Would you sign up for voluntary brainwashing? Well, maybe you should.

Have you ever understood something rationally, but felt emotionally paralysed deep down inside and not quite ready to make a move? You’re not alone. There were decisions I’d been putting off for months, even though I knew what’s the right thing to do.
One of them was leaving my corporate job and applying for a new one. What if I never find a better job than this? What if I don’t make friends at a new workplace? I don’t even know how to look for a job, or have enough skills… Such thoughts would keep me occupied for long enough that some of my less afraid friends would change their jobs twice in the meantime and get their salary doubled.

Whenever I finally made the move, I was wondering why it took me so long

Even though I’m better at making tough choices now, there are many things I understand rationally that still trigger crazy emotional responses in me.
I thought this would calm down if I meditated enough. Turns out that meditation cuts out all the noise so you can experience everything more fully and intensely – including the difficult emotions I’d rather not experience at all. That’s not super helpful when trying to do something productive.

What if you could instantly change your emotional reaction to things instead of beating yourself up?

I know it’s possible.
I gave up smoking almost effortlessly while reading Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins. Hey, I didn’t even read it with an intention to quit smoking in the first place! This book made me realise what needs I tried to fulfil with smoking, and how can I fulfil those very same needs in a much more awesome way.
This was over two years ago, and while many of my friends had quit smoking and then started again, I hadn’t had a single cigarette ever since.
There were some stressful times, and some crazy times, and some times when I felt like hitting my head against the wall, but I never thought that smoking a cigarette would help me relax. That association in my head is completely gone, and now I’m wondering how the heck it ended up there in the first place.

If a book can have such impact, what could you achieve in real life?

This curiosity made me sign up for Tony’s signature seminar – Unleash The Power Within.  I never thought I’d attend a self-help seminar, but my shifting attitude towards smoking showed me he’s certainly doing something right. I was also feeling quite overwhelmed with the number of work and personal projects I have on my plate right now, and thought I could use some help in managing them all.
I didn’t read anything about this event in advance, and so wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
There’s one thing I didn’t expect for sure.

A NON STOP 4 DAY PARTY

When we entered the room on the first day, we were welcomed by lasers, club music and people jumping on the stage. This wasn’t a random choice. As it turns out, what you do with your physical body is the single most important thing that affects how you’re feeling.
The more you dance, jump, and celebrate, the more energy you’ll have and more likely you’ll feel like there are great reasons to celebrate. After 4 days of jumping around, I can testify this true.
But the event wasn’t only jumping around. In between the carefully scheduled party times there was some serious emotional work going on.
Session after session after session, we examined and questioned the language we use, what needs matter to us the most and what means we use to meet them, our values, attitude towards money and most importantly beliefs about ourselves and the future.

You could get all this information for a fraction of the price. But information is not what we came for.

Like the past me afraid to quit my job, you can have all the information in the world and still feel unable to process it emotionally. It’s implementing what you learned in real life that makes the real difference. That’s why the whole event was designed around reprogramming yourself and changing how your gut reacts to things, thoughts and beliefs.
And designed it was perfectly, I must admit. Everything – from the music, to lights, to animations, to dance moves, to group and pair exercises, to staff welcoming us at the venue, was designed to make us feel certain ways, and break everyone out of old, unproductive patterns.
We were certainly hypnotised, in the best possible sense. On the very first day all 13 000 (yes, thirteen thousands!) participants got outside to walk on burning coals, and did that while cheering and screaming ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’.
Everyone was so programmed for success that there wasn’t even time to doubt whether that’s the right idea. Sure, it felt scary, but everyone was so excited to become a firewalker that this excitement became contagious, and there was simply no way to give into fear.
If you’re wondering how walking on burning coal feels like, I’m happy to tell you it’s a gentle breeze when compared with diving in freezing cold water. It also lasts a small fraction of that.

If that sounds a bit like brainwashing, you’re probably right.

Still, would you rather keep your brain dirty and polluted with self-criticism, self-sabotage, or a million reasons to punish yourself? 
They said it’s not possible to feel depressed during the event, and they were right. If someone could trick me into feeling that powerful, awesome and capable of achieving anything every single day, I’d happily sign up and pay for that.
But we all knew we’d be going back home quite soon, and so spent a good amount of time learning to brainwash reprogram ourselves in an instant whenever we get stuck in an unproductive state. I have still a lot to practice in this area, but that’s not going to stop me from trying.
One of the most powerful experiences in reprogramming myself was the Dickens Process – a teardown of how the bullshit you believe will affect you in 5, 10, or 20 years. At first I was quite indifferent, as my life is pretty amazing right now and even if I didn’t change a single thing I’d really have no reasons to complain. But then I realised how much more I could be and contribute if I wasn’t that anxious and overwhelmed, and what a horrible waste such indifference would make. I realised I can be both happy with where I am now, and striving for making a greater impact in the world.

If you’re considering UPW to get some answers, it’s most likely not the right place.

I don’t feel like I have an easy answer to anything, there’s only more and more questions. The exercises we did have shaken up a lot of beliefs I had about my body (I hate cardio!), my finances (I shouldn’t ever need more money than I have right now), or my capabilities (I can only do one thing at a time, and everything else will fall apart while I do that).
I can see through a lot of bullshit I kept repeating in my own head, but haven’t fully replaced it with more useful beliefs yet. This also means I’m not quite sure now who I am right now and what exactly it is what I hope to become. Once in a freefall, always in a freefall.
Even though I didn’t get all the answers, I came back with something much better than this. It’s an awesome set of tools to use movement, language and focus to get me out of my head whenever I’m feeling bad, and into a much more happy and productive state.
There’s only so long you can be upset or angry if you put on Rihanna and jump around with the silliest dance moves.
Trust me, I tried.

Is your drive to perfection holding you back?

This moon is shit – said someone at a party last night. – It’s not even an accurate representation of the terrain.
Yeah, I see what you mean. – I said. – That’s 3D printing with a light inside, so they had to add an extra layer for the basins to make them dark, and vice versa.
I don’t care. It’s simply shit.

That moon was a birthday gift from me to Pola on her last birthday, and I loved it so much I got another one for myself. Yes, I’d prefer the high parts to be actually high and the low parts to be low, but you know what? That’s absolutely the most freaking awesome lamp I ever head. I don’t care if it’s accurate or not, all I care is I have a funkin moon in my room that brings the silliest grin on my face every time I see it.

If only I could chill about my work like I chill about my moon

I love my job and I’m good at what I’m doing. Even writing this sentence feels super weird. It’s hard for me to be proud of my own achievements, lest someone finds some mistakes in it – wouldn’t that be a proof there’s nothing to be proud of?
I’m working through a video leadership course right now, and had to write my farewell letter as I leave the company a few years from now, as well as comments of grateful colleagues. The letter was the easy part. However, pretending to be other people complimenting on my work turned out to be a much bigger challenge than I expected.
I never knew writing nice things about myself would feel so awkward and unnatural. I like myself in general. I know I’m likeable, even if a little weird. Yet my own work to me feels like my moon felt to that friend. No matter how awesome it is, one imperfect detail will ruin the whole effect.

It’s hard to find happiness if everything has to be perfect

I need to remind myself how much progress I made. Sometimes I need to remind this to myself a few times per week. I was a prodigy kid winning one competition after another, and expected no less than winning. When I went to college and couldn’t keep up, I gave it all up altogether. If you’re hardwired to win, anything less than perfect feels simply like shit.
But if your feeling like shit keeps holding you back from all the awesome stuff you would otherwise do, you’re in deep trouble. There’s only so much you can do that is perfect, and so much more that can have great impact being just good enough.
Believing my work is good enough is hard. It means pushing it out to the world even if you know it could be improved, and that someone will point that out. It’s not easy to accept any feedback, if deep down you believe you’re worthless unless you’re perfect. If only I could spend another hour, day, or month, I would show them how good I can be…

Nobody cares about how good you can be. They only care what is done.

If your work is perfect, but several years late, that’s several years with no solution to a problem that had to be solved. If that problem didn’t really have to be solved, why even bother spending so much time on it? I used to think my drive to perfection lets me help people in the best way possible. In fact, I’m helping people much less than I could be, if I wasn’t so insecure and afraid of critique.
Yes, my moon would be better if the topography was right. Yes, perhaps in another few years they’ll make an accurate one. No, that doesn’t mean an imperfect moon lamp is worse than no moon lamp at all. In fact it’s a freaking amazing moon lamp, and I’m super happy I have one.

What would YOU compliment yourself for?

I learned a lot doing that compliment exercise. It made me want to become the person who deserves those compliments. If that means lowering my impossible standards to give my team what they need most, so be it. I know I’m smart, talented, and have great ideas. No amount of mistakes, feedback, or criticism is ever going to change that.

How much trust do you have in the ground beneath you? – What navigating underwater taught me about navigating through life.

What was the scariest thing you’ve ever experienced?
I never thought what mine would be, until I ended up there.
It all started with an exercise in navigation on advanced diving course. I was supposed to set my compass to a nearby island, dive 10 meters deep and navigate towards that island underwater, until I reach the rocks and reef around it.
Doesn’t sound that hard, does it?
I started out very carefully, making sure I don’t descent too fast, and don’t drift away in the opposite direction. Then after a few minutes of staring at my compass and diving computer, I realised I am surrounded by a

PERFECT. FEATURELESS. VOID.

I was too high above the sea bottom to see it at all. I was too far away from that island to see where it was. I was too far ahead of my companions to see where they were.
All I could see was blue, perfect featureless blue in every direction. And the air bubbles going up, so at least I knew where was up.

That’s probably the closest I will ever get to free floating in outer space. I never knew floating in outer space would be so freaking scary.

I panicked so hard that I rushed towards the island as soon as I could, then bursted into tears when I finally saw some rocks underneath me. I didn’t think of slowing down even then, the divemaster and my fiancé both had to chase me for a while. For the next 30 minutes, I only dreamed of swimming back to the surface, despite the underwater magic and beauty all around me.
I couldn’t quite make sense of this experience, until I remembered how I felt right after joining Automattic.
It was a big change for me, from Korean corporate culture that was semi-military, to being in charge of when, where, how, why, and how much I would work. “Like all the walls, floor and ceiling around me suddenly disappeared, and I was in a free fall”, that’s how I described it back then.
That was a very accurate metaphor.

A free fall feels exciting, liberating, and out of this world. It’s also absolutely frightening, and not quite optimal when you want to actually get some stuff done.

As much as I loved the experience of a free fall when bungee jumping, I do appreciate having some ground under my feet in everyday life. I like to know it’s there. I’m happy I don’t have to think about it when I’m trying to get from one place to another.

If I couldn’t trust the floor in my high-rise apartment, I would panic each time I walk from my bedroom to kitchen.

It’s good to trust my accountant that I am compliant with all tax regulations and won’t go to jail.

It’s good to trust the company I work for they will pay me for my work at the end of each month.

It’s good to trust the city transport system that subway cars were tested, regularly checked and won’t suddenly burst into flames.

It’s good to trust the engineers who built my apartment block that it’s stable enough and won’t collapse even when the weather is harsh.

It’s good to trust the people I find most inspiring that if I do X I’ll have a good life.

That’s why navigating underwater was so hard. Without seeing the ground, the horizon, or a guide before me, all I could trust back then was myself.

You probably barely notice what makes up the ground under your feet. Until it starts feeling wobbly, and then you’re in the free fall again.

I have a whole system of beliefs I use to make sense of the world. Everyone does. This is the only way we can make any choices, or get anything accomplished at all.
The beliefs themselves might be completely irrational, and I might have no idea they exist, but they still affect what I do and how I think. I’m not running around paranoid worrying my house will collapse, because I trust and believe that this is not going to happen.
However, every once in a while my trust in the ground beneath gets shattered. Something I believed would not be going to happen suddenly happens, and leaves me stumped. I’m in a new situation where my old habits and ways of problem solving no longer work. People change so much I can hardly recognize them. Communities fail to give me the support and care I need. Someone I used to admire doesn’t seem that wise anymore.
This process is both scary and exciting, just like the free fall. If things so basic and obvious start to fall apart, what will happen next? Will I ever be able to trust anything or anyone again?
Navigating life with no stable ground underneath is like navigating underwater with nothing in sight. You have your compass there, of course, but it was you who set it up after all. Do you have that much trust in yourself, when you can’t even trust the institutions or authority figures you used to have so much faith in?

I thought that once I finally understand how the world works, I will avoid such disappointments. But then I realised, the stable ground is not as stable as it seems.

I used to have unconditional trust in my sense of sensemaking. I never thought there is another way. I had certain ideas about how the world works and who I am and I trusted them with all my heart.
Some of these ideas turned out to be total bullshit. Some others, I still hold, but with a grain of doubt.
This doesn’t mean I no longer trust anyone or anything. Nor that I hold every opinion as equal. In everyday life I put as much trust in my accountant, company, city transport system, or construction engineers as I used to.
However, I can see now how all beliefs are incomplete, arbitrary, and subject to refinement.
For all practical purposes, I’m the co-owner of a nice apartment and a safety cushion on my bank account. I do trust the institutions that confirm my ownership of both and there’s no point in me or anyone else acting otherwise.
Unfortunately, if there’s ever a war in my country, it’s probable that my whole block will be torn down to the ground, and all the money on my bank account will be worth less than a few bottles of vodka. This doesn’t lessen my trust in government institutions or banks. But if one day I find myself in a situation like this (hopefully not), my beliefs about the things I own will need to be refined.
For all practical purposes, it’s good to assume the sky is above your head and the Earth is beneath your feet. But if you find yourself floating underwater, you’d better find another way of making sense where you are and where you want to go.

It’s okay to cherrypick, iterate and have mixed feelings – that’s how you learn and grow.

One thing that stopped me from refining my beliefs was hoping for a complete system that will answer all of my questions. I used to think there is an ultimate answer, and people have either got it figured or not. If someone is a Wise Man, he must have all the answers right. He wouldn’t be a Wise Man otherwise, would he?

In result, whenever I admired someone’s way of thinking, but then found a flaw in it, my trust in them got broken. I was disappointed to hear that Steve Jobs rejected evidence-based medicine, he seemed like a smart guy to me before. If he was so wrong about such basic things, could anything he ever said have any worth at all?

Only with time I realised it’s perfectly possible to hold both very wise and utterly confused beliefs at the same time. Even Nobel Prize laureates can be deeply wrong on some topics that are not the main area of their expertise. Even an arrogant self-help guru can have some wise insights on life.

Again, realising this was both frightening and liberating. Frightening, because I could no longer have absolute trust in any philosophy, community or person, no matter how smart they seemed. Liberating, because I no longer had to defend obvious bullshit when I found it in my idols, and could still enjoy the good parts of a system I don’t trust as a whole.

It’s good to build my sense of how the world works on the shoulders of the finest philosophers, scientists and spiritual leaders.

It’s even better to sometimes verify if all their beliefs are equally valid and true.

And this I can only do all alone, navigating with my compass in hand.

Forget New Year’s resolutions. Let’s relax, stay present, and enjoy the ride instead.

If I were to judge 2017 by the resolutions I made in the first week, I should probably consider it a failure. Last year, I gave up on ambitious New Year plans and committed myself to just 3 basic things – cooking, blogging, and working out.
It turns out, New Year’s resolutions are another thing I should probably give up on completely. I still only work out when there’s a gym next door (luckily I live right next to one), still only cook when my brother comes over, and blog much less frequently than I planned to.
Still, even though I didn’t complete any of these simple three items, I’m amazed by how much I have achieved this past year. Day to day, it usually feels like struggling to get out of bed, and drinking crazy amounts of coffee to keep myself going. Only looking back I can see that during these few months, I:
There’s no way I could have planned most of these things. A year ago I’d never make a resolution to write for a kids’ magazine, the one that I work with hadn’t existed yet at that time. Should I have focused on my blogging goal and kindly refused to join them until this one is met? Sometimes the best choice is to reevaluate plans, give up on everything that’s not necessary, and jump into the unknown.
This year I’m not even trying to create a resolution list. My only resolution is to always stay present and aware of the choices in front of me. In practice, this means to continue meditating and keep my Internet distractions under control – these are two things that helped me most in navigating through life. Whenever I’m stuck in my head, I feel like banging this very head against a wall. Meditation and freeing myself from distractions both help me see much more clearly, and gain more control of what I do with my hours and days.
The end of a year is usually a time of summaries, reflections, and planning ahead. I always enjoyed the quiet moments when I could redesign my site, and in the process also redesign myself. This year, there’s so much going on that I can barely keep track of it all. If all goes well, I may complete an advanced diving course on shipwrecks and coral reefs, teach two workshops in India, write another great article, and book a wedding venue without even returning to Poland, all by the end of this month. If that’s just January, who knows what else can happen during the rest of the year? 😉

When you hear the Cosmos calling, what do you do?

Most probably, panic. Then panic again.
“The Cosmos is all that is, or was, or ever will be.” That’s the opening of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series, and of a book that has the same title. A few years ago, when I felt really stuck, this book opened my eyes to a whole Universe of wonder. For the first time in years I felt the same awe and excitement as a kid discovering how the world works. I’m not sure how I lost it in the first place, but public education and peer pressure could have something to do with that.
Carl’s Cosmos showed me how incredibly beautiful, mysterious, and fragile is the place that we live in. Without dedicated attention, this awareness can easily get buried under a pile of breaking news in the Facebook feed. But I couldn’t unsee the wonder all around me, and felt a strong need to share it with the world. This blog came to life as a very rough attempt to do so. That’s why it’s called Made in Cosmos.

Can the sense of wonder survive as a kid grows up?

Meditating on this question, I had this great idea in the back of my mind. I should start an online portal for kids, about science, and coding, and philosophy, and all the great things in life. There would be interactive articles with rich animations, Q&A about literally everything, peer support groups, and super smart games and puzzles to solve. If there’s any hope for humanity, it’s in teaching kids now, for sure.
When I first had this idea, I gave up on it fast. I had a corporate job, nearly no money put aside, and no one passionate enough to work with me on this. Also, I had zero experience writing articles for kids, drawing illustrations or animating them, no formal education in teaching, and terrible management skills. It was ridiculous to think I could ever tackle such project.
Still the idea would come back to me over and over again in these rare moments of clarity. It would scare me to death every single time, make me question all of my live choices so far, and leave me broken to pieces for several days.

If an idea scares you to death, that’s great. This is how you know it’s one worth pursuing.

No wonder my cosmic project for kids felt super scary even to think about it. I had a polished vision of the end result in mind, without the faintest clue what first step would possibly bring me closer to that goal. Every time I pondered upon this question, the only thing that came to my mind was to quit my job – which I didn’t want to do, and so I ended up resigned and helpless.
When it comes to Big Scary Stuff, it’s okay not to know what a first step could be. What I learned is that a good enough first step is to do your own thing, and to keep an eye opened on opportunities laying around.

There’s always opportunities around, if you’re paying attention.

The Cosmos found me co-organising a coding workshop for women. This is where I first heard about a fundraising campaign to kickstart Cosmos for the Girls. They wanted to publish a magazine for girls that would show them a whole Universe of possibilities, while most tell them only how to look.
I didn’t know who stood behind this, but I knew these were my kind of people. I decided to reach out and see if I could help. As it turned out, they really needed someone to write about technology for them. The previous person backed off just a few days before.

Hi, this is Sylwia! I’m calling from the Cosmos…

Writing my first article wasn’t an easy process. The impostor syndrome hit me quite hard, as it always does. This blog was my only attempt at writing so far, so who am I to send my article to seasoned journalists and authors? I literally had to trick myself into this, and to do it more than once.
Luckily, writing a single article isn’t nearly as scary as starting a whole site from scratch. And I had something most journalists don’t have – years of experience in translating technical stuff into simple terms. I’d never have thought that my experience in customer support would help me write for kids. Turns out it’s pretty much the same thing, only more fun cause you get to choose what you will write about.
IMG_4461

My first article – “Can you teach a computer to draw?” Whoever drew that girl in the corner, must know me really, really well…

Fast forward a few months, I have two of my articles published, and another one under review. All 10,000 copies of the first issue were sold out, and we had to reprint it. It feels quite surreal to see my name in a nation-wide magazine, but it never was on my bucket list. All I dreamed of was to share a little piece of the Cosmos with as many kids as I could, and to help them nurture the seed of wonder in their hearts.
Carl Sagan passed away on this day 21 years ago. I’m not sure if that’s how the Girls of the Cosmos chose this day for the next editorial meeting, but I know his spirit will be with us. He’s with every curious wonderer, no matter how young or how old, who looks up to the sky and asks questions.

Why would anyone jump into a freezing cold lake? There’s at least one good reason why.

This weekend I learned a great deal about what courage is. It’s knowing that scuba diving in freezing cold water is an absolutely awful and unpleasant experience because you’ve just learned it firsthand, and then still choosing to do the same fucking awful thing again the next day because you’ve signed up for it. And choosing to do it with a smile.

Why would anyone go diving in freezing cold water? For a while I was wondering why I’m doing this to myself. Even though I’ve been putting off this scuba diving course for way too long, nothing bad would happen if I didn’t complete it this time. I could make a deal with the diving school to finish it in the summer, start it again in a warm tropical sea, or decide that diving is not my priority right now. It never was anyway, at least until now.

Yet somehow out of all the possible ways to spend a December weekend I chose to get my ass wet in a freezing cold lake. Me, who fucking hates cold water from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know how they tricked me into this. That’s not something I’d normally do, and for sure not something I’d normally pay for.

In the morning before the first dive I realised what I actually signed up for, and what an insane idea it was. Putting my diving gear together, still safe and warm indoors, I started freaking out that I will freeze there, get sick, or do something crazy stupid and unsafe.

This wasn’t a totally baseless fear. With the first wave of freezing cold water over my head my mind went blank and I instantly forgot the basic stuff I learned at the swimming pool. I couldn’t even keep myself afloat above the lake bottom. Our divemaster suggested I complete the mandatory exercises and get the hell out of there as soon as possible. I ran back freezing, crying, and already terrified I’ll have to do the same thing again.

Then in the afternoon I passed the written test and had to decide what I will do next. I could either put myself together and complete that one last round of diving exercises the next day, or put it off for who knows how long. As much as I hate cold water, I chose to do this crazy ridiculous thing one last time, and to try having fun while I do it. Even if the ‘fun’ part meant crying and laughing at my own misery.

This second time I’ve postponed getting dressed till the very last moment in order to stay warm for as long as I could, put as much clothes as possible under my wetsuit, poured warm water all over myself, and ran into the lake screaming “I’M A FUCKING NINJA TURTLE!”. (Well, wearing the diving gear I totally looked like one).

It was still as freezing and unpleasant as the day before, but I no longer cared. Neither the blistering cold water, the diving mask fogging up, my breathing gear going bananas, nor losing a fin halfway through the exam would make me lose my nerve. I stayed on top of all these the things, and surprised both our divemaster and myself asking him if we can dive around for 5 more minutes (but no more!).

I was wondering why I’m doing this to myself, but I think I know now. This experience made me feel stronger and more powerful than I was before. I still despise cold water, but once I made a resolution to go back there even though it’s so awful, I stopped letting the fear overwhelm me. I’ve let fear paralyse me way too many times, and now I finally know I can be scared but still stay in charge.

Cold water isn’t the only thing in my life I’ve been dreading, but now I feel I am able to face all these things. Maybe not everything at once, and maybe I’ll need to ask for help many more times than I’m used to, but if I survived the scuba diving crash course, there’s not much more that can stop me. I’m a fucking ninja turtle after all.

Are you HIGH on EXISTENCE? How I found my community made in Cosmos.

Excuse me, Sir, do you have a spare moment to discuss the meaning of the Universe? It may sound funny, but I’d rather talk about that, than about politics, TV shows, or sports. For the most of my life I was seriously involved in religious communities, and a big part of who I am now was largely shaped by that.
One of the things I miss most about religious communities was talking about the Big Scary Stuff that’s rarely discussed at parties. The meaning of life, your hopes, fears and regrets. What do you do to become a better person. What do you do to raise up when you fall. How you can contribute your skills to make the world a better place.
Still, as much as I loved the sense of belonging, community and Scary Stuff talk, religion has grown difficult on me. I’ve become too much of a curious skeptic, as science taught me that the only way to arrive at better conclusions is to challenge the ones you already have. It turned out that doubt and challenge is too much of a taboo for most religions to bear.
It’s not like I don’t believe things without proof, everyone does. I believe it makes sense to do even the tiniest little thing despite the whole sea of suffering around. I believe everyone is worthy of love and respect, even if they’re a total mess. I believe every experience and person have a lesson to teach me.
I don’t have a problem with believing in things. I have a problem with believing in them without question. If at some point in life I realise my beliefs no longer serve me, I want to be able to reconsider them, discuss other options, and try what actually works best. I want to be able to admit that no one actually has any freaking clue what they’re doing, and we’re all making it all up as we go along. Even authorities or gurus are not free from doubt and despair, and I’d love to see them admit when they don’t know the right answers, or to apologise when they make a mistake.
These parts – open discussion, seeing own flaws, and acceptance of doubt – is what I lacked in my religious settings. It felt like they were trying to fit a whole vast sky inside of their church. I couldn’t help but turn to the open sky instead.
Still, that wasn’t an easy choice to make. There’s many benefits of belonging to a community, and I missed them a lot while trying to make sense of the puzzle by myself. I missed the possibility to discuss my spiritual journey with other people sharing the same ideals and goals. At times I thought I’m alone with such goals and values in the whole Universe.
I thought I could find people like me in rationalist or science communities. In the books of Sagan, Feynman, or Einstein I found the purest awe and wonder of Cosmos, and fell in love with how they looked at the world. Somehow, the communities online were not full of Sagans, Feynmans, or Einsteins. “Science, bitch!”, we’ve got it all figured, and whoever doesn’t agree is brainwashed or simply an idiot. Just as if admitting that science doesn’t have all the answers, and may never have, would automatically imply that some particular religion is right.
The various flavours of New Age shamanism were not able to help me either. Many of them had genuine and valuable insights into human spirituality, but served them mixed up with the weirdest kinds of superstition and anti-science denial. Just as if the failure to explain consciousness in purely scientific terms would mean that science as a whole is wrong and confused, and the only thing that matters is subjective experience. If evidence piles up against it, there’s something wrong with the evidence. A natural consequence of such thinking is turning away from science-based medicine.

***

With time I understood that accepting doubt is extremely difficult and feels unnatural. We all want to make sense of the world, and we want to be certain that our sense is the right one. How else can we make any decision without being paralysed?
This is probably why certain spiritual experiences can feel as the only true thing in life. They are, until you realise that other people had equally truest experiences, totally incompatible with yours. The feeling of awe, own insignificance, and dissolving in the Cosmos is so overwhelming and intense that everyone dresses it up with their own cultural narrative and calls it the thing. It takes a great courage to admit that what you found true for yourself may not be for everyone else, or even for yourself a couple years later.
This is also why the articles on High Existence got me so intrigued and surprised. For the first time I saw that it’s possible to be serious about spirituality and still approach the subject with scepticism and zero bullshit. They seemed very serious about spiritual growth, but they were also serious to perceive the world as it is, rather than as someone might wish it to be.
After a few months of subscribing to everything they publish, I decided to buy their flagship course. Not just because there’s challenges in it, you can find similar ideas in the Tim Ferris Show or other books. What I really hoped was to see what kind of people would create or pay for a self-development course about enlightenment. Since I joined, I’m wondering what took me so long.
It turns out, the kind of people interested in a course about enlightenment also happen to be the people willing to discuss the meaning of life, the nature of consciousness, and whether there’s such a thing as free will. But that’s just for the start. The most important thing I found there, is a community to keep me accountable when I start a challenge, to share their feedback and advice when things get difficult, and to help me get back on track when I fail. It’s one of the most friendly crowds I’ve been a part of, and their support and shared insights have become invaluable to me.
It seems that more and more chunks of my life are slowly moving online, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself. Leaving the corporate world and working for a fully distributed team felt quite weird at first, until it turned out to be the most efficient and fulfilling way to work for me. If I can have my whole company online, why shouldn’t it work for a soul community too? Virtual or not, I feel like I’ve finally found my own tribe.