The Art of Thumbing

There are a handful of unusual skills that to me are important in creating a sense of resilience and agency: dumpster diving, couchsurfing, and hitchhiking. These are all skills that one can learn to do safely and efficiently. With those skills, you’d always know that you have an extra barrier between things going sideways and a really bad situation.

It’s expensive to travel, and lots of things can go wrong. After a car accident, I was stranded in Barcelona with no phone, no passport, no credit cards or ID, a severely sprained ankle, and only a handful of Euro. At the time, I was desperate and ready to hitchhike. But I didn’t know how.

Now that I know how to hitchhike, I can see that it wouldn’t have helped me in that particular situation. I was in the middle of a city, and you can’t hitch out without being on a highway leading out of it already. But in general, building up diverse and unusual skills will open up options down the road.

A friend of mine, once terrified of water, confronted her fear so fully she became a scuba diver. We like to push ourselves in the directions that are least comfortable for us, so our areas of weakness turn into unique strength. Likewise, I used to have crippling social anxiety. I could barely stand up straight to order food for myself in restaurants. Fixing my social anxiety was an obsession for several years, and this felt like the next step.

One of the things that inspired me to make the leap was reading Escott Reid’s incredible documentation of his hitchhiking trip as he and Brian Raszap Skorbiansky travelled from Greece to China.

Even compared to East and Southeast Asia, I’ve never traveled anywhere where so little English is spoken. Of my last 50 rides, I would guess about three of the drivers spoke English. Whereas English became the language that ‘united’ most of the western world, here it was obviously Russian that was the common tongue of the Soviet Republics. Growing up in ‘The West’, I didn’t truly understand the vastness of the USSR. Only now am I beginning to wrap my head around how little I knew of this entire world that was built behind the iron curtain, where Russian was the language of the people and the future.

With my barren vocabulary of conversational Russian, I intuitively rely on maps to communicate where I’m going with drivers. Unfortunately, that’s also a language that many people don’t speak. This is similar to what I’ve experienced with taxi drivers in Seoul, who rely solely on landmarks and voice navigation. I consistently take the fact for granted that visual mapping, like any language, is something that is learned.

Escott in Kyrgyzstan

If looking at the world clearly and engaging with it builds agency, reduces anxiety, and leads to greater wisdom, he sure as hell is doing the right thing.

Preparing to Hitchhike

I asked friends who have hitchhiked for tips and consulted the Hitchhiker’s Guide To Hitchhiking. From that guide, I learned that gas stations and certain traffic lights were the best places to ask around. The guide even has details for how best to get from point A-B for many major cities.

I wanted to present in the maximally advantageous way. Being a woman helps, but is just the beginning.

  • Sign? Brightly colored and neatly written with thick sharpies I brought with me. Red works best against cardboard.
  • Rain? Rainbow-colored umbrella makes me look friendly and happy.
  • Sun? Unfortunately for my eyes, no sunglasses or hats. Eye contact is very important.
  • Clothes and appearance? Brightly colored, well-kept. I put my hair up to reveal my neck and put on pink blush to look more cheerful. I made sure that my sleeves were rolled up so that my hands were visible.

Many people I told my plan to expressed concern about my safety. But there are ways of making it safer, and many friends of mine are seasoned hitchhikers. I have constant GPS data direct to two of my good friends, which will work as long as my phone has power and some cell connectivity. So far, in of the places I was hitchhiking, there were other people around. I always did it in the afternoon.

In Ireland, guns and pepper spray are illegal to own. I could have capsaicin powder, but didn’t find the time to buy any. Personally, I feel less safe with pepperspray than with it. I become on-edge, with the body language of someone afraid. Presenting as afraid is far more dangerous than not having pepperspray. Most specific scenarios where I can imagine using pepper spray, I feel like that would escalate things, not be effective, and generally lead to me getting hurt more.

I notice that people are more concerned about hitchhiking than many other dangerous things. I can vet the driver when I see them in person and choose whether to approach them or not than with a random taxi driver, for instance.

So many people want to scare us into hiding with “what-if” scenarios, and I think it’s because they’re scared themselves. I know that bad things can happen. But it’s one thing to have the fear, and another to let it stop you from achieving your potential.

Really, the most likely situations are that I’m slow to get to my destination, tired, bored, and uncomfortable. Who wants to wait around in gas stations on their vacation?

The night before I first hitchhiked in Ireland, I felt a lot of fear and anxiety. Was I really going to do this? I didn’t push away that fear. I sat with it and let it sort itself out.

By the morning, the decision had been ironed out internally: it was worth it.

First 10 rides

Here are the first 10 times I hitchhiked.

  1. California, leaving a festival. “Am I really doing this? I don’t want to be doing this. … Oh, no. I signed up for a trip to Europe where this is what I do. Damn. Guess I’ll start now.” Making a cardboard sign reduced the emotional labor massively. 5 minutes of a sign succeeded when 20 minutes of going up to people did not. The ride was a man and women who had met at a sex party. We were all tired from the festival, fantasizing about showers and bed. The woman started talking astrology at some point, so I tuned out strategically.
  2. At a gas station an hour out of central Dublin, I waited for around 15 minutes with my sign for Cork. A car with a dad, daughter, and son must have felt bad for me, and offered me a ride 55 km in the right direction. It wasn’t ideal, but I took it. I talked with the 6 year old son, Dylan, as he excitedly talked about how he understood inflation and debt. It had to do with bank robberies, I think.
  3. I was dropped off at a gas station where within 1 minute (!) I got a golden ticket to Cork. However, I abandoned it halfway in order to see Cashel Rock. Artur was a business owner from Poland and has been in Cork for 15 years. He had a baby on the way in 2 months. Talking to him was comfortable and I asked him loads of questions about Ireland. He dropped me off right near the castle, saving me a 25-minute walk.
  4. After a frustrating and rainy 20 minutes at a smelly gas station, an older gentleman with a nice car offered a ride to Cork. He was visiting his wife and family just south of Cork, and was kind enough to drop me off in the city center. I was unfortunately too tired at this point to do more than make mediocre attempts at conversation. This conservative businessman was the only person I talked to that was pro-Trump.
  5. Going from Cork to Limerick, I met Stefan and his French father. I went into a fugue state of polite curiosity and pleasant conversation and emerged on the side of the road in a bad place for hitchhiking. They think they’re so helpful, non-hitchhikers do.
  6. I tried three spots in that town to find my ticket all the way into Limerick. My couchsurfing host was okay with this delay, but I was grouchy. After 30-some minutes a family that had moved to Ireland from Lithuania picked me up: Agata, Alex, Alex, and the baby Luna. I liked them a lot.

Hey, wait! That’s not 10. What happened?

Takeways

I stopped hitchhiking on this trip to focus on writing. Hitchhiking is emotionally and physically exhausting, and I have instead used the many hours of boring but predictable bus rides to write and nap. I’ve gone from every sentence in my journal starting with “I’m tired” to a more interesting internal landscape.

I learned a lot about how I would tackle this the next time. One large backpack would make this easier, versus my small backpack and small suitcase. Having basic camping equipment would massively reduce the fear of getting stranded on the side of the road. I would carry a lot more water.

Hitchhiking makes solo travel more engaging. In the relatively uncreative and conservative country of Ireland, I could really suck out its marrow by asking my passive audience all of the questions I was curious about. I’m glad I did it.

Growing Wiser

People tend to gain wisdom as they age. This is obvious. Some people, though, seem to gain it faster than others. You can tell by looking at the difference between people of the same age. I posit that you can gain wisdom faster on purpose.

I would like more wisdom for a few reasons. I would like to be able to make better judgement calls and be a worthy moral authority. I want to provide value to the people around me. And I want to avoid painful mistakes. Not all mistakes teach us something. Then I can go about making more interesting mistakes.

Overall, someone who is wiser will have better life outcomes for them and the people they care about. In the long run, a wise aim will end up closer to the target than a naive or merely clever one. Then it will be more likely that our impacts on the world will be positive.

It’s up to everyone to decide if they want to focus on it or not. In the rest of this post I am going to assume that we value wisdom and would prefer more of it.

What is wisdom?

Intuitively we know what it is: a cluster of things that involve old age, a benevolent smile, koans… but that’s not good enough.

To find out what a characteristic is composed of, we can start to look for patterns and find a gradient. I made a list of people I knew well, and ended up binning them into three categories: Below, About, and Above.

The people in the “Above” category tended to have these characteristics:

  • A lot of diverse experiences and engagement in the world
  • Liked and respected, kind, good social skills
  • Extra introspective and self-aware. Thoughtful, reflective, intelligent.
  • Generally healthy. Not anxious or depressed. Grounded.
  • Values kindness and humanity at large. Lack of nihilism.
  • Something like taking the world and their role in it seriously
  • Something like “depth”
  • Older than me

When I did this exercise, I realized that I didn’t know anyone at all that feels very wise. This probably signifies an issue with my young social network, and is not a good sign. It also feels capped, somehow, like even the heights of wisdom are not yet so lofty.

After thinking about it a lot, I ended up with two models.

Model 1: The Cycle

This is how I started thinking about it. As time passes, people dash into the world at high speed and come away with pain that they learn from. This cycle is what drives the growth of wisdom over time, so by speeding up or improving parts of this cycle, one might have more wisdom faster.

The nice thing about this is it suggests a relatively short feedback loop and no limit to the amount of wisdom one may achieve.

Under model 1, the timeline for getting wiser seems to be on the order of years. This means that changes won’t be noticeable immediately, which forms a very slow feedback loop. A slow feedback loop is better than no feedback loop.

What I think is the trick is that a lot of things that don’t look like skills are, in fact, skills.

  • Faster cycles: Increase openness, seek true novelty
  • More cycles: Live longer, maintain good health, more observer moments
  • More experiences: Increase likability so as to get more opportunities. Increase the size of your world. Practice saying “yes” to more things, practice curiosity.
  • More challenges: Practice courage and approaching the things you fear (safely). Personally, I think the world has enough challenges out there without creating them deliberately.
  • Better integration: Increased mindfulness and reflection. Maintained intelligence by keeping in good health.

Model 1a: Adding and Subtracting

After reading Derek Siver’s blog, I want to add to this model.

It is important to learn to subtract and simplify when necessary and unlearn what was once enough but is now wrong.

Model 2: Blocked Wisdom

Thanks Qiaochu Yuan for help with this model

We all start out with a large well of innate wisdom that gets blocked off by dissociation, social incentives to ignore our own truth, trauma, and whatever else might have happened to us on our path to adulthood in a society. Once these blocks get dissolved, we might find ourselves with a great deal of wisdom.

This model could explain why I don’t see people vastly wiser than anyone else. Once everything is unblocked, that’s more or less the ceiling!

The particular nature of the blocks is going to be personal and vary a lot. Some of these blocks might be consistent across a particular culture, and working together with people like you might get you insight faster.

In general, working on embodiment, alignment, introspection, and psychotherapy-like work should help gradually with this process. Even if that’s not how you get wisdom, this seems like a very good thing to do!

Learn from others?

Paying close attention to people’s worlds and approaching them with honest curiosity seems like a great way to engage with the world fully. This won’t be easy. By empathizing and seeking understanding, you too will experience the variety of unique pain out there.

There is one dangerous situation to avoid: The false guru. You are the one that has to do the learning. No one can do the learning for you, even if you have a good guru.

Now What?

We generally want wisdom in order to use it. Figure out what you want it for: Communication, making calls in hard situations, helping others, teaching others?

And then practice using it. It will go poorly, but we can pay attention and improve.

“I’ve always intuitively understood that in order to gain wisdom, you needed to suffer.”

I Never Wanted to Be Wise

I don’t agree with the above quote. Suffering isn’t a requirement for painful experiences. But I do agree that to become wise is not an easy path.

I think the world would be a better place if we valued wisdom and made more earnest attempts to seek it out. My models might be completely wrong, but they’re a place to start on an important problem. Good luck out there.

Get out of the car

Build and breakdown are the two work-filled bookends between the fun of the week at a burn-style festival. Build is the chaotic ascension and creation; breakdown the strenuous push to clean up for a return to the default world. It is not easy, moving heavy objects in the sun and repacking after a week of poor sleep.

At Nowhere Burn 2018, no one was in especially high spirits. Breakdown meant our shade structure was going down as well, and the oppressive and unavoidable sun drained us all. Eventually, things were packed and we filled up our rented Peugoet to the brim with trash, tents, and people. Four of us in one car. Finally, we could be on our way out of the scrublands and back to Barcelona.

There was a 30 minute dirt road between the festival site and the highway, and after that, it was a clear shot. Barcelona was no more than a 3 hour drive, and there was an AirBnB full of friends waiting for us when we got there.

I sat in the front passenger seat, sleepily watching the road. As we went down the highway, the car was drifting, wiggling the lines more than normal and taking the turns with more style than necessary. And then the center line in the two-lane highway was crossed. For a second, it looked like the normal… if not premature… passing maneuver to get by the van in front of us. And then we kept going, leaving the center line behind and floating towards the left edge of the road when one of us yelled out but no, we kept going, drifting over the edge of the road and down the ditch and didn’t stop, at the steady clip of 110 kmh (70 mph).

GET OUT OF THE CAR.

I wasn’t scared of death, so much. It was horror: the pounding, the crunching metal, the smell of gasoline, the sound of my screaming. (If there ever was a time to scream, it was then.)

The car nosedived in the ditch and didn’t stop, flipping, every bump with the ground announced with noisy crashing and black smell of burning plastics (I can smell it as I type it). The bursting of the airbags, the ground as it crashed about somewhere, cracking windows and metal crushing—I couldn’t see anything but chaos out the window as the world turned.

Horror. Fear is for ordinary things. I could not believe what I saw around me, not as it happened.

The car heaved over, its momentum spent. It came to a stop.

I thought I would look over and find the person in the seat next to me dead, but I couldn’t see him at all. My fear and worry that he would be dead joined my terror of being trapped in the smoke and darkness, hanging upside down by my seatbelt.

GET OUT OF THE CAR

I couldn’t get out of the car. I didn’t know if I had broken ribs. In shock, I couldn’t evaluate that. I scrabbled at the door, at my seatbelt. My breath was panicked, too fast to think. Gravity was pulling me some way, and I couldn’t tell up from down. Relax. Evaluate. A few moments later I found enough breath and grounding to unbuckle my seatbelt, falling onto the roof of the car. The car door wouldn’t open. Trapped in the smoke and wreckage, upside down. I looked around for another way. No one was in the driver’s seat next to me, but there was a faint, crushed window to bright light and air.

This all took place over one minute, maybe. I don’t know how many times we flipped. It felt like the end, heavy and adrenaline-filled and alive. More alive than I’ve felt in a while, compressed into a lengthy minute.

There is one nice thing about car crashes. When I don’t die, I find myself more alive and awake than I have been ages.

GET OUT OF THE CAR.

I crawled out that window and onto the grass, screaming, clutching my abdomen, last one out of the upside-down car. An ugly rebirth.

We had flipped two or three times as we ran off the road at 110 km an hour. Somehow, we four in the car were mostly okay. One friend who had been sitting in the back had a face covered in blood that dripped from his forehead. He was okay. The other had a broken ankle. That will heal. Blood, not mine, got on my ripped clothes and skin. One friend was in severe neck pain and we held each other and shook in the horror of what had just happened to us. A compression fracture that recovered fully.

We were lucky. I feel awe when I consider the design process that brought such a relatively safe death machine into existence.

The shock took its time in fading. We sat on the grass next to the broken car, dreamlike. The car behind us stopped and helped us to the other side of the road. They called an ambulance. My copilot and I sat on the side of the road and cried together at the confusing pain and upending of our worlds, waiting for the ambulance to come. Its arrival was not the end of this story.

The trip to the hospital and the few days after were some of the most challenging days in my life. I got my first IV in a hospital where one or two of the staff spoke English. All of my stuff was stuck in the smashed trunk of the car. My phone was soaked with water when the firefighters sprayed the car to prevent it from exploding. They gave it to me anyway, dripping wet with the faint smell of petrol, and I got to watch it fizzle and die over the next hour.

My ankle swelled up to a balloon over the next day, and every step was pain. The burden of a backpack didn’t help—at least I didn’t lose that too. No phone, no money, and no passport or ID. All stuck in the smashed trunk of a car.

I didn’t choose these challenges, and because of that, things I faced damaged me further rather than built me up. Things like having to ask strangers for internet access, speak poor Spanish to doctors while choked with anxiety, or ask friends for euro. There was a lot of pain there.

I could barely walk. Getting pushed on a wheelchair through the airport to get back home was one of the most relieving things I’ve experienced. At home, I found out just how unfriendly my upstairs house was for a wheelchair. It was easier to just stay in one place, sitting on my mattress alone.

Several months later, I was still having trouble walking. I fell into a numbness and depression of several months, being incapable of doing all that I had before. Walking several miles a day is key to my health and emotional wellbeing, and I was unable to find a replacement for it but numbing and video games. During that time, I was not as nice a person as before. I was not a happy person.

Usually, I find that pain contains important lessons. This pain though kept going and going, without offering much learning to squeeze out of it at all. I had to accept that the amount of learning and the amount of pain do not go hand in hand.

Today is the one year anniversary of my car crash. My ankle injury is minor in the scheme of things, but it continues to limit how I live my life today.

I could have prevented the car accident by speaking up when things felt unsafe. I felt disgusted at myself for that even after I almost died, I still had trouble speaking up for myself. More, actually, in my weakened and depressed state. Self-disgust, though, isn’t an effective motivator.

I’m happy to say that as I healed, I have gained the capacity to speak up more, especially when in cars. It is frustrating that it took so long.


Somewhere, mid-somersault of the car crash, I realized that yes, I do want to be alive. I knew that before, and I know it more now. I would have done so much to avoid that moment of realization as we hung in the air between one bounce of the car and the next crunch. At first, I worried a lot about alternate universes where I died, such as if I had grabbed at the steering wheel and shunted us into a more dangerous sideways roll.

I feel for the tragedy of those timelines. Only later did someone point out that the accident followed classical mechanics, and there was likely less uncertainty and branching than how it felt. To my human mind, though, I feel I could have made choices differently. To physics, it always would have been the same.


(Poetic inspiration goes to Universal Love, Said the Cactus Person)

Levels of Players

In the big infinite game, our lives in the world, there are many levels of influence one can have. I tend to track it in 6 stages, originally inspired by the White Wolf RPG stats of Gnosis / Arete.

What I mean by influence is the amplitude and reach of a person’s goals and energy. This can change over time. I count the level someone is at by their latest projects or output over the last few years.

Why use this framework?

This is about tracking what’s going on in reality, not about making people feel bad about where they are. This is useful for de-celebritizing people at a higher level than you. Don’t get jealous, get motivated. Study them. They have knowledge and skills that you want.

This isn’t to cast moral judgements. People are at different places in the game. Don’t judge yourself, either. If you don’t like where you’re standing, take action and move up.

Impact 0: Your existence or nonexistence is basically irrelevant

Everyone starts here! The impact at this level is mostly limited to just you, but does slightly affect the people close to you as well.

Interventions that are aimed at making your existence not matter are Impact 0. Not doing things, like not having a carbon footprint and not having kids, are good examples.

Examples: Go vegan, write persuasive comments on Facebook, get married, go to a protest, vote, get good grades, commit petty crime, join the HOA, vote with your feet

Impact 1: You’ve had some local impacts, on a scale of a small town or community

Many jobs that have moderate responsibility will put you in this category. To reach the people around you, there has to be at least some actions that are one-to-many. This can be on a small scale, like face-to-face in a classroom or with a group of friends.

Examples: Throw a big party, perform improv in your city, save lives as an EMT, teach elementary school children, manage a few people, have children, Instagram fame

Impact 2: You’ve had some substantial impacts, on the scale of a company or city

This can be done single-handedly with the right skills, but at this point it is more likely that organizations or small movements are needed to assist. One-to-many-to-many (some virality).

Examples: Help form a movement, get your idea patented, become a popular musician in your country, become mayor of a city, give a TED talk, coin a new word

Impact 3: You’ve had some major impacts, on the scale of a nation

Usually has the leverage of at least a small team of people helping maximize the magnitude. Good understanding of cause and effect and what they’re doing in the world.

Examples: Speak at a Senate hearing, invent and market a new type of meat replacement that some people use, create a new genre of music, write an inspiring bestseller

Impact 4: You’re one of the key players in some large subdomain of the world

Probably have a very good grasp of the big picture, or they wouldn’t be here. Likely to be highly intelligent: Domain smarts plus world smarts.

The inaccurately-named list, TIME 100: Most Influential People, mostly contains people in this category.

Examples: Found or steer a major company, play a role in designing the internet, help allocate billions of dollars as a part of a government, write of new bills in a major country, create of a major cryptocurrency

Impact 5: No doubt about it, you’re one of the key players period.

They’re rare. Getting to this point is not an easy task, so many of them are older and have strong teams and a lot of resources.

The people we view as the Great Movers of history. Their actions ripple across the world and into the future. They understand the world well, have an ambitious vision, and have the means to implement it.

Examples: Create a country or religion, lead a revolution, build a rocket, determine global policy, build software that changes how we all live

Other considerations

Is the power borrowed or owned? Borrowed power is like if you were the acting arm of a larger institution or helping a more powerful person. While their impacts are high level, they might be a replaceable cog in a larger machine of agency. Idea from Samo Burja in Borrowed power vs Owned power.

Is the impact on target? The amplitude of an intervention is no promise of its benevolence or ability to strike a target. Whatever level of impact someone is at, they should make sure it’s a positive one before trying to move up to more firepower. Direction isn’t guaranteed, and one must take care to have good aim.

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)
My favorite example.

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. It’s almost a caricature to hear how sarcastic and disingenuous the Chairman sounds in comparison.

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, with more vocal fry, or just plain 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.