Twenty three years ago, I quit my job, cashed in some stock, gave away most of worldly possessions, and bought a one-way ticket to Kathmandu, Nepal. I had some money in my pocket, no plan and about a year of runway. I bought one way tickets to Sydney, Kathmandu, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Auckland which meant I didn't have the constraint of having to return, I could move forward instead of backward. There was fast learning and growth due to a solid year of travel, adventure, and financial and physical risk. I carried heavy loads up to high altitudes, did lots of physical training, and started diving into a spiritual journey. I learned a lot. I thought I knew what poverty was and didn't have a clue. I thought I wanted to do epic treks to remote places (Annupurna basecamp above) but what I really wanted was human connection. I stopped looking for love and found it a year later when I met my friend, Kerri Eich, in New Zealand on New Year's Eve. It was one of the highest risk moves I have made in my life and it paid back many-fold. Actually, probably not even possible to quantify the returns in expanding your perspective, finding the love of your life, and having the space to explore yourself. Buying one way tickets for a year reinforced in me the benefits of uncertainty.
After this trip, I settled down, got a job, and started making money again. I moved in with my good buddy, Mike, in Silicon Valley. We bought furniture and I was back in the material grind. It was great. I had my first real job in Silicon Valley, had $15 left when I got my first paycheck, and started a career that would pay off in multiple ways. I learned to be a decent coder, then manager, then got into cybersecurity.
I moved to LA, Kerri and I got engaged in New Zealand and married a year later. We bought our first house, and had Boden a couple years later. Life was good. Ayden came along four years later and my heart was full. Kerri and I both lost our fathers to cancer during these years, we lost good friends due to illness, suicide, and accidents and we figured out how to live with grief. Life was full of mini-adventures - roadtrips, camping, backpacking, travel, new jobs, watching the kids grow into kind and independent young men.
As we gained more resources and responsibilities, I found myself becoming protective of what we have and less willing to take risks. I look back now and realize I haven't taken large risks since 1999. I have changed careers, companies, and houses but haven't really felt that same level of exilhiration I felt 23 years ago, buying one way tickets without a plan to return. I wrote about leaving my tech job on a high note and since then, my heart has been full of gratitude from the amazing people that gave me opportunities to grow and develop. And, it has opened up a new conversation with old and new acquaintances about being well, taking care of yourself, and achieving more joy, meaning, and impact in our limited lifetimes. I am feeling the same level of fear and excitement that I did 23 years ago and it is making me more aware, engaged, and improving my performance.
Once I started thinking about all this, I was curious on the neuroscience behind risk taking. We are homeostatic beings; falling back into our natural states physiologically and mentally is what our central nervous system does. In order to move to a new level of performance you have to throw away the safety blanket and sit in the snow, growing new skills and resetting your homeostasis to a new level through active challenge followed by active recovery (Peake, 2019). One of the prerequisites is to change your mindset from fixed to growth for the domain you want to get better at (Briggs, 2020). Then, you need more reps at higher and higher challenges (not too much, 4% is about right). When this challenge/skills ratio is right, you quickly compound learning and performance gains and will surprise yourself with the results.
I should define what I mean by risk. There is financial risk and behavioral risk and we know much more about the former than the latter (Schonberg et al., 2011). Risk in financial terms is variance in possible monetary outcomes. Risk from a clinical perspective means behaviors that are risk such as drug use, mountain climbing, or driving dangerously. We all have risk levels that we are comfortable with and these are specific to the domain. For example, I have lowered my risk tolerance for mountain climbing and managed it to a level that I feel comfortable with. I don't have the same desire for high mountains, technical climbing and crossing crevasses but I feel challenged and safe in high alpine backpacking situations.
As I learn a new domain, I am trying to stay in the flow zone, the right amount of challenge to alleviate boredom, and not too much to create anxiety, growing skills day by day.
Long story short, the more you have it seems the harder it is to take risk. Even having a couch can hold you back because of the comfort it provides. You have to get out of the comfort and take some risk in order to keep growing.
You do not know where your limit really is unless you test it. In fact, your central nervous system will try to stop you well before you hit your limit, and you may be surprised that your limit is actually far beyond what your mind actually tells you. For those of you thinking about taking risk, plan as much as you can, but don't let the plan block you from taking action. A one way ticket is a good thing sometimes!
Yep, you heard right. I am leaving my tech career to pursue a totally different domain, with a goal to bring more joy, meaning, and impact to people's lives. Before I get into that, I want to express my gratitude...
I am ending my tech career as the CIO of Rapid7, which I never would have imagined 23 years ago when I moved to Silicon Valley to get a job as a C++ developer at Serena Software, innovating in software change management and devops (thank you, Doug). I have had the pleasure of working with really smart people on really hard problems like closing the security achievement gap, all while having fun at the same time. Rapid7 has been an amazing platform to learn, grow, and have a positive impact on customers and society. I am filled with intense gratitude for our customers and all the people that invested in my development.
This was a difficult decision, not made lightly and let me share how I came to it... I had a great job, working with smart people on hard problems, but something wasn't sitting right...
I had this low-grade anxiety caused by a conflict between my inner self and outer self that was bringing itself to awareness more and more.
I had to dig in it to discover what was going on. In Walking with Purpose, I described a High Sierra backpacking trip where I lacked motivation and discovered that I had lost the passion for long solo trips. I hit high snowpack at Precipice Lake, sat down, ate a candy bar, looked at my light alpine gear, and decided to turn around. The risk and grind of pushing through six feet of snow over multiple passes was not worth the reward. As soon as I started heading back, I was filled with purpose and passion to return safely to my family. I experienced hours of flow and joy in the two days it took to get back to the truck and realized the importance of purpose. This trip gave me hours on the trail to inspect motivation and purpose.
When I inspected my anxiety, it was coming from the fear that I was not using my remaining years to work on something more aligned to my purpose and passion. So what is that purpose and passion? Well, I have had the pleasure of working on really hard problems from open source cultural resources management for the National Park Service, to devops at Serena, to cyber security at Rapid7, with purpose-driven colleagues, for almost thirty years now. The favorite part of those experiences, most recently, was helping others achieve their potential. The technology, organizational, and operational stuff was not as motivational for me as it used to be. I was moving from operator to coach more and more every day, and that transition was bringing me joy. I was transitioning to using my crystallized intelligence and relying less on fluid intelligence and wrote a blog about it here.
Meanwhile, Kerri and I had been experimenting with this concept of "Being Well" with a variety of personal and community investments. Kerri created Be Well Gardens which is about connecting families to wellness through food, influencing thousands of kids and hundreds of families over a decade. In 2018, we launched Be Well Retreat, Kings Canyon, which is an experiment in connecting families to nature for wellness which has influenced over one hundred families in three years. In 2018, I started this blog to capture my research on non-invasive neuro-hacking through meditation and neurofeedback. Putting this all together, we believe we can help individuals and families achieve more joy, meaning and impact in their lives through nutrition, nature, and non-invasive neuro-hacking.
Well, I am transitioning my CIO role to someone new (at the time of writing this, not hired yet, here's the job description, send references our way!) and will remain at Rapid7 to the end of the year. After that, I look forward to having time to drop the kids off, pick them up, and giving Kerri more time to invest in her career. We are thinking about launching a second Be Well Retreat for families to experience off grid and tiny house living at our Onyx location and maybe someday I will get around to building that climber's retreat at our Joshua Tree location. I look forward to building some new structures, Kerri will dial in the irrigation, and the kids will build forts and play with the dog. I am most excited to have more time to engage in aimless play with my family.
To feel competent in neuroscience, I enrolled in a master's program at Kings College London and will graduate in early 2024. Part of my research will be on the effect of contemplative practices on anxiety and depressive disorders (I will share my hypotheses in later blog posts). I also enrolled in the peak performance instructor training at Flow Research Collective to better understand the neuroscience and practices for peak performance and to be certified to teach others. Specifically, I am interested in learning the triggers of group and individual flow to make peak experiences repeatable and common. Both of these will lead to research, open source templates/frameworks, and coaching services that I call "Be Well Mind". Stay tuned for more details on the launch! I also plan on continuing the rewarding advisory work I do in education and tech startups.
As the sun sets on my technology career, I am happy, challenged, and motivated like never before. My friends, family, and colleagues have been incredible through this transition and I appreciate and love you all! I can't imagine ending on a higher note.
The inevitable decline in fluid intelligence, rise of crystallized intelligence, and what we should do about it
"Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost" - Dhante Aligheiri
I have been reading books about transitioning to a second act of meaning and impact to learn from others instead of figuring it out myself. One of my coaches recommended From Strength To Strength by Arthur C. Brooks. The essence is that what makes us successful early in life, our fluid intelligence, eventually declines, making us less effective at our careers and skills. However, we gain crystallized intelligence, which is valuable in other ways. Those who recognize this are much more successful at navigating this decline and have more impact later in life. The book presents a practical, spiritual and psychological approach to this transition that was very helpful to me.
"Fluid intelligence refers to the ability to reason and think flexibly. Crystallized intelligence refers to the accumulation of knowledge, facts, and skills that are acquired throughout life." (Ziegler et al., 2012). An example of fluid intelligence is solving puzzles at the age of ten. At ten, you haven't achieved a lot of facts, skills, and knowledge but you are able to reason and think flexibly and creatively to arrive at a solution. Fluid Intelligence peaks as late as 45 (Hartshone et al., 2015) and Crystallized Intelligence rises as we age, peaking in our 70s (Desjardins et al, 2012). As our first curve starts to decline (Fluid Intelligence), we have a second curve of life which begins (Crystallized Intelligence) which brings different strengths, including wisdom. What we do with this wisdom is what is important. Knowing this neurobiological transition is inevitable can enable us to navigate the transition with grace and strength.
Brooks then shifts to his personal spiritual journey and describes the four stages in life in Hinduism which aligns well to this concept of the first and second curves. Grihastha is the second stage and aligns to the first curve, when fluid intelligence enables one to succeed in their career and goals. Vanaprastha begins the second curve of life when crystallized intelligence comes to the fore and you can use your accumulated knowledge to seek deep wisdom:
If you aren't careful, you may struggle during the transition to the second curve (corresponding to Vanaprastha), you may grasp at relevance while declining, holding on to achievement, and limit your positive impact. A potential trap in Grihastha is that you may have fed your life with extrinsic goals - money, status, things you can gain using your fluid intelligence, and this may prevent you from moving gracefully into Vanaprastha, leveraging the strength of your crystallized intelligence to deliver positive impact. You may also experience dukkha, which Buddha describes as the unsatisfactoriness of achievement. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes in "Flow - Living at the Peak of Your Abilities" a generative stage in the 40s and 50s where you can pass on your knowledge (crystallized intelligence) to the next generation, giving you a stake in the future by delivering meaningful impact. Brooks describes a better approach to this transition that embraces vulnerability, human connection, and impermanence to gracefully transition to a new strength.
Let's talk about vulnerability... I have personally found that it is not your strengths that will connect you, but rather your weaknesses that will enable you to connect deeply to others. For example, you might be a 10x coder or a marketing genius, which will be respected but not sufficient, for connection. I have learned this only later in my career. One of my (many) weaknesses is that I feel imposter syndrome - I didn't go to the best school, I wasn't the best student, and I had significant failures in both high school and college, barely making through both. This led me to over-emphasize excellence in my craft to prove my worth. I once held a chip on my shoulder for not getting into MIT, CalTech, or Harvey Mudd, and, honestly, I didn't do the work and didn't earn it. However, my strengths of grit and learning things quickly enabled me to achieve a college education. I spent hours in my local public library, for several months, studying Feynman's lectures on physics to prepare for the Math and Physics Symposium at my local university and earned a full-ride scholarship. In my career, I have jumped from self-taught hacker/coder to engineering leader to product leader to security leader to IT leader, using my strengths of continuous learning and grit to compensate for my academic weakness, becoming competent and expert level through deep study and practice, moving between domains and becoming a generalist business and technology leader. However, my weaknesses are what make me an effective leader. It isn't excellence in my craft that makes me effective, it is my story and my vulnerability that enables me to connect with individuals and team. The strengths that brought me here are not the same ones needed for the next stage and I can crystallize the accumulated skills, experience, into wisdom that will help others.
Human connection - I used to believe I was excellent at being alone, and was wrong. I am happy with solitude but not happy with social isolation. Brooks talks about finding real friends, not deal friends, to help with the transition from the first curve to the second. How many people would you say know you well? List the real friends and list when you last talked to them. Then count the ones that you could call if you were in jail (and don't count your significant other if you have one). You now know if you need to invest in this area of your life if have no one that will bail you out! I am grateful to have numerous real friends and realize I am not putting the energy in to be with them, know them, and be there for them. Also, I don't have enough real friends locally, they are mostly are scattered all over the world, and need to invest more locally. My striving and driving has caused me to de-prioritize this essential connectivity that will feed my soul. Cool idea from the book - write down the three things you know your friends need most and help them achieve them.
Reading this book gave me more insight on the path that brought me here and is like a map for the rest of my journey. In adolescence, my sense of self evolved quickly and landed on "hippie/ physics nerd/skater" who hung out with punks in high school, and later, philosophy and theatre majors in college (overly simplified labelling for purpose of story). Throughout, I was seeking the meaning of life, peak experiences, and the grand unified theory of everything. I hopped around, being complacent for some time before challenging myself by quitting my job at thirty and moving to Nepal, once again, seeking peak experiences through yoga, meditation and mountaineering. Then, I began my striver's journey (Grihastha) by moving to Silicon Valley and diving into the craft of software development, getting married to the love of my life, having a family together, and pushing my career to new levels. When I turned fifty, I started wandering again, looking for meaning. It is almost like I am re-discovering my nineteen-year old self (this time with more crystallized intelligence), using contemplative practices to find meaning again. I began this blog four years ago after deciding to reinvigorate my daily meditation practice, diving into Buddhism, and sharing my journey to remain accountable. In hindsight, this was Vanaprastha. Quite literally, I have been "retiring into the forest" by spending time at our cabin, chopping wood and carrying water to achieve a little more insight, doing long backpacking trips, spending hours in walking meditation, and just sitting in a mountain creek staring at the wind in the leaves.
Concluding thought - Don't chase a bucket list, enjoy the moment and embrace impermanence as the transition occurs. There are whole years during my striving period that I have few memories from. I am pretty sure I helped deliver a bunch of product releases, made some money, and made a dent in the tech industry, but I don't have vivid and meaningful memories from many of those big achievements. However, I have vivid, joyful, and meaningful memories from small moments - building a kick-ass fort with my son, racing with a friend down Jaipur's Amber Fort, watching my wife give an amazing speech to her students, and being with my Dad in the last days of his life. If we chase the achievement, we may miss the moment, and, if we neglect impermanence we may grasp at our old self as it flows through your fingers like sand, a victim of the transition instead of the owner.
"Use things, love people, worship the divine." - Arthur C. Brookes
My wife is an educator, maker and artist. She uses plants, landscapes, ceramics, paint, and spaces to create new value that didn't exist before. She is a pioneer in outdoor learn-scapes, helps kids connect food to wellness, and has transformed family dining habits across Los Angeles. What she touches turns green and becomes art.
Here is an example of something creative she did just for fun. This is a succulent vertical garden made from discarded materials. To me, it is living art and just beautiful:
She always has a next generation of seedlings ready for new projects for use at home, school, or in the community in some way:
A few years ago, she ripped out our front lawn, designed an outdoor living room, and a garden that wrapped around it. The primary feature is a berm that holds water for drier periods, planted with beautiful native plants. Our water bill dropped by 75%, the usage of our front yard went up, and we now have a beautiful space that pollinators enjoy:
Did I mention she planted a 55-tree orchard at the Be Well Retreat - Kings Canyon? Well, she did. She built wire cages for all the trees to protect them against gophers (which was much needed), created a one-of-a-kind-in-north-america responsive drip system that only gives out water when the plants need it, and somehow did it all with gravity. There is typically hundreds plumbing parts in shopping bags following her around in a wheelbarrow. With those parts, some glue, and lots of intelligence and grit, it all comes together and works:
She is often covered in dirt, but this is probably the dirtiest I have ever seen her after a day of planting in the fresh dirt:
I often think of myself as an execution expert, taking Kerri's visionary ideas and helping to ship them, which makes us great partners. She also inspires me to be more creative and find opportunities to new things from old things like this roof for the bunkhouse that I made out of lodgepole pine, rusted steel, and some pine and cedar that I milled from our land. My creations tend to be more engineer-ey and not as organic as Kerri's projects (in methodology, that is). This project, though, reminded me of building forts when growing up and using whatever leftover wood I could find and just making it work using hand tools to shape things to fit:
I love this picture of Kerri as it captures her spirit well - wild, strong, and beautiful. The landscapes she creates share similar qualities and represent her creativity and intelligence in unique ways.
I spent a challenging and wonderful time in the woods last week. To an old spot, Hamilton Lakes, where I was going to do a 5 day loop through Precipice Lake, Little Five Lakes, Redwood Meadow and Bearpaw Meadow. The going got tough on the first day. I was making great time from High Sierra trailhead through the Giant Forest at about 2-3 miles/hour up to Bearpaw Meadow. Walking about a mile through the giant Sequoia and red fir groves, you feel the immensity and ancient nature of this forest. Met a cool couple coming down from the mountains where I was headed, must have been in their 70s and they shared a bunch of great beta on Precipice Lakes andFive Lakes. They bivvied the whole time and showed a ledge they had cut out in the snow to sleep on. They showed me some great pictures and told me about the 6-8' of snow. That was when I started thinking about how audacious this journey was. Solo trip for about 60 miles.
The trail opens up to amazing Kings Canyon vistas over the next four miles and hugs the cliffside with a few ups and downs but mostly flat to Bearpaw Meadow. Bearpaw Meadow is situated in this beautiful granite outcropping overlooking the valley. There used to be cabins and a little lodge there but they have all been stripped bare and need to be rebuilt. There was no water, which was a bummer as there was a stream there when I was in the same spot in 2019 and I was counting on it.Snowpack is 30% of what it should have been this year, which explains it. This is one of my favorite spots in the Sierra and it felt good to be there. The pressure to get in the miles quickly over rode my desire to rest and I moved on...
When you come out of Bearpaw Meadow, the High Sierra trail really opens up and shows you its beauty. For the first time, you can see the falls coming out of lower Hamilton Lakes and the immense valley you are climbing through. It is four miles from Bearpaw to Hamilton Lakes but it feels more like five. I scarfed down some food at Bearpaw as I really wasn't maintaining my calories fast enough and was bonking. I had enough energy to go and I knew I could make it by 4 PM or so, plenty of time to set up a tent and have dinner. About a two and a half miles from BearPaw you hit the river and then have a massive wall to climb it. This is where I really bonked but knew I could make it (and had to make it).
Once you get over the wall, you can see the waterfall again, the trail levels out for a while, and you feel like you are cruising in the most epic place. The trail is amazing at this point, the views spectacular. This is also where it got cold. No longer climbing uphill, I was feeling the chill and was sweaty from the climb up. Not a great combo. So glad I brought my sweatshirt, which I wasn't going to bring but I really needed it the whole trip.
Before hitting Hamilton Lakes, you get to the most beautiful waterfall, you are finally there! The crossing of the river is technical and I decided to just get in the water in order to cross safely. This means my shoes, socks and pants were wet for the last mile of the trip as the sun was getting lower in the sky. Right choice at the time to be safe but made me cold on the way to Hamilton Lakes
Finally landed at Hamilton Lakes and the best tent spot of them all. Only four other people here this night (May 29th, 2022). The lake got socked in with fog and it got cold real quick on my cold, wet feet from the waterfall. Aaah, the joy of sitting and having a hot coffee/whiskey eased the pain a bit.
It was a cold night... Soon after dinner, the lake really socked in, the tiredness set in, and the coffee and whiskey wore off. I started getting really cold and quickly packed up my kitchen and put away my food in the bear locker, and crawled into my sleeping bag around 7 PM. 17 miles was hard and I could feel it now that I was laying flat. My legs were twitching, I didn't do a good job of maintaining fuel and electrolytes. Lack of electrolytes and the altitude made me feel icky. I started second-guessing my motivation for this trip. I originally set out to complete this loop to finish the job from three years ago when me and five of my buddies set out to do it for my 50th birthday. We all bonked at Bearpaw and called it quits for the full loop but still had an amazing out and back with good friendship and conversation the whole way. I had a goal and was second-guessing my motivation to do it solo. I spent a cold night of fitful sleep, woke up to frost on my backpack and a beautiful clear day.
I woke at 5 AM and laid for a while in the tent, not ready to brave the cold. Around 6 I started making breakfast and watching the sun slowly creep down the mountain towards me. I sat in the chair and looked up at the snowfield and the pass that I was planning on crossing that day. I laid out my socks to dry in the sun as it hit my campsite and I started feeling better. However, in my mind, I had already given up and was ready to go home. I battled with myself for about an hour, procrastinating over wet socks, coffee, and loneliness. I made a compromise and convinced myself to make it to Precipice Lake to check out the snow. I quickly packed up and started up the beautiful trail to Precipice Lake.
Once I packed up, I had a mission, my legs felt pretty good despite the hard mileage the day before, and I was fueled. The hike up to Precipice Lake is gorgeous and hard. Big switchbacks with heavy altitude gain for four miles. You can see where you are going most of the time, which is nice but also misleading. There is a really cool tunnel you walk through around a canyon which is amazing to experience. Then, very quickly after that, I lost the trail due to snow. I could see some faint footprints and thought that Precipice Lake was pretty close as I could swear I could see the walls of Precipice Lake which I have seen in pictures before. After slogging through the snow and route-finding, I finally found it. I walked as close to the lake as possible, didn't think I could climb the wall out of the lake if I went to the edge so dropped my pack on a 10 foot ledge and sat on it on 6 feet of snow and had a Snickers. It was here that I made the decision to turn around and immediately realized joy. I didn't realize this until later but I lacked the passion and motivation to move long distances through the mountains solo. I have completed a lot of solo trips and would thrive. I wasn't thriving. I was cold, wet, lonely, and missed my family. As soon as I decided to go home, I felt relieved, a weight off my chest, and a strong motivation to get home safely. I stayed for maybe 20 minutes enjoying the view and headed back downhill.
Going back down felt great. I started breathing better, I had more energy, I was smiling and singing through the mountains. Kerri's directions of "be safe, don't feel like you need to do the full loop" was repeating in my ears. If I slipped, or tripped, I would repeat "pay attention, be careful" which really helped me get down safely with tired legs. I cruised back through Hamilton Lakes and achieved flow for several hours back to Bearpaw Meadow, where I camped for the night.
I was beat when I got to Bearpaw. Thankfully, I filled up my water in advance, remembering that Bearpaw had none. However, I didn't fill up enough and only had one liter for dinner and one liter for breakfast, which left me little for the night in the tent. It was cold here too. No one else was around. In fact, I saw no one that day, which was surprising. A couple deer kept me company, walking right up to me and my campfire. One pawed and sniffed the ground where I peed within 5 minutes of peeing. I was content and had a nice fire since I was below 9,000 feet.
On the way out to Crescent Meadow, I was reading Steven Kotler's Art of Impossible and realized why I didn't feel flow on the way up the mountain - I was missing passion and purpose, two triggers for flow. Once I turned around and headed down, back to my truck, to the cabin, to my family, I had purpose and passion and every step was important. The challenge/skills ratio was perfect. This was not the hardest hike I had done in my life, but it certainly was the hardest physical thing I had done in a decade. This combination put me into flow for large chunks of time. I was floating down the trail, super efficient. My awareness expanded, I experienced joy and no-self. It was beautiful. Lesson learned - if your activity lacks purpose and passion, you will struggle. My family is my passion and purpose and outweighs my desire for high mountain travel.
II experienced a flow state for several hours the other day while doing some carpentry. I was wrapping up the wellhouse at the Be Well Retreat and had about a day's worth of work left. I was overcoming an illness and still not 100% which forced me to work very mindfully. There was a fresh foot of snow on the ground, turning into ice as I tromped a path from the truck to the wellhouse over and over again. Every step required attention to avoid a spill. The remaining work required custom cuts of siding, lots of measurement and some ladder standing. The snow and my fatigue forced me to be deliberate and thoughtful with each action. I started by laying out all my tools onto boards in the snow and setting up a table and sawhorse for cutting boards. Got my batteries charging and assessed the situation. The work was pretty straightforward, no hard decisions to make, just execution. I wrapped the siding on the front of the wellhouse and turned the corner to the more complicated cuts on the sloping side. This is where effort became effortless and things just worked. The sun was shining, the snow was melting off the roof, and the cuts were perfect. At one point, I looked up and I was done with the side and it seemed like I had just started. I had to re-work some work from a couple weeks' prior as the boards had expanded and shifted. I would normally be disappointed in myself for a while and complain while doing it and, instead, I calmly started removing boards that took me hours to put up until I got to the problem boards. Motion took over and my mind was not attached. It seems I met the characteristics for flow:
I purchased a Flowtime device to better understand this company's approach to creating consumer devices to help enter flow states. Flow, as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is a highly focused mental state conducive to productivity. This device, as advertised by the company, "FLOWTIME makes meditation intangible into tangible. Brainwave data, heart rate, breath coherence, attention, relaxation, etc." and "Learn meditation guided by leading teachers, a calmer, less stressed, and healthier life is within reach." It seems they are addressing two different markets in one device - the ability to measure bio and EEG information, and an app that can deliver guided meditation. So, not quite real-time neurofeedback like the Muse devices, but has potential to become a real-time neurofeedback device. The biologic/neurologic metrics the device captures are:
From these data, the app then calculates the following:
I decided to complete a very simple test to better understand the capabilities of the Flowtime device. I would record my brain states in three different ten minute sessions:
I separated each session by about 10 minutes to reset my brain state and then test again. The goal of this test is to understand the capabilities of the device and understand its potential in measuring brain states accurately.
Analysis of the data
I created a spreadsheet to compare some of the primary bio and neuro metrics across the three sessions. This uncovered one of the limitations of the Flowtime device - it doesn't make it easy to extract the raw data into a CSV format for analysis, I had to manually create the spreadsheet. It would be nice to be able to easily export the data for more detailed analysis.
Here is that sheet:
The first thing I noticed after creating this sheet is that there is very little difference between the times spent in the measured brainwave bands. It looks statistically insignificant. Other measurements show significant differences including:
There is a lot of potential with this device and these early tests show that the device is detecting differences in brain states based on the activity performed. The application is easy to use, albeit somewhat cluttered in the user experience with help articles. The application could become a more serious device for clinical research if it had more advanced export capabilities. It is hard to find detailed data on how the device works including sensitivity, sampling rate, and how the calculated metrics are calculated.
A friend of mine asked me the other day "why do you meditate?, ya know, some people go to the gym because they want to look good, others run because it makes them feel good, what makes you meditate?" My first response was not the highest quality response and was something like "well, I do it because it is the path to enlightenment", which, upon further inspection, is not really why I do it. I told him I would spend time on it and get back to him with an answer. This blog is my attempt to answer it for myself before responding to my friend...
There are all the physiological benefits that are well documented in Altered Traits and have been studied by the scientific community for decades now and the practitioner community for millennia now. I have enjoyed many of these physiological benefits including reduced blood pressure, lowered resting heart rate, and better sleep. These are nice benefits, and, after inspection, not why I meditate.
I then inspected enlightenment and the reduction of suffering as the reason to meditate, which was my initial response. I probably said this as a mostly follow the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism and one of the goals is to reduce the suffering of all beings. When I inspected this, I couldn't find any indication that this is my reason other than an aspirational belief that this is the right thing to do. I believe it was ego that answered this way, wanting to have some higher purpose for spending hundreds of hours practicing meditation. Although meditation might create necessary pre-conditions for enlightenment or accelerate the path to enlightenment, it is not really the reason why I meditate.
Yesterday, as I was meditating, l realized how good it makes me feel. I also know that attachment to that feeling can be a hindrance to further insight. I believe I have benefited in three ways from meditation that encourage me to continue:
1. More calm and blissful moments
2. Better decision-making
Calm and Bliss - I have become a better parent, husband and colleague because of meditation. The quality of my response when under stress is better, and I have more compassion and empathy for my colleagues, friend and family. Due to my practice, I can feel thoughts and emotion arise, and choose to attach or not attach. I am aware when a transgression is triggering a programmed response and can interrupt that programmed response with a higher quality one. Also, the feelings of bliss and happiness, while a trap, feel really good while you are in them and can be accessed easily now after practicing for a few years.
Better decision-making - With meditation (or from the benefits of focus), I can better inspect a new condition and the filters that my mind applies to it. This skill enables me to see the condition or situation more clearly and objectively which leads to better decisions.
Wisdom - Maybe this is the overriding purpose or reason why I meditate. I have always searched for more meaning since I was a young kid, questioning the religion I was raised in, looking for alternate states, and reading philosophy to understand why we are here. With Buddhism, I have found that you don't have to engage in a leap of faith (which I always struggled with), you can follow the practice and know the results. You can experiment and prove or disprove the philosophy with your own practice. With each experiment I find that I get slightly closer to seeing things as they are, with equanimity.
We lost our dog today to a mystery illness. He started wincing out in pain about six weeks ago. We visited four different vets in Los Angeles who diagnosed it as a cognitive illness. It wasn't. We took him back to Iowa and he went downhill really quickly. A vet in Sioux Falls identified a lump in his throat and scheduled a surgery to remove it. In the next couple days, he declined quickly and he went into kidney failure. We hospitalized him at Best Care Pet Hospital, an amazing place run by caring people. Dr. Lamp and his staff, a wonderful and talented vet, cared for Ollie for a week and it seemed like he was getting better. His kidney and liver values were improving and we checked him out of the hospital. In the next few days, he declined quickly, to the point of not wanting to eat or drink. He had already gone about nine days without food but was still drinking. When he stopped drinking, we knew he was leaving us. Ollie had gone through a lot and was giving up. He couldn't fight any more so we made the decision to help him leave us compassionately. The kids were able to be there and give him lots of love. We used to have a tradition of "Ollie love time" where he would jump on one of the kids beds and we would smother him in love. He was a smart dog and would jump on the bed proactively, roll on his back and wait for "Ollie love time".
What a great dog. He was so sweet and gentle with Ayden who could run across the room and tackle him without him fighting back. He was also a fierce protector and would not hesitate to defend himself or his people when pushed. He has been a mystery since he joined us as we adopted him from a shelter in April 2020 without much of a background. We think he was about 10 years old, lived on a ranch, and had a brother. That's about all we got. His personality started coming out after a month of living with us. He loved food and gained a few pounds, which the vet always chastised us for. He and I would take long walks, touring the neighborhood, chasing squirrels, and saying "hi" to other dogs. When he didn't want to go somewhere, he would just lay down on the sidewalk and refuse to go and there was no way of getting him to move until you turned around and went home. Stubborn, smart, kind, and tough.
Ollie loved going to our cabin and would lay under his favorite tree and observe all things. He liked to be able to keep an eye on us, while simultaneously napping.
Ollie and the chickens achieved a stalemate. He knew that he would get in trouble if he went after them. They knew they could go right in his face without him going after them. He chose to sneak glances at them but mostly pretended they didn't exist.
He was such a good dog. He brought so much love and compassion into our lives in such a short period of time (15 months). I wish we could have been with him longer and maybe that is the lesson. Rest in peace, Ollie.
I am reading The Future of Spirituality, why it must be integral and really enjoying how Ken Wilber brings together pre-modern, modern, and post-modern into an integral view of spirituality. From what I understand:
"I am-ness" - profound core truth of identity. He connects the more advanced stages of development from the ancient traditions to more modern theories like Piaget. They all describe an enlightened state of one-ness and immersion. The witness dissolves into everything witnessed. You no longer feel the rain, you are the rain.
The experiential practices of Buddhism blend the pre-modern with the modern to validate the stages via experimentation (mostly on yourself). That is why I like these practices, you can feel the development and test different practices, gaining more and more insight into one-ness. The meditative states, developed pre-modern, predicated the most recent research into Flow.
Decades we researched how human development works. There are these two different types of components of mind:
Both are part of evolution and Integral contains both. You can be a Zen master and still be a mythic level - that is a problematic. Structures grow and become world-centric eventually. Without understanding the stage of development you are at, you will be interpreting your meditative sages with whatever structure you are still in. You don't see them in meditation. They are third-person deductions that western researchers that make when studying human growth and development. While stages in meditation are personal experiences of growth and development.
The structure stages were created by the evolution of the mind, from primal survival (limbic) to communal/tribal (grow together), to global/integrated (more one-ness but still dual). Society can be in a certain stage just as an individual is.
I am going to need to listen to this book (a series of interviews) a couple times to really understand the more advanced concepts. So far it is great! What I took away so far is that you can be in an enlightened "state" while still being in a magic "stage". You may have glimpsed one-ness, emptiness while at the same time explaining the world through magic or myth. There is a great discussion about why achieving enlightenment does not automatically make you kind, ethical, or moral. The yoga teacher that abuses their students, the enlightened meditation teacher that lacks emotional intelligence. You have to grow up and wake up in Integral Spirituality.
"That which is form is not other than emptiness. That which is emptiness is not other than form"
Eric is a traveller, hacker, and experimenter who is currently researching how to become a happier, calmer, and more compassionate human being.