Today is (or was) Day 46 of Sam Harris’s Waking Up Course. I suppose I could wait for Day 50 before reporting, but here I am, and this is what I am writing.
Maybe I’m early because I’m looking ahead. I haven’t been reading SlateStarCodex so I did some catching up and read Scott’s review of “The Mind Illuminated”) and after a little research, I decided that was the next book for me. Last night I started reading it, and yes, it is the next book for me.
How I got here
That’s how I started the first draft of this post. I sat down and intended to write. Words appeared. And it’s a great illustration of one of the insights I’ve gotten from reading “The Mind Illuminated.”
Here’s the money quote:
…while it may not be obvious, all our achievements originate from intentions. Consider learning to play catch. As a child, you may have wanted to play catch, but at first, your arm and hand just didn’t move in quite the right way. However, by sustaining the intention to catch the ball, after much practice, your arm and hand eventually performed the task whenever you wanted. “You” don’t play catch. Instead, you just intend to catch the ball, and the rest follows. “You” intend, and the body acts.
Hey, Future Self! Pay attention. This is important.
We don’t do much. We intend things. And things happen.
I think, therefore I am. I intend, therefore I do.
I sat down to write. That was my intention: write a blog post. I hadn’t picked a topic—and therefore I didn’t intend what I would write about. I just intended that I would write. So when I started to write, the first sentence in this post just appeared. It seemed OK, so I didn’t decide to change it. So I kept going. There’s been a lot of editing and backtracking and rearranging of this post since then, but that first sentence is pretty much as originally written. It set the direction.
I repeat: I intended to write a post, and the mind/body/computer acted and produced a post. I did not write that first sentence. I intended to write and the sentence appeared. I can assure you that I am not writing this sentence. (Or this parenthetical remark while editing.) I am not writing and did not write any of it. Trust me. I’m watching myself very carefully right now. I know what I am doing and not doing. Not writing.
A paragraph ago I did have an intention that I could have articulated as something like
explain this betterand the first sentence in that paragraph, I intended to write…, appeared. Later, I went back, looked at what I had written and thought something like
this could be clearerand after a few moments my fingers typed a clarification.
Once in a while, a sentence appears in my mind before it appears in the document. I consider it and I’ll decide something like
"Ok, that's good,"and then my fingers will type the sentence (or something like it) or I’ll think something like
"that's not quite right"and I wait for something to appear in mind or on paper or in a doc. Most often things appear in the document, not in my mind. I look, I type. Boom!
So what I’m doing is mostly intending and occasionally deciding. Not writing.
It takes more intention to post what I’ve written. I intend writing and open my Drafting document and put my fingers on the keyboard and the writing appears. Odds of producing a post used to be low. I think that was because I needed to make too many intentional acts to get a post published. I’ve simplified that by using the process I wrote about in Authoring, improved. Each step in the process has intentions wired in. I just make decisions, follow the process, and the rest happens automatically.
Here’s how it works. I keep writing until I decide something like
good enough. I copy/paste the draft into Grammarly. The intention to correct/edit is present by default. So as soon as I paste, the mind/body/Grammarly system takes over and corrects and edits. When Grammarly tells me that the copy is clean, I copy/paste it into StackEdit. The mind/body/StackEdit system guides me to read, check formatting and put in links. Maybe I change what I’ve written. If so, I copy/paste back to Grammarly to make sure I didn’t fuck something up. Then back into StackEdit. Finally, if I decide
good enoughI copy/paste to Blogger. I convert it to Markdown, and press Post. Every step follows from the original intention. It seems to work reliably. If another intention gets in the way, my meta-intention is to continue where I left off. And I do.
No more orphaned drafts. No more zero days.
I don’t do anything
Culadasa’s point and mine is: I don’t do any of this stuff. I don’t know how to make my body type this sentence. I don’t even know how to think it up. Sometimes it appears in consciousness and I decide
nope.And sometimes it skips consciousness and just appears on paper or in a Doc. The point is: I just intend and decide, and I get a result.
That’s a long side trip into the working of my mind because I am right now fascinated with it. That’s where this post started out. I intended to write something. And then I intended to report what had happened 46 days into the Waking Up Course. And then a sequence of changes in intention got me to this sentence.
Back to the beginning
So back to the original intention: what’s changed by Day 46?
First, there’s no doubt that I’m 45 days older. I won’t attribute that to the course. There’s a high probability that I would have aged by that much anyway. But I intended to write about what’s changed, and words like this are the first ones that appeared in the original draft.
Second, and more salient, I’ve found that I really, really, really like meditating—or at least meditating Sam Harris style. The other times I’ve tried meditating it’s been like medicating. “Here’s this bad-tasting medicine. It’s good for you. Trust me; you’ll be glad you took it. Hold your nose and swallow it.” Yuck! No thanks.
I quoted Sam in my blog post, Waking up with my personal coach:
It’s almost impossible to exaggerate how deep and interesting and transformative this simple practice of paying close attention to your experience can become.
I’ve found that watching my mind at work is really interesting! And that’s surprising. I mean watching the process by which intention and decision lead to a finished piece of writing. Fascinating.
And who would think that sitting there with my eyes closed, viewing the inside of my eyelids could be described as “fascinating.” But there I’ve been, sitting there with my eyes closed, viewing the inside of my eyelids, fascinated.
And now I’m watching things that I’ve taken for granted or noted in passing and then taken for granted. What is it that I can really do and what’s an illusion? I seem to be able to control my attention—to a degree. I seem to be able to intend things, but not everything that I intend happens, and not everything that happens is the result of a conscious intention. I seem to be able to make decisions. I’m not sure what else, but attention, intention, decision seems like a pretty good start.
Behind my eyelids
Back to looking at the backs of my closed eyes. At first, I saw what you’d expect to see: nothing. Or rather, undifferentiated blackness. But then things changed. I started noticing that the blackness was not uniform. Here it was a bit blacker and there a bit lighter. Somewhat interesting.
And then, after a bit, it seemed as though my whole visual field was changing. There was a cloud of blackness that was flooding into the area of not-so-blackness. And then the not-so-blackness flooded back. And part started to lighten. Interesting.
And then after a while, there were dark clouds flooding into and out of the lighter area which started to become lighter and lighter and become a bright cloud, not just a white area. Which was cool.
And then it seemed as though the dark and the light clouds were moving in a way that began to reveal something behind them. I could only see glimpses, but it was not just another cloud. It had texture and pattern. And…whoah! I wonder what’s going to happen!
And then the clouds vanished, and the entire visual field was an intensely colored pattern—orange and brown and yellow. Kind of a Tibetan motif, I guess. That’s pretty cool! And all I was doing was sitting and watching it happen.
Now stuff like this hasn’t happened all the time. To be precise, it has happened mostly never. But because, as Miracle Max might say, mostly never isn’t completely never. So I’m always interested in seeing what’s going to happen.
That? Something like that? Something different from that?