undoing the pain
a guide to being free
for those of us who never learned how
or for those of us who are
and want to be able to share
but don't know how.
recently, i noticed some people i know are very well-adapted. able to motivate themselves to do what they desire. able to enjoy as much of their life as possible. able to feel emotions freely without being trapped by them. able to connect with others, make friends. pleasant to be with.
but above all, these people have a feeling of being unassailable. they are extremely themselves, in a way that can't be taken from them. not only are they largely free from past trauma, but seemingly resistant to current and future trauma. strong, but not strong through rigidity or shutting out feelings – strong because they have fully embraced their feelings in a healthy way. they are free to live, free from being held back by their own inhibitions.
there's one more important thing. these people weren't born like this. they didn't grow up like this either. it was something they became, even if not intentionally. some used to be trapped by past trauma or even suicidal. and they came from all kinds of backgrounds: it wasn't something you could simply pin on a particular upbringing or life situation.
so i began asking questions:
- what makes these people themselves?
- how did they get to be who they are today?
- how can the rest of us become more like them?
and i began writing up what i learned.
as a final note, such freedom and enlightenment has been something sought and taught under many different spiritual traditions. i do not believe any particular sort of spirituality is necessary to be free. everything here is about your own personal experience and your relationship with the world around you, nothing more. accordingly, it should be compatible with most forms of spirituality, should you wish to include that in your life as well.
about your pain
a common misperception is that pain, trauma, etc, are things we have to justify. that we have to prove that there is some reason for our pain now, perhaps a traumatic event in the past, before we can accept that pain as “real” and start working to free ourselves from it.
this is completely false.
it does not matter if you cannot pinpoint any cause of the pain. it does not matter if the cause of the pain seems trivial. it does not matter if you have constantly been told “you have no reason to feel that way”.
because no matter how many times you tell yourself those things, the pain is still there. you cannot make it go away by saying it shouldn't be there. if the pain is there, it is a valid thing you can work to free yourself from. we do not measure “how bad the pain is” by measuring how bad the things that caused the pain were. we measure it by how bad you feel right now, and how much that pain holds you back. even if you believe your pain is entirely of your own making, that pain is still entirely real. in fact, that is normal: for many of us, our greatest pains are, to a larger extent, of our own making. that is part of the nature of being human.
please share your feedback
this is a work in progress. please share your feedback and ideas in the comments. most importantly, i want to know your stories about how these ideas have worked for you, especially if you think they can be described in different ways in order to make them more accessible, or if you feel like they're missing some critical insight that you had to discover on your own.
part of how we become wiser and more free is by seeing how others solve their problems. accordingly, your story is important to me.
what this document is
these are a collection of ideas.
guidelines. road signs.
things we can rely on.
“here is a good, healthy way to be.”
they will not solve all our problems.
and they may not be easy to internalize,
to turn from mere words into pathways in the mind.
after all, this isn't therapy.
this is just a bunch of signs.
but maybe some of them will help someone.
some of them may seem obvious to you.
if so: fantastic. that means you already know.
but a lot of us don't. or didn't, at some point.
and even if you do know,
do you know how to share it
with those who don't?
what is being free?
being able to enjoy your life.
being able to motivate yourself towards whatever you want to do.
being free from self-doubt, anxiety, guilt, shame, and needless inhibitions.
being able to connect with others. to spread joy, to make others enjoy you too.
being free from all self-imposed walls between you and your dreams.
about these signs
part of these road signs are about actions you can take.
things that, done repeatedly and earnestly,
can help move you in the right direction.
they also describe places you can get to. this is important.
many of us have been taught to feel shame
for personality features that are actually good.
these road signs can help keep us on the right course,
and let us better embrace those beautiful parts of ourselves.
a final warning, before you begin
all the ways in which you are not free
all your fears, all your anxieties
all your guilts, all your shames
are also part of you.
they cannot be separated from you.
in seeking to free yourself,
you will inevitably change yourself.
your way of thinking
your likes and dislikes
your hopes and dreams
your way of being “you”
your “raison d'etre”
all of these things may change
even without you intending to.
holding onto them too hard
will keep you from being free.
be wary of this thought:
“i want to become more free so that i can better achieve my concrete goals”
“goals” are often just the chains we have bound ourselves with
as we wonder why it's become so hard to move.
it is possible that as you free yourself, your goals may change entirely.
you may need to find new ways to enjoy things you once loved.
you may find new things to love altogether.
but you will be happier.
are you prepared for this?
do you value freedom, joy, and love
more than anything in your entire life?
then we can begin.
our life is a constant interplay between two forces.
the first is our “internal model”:
a set of learned responses to our experiences.
the second is “external input”. our perception.
all the things we hate about ourselves,
all the trauma we carry with us,
all the feelings we wish we didn't have,
those are all part of our “internal model”.
if you're here, you probably want to change your internal model.
you may have tried to do this many times
by suppressing the feelings you don't like.
tried to change through internal pressure:
by pushing back against yourself.
you may have noticed that this doesn't work.
there is another approach.
pay more attention to everything in the world around you
when you go for a walk
look at the trees.
look at the buildings.
look at the sky.
find something to appreciate about all of it.
this may seem pointless, or even facetious. it isn't.
you can train your mind to look outwards.
to prioritize “external input” over “internal model”.
and it starts with very small things like noticing the branches blowing in the wind.
free people look outwards more.
show others your love for them.
our lives are filled with all kinds of beautiful things
made by all kinds of beautiful people.
many of us have been taught to hide those feelings.
or to cover them in layers of irony.
or to find criticism to share instead.
to lift ourselves up by putting down others.
whenever you have a chance,
practice the option to share your love.
do not try to get anything in return.
tell people how much you appreciate the things they do.
how much you appreciate them being who they are.
some of us may think we don't have those feelings.
but we do.
it's a rule.
we all do.
you may have to dig to find them.
but you do have them.
imagine what life would be,
without all these people.
a barren, lonely planet.
no art, no stories, no joy.
you may not always get the response you want. that's okay.
because you're not doing it in order to get a good response.
you are doing it to become a more free person.
sharing your love is not for them. it is for you. do not forget this.
free people earnestly share their love for others, without inhibition.
you do not need justification.
when we were kids, we often found ourselves having to justify every little thing.
the book we were reading. the games we played.
the bag lunch other kids at school made fun of.
even the friends we had, or people we crushed on.
years later, this pernicious curse still holds many of us back.
every single part of our self becomes layered with its own justification.
this creates a mental rigidity that makes it incredibly difficult to heal and free ourselves.
not only do we become hyper-defensive to others
but we become defensive to ourselves.
the rigidity gets in our own way.
this habit of justification has enormous collateral damage.
it invites its way into how we share our love with others.
instead of sharing our feelings, we share things in the form of justifications.
“here is why the thing I like is the best”.
when this becomes the default mode of communication,
people become argumentative, closed-off, and feel suffocated.
there is yet another consequence of this justification that i must note explicitly:
many people caught in this trap misunderstand the concept of “understanding a feeling”.
trying to “understand a feeling” is not the same thing as justifying it.
if you have a feeling you do not like, and wish to grow beyond it,
justifying that feeling does precisely the opposite.
instead of trying to understand, it proves to yourself that you should feel that way.
if any of this relates to you
please read this short section on some ways of “understanding feelings”.
it is a good starting point and inspiration.
practice doing things without justification.
practice sharing things with others without justification.
practice investigating your feelings, without justifying them.
work on removing the layers of justification from your own mind.
practice living without justification. this is for you. do not forget this.
free people do not force themselves to justify their feelings, thoughts, and existence.
appreciate the love others share.
throughout our lives, we will see countless people express their love.
they will tell us about their favorite food, their favorite video game, their favorite movie
the sports game they saw last night
their own wonderful friends
the project they're working on
the costume they made
their favorite historical topic
there are more possible things to love than stars in the sky.
it's easy to find ourselves bored by these things.
especially if we have no interest in them.
haven't they talked about this a dozen times before?
it gets old, doesn't it?
but it doesn't have to.
practice being excited.
look outward, not inward.
you can do it!
i know you can.
the feelings are there,
if you look for them.
you may reject this on reflex. but think about it.
wouldn't you rather be able to enjoy everything?
does it really ever make you happy to not enjoy things?
that doesn't make sense, right?
it might feel fake at first.
that's okay. it takes practice.
and don't forget. you're not doing this for them.
you're not appreciating their love to make them happy.
appreciating their love is for you. do not forget this.
free people enjoy others' expressions of love.
every hobby we have
every thing we've ever enjoyed
every mistake we've ever made
every story we've heard from other people
these are all keys.
keys we can use to connect with other people.
some people say they can't do “small talk”.
but what that really means
is that they need more keys.
“social anxiety” is often,
more than anything else,
a lack of keys.
or the inability to use them.
make note of your keys.
you have a lot of them.
search your experiences.
find keys you didn't even remember you had.
almost anything can be a key.
and you can get more.
watch that popular movie.
go on an adventure.
do something clever.
do something silly.
do something feral.
even your mistake is now a key.
it doesn't matter if you've told the story a hundred times before.
it's still a key you can use.
sometimes a key won't work as you expect. that's okay.
if we put a key in a lock, and the key doesn't work,
we don't declare the key or lock broken, do we?
usually it just means we picked the wrong key.
that happens all the time. try another.
keep track of your keys. learn which ones work best, and when.
if the key does not work, it is not a failure. it is a learning experience. do not forget this.
free people have a lot of keys and know how to use them to connect with others.
do things because of love.
many of us have been taught our whole lives
to motivate ourselves with “duty”.
duty to someone else
duty to ourselves.
but doing things because of duty is hard.
it takes so much energy. it's so inefficient. it leaves us tired.
it's so easy to create duties for ourselves.
even when we have earnest dreams.
we say “we must do this, to achieve our dream”.
and in doing so, we lose track of our love.
we say “we must finish this project, because we started it.”
instead of finding the love we truly need to finish it.
and if we can't find the love…
ask ourselves: why did we start it?
we even turn things that should be fun into “duties”.
watching a movie. playing a game. going to a social event.
even the most fun thing can become a duty, if we let it.
find love in the things you do. focus on that love, not the duty.
sometimes love can grow from the smallest of seeds.
but you must acknowledge and nourish it.
you may not be able to do everything with love.
most of us probably can't summon the love to brush our teeth, or clean the dishes.
but that's okay.
if you use love whenever you can,
you'll have energy left for everything else.
love is the magic spear that can pierce any “ugh field”
love is the rocket of motivation that can send humanity to the stars
love is the fuel that lets you do things without burning yourself dry. do not forget this.
free people cultivate and use their love instead of making things into duties.
embrace your feelings when experiencing things.
for many of us,
it's easy to detach,
to say “this is silly”
to invent reasons why we shouldn't feel.
we often focus on making judgements instead of feelings
this movie is bad. this movie is good. this game is a 9/10. this book is poorly written.
these aren't useful. they don't cultivate our love.
but for everything we experience,
every game we play, every movie we watch,
we can choose to focus on our feelings.
let them run wild.
for some of you, this may sound hard, or even alien. that's okay.
you can force it. you can fake it. that still counts.
make yourself get caught up in every swing of emotion.
resist the urge to make judgements.
if you have to judge, make note of your own feelings.
this movie made you really happy.
these feelings are good, but not just for their own sake.
they are how you will remember the experience in a year.
they are how you will make the experience into a powerful key.
they are how you will do things out of love instead of duty.
and it will help you share your love and appreciate others.
you will find yourself enjoying things more.
loving them, unironically, without inhibition.
finding experiences that truly resonate with you.
emotions are beautiful things.
in order to fully enjoy experiences in our lives,
we must let ourselves feel them. do not forget this.
free people actively embrace their feelings for the things they experience.
move past punishment.
so many of us were raised in an environment of punishment and reward.
we even learned it works for animals, too.
but they omitted an important part.
education by punishment is trauma.
this applies to your relationship with everyone, including yourself.
the concept of “punishment” is flawed.
punishment does not teach correct action.
punishment teaches fear and trauma.
punishment worms its way into how we view life.
our relationships, our communities, ourselves.
so let's admit something to ourselves here:
punishment does not solve problems.
punishment is the admission that we have no solution.
we say to ourselves: “i should have done this”.
stop. doing. that.
it serves no purpose towards future change.
the demand “i should have” is logically unsatisfiable!
punishment creates a false wall between people.
we are all part of the same universe,
we are all part of the same community.
punishment is, at its core, disconnection.
“you have failed. i do not care enough to help you
avoid future failure. instead, i will punish you.”
think outside the box of punishment and reward.
if you truly wish for something to change,
you must help make that change happen!
there is no shortcut.
free people avoid the concept of “punishment” in their relationships.
to be free, we must forgive ourselves for our mistakes.
the shame we saddle ourselves with
that builds into layers of anxiety and fear
is a “failure mode” of the mind.
you may notice it rarely helps you grow
to avoid making the mistake again.
but forgiving ourselves is hard.
saying the words may be easy
but internalizing them is difficult.
here is one starting point.
everything you have ever done
your most foolish mistakes
your greatest regrets
even actions that hurt others
all of them were done because of a need.
people do not do things for no reason.
the reason may seem foolish,
but there is always a reason
even if you weren't aware of it.
you just have to look for it.
“when i did the thing which i now regret, what was it that i was needing?”
once you find this need,
a weight will vanish from your shoulders.
it is harder to hold your mistakes against yourself
when you understand and accept why you made them.
once you forgive yourself,
you can learn from your actions.
as you get used to doing this,
you will find life-changing insight
in places you never thought possible.
every mistake is a learning experience. do not forget this.
free people forgive themselves for mistakes so that they may learn.
live in the now.
you can only do things now.
you can only enjoy things now.
you can only affect the world now.
yes, you can do something “tomorrow”,
but you can only actually do it
when “tomorrow” becomes “now”.
this may seem vacuous. but it's important.
we have been taught our entire lives to delay our own happiness.
when we get to high school, that's when things will be good.
oh, you're in high school? no, now it's time to prepare for college.
oh, you're in college? better get working towards that job.
oh, you found a job? start preparing for retirement!
you won't find the joy in life you want
unless you can look for it right here, right now.
and you can't fully enjoy “right now”
so long as you focus on when “right now” will end.
this doesn't mean “don't plan for the future”. that would be silly.
rather, it is of utmost importance that you find ways to enjoy your journey there.
and that means enjoying “now”.
do you want to learn to play an instrument?
it's easy to imagine how nice it would be to play it well some day.
but you must also be able to enjoy today – a day when you cannot yet play it well.
if you spend your entire life doing nothing but chasing dreams
whenever you can, find a way to enjoy today.
find a way to enjoy this second, if you can. right now.
focus on the “now”, the only point at which you can influence your world.
free people focus on the present. they avoid postponing their own happiness.
be conscious of mixed signals.
when people are not unified in self,
they tend to send mixed signals to others.
if you aren't certain of something,
it's quite hard to act as if you are.
imagine broadcasting on many different wavelengths simultaneously,
but with different messages on some channels than others.
you can imagine how confused this can make other people.
for example, you may have a reflex to apologize for every request you make.
but that apology is a mixed signal.
it's saying “I want this, but… sorry, no, I don't want this.”
this makes people anxious. they don't know what you really feel.
not everyone will respond to mixed signals the same way.
even the same person may respond differently at different times.
people are primed to see the signals that they most expect to see.
if someone expects you to be angry,
they will see your anger in a mixed signal.
sometimes you don't know what you want. this is okay.
you are allowed to communicate your uncertainty!
the important part is to do so knowingly, with intention.
additionally, there is a good set of guidelines for dealing with these mixed signals.
“be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.”
how do you do the latter? there's a clever trick.
whenever you see mixed signals, what you see will be based on what you expect to see.
so: actively look for the good nature in everything that everyone expresses.
practice this. practice it until it becomes second-nature.
this is the trauma antidote, because trauma is the exact opposite.
trauma trains us to look for the bad nature in all that is shown to us.
practice looking for the good nature in others and their expression.
free people send clear signals and actively look for the good nature in others.
a story isn't just about the happy ending.
it's about all the beats of drama along the way.
you can't have black without white, 1 without 0, success without failure.
it is important, necessary, for the hero to eat dirt before they are victorious.
seeing their failures is what makes their success meaningful.
the characters in those stories have flaws.
those flaws are important. they make for conflict, for plot.
the characters would not be “better” without those flaws.
your life is also a story.
if you can accept the character in a story failing in an embarrassing way
you can accept yourself failing in that same way.
for humanity, stories are tools to accept and embrace our own lives.
we cope with our failure by writing and reading stories about failures.
we cope with our traumas by writing and reading stories about trauma.
we do this to accept our own lives for what they are, have been, and will be.
you cannot escape your past by becoming a better person.
instead, accept that a “good character” can have made all the mistakes you've made.
you've seen plenty of stories where the character started as a bumbling fool, right?
they became a better person. but the mistakes they made are still part of the story.
the universe is just the sum of many stories.
every piece of those stories is important. none of it is to be regretted.
just like you should not regret the hero's failure at the nadir of their journey.
and now, for the final piece.
to love the people in your life, you must love not only them, but their stories.
love their pain as well as their joy, their failure as well as their success.
love even the ways they've been hurt and the ways they've hurt others.
love not just the place they are now, but the places they've come from.
because all of that is still part of their story.
through loving and accepting those things in the lives of others
you will be able to love and accept the same in your own life.
tell yourself new stories.
as described before, your life is a story.
but the story you tell yourself is not absolute.
in fact, we often have very biased, skewed views of our own stories.
the story you tell about your life is not a reliable one.
this may sound like a bad thing at first.
but even bad things have good parts to them.
because that story you tell is unreliable,
the parts of it you regret can be unreliable, too.
so, come up with a new story about that time you regret.
pick a different perspective.
make this new story one that doesn't hurt as much.
this can be hard if you haven't done it before.
so, get some practice. start easy.
you can even pick the regrets your friends have!
tell yourself new stories about those, too.
once you're ready, tell it to yourself.
write it down, if you'd like.
remind yourself about it every once in a while.
if the old story invades your thoughts
gently – GENTLY – counter it with the new one.
if you struggled with forgiving yourself or accepting your story–
this is a process of forgiving yourself, right here.
we may think of “validation” simply:
others say good things about us,
and we are supposed to feel good.
but this is dangerously oversimplified.
when we look for validation, what are we looking to validate?
the answer is, of course: our beliefs.
“i can draw well”. “i'm good at makeup”. “my jokes are good”. “i'm a good friend.”
these beliefs seek validation from the world around us, to prove their accuracy.
but there's other beliefs, too.
“i'm a bad artist.” “my makeup skills are garbage.” “nobody likes my jokes.” “i'm a bad friend.”
“if they believe i'm good at X, they will have impossible expectations for me in the future.”
these beliefs are also seeking validation, to prove their accuracy.
often it feels like compliments don't get through to us.
no matter what people say, it feeds our anxieties.
but we are being validated.
it's just that our negative beliefs are what is seeking validation, and finding it!
this creates a bit of a paradox.
in order for positive beliefs to be validated…
…we must already have those positive beliefs!
this seems like a chicken-and-egg scenario.
but there are ways you can work around it.
first, this effect loses some of its power when you can see it happening.
second, you can pull some clever tricks to change how you interpret validation.
for example: “you're good at art” likely means “i like that art you made”,
not a generalized judgement of skill.
furthermore: most people giving you compliments probably aren't very present.
they are phrasing the things they say based on habit, rather than deliberate thought.
they may not mean it at all the way you're interpreting it!
think about all the other things they could mean instead.
tell yourself a different story about what you heard.
there are an infinite variety of strategies here:
the ones you need will depend on you.
be aware of the process by which your negative beliefs seek validation.
freedom begins in your mind.
we think of our conscious experience as a “sequence of thoughts”. but this is not quite accurate.
if a thought comes to mind and you cringe away because you don't like it,
the thing you experienced is not just the thought.
it is the cringing away from the thought that you experienced.
if you are constantly telling yourself that you need to do a thing,
that process of constantly telling yourself is what you experienced.
you are the places your mind actually goes, not the thoughts you think you're having.
at the absolute base of the self, “who you are” is defined by how you treat your own thoughts.
you are a “strange loop”: a being that processes its own thoughts to create new thoughts.
the way you process those thoughts is you.
many of our maladaptations are hidden here, in the way we process our own thoughts.
often, these processes mirror what authority figures taught us.
discipline, downtalk, pressure, cringe, pushing away what we don't like.
thus, we make a rule: value judgements of our own thoughts are a cognitohazard.
by one definition, an “intrusive thought” is a bad, painful thought you don't want to have.
we are going to turn this one on its head entirely. we are going to reject the premise.
there are no intrusive thoughts.
because judging an incoming thought as “bad” has already broken our own rules.
if we cringe at a thought we don't like and push it away
we are not actually protecting ourselves from the thought.
we have just fooled ourselves into thinking we have.
because what we consciously experienced was the pain of cringing away.
this pain is what our memory will record, building up shame surrounding that memory.
if the way you process your thoughts is unpleasant, that unpleasantness will fill your life.
there is no easy answer to this one.
but there are countless positive methods to process your thoughts and regrets.
some people pray to a deity who grants them forgiveness. others use the scientific method.
it may take you some time to find one that works for you.
but there's good news: because you are the way you process your own thoughts
you can begin changing yourself starting this second, right now.
this will take a while.
rewiring your brain is a slow process.
it is just like learning a new language
or mastering a new skill.
reading this alone won't do much for you.
the only way to be free is to put it into practice
step by step
piece by piece.
it could take a while.
it's worth it, i promise.
start with small steps.
every tiny step of progress you make its own miracle worthy of praise.
it's a smile in the face of a world that has for so long pushed you away from joy.
if you think much of this document is far beyond you
or that you “don't deserve” these things for yourself
please skip to the “therapy” section below.
there's a few books linked there.
they can help you get started.
meditation is an incredibly powerful method for focusing, purifying, and freeing the mind. i've found it incredibly valuable as a method of self-improvement, and highly recommend it. i strongly recommend “The Mind Illuminated” (TMI) as a starting book. not only does it explain why things work and the actual details, but it begins with the assumption that you have a scattered monkey-brain that can't focus on a thing for more than 2 seconds, and works from there. it doesn't assume you already know what you're doing.
an important note i must make here: meditation is very often popularly perceived as a kind of mental discipline or mental hygiene, a discipline that involves forcing away ones' own thoughts, the exact kind of forcing i describe as bad in the previous section. this is a deep, popular, misunderstanding of how meditation works. if this is what you are doing, this is probably not the right approach.
the purpose of “focusing on something” during meditation is to allow other thoughts to come to the surface so that you may skillfully deal with them. the actual focus is not the critical part! this is why it is not “bad” if you fail at focusing during meditation; in fact, forcing yourself to focus through willpower is generally counterproductive if not actively harmful to the process.
meditation is, effectively, a method of training the subconscious mind. for example, when you have an anxious thought that intrudes from out of nowhere, that isn't the action of your conscious mind. it can't be: where did the thought come from? it's “intrusive” because you did not summon it up intentionally. similarly, changes in attention are handled by the subconscious. if you feel like you have to constantly force yourself back on task, that's not a failing of your conscious mind! to change these things, you have to train the subconscious.
my one personal recommendation: getting started with something that works for you is far more important than any particular meditation technique. TMI covers meditation on the breath as its primary approach, but includes sections on others, including walking meditation, loving-kindness meditation, meditating on an object, and so on. there's alternate postures too: sure, you can sit on a cushion, but you can even sit in a chair, walk around, lie down… yes, each technique has its limits, but you can always modify or change your technique later! the best technique is the one that works for you. any style of meditation will likely improve your skills over time so that you may use other techniques.
meditation can actually be useful in a very similar way to how the drugs mentioned below are used, especially psychedelics. with practice, you can enter into various useful altered states of consciousness. some of these make you more receptive to direct emotional engagement with your problems, allowing you more power to accept and solve them.
additionally, meditation can be used to more directly solve problems that have their root in ones' moment-to-moment thought process (which is, more often than not, quite a lot of them); see freedom begins in your mind. after all, if you put time into practicing management of ones' conscious experience in a controlled environment, you will more healthily be able to manage it in your day to day life.
i personally like the drug-based approach, at least as a first step, in part because the dedication and discipline required to learn such meditative skills is often difficult to find for those of us trapped deep in our own pain. but if you can make it work for you, the results can be incredibly worthwhile – not to mention that not everyone has safe access to such drugs. furthermore, the two are complementary approaches; meditation and drugs are different tools, each with their own valuable capabilities.
it's also possible to combine the two approaches into a single experience: a popular traditional way of utilizing psychedelics is essentially meditative. for example, take an appropriate drug (LSD, mushrooms, etc), lie down alone in a dark room, and let yourself be completely ungrounded for the duration of the experience. it is nigh-impossible to explain in words why this ends up resulting in a form of meditative engagement with ones' own problems, but it's something that seems to happen fairly consistently.
psychoactive drugs can be incredibly helpful tools, especially when the problem is trauma, anxiety, and other maladaptations. they are not magic – just a tool – but a very powerful tool.
most of these drugs are illegal to possess pretty much everywhere.
this is rapidly changing: a few locales have already decriminalized some psychedelics, and MDMA psychotherapy clinical trials are in progress after decades of pointless prohibition.
but for now, please keep in mind the laws where you live.
no drug use is perfectly safe, legal or not, and illegal drugs have the extra danger that the purity and legitimacy of the drug you're buying is less certain. please use appropriate harm reduction resources (some are provided below) if you choose to use any drug.
no drug will substitute for any of the things mentioned under “road signs”. at best, drugs are a catalyst and a tool: they can help push you in the right direction, but you still have to continue in that direction on your own.
one extra caution: almost all of these drugs are contraindicated with some common pharmaceuticals. the most common case is SSRIs, which can heavily blunt their effect. you may need to withdraw (please taper appropriately!!!) for up to 3-4 weeks to get the drugs' full effect.
my personal suggestion
if you choose to do any of this, I highly recommend starting with MDMA specifically. this is because it's fairly difficult to go wrong with MDMA. it tends to let people out of their mental walls in a predictable/, enjoyable/ way. enjoyable is critical because you do not want to scare yourself off! facing the darkest, most hated corners of yourself is scary, so the way MDMA can make such a thing actively blissful is one of the greatest miracles of the world.
MDMA is also well-studied. To quote:
Phase 2 clinical trials have shown that MDMA can reduce fear and defensiveness, enhance communication and introspection, and increase empathy and compassion, enhancing the therapeutic process for people suffering from PTSD.
In MAPS' completed Phase 2 trials with 107 participants, 61% no longer qualified for PTSD after three sessions of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy two months following treatment. At the 12-month follow-up, 68% no longer had PTSD. All participants had chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD, and had suffered from PTSD for an average of 17.8 years. (source)
there is another way to be free.
taking about 80mg of MDMA will also let you be free.
don't do it alone, of course. do it with others.
being free is all about your interaction with other people.
of course, this will only show you a taste. just a few hours.
and you can only do it every once in a while.
but it's still useful. because it gives you a reference.
a reference you can use to guide your own path.
it is not a drug to be used as an escape.
it is to be used to teach ourselves how to be free.
if you choose to use MDMA, keep in mind this adage:
“MDMA shows you the person you can be,
even without any drugs.
just perhaps not in this lifetime.”
but I believe in you.
i believe you can achieve true freedom in this lifetime.
i know people who have.
they weren't born this way.
they found it on their own.
you can, too.
entactogens are powerful tools to reveal your true self.
but they provide only limited ability to help you change.
when the drug wears off, you may have learned a lot,
but you must then apply it.
psychedelics provide more direct means to change yourself.
a tremendously powerful tool,
but not quite as simple to use.
the most well-known are LSD and psilocybin, but there are many others.
DMT, in the form of ayahuasca, is the oldest:
its use as a psychotherapy tool predates the word “psychotherapy” by a thousand years.
if entactogens tear down all the walls between you and your true self,
psychedelics tear down the walls that are your self.
used correctly, they can help you rebuild yourself,
piece by piece.
wall by wall.
because there are so many varied ways of going about this,
and the process is very personal and often indescribable,
i will not include precise details here, only link to resources below.
if you need a hint on where to start,
try thinking about some of the pieces of this document while on the drug.
try approaching some of the things in your life that hurt while on the drug.
let it open up your heart and mind
let yourself see clearly
let it rewire your brain
let yourself cry.
please feel free to suggest others in the comments. some of these are direct links to PDFs; others are Amazon links where noted. and no, they're not referral links, screw that nonsense.
The Mind Illuminated (Amazon) is extremely solid and highly recommended. It is very down to earth and includes a lot of very very basic instructions and guidelines that many resources omit. It does not expect you to magically develop the cognitive skills necessary for meditation: it will show you how to build them, starting from absolutely nothing. This even includes things like “how to get motivation to meditate when you don't have any” or “what to do with the storm of thoughts that piles into your mind when you try”. It also explains how and why things work, so you don't have to just give it your blind faith.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (meditation-based and otherwise)
Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (Amazon)
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. A book covering many ways to restructure your communication – both with others and yourself – to foster understanding, love, and empathy. Includes many practical examples. The “with yourself” part here is very important.
IFS therapy is a proven (and quite non-traditional) model for understanding and working with the feelings we don't want to have, without denying them, and without denying ourselves. Here are the first two chapters of one book on the topic. Here is another book (Amazon).
Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. If this document hit you particularly hard, it's likely you learned a lot of maladaptations in childhood – and this book covers in quite a bit of depth many paths for understanding them and healing yourself.
The Body Keeps The Score, another book on how trauma works and how to heal it.
Rollsafe is a good safety and information website for use of MDMA, including for therapeutic purposes. TheDEA is another (no, not that DEA…).
Tripsafe is a good safety and information websites for use of psychedelics, including for therapeutic purposes.
The Psychonaut Wiki has good general information on drug usage, including responsible use, dosages, contraindications, and so on. I strongly recommend reading its entry on a drug thoroughly before taking that drug, even if the drug is legal.
A traditional therapy handbook for the use of LSD. Describes its use in a 1950s psychiatric environment, but most of it is still very relevant for therapeutic use of LSD today. Covers two primary usage methods: as a group (where everyone takes the drug) and as an individual with a sober therapist/friend. This is very much not the only way to productively use LSD for therapeutic purposes, but it may give you some ideas for where to start.
The official MAPS handbook for therapeutic use of MDMA for PTSD. Aimed at a one-on-one environment in which a patient (under MDMA) works with a therapist to work through trauma. Still useful as a reference even if this isn't how you're using the drug, but doubly so if it is. In practice, it's okay to have a friend serve as the “therapist”; most of the necessary skills are patient listening, love, care, and endurance (because you're going to talk their ears off).
“The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are”. More generally, Alan Watts writes about ways of looking at and understanding the universe that allow you to enjoy and appreciate your existence and place within it.
on “understanding feelings”
Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha
this section is a direct (slightly trimmed) quote from a section of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha. it comes from the perspective of meditation, but the ideas are universal: think about how you can apply them to your own life to understand your feelings without trying to justify them.
…allow yourself to examine the sensations that make up this frustration, self-condemnation, depression, and jealousy, etc. In other words, don't stop investigating when certain categories of sensations arise. Instead, rejoice in each “negative” feeling that you clearly identify in your sensate experience, not because it is a “negative” feeling, but because you had an honest moment of clarity about what was going on. Then, do something skillful with that feeling.
Try this little exercise the next time a strong and seemingly useless, scary, dangerous, embarrassing, or “unskillful” emotion arises:
Stabilize precisely on the patterns of sensations that make it up and perhaps even allow these to become stronger if this helps you to examine them more clearly. You might do this practice with eyes open if the feelings are very strong and you wish to add the perspective that space brings to help maintain a more open perspective.
Find where these are in the body, and discern as clearly as possible what sorts of images and storylines are associated with these physical sensations.
Be absolutely clear about the full magnitude of the suffering in these, how long each lasts, and that these sensations are observed and not particularly in our control.
Find the compassion in it. Take a minute or two (no more) to reflect on why this pattern of sensations seems to be of some use even though it may not seem useful in its current form.
Ask yourself: Is there a wish for yourself or others to be happy in these sensations? Is there a wish for the world to be a better place? Is there a wish for someone to understand something important? Is there a wish for things to be better than they are? Is there a wish to find pleasure, tranquility, or the end of suffering?
Sit with these questions, with the sensations that make them up, allowing them to be strong enough for you to see what is going on but not so strong that you become completely overwhelmed by them.
Notice that fear has in it the desire to protect us or those we care for. Anger wants to right a perceived wrong, wants us or the world to be happy and work well, or for justice to be done. Frustration comes from the caring sensations of anger being thwarted. Desire is rooted in the wish to be happy. Judgment comes from the wish for things to conform to high standards. Sadness comes from the sense of how good things could be and from the loss of something cherished. I could go on like this for a whole book, so don't turn these into dogma; each has much more nuance that you can explore.
Actively reflecting along these lines, sit with this compassionate wish, acknowledge it, and feel the compassionate aspect of it.
Allow the actual sensations that seem to make up the feeling of wanting itself to be directly understood as and where they are.
Remember that this same quality of compassion is in all beings, in all their unskillful and confused attempts both to find happiness and to put an end to their suffering.
Sit for a while with this reflection as it relates directly to your experience.
Then, examine the mental sensations related to the object that you either wish to have (attraction), wish to get away from (aversion), or wish to ignore (ignorance).
Examine realistically if this will fundamentally help yourself and others and if these changes are within your power to bring about. If so, then plan and act with as much compassion and kindness as possible. […]
Reflection on the fact that the emotions have unskillful components as well as skillful ones can give us a more realistic relationship to our hearts, minds, and bodies. This sort of reflection can allow us to grow in wisdom and kindness without blindly shutting ourselves down or chaining ourselves to a wall. From a certain point of view, we are all doing our best all the time, and the problem is just that we do not see clearly enough.
Please make note to yourself that none of this is justifying the feeling. It is seeking to understand its nature in a kind and compassionate fashion, not prove it “right” or “wrong”, or even necessarily to find its “cause”. Freeing yourself from a tar pit of unwanted feelings does not come from proving the feelings right or wrong; it comes from understanding their true nature.
If you're the curious type of person, you may find it a useful attitude to treat feelings as fascinating things in their own right. If you don't know how to skillfully and productively deal with an unwanted feeling or thought, then that means you need more insight into its nature. Even the greatest despair in the world is a fascinating target of investigation – so embrace the opportunity!
none of the ideas in this document are original. absolutely none of them. they are cobbled together from a variety of people and other sources. and they have been tread and retread many times. please do not attribute them to me – all of these concepts are probably thousands of years old.
but of course they are.
none of the walls in between you and freedom are unique to you: there have been millions of others over the millennia of humanity struggling with similar walls. you aren't unique, but you also aren't alone.
in some cases i've included explicit citations where useful, since some of these concepts are more complex than can be explained on one page.
here are some people and things i'd like to thank that aren't explicitly on the above resources list.
“the nature of personal reality”
lysergic acid diethylamide
MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies)
 one of these people used the phrase “看开了” to describe this way of being. there are probably other descriptions in a variety of languages. in english, we might say “enlightened”, though that word has been used to mean many different things by many different people. personally, i feel like “free” is the most simple, appropriate word.
 furthermore, evidence suggests that “how bad the source of the trauma is” generally is not that well-correlated with how bad the pain is. there are many factors that affect how badly people are affected by traumatic aspects of their lives, and it is very possible for someone to go through truly terrible experiences and come out relatively unscathed. do not suffer the fallacy of believing that “they had it worse, so i shouldn't feel this way”; that just isn't how human brains work.
 in technical terminology, what you are doing here is disrupting the “default mode network” of your brain – the pathways that your mind tends to settle into when you are largely inside your own head. if you wish to become free, the first step must be outside those pathways. other popular methods to achieve this include various forms of meditation and psychedelic drugs, but this is the simplest.
 in this document, “love” does not refer to romantic love. it refers to the earnest, honest, positive appreciation you have for things in this world. it is more than a feeling: it is a state of mind, one where you focus your energy on those feelings of appreciation and joy for the existence of the rest of the universe and what it brings to your life.
 this is why i include this section near the start: working on healing this will make the other parts easier.
 do you find yourself mentally having mock-arguments with authority figures? that's one of this maladaptation's most obvious manifestations, though it usually goes much deeper than that. see also the phrase “don't let your enemies live in your head rent-free”.
 this is one of the reasons psychedelic therapy is effective: it lets people engage with themselves while stripping down the justifications and rationalizations that otherwise prevent them from seeing more clearly.
 sometimes people will express their love of things in ways that are actively hurtful, disrespectful to others, or so on. imagine the overconfident person who expresses their love of something in the form of arrogance. this is trickier. but the kindest thing you can do is to respect their excitement and love and help aim them in a better direction without shame. if you can't re-aim them: that's okay. they will learn eventually. that is their task, not yours. be careful of shaming others, because in doing so, we also build up our own shame. when you shame the overconfident person, you put the idea in your own mind: “if i become too caught up in my love, i may be overconfident, and then i will deserve shame.”
 one thought you may find useful here. have you forgotten the word “could” and replaced it with the word “should”? instead of saying “i should do this”, try telling yourself…. “i could do this.” you may find surprising power in this idea.
 one approach, though it takes practice, is to gently and kindly occupy your mind with thoughts of enjoying an activity. a “mindset of love”, as described later. good music can help – nod along and try to smile!, it sounds silly but it can work! be careful, though, to not do so by forcing out thoughts you dislike.
 if that sounds impossible, start even simpler, with personal judgements. practice saying things like “i didn't like this movie because i like films that are less campy” instead of “this movie was bad because it was too campy.” things that aren't about making (and justifying) absolute judgements, but expressing how things relate to you. it's not all the way there, but it's a step of disconnect beyond absolute judgments.
 you may also notice that, when you expose your feelings like this, a thing that you once thought you enjoyed may hurt, for a variety of reasons. that's fine. don't force yourself. hurt is a valid feeling too.
 one might wonder how this applies, to, say, the justice system. think about how the justice system is effectively an admission that we cannot solve the problem, and thus we will punish people. think about, perhaps, what portion of those “crimes” could, in fact, be resolved in other ways besides “justice”. perhaps you can't come up with answers for all of them. you don't have to. like i said: punishment exists when we have no better solution. you might decide to justify punishing a murderer, but is that how you would want to treat your friends, or yourself?
 chapter 9 of this book, here, covers this in more detail and with explicit examples of how to look for those needs: _(https)://www.dropbox.com/s/1fcypvnfgzk44a1/NVC.pdf?dl=0_
 there is a comic based around this concept, Yotsuba&!. it's very much a pure “food for the soul” sort of thing, but most of all it exemplifies this attitude, all the way down to its tagline: “enjoy everything”.
 one way to do this is to express pulls rather than wants. for example, if asked if you have any ideas for dinner, you can answer “hmm. i think i kinda feel like pizza.” this is distinct from “i want pizza”.
 the ultimate clever part of this trick is that, if you see good nature in others even when they are not being completely good-natured, it can cause other people to perceive themselves as having been good-natured based on your reactions! it won't work in all cases, but often enough, you can literally get people around you to be kinder just by acting as if they had been kind.
 to say it more explicitly: the flaws we hate most in others are often the flaws we are most ashamed about in ourselves. this is not always a flaw that is part of your current self; sometimes it is a flaw in your past self, a flaw that you are nonetheless still ashamed you once had. recognizing this (and learning to accept that flaw in others) is a critical step to resolving your shame and moving on.
 if you are thinking that this sounds like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – it basically is! so, if you've ever been to therapy, this may not be at all new to you. however, defining it here is important because this technique is an extremely powerful tool and will be used later.
a small number of people seem to react to this concept with consternation, worried that they are lying to themselves. for you, i have bad and good news. the bad news is… you already are! the story you beat yourself with is almost surely full of distortions and lies, because all of our memories always are. but, there's good news! given our story will always be flawed, let's pick a story that hurts ourselves less.
 one more trick, before we move on: there's no rule you have to tell only one story. you can tell yourself fifteen stories, if you want. in fact, i highly recommend it! this technique works way better than it has any right to, honestly.
 some people define an intrusive thought as any unexpected thought, not “bad” ones. those are fine.
 i suspect one major reason behind the success of religions based on an external source of forgiveness (ex: christianity) is this, right here. spirituality is a powerful tool for self-improvement if used wisely.
 one general method for approaching this overall problem is called (Kabot-Zinn) mindfulness.
 a simple way to start: try replying to such thoughts with better thoughts. use the “show others your love for them” method, except aimed at yourself. for example, tell yourself “thank you for doing this task. i really appreciate it.” in response to “you keep getting distracted from this task.”
 you may have, while reading this document, thought to yourself: “i see how this can solve my problems, but i have no idea how to actually do it. this isn't a solution, it's just a description of the solution!”
if you have thought this, congratulations: you are correct. this is an important insight!
this is a classic case of what is often called the “map-territory relation”.
you may know of a very famous painting that exemplifies this concept.
this document is the map, not the territory. the painting is a drawing of a pipe, not a pipe itself.
in order to make this map into the territory, you must use these signs as inspiration and apply them to your own life and your own problems. if it helps, write down your own map, much like this document, just for you, as you go. something more adapted to your own life and your own problems. this process of creating your own map for yourself is a form of engaging with the problem.
 this is a specific example of a more general hazard of meditation: it is extremely difficult to explain a cognitive experience (a qualia) to another person in English words. misunderstanding what one is supposed to be doing during the meditative process can lead to negative results. given the difficulty of communicating such qualia, it is absolutely not your fault if you had this experience in the past!
 there are other entactogens, but MDMA is both the easiest to acquire and the most reliable one. 2C-B, for example, is also fantastic, but i would describe it more as a gentle reminder that you can be free of your pain, rather than a force of nature showing you exactly how by dragging you through it. such non-MDMA entactogens can be truly wonderful in their own right, but I feel it's easier to go in the right direction if your start with a drug that shows you these things very explicitly. perhaps try the others later.
 entactogens, also known as empathogens, are drugs that encourage feelings of openness, empathy, connection, trust, and above all, the freedom to be oneself. MDMA is the most well-known, often described as having a specific unique “magic” that nothing else in the universe does. to quote MAPS, “one way to describe the effects of MDMA is that it facilitates access to a high level of self-energy, and thereby brings courage to face painful experience and provides clarity and compassion for one's own parts and the burdens they have carried.”
 please use appropriate harm reduction resources if you choose to use MDMA.
 adjust the dosage to your body weight; 1.2mg/kg is typical. it is okay (up to a point) to use higher doses, but i generally advocate erring on the side of lower doses/./ this isn't just a matter of safety, but also because the higher the dose, the more detached from reality the experience is, and thus the harder it can be to bring those lessons back to ones' everyday life.
 for practical purposes, it will not even work properly used less than 1-2 weeks apart, and in practice the recommended time between uses is at least 1 month.
 see the previous note: attempting to use it as an escape will burn out your brain in short order. every use of MDMA should be seen as a learning experience, a place to find new insight on how to be your best self. but also, do not forget that such insight can only come through being that best self with other people.
you don't have to (and really, shouldn't) think too hard about how to “make the most” of each use of MDMA. it tends to happen on its own as long as the environment is safe and there's people to talk with.
 psychedelics are a wide category of drugs that disrupt the “default mode network” of the brain. additionally, they cause a variety of sensory effects as well as temporary disruption of memory. the result of this is they tend to break down our self-rationalizations, forcing us to face ourselves without that comfort and safety. sometimes this can be difficult: unlike MDMA, it's not uncommon for parts of the experience to be unpleasant at first. this is okay: psychedelic use in therapeutic practice has shown that “difficult trips” tend to also be the most productive. psychedelics are also well-known for their ability to enhance brain plasticity. perhaps they can be best described as tools to help you rewire your own mind.
 please use appropriate harm reduction resources if you choose to use psychedelics. most psychedelics are fairly low-risk from a health perspective, but there are still contraindications, as well as important steps (“set and setting”) to avoid the possibility of a bad trip.