Planting Seeds and Pulling Weeds

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July 16th, 2021

In Wednesday’s entry I wrote about the following three life transformative paths that may lead to a heavenly life, and could converge towards a second Axial Age: 

The Path of Wisdom

The Path of Awakening

The Path of Love

Yesterday I wrote about three life transformative paths that may lead one towards an unheavenly direction:

The Path of Doxa

The Path of Power

The Path of Chaos

I argued that walking down the Path of Wisdom is, well, the wisest path, because it may be the path that can also point you towards becoming awakened or cultivate a holy love. It also allows you to engage with doxa, power, and chaos, and receive their benefits, when wise to do so.

The development of this framework all started as a roundabout inquiry for me to answer this question: what should I call my “coaching” practice?

I am doing philosophy more than I am doing coaching, so I sense having a philosophical framing for the practice would be the best thing. In my life right now, I am attempting to walk down the Path of Wisdom, and I see my practice as a way to walk down that path with another.

As mentioned in Wednesday’s entry, I often see a deep confusion about what a person thinks their problem is and what the solution should be. As I wrote in Wednesday’s entry:

I am noticing, within my practice and in the culture at large, that when people have something that deeply bothers them, and cannot put their finger on what it exactly is, they rush to whatever help is readily available, in a way that strikes me as very flailing.

I have totally been there myself, existentially flailing like a rockstar. One common manifestation of this is the following conversation I have had with a few friends:

Friend: I just started going to a therapist.

Me: What modality do they work with?

I usually receive a blank face here, so I explain what a modality is. 

Friend: Oh. I do not know. I just found this therapist from a friend. 

While I hope their therapy helps, I become slightly concerned hearing this. There are hundreds of psychotherapeutic modalities out there and psychotherapy costs money, and my friends might not vibe with whatever approaches the therapist they choose is experienced in. 

I am not surprised when I hear when they become disappointed with their therapeutic experience, and the sense I get when checking in is usually the following sentiment: meh, it was okay. I do not like this, because doing psychotherapy is too important for it to result in a “meh.”

While psychotherapy seems like the leading response to what I will call the “nebulous problem,” there are other manifestations, such as going to a life coach, reading self-help books, taking personal development courses, going to a meditation retreat, etc. 

I sense a “category error” often happens here, where their nebulous problem attaches itself to a solution that is memetically nearby, from somebody who confidently and clearly articulates what their problem is. Now sometimes the nebulous problem maps over cleanly to the articulated problem, and the solution also works, and if that happens then fucking great.

If there is doubt though, again the Path of Wisdom is the path that I would recommend. I am biased from personal experience, as I have tried many paths, and it is this path that I keep returning to, and this is the path I am currently walking on.

There are three things I want to unpack that I think are related to the Path of Wisdom, which I view as navigating reality:

Philosophy (as a way of life)

Life coaching, or self-help more generally

Psychotherapy

Philosophy as a way of life,” which is Pierre Hadot’s phrase, is the best starting point to answer the “how” of walking down the Path of Wisdom. It is not doing philosophy like modern academics do philosophy, aka “artists of reason” as Hadot calls them, but doing philosophy as the ancients did philosophy, aka “artists of life.”

I will write more about that tomorrow, but I sense it is better to unpack the other two first. This might be a bold thing to claim, but I think that both life coaching and psychotherapy, while indeed valid things on their own, often become “existential placeholders” for philosophy as a way of life.

There was a line from a self-help book I read, which I really liked, but I forget what the book was, probably because I have read way too many self-help books, so I will paraphrase what I remember:

Your life is a garden. To make your garden beautiful, you’ll need to plant seeds and pull out weeds.

Life coaching maps over to “planting seeds” and psychotherapy maps over to “pulling weeds,” or at least that is the motivational space that occurs when people seek out one or the other.

Life coaching is about applying “practical reasoning” towards making your life better. The three psychotechnologies that are commonly offered here are pretty simple:

Time and task management, along with other life systems.

Goal setting and more importantly goal pursuit.

Positive thinking, such as affirmations and visualizations.

All of this stuff works, and I totally recommend doing all of this. You can easily engage in “self-help bypassing” though, and put yourself on this never-ending quest for general personal development, which is unwise. You will only need to pass a certain threshold of grokking these psychotechnologies, then you should move on.

I agree with Scott Adams when he says: Goals are for losers, systems are for winners. Or less provocatively, James Clear’s line which is really on the money: You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

Systems are amazing. I do not know how I could get things done without applying our friend David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) system. Other systems worth investigating:

Extended mind systems, like Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain.

Meta-learning systems, like the methods from Piotr Wozniak.

Financial systems—aka FIRE (financial independence, retire early)—and self-reliance systems, like the ones from our friend Jacob Lund Fisker.

This is not to dismiss the importance of goals, but they should be housed in a system as well, or a “web of goals” as Jacob likes to call them. Knowing some of the psychological literature on goals can be helpful, such as the four phases of goal pursuit (predecisional, preactional, actional, postactional), but overall I find that life coaches, and the overall self-help industrial complex, put way too much focus on goals.

The other facet of life coaching is positive thinking, which is what I will call “normie magick.” Lots of the psychotechnology from “chaos magick” (also known as “success magick”) tracks nicely to some self-help stuff, especially the stuff from the New Thought movement and what has emerged out of it, aka James Allen (“As a Man Thinketh”), Napoleon Hill (“Think and Grow Rich”), Norman Vincent Peale (“The Power of Positive Thinking”), and Rhonda Byrne (“The Secret”).

I actually think Peale’s book is the only one Trump has confirmed he read, and Peale was a big influence on him, and our “apex narcissist” is a very powerful normie magickian. Again, all of this shit works, and it can be wise to engage with it, but take care in what success you attract, as worldly success is not synonymous with wisdom.

The self-help industrial complex is sort of like asymmetrical life coaching, and self-help hustlers, like Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss, are serving as life coaches for many of those walking down on the Path of Doxa. My personal favorite genre in the self-help scene is the “self-help Navy Seals,” aka Jocko Willink, David Goggins, and Mark Divine. The latter, who is integrally informed, has one of the best holistic coaching systems.

You can swap the “life” in life coach with pretty much anything: nutrition coach, fitness coach, dating coach, wealth coach, etc. The overall idea is becoming more efficient in attaining something of perceived value. The failure mode here happens when life coaching becomes a totalizing philosophy, and “self-help as a way of life” replaces philosophy as a way of life.

Sometimes it is wise not to focus on helping the “self,” by getting more or becoming more. Self-help cults like NXIVM can emerge when this happens, and as some argue, the entire self-help industrial complex is a breeding ground for these self-help cults, which perhaps can be seen as denominations for an ecumenical religion of narcissism, aka the religion of late-stage capitalism.

Do not let my dunking on life coaching and self-help fool you, I think this stuff is powerful, and has some great psychotechnology. I also think the other existential placeholder for philosophy as a way of life, psychotherapy, also has good psychotechnology, but there are failure modes there as well.

Psychotherapy is hard to define, but here is a definition from a good introduction, Psychotherapy: A Very Short Introduction:

Psychotherapy is a form of treatment for emotional and psychological problems that are based on talking and understanding. It relies on two (sometimes more) individuals exploring the problems the patient or client brings. The aim is to gain a greater understanding of the problems and better ways of dealing with them.

I like this definition, but it does bias against somatic psychotherapies, aka psychotherapies that deal with the body. I find a lot of people are confused about what “going to a therapist” entails, so perhaps it will be helpful to name the four different types of careers that sometimes get conflated: counsellors, psychotherapists, clinical psychologists, and psychiatrists. Different educational requirements are needed for these, e.g. master’s degree or an equivalent graduate diploma, PhD or PsyD, and M.D.

Clinical psychologists and psychiatrists may use the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), while psychiatrists are the ones who prescribe psychiatric medications, and some clinical psychologists can as well if they get additional credentialing in psychopharmacology. All these four careers engage in psychotherapeutic modalities to some degree though.

There are hundreds of psychotherapeutic modalities, and I fucking love them. The first ever modality, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, originated from Sigmund Freud, resulted in different offshoots, Analytical psychology or Jungian analysis (Carl Jung) and Adlerian therapy (Alfred Adler) are such examples. These three belong under the umbrella of “depth psychology,” aka the “science” of the unconscious.

I do appreciate depth psychology as my former therapist, Jordan Peterson, was a clinical psychologist who used these modalities in our sessions, mainly Jungian analysis. However, they are my least favorite modalities, and I suspect the recent renaissance of Jungian thought has more to do with the rockstar status of Peterson, rather than the efficacy of the approach.

I like cognitive-based therapies better, such as Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), as both their creators, Albert Ellis and Aaron T. Beck, were influenced by Stoicism, my philosophy of preference.

There are so many newer modalities that excite me though, such as Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Coherence Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and our friend Doug Tataryn’s Bio Emotive Framework. Others worth mentioning: Focusing, Gestalt, Logotherapy, Transactional Analysis, and Schema Analysis. 

All of these have great frameworks and techniques, and I have totally been a psychotherapeutic cowboy, investigating many of these modalities, and applying them to my life. This has given me a “psychotherapeutic literacy,” and I would really love for there to be a space for others to cultivate this literacy as well, without the aim of necessarily becoming a therapist. I can see a “psychotherapeutic commons” emerge if this could happen.

Of course, especially while situated in Game A, people with serious mental health issues should seek out those who have the appropriate training to handle such things, but I am worried about what Ivan Illich calls “The Age of Disabling Professions,” which he describes as: an age when people had "problems", experts had "solutions" and scientists measured imponderables such as "abilities" and "needs." Disabling professions can create an unhealthy reliance of non-experts on experts, reducing one’s overall sovereignty.

Another concern I have with the psychotherapeutic is what Philip Rieff calls the “psychological man,” a person characterized by psychological self-absorption. I see a lot of people overusing psychotherapeutic frameworks, and depending on what framework they are operating on every problem gets reduced to some mommy or daddy issue, egoic or narcissistic machination, unintegrated shadow, unaddressed core wound, or unprocessed trauma. It drives me nuts.

I do think psychotherapy and life coaching are useful things on their own, and it does people good to explore them, but I sense these things have ballooned beyond their purpose. As I mentioned, a philosophical praxis for the Path of Wisdom needs to be discovered, and it makes sense that life coaching and psychotherapy, which do address individual philosophical concerns, have become existential placeholders for philosophy as a way of life.

People often get into life coaching or self-help because they want more of something, and they get into psychotherapy because they want less of something. You can get caught in the more or less trap though, and endlessly planting seeds and pulling weeds is not wise.

Doing philosophy can serve as an intermediary to knowing when to focus on planting a seed or when to pull a weed, or when to focus on something else entirely. I will conclude this roundabout inquiry tomorrow, and share my thoughts on philosophy as a way of life.

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