. I’ve been hearing about it since it was called Part X. Coming Alive is a much more positive title.

PS: Much more self-agency.

SG: You’ve been writing, doing workshops, keeping busy…what’s changed for you?

PS: As I’m getting older, my time to do these things is shrinking. It’s [become] more fun, is one thing that’s changed. The other thing is that it’s no longer an internal thing. It’s become more of an exchange, there are more people looking at this, I can sit back a little, there’s more of a group or more of a process, however you want to think of it.

BM: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think the other thing that’s happened since the first book came out—I’m not saying this wasn’t already happening—we’ve become so Balkanized as a society that it requires extra effort to see the humanity of people who are different from us. And that’s something I’ve found coming up more and more since the first book, is the importance of summoning common ground with people regardless of our differences, so I’ve just been doing everything I can to leave my West LA Jewish bubble and seek out people from other communities and find out who they are, how they are, and find out what we can learn from one another.

SG: What are you finding?

BM: I’m finding an extraordinary breadth and range of experience, stories I just never would have been exposed to before, stories of courage and redemption. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in South Central LA with a close friend of Phil’s and mine, who’s taken me to some organizations that focus on getting ex-convicts and ex-gang members involved in helping kids get out of gangs and when they get out of prison helping people to have productive lives. And it’s just extraordinary the effectiveness and the courage these people are having on their community. It’s just amazing.

SG: And you, Phil?

PS: One thing that’s been surprising is I’m much busier. I’ve been spending time speaking, writing. I was a little unrealistic about the pressure. I have a tremendous amount of information to get out there and by the time the second book is released, I would say we’ve got at most ten percent of the total out there, so there’s a lot, and you know, I’m seventy years old so there’s a driving force to get it all out in public. So, sometimes it seems overwhelming and sometimes it seems exciting, so I go up and down a lot. The other thing: I think as a writer I’m getting better than I was at focusing attention in on what the main points are—I like to divert off and go to something that interests me—and I’m not even going to try to access that. Let’s see, what else? I don’t know, I’ll let you know if anything else comes to me.

SG: That’s great. For those people who have not read your book or listened to your previous podcast, can you give us your big picture: What is the human mind, and what is the fundamental problem and how are the tools designed to deal with it?

PS: The second book, which I think people will find more cohesive, more coherent, will come to the point. The second book is based on the idea that there’s a destructive force in everyone. We call it Part X. It can manifest itself differently from person to person; it manifests itself through symptoms. So, somebody’s afraid of getting on an airplane, just for instance, somebody else can’t control their temper, somebody else has an addiction to sugar or cigarettes or whatever. These are all different expressions of the same source. And this is the trick: Part X will create a symptom that you cannot overcome in a conscious way, it seems impossible. It creates a symptom that you can’t overcome and it creates a feeling of impossibility. Say you’re having a problem with public speaking. If you can’t overcome that fear, what Part X says is, if you fear me, it’s going to happen over and over and over again. It makes you feel like it’s impossible. You’re in an impossible situation. You can’t overcome this obstacle. And when it wants to go from there—it doesn’t really care about that so much—it wants that sense of impossibility to swell into everything. Into your being. Into your ability to communicate with the people around you, and even into your ability to find out what’s causing the problem in the first place, but it all comes down to your symptoms, and if you can’t get over your symptoms, you can’t see any kind of future. What the book is about is the main or major ways Part X presents itself. And there are four new Tools in the book as well. And each one of those sees to one of these difficulties, each one of these ways it prevents you from being in control, and I definitely feel like this is something that needs pointing out to people that is absolutely essential not just for personal growth, but it’s a force that’s affecting society as a whole. You can see that pretty easily on TV with all the conflict…Part X is the personal, individual conflict; there’s a larger, societal conflict that Barry’s just been pointing out.

BM: Can I just jump in here? Just to bring this down to a very simple level, between us, Phil and I have treated probably thousands of people, and they come from all walks of life: some successful, some not so much, but every one of them has one thing in common. They all feel that their lives could be much more fulfilling than they are. It’s like, “Who I am is nowhere close to who I could be.” What we’ve found is that people can actually become the person they’d like to be, but there’s a catch. This doesn’t happen magically—you have to fight for it, and you have to fight against your own worst habits—what Phil is calling Part X. Whether you want to write a book or start a business and you procrastinate, or you want to expand your social circle but as soon as you get in a room full of strangers you get tongue-tied, fulfilling your potential is a fight, because we constantly sabotage ourselves. What the book does is show you how you can take the self-sabotaging part of you, push it out in front of you, and defeat it with effective, time-tested weapons that have worked over and over with our patients, so that’s exactly what we teach you to do in the second book.

SG: I can certainly relate to the idea of not living up to your potential. The last time we talked, we talked a lot about the idea of intensity and living with the full force of your personality, the full force of your self in each day. But it’s a struggle. Some days you just don’t reach up to what you want, some days are great, and some days, you get five minutes of successful living in twenty four hours. So, why don’t we unbox the book a little bit, and talk about some of the new Tools in the toolkit.

PS: I just want to add something to what you just said. This is a big philosophical centerpiece of what we do, and that is the answer to what you just said is, we train our patients to not care. That is, what they need to do is identify Part X as its origin, they need to know what the Tools connect to as a method, and they need to use the Tool every time, even if it doesn’t work. We live in a result-oriented society, so everyone wants an immediate result without needing to work, and we tend to get demoralized and we tend to give up, without ever identifying it as such. So the centerpiece of this, the basic assumption, is that you keep using the Tools over and over. Now if you use it over and over for a month or something and it doesn’t work, I’d advise you to fire us or throw out the book or something. We’re quite confident the person using it will see some kind of change as their use deepens.

SG: So let’s start to open up the book a bit and talk about the toolkit.

BM: So the first Tool deals with a problem everybody has, which is self-discipline. I haven’t met anyone who couldn’t use more self-discipline. It may be you can’t stick to a diet or an exercise program, or that you can’t stop updating your Facebook page or sending out hostile tweets early in the morning.

PS: Hostile tweets, oh yeah?

BM: People lack emotional self-discipline. Now, in the book we talk about a couple that couldn’t set limits with their kids because they couldn’t stop fighting with each other. Their daughter was turning into a liar and a thief. Their son was turning into a video game fanatic. They, the couple, were on the verge of divorce. With a single tool that I taught them in the experience in the book, they were able to control themselves, stop fighting, and over time work together to get their kids’ lives back on track so the couple fulfilled their lives, and ensured that their kids had at least a fighting chance of fulfilling theirs as they moved to adulthood.
SG: How does this Tool work?

BM: The Tool is called the Black Sun and it’s based on the idea that whenever you’re dealing with an impulse you’re trying to get something from the outside world to fill up something inside of you. You can sometimes have enough willpower to stop yourself doing that, but mostly you’re doing what they call in AA, “white-knuckling it,” you know, you’re just using your willpower to resist the temptation you really want to indulge. Whether you’re successful or unsuccessful at that, you’re still saying to yourself that the outside world can fill you up, but what we do is try to go a step further. So what the Tool does is say, “Give up what’s outside of you completely, in fact, give up the outside world as a source, and instead look at what you’re trying to fill up inside, which we have the person visualize as just an empty hole, like an endless abyss or void inside of you. At first, that’s a little uncomfortable, but what the Tool does is it teaches you to just look into the abyss, calmly and confidently. If you look into it long enough, strangely enough, something appears, and in the Tool it appears like a dark sun; it’s like a sun that’s been eclipsed by the moon, which strangely is going to happen the day before the book comes out. It’s a solar eclipse—we got the sun to cooperate with us. As the sun comes up inside of you, it fills you up so completely inside it actually overflows and flows out of you, so that by the end of the Tool, you have become a source for the outside world as opposed to needing the outside world to fill you up inside. And that’s the ultimate solution to our cravings is give more, stop trying to get from the outside world.

SG: Phil, do you have anything to add?

PS: I find this in many people when they have to become more disciplined—they have to not eat the extra cookie, or they have to control their temper, there’s a sense of deprivation: “I know I shouldn’t do this, but if I don’t do it, I’ll feel so deprived, so much anxiety.” But when you look into the void, you look into it with that sense of deprivation, you can actually see things that you couldn’t see without the sense of deprivation. By depriving yourself of such a thing, you get insight into what you’re really about, and in this case, and Barry’s really great at this, there’s a void inside every person—in AA they call it a “God-sized hole” which means it can’t be filled up by anything out there at all. And once you see something of value being deprived, then you actually look into the void and see it’s alive and see the blackness gets burned away and it becomes a power like Barry said, so I have a saying, that is, “deprivation is creation” so once you deprive yourself and can see into this so much becomes clear, such as [?the ability to see this in another human being?…] this also works with relationships[…]this is one of the most important chapters in the book. You get pieces of this; hopefully, you can put it together in a way that helps you understand other people.

SG: So is this a direct relationship? If I feel I lack fame will what comes out of me be a direct replacement for that, or will it be some different, but still compensating thing?

BM: It’s really neither, it’s that you really do give up the outside world as a source that will fill you up inside; what comes out of you has its own value to it. It’s the sense that you get when you create something with beauty. The transaction is complete once you do it; it doesn’t matter what you get back once you’re done with it, whether you’re affirmed or denied or validated or invalidated.

PS: You can say that the inner world has a different set of rules. In the inner world, the thing that you create and send out from there allows you to feel satiated. At first, it seems like a crazy idea, but people start to practice and start to feel. All the stuff we do is about, it doesn’t matter if you believe it, you start to feel in real time operationally better.

BM: It’s very powerful especially for creative people, because most of the time what you’re doing as a creative person doesn’t get validated. I mean, as a writer, for example, you sit in a room for years every day. Nobody’s validating you, nobody even knows what you’re doing. So, when you can feel that value actually comes from the outflow of what you’re putting out each day, it keeps you going much, much better than validation ever would.

SG: So, it’s a matter of focusing internally, not a matter of a one to one relationship replacing the thing. It’s the inside piece flowing outward that moves you from the feeling of deprivation not just to satiety but to abundance flowing out of you.

BM: Yeah, yeah.

SG: So what’s another one of the Tools?

PS: The next one’s got to do with exhaustion, and we call it the Vortex. I need to give you a little bit of background on this. Normally, we get energy by engaging with the world. Engaging with the world has a lot of different aspects to it, but having a child, having to take care of your kids, doing something you enjoy—these are all things that engage you with the world. They [repay] themselves. They are a source of energy; you do them and you feel better. This is the normal person’s relationship to energy. Let me just preface this by saying in psychotherapy, everything [in life is attracting] its own energy…sometimes never…sometimes it doesn’t matter. People with the most energy tend to come up with solutions. Those are also the most easily satisfied people in the books. So energy is an undiscussed variable, and I think the reason nobody discusses it is they don’t think it’s possible to change their basic level of energy. It’s like you don’t have any choice in the matter. This particular chapter is based on the feeling, the principle that you can improve your basic energy level, and if you can improve it, you can increase your engagement with the world, and if you can do that, you can increase your energy even more. We call that the paradox of [motivations], which means, people with high energy don’t have to worry about this, but people with low energy know that it’s like a mirror, if they get out of bed, get out of the house, do some activities, try to be creative, connect with their spouse, they know they’ll feel better: they’ll have more engagement with the world, they’ll get back some energy. Yet the relative basic energy is so low, they can’t get out of bed. The basic energy is so low, they don’t want to talk to people. This can come from a variety of causes, which we can talk about later. So then, you have the insight which is “I’ll feel alive because I’m coming alive,” but yet I don’t even start to have the energy to start to interact with the world, and we’ve found that’s a remarkably common challenge for people…

Phone rings

PS: I’m gonna become a telephone repairman after this. Where was I?

SG: Even people without high energy…

PS: Even people with high energy don’t have it all the time. The Tool is for people who are facing this riddle, so to speak, [which is living at a level where they’re fully engaged]. What the chapter is about is finding a different source of energy, […]because they think the source of energy comes from the body, but there’s another layer of energy above that, which operates at [the level of the spirit], and that layer of energy is always available. And this is how you get into that. This is how you connect to it. And once you connect to that extra energy, then you connect to the world, and then, the world will cycle back the energy you put into it, and you get more energy with each cycle. So the Tool introduces people to something they thought was impossible. Like we said at the beginning, Part X tries to give you problems and make you think the problems inside are impossible; this is what we mean when we say that it attacks you. Anyway…

SG: I’ll just mention that one of the things I like about your approach to the Tools is that you have the negative forces within you, but also the conception of the positive forces that are equally universal and in line with your own development.

PS: Yes.

SG: And having this idea of having this depth psychology, Jungian psychology, where you have a very rich, complex inner life, a very comprehensive concept of mind, combined with that very operationally defined means of adjusting and fixing it makes for a very useful and powerful set of techniques.

PS: Yeah, that was our idea when we developed this.

PS: OK, here’s the thing. Before I teach you this Tool, which is a Tool for when there’s no energy—exhaustion is a phenomenon of your physical body, and the way to overcome that is to overcome your physical body. […] So before I take you through the Tool, you need some background and some knowledge. When you think of a sun as a source of energy, you think of a circle of twelve suns around your head, imagine this maybe three to five feet above your head—the number of these suns, twelve, is the number of wholeness and completion—there were twelve Tribes of Israel, twelve months in the year, so completeness and wholeness. When you see these twelve suns above your head, they represent the whole of the energy of the universe, not just physical energy but everything. A lot of people have difficulty accepting this, that there are other sources of energy than the body. You don’t have to believe this, just use it as a tool. The fact that there are twelve of these suns in the circle means they represent all of the energy the universe has, not just your body. And before you attack us for being too mystical about this, think of theoretical physics, where there’s dark energy that’s consistently expanding expanding the system, and nobody really accepted that, but anyway, you have this circle of suns up there. You silently send out to them for help. The more impassioned you are about this, the more passion, the more you’ll get out of it. These suns begin to circle, and as they circle—it can be either clockwise or counterclockwise—they create a vortex, so if you think about what a tornado looks like, or if you saw your first [whirlpool]. This vortex is not destructive, it’s friendly. What you’ll feel is, the vortex will overtake your physical body and it’s like you’re in a gentle, loving…blender. You lose your physical body and become part of this vortex and the vortex will lift you up, and you’ll feel yourself moving toward these twelve suns, that are like an opening into the higher world. So with no effort at all, your body is lifted up toward these twelve suns. Now, you’re on a completely different plane, and this is difficult to explain, but everything is of infinite size. Now you feel yourself, having lost the sense of your body, once you get through the hole, you regain your body, but this time you are a giant. This time, your body offers you less resistance—we refer to this as The Gentle Giant—it’s unstoppable, and becomes saturated with power, very even-handedly and very slowly, because in this higher world there’s never any hurry and nothing can do you any harm, however, the intent is unstoppable. I think this is the subtle aspect of it.

BM: The first few times I used this Tool, I realized that as I went up through the vortex I felt elongated like my body was extended and I took a moment in the middle of the Tool to look down and realize that my feet were miles away from me, and I’m looking out my window and I can see Japan. It’s like you’re really a giant. That, for me, embodied this feeling of being part of something and having infinite energy. That’s what justifies a giant: it can stride through the world in ways we can’t conceive of. It’s like the details don’t matter—you’re energized—you can do whatever you want at that point.

SG: Give me an example of when you’ve used this to do something specific.

BM: Ha! Every morning to get out of bed. I swear to God. Typically, I use energy. I have a to-do list. It’s my harshest taskmaster. And there are one or two to-do items that I just keep my eyes away from because I know they’re really tough and I don’t want to do them. So, no matter what, I try to do those first, before anything else. I try to use the Tool before I do them and glide right from the Tool into the action.

PS: Yeah

BM: It’s almost like I’m not doing it. There’s a giant inside of me that’s doing it for me.

PS: I have to call back to the chapter, where we have a lot of situations. This Tool is particularly good for transitions. Like after this, I have to see a patient, and then I have to make a bunch of phone calls, and each one of those is a transition. What we’ve found is, Part X attacks you, it shows this face when you’re making transitions. So Part X wants to make it impossible, block your progress, block your potential, so it resists each transition that you have to make. So this happens with big transitions, like you’re coming back from vacation, or home late from work, and you have to be back at work the next morning; that’s an obvious transition. But I think actually the more important ones are the small ones. So the Vortex is the best Tool I know of to give you the energy to make these transitions. Most people, most days, are resisting, and it’s resisting and pushing back. It’s like a tug of war with somebody you can’t see. So we use the Tool to push the person through these transitions, and as you go, you become more and more adept at using it to push through, even if you’re tired. You start to get the feeling that you have access to a source of energy that you never had access to, and it changes the way you look at the future, which is one of the biggest problems people have. […]

SG: I’ve solicited a bunch of questions from the Tools Facebook Group, and also from other sources. The first one will fit well with this topic. It’s from Marina P:

Any advice for a mother of a child with disability. I survived last six years on meditating myself and keeping myself calm through art. I am not an artist the art was my self-therapy. I am keen to return to this world and start again but I understand that my options are limited. I have lost my career as a trading analyst, lost my property, all my funds are gone and I am turning 51 tomorrow. So my question is what is the most important first step to overcome a major dramatic event in life... basically, how to start again? Mentally I am ok but I have no plans, no goals for myself. I want to change that and actually achieve something for myself. Thank you.

PS: Wow, Barry, that’s not easy.

BM: You know, this is a woman who has suffered one of those things where the shape of it just stops you cold. It’s like you hit a brick wall. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t make a mistake at that point, to try to figure out what the “right” first move is. It’s impossible to know what the right move is, so you have to start somewhere with something; it’s like you’ve been torn apart. There’s actually another question from Michael C about a similar situation, where he’s in a job he didn’t like, but he didn’t know what job he would like, and he suggested talking to his Shadow, which I thought was a really good idea. You’ve got to think of your Shadow as already knowing the answers. It’s not willing to give you the answers until you prove you’re willing to ask it and do what it tells you to do, especially the change in the story stuff. So don’t start by asking the Shadow, “What should I do with my life?” Ask, “What’s something small you’d like me to do today?” and then be willing to do it. If it scares you and makes you uncomfortable—in fact, especially if it does—if you keep doing that every day, then you’ve proven yourself worthy of working with your Shadow, and eventually you’ll find that it’s guiding you to whatever it is you’re meant to do.

PS: I just wanted to segue from that. I agree with that 100%. A different way to say that is, you can’t control everything that’s coming up, what I have to do next, what it wants you to do. Most people are uncomfortable with that. They believe that they have to solve their problems [all at the same time, without any effort], and when you say it that way it sounds ridiculous. It can’t possibly work, it’s predicated on a false supposition. You have done these things before (with effort), […] so you can have utter confidence. So, our philosophy is, that part of you that senses the future isn’t the conscious part. It’s not even the senses. It’s the basic, fundamental life force. So to build confidence and find a sense of direction, you have to build up the life force. Now, first for most people that’s a difficult concept—that it’s not the thinking mind that tells you where to go, it’s the life force. That’s one, now number two: you talk about increasing the life force, using the Vortex as a Tool, and about Forward Motion. But Tools aside, just structuring and organizing your day to take any step, and it actually doesn’t matter what step you take. The only thing that matters is that you take it. Every time you do, your life force improves a little bit. Eventually, it gets strong enough that you get some of confidence about the future. The whole book is Part X, that is the force of impossibility, versus the life force, which is the force of possibility. It’s interesting: someone introduced me to Mark Devine, who’s an ex-Navy SEAL; he says that in combat, things are nearly always chaotic[…] it’s imperative to get the people under his command organized in the face of chaos, and the way he does it is he picks one single goal that’s doable immediately. And what happens is, and everybody under his command organizes immediately, you get a sense of organization, a sense of direction. It’s not that chaotic and dangerous in civilian life, but you almost have to make it a single focus, to find out what the next step is and where you should go, so the Tool will both help you know what the next step is and enable you to carry it out. So that’s the Life Force, and it will help you know where to go next.

SG: And also, I think you told me, even if you worked on all of these at once, and managed to resolve a few of them, it’s not as though you could resolve them for all time and be done with working. So you’ll have to keep working either way.

BM: Exactly.

SG: Mike B asks,

I can manage all the Tools well but when it comes to people that have been underhanded and emotionally abusive my whole life (and continue to), I find it hard to feel the love to overcome the deep dislike (should I say hatred) I have for them. It seems impossible to override that. How do you manage this in these extreme cases?

BM: I think the first thing to say is, he’s not alone. I think Active Love is one of the most difficult Tools to use, especially with somebody who has abused you. I think what’s important is to separate two things: one is the underhanded and abusive person, and the other is a force that person is channeling, and it’s a force that’s tried to impede you and undermine you. Now, for most of human history, we’ve just called this force evil, but that has medieval and gothic connotations—just think of it as a dark force that doesn’t want anything good for you. Sometimes it comes through other people. Be honest, sometimes it attacks you directly through Part X: it gets you to procrastinate, overeat, overreact to people, etc. My point is if you separate the force of evil from the person channeling it, you’ll have a much easier time, because you won’t make that person too important. My first piece of advice is to never talk to or think about this person without imagining a dark force surrounding them, and just realize it’s the force, not the person, you’re doing battle with. Part X doesn’t want you to make that separation, because it wants you to fixate on the person as if they were the embodiment of evil. Why? Because then you completely obsess, not doing what you should be doing, and frankly because you’re so riled up, you’re more likely to do evil. So the discipline is to separate the person from the force, and the once you’ve separated them, it becomes much, much easier to direct love toward the person—not to approve of what they’re doing, but simply to see them as human. What I do is see this infinite supply of love (Active Love) behind me, and I channel it through my heart inside the other person, but I don’t watch it enter the other person, I actually enter the other person with it, and then I just listen and look, and see if there’s anything there that I can relate to. And I’ve almost always been able to find something that seems human about them, because then we can stop thinking about them so much.

SG: The other thing I would add to that is that maybe you don’t need to spend as much time around this person. It is appropriate to have boundaries. It is appropriate to decide what to do with your own time and energy, so that when you do have to deal with this person you have more resources to direct against the problem.

BM: That’s a really good point, and it’s easier to set those boundaries if you don’t hate and revile the person, because there’s always this twin feeling of, if I hate this person enough, then I can’t stop now because I’ll probably be abusive when I do. If you can neutralize and bring down the temperature of your own feelings, it’s easier to say, “Mm, yeah, not this time.”

PS: Yeah, it’s impossible to hate somebody if you see them, while also seeing them planning, hoping, suffering as it happens to them, even if it’s just a little [bit of the time], and if you persist in that attitude, that everybody has a person inside them, then it’s like being […] so we never get trapped in that cycle of hate with them, regardless of what that person has done to us or we think of them or whatever. We remove the hate by using the Tool. And that hate has its own pain, and once you feel you can get beyond someone who has offended you, you have a degree of freedom; on the other hand, Part X is going to come up to you and say, “You’re letting them get away with it! You’re letting them get away with it!” To which your response should be, “Good. They’re getting away with it.” We’re not in the world to do that. They don’t even occur to me. They have nothing to do with what I want.” You can have it two ways, either you can get in a fight with them, or, as the Chinese say […]
SG: Alicia asks,

What do you do when you use the tools but don't think that Higher Forces like you? like Barry did, I have a hard time with believing in Higher Forces. I gratefully use the Tools all the time, but I don't always feel connected to Higher Forces.

SG: So there’s some ambivalence there.

PS: Oh, yeah, it’s evaluating…

BM: Look, I don’t always feel connected to higher forces either, but what helps me is, number 1, I truly take the focus off what I believe. Belief is intellectual, and the intellect really can’t connect with anything if you think about how that works, it separates you from things so you can take an objective point of view, and the other thing that helps is I, don’t really care what I believe, and I don’t try to rationally think or prove anything. The other thing is that I don’t just use the Tools, I try to use them with maximum intensity, and I know, Scott, we talked about this last time, but I really learned this from a dream I had, much over 25 years ago. In this dream, I was in my office, and a massive earthquake hit Los Angeles, and I knew in the dream I was going to die, and I realized I want to go out of life with love in my heart, so the last thing I did in the dream is I used Active Love, but because I knew it was my last moment, in the dream I used it with an intensity I’d never known before and suddenly hope just completely broke open, and I felt the force of love flow through me like I never have before. So, you can use the Tools in a rote fashion and they’ll still work. But if you’ve got the higher forces, what they’re looking for is your commitment and intensity in the moment, and if you have it, that’s what they tend to respond to and you can feel them flowing more palpably through you.

PS: Yes, so I can feel that certainly, though rarely seen. I go a little further, which means instead of giving 100% effort, you give 105% effort. You see this in athletics, where you leave nothing on the court—I learned this from Barry—he’s better as using some of them than almost anybody. When you first use the tools, it’s almost like a foreign idea to some people. It doesn’t seem here are levels to using the tool, like levels of performance for different people. Whatever you’re trying to connect to. It’s very simple: the more you connect, the more you can physically extend yourself in the Tool. You may not start a Tool and get really good the same day, but over time, it’s like athletics. That’s my metaphor for using the tools. Your intellectual commitment to them and athletic development—it’s better than nothing, but that’s not what we’re talking about. This feeling of commitment doesn’t exist unless you put it into practice, so you want to put it into practice as soon as you can, so the moment this opportunity occurs, you want to take advantage of that.

SG: So if you want to use the Tools in a very operational, basic, concrete and material based way in a particular instance, that’s great. If you want to go the complete opposite way and personify the higher powers and be very mystic about it, then that’s fine too. Whatever allows you to use commitment and intensity to make hay with the higher forces.

PS: Yeah, I would think that’s right.

BM: Yes.

SG: Dennis K asks:

There are risks to doing shadow work (as I've discovered this past year). Can Phil/Barry share war-stories of times when they or their clients have given their shadow [or other parts of themselves] too much rein (assuming that's possible)? Or is that a misconception?... is the shadow always "right"?

PS: That’s almost right. The Shadow is like anything else. There’s a dual nature: if you don’t pay enough attention to the Shadow, if you don’t work with it, if you don’t have a relationship with it, it’s undernourished, and may try what’s called a takeover, it will take over your whole life. That’s not what we’re trying to have happen. An example, somebody would go away to college, it’s their first time out of town, their first year, they don’t have close friends yet, they get depressed. That’s the Shadow taking over. The one good thing that happens is, eventually, you make some friends, you get your life back. It’s sometimes hard to grasp this, but anything in the unconscious has a dual meaning, a dual function. It depends on your relationship with it. The Shadow is the most important part to have a relationship with, this force in your unconscious, and it’s the closest to you, because it has personal issues. So what we try to do is actually reintroduce you […] in terms of who you are to get you reconnected to your Shadow […]

SG: Barry, do you have anything to add?

BM: You know, I don’t have any war stories. I do know people who all their lives strove to be, you know, good boys and girls and always do the right thing. Those Shadows tend to be bad boy/bad girl, you know do drugs and fight with people and act out, etc., etc., but in general what I tell them is that you’ve really almost forced the Shadow into that position because you’ve allowed it absolutely no constructive outlet in the light. So, obviously, you tell them don’t do those things, and start to connect to the Shadow, and ask it, “How can I connect to you more in my life?” Maybe there are times when I’m being too good: I’m not confrontational enough, not assertive enough, or not putting enough of my intensity into whatever I do. Gradually, what I find is that the Ego and the Shadow will find channels to express the Shadow constructively.

SG: Adrian K was interested in

finding out more about the influences on Phil (and Barry), principally Jung and Steiner, and the ways in which he adapted them so practically and efficiently.

PS: […] Well, with Jung it was—when I moved out here in 1982—simultaneously I started reading a lot of Jung. It was revelatory [in comparison to Freud]. Freud limited himself because he believed that everything was instinctual. He limited himself to certain categories of solutions to things, and Jung came along and said, “Wait a minute, there was much more to it than that.” And not terribly good results were coming up after analysis like that. And he (Freud) said,

BM: “The best we can hope for is to get the person from misery to” — what is it— “normal unhappiness.” Something like that.

PS: So obviously I was looking for something better than that. So it was exciting, but anyway here’s the thing about Jung, I read a lot, I went to therapy for a while, I got to know some Jungians, but there was one thing that bothered me. I don’t believe in self-regulation—in economy, in markets, I don’t believe anything can regulate itself, so everything needs something to help regulate, direct or control. So I thought the Jungians saying, “Just analyze your dreams, get in touch with your Shadow, identify your Archetypes, and those forces will get rid of your problems on their own.” […] So the Jungians I knew said this, and I couldn’t accept this, and I thought that was complete bullshit. […] some self-serving direction. I felt the Jungians went up to a certain point and then didn’t go beyond it. It was almost like a taboo. So right away, I went to go beyond those boundaries. So for example, the Shadow, which you might recognize as some part of you […] for me, I couldn’t just leave that patient saying, “Here live without without any happiness”, maybe just talking to them about eventual happiness. […] So the genesis of the Tools was to take these Jungian concepts and forces—these forces are real—and then give the person a Tool that will make sure they were using those forces for their benefit. They weren’t waiting for anything. They weren’t waiting for a miracle. They were doing some work and taking some responsibility. To make a better relationship with my Shadow, for instance. You’re not going to have a relationship with your Shadow because you know it’s there, not wanting to be connected to it, you have to do some work to deal with it. Like one [of the other pleasant things for me], one of the things they talk about is self-love in Jungian sessions, I thought that was right, a very important concept, but nobody ever told me what that consists of, what act are you committing to with self-love. So with the Shadow, we start to have a definition of self-love: self-love means loving the Shadow, because that’s the part you typically don’t want to identify with. So if you want an example, I don’t want to just passively wait, I want a sense of direction, a Tool, it seems the Tool will work for me a little bit, and once you get that, [you continue to work with that more and more] because once you get a sense that it’s possible. What was the original question?

SG: It was about your influences from Jung and Steiner, but I think that answers it pretty well. I’ve been reading a biography of Steiner, and one of the things is the primacy or great importance of the inner world, the spiritual world, the resources that are there, versus the outside world and the things there you can sense with just your normal senses.

PS: Yes, and I’ll tell you a funny thing about that. Jung never really got past that. These require a little bit of academic background, because I don’t want to say they’re hypothetical—these are hypothetical constructs—you have to step away from them, so you can feel them as a concept. Jung hated Rudolf Steiner, and the reason was Jung was very defiant, rebellious, and he had an attitude you can feel in some of the Jungians. Not all of them, but some of them, which is “Fuck you, I don’t even need to have a relationship with my Shadow, because I don’t need to have any rules, responsibilities, structure, any of that. Rudolf Steiner came along and was very different because he was more of a […], because at that time the goal was to be what he would have called “clairvoyant”, and what today we would consider very plugged-in, open-minded, and after you do that there’s a whole source of wisdom and information you can get, and Jung had this too, so Rudolf Steiner was the next set […] it wasn’t so much that the ideas were different, [so much as he structured them in a different way, and the way he put them was aimed at a different group of people, so the way he put them was different], so that was a deeper set. The other thing I should say about Rudolf Steiner was that he made many, many predictions and I feel that some of them were very subtle and accurate, and you have to remember that this was a hundred years ago or so, between 1900 and 1925 when he died. One of them is, and I was just talking with someone about this the other day, that in the future, every human being will have the means to talk to every other human being in the world, that there would be a world-wide, pervasive distribution network. And honestly, he was right, but in the same description, Steiner said we will have this mass communication system, but we will not have anything worth saying, anything worth communicating to each other, and obviously that’s what—if you look at the Internet, a lot of it’s used for political warfare, pornography, selling stuff, etc., etc., so there’s not a human, in effect, in the system, in a massive way. Again, there’s no self-regulation, the Internet will not regulate itself […], far from it. So we have different opinions about it. Let’s see, here’s another great one, in the middle of the 19th century, there was a theme of social Darwinism, that was constructed at the behest of the ruling classes of that time, the wealthy rulers, what have you, and what it said was—a separate issue is whether this is real—everyone in a capitalist system tries to go out and compete against one another, tries to grind each other down. It’s a war to the death, and nobody gives a shit about anyone else, they’re gone. The conceit is, we’re selecting for the best people, and everybody else is eventually smothered to death, and they try to sell this as a fair solution to the capitalist conundrum which is how do you keep the system going—a problem while people are being abused. Right away—I think he was onto something—right away, Rudolf Steiner says, social Darwinism is bullshit. He said, if you try to have a revolution without morals, what happens is, we select not for the best, under those conditions we select for the worst. He used the example of someone who’s karma was to be a clerk, like a low-level bookkeeper or something, and he ended up ass the prime minister of some middle European country, and things happened to him for reasons he couldn’t see, that there were forces behind the scenes that you couldn’t see, that lifted up exactly this person, that if you’re in the right place, you’re given leeway, something happens and you’ve given a red carpet to evil, so to speak. You can use stuff like that to be […] not more trusting, because I don’t trust anything, but at least to be more confident that you’re on the right track, because it’s a track that has to do with action.

SG: I could go on talking to you all day every day, but […]

Patrick K and Deborah G would like updates on your current and future plans and projects.

BM: So, I’m going to be appearing at a weeklong workshop at Omega Costa Rica; I think the details will be on the website after Labor Day. I’m also hoping to give more workshops in Los Angeles after the book comes out. We’re also starting a podcast which should be up on the website sometime in the next two or three weeks (after the book comes out). Finally, I’m writing an article based on one of the workshops I gave at Omega last summer, on how to cope with evil as a force. The idea is that this force has been flowing into our world and our society and pit us against one another, and I give Tools for dealing with that.

PS: Yeah, that’s a fantastic presentation. I’m also doing something with the Esalen Santa Cruz, I think it’s called 414 or something. There’s the Tools Facebook Group, if you can get on there, which is like a free flowing discussion; it’s a mini social media entity. You know, there are some things that are better learned in a group like that. You may have to go to the website; in fact there’s maybe more information on the website than anywhere. So, I’d advise people to sign up for that.

The website, which has this information, is

PS: Thank you for having us. It was great.

BM: Thanks, Scott for talking. Take good care.

SG: Thanks for talking and I hope we get the chance to talk again. Take care.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Transcript of EP 015 Phil Stutz and Barry Michels on The Tools

Phil Stutz and Barry Michels first came by to talk with me in 2015 about their first book, The Tools, based on the techniques they developed in their psychotherapy practices. These practices combine the depth psychology and visualization of Carl Jung with the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner and the rapid efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy.

You can listen to our first interview here, or through your favorite podcast site. For one reason or another, I don't think I ever released the transcript from the interview, so here it is. I will also be releasing the pdf version here at some point.

The new interview will be going up tomorrow on this site, also in transcript format.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Ocean Vuong's Daily Choice

From this interview with Tricycle:
The thing I fear most is that one day I might wake up without hope. At the moment, though, I’m hopeful.

We see bombs being dropped. We see bullets being put into bodies, all from fear. It is a powerful energy. But compassion is an energy, too. With it, we’ve built miraculous things: cathedrals, temples, schools, and shelters. We’ve made extraordinary works of art. Every day when we wake up, we have a choice. Will we choose fear or will we choose compassion and love? These are very strong, but I’ve learned in my short 28 years that anger and fear exhaust me, whereas if I do work out of love and compassion and kindness, I’m actually nourished. It’s a sustainable energy.

There are days where I say, “I’m too terrified, I’m too tired, I’m too depressed, I can’t do it.” Those days happen. But my goal is to always return to the sustainable resource of compassion. I think my best poems come out of compassion rather than fear.
(Underlining mine.)

Over on The Tools Facebook Group, based on the work of Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, we've been discussing ways of accessing better and worse sources of motivation and energy, Higher Powers and Part X. The question there is, as here, not only how you feel in the moment when you take your energy from one source or another, but whether advancing on your fears diminishes them while simply reacting based on fear diminishes you, and whether acting from compassion renews you and engages you with life.