Bearlamp | Lesswrong | Greaterwrong

I had a very deep and intense conversation with a friend.  We talked about “that feeling of being alone” and that relationships will come and go and really, “I am all that I can guarantee that I have” at the end of the day. My conversation partner asked me, “How do I be a friend to myself?”

And I clicked into a realisation.

Tighten your seat-belt and settle down for an epic dojo exercises that you weren’t expecting

Non-duality. Differentiation and integration.

One concept that meditation books (like: Pointing Out The Great Way, The Attention Revolution, The Mind Illuminated, Mastering The Core Teachings of the Buddha (FREE) ) talk about is the concept of non-duality (between many things, but this time specifically) between the observer of the thoughts and the one having thoughts. There’s a meditation path where the instructions are to point attention on attention itself. When I try to watch myself putting attention on somewhere else I can, but I lose a bit of attention when I “watch” myself. So I can watch myself having a thought, and feel the confusing feeling where I try to find who is having the thought, especially if I am busy watching then *oh wait now I’m watching not thought-ing*. The instructions are to repeat until [spoiler alert] you burn a hole through the idea of duality and you conclude on a sensation level of realisation there is a non-duality of self here.

(Strange and weird so far, that’s fine)

Story Time

I am my own guide.
(this story is hard to transmit and I’m scared to share it here so I’m leaving it out but it’s significant and one day I might write it up)

I have always had my own back.

I participated in a holotropic breathwork workshop. In short, the instructions are to breathe fast, deep and without breaks until you start seeing things. Then breathe into the experience. Without getting technical, there’s something about oxygenation, lack of carbon dioxide, heart rate, and lower brain access that causes interesting experiences, something about oxygenation that feels healing and something about extended duration and the right thematic music to give exciting realisations.

I followed the instructions and I found myself a little too good at breathing. I breathed so fast that I missed it. Then I worked out what had happened and decided to slow down, breathe lightly and see if I could find the right balance of where experiences happened. As I floated down from “too far” searching for my own trippy visualisation “spirit journey”. My awareness was on what was happening, the floating down experience.  Suddenly I got an image of myself, not lying on a bed, but on a leaf. Floating down in gentle wind, but also a viscerally strong sensation, feeling that I am holding myself. I am protecting myself, “I have always had my own back”.

This casually profound feeling is not one that transmits via words. It’s a powerful and wonderful experience to have and any doubt of myself was washed away by the feeling that I now can return back to any time to the feeling that I protect myself.  I have my own back.

There are a few classic precepts that might ring true and common:

  • I am my own hero
  • I put pressure on myself
  • I crack the whip
  • I take care of myself.
  • I am my own god. I am one with the universe. I worship myself. I am in connection to god (people sometimes say these)
  • younger levels: I like myself, I am confident.
  • Very young: I want ice-cream for myself.
  • (monkey in a cage) (rat on a wheel)

Each of these has a non-duality of self in it:

  1. I am the self that does the liking; and
  2. I am the self that is being liked.

But when I say that I like myself I usually imagine I am the one doing the liking, not the one being liked. To think I am the other one, and to occupy that experience for a moment is a little jarring, a little dissociating and a little uncomfortable.

Exercise – Dojo.

Our dojos are run as a group with ~10 people in the room, once a month.

  1. blank paper, pen.
  2. Set a 4 minute timer.
  3. Generate a list of answers to the question “What is my relationship to myself?” Look into various facets of my life, what is the relationship I have to myself?

For example: I am the one who earns the pay-cheque for myself.

Have a brief discussion of what we found.  This is an opportunity to learn from one another and steal each other’s ideas for ourselves if they are relevant.  People don’t have to share, people don’t have to participate.

Now take those statements and for each of them divide them into the two sides. (2mins)

Ex: I am the one earning the paycheque. I am the one being earnt for.

As you do that, ask yourself which one you are, mark them off.

Have a brief discussion about what we found, was anyone surprised?

Note: some statements break into more than two.  Example:

  1. I am the one pushing myself to go to work, to earn the paycheque
  2. I am the one being pushed to go to work, to earn the paycheque
  3. I am the one doing the earning
  4. I am the one being earnt for.

Discussion:  Anyone having trouble dividing the statements?  How does it feel to you?  If you don’t divide, that’s fine too.  And a learning point.

How does it feel to be the other one?

4 mins.  For each of the relationships, imagine you are the other half of the duality. How does it feel to be the other half?

What are the rights of the other half? What were the rights of the first half? Are you treating yourself fairly? Can you strike a new bargain?

Is this a balanced relationship? Do you want to change the relationship to be more balanced?

WaitButWhy described his relationship with his procrastinator monkey.  A friend of mine once drew up a contract between the parts. The rights and responsibilities of the two (or more) Internal Family actors in their internal world.

Discussion here about what we found.

How does it feel to be the other one?

Imagine there are two of you walking down a path. An older you and a younger you. Which one do you associate with?

What is each one doing?

(most people pick one over the other)

Now imagine there is a third one of you so that you are the middle one.

Now take away the first of the pair that you started with that you weren’t. (for instance if you were the older one, you are now the younger of the two on the path)

How does it feel to be the other one?

What are the two doing now?

Discussion.  How did it feel, what did we find?

2 mins – try to be kind to the other you. Or try to be harsher. What do you want?

This applies to the relationship to exterior world too. Are you the one putting the pressure on or the one being pressured? Are you the one giving or the one receiving?

Stand one foot on the other foot.

How does it feel to be the foot being stood on?
How does it feel to be the foot doing the standing on?
How do you feel about your ability to balance while standing on yourself in this position.

Vary the pressure between how much you are leaning on yourself, ask the above questions again.

This is an exploration of your interactions with the rest of the world.

Feel around for the happy medium where both feet are happy with this relationship.  How does this describe your desire to support others and be supported by others.

(This exercise has an anonymous feedback form where you can see other people describe their experiences)

Balance on one foot.  Kick the other food wildly to throw yourself off balance.

How does it feel to balance while being attached to something chaotic?

How does it feel to be a chaotic force attached to something stable and balanced?

How does this relate to the way you interact with chaotic forces in the rest of your life?  How does this relate to the way that you carry out the unknown or chaotic in your own actions?

Does this suggest that you might want more chaos in your life, or less chaos.

Note: These exercises can seems hard and might not work for everyone.  As a general prerequisite, if you intend to find something here, you will need 3 elements:

  1. Willingness to try
  2. The feeling of being in your body and connection to the body, breath or other strong awareness of present momentary experience.
  3. some sort of instruction which give you the method to follow.  (kindly written down above)

Once you find something, it’s going to be up to you to work out what to do next, and decide how/if you let it shape your world and the way that you work.

Meta: I expect this exercise to receive 45% "Yeah duh, also this is amazing" and 45% "I've never seen anything so dumb" in feedback, and 10% "I don't get it". If you want to talk about why, I'm happy to try to engage with these 3 or other opinions at length.

In my experience I have seen people get huge things from this exercise and seen people actively angry about how stupid it is.

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6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:33 AM

To me it feels kinda unpleasant to stop and think about myself. (Bertrand Russell said most people are unhappy because they think about themselves too much...) I feel happier when I'm bouncing from one activity to the next, forgetting about myself as much as possible. Sometimes that happens naturally when my life is full, but I also know how to jump-start it from zero, sitting in a grey room with nobody calling.

The idea is to start with some tiny action, like clapping my hands or hitting a piano key, trying to make it short and snappy. Somehow that gives me a tiny amount of energy in the next moment, like the universe is saying "Nice!" Normally it would dissipate, but instead I can quickly channel the energy into another action, making it a bit easier. Once you get good enough at timing and catching the "recoil" without fumbling it, you can keep going for a while, gradually increasing the amplitude and consequence of your actions. It feels easy because you don't need to apply force constantly, only at the short moments of "bounce", and the rest of the time you're metaphorically flying through the air. If you've played any video games where you can go faster and faster by using precisely timed jumps starting from almost nothing, that's exactly how it feels. I think successful people are the people who can keep such a combo going for years on end, flying to the sky with each bounce, with so much momentum that nothing can stop them.


Would you be interested in a post that explains what you are doing in a broader sense with more of a map as to what is going on here?

It's just a trick that works for me, I don't know enough psychology to figure out the right theory of why it works.


Let me say differently - I think I know why. Will try to find some time to write.

I'm a bit skeptical though, because psychology is in a bad state now, and LW is feeding off the self-help cottage industry which is even worse. Even Kahneman's work which is central to LW has been hit hard by the replication crisis. I don't think any of us are equipped to answer why some mind trick works or doesn't.


I have read 5LL and GPP, as well as I'm okay, you're okay - also by Eric Berne

5LL was poor Christian filled book, where the core 5 are handy approximations of a good idea. 5 apology languages are rubbish.

GPP was okay and I read it more than ten years ago. Was skeptical of it back then but it also does have a place in a framework of models of other minds.

Ioyo is neat and old psychology from the 70s. Similarly aged psychology but still something of use there. Tying that model together and more starts pointing to good things.