Why grow— just for growth’s sake? Is it all in the name of
being more able to feel good and get what you want? Or is it to contribute to
some larger whole? I suppose the answer depends on your context for reality,
provided that context is accurate. I don’t address that so much here—go read
something else I’ve written (have a look under Intelligence and Motivation
and Purpose. I’ll suggest to you Building Trust with the Universe
and Belief Experimentation).
What to Think vs How to Think
What to think and how to think generally go hand in hand, and you can start at either one in order to achieve the other as well. The two can be difficult to separate, in that inaccurate thoughts are usually indicative of poor thinking skills, and vice versa (that is, they are not 100% mutually exclusive).
Where the two may be most distinguishable is in absorbing the good/accurate thoughts of others. Perhaps you read the blog and/or book (Personal Development for Smart People) by Steve Pavlina and decide that you want to dedicate your life to becoming more aware, which entails being a better person. Certainly this is a good thought to have.
But did you really arrive at the thought through your own clear, intelligent thinking process? It’s tough to say: something that was already present in your mind must have led you to entertain such thoughts, yes? There must have been something that caused you to be inclined toward wanting this even before you read about it, though that something very well could be past conditioning. Conditioning means that these thoughts were basically installed in you by the adults, peers, and media around you fairly early in life: you did not consciously choose or conclude them.
Conditioning may or may not be part of the situation. What’s basically going on is that you are trying to absorb, understand, and emulate thoughts yielded by a higher level of awareness than the one you currently possess (or exist at, if you prefer). By immersing yourself in the thoughts of a person more aware than you or who just thinks differently than you at all, you may indeed be able to adopt their thought process indirectly.
However, adopting that thought process probably will take longer than it does for you to adopt the person’s thoughts on their own. This can be particularly dangerous as an attempted shortcut through consciousness (well, conscious growth). From what I can tell, such shortcuts tend to result in some form of confusion or suffering, and delay actual growth.
I don’t want to say that it’s bad to aspire to the thoughts of intelligent people. However, it’s generally in your best interest to recognize if and when you simply don’t have the capabilities of understanding their thoughts and acting congruently (genuinely) on them.
The simplest example I can think of is emotional mastery, which I reflect on very briefly in Belief Experiment #2: Money Is Powerless. I write,
“… I need not be run purely by emotions. I can allow my intellect and my emotions to work together, such that my emotions fall in line only with beliefs that are reasonable to me. In this way I can be guided by emotions and trust them to take me in a favorable direction. Thus, the more accurately I understand this world the more I can trust myself, and the more I trust in my ability to understand accurately, the more I can do so.”
However, at this point I have only caught glimpses of this phenomenon. If I try to always choose my emotional state to a T I may end up making some poor, incongruent decisions that I will regret later once I finally take off the mental reins and allow myself to feel again. For me, intellect and emotion simply have not converged enough just yet for me to dictate my emotional state logically 100% of the time.
I first read about this idea in an article by Pavlina I can’t seem to find right now, though there are others on the topic (ex. Motivation for Smart People). I was amazed at this possibility, but fortunately I did not try to dive into it right away. Instead, I’ve just generally worked on my growth, which has resulted in my intellect and my emotions becoming better teammates (and this, in turn, helps me to grow). Now that they work together more effectively I can practice “emotional mastery” more often (not to say I never did before), but I know there still are situations where the two will only fight if I don’t just allow myself to feel (or, conversely, to think).
One place I see premature attempts at emotional control is in [some] people who turn to anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs, the purpose of which seems to be to turn off emotions which are not exactly pleasant to experience (I’ve been offered such drugs before, but I turned them down).
Of course, these drugs don’t work too well because, from what I can tell, logical and emotional capabilities can grow only so much independently of one another, and a person who tries to dampen their emotions too much too soon will not only stunt and skew the growth of their intellect, but also, more obviously, keep their emotions frozen.
I don’t wish to say that such drugs are bad in all cases for everyone for all time because that claim would probably be incorrect. But, I think it generally can be said (rule of thumb) that any drug which must be used constantly (e.g. roughly everyday) for a few months to a few years is clearly indicative of a problem, whether or not you can actually get off the drugs (e.g. if your thyroid gland has been removed you probably can’t, so don’t feel too bad about that one).
The problem may vary from drug to drug, though common to most cases, I think, will be stuckness. That is, you are attempting to resolve some problem by way of drugs, but it’s not getting much better. It may even be getting worse. Perhaps you retain faith that the drug’s effects will someday pan out for you, but in so doing you further delay your own liberation.
I should mention that a drug is just a substance, comparable to food (though without nutritional content). And yes, as we all know, many people attempt to use food to provide fleeting relief for their problems as well, so let’s not beat up on drugs too much here. J
I’ll elaborate further on drugs in the next section.
A tool is an inherently neutral means to an end. Those ends can be helpful, harmful, or nil, but that end is determined by the wielder of the tool—even if only unwillingly or subconsciously. The tool itself plays into this determination only insofar as the meaning the wielder gives to the tool.
The tools for increasing awareness (deliberately influencing your thoughts) I mentioned are writing, floatation, conversation, psychedelics, and insight. I will elaborate on a few of them here.
I should note that this is not a list of all the ways you can grow. Rather, these are a few inwardly-focused (introverted) ways of doing so. In these methods you sit down (well, or stand, or lay down) and attempt to analyze the contents of your mind and emotions. The focus is on your internal world—there isn’t really another activity going on simultaneously, as in, say, running a race. That’s a fabulous way to get a look at the workings of my mind and emotions, but if I want to lay them out and make better sense of them it may help to write or talk about these observations.
What I basically say about writing is that writing is a way of figuring things out, whether you’re writing personally or professionally (well, or semi-professionally, if you’re me). Author Tim Ferriss (on the Duncan Trussell Family Hour) says that he will write down questions he has, answer them in detail, erase the questions, and bam—he has a piece of writing to share with everyone. In this way he fulfills both personal and social desires for answers.
Writing something out can be a more focused way of analyzing something than trying to think about it while doing something else (well, or nothing). Sometimes when I try the latter my mind zigs and zags and goes off on tangents, but when I write it’s easier to stay focused—even the tangents are more relevant. Through writing it can be easier to tackle hard problems from a variety of perspectives, and thus to make clearer sense of them. I often come away from writing feeling I have a more accurate perception of reality, and also somewhat relieved.
With conversation, I should mention that you don’t even have to talk to someone else- it can just be yourself. I find talking to/by yourself is far more productive if you record it and assume you are going to publish it, as I have done with podcasts. That is unless, of course, the thought of publishing gives you distant-stage fright and you try to suppress what you say, in which case you should assume that you will not share your lovely voice with the world.
I know very little of what I’m going to say before I press “record”— it may be one question I want to answer, one topic I want to focus on, or even just a feeling that I should talk. Even if I didn’t publish this it would still be valuable for me, because it yielded some interesting thoughts I might not have had otherwise.
This, too, is more focused than straight-up thinking, though it’s easier to lose your train of thought when talking than writing, because the thoughts are still “in your head” rather than right in front of your face (the latter is nice if your memory is poor).
I discuss the idea of different activities as different ways of thinking in the article You Write the Answers, a piece I particularly like. It’s nice to produce work that you continue to think about for months afterward and feel gratified at the thought of it. J
The mention of “psychedelics” may have stood out to you— perhaps screamingly so. You may even think that it contradicts what I said about drugs in “What to Think vs How to Think,” but this is not at all the case. What I said earlier in a very crude nutshell is that you should avoid becoming dependent on drugs, even if this dependence is indicated only in constant use and not so much in apparent physical or psychological addiction (though I’d imagine these will play at least a small part—particularly the latter). I did not say that you should not use them.
This is where my note on tools becomes particularly important. The surgeon’s knife, the butcher’s knife, and the murderer’s knife may all indeed be the exact same item (though I’d be surprised if they are), but they are used for different purposes. For most people, the first example illustrates a good, helpful purpose; the second, a questionable one (remember that non-meat eaters do exist); the third, a bad, harmful one.
In regards to use, I’d say the bulk of people are split evenly into the surgeon’s knife and butcher’s knife category, and a small minority may be hit by psychedelics as though they are a murderer’s knife. In regards to viewpoint, however, the three categories may be split evenly—though in some circles, the majority of people may liken psychedelics to a murderer’s knife.
I will elaborate by discussing the least-psychedelic psychedelic: marijuana.
For many of my peers, marijuana can be likened to a butcher’s knife. They may see it as a way to feel good and have fun, though they aren’t looking for it to enhance their lives beyond the time that they are high. Outsiders may be largely uncertain of whether this end can be called “bad” or “good.” People seem fairly divided on this issue.
For myself, marijuana is like the cleanest-cutting surgeon’s knife I’ve yet to come across, to which the float-tank has taken second. Of course, I've only used it once. I won’t deliver you a self-indulgent soliloquy on my experience, but, indeed, it’s up there among the best [times? Instances? Experiences?] I’ve ever felt in my life.
I want to stress that this is not due simply to uncontrollable laughter or forgetting about my problems (I don’t think weed does the latter for most people, but I’m not sure). In fact, it’s probably the most aware I’ve ever felt in my life.
It seemed as though all the lessons I’ve been trying to integrate and the traits I’ve been wanting to embody suddenly came together, in a single click. I had a clear view of all the thoughts that might appear simultaneously, both consciously and subconsciously, such as when making a decision, and I could just as clearly choose which one to act on. But I didn’t have to shut the others out—I could think as deeply as I could clearly. Sometimes these two don’t go hand in hand, but now they did almost perfectly. I could easily and sufficiently reason with myself why one decision might make more sense than the others.
I felt far more responsible for my actions. If I did not take some action I considered it’s because I really chose not to do it for reasons I saw as sufficient, and not because I simply didn’t want to or was too lazy or scared. Laziness pretty much disappeared from my range of capabilities. I couldn’t even drop a crumb without walking away from it (I should note, though, that this produced no anxiety in me. Awareness and responsibility do not need to yield negative emotions).
The gates of heaven didn’t open entirely: there were some issues in which I told myself, “I don’t think I’m ready to go there right now. I will have to hold off on that for now.” The point here, though, is that I had awareness enough to know this. I did not become overconfident and think I was now all-powerful (perhaps unlike some drunks who think they are perfectly fine to drive. As a sidenote I felt like I could have driven with no problems, but I decided to err on the side of caution—this was my first time, after all).
Also, for the first time in months I ran without my butt hurting. I had forgotten that my strides could feel so smooth and so freeing, rather than so filled with torture. I ran only very short distances (say, from a house to a garage), but they were quite pleasurable nevertheless. :)
One thing I’ve taken back from this experience is a belief I am working with now in my 30-day Belief Experiment, which is that I do not need anything from other people. At first I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a whole lot of intelligent conversation to be had with my friends (I was at a party), but I quickly realized that I could still have a lot of fun and be perfectly content to keep my thoughts to myself. Perhaps it suffices to say that I was much friendlier and more open in conversation than usual, and I felt closer to people than I normally allow myself to. It’s as though I got a boost in both extraversion and introversion, another seemingly-contradictory pair that, in actuality, can have an interdependent relationship (I elaborate on this general phenomenon in Finding Balance).
The overall takeaway is that I now know just how aware and intellectually-capable I can be, and this thought is very motivating for me. I aspire to make my regular experience like my “influenced” experience, and then to grow beyond it. When I run into problems now, I remember that I do indeed have the capabilities to solve them. Perhaps it’s just a matter of opening myself to using those abilities. Likewise, it may be that marijuana and similar drugs don’t actually give people certain abilities—instead, they open the heart and mind to entering these atypical states of consciousness and using them.
If I had described my experience to someone and either replaced marijuana with a legal drug or made no mention of drugs, that person would probably be pleased to hear about it. They might be interested in how they could think, feel, and act like I did, too. But once I mention the herb, my experience may suddenly become a delusion induced by the devil. Where I might get some support, though, is on the pain-relief part, since this is what medical marijuana seems to be prescribed for most often. I haven’t actually tried having this conversation with someone who is anti-marijuana, but I’m sure at least a few people would react in that way.
I think one (but not the only) reason for differences in different people’s experiences with the same drug is intention and expectation. I expected to be generally more intelligent while under the influence of marijuana and this is also what I wanted from it. This was largely the result of listening to the Joe Rogan Experience, in which the benefits of psychedelics is discussed at length in many episodes. I assume that other users of the herb don’t have quite as high expectations or desires of it.
It might help to note that I took only a very light dose of marijuana—two hits of a joint, to be scientifically precise. I have no idea what more might have done for me. Perhaps I shall find out sometime? ;)
Note, 11/21/2017: I've used marijuana twice- a very small dose each time- and I never will again. I believe it would only hold me back. Much lies beyond it. Go run an ultramarathon. That will take you orders of magnitude beyond where weed can go.