🙋♂️ How to Human in the 21st Century
Five Mind-Expanding Ideas: From Vision Quests & Unbundling Buddhism to Monastic Insights & Saying Grace With Your Senses.
|Jonny Miller 🐢||Apr 9, 2019||5|
👋 Hello Curious Ones!
🏔️ Greetings from the foothills of the Himalayas!
It’s 7.32am. I’m typing these words from a Nepalese guesthouse that feels like something of a sanctuary amidst the Kathmandu mayhem.
The tipity-tap of my fingers on the keyboard is echoed by the pitter-patter of the rain hitting the tarpaulin outside. Thunder bellows in the distance.
Our Nepalese host is humming a tune to himself as he scrambles eggs. I’m sipping a cup of loose leaf tea in one of those satisfyingly solid mugs—you know the type where you can feel imperfections, as if to remind you that it was thrown by human hands.
As calming as this scene may sound, there is a palpable sense of anticipation brewing somewhere in my belly. Tomorrow morning will be day one of ten partaking in a ‘wilderness vision quest’ somewhere in those mountains.
The latter four of these ten days will be spent fasting in solitude and sleeping outside with nought but a ‘bivvy bag’ as shelter against the elements. (Our group has been advised to also ‘bring something waterproof’ since intense daily thunderstorms are forecast)
So coming back to those stomach butterflies… my brain appears to be confabulating two opposing stories about what they signify. Imagine a tug-of-war between two internal protagonists: the first narrated by an enthusiastic voice (aka. Bilbo Baggins), convinced that he has landed in the legendary heartland of the myths he grew up reading. Bilbo is practically running and shouting:
“Tomorrow morning, we’re going on a ‘proper adventure’!”
Then on the other side of the rope, there’s a disbelieving, stern voice (aka Perplexed Gandalf) sending grave signals of trepidation at this highly questionable decision to venture up into the stormy skies.
“Do you see what you’ve gotten us into? You’re not in the Shire any more. You think you’ll make it through the five full days and nights without without food, shelter from storms… or contact with another fellow human? You Fool Of A Took!”
Its intriguing to watch these narratives fight it out. Can you relate to this in your own life? Voices forever spinning yarns or attempting to convince each other of their respective rightness? It turns out that psychologists have a word for this: they call it ‘Internal Family Systems’ (which was also the basis for the Pixar film ‘Inside Out’).
Anyhow, tomorrow I’ll be tucking away all technology and finding out for myself how the 10 days unfold. And in the meantime, I would love to hear stories of ways that you converse with your own marvellous multitudes or the internal crew of characters masquerading as ‘The One Named You’.
👮♂️ Farewell TinyLetter, Hello Substack
Regular readers will have noticed the foreign formatting (with shiny new blue in-line quotes). Despite my fondness for TinyLetter, its future is somewhat uncertain and I’ve been charmed by the folks tinkering under the hood of SubStack.
I continue to receive great joy and delight from composing these monthly missives and engaging in the unexpected conversations that emerge from the resulting threads. Fellow newsletter aficionado Craig Mod puts it thusly in his aptly titled ‘raining newsletters’ essay:
This intimacy — both from my side and that of the recipients — seems to engender a kind of vulnerability that I haven’t found elsewhere online.
My intention is for this newsletter to be a long-term thing. It will likely evolve and change with time as all things do, but I’m excited to see what arises and deeply grateful to you (yes you!) for coming along for the ride.
Phew! That feels like more than enough preamble. This is me signing off from the online world for the next two-hundred and sixty four hours.
Please enjoy the five musings below and hopefully I’ll see you on the other side of the mountains ⛰️
🙋♂️psst. do you have friends who are also Curious and equally Human? Then why not forward this link (or tweet) them to join this growing fellowship of question-gathering homo sapiens. Or if you’re feeling exceptionally generous and willing to invest in my future ramblings, you can now become a paying subscriber of Curious Humans here.
🤯 Five Mind-Expanding Ideas
⛰️ 1 // Tomorrow’s 10-Day Nepalese Vision Quest
Following on from the introduction to this newsie—the reason for flying to Nepal is to take part in a 10 day ‘wilderness vision quest'. These are best described as ‘pan-cultural rites of passage’ designed to help humans navigate times of transition, uncertainty and liminal life periods.
The grandfather of the contemporary vision quest Bill Plotkin describes their chief purpose in his seminal book 'Soulcraft':
This enactment of the pancultural vision quest is a dynamic wilderness rite for men and women seeking greater depth and clarity about life purpose and meaning… the quest serves as a modern rite of initiation—not into any social, religious, or spiritual group, but into your own soul and deeper layers of true adulthood… to find the unique gift we were born to bring to our communities, and to experience our full membership in the more-than-human world."
My good friend Matt Trinetti shared his experience of a vision quest in the rugged San Juans of Colorado 18 months ago. His experience piqued my interest and reaffirmed a sense that our society is sadly bereft of these meaningful rites of passage.
Tomorrow’s Himalayan vision quest will involve three consecutive nights of ayahuasca ceremony (I’ve written about this psychedelic tea here) followed by five days of fasting and meditating in solitude (we're given safety whistles in case of ‘emergency’). Who knows what will lie waiting up in those hills… whatever happens I look forward to sharing the trip report in next month’s edition.
🧘♂️ 2 // Insights From a Monastery-Dwelling Startup Founder
Last week, I chatted with a modern day monk: Leo Widrich. Prior to his life in the woods, Leo co-founded the startup Buffer (which many of you may have heard of) and his powerful story of what happened following this startup adventure resonated deeply with my own journey after I moved on from my role at Maptia.
Leo talks about his challenges of extricating his identity:
“I was faced with something fascinating. In the monastery, nobody knew me or the company I had co-founded. On top of that, they didn’t care about that at all... For maybe the first time in my life I became aware that it was the many identities I carried that I had assumed were me. Here is a list of the ones I was maybe most identified with: the startup founder, the entrepreneur. the hard worker, Leo who is completely independent, the athlete.”
He goes into how his experience was not just one of exhaustion, but feeling stuck and frozen, as if his ‘life was no longer in flow’ and how spending nearly two years in a Buddhist monastery became one of the most transformative periods in his life:
“My conditioning to live in my head and to prioritise my thoughts over my bodily sensations and feelings remains strong and yet having made a bit more space for these aspects to have a say in my life has contributed so meaningfully to the wellbeing of my life.”
📝 3 // Crowdsourcing a ‘How to Human’ User Manual
The experience of designing workshops for recently graduated students reignited my frustration at how woefully equipped modern education systems are to teach skills that will be relevant for the coming decades.
I have also been pondering a question of 'how might I play the game of life in multiplayer mode?' So for a bit of spontaneous fun, I shared this half-baked tweet requesting suggestions for hypothetical ‘How to Human’ book chapters:
The response came in a slightly unexpected avalanche of suggestions, which I’ve begun compiling in this spreadsheet (see below) 👇
Some of the most intriguing entries included: ‘How to Un-Learn’ (a biggie!) ‘How to Undergo Psychological Individuation’ (i.e. integrating our left/right brain hemispheres) and ‘How to Break Out of Zero Sum Thinking’ (i.e. moving from scarcity mindset to one of abundance).
📚 4 // One Meditation To Rule Them All
Regular readers will be familiar with my recent obsession with exploring secular methods for contemplative practice and collecting mental training tools (like some kind of mindful squirrel).
The unrelated ‘Harris Bros’—Sam & Dan have their respective apps ‘Waking Up’ & ‘10% Happier’ which are now verging on mainstream. However, here are three lesser known but in my opinion even more interesting approaches for fellow inwardly curious readers.
i. The Heart of Insight Guide from Vince Horn
Vince is the podcast host at Buddhist Geeks, and along with his sister Emily, has put together a full corpus of teachings (or ‘source code’)—these are core practice styles repeated across virtually all contemplative traditions.
As such, in Vince’s words they:
"…represent some of the most time-tested and verifiably effective approaches that exist to train the mind."
It’s exciting to be living in a time where the previously closed wisdom is becoming ‘unbundled’ and more accessible to anyone with an internet connection:
“Part of what’s happening in the digital revolution we’re living through is that all of the old bundles of knowledge , and the institutions that carried them forward, are being broken apart into the individual components that make them up.”
ii. Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory—designed to ‘Unlock Human Potential’
Drawing from the world’s great wisdom traditions, developmental psychology, and contemplative science, he shares maps of adult maturity that combine with meditation practice designed to help you ‘wake up, grow up, clean up, and show up’.
This is an Insight Timer course based on his Integral Meditation book. What I love about this framework is that it combines Eastern enlightenment paths with major Western models of human development.
iii. ‘Universal Library For Training Attention’ (ULTRA) by Shinzen Young.
Shinzen Young is the wise dude who coined the formula ‘Suffering = Pain x Resistance’.
With a background in mathematics and physics, he manages to ‘take the mist out of mysticism’, sharing timeless techniques geared towards enhancing our cognitive capacities through the ‘ULTRA’ framework.
🙏 5 // How To Say Grace With Your Senses
In his novel ‘Island’, a utopian counterpart to his more well known Brave New World, Aldous Huxley tells the story of a cynical journalist who becomes shipwrecked on the fictional Polynesian island of Pala.
There is one scene in particular that I wanted to share—where Shanta educates Will (the cynical journalist) on how to say grace with his senses (emphasis mine):
"There!" said Vijaya when the last brimming bowl had been sent on its way. He wiped his hands, walked over to the table and took his seat. "Better tell our guest about grace," he said to Shanta. Turning to Will, "In Pala," she explained, "we don't say grace before meals. We say it with meals. Or rather we don't say grace; we chew it."
"Grace is the first mouthful of each course---chewed and chewed until there's nothing left of it. And all the time you're chewing you pay attention to the flavor of the food, to its consistency and temperature, to the pressures on your teeth and the feel of the muscles in your jaw."
"And meanwhile, I suppose, you give thanks to the Enlightened One, or Shiva, or whoever it may be?"
Shanta shook her head emphatically. "That would distract your attention, and attention is the whole point. Attention to the experience of something given, something you haven't invented. Not the memory of a form of words addressed to somebody in your imagination.”
🤔 Et Cetera
🌳 Your brain on silence
🌎 Journey to the end of time in 4K
🏄♂️ Explaining the physics of surfing
❓ Crowdsourced questions via Twitter
👨🎨 The curious craft of metaphor design
⭐ In the end we’re all stories and stardust
💰 Paying for complements is now a thing in China
🤔 To combat procrastination: cultivate your curiosity
📚 ONYM is a smörgåsbord of tools for naming anything
Parting Poem 📝
Last week, I had the joy of going freediving off the coast of a tiny Thai island. These words returned with me to the surface. It’s called ‘An Invitation From the Deep’:
Release the thought.
Exhale that feeling.
Inhale this moment.
Now it’s time.
Kick kick kick.
Downwards, onwards, inwards.
Dancing shadows beckon.
Depth is no measure Of lung capacity
Or inner resolve.
Depth is the reward,
For intimacy with surrender.
One last kick!
Gravity takes over.
Mind, body, soul.
Mind, body, soul.
Into the Great Unknown.