Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ancient Earth Celebrates HPMOR

On March 14th, 2015, Eliezer Yudkowsky will post the final chapter of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. If you've not read it, now would be an especially good time to start. If you have, you might want to join one of the many HPMOR Wrap Parties organized all over the world in celebration. I was asked to share a story at the Berkeley Wrap Party of how HPMOR has impacted my life, so if you plan to be there, you might want to hold off on reading this yourself. It does not contain specific spoilers for the book.

Even though I thought I wanted to be an an astronomer or a cosmologist growing up; even though my dad taught me to chart the movements of Jupiter's moons when I was ten; even though I read classic science fiction with first contact, generation ships, and interstellar empires; even though my family's trip to visit the VLA Radio Astronomy Observatory in Nevada was practically a religious pilgrimage for me; even so, the stars have always been abstractions. I didn't know that, of course. I understood what the stars were, intellectually, and I thought I understood what they meant. But when I looked up at the sky, they were still little holes in a great black dome to my emotions.

To put it mildly, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality has been a powerful catalyst in my life. I read it for the first time about two and a half years ago, and I haven't the time to summarize all that's happened since then. But I think I can tell you what, specifically, began it all: HPMOR made me feel the meaning of the stars.

I was at my dad's house in the middle of the country in Southern Indiana. I'd been reading the Humanism arc, and I'd gotten to about chapter 47. It was my first read-through, so I'd not slept in a while, and I'd reached the point where my eyes just couldn't focus on the page any longer. It was 3AM. As my mind was in no state for sleep, I went outside for some fresh air, and I sat down at the picnic table and poured a glass of cider. I listened to the crickets and peeping frogs, and watched the fireflies glittering at the edge of the forest.

And then I looked up -

- and if I'd not been sitting down, I would have fallen over. What I saw was the Milkey Way, only it wasn't above me. I wasn't looking up at all. I was on its outskirts looking in. And I suddenly felt, as surely as the ground beneath my feet, that I was stuck to the surface of a giant rock covered in trees and bugs and people, falling forever around a star.

And although I knew the lights were ancient, I felt I was seeing the future. Over there - right there, I could point straight at it! - across the terrifying empty distance I'd never really tried to comprehend, was a future home of our civilization. I felt that the stars, that night, were not pretty pinpricks in a black velvet dome, but beacons blazing across the cold and dark, calling from across the centuries. And I knew it is up to us, the original inhabitants of Ancient Earth, to answer.

I knew, then, that I would never again see the night sky the way I had in the past. What I did not yet know is that I'd never see anything else the same way, either.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tortoise Report 2: Fluidity


Habit: Fluidity

Duration: 35 Days

Success: 5/10

Trigger: A clinging-grasping sensation plus fear of a rending-jarring sensation associated with anticipation of interruption, or a clinging-grasping-rending-jarring sensation all at once associated with interruptions or violations of plans.

Action: Run my simulation past the desire/reality comparison to answer the question, "How should I respond to this?", then perform a small relinquishment-like flowing motion to make that response more natural than continuing as though the interruption didn't exist.


The easiest result to pinpoint is that I no longer experience anxiety about anticipated interruptions or plan violations, or if I do they're very mild and brief. I might be spending more time on contingency plans than is optimal, since my new response is "and what will I do if that happens?", but it's still a dramatic improvement.

I also experience very little discomfort from actual interruptions and plan violations beyond what seems to me to reflect damage done by the interruption. If I'm in the middle of solving a puzzle when my phone rings, I experience brief clinging-like displeasure at the expectation that it will be difficult to pick up where I left off, or that the new object of attention won't be as fun as the one I've had to abandon, but the rending-jarring sensation that once was like nails on a chalkboard is now almost entirely absent.

I took two points off of my score because when I'm very tired and stressed, I still have anti-fluidity reactions, which are about half as frequent and about half as intense as before. The other three points represent my estimation of the distance between my proficiency with fluidity under normal conditions and complete mastery of this skill.

Interactions With Previous Habits

I think I've gained a generalized resilience skill, so this seems a good time to talk about how I distinguish cognitive skills from cognitive habits.

When I say "skill", I'm emphasizing performance, the things that happen in the outside world as a result of what you can do with your mind. By "skill" I mean "a capacity to influence the outside world in certain ways".

If you are skilled in traditional bowyery, you can turn lengths of wood into efficient bows that fire arrows without breaking. If you are skilled in epistemic callibration, you can turn beliefs about the world into predictions that turn out to be true about as often as you expect them to.

When I say "habit", I'm emphasizing mental motions, the things you do with your mind, regardless of what might happen outside of your mind as a result. Specifically, I mean the thoughts and feelings that fire as automatic reflexes in response to stimuli.

In part, cognitive habits constitute cognitive skills.

[This bit ended up being a whole lot longer than planned. I'll post an in-depth discussion of cognitive skills vs. habits of thought in the next few days.]

Notes On the Installation Procedure

Due to the getting sick, moving, officiating a wedding, and getting sick again, all in rapid succession, I was far less careful and reflective this time than the last. After my first success in responding well to the trigger, I stopped using the knitting counter almost completely, and engaged in no offline training at all. By "engaged in no offline training", I mean that I didn't set aside any time to think about the project, didn't write about it, didn't meditate on it, and didn't artificially create rapid-fire opportunities to practice. All I did was become slightly reflective when I noticed something that felt like it might be the trigger, and respond with whatever felt like it might be the thing I'd trained myself to do. That went on for about three weeks.

I'm taking this as evidence that I reach a point of diminishing returns after I start to put effort into things besides noticing triggers I've identified (where by "noticing" I mean "entering reflective attention"). I'm even wondering whether merely being aware of my tiny mental mistakes as mistakes while they're happening will lead to automatic experimentation with responses regardless of whether I've done any planning or whether I have spare cycles to think hard about what's happening as it's going on. If I can get most of the benefit of this procedure just from deliberate noticing, that would be excellent.

I'm going to test that with my next habit. I'll do the usual things up front to prepare for training, but after that I'll just practice noticing and see what happens.

Next Up

The next skill I want to work on has something to do with compassion. I think that with resilience greatly strengthened, my new bottleneck has to do with how difficult I find it to convince System 1 that other people actually exist as people, rather than as non-sentient meat puppets.

This is not coming from a place of "it's good to be compassionate", but from a place of "my ability to learn and grow is severely limited by my lack of interest in/enjoyment of what would otherwise be opportunities to learn from others, support my mental health through socialization, and strengthen the people I regularly interact with in ways that clearly advance my values".

I don't yet have a concrete understanding of what this skill is exactly, in terms of what influence I want to have over the world - let alone what specific cognitive habits will be at the core of it. Reporting on that and planning the next part of my training will be an upcoming post.



For Round 2, I’m going to tackle a specific kind of cognitive inflexibility.
I’ve long been very dependent on routines. When I have a plan or an expectation, I don't tend to handle violations of it very well. I don't like unexpected things happening, at least when they entail a change of plans. I think the next step in acquiring Resilience is becoming much more flexible in this respect.

(The previous step, “Growing the Roses Of Success”, was learning to respond more productively to failures or mistakes.)

I did a few tests of executive function via Quantified Mind to make sure there aren’t large problems there that I should be aware of, and my scores look pretty ok to me. I don’t have data on the general population, but none of the tasks was super difficult, anyway. I don’t think this is a totally general cognitive inflexibility issue. I think it’s fairly isolated, and that I’ll see results just from learning to apply my pre-existing capacity for flexibility to the weak areas.

If that happens to end up improving my overall executive functioning, maybe I’ll see it when I repeat the tests later. I doubt that’ll happen, but I might as well try it.

Time for Prep Work!
  1. Be able to generate concrete examples of successes and failures to apply the skill.
    • Example of failure: I'm writing right now, and I planned to spend this pomodoro writing. In fact, in terms of my emotions, my plan is to continue writing indefinitely, and anything that stops that before my plan naturally changes will upset me. But I'm hungry. I know that I'm going to have to stop writing to eat. Possibly even in the middle of this pomo. And I don't like that. It's absolutely necessary that I eat. It's obviously a good idea. I will do better work later if I eat. But current me's plans will have to change, and that hurts.

      Preferred outcome: When I notice I’m hungry and that my plan to keep writing is not optimal, I feel [positive things I’m not sure of yet], which smoothly motivates me to adopt the new plan of eating before returning to work.

    • Example of failure: I'm halfway through a cup of tea while reading in the morning and Eliezer wakes up and asks for breakfast. I feel a clinging grasping rending jarring feeling, which results in irritability, and I grudgingly make breakfast while wishing he’d stayed asleep through the end of my tea. I knew when I made the tea that he might wake up in the middle of it, and rather than being emotionally prepared for that, I spent the first half of the tea mildly anxious that I’d have to change my plan. I still feel some happiness and gratitude to be making breakfast for him, but it’s overshadowed by the other thing.

      Preferred outcome: I smoothly transition from tea to breakfast without a sense of loss and get to enjoy making breakfast without the irritability, then I reheat the tea after breakfast and continue reading ‘til I’m done with it (if that’s still a good idea).

    • Example of failure: The instructions on the back of the cookie mix are in Spanish and therefore have temperatures in Celsius and measurements in grams. My plan when I flipped over the cookie mix bag was to find some Fahrenheit number and preheat the oven to that, and to measure some fraction of a cup of butter to make the dough. I was even prepared for words like “taza” instead of “cup”. In fact, my oven is in Celsius and my stick of butter is in grams, so the Spanish instructions taped over the English ones are far more convenient. But I still feel the clinging grasping rending jarring feeling, because Celsius and grams were not part of the plan. Metric measurements are not The Way Things Are Supposed To Be. (According to my immediate emotional responses, that is. System 2 readily grants that metric is much better and English Standard is dumb. Except that it actually prefers base 12.)

      When things are other than The Way Things Are Supposed To Be, I feel cheated and irritable. I feel entitled to futures that go the way I expect them to, and when they don’t go that way I feel like someone has stolen the expected futures from me without permission.

      Preferred outcome: I see the metric measurements, remember that they’re more useful here anyway, and feel nothing but pleasant surprise. I don’t feel pain or irritability. I simply adjust.

    • Example of failure: I go to my favorite restaurant, where I always order a bottle of sparkling water. But this time, they don't have sparkling water. I immediately feel something like, "Now my whole experience of the meal is ruined."

      Preferred outcome: I recognize an opportunity to find out what my favorite meal taste like with a different drink, and instead of feeling like something’s been taken from me, I feel like I’ve been given a gift.

    • Example of failure: I go to the store with a grocery list that includes cheddar, and they don't have cheddar. I feel grumpy and sort of at a loss, and I maybe don’t even buy any cheese at all. (I have actually written “or some other cheese like colby or mozzarella if they don’t have cheddar” on my grocery list just to prevent that particular outcome.)

      Preferred outcome: Instead of clinging desperately to the details of my grocery list, I consider it more like a source of inspiration and freely depart from its details, playfully improvising when circumstances require.

    I feel like a Taoist *wu wei* water metaphor belongs here. The larger skill of resilience overall reminds me of supple willow branches bending in storms without breaking, but this kind of flexibility is a little more specific. This isn’t about storms, difficult things happening that I need to be able to deal with. This is just attachment to whatever I've declared the Should Universe. There’s nothing bad or difficult about the instructions being in Celsius when my oven is also in Celsius. Celsius just happens to be the shape of reality, and all of the difficulty comes from my own basically arbitrary rigidity. In fact, I think I’m going to re-name this habit “fluidity” instead of “flexibility” to capture that.

  2. If a skill requires multiple habits, train them serially, and repeat step 1 for each individual habit.

    I think this is a single habit? Probably?
  3. Clearly define at least one high-quality trigger for the proposed action before beginning to train that habit.

    I’ll start by learning to notice the clinging grasping rending jarring feeling, but I’ll work toward identifying whatever precedes that so I can learn to prevent it.

  4. Seek opportunities to practice.

    I don’t expect this to be necessary because of how frequently my plans are violated. I logged seven instances between 3PM and 7PM yesterday. But I can always just spread out CoZE training if needed.

  5. Train triggers before actions.

    Clicker’s armed and ready. Though I logged seven yesterday, I’m officially starting this part today since I didn’t get going on it ‘til 3PM before.

  6. Test a variety of actions if required.

    The default first action to try is hypnosis, since it may happen automatically with the prep work and noticing part. I’ll start listing possible actions during offline training when the time comes.

  7. Maintain an offline training routine.

    Here are some things offline training might include for this habit.
    • MEA for Feeling Clearly:I’ll do this if I encounter trouble with noticing.
    • CoZE: Comfort Zone Expansion, aka exposure therapy. I need to find ways to drill plan changes that just barely make me uncomfortable.
    • Urge Propagation: I need to explain to System 1 why the trigger means good things instead of bad things, and what exactly those good things are. This will probably help me transition to the preferred emotional reaction, and the propagator will probably involve water.
    • Responding In Advance: I haven’t written a blog post about this yet because it needs more field testing. But all I mean by “responding in advance” is 1) simulating the trigger, default response, and preferred response in detail, then 2) reasoning about how the worlds where I end up on causal pathways toward the preferred outcome differ from the ones where I head toward the the default outcome. Thence I obtain interventions to test.


4 clicks


8 clicks so far today, all retrospective, though about half were just moments after the event.

Catching something about Eliezer's body language out of the corner of my eye, I noticed myself anticipating an interruption while I was reading. I had a distinct feeling of trying to push that reality away while hiding from it, distancing myself, like I could make it not come to be if I hoped hard enough. (Turns out I read him wrong and he just kept writing.)

Immediately after noticing the feeling, I felt curiosity about what would be better to feel at that time, given that I might indeed be interrupted but I couldn't be sure of it. How would I prefer to respond to anticipation of interruption?

I don't have an answer yet, but my past experience suggests that asking the question in real time is the fifth milestone in habit installation. (Since you're probably wondering at this point: The first milestone is using mid- or long-term memory to notice that you missed a chance to notice the trigger. The second is noticing you missed the trigger while it's fresh in working memory. The third is noticing the trigger as it's happening. The fourth is noticing your default response to the trigger as it's happening. The fifth is seeking a better response while the default response to the trigger is happening. The sixth is testing a specific alternative response upon noticing the trigger in real time.)

(PS I made up that list of milestones just now but it's been swimming around in my brain for weeks slowly putting itself together.)


4 clicks, but I missed a bunch of opportunities to click. There was an ant invasion first thing in the morning, which put me in a bad mood and I had an awful day. I usually have tea first thing in the morning, so this was an especially unpleasant surprise interruption of routine. For a couple hours after I killed most of the ants, there were stragglers I kept having to get up to squish. I decided to only click once for the entire ant invasion fiasco, but I definitely experienced my trigger (the clinging grasping rending jarring feeling)for every stray ant, and if I'd clicked for all of them there'd have been dozens.

Also: I encountered the trigger at an epistemic update instead of a change in plans. I wasn't sure whether to click for that, but I cast my net wide in the early stages of training so I clicked.

In the middle of the period where I was periodically squishing stray ants, Eliezer figured out how to operate the microwave correctly. I'd been making due with the mysterious, apparently randomly spaced time settings that happen when you push one button, and he discovered that if you first set the power by pushing another button, you can then set the time to the second. This is useful information that makes my life easier, and he explained it to me.

I resisted. I updated immediately, not rationalizing to support my previous beliefs about the microwave or making excuses for my having been wrong, but I felt the very same clinging grasping rending jarring that I feel when something doesn't go as planned. I felt he'd stolen something that had belonged to me.

The epistemic version of this is definitely more dangerous and more important to address, but I think that the epistemic version almost never happens to me anymore. I spent several months toward the beginning of 2013 focusing on relinquishment (qua rationalist virtue). I think it worked, and these days I mostly only resist updates in this way when I'm extremely irritable. I think that the planning version is a much larger obstacle for me at this point, so I'm not going to change focus.

Still, this is not the first time I've noticed an opportunity to train a terribly important habit of thought whose trigger occurs much too rarely for the current installation procedure to work. This one happens to be really spread out because I've already taken a lot of skillpoints in relinquishment. But I'm sure that some crucial rationality skills are by their very nature high impact/low frequency. My model of how to train habits of thought can't be complete until I've developed a different approach for those longer-term habits.

The immediate practical implication of this observation is that I need to make my trigger slightly more specific to avoid firing at the wrong times. Now it will be a clinging grasping rending jarring temporal feeling, so the same as before but with a sensation of the loss of a possible future.


4 clicks


4 clicks


4 clicks

All right, I'm not satisfied with how this is going. It's been a week, and I'm still only clicking retrospectively. (By "clicking retrospectively", I mean that I click when I noticed that I missed a chance to notice the trigger.)

I cast my net wide at the beginning of clicker training, so at first I click for all of the following:

  1. Remembering a past event from the current day and inferring that the trigger probably happened. Example: A memory of preparing lunch comes to my attention. I remember that I planned to make chicken salad, but discovered that the lettuce had gone bad. My memory of it isn't detailed enough to include my internal emotional state at the time, but I think that I probably felt the clinging-grasping-rending-jarring-temporal feeling I'm watching for. I click the knitting counter.
  2. Remembering a past event from the current day and knowing that the trigger happened because it's included in the memory. Example: A memory of preparing lunch comes to my attention. I remember that I planned to make chicken salad, but discovered that the lettuce had gone bad. I also remember the clinging-grasping-rending-jarring-temporal sensation I experienced upon discovering the rotten lettuce. I click the knitting counter.
  3. I reflect on the event that just happened, and discover an instance of the trigger still hanging out in my working memory. Example: I'm in the process of putting together an alternate lunch plan shortly after having discovered that the lettuce is rotten. I've switched gears and am moving forward now instead of clinging to my violated expectations, but when I recall the past few minutes, the clinging-grasping-rending-jarring-temporal sensation is still fresh in my mind, and a shadow of it still colors my immediate experience.

    (In other words, I'm not still feeling it, but my attention never fully left it as it moved from immediate sensation to very recent memory. My thoughts about it have been continuous. To know what this is like, try paraphrasing the three bullet points you've read so far without re-reading them, then try paraphrasing a paragraph of something you read a few hours ago without re-reading it. Detail at the level of paragraphs or sentences is possible for information still contained in working memory, but that level of detail seldom makes it to long-term memory, and you'll probably have trouble giving more than a rough outline or your overall impression of the thing you read a few hours ago.)
  4. I notice that the trigger is in the process of happening. Example: I'm standing in front of the fridge holding the rotten lettuce and feeling the clinging-grasping-rending-jarring-temporal feeling associated with my violated lunch plans. I notice that what I'm feeling is the trigger I've been watching for, and I click the knitting counter as it's happening.

So basically I'm still in parts one and two of clicker training after a week. This pace is probably necessary for some skills. I'd expect more patience to be necessary when the triggers are especially subtle or are just barely frequent enough for this installation procedure to be effective. But I don't want to assume that this is such a skill when I don't have enough information yet to distinguish lots-of-patience-requiring habits from habits that install quickly when I do everything right. So I'm going to change things and see what happens.

One of my hypotheses is that I've inadvertently trained the trigger of remembering missed opportunities to notice the original trigger, and that new trigger has solidified so that it's no longer pointing me toward the experience I want to notice. If this is what's going on, I could stop clicking for situations of types 1 and 2 and look only for 3 and 4. If this works, then I'll experiment with different widths of the net I cast at the beginning of habit training for the next few habits.

I don't expect that to work, though. I expect it to just lower my daily clicker score to zero. But it's a cheap test so it's what I'm going to try for tomorrow. If my clicker score is zero I'll test the next hypothesis, and if it's one or higher I'll keep going. If the average remains three or lower for more three days in a row, I'll test the next hypothesis.

Hypothesis two is that the simulated subjective experience I have stored in my brain as the trigger is insufficiently vivid, so actually experiencing the thing in real time does not fire an association with the fact of trigger-ness. If that's the case, I should spend one to five minutes first thing in the morning meditating on the mental state of the trigger.

Hypothesis three is that the trigger is simply too infrequent. The cheaper intervention to try for this is regular CoZE training, where I find a way to deliberately practice this particular thing many times in a solid block. The more expensive way, which I'll try if that doesn't work, is to artificially increase the frequency of the trigger through an intermittent form of CoZE training, which I'll need to design.

Hypothesis four is that I have the wrong trigger, and I need to come up with a better one.

Hm, I just felt the "anticipating an interruption" thing again. I don't have time to go into any more detail in this update right now, but I think I just became convinced that the clinging-grasping-rending-jarring-temporal sensation is actually a progression, and rending-jarring only happen when my anticipation of interruption/plan violation turn out to be correct. Yet the clinging-grasping is problematic and distracting, and my automatic response to it is to force it down. I need to examine this more carefully in the near future.


7 clicks


5 clicks


4 clicks today.

I'm catching the trigger in real-time now. I don't know if it's because I stopped clicking retrospectively, or because I thought a lot about it and that caused automatic vivid simulation.

I've thought some more about the anticipation of the trigger thing. I felt it yesterday and happened to spontaneously respond well, specifically by running my simulation past the thing I feared and on to the best way to respond should the interruption happen. Having a preferred response in hand already, I feel like I should run with it.

I think this habit has two closely related triggers, and they're so closely related that I'm going to go ahead and try training them simultaneously.

The first trigger is anticipation of interruption or plan violation, and my default response to it is to think bad things at my simulation of the interruption, feeling as though that will prevent it from actually happening. That feels like the clinging-grasping plus fear of the rending-jarring.

The other trigger is what I've been talking about so far: clinging-grasping-rending-jarring all at once, with a temporal element indicating an interruption or plan violation as opposed to a-temporal epistemic counterevidence. My default response to that is to dwell on the differences between what happened and what I wanted to happen, which prolongs the rending-jarring and prevents re-planning.

I'm going to try training these simultaneously not just because the triggers are so similar, but because it seems like the correct response might be the same in both cases.

New trigger-action plans:

If I feel the clinging-grasping sensation with fear of rending-jarring in the future, then I will run my simulation past the feared event to answer the question, "How should I respond to that?"

If I feel the clinging-grasping-rending-jarring all at once, then I will run my simulation past the present moment's anticipation/reality comparison to answer the question, "How should I respond to this?"

I could spend some extra off-line training time trying to pin down what precise mental motions will be required, but it seems like just trying it without worrying about how it'll play out avoids premature optimization.


1 click.


2 clicks.


3 clicks.

Ants have been an ongoing battle here, as you may recall from my entry on Jan. 26th. I can keep them out, for the most part, as long as I spray a new line of Raid across the porch the moment I see an ant inside. If I fail to do that, the whole colony invades my kitchen while I sleep. I was spraying every two days for a while, and then they stopped for a whole month, and recently they've started again.

I was in the middle of a yin yoga session just now when I noticed an ant on the floor. I felt the trigger for an opportunity to practice fluidity--the clinging, grasping, rending, and jarring all at once--but before it could really get going, I successfully responded with the action I planned three days ago. "If I feel the clinging-grasping-rending-jarring all at once, then I will run my simulation past the present moment's anticipation/reality comparison to answer the question, 'How should I respond to this?'"

That plan included a prediction I hadn't verified in real time, but I did indeed experience two simultaneous simulations--the version of the present moment where there's no ant and I continue my yoga session, and the actual present moment where there's an ant and I have to decide what to do about it--and there was definitely a feeling of holding one against the other. There was something else I didn't predict, though, which was a movement toward something like rationalization. I felt myself checking to see if I could get away with behaving as though the preferred version of the present moment were the real one. (The "default response" I'd noted previously was just the looping present moment comparison.)

It was actually that rationalization-like movement that let me follow through with the trigger-action plan quite quickly. It was similar to the trigger for a habit I've already trained, namely relinquishment of false beliefs in the face of counter evidence, and the motion of fluidity is similar to relinquishment. So I ran my simulation past the present moment and toward the action I needed to take. It ouput "pause the yoga, kill the ant, spray the Raid, return to yoga".

That had an effect almost identical to "leaving a line of retreat". The epistemic version of leaving a line of retreat--visualizing the world as it would be if the thing you hope isn't true turned out to be true--makes fair assessment of probabilities easier. In this instrumental case, simulating what I needed to do, on its own terms without comparison to the Should Universe wherein abide My Plans, meant that a tiny little relinquishment-like flowing motion was enough to cause virtually painless follow through.

I think I've actually implemented this trigger-action plan successfully a few times now, but I've been sick and thus awfully low on concentration for the past few days. This is probably the first one accompanied by sufficient reflectivity for recording. I think that mastery of this skill probably entails zero pain in follow-through. I'm not sure if that's a realistic goal or not, but at this stage I might as well shoot for it. But I expect an 80/20 situation again.

It's interesting, this skill is exactly non-attachment as discussed in Zen, or at least its instrumental form. Not that it's a Zen-specific thing in Buddhism; I'm pretty sure this is also the heart of the third Theravada perfection, nekkhama, "renunciation". But it's always discussed, praised, illustrated. If there are instructions for training this specific thing, I've never seen them written down, nor heard them in a dharma talk. Despite having read about non-clinging and non-attachment over and over again across several years of Buddhist study, both academic and religious-ish, practical experience is so important for recognizing this kind of habit that I had no idea I was planning to train something I'd heard of before until I was actually in the middle of training it. I remain oh so curious about how targeted the curriculum for monks turns out to be in real life. There's a gulf between theory and wall-sitting, and I'm less convinced by the day that "more sitting" is in fact the most efficient bridge.


2 clicks


Formal training of fluidity got a little bumpy. I moved home from Chile, officiated a wedding, and got sick, without a break in between. My new context also caused me to wear different clothes, which made keeping the knitting counter on me all the time much more difficult. As a result, my training has been a lot less reflective.

But it's still been happening, and I'm sort of grateful for the opportunity to see what happens when I get the ball rolling and then let my attention stray elsewhere.

The most interesting result has been that fluidity and growing the roses have both blended and expanded to create what feels like a generalized resilience skill, which was indeed the goal, and I'm amazed that it's happened so quickly. It doesn't feel complete, but it's a tremendous improvement.

The expansion started out with clicking accidentally for growing the roses instead of fluidity. Then I started forgetting which was which, and just taking the right action instead of stopping to sort out which habit I was practicing. Then I started clicking for triggers that are phenomenologically similar to one of the habits, and intuiting the correct response as an extrapolation from fluidity and growing the roses. Now I seem to be practicing a spirit of resilience mostly unreflectively.

I think what's going on is that I've unconsciously tuned into a proto-trigger for every sort of interaction with the Should Universe. I think this because I'm responding differently to things that look like my established triggers from the outside, but are apparently completely different from the inside, at least once they've been going long enough for me to have become consciously aware of them.

For example, it used to be that when Eliezer delegated a task to me and I caused an outcome he didn't want, I would feel inadequate and sad, like I'd let him down and he must be disappointed in me. (Like maybe he asked me to make dinner and though I thought I did a perfectly good job, he likes his steaks medium well instead of medium rare, and I didn't know that. Just a toy example.) Often he'd have to either put up with the outcome he got or seek a different outcome himself, because I'd lost the ability to think productively about the issue.

Although from the outside that looks like a concurrence of the trigger for growing the roses (it's an instance of a personal failure, sort of) with the trigger for fluidity (I expected him to express satisfaction with the outcome, and he didn't), it *feels* different from both from the inside. Phenomenologically, my old default response here was a highly social emotion that was all about inadequacy, not a "surprise and trapped sinking sensation" or a "clinging grasping rending jarring sensation".

Since I've been back, I've noticed that my new response is to say, "Ok, how would you like it instead?" and to feel motivated to cause the other outcome. Note that that response is also different from either of the trained responses. The trained response to "surprise and trapped sinking" is nonchalant interest in what went wrong, an impulse to weigh whether it's worth trying to repair completely, and a motivation to make any cheap repairs that are available immediately. This is more like, "that's ok, I'll try something else or do it over again, even if it's sort of costly, 'cause that's what needs doing!". The trained response to "clinging grasping rending jarring" is to continue my simulation past the reality/preference comparison to play through "how should I respond to that?". I'm not noticing a "how should I respond to that?" query, just a complete automatic re-direction. (I notice that something is not quite right about the things I say in this paragraph, but I'm too sleepy to figure it out right now.)

Similar things have happened for "feeling grumpy about having to do something that I don't want to do" and "spending lots of energy on wishing that the world were otherwise even when the way it is is exactly how I expected it to be". I'm not sure I even *had* the thought "WHY DID I HAVE TO CATCH A COLD RIGHT BEFORE OFFICIATING THIS WEDDING?!" which is astonishing in retrospect.

So I think there must be a should-universe sensation that's so tiny I'm not even reflectively aware of it yet, and a fluidity-like mental motion that's so tiny I'm not aware of that either, and practicing a couple of habits that contain each of these was sufficient to train the fluidity-like thing in response to the should-universe thing as a generalized resilience skill.

This leads to meeting a wide range of adversities with far more flexibility and grace than I could have imagined just three months ago. It all feels very aikido: "Don't get in the way, just redirect momentum."

I feel like I'm at about 5/10 with resilience, so I have as far to go as I've come so far if I'm right about that. But the ball's still rolling, and it looks at this point like I'll keep improving regardless of whether I'm training formally.