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.
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.
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.
I got Lasik eye surgery a month ago, early May 2019. Since then, my vision has been between 20/20 and 20/15. It is somewhat baffling to me that my vision never stops being good. Contacts get dry and the world clouds up as the day goes on. Glasses get dirty. My imagination was underprepared for the reality where my vision is excellent from when I wake up to when I go to bed, full stop.
Making the decision
Making the decision took several months. I knew for years that I wanted Lasik when I was old enough, and at age 23 I was taking the decision seriously. I had stable -1.50 vision in both eyes, bad enough that I couldn’t drive but not bad enough that I needed to wear contacts or glasses all the time.
The main questions were:
Would it be worth it if my vision isn’t that bad to begin with?
PRK or Lasik?
Are negative side effects likely? (Dry eyes, poorer night vision)
Is my age an issue?
Which surgeon should I go with?
The people who tend to say that Lasik is worth it start with terrible vision. Mine was only mediocre, so it was less clear up front.
“Going from -1.5 to 0 means you lose about an inch of sharpness at maximum closeness (2 inches from your eyeball) and you gain the entire world from 2 feet to infinity.”
Mars Van Voorden
The consensus I found from talking to friends who had gotten Lasik was that I had more to gain, especially with modern techniques and a good surgeon.
PRK vs Lasik: I considered PRK as an alternative to Lasik. The benefit of PRK is that it does not create a flap in the cornea, so the flap can’t be dislodged. In my first consultation, I found out that there is a lot more pain and risk of infection from PRK. Also, surgeons are less experienced at doing PRK. In hindsight, the pain of Lasik was enough for me. PRK sounds miserable.
If I did a lot of martial arts or contact sports or thought I would in the future, that may have tipped the balance. But even then, the corneal flap heals to around 90% of original strength within a few months (according to one consultation). One reason the flap is less of an issue is that a blade is no longer used to cut the corneal flap. A laser is used instead, which promotes healing better than the smooth knife cut.
Age: I’m in my early 20s. My optometrist was concerned about my age, since my prescription might still change in the future. Both consultations that seemed to think this was a non-issue. I knew for myself that my vision had been consistent for the past 10 years, so I judged that it was okay. If it does change within the next few years, I can get a corrective Lasik surgery. I hope I don’t have to. One thing that reassured me is that my mother and grandmother both got Lasik to great success.
Dry Eyes and Night vision: Most friends I knew with Lasik didn’t have problem, and the ones who did still felt it was worth it. I felt confident about the machines and skill of the surgeon I went with, and feel like this reduced my risk of side effects.
I was concerned about halos and worse night vision, but at the second consultation they explained that the new state of the art in Lasik could actually improve night vision.
One of my very trusted friends said this about night vision: “It got more like I was on acid all of the time. Lights are just brighter and more dominant than they used to be and finding things in true darkness is harder. I was also one of the last to get hand cut eye flaps, night vision is supposed to be improved in current generation all laser Lasik.”
Which surgeon: Two friends of mine had gotten Lasik from the same surgeon. A benefit was that it was cheaper than average in the area, which to me implied that the surgeon did more surgeries and thus had more practice. The machines they used in that office seemed to be the state of the art, the same ones used at the Lasik center at Stanford. The two friends also had no meaningful side effects.
Other considerations: With a low prescription like mine, there was a higher chance of having better than 20/20 vision.
I asked a lot of friends about this to see if I was missing anything big. Someone explained diopters, and how I would lose some ability to focus close up and need reading glasses sooner than otherwise. There were some stories of knowing someone where things went wrong, but many more personal anecdotes of Lasik being worth it.
Something I didn’t take into account was safety. I am much less likely to get hit by a car now, and feel a lot safer walking around city streets.
There are some downsides that might show up later on, but so far, Lasik seems very worth it.
Timeline of Subjective Experiences
The first four hours were incredibly uncomfortable. The eye numbing drops wore off around 20 minutes after the surgery. Opening my eyes was too bright. Even with my eyes closed, everything was too bright. This pain lasted for around 4 hours. During that time, all I could do was sit with my eyes closed while my body focused on healing.
The rest of day one, I was zoned out from Valium but was able to keep my eyes open enough to barely participate in my weekly Dungeons and Dragons game. After I could get my eye open, I could see things clearly, including screens and things up close. I did have to blow my nose every 15 minutes from the constant tearing.
On day two, it shouldn’t have been a surprise then that I got a cold. The valium, stress, and the constant tearing of my eyes at first led to a week-long feeling of clogged sinuses. I was pretty relaxed about it. Valium lasts a while.
Day three, I bought a pair of sunglasses. I found the darkest ones I could that would also block out UVA. Even then, the world was too damn bright. I was worried that I would be overwhelmed by people on the street and making eye contact with them, but this is entirely solved by wearing sunglasses. Also, I can see people from further off and avoid them more effectively. This isn’t an ideal strategy, but it’s how I cope with living in a city right now.
My eyes were no longer tearing. They were dry sometimes and uncomfortable, but not what I would call pain.
Later that day, I got bitten by a small dog. It was a small bite that didn’t break the skin but left a bruise. I broke down completely, barely able to speak and still hold back my tears. This was confusing! I knew that I didn’t care that much about minor pain. It wasn’t about the dog. I retreated somewhere private and sobbed for around 10 minutes before being able to interact with people again.
Something about that minor physical pain triggered a release of all of the numbed discomfort from the surgery. I had felt grief or loss about my old eyes since the surgery. My eyes had been trying very hard, and they weren’t good enough for me? That feeling of grief went away after crying.
This was also around when the Valium wore off. A thing I had to keep in mind was that Valium would interact with alcohol, making each drink dangerously more potent.
A week later, my eyes no longer felt like I had left contacts in them for several days. I thought “dry eyes” would feel dry, but really, it means itchy. I feel strong urges to rub my eyes every other day or so, and when I do, I put in eye drops.
One strange thing I noticed was that my hearing seemed to be better. The spatial cues in my environment or subtle lip-reading made some sounds feel louder. This could also be from freeing up processing power in my brain, now that interpreting my visual environment is so much easier than the interpolation and guessing from before.
Three weeks in, I’m still slightly sensitive to light but not in discomfort in the same way. Up until 2.5 weeks, I was wearing sunglasses outside every day, rain or shine. I no longer feel the need to when it’s overcast, but I think that sunglasses will be a larger part of my life now.
One nice thing about sunglasses I bought is that my vision is so clear that I can use the sides of my sunglasses as rear-view mirrors, and get a sense of what’s behind me without turning my head. This gives me a huge amount of extra spatial awareness I’m still learning to integrate, and when I don’t wear sunglasses I sometimes miss it!
I used to get headaches often. Getting Lasik reduced the amount of headaches I get. I now can pinpoint headaches down to more specific things, like reading in low light or looking at my phone in a car.
I also think this is helping my social skills significantly. I’m picking up and responding to a lot more cues from people. I have had less social anxiety since, and I hope it stays that way.
My depth perception and spatial awareness is a lot better, and this makes me feel less anxiety in general.
I feel freer in a way that is hard to pinpoint. If I were sent back in time, I wouldn’t have to worry about my vision. In the zombie apocalypse, I’d be able to spot them coming from afar. If I wanted to be a dirtbag traveling the world, I could do that all while seeing clearly. At festivals, I no longer will have to choose between seeing clearly and experiencing the pain of dust and sunblock that came from putting on contacts in a camping environment.
I’m a little disappointed that at no point did I get a feeling of euphoria from seeing clearly. No joyous “you’re free now,” or “this is so beautiful.” Instead, I get a few pings a day like “That’s convenient. You can see that person’s expression,” or “I guess it is kind of cool that you can see all of those nice rocks and trees right now.” I’m holding out some hope that my neurochemistry will change and that I’ll get a moment of euphoria when I look out at clear stars in a wide night sky.
Many parts of the world are not beautiful. Still, I am not looking away. I feel safer, and brave in choosing to experience the world more fully.
I wasn’t lonely around the trees. I found two basking in some sunlight. Dead trees. No branches. Still stolid and present. They were my friends for a minute. I stood between them and imagined being a tree. It would be nice, I think.
There were windy ghosts creaking in the tops of the eucalyptus. I was scared. The ghosts didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them. What if a tree fell on me? Would I scream? Would I die instantly? If I screamed, would that attract predators or friends?
I didn’t bring my backpack with water, since I thought I’d be going on a short walk. But I couldn’t help but consider what would happen if I just kept walking. Walking past the sunset. Staying on the trail but with no sense of direction. I would become dehydrated first. Hunger would register second. My lips would crack and my gums would dry. I could keep walking, still. My limbs would grow tired, and I would eventually collapse in the dirt. But that wasn’t important—the important thing was that I could keep walking.
These thoughts make me feel isolated. I came back from that walk feeling much better about life. Perhaps part of me thought it wasn’t safe to have thoughts like that around other people. But we all do, sometimes, and that is okay.
I’ve played a lot of video games and RPGs, and the way characters in them pursue goals feels so compelling. I’ve been writing up goals as quests and self-improvement tasks as ways to increase stats, and my meaning-maker loves this. Being productive is awesome.
I don’t force my perception of life to line up with the system, but rather try to make the system match my real life—while adding a good dose of dramatic and whimsical flair.
The RPG sheet is for me, not me for the RPG sheet. Sometimes my overall path changes out from under me, and none of the quests are applicable anymore. Then it’s time to find new goals that are compelling and write those up.
The framework is highly inspired by Mage: The Ascension.
In general, stats go up by an order of magnitude. 0 is below average, 1 is average for a human adult, 2 is average for someone who has put in a good amount of deliberate effort, 3 is the level of someone who has dedicated their life to this, and so on. 5 is incredibly rare. 0, Unskilled: No training in the ability; rely on natural talent.
So for something like reputation, being well-regarded by 1000 people might be Reputation 1. The next level would be at least 10,000 and so on.
Traits are mostly for flavor. Next up, quests:
For quests, the difficulty of them is related to the Impact Level. I can comfortably do Level 0 and 1 quests, maybe taking a month for the hard ones. Doing a Level 2 quest might take me half a year or longer or a lot of resources I don’t have yet. One day I’ll get to Level 3. Like with Skills, the difficulty goes up approximately an order of magnitude with each increase in number.
Poiesis is bringing into existence what did not exist before. It is the power of manifestation and reification. Mage: The Ascension refers to this as Prime. And that is what I’m doing now, by writing this.
A few months ago, I tried to manifest an idea of mine into an organization (a startup). But the more progress I made at manifesting it in the larger world, the less buy-in I had with myself. At some point I couldn’t convince myself (let alone anyone else) that it was worth the effort to try to manifest it anymore. This was disheartening! It still seems like a good idea. So why couldn’t I realize it in the world?
I think there’s a missing skill. Some people seem to have lots of it. And I don’t yet have enough of it. So, how does one get better at the skill of raw manifestation?
Buy-in. This can be from yourself, your friends, a target audience, etc. They can lend their poiesis to co-manifest your vision. Subskills are getting, keeping, and controlling buy-in.
Reaction to challenges. When met with opposing poiesis, what happens? Some strategies are avoiding, ignoring, and convincing. Lack of ability to stand up to opposing poiesis is a reason why some people HAVE TO surround themselves with yes-men or disconnect from reality to go forward.
More examples of the thing I’m talking about:
Improv is all poiesis. If I walk into a scene and say, “Stop stealing my horse!” and the other person says “I’m not stealing your horse,” it’s hard to move forward. Buy-in is key, but this also teaches strategies to maintain poiesis in the face of resistance. “Oh, you would deny it, thief? The nerve!”
In Dungeons and Dragons as GM, I’m learning that consistency of the world over time and small details add to the realism and player buy-in. You can’t lead DnD if the players don’t buy-in.
An event can happen by telling 100 people to come to a place at a time. If there are too many setbacks, I lose the ability to feel like I can really make 100 people come to this place at a time. Losing the feeling of confidence is similar to losing the ability.
“Where do you want to eat?” “Let’s go to Angeline’s unless you have a strong preference against that.” This has gotten easier over time.
Poiesis is a skill that could be valued and sought-after in the same way that one might train up in Charisma. I don’t see much about it in the common discourse. What are ways to train up in poiesis?
3 years ago, I stared at a crystal ball until I happened to hallucinate a house on a hill. Over time, that house became my mindscape, a consistent internal visualization that I’ve checked in on over the years.
It’s no place I’ve been before. A log cabin / hewn stone castle is half-buried on a craggy hill studded with lichen-covered rocks. No trees around. Steep stairs. Mist.
In the center of the cabin is a pillaring fireplace, around which the floor is sunken in and filled with sheepskins and pillows. To the left, there’s a staircase that goes up one level and down.. who knows how many levels down. I can’t see much down there. It’s dark.
My mindscape is also a memory palace. I put a strand of rope on the mantel above the fireplace three years ago, and it’s still there. More recently I added a bottle filled with a brightly glowing spark.
I also like to summon models of people I know (“daemons”) and talk with them. It’s a good exercise for empathy. And tiring.
I can only access this place while sitting down. My eyes can be open if not much is going on. I tend to see myself in 3rd person, probably because of how many video games I’ve played. I wonder what that does for my sense of internal cohesion (“self” as one).
Sitting in my mindscape feels peaceful and safe, more safe than I’ve been in a long time. Surprisingly, when I’m there I don’t feel alone.