Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup


Published onMar 12, 2019

I write my journal in my extended brain, I’ve tried to fix up the formatting as I’ve copied journals over, but some structure doesn’t transfer well; I apologize if some parts are harder to parse.

05/06/19 - Entertainment is an Awareness Virus

Recently, I've been struggling with my relationship with entertainment. Enjoying this consumption requires investing part of myself in it. However, I then find it difficult to limit how much I invest myself. This problem is exacerbated because most entertainment is designed to have low barriers around it - it's easy to start playing a game or thinking about a book or movie or wandering around a website.

I think the problem is that I like to let myself become fully invested in whatever I'm thinking about / doing. I've noticed that letting myself half-do things generally leads to bad results or a waste of time. I think this somewhat addictive nature is useful sometimes, ex. when I need something that keeps me grinding through a project. However, when combined with activities that are designed to be able to expand to however much time you'll give them, this becomes dangerous.

Taking the view that awareness is really about being able to focus your attention in different ways, I think that this causes problems with my ability to be aware. First, the entertainment simply takes up some of the time that I might have otherwise used for thinking about more interesting things. But more seriously, I think it is especially parasitic on mental states involving boredom, frustration, w ambition, etc. These mental states are plausibly an opportunity to redirect my attention / viewpoint in a way that I don't normally. For example, I think many of my productive brainstorming sessions at a "life level" of abstraction have historically come from when I'm in a state of frustration.

However, I also think that entertainment can serve some valuable roles of relaxation, letting myself grind through boring things, etc.

Maybe I'll try more quarantining to get more of a diversity in mental states

05/01/19 - Integrating Awareness

In class yesterday, we started discussing the difference between putting awareness into another "bucket" of things to do verse integrating awareness throughout our lives. I found this idea confusing.

I think part of the problem is that we've explicitly tried to not define awareness. I don't entirely understand why we've done this. I think awareness is probably just a Suitcase Word , which makes it confusing. I'll try to break down my understanding of it.

Components of Awareness:

Taking time to step back and reflect on your life at a meta-level

Ex. understand what's driving you

In the moment, building a habit of briefly stepping back and trying to understand what's going on at a meta-level

Building models of how you act and think

!Example how Meditation helps: Meditation lets you watch what thoughts are drifting around your head

In the moment, being intentional about trying on new Lense To Think With s

Tenzin 's city !Example : If frustrated by "jerks" in a city, try to focus on noticing good acts instead

Building habits of mind clearing (to maintain Mental ) , ex. through Meditation but then integrating throughout life

Building an ability to decide where your attention will go ( Final Project - Awareness is a Spotlight )

Ex in city focus on good deeds

Ex in meditation, on own breathing

!Example on an airplane with crying babies: Decide to focus on the fun of the babies interacting and use a Lense To Think With of compassion for the mothers and the babies as they don't want to be in this situation either

Cultivating a beginner's mind

Cultivating calmness in the moment by remembering that things are temporary & part of a larger picture & realizing most things have very low stakes

Building a sense that most beliefs / thoughts are temporary and not absolute truth and to try to understand them in context (ex. to not be too hard on yourself)

04/30/19 - Value of Grinding Through Projects

In class today, discussion drifted to the topic of staying up for extended periods of time and the related value of grinding through projects. Someone commented that he frequently will have himself start a project and "work until its done", even if that's 30 or 40 hours later without sleep.

This seems like an extremely valuable skill to have. I think I used to have this skill of committing to a schedule and just grinding through work until things are done, but I feel I've recently (maybe over the span of the last week or two while being sick) have let this slip. Fortunately, I thin I've been recovering this habit over the past few days.

As a few people commented, this feeling of just grinding through work is really enjoyable. I'm unsure why.

Part of it is probably that I'm just lucky to enjoy most of the work I get to do.

For me, grinding work generally means focusing on something for 1-3 hours, then switching to another task. I think I enjoy this novelty.

Working resolves problems and resolving problems makes stress and worries go away.

I enjoy feeling like I'm moving towards my goals.

I do other enjoyable things while working, like listening to music.

Being in a flow state means you're not paying attention to other more negative feelings (like worrying about getting things done, etc.)

I think Tenzin was trying to push back against this idea somewhat. I didn't entirely understand his point, but I think he was worried that this meant you're not being aware in the moment. He was also cautioning against the related idea of using awareness as a way to take breaks and advocating for figuring out how to integrate awareness throughout everything we're doing.

04/26/19 - Being Sick / Energy Levels

I was sick for around a week. Sickness turns you into a slightly different person and I was able to notice some things that I might have not otherwise noticed.

1. Feeling "good" seems to largely be about regulating different levels of things.

Normally, my body regulates my temperature for me. While sick, this was much less effective so I had to do it much more manually. I noticed myself being constantly driven to take jackets on and off, put on blankets, etc. These urges were generally pretty strong and hard to ignore; when I satisfied them I felt much better (although I'm unsure what "better" means other than "the desire was removed").

2. Almost everything that I consider to be core to my identity is largely tied to having energy.

For almost the entirety of the week, I couldn't get myself to do the things that I normally cared about - I just wanted to sleep and relax. When I tried to do what I cared about, I generally mentally failed as my energy drained away too fast.

This made me reflect on the importance of having energy. The more energy I have, the more I can do the things that I find meaningful: creating, interacting with people, learning, etc. I need to prioritize maintaining this energy if I want to continue to be a person and not just a slug.

I notice that I also frequently feel limited by my energy in other settings. I notice this mostly through contrast - sometimes when all the variables align correctly, I feel energized, motivated, optimistic, etc. and feel a significantly higher sense of agency. Other times, I feel tired, sluggish, or demotivated. Occasionally observing contrasts like this may be useful, but I should prioritize building this energy.

I used to have a habit of explicitly monitoring these different levels of myself (sleep, food, mental clarity, etc.), but I realize that I've let that significantly slip. I wonder if my energy has also slipped as a result - I don't have a good way of tracking.

I'll try to resume being explicit about monitoring the variables tied to my energy levels.

3. Energy is like a pool; being sick made the pool much shallower, but I could still slowly get myself to do things by regulating how quickly I was draining my energy pool.

Normally, I can "chug" for a reasonable amount of time before needing to step back and reset myself. When sick, this time was much much lower.

I wonder why I need to do the "reset" step at all. I think different parts of me must have state that gets messed up that I need to manually go reset.

My brain gets "cluttered" because various agents / memory systems are holding onto old ideas.

My muscles physically build up Lactic Acid .

My brain builds up Adenosine .

Then, my body has built in clocks ( Circadian Rhythm ) that automate this process of suppressing activity to make sure these systems have time to clean themselves up.

04/21/19 - Conflict Between Wanting to Be in the Moment And Brainstorming

I have a limited amount of time each week where I can be fully mentally active. During this time, I feel a conflict between being aware and "in the moment" vs letting myself mentally wander to problems that I've been thinking about.

For example, I noticed this phenomenon strongly over summer break. At some point I was in an arboretum and felt myself bouncing between focusing on the nature around me and on a research problem that I had been thinking about.

I think letting myself mind-wander to problems that I'm thinking about is extremely useful for solving those problems. I don't think I'm alone in that observation - many mathematicians (perhaps Poincare most famously) have commented that after mentally "priming" a problem they'll feel their subconscious working on it in the background and parts of the answer will suddenly leap out to them at unexpected times. Letting myself do this also means I address problems with various states of mind. I also generally drift towards problems when I don't have other things to mentally occupy me, so I get to focus on the problems without the distractions I would have when in more of an explicit working mode.

However, doing this impedes how much I can focus "in the moment". Presumably, in many settings, there are things in the moment that I could focus on that would be interesting and worthwhile to pay attention to (or at least I think that's part of what this class is trying to convey). However, I generally find myself unable to find these things.

What could I look for? We've been practicing this with the "ontpd" thing but it's still generally a struggle.

If I focus on the details of things around me, I find I generally want to go look up more information. For example, at the arboretum we briefly went into a bonsai garden. In my attempt to pay attention to them, I found myself wanting to understand how they were made, which would have made me switch my attention away. I was able to focus on the visual details (which were pretty cool), but kept having to prune mental paths going elsewhere.

04/17/19 - Do Distractions Let Me Be More Aware?

Sometimes if bored while listening to something (ex a lecture, waiting for a script to run, etc.) , I'll let myself go and do something mildly entertaining but not overly complicated (browse a website, play a game, etc.). I'm unsure if this is a bad habit or not.

An argument for this habit is that it prevents me from getting sufficiently bored that I decide to totally tune out or stop what I'm doing. I think modelling it as a boredom level is reasonable; the entertainment is like a pressure release valve on a pipe that prevents the pipe from getting too much pressure. Some pressure ( / attention) is wasted, but overal the system is more stable.

A better alternative might be letting myself mentally step back and mind wander. This might be a good practice for allowing myself to draw connections between ideas and to jump between focused / diffuse mental states. However, I think i would need some sort of timer to bring me back on task once I had done. Maybe I should just try doing this with an explicit timer - when bored in one of these situations, just bring up a timer and let myself mind wander until its done. Or, go do a task like refilling my water bottle that takes an explicit pre-set amount of my time.

04/12/19 - Over-Focusing On Grinding

I think I've been letting myself over-focus on "grinding" things recently, without giving myself enough time for larger scale thinking/reflection and without a proper goal structure.

One place I've been battling this is in some of my classes. From a learning standpoint, I believe it's important that you go "all in" in classes - if you're not really deeply absorbing and understanding the material, then I think the class ends up being a waste of time in the long term (because bad understanding leads to shaky memories and eventually the entire thing just decays and fades away). However, I've been struggling to make sure I'm hitting this level of learning in my classes this term.

I think there's a complex set of reasons for this.

I no longer have confidence that I'll use what I'm learning in the future.

I am losing confidence that "practicing doing work" will make me better at doing work in the future.

As I'm starting to think more about the future, individual class content feels increasingly irrelevant.

I have a large number of things competing for my time, including other projects and entertainment.

I no longer have confidence that understanding something now means I'll understand it well enough to use in the future.

I've let other habits slip that have limited my self-agency and made it extra hard to hit that necessary level of learning.

Many of my classes are project focused, and I'm being unsure if doing projects are an efficient way of learning or not.

I feel I'm tired of "preparing" and want to go "do".

I'm unsure what to do about this.

I could just let myself grind out the next few weeks until the semester ends. I sort of need to do this to finish everything that I'm currently working on. Once done, I can step back and reflect on how I want to select my next set of projects.

I could double-down on increasing my self-agency so I can put more effort into learning.

However, most of my classes have effectively ended and are just focused on projects now.

I could approach my remaining projects with an increased focus on not just doing interesting projects, but making sure I'm exploring new things personally with them.

I think I should try to do this and keep this in mind.

04/10/19 - Awareness of My Foot Posture

For some time I've occasionally gotten foot pain in my right foot but haven't been able to figure out why. Recently, I've noticed that my foot posture is quite poor - I'll often land on the inside of my foot, with my foot too far inward as well, and roll on it in a bad way.

I've been trying to be much more active about how I'm stepping as I walk. Hopefully, this better posture will ingrain itself as a habit.

I don't think I would have noticed this problem if I hadn't been trying to be aware of my body and surroundings one day while walking, as an exercise for this class. This might end up being one of the most important takeaways I get this semester!

04/08/19 - What Are People Noticing in ONTPD?

04/05/19 - Awareness of Goals

If I want to understand myself, I should understand what drivers motivate me. Unfortunately, I think this is extremely hard for a few reasons:

1. Humans aren't that good at self modelling - we have rough high level models of how we act but we self-model all the low-level events going on.

2. We don't yet have good tools to track those lower level events for us.

3. To really understand what drives and controls me I think I would need a deep understanding of everything from psychology to neuroscience to social theory to economics to systems.

Pragmatically, I think that I sometimes need to force myself to be *un*aware of my goals to prevent myself from getting into a "deadlock" state. I've ocassionaly had experiences where I think too deeply about why I'm doing what I'm doing and how that connects to my longer term purpose and goals and if I don't quarantine that, it quickly spirals into existentialism. I think this is a reason why things like religion and social roles play large parts in society; they let yourself stop asking these infinitely recursive questions of purpose.

Yet at other times, I think I let myself drift too far in the other direction; I'll find myself traveling along some path without awareness of how they're connecting to my higher level goals. For example, I'll occasionally struggle with this on problem sets. It's generally much easier to just get the problem set done than it is to extract higher-level long-term learnings from it. I need to restrict my scope to "finish work each week" to stop myself from needlessly getting existential every weekend, but I simultaneously need to keep my scope high enough to be motivated to put in that extra work. It's a challenging balance.

This is probably an example of a setting where I need to try to design my system / environment to make these choices for me. (Ito might describe this danger of letting yourself become a slave to low level goals (i.e. problem sets) as kissing the whip?) One thing I've tried in the past is intentionally doing a "larger scale reflection" each weekend. That works a bit, but is also hard to prioritize. More effective "system level things" generally seem to rely on external forces. Classes try to do this with projects that get you to think more deeply. I try to do this with my learning by getting myself to take notes on each class and by being semi-strict about my class practice schedule. The school system also has a built in schedule of taking breaks - ideally these should be used for reflection as well as relaxation.

I'm unsure what role my meditation practice should play here. So far my focus has mainly been on clearing my mind; maybe I should also try to include a deep-dive component?

04/01/19 - Susceptibility to Environment

I've frequently noticed how susceptible my emotions and worldview are to random environmental changes and random events.

I noticed a strong example of this today in group meeting for a class I'm LAing.

There were four of us sitting at my table. I didn't know any of them and we were mostly quiet for the first hour and a half (except for occasional chatting between the two that knew each other). Eventually, when someone else came over to discuss one of the questions we were beta-testing, we started to talk. This occasional talk continued until the end.

I noticed that I felt somewhat more relaxed and happy after this switch. I think there were a few reasons for this:

1. I felt more secure in my ability as an LA to know that the other people were also confused by the (buggy) question we were testing.

2. I enjoyed the camaraderie of working through the question together. We were marginally more efficient by helping each other, but it also just felt nice to have the sense of belonging.

3. There was some joking around.

What exactly were the stages here?

I felt uncertain if we wanted to form a conversation group / uncertain about how to do

An external force prodded us to start talking / gave us an excuse

We banded together over a mutual enemy (the pset)

We shared personally vulnerable details (confusion about the pset, other confusions about the class)

We agreed about what we were talking about

We made jokes / had some convo structure that led to laughter

We finished with an implicit signal that we wanted the group to continue (asking names)

03/21/19 - Performing Better By Being Aware

I've noticed a practical positive effect from being more aware about awareness: on tasks where awareness / focus is required, being active about applying this focus seems to lead to immediate practical improvement.

This seems clearest to me in video games. For example, it's easy to get into a state where I let myself mindlessly react to the state of the game without engaging the higher level reflective/modelling parts of my brain. When I do this I execute things okay but don't adopt to new situations quickly, generally seem to not learn, and notice I perform worse. However, when I make sure that I'm engaging this practice of being aware about the game, what's happening in it, how I feel about that, and how other people are reacting, I notice I do better.

I think this heps in a variety of ways:

I'm notice when I'm repeatedly doing something dumb

I actively experiment with my technique

I notice what techniques others are trying

I notice my emotional state towards the game

Apparently we estimate rewards at an "emotional"/lower level before being "consciously" aware of them - maybe this makes that feedback loop tighter?

This lets me better maintain homeostasis; ex. pause if I'm staring at the screen too long, drink water if needed, adjust my body if it's a physical game

There are a variety of challenges in getting to this state:

It's tiring

It requires me to already be at homeostasis (mentally alert, well fed, calm, etc.)

Because it's more tiring, it changes how I view the activity - the activity becomes less of a relaxing thing and more of another task to put energy into.

03/16/19 - Using Music To Manipulate My State of Being

I've noticed that I heavily rely on music to manipulate my mood and state of mind.

Sometimes this manipulation is explicitly playing a song. I'll want to focus, so I'll put on an album that I know will move me into a state of flow. (I listen almost exclusively to albums for this purpose; it's much easier to get into states of flow with them.) I think I'll be somewhat intentional about this process, in that I'll try to select an album that will move me towards a desired emotional state (either calmer, more energetic, upbeat, flowing, sad, etc.)

Other times, I won't explicitly put on a song but still have it "playing" in my head. I think this happens in a few ways:

If I just finished an album, I'll often have motifs or little bars/jingles from it subtly playing after it ends.

Sometimes a random song will pop up in my head. I'm unsure what triggers this. Maybe there's a part of me that's explicitly searching for these songs, or maybe they're somehow associated with environmental things.

Sometime's I'll notice I'm feeling low-energy or agitated and explicitly try to mentally bring up part of a song to reset myself.

Maybe it would be useful to memorize songs that I can use to explicitly move myself between states of mind:


To Manipulate Emotion s

raise mood:

more aggressive: Money , Golden Slumbers

calmly: Karma Police

silily: Octopus's Garden , Maxwell's Silver Hammer

travelling / passing time: Graceland


upbeat: No Surprises , Weird Fishes , Echos

softer: On an Island

reminder of smallness: Us And Them

wistful: Wish You Were Here

more complex emotions: Pink Floyd

amp self up:

getting prepared: Final Countdown

get myself to care: Time Song Breath Song

confidence / disregard

I'm unsure if this list will be useful for me. Hopefully it will be and I can keep adding to it...

03/13/19 - Confused About Wanting Comfort

Sometimes I noticed myself wanting comfort. I want to not have to work, to be able to be outside, to have nice food, a nice place to be, things to entertain me, etc.

I'm currently deciding if I want to start a PhD or go into industry. Industry seems like a significantly more comfortable option. When I'm struggling on a problem, discouraged by research, uncertain about how to spend my time, or just generally tired, that comfort seems appealing.

I'm feeling this right now; I've been grinding against a problem on my research project for some time and am feeling discouraged.

By almost all standards, my life is quite comfortable. My basic needs are an afterthought, I'm able to support myself, and a good social support structure. Yet I still occasionally feel these frustrations.

Looking back at this a few days after writing it, I'm unsure how frequently I feel this way. I think it's maybe once a month, but I'm unsure. Maybe these feelings are more of a symptom of burnout and I should just use them as a sign to back off a bit when I feel them.

03/09/19 - Learning Emotion Words

We talked in class about the idea that learning words for emotions might help you be more aware of your emotions. I thought this was interesting and thought I should try this. To try to gain a personal connection to the words, I tried learning them through examples.

After doing this, I'm unsure how useful this actually seems...

Emotion [ State of Mind ]

Angry [ Emotion ]

Happy [ Emotion ]

Amused [ Happy ]

!Example : When I see a friend do something silly.

Calm [ Happy ]

!Example : When have a clear state of mind, ex. when playing foosball.

Inspired [ Happy ]

!Example : When hear friends talking about things they're passionate about.

Gleeful [ Happy ]

!Example : When nice weather, got positive feedback on a project, looking forward to something, and generally satisfied with life.

Playful [ Happy ]

!Example : When trying to build something with a friend; physically, or through conversation.

Sad [ Emotion ]

Regretful [ Sad ]

!Example : When I procrastinated & didn't do anything fun nor productive

Discouraged [ Sad ]

!Example : When a project isn't going well.

Afraid [ Emotion ]

Apprehensive [ Afraid ]

!Example : When worried about how a person will respond when I need to go meet with them.

Indecisive [ Afraid ]

!Example : When uncertain about how good various options are.

Shy [ Afraid ]

!Example : When uncertain how to introduce myself to someone.

Alarmed [ Afraid ]

!Example : When walking in the dark and hear a noise.

Ashamed [ Emotion ]

Flustered [ Ashamed ]

!Example : When give an answer in a presentation and someone points out it's wrong.

Indifferent [ Emotion ]

Apathetic [ Emotion ]

!Example : When tired in class and feeling like I'm not getting anything out of it.

Preoccupied [ Indifferent ]

!Example : When working on something and a friend comes up.

03/05/19 - What is a Thought?

In class, we discussed "what is a thought"? While I think the question is more about terminology than anything else, I agree it's interesting to explore.

Idea 1 - A thought is a pattern of communication between the agents of my mind that instantiates models.

Idea 2- Words exist partially for communication. The word "thoughtful" is useful because it lets us prime our minds to reset expectations / setup building a new model. If I say "I have a thought", the listener undergoes some process of priming themselves with an empty model that they can fill out. Similarly, when you tell yourself that you had a thought, you snapshot your current state of mind, reifying it into an object you can manipulate and abstract.

Idea 3- Thoughts are instantiated by k-lines connecting to a state of mind. If I try to recall a thought I had earlier (ex. a plan, a possible solution for a problem, etc.), then I really want to reactivate my prior state of mind. I can easily do so by just reactivating the k-line.

Idea 4- I think the most accurate answer is that the word "thought" is really a suitcase for a bunch of ideas, and we don't understand how the brain works well enough to understand precisely what those ideas are. For example, I could talk about the "state" of my computer in terms of what I see on the screen, but a potentially more meaningful understanding of the state of my computer is the contents of it's RAM, hard-disk, caches, etc (and the abstractions that that memory is instantiating).

02/29/19 - Sense of Time

I'm generally very "unaware" of time.

My perception of time changes drastically based on what I'm doing.

If I'm in a state of flow, then I'm generally unaware of how fast time is passing. If I'm in a state of procrastination / "zombie-ing", then I'm similarly unaware of how fast time is passing. Maybe in both circumstances this is because I'm not doing many high-level shifts of attention / mental control.

One example of this is videogames - if I'm playing ex. Smash with friends, I'm always surprised at how quickly the time passes.

If I'm bored, then I'll generally be quite aware of time (and how slowly it passes!).

If I'm pushing against a deadline, then I'll generally also be quite aware of time (and how quickly it passes!).

If I'm in a sluggish state, then I'll often be somewhat aware of time.

At points I've tried becoming more aware of time. After doing something / going somewhere, I'd try to predict how long it had taken me, then would check to see if I was right. I'm not sure, but I claim that this actually did make me slightly better at predicting how long things take - however, it might be because I've just memorized the answer for more things.

I'm unsure if I want to become more aware of time. I don't want to become more aware of time in my flow states. However, I do want to become more aware of time in my procrastination states. I guess my tools that interrupt every so often when procrastinating are a form of externalizing that awareness of time, and they also provide an easier way to control when I'm aware or not.

02/25/19 - Mind Throwing

A few years ago, I was sitting sleep deprived in a car at 3am. I didn't want to sleep yet because I'd be at my destination soon but couldn't get myself to focus on anything. My mind began wandering and then I realized that I could actually "move my viewpoint" to outside the car. In my minds eye I could see the top of the car, the trees we were driving by, and the road. I could "hear" the quiet and "feel" the cold and stillness.

Sometimes I'll take it literally farther. If I do it right now I see things slowly zooming out from my room to my street, to the strip of houses on my street, to Boston along the charles, to the east coast, to the earth, to the earth receding into a sea of blackness as a small globe of light. Then I can suddenly snap back down and feel a "zoom" of light and get back into my room.

Doing this feels like a somewhat literal method of "changing my viewpoint". Seeing the smallness of my house, city, and earth is relaxing in a sense - it gives scale to the problems I'm facing.

The earth receding into darkness is also a useful way to get that dark "clarity of mind" that can serve as a useful transition point into sleeping or meditating.

Alternatively, I can go "walk" along my street, "fly" across the charles, and even "run" over to the Media Lab where I go up those steps, tap my card, open the glass doors, see that artist guy talking on the left wall, walk past the entry desk, feel the openness of the atrium, walk up the narrow steps, see the intimidating "valid personnel only sign", then walk into the room where we hold class.

How does my awareness of this simulated environment differ from my awareness of my normal surroundings?

Maybe this is a way to probe how aware of my surroundings - if I try to fly back through it I can see how many details I can remember.

I think this is also a way to get myself to be more aware in the moment. If I "toss" my view up in the air right now, I notice myself start to immediately look for the information I need to construct the scene I'd be looking at. Then I notice that I'm sloutching, and fix that.

I'm unsure what I'm actually doing here. I clearly have some sort of "simulator" in my brain. In some sense, this feels like dreaming, except I have active control over it. One hypothesis is I'm just replaying memories, but I think they're abstracted and organized - ex. I can be reconstruct more (be more "aware"?) of places that I've already been. Also, I can "construct" scenes that I have very little detail about, such as the surroundings of my car on that drive.

02/21/19 - Actively Clearing My Mind

Some time ago, I realized that I could actively "clear my mind" using visualizations. One of the more common visualizations I use is a sort of "moving away from the old worries"; I'll imagine that I'm moving along some path; the surrounds are generally never filled in, and I more have a sense of movement and maybe of being in some sort of vehicle (although I generally also feel like I'm outside). I'll actively try to think of something that's been occupying my mind (a class, project, problem, etc.), try to wrap it into a "bundle", and then throw it out the back of the vehicle. I see it lying on the ground behind me and vanishing into the distance as I move away from it; or sometimes I'll see it turning into steam and vaporizing.

As I do this, I feel like I have a sort of mental "pressure" being released. Sometimes, if it works exceptionally well / if I was exceptionally mentally "cluttered" beforehand, I claim that I can actually physically feel a difference around my temples; I'm not sure if I should describe it as a pressure or an inverse pressure. I have no idea what's actually going on here or if anything's actually happening at all; maybe I'm just placebo-ing myself.

I'll generally do it at the end of the day while trying to sleep. I think it's useful for the transition that's needed there.

While meditating, I've sometimes felt the urge to manually do this process. I think it would make the meditation easier and more effective, but I try to resist it because I'm trying to be mentally clear and this process requires a lot of active work. I think I'll experiment with letting myself manually do this at the start of the meditation session.

02/19/19 - Meditation Mnemonics

I tried the idea of using a memory palace to "jot down" things that jumped into my brain while meditating that I wanted to think about later. This session, I recorded

1. {Forgot / can't see the first thing}

2. I noticed my heart pumping and could feel my veins in my feet (because my feet were slightly pressing into the ground

3. A reminder to tell a friend something

4. A reminder that I wanted to write about "actively clearning my mind" in these journals

5. A strong desire to crack my back

6. Confusion about if I should be trying to make my mind blank, or make my mind clear

7. A scene from a TV show I saw last night invading my meditation

Each of those points were encoded as an image. I'm reasonably experienced with this method now, so I think it took under a second to take each image, encode it, and move on. I think it also helped me let the ideas slip away after, because I knew they would be dealt with later.

Now, I'll actually think about them.

1. I still can't see what I encoded here. Oh well.

2. It was odd to feel my heart pumping. Overall, I feel more aware of how my body feels when meditating than I normally do when my attention is occupied by other things. Right now my body feels a little beaten up. Taking note of how my body feels during these meditation sessions seems like a useful feedback loop; I now feel a stronger desire to fix my sleep schedule and I just chugged some more water - two healthy actions that I wouldn't otherwise have undertaken.

3. I went and told my friend.

4. I made a note to write about this later.

5. While meditating, I think I'm aware of urges that I wouldn't otherwise have noticed. This session, I suddenly felt a creeping desire to crack my back. (Maybe this was a sign that my posture was poor? I'm unsure.) I've been told that most biological signals have a "hill" shape, where they increase only briefly before hitting a critical point and decreasing (On the timespan of ~5~15 minutes I think? I don't precisely remember.) I tried to let this urge just fade away, and was somewhat successful at first. However, a few minutes later (I think) it suddenly crept back and I succumbed to it. I'll try to look at my posture again next time.

6. I'm still unsure if I should be trying to make my mind "blank" or "organized" here. I think there's a big difference. So far, I've mainly been trying to make it "blank", which I think is what we've been getting at in class - let thoughts fade away, be okay with boredom, don't let yourself be gripped by random distractions. However, I also feel a desire to make it "organized" by intentionally letting myself "release" stresses, old concerns, things I'm thinking about, etc. I do this mental "de-cluttering process" intentionally at other times, and I find I generally feel better after it. However, I'm unsure if I let myself do that then I'll be missing out on the point of meditation practice.

7. When the TV show scene entered my mind, I tried to let it briefly play to the end in high-speed, then let myself be satisfied and have it fade away.

02/15/19 - Choosing a Practice

I've noticed myself procrastinating on the task of choosing a practice. I think this type of procrastination tends to happen when I have a conflict between wanting to make a decision but feeling that I don't yet have sufficient information; the solution is to set aside time to research through the options so I can feel

As an experiment, I tried walking meditation for 15 minutes.

I was unsure exactly what to do, but tried to limit sensory stimuli and to clear my mind; I put on noise cancelling headphones, tried not to focus on my surroundings (other than making sure I stayed on my path), and tried to just be mentally clear.

I should go read about walking meditation suggestions.

If part of the goal is to become more aware of mental habits, then I think I want a way to write down things that invade my mind while meditating so that I can go journal about them after. I wasn't able to write down these reminders on my walk and noticed that I began "looping" on mental reminders of what I wanted to go right about afterwards. I tried to silence these mental loops, but felt conflicted because I knew I would forget some things later on.

Maybe an alternative solution to physical paper would be a mental scratchpad. I'm pretty experienced with the "mind palace" technique, and could probably encode the stack of things that I thought about that way while walking. However, there's plausibly a risk that taking the few seconds to consolidate what I want to remember into an image will fight with the goal of clearing my mind and simply being observant of what passes by.

Maybe I shouldn't worry so much about tracking what I observe myself doing. Or, maybe I should just try to remember a single thing that came to mind and try to drill into it afterwards.

A few times, I noticed myself jumping to problems I've been thinking about. I tried to just let the problems go, but sometimes the problems appeared and then a solution appeared a few seconds later. I now feel some regret that I didn't right the solutions down; I'll see if I can re-find them again now.

I also noticed myself mentally jumping to problems that were pointless to think about then (ex. problems that I need paper to think about, or that I need to focus on in-depth to make any headway). In addition to trying to learn how to let these thoughts drift away (through this daily practice), I think I should make sure I'm actually scheduling time to carefully think through each of the problems.

I also noticed myself noticing things, then mentally looping on those things so that I wouldn't forget to go to the slack and report them!

I'm unsure if this would be a good practice to use or not.

Pros: I generally enjoy walking. I think a practice that also encourages more movement would be good.

Cons: I think it would be harder to be mentally still than with sitting meditation. Most of my walking paths also have encounters with other people.

02/13/19 - Boredom Can Be Useful

In class, we discussed why we get bored and why we let ourselves be pushed between different focuses by boredom. In context, the point seemed to be a suggestion to not let ourselves be controlled by boredom; instead, try to understand why you feel a need to go do something else, and what motives are pushing you there.

However, I wonder if boredom plays a useful role from a thinking-system perspective. If you think of the mind as hierarchies as agents, most agents don't know the details about what other agents are doing. If a higher-level agent notices a lower-level agent in the same state for a long time (or notices an absence of activity), then it seems like a good heuristic to intervene on that agent by either feeding it new input or suppressing it and letting another agent take control.

I've also found boredom to be useful at a higher cognitive level. For example, it's useful to try to solve problems in different states of mind to let you see the problem from different angles. After deciding to stop thinking about a given problem, I'll often observe myself jumping to something else I was thinking about.

Karthik Dinakar:

I personally think that it is an essential ingredient of creativity and also giving the mind a rest :)