Actually Making a Decision

Making a decision is hard work. Normally, we act out of habit or on the spur of the moment, or simply do things without thinking about it.

I have a story about making a decision. It’s about a bag of cheesy-bad-snack.

That day, I felt like a slug: slow moving, passive, and mildly uncomfortable with existence. I munched on a snack that reminded me of the glorious superstimulus of cheesy-bad-snack. Which meant that now I couldn’t stop thinking about cheesy-bad-snack. Yum. Oh no.

Why? Well. I haven’t had it in a year. Part of me remembers that every time I had it, I felt sick in my stomach afterwards. But that was a year ago! Maybe things were different now. And I already felt bad, so I might as well do more things that would make me feel bad. Bad feelings don’t stack linearly.

I checked in with myself. My stomach said ‘no’, my mouth said ‘yes’, and my mind felt weak.

I walked to the store. I stared at the bag of cheesy-bad-snack. My mouth began to water. I considered both futures, one with cheesy-bad-snack and one without. I grabbed it off of the shelf and walked around the store. I set it back down, considering what I really wanted. And then I left the store without the cheesy-bad-snack.

Well, you can always turn back. At any point and in either direction. And there is no shame in turning around. I walked out of the store and halfway down the block before I began to feel regret. Sitting on a bench, I thought for a minute.

I turned around and went to buy some cheesy-bad-snack after all.

I ate it.

I paid a lot of attention to how it tasted. It didn’t taste like guilt this time.

Making this decision was difficult. It took more than twice as long as just buying the snack and getting it over with, or just sitting in my house and doing nothing about that urge. It took a lot of energy to introspect rather than run on heuristics.

I felt mostly content with my decision, especially in how I chose to make it. By taking my time, I avoided the counterproductive impulse to buy the cheesy-bad-snack quickly while hoping the rest of me doesn’t notice as I slam it down my gullet. It’s a shame when that happens. Then I neither enjoy it nor avoid the nutritional hit.

While walking up and down the street and in the store, I didn’t stop paying attention to how I was feeling. I kept collecting data within myself. And I was open to the decision going either way. Honestly, I couldn’t have predicted the outcome.

Part of me still wishes I hadn’t ended up buying it. It was a close vote. But the important thing is that I gave myself time to look at all of the voting blocks within myself, rather than forcing a decision through or being sneaky with myself. I didn’t dissociate with any part of myself in that decision. I sat with the conflict until it resolved. I wasn’t afraid of the answer.

I know someone with a penchant for dissociation who described himself watching as he took one step after another towards a goal he knew he “shouldn’t” have. He felt like a passive rider, denying that he was making a choice but observing it happen at the same time. What is “I” mean, if it’s so small that it doesn’t include your body?

I didn’t quite want to take the opinions of my mouth as seriously as I did. Much of me thinks my tongue is stupid and easily tricked. But my mouth is part of me, and it can get wiser over time by getting included in the decision-making and feedback process.

In making a true decision, there must be an actual openness to the dial moving either way. One might hope that when all the votes come in, we go one way over another. But if we don’t, that means that “I” isn’t actually counting all of us, and that we should work to become more integrated.

In Resonant Alignment

Sometimes I stumble upon music with voices that have a particular sound to them. Don’t worry about listening to these unless you have the time. They deserve at least half of your attention.

Existence: Life (alt link)
Is That All There Is? (alt link)

I probably don’t have to tell you this. You’ve all heard a violinist play their instrument like a lover or seen a dancer give themselves to the music completely. Intuitively, we know what a disingenuous speech sounds like versus when someone believes in what they’re saying. Mr. Rogers testifying for Senate is one of my favorite examples.

Think about the difference between an honest plea from someone who needs help versus a sideways request that they choke out in after some distracting small talk. It doesn’t mean they’re lying to you, but it does show that there is dissonance in them. Parts of themselves that aren’t on board.

It’s not just passion. It’s also determination, confidence, an unwavering gaze. It’s chilling and powerful. There’s a way of sounding that you get when there is complete alignment. You’re hearing that what they singing is what they feel the truth is. Somewhere inside of you, it resonates the same thing in yourself somewhere in a way that’s very hard to ignore.

This isn’t just for music or creative acts. It’s important to know what this sounds like in yourself in others. Learning this is important. It’s how you can tell if you’re telling the truth.

This is how you tell if you’re speaking the truth or not.

Truth meaning what you actually believe, not what is objectively true out there. We’re not oracles for the world, but we can get closer to one when it comes to ourselves.

Mentally, this manifests as lack of energy or motivation. Procrastination, internal resistance, dragging yourself along. Shouldn’ts and Shoulds.

Physically, this manifests as a lack of smoothness, stopping and starting. Hesitancy and lack of confidence in movement. Tightness and aimlessness. Literally, spinal alignment.

Voices will sound shriller, shakier, quieter, hesitant or strung out in some direction. Sarcastic side comments, falsely inflected cheery small talk. Not being able to speak at all.

We’re a shadow of ourselves when our internal part are holding each other back, a confused collection of vectors that don’t fully line up with our speech and action.

When I’m in resonant alignment, moving forward isn’t tiring. Action isn’t costly. It’s flowing into the future. The words write themselves and my speech comes out clear. When all of those parts are in order—all of them, from our toes to our heart to our thoughts—is my working hypothesis for what a soul is.


I have an exercise that I find both painful and incredibly cathartic.

Look into the mirror and don’t break eye contact with yourself. Say something you believe. Listen to how it sounds. Say something that you don’t believe. Listen to how that sounds.

If you try to say it with feeling, are you convincing yourself? Be very careful to avoid learning how to better convince yourself of things you don’t believe, or you’ll risk jeopardizing your relationship with the truth. If you’re in a situation where you need to lie to yourself, maybe this exercise isn’t for you. If so, I hope you can move towards a situation that doesn’t make you do that to your soul.

Internal resonances isn’t a binary. It’s a matter of degree, and it takes a while to find the words that resonate the most. When I do find the right words, my chest will literally resonate more. And it often makes me cry when I do find them.

To sum up: There is a way of sounding when in alignment. Find the things that bring that voice out of you. Do that.

Eye Gazing

Union – Android Jones

It was late at night at an intimate festival around the charming hour of 3 am, when the night air began to bite and the ambient drug energy was beginning to calm. I was wandering with a discontent purposelessness, eventually meandering into some friends that I could follow instead. Together we went up to the top of a hill that perched between the two valleys full of campsites. 

On the top of that hill was a lounge with a plush cuddle space and beautiful laser cut piano that glowed from the inside softly purple and orange and red as people played. It was refreshing, the air cold but atmosphere warm.

I was frustrated. I wanted to vent to someone and I didn’t know how to ask. Looking around at the pile of bodies, I spotted a person I didn’t know next to some people I did know. An attractive person that had a kind look to him in a way that’s hard to pin down. I thought I knew his name, maybe. 

I sat down next to him and expressed my discontent at my night. There was so little depth in my interactions! I was an observer, unable to communicate and locked out of my own mind. When I shared that, he told me that he recognized the sadness in my eyes.

He was right, I was feeling sadness. I didn’t realize. I thanked him.

We took each other’s warm hands and sat close, bracing ourselves in the night air to watch a pianist beneath a psychedelic moon as he sang out under the stippling of stars. Mixed up with our feet were a dozen cuddling, intertwined bodies that relaxed with us. He began to work on my muscles around my shoulders and neck, gently pressing them down and helping them relax. After a few minutes of this intense and unexpected care, I began to cry a little, quietly. 

We looked at each other, tears in my eyes, relaxing our faces and gazing. Freedom from social performance. Our pupils contracted and dilated with our breaths and how we held our attention. I saw in his eyes beautiful pain. I saw a deep, calm sadness and I knew then that I loved him. 

We continued like this for several hours. Every time we shifted positions to straighten our backs or give an arm a rest, one of us extended a hand again. Every time, we reconnected, slowly building up a trust without words that we both wanted this. Needed this, even. Not a moment was boring. To put it dramatically, it felt as if I had been waiting for this my entire life. 

After hours of the continued cycle of syncing our bodies with one another and staring into each other’s eyes, I broke the sacred silence to tell him I was distractingly cold. Using words was vulnerable. I was scared I was breaking a beautiful thing.

We walked down the hill in close synchrony of steps as the sky lightened to a dim blue, giggling a little as we walked on a path one foot on each side of the stepping stone. I was shivering a lot at this point, which frustrated me. This made me want to go faster than our careful and slow lockstep, making our syncing more dissonant for much of the walk to the tea house. 

We separated for a minute to use the restroom, a surprisingly precarious thing. Very slow trust building. We then returned to our happy equilibrium, cuddling, face touching and eyes becoming less and less open in the early morning comfort of the teahouse. Warmer. The beauty of his eyes was still there, intense.  

We fell asleep like that, curled together in a bath of warm light and the sounds of soft conversations. 

When I woke up in the morning, he was no longer there, probably having left quietly to kindly avoid waking me. I felt the pained and sad confusion and insecurity of not knowing if he was returning or not. I lay there awake for a while, wondering. In some ways, what happened was instant codependence. An addictive closeness with absolute focus as we moved slowly and taking one step at a time, building security piece by piece. 

He didn’t come back after a while, so I swallowed my insecurity and shuffled off to my tent to sleep more. 

The next day it was hard to not think about what had happened. What was that, even? Who is this person? We hardly exchanged words and I had felt so much intense compassion and affection. What was that about? Would getting to know him more somehow stain that experience or allow another beautiful thing to happen? 

I don’t know. 

This is the second-most pleasurable thing I’ve ever experienced.

In the aftermath, something seems to have shifted. I have less anxiety about noticing the people around me. I think I was averse to eye contact before, so subconsciously that I didn’t notice. When I look around at a room full of strangers I see now real humans that I could connect with if I approached with openness and a smile. Humans that want connection just like I do.

Guru / Target: A model for personality cults of control

This is a model for how a specific kind of abusive cult or group functions. Not all dangerous groups follow this model. This can be used as a guide to distinguish if a guru is creating an environment for unhealthy control.

Extreme examples of this model include the Manson family and sub-groups within the Rajneeshees. I find the story of Uma Inder and self-proclaimed voice of God, Linori, to be informative.

The Guru

The Guru is most typically an intelligent man in his 30s or 40s that wants something badly. Sex, power, and fame are common motives. He believes that he is special, above others, and deserving of the thing he wants.

The Guru is smart enough to understand and read people, and has relied on his ability to read people as a strategy for survival. He can find weaknesses and emotional buttons, then adapt his pitch to better appeal to the target. And he’s practiced for years.

Still, he has a polarizing effect on people. Many notice the warning signs and avoid the guru out of distaste and wariness, leaving him around the people he most appeals to.

The Targets

The most important thing is that there is a power differential between the guru and the targets, be that age, intelligence, fame, manipulative skill, or wealth. Three common targets include:

  • Young women with self-esteem issues and family problems
  • Attractive men to help lure in attractive women
  • Wealthy men or women who feel a spiritual void and are seeking a salve

The Worldview

The guru will espouse a framework for how the world works that only he understands fully. Because he has monopoly over this understanding, his authority is unquestionable.

The guru will also prescribe a way of being. The deal is that the closer you follow this way of being, the closer you will be to understanding the framework and thus achieving some sort of reward.

The rewards for following his way are numerous, from power, abilities, enlightenment, love, or whatever else pushes the target’s buttons. The good student rises in status in the internal pecking order and gains validation — but never rises above that of the guru. Any real threats to his authority will leave or are kicked out.

Any outside and thus competing belief framework will be reframed as anything from naive to evil. These competing frameworks are seen as the word of the enemy. A dichotomy is formed where the world is conspiring against the guru and the targets. The only safety is to be found by listening to the guru and obeying his instructions. Questioning him or his worldview indicates that you are one of the enemy.

After abandoning whatever old framework the target had before, they are dependent on the guru for their sense of self, meaning, understanding, and purpose. The target cannot know better than the guru, unless the guru says so. True wisdom lies in accepting the word of the guru.

All of the positives are because of the teacher. All of the negatives are the fault of the student.

Over time, the target feels overwhelmingly indebted and thankful of the guru. The guru encourages this, with a way of being that emphasizes emotional and physical labor plus the gift of resources towards the guru. The debt is never paid.

Tools for control

The worldview above becomes installed with the use of many tools designed for keeping targets emotionally controlled. These aren’t all of the tools, but these are some common ones.

  • Drugs. Mind-altering substances can create a psychological or physical addiction. They also create dependence on the guru, who often controls access to drugs. Many drugs further destabilize and reframe the way the targets see the world, so they are dependent on the guru for stability and meaning.
  • Financial control. A worldview where the guru must have the possessions and resources of the targets.
  • Control of sex. Either celibacy or promiscuity. This prevents group members from forming strong bonds that might compete with the guru/target bond.
  • Threats and violence. Disobeying or questioning has spiritual or physical consequences.
  • Promises. If only the target does X, they will get Y. After the target invests by doing X, the requirements for Y often change to require yet more dedication.
  • Requirement of submission. A good student can only achieve enlightenment (or not get beaten) by submitting fully to the will of the guru. This makes it harder for the target to act in their own interest.
  • Conditional affection (aka “Love bombing”). This begins by providing more affection and care than the targets have felt before. it will be hard for the targets to frame the scenario as anything but good. They don’t realize how low a bar had been set by their upbringing.
  • Pecking orders. Special attention given to members that behave in certain ways.
  • Threats of disownment. This can be used to put targets into situations where they are more receptive of the other tools.
  • Illegality and blackmail. This can cause shame for targets, making it harder to confide in non-members of the group.
  • Pushing emotional buttons. Getting the targets to confide their secrets and traumas allows the guru to provide the right type of validation and threats to keep the target emotionally dependent.

Leaving

I’m interested in this topic because I was in an unhealthy and traumatic guru/target relationship for over a year. Realizing that the dynamic was not normal and in fact quite damaging was difficult, coming from a background of low self-esteem and the constant reassurance from the guru that everyone else was wrong.

IT HURTS when you learn that those you were taught were your “enemies” were telling the truth after all — but you had been told they were liars, deceivers, repressive, satanic etc and not to listen to them. 

It Hurts, from the Cult Education Institute

It hurts to admit that a situation was unhealthy. For me, it meant admitting that it wasn’t worth it. My time could have been better spent elsewhere. Admitting this to myself was very hard, and for a long time I was defending that it was worth it. In retrospect, I don’t think it was.

I had a hard time listening to the people who noticed the warning signs about the guru. At every step, the guru was framing the others as out to get us. Following my own volition was to go against the guru. Plus, everyone who was trying to help only made me feel like a child, stripped of agency.

Accepting that you have been the target of manipulation is to admit a loss of agency and control. But by looking at it straight on, in exchange, lets you regain actual control.

Leaving, I lacked a healthy support system and resources. I felt a lot of shame, isolation, failure, and guilt. I had a lot of dissociation and distancing from my experiences, that only came out as triggered outbursts at first. I didn’t know what was right or wrong for a while, as the framework for making sense had been revealed to be the product of bias and tool for control. Unfortunately, this all is normal.

The Body Keeps the Score is a good book about processing trauma and reducing dissociation.

It’s important to know that you should be treated with compassion, and that seeking a healthy environment is not a betrayal. There are support groups and therapy for people who have been targeted in this way.

Resources