Whose Mountain #8
Updating my models of the world
Welcome to 2023. Traditionally in Sri Lanka, they serve khiribath (milk rice) with curries and sweets for the new year. We always enjoy sharing these traditions with our kids and our friends, and this year was no different. We made khiribath, two curries, and served love cake (a Sri Lankan dessert) to our friends. I hope your new year’s tradition was as meaningful as ours was this year.
“The only way you’ll know the extent to which you understand reality is to put your ideas and understanding into action.”
—Shane Parrish, The Great Mental Models
My own models of the world
“Hey dude, are the gear still down?”
We were accelerating through 300 knots, still in afterburner, and I had just screamed through the maximum landing gear speed. This was my first flight without an instructor in the T-38 Talon. It was supposed to be a sign of freedom for my fellow test pilot students and me. Instead, with those seven words, we were doomed to limp back to base and let maintenance know we had overstressed the plane. In that moment, I had low situational awareness— SA.
Low SA simply means that my model of the world doesn’t match reality. In aviation, especially in Naval Aviation, and even more so as a test pilot, low SA is a cardinal sin, more shameful than pride, gluttony, or lust. I had learned from my first day in flight school that my job was to always maintain an accurate mental model of the world.
We all develop maps of the world. Whether we call them SA, mental models, algorithms, or frameworks, we use our beliefs in how the world works to function. Yet, at the end of last year, I started to get the sense that my old models were no longer serving me. The maps which grounded me in time and plus thus far in my life were starting to show cracks.
It’s that realization, almost an unraveling, that led to explorations such as mysticism might be the key to solving our toughest challenges and this tweet.
These models are great for building knowledge but limit our ability to cultivate wisdom. Wisdom seems to come from guides, sages, or mystics. Those people that are willing to brave the cracks in our knowledge, stare into the abyss, and let their soul be exposed to that which lies beyond, then return to share the truth with the rest of us. I am realizing I want to use this space in 2023 to explore the stories of mystics and sages in our world. All with the goal of understanding human transformation.
Some things I’m thinking I’ll explore:
Eastern, Western, Christian, and Indigenous mystics and beliefs
How mystics drove human transformation throughout our history
Philosophies of mysticism, religion, and the unexplainable
Ways of seeking a mystical experience, whether that’s prayer, movement, meditation, breathwork, or mind altering substances
How we can choose our life to live closer to a direct relationship with truth
Science and scientists operating so far past the frontier that their work looks unexplainable, or who have attempted to explain mythology and mystical being through science.
What stories mystics can play in the problems we face as a society
Every one of these explorations will be driven by a desire to bring the mystical together with the practical to improve the human experience.
What exactly do I mean by mysticism?
Truthfully, I’m not sure. Mystical knowledge, sages, seers. It all defies definition, at least when we try to use the language of logic and reason which we’ve all been brought up on. Cambridge Dictionary defines mystic as:
relating to the belief that there is hidden meaning in life, or that each human being can unite with God
a person who tries to communicate directly with God or other forces controlling the universe
relating to magic or having magic powers, especially of a secret, dark, or mysterious kind
I think the truth is there are elements in all those definitions, even though none of them suffice. Magic, God, forces controlling the universe, and hidden meaning. Those words hint at something, but they fail miserable to define the wisdom I’m exploring. The closest I can approach a definition is by comparing it to what I don’t mean.
First off, I won’t be exploring religion per se. This won’t be an exploration of any particular religion, and it will only discuss religions in the sense of those historical mystics whose experience stemmed from a religious practice. Why?
I have always held issue with religion, organized or not. The religions I know seek obedience rather than knowledge. They hold as truth ideals which I never have been willing to subjugate myself too. Though many of my best friends are either deeply religious or even religious teachers, I seek something more personal than religion seems to offer.
This also won’t be a discussion of personal spirituality. The modern spiritual but not religious movement may be interesting, but doesn’t seem to hold any deeper wisdom than our current science. I believe spirituality today is more of an extension of modern thoughts than of a truth. We’re exploring truth, and the next transformation of the human experience. For all it's benefits, the modern spirituality movement is not that.
Lastly, this won’t be a discussion of fantasy. In everything we explore, there will be a basis of explanation. This is a fine line between what we can’t yet explain and what is complete fantasy. We’ll do our best to walk that line, but we may stumble one way or the other. If you think I’ve gone too far into the fantasy world, call my wife and tell her I need help. She’ll bring me back.
I’ve never had a relationship with any of this before
If you thought of all the people who were likely to explore mysticism and mystical traditions, I’d likely be at the bottom of that list. I don’t have a religious tradition, and as much as I was curious, I have been a perennial doubter. Growing up, the first time I read the Bible was in AP Literature class, and I didn’t read any other religious texts until I was in my 30s. My brothers didn’t even know who Jesus was as a historical figure. My family wasn’t exactly your typical WASP family.
Even as a kid I loved science. In third grade, I told everyone I wanted to be a molecular biologist. In college, I majored in Physics, and I loved quantum mechanics, astronomy, and math. I was a developmental test pilot in the US Navy, about as unreligious an upbringing as you could imagine.
So I’m not the poster boy for a fascination with the mystical. You still won’t catch me talking about whether mercury is in retrograde (I don’t even know what that means when I type that) or carrying my crystals up to the Berkeley Campanile to harness energy. But you can expect me to explore stories, meditative and prayer practices, and whatever else I come upon.
This is a change, but more of the same
In some ways this is a departure for this space. I set out to write about how to live a good life, and shifted towards the unexplainable. In other ways, this is an extension of that original goal. A good life is more than balancing work and home. I’ve written before about examining our own stories and doing personal work, all of which is required to find wisdom. This is another avenue towards wisdom. Oh, and the sketches are staying.
Thank you for reading and coming along. If you or someone you know is similaryly curious, please subscribe and share.
Come along on a journey towards mystics and the unexplainable
I am so stoked for you to embark on this journey and to read the notes you leave for us along the way.
And hoping we will have some conversations woven in them all.
Already, in contrast to your tweet, from my experience, the acquisition of wisdom is a sage-less experience. Creation is the only guide I have found suitable. And if even in my uneducated, unlettered, and unadorned state I can be a mystic, then I think any one can be in community with the questions of the universe.
What an interesting shift! Glad to be here to see how it plays out, and proud of you for exploring where you feel life is taking you.