Repost from

Modern life is weird.

For the more privileged among us, the options of what we could do with our time grow exponentially by the year, by the day. My interests are infinite, and I’m lucky to have both the wits and the means to follow just about any of them. Meanwhile, I and many of my peers are too busy doomscrolling our lives away in ennui and overwhelm as that we’d find the time to seize a mere fraction of all the unprecedented opportunities we have.

We suffer crippling decision paralysis.

But slowly, I’m learning to deal with that.

A heuristic I lately found immensely useful for not getting crushed by the radical uncertainty of all these possibilities is:

Tend to your clarity, not your confusion.

Four examples:


I’ve grown sick of Berlin.

The constant noise. The rainbow palette of smells one more disgusting than the other. The gunky subway seats better not to take a close look at. The gray. The dark. The legions of homeless one looking more woeful than the other because how couldn’t they when being more miserable than the other guy is what gives them a competitive edge. The techno parties sex parties drug parties that you need to buy your way into if you still want to feel something after having numbed your senses enough to bear the rest of city life.

I have enough of that.

Following that conviction, I’ve spent the days and nights of my past two weeks frantically researching careers closer to nature. Vegetable gardening, environmental education, or just doing what I’m already doing in a more rural area.

And, I did all of that crumpled up inside a tiny city apartment, procrastinating the liberation of getting the fuck out just a little bit longer. Of course, this research wasn’t completely useless. But a quarter as much googling would have sufficed just fine.

I followed the confusion and dissatisfaction of not being in nature, and what I got was more confusion and dissatisfaction in trying to map out the perfect career from first principles.

Instead, I could have 80/20’d the research, connected to my clarity, my need for nature here and now, and asked Google Maps for the quickest way to the next forest.


For years, whenever I didn’t touch my meditation cushion for a couple days, I would wonder why the hell I do this zen thing that is good for nothing in the first place. Why waste time on the cushion when I could also just put in the work to finally one day turn my fantasies of greatness and perfect love into reality?

Whenever I would get off the cushion, or home from a retreat, I’d feel deeply alive and in touch with myself and the world. Right here and now, no need for petty achievements to license me feeling good. Then, zazen seemed like the most precious use of time there is.

I got the solution for all my problems right here under my butt. But I still decide to rub myself in woes all over every day all day. Because confusion and frustration is addictive. 

"just one more thought bro and everything will be ok, we'll figure everything out with just one more thought bro, just one more and everything will be perfect, just one more thought bro"


During the third night of the retreat when I temporarily broke my brain with Ayahuasca, I noticed pretty quickly that I already had enough of cringefest and confronting my biggest fears after the first two nights. That it’s time for a break.

Of course, I only concluded that one hour into the journey when the DMT aliens had already placed me on their examination table to evaluate whether I’m worthy or whatever.


I was tired to death, nauseous, had months worth of integration to do already. And as if that wasn’t enough - I also suddenly grew a bit paranoid about the cult I had joined for this adventure being, well, maybe a bit of a cult. So I lost trust in all the local guides (who are wonderful people), and had to handle my business on my own.

So I negotiated my way out of the ceremonial room, fetched a fat blanket, lay down under the moonlit clouds, and started thinking.

I’m laying here on a table at the retreat I signed up for. There’s clouds above me. I’m tripping pretty hard. I’ll still be tripping for at least another five hours. That is not gonna change, that is nothing I can debate away. I’m physically safe, as long as I don’t leave or try to eat something. I can’t and shouldn’t go anywhere. I don’t feel comfortable around any of the people inside. But I can just stay here. Breathe. Listen to the birds. Breathe. Look at the patterns in the clouds. Breathe. Soon enough it will be over. But that’s not now. Now is just breathing. Breathe.

And thus, tending to my clarity through listing all the facts of the situation I got myself into, I got myself back together and had a less than terrible rest of the night.

Eventually, I even enjoyed listening to the bird songs outside and the psychedelic songs inside.


Researching what makes psychotherapy effective, Eugene Gendlin found a tremendously powerful predictor. It is not the method used, nor the quality of the therapist-patient relationship; it is how often the patient pauses during the session, introspects, says “mmmmh” and “aaaaah” and grapples for words, trying to articulate something yet unsayable.

As Gendlin put it later: What makes therapy successful is when the patient connects to a murky felt sense at the center of their body where verbalized and intuitive knowledge are intertwined.

After seeing the success rates of patients who accidentally knew how to connect to their felt sense, Gendlin developed a method for teaching these mental motions to people who don’t do them intuitively.

This method is called Focusing.

And in a Focusing session, there is an indispensable step that comes before we use our felt sense to try and connect with the unknown and half-known: “Clearing a space”.

Clearing a space involves noticing where we are at right now, what needs adjusting so we are as comfortable as possible in the room and with ourselves. Only then do we embark into the unknown of our unconscious. Always only so far as is possible without losing touch with that background of clarity.

So, how do I tend to my clarity?

When I focus on my lostness and confusion, my thoughts get more and more viscous until I can’t see or hear or feel anything but words. If I focus on where I already feel clear, while being aware of the edge of the unknown, that clarity grows and expands. The murkiness of my open questions doesn’t choke me, but slowly transforms into more and more nourishing clarity.

If I get lost in frantic attempts to Fix, the doing is effortful, sometimes impossibly so. If I connect to what is, what feels clear, it happens on its own.

Rumination is fast and loud and drags me in. This clarity, on the other hand, is more subtle, shy, quickly goes into hiding when I don’t nourish and protect it. It needs continuous effort to not lose touch with it. But when I tend to it, slowly and without fail it builds up warmth and goodness and aliveness and integrity.

How can I do that, in moments when the mental motion of “just be present” is not easily available?

Here’s some strategies I find helpful.

a. Get into the body

Tending to my clarity involves getting into my body: Every genuine “This!” or “Not this!” is an embodied experience: A sense of expansion or contraction i feel in regards to a certain topic, activity, person. My lostness and confusion, however, is made up of thought-noise. Embodied grief or disgust feels as alive as embodied love or joy; true lostness is un-embodiment, getting dragged into noisy abstract thoughts tangling themselves up in self-referential circles.

So: Breathe. Feel your feet. Notice where your body is soft, where it feels tense, where there are gaps in awareness. Move if you want to. Notice your attitude towards this noticing. Rinse and repeat.

b. Slow down

For me, getting lost in confusion is often associated with a sense of rushedness, with being there-and-then rather than here-and-now. Tending to my clarity means paying attention to what is, even if it feels off. Then, I realize that my fantasies of what should be are just arbitrary fabrications that drag me away from what is actually in front of me to experience and to do. To counter that, you might want to go for a slow walk, sit down with a cup of tea, do the dishes - or just take a deep breath and move at half the speed you have before. 

c. “What is most important for me right now?”

…is a mantra I picked up from Ruth Cohn, a facilitator legend in whose lineage I’ve been learning leadership. Just repeat it to yourself over and over again, until there’s no doubt about the best next step. Then, go on and do that.


In example I, If I had followed the clarity and just felt that I needed more time in nature, I’d have substituted at least half my research time by walks in the forest.

Example II: When I manage to be present with what is, meditation often feels like the obviously most valuable pastime.

Example III: Instead of getting lost in the seas of my mind, I grounded myself in what is - no matter how dire and aversive.

Example IV, in turn, hints at a lot of R&D with quick feedback loops that had Gendlin conclude that starting from our clarity is the best strategy even when we *want* to address what is murky.

So: Time to stop toiling for salvation. Time to just salvage myself.

Time for a walk in the woods.

New Comment
1 comment, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

I've had a similar idea myself, so I think the principle generalizes: Focus on positives rather than negatives.

I find this intuitive because the set of "good" things, like goals, preferences, and even clearity and "what is", is far smaller than the complement set of "bad" things and future possibilities. My working memory is quite limited, so if I point my attention towards the negative set of anything, I quickly lose my oversight, and only being able to fit a subset of the problem in my mind at a time is very uncomfortable.

I only have a few goals, they fit in my working memory. The list of things I'd like to avoid though, is huge, and If I throw my attention at it, my brain will be occupied for a long time and spit out a whole list of scattered and incomplete ideas which can't be unified easily. I find that the brain doesn't like incomplete things, and that it will keep working on them long after I give up myself, remaining as background noise. Confusion for me, feels like an accumulation of these fragments that the brain refuses to let go of (because it believes they're important, I guess). It helps to write down everything on my mind since it allows me to clear my mind, but I like the idea of thinking in a way which reduces the risk of this fragmentation/noise appearing in the first place.

Some notes: Stress makes my brain think more, and pushes me closer to a skizophrenia diagnosis. This process also feels a lot like the Tetris effect, and it gets quite bad if I try to learn too much material too fast, after which I will feel literal nausea (the kind you get when you eat too much of the same thing). I think all of this has an overlap with what you're describing, hopefully enough that it adds something