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Experiment With The Mute Button

Experiment With The Mute Button

In Headspank Newsletter #11, I proposed an experiment. Imagine you had no vocal chords.

If you’re totally unable to speak, how would you communicate?

  • Charades?
  • Interpretive dance?
  • The Vulcan mind meld?

The idea is that, by going mute and communicating in a way that’s out of your comfort zone, you’ll think differently about how you use language, inflection, vocalizations, and volume. You’ll no longer take it all for granted. And you may discover new ways of communicating altogether.

Like last week, (and from now on), I am not not only conceiving and sharing the experiment, I am participating. So here’s my go at it.



Photo: The Chive

A Page From My Clothing Catalog

A Page From My Clothing Catalog

In the Experiment section of last week’s newsletter (available only to subscribers, natch), I threw down a fashion-related idea.

What if you wrote your own catalog?

Nobody’s got time to create an entire publication as a creative experiment. Instead, just pick one thing, like a clothing ad, and rewrite the caption.

I played along and discovered that the descriptions of fashion rarely meet the visual truth.

Here’s my catalog page.

Sean as catalog model


Build Every Mountain

Build Every Mountain

We humans. So full of guile and self-importance. All too often it seems like we take our environment for granted. Or bend it to our will. It’s enough to rile up even the most passive tree-hugger.

But Nature doesn’t take this lying down.

For every action there is a reaction. The most recent natural consequence is Fort McMurray’s citywide inferno which, at the time of this writing, continues to ravage the homes of 80,000 residents.

This is, however, not about hand-wringing, chastising, or bemoaning.

This is about moving mountains. And building them.


As reported in The Washington Post

 …the UAE is in the early stages of evaluating how a man-made mountain could help maximize rainfall in the country, consulting with experts from the U.S.-based National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) to study the idea. “What we are looking at is basically evaluating the effects on weather through the type of mountain, how high it should be and how the slopes should be,” Roelof Bruintjes of NCAR told Arabian Business. “We will have a report of the first phase this summer as an initial step.”

You’re forgiven if that has you staring at the screen in disbelief.

We’ve built many things: rockets to defy gravity, skyscrapers that reach unimaginable heights, the Hadron Collider to find the God particle!

But we’ve never built an ocean, a volcano, or a desert. We’ve generally left natural formations to the pros. That said, I guess a mountain is a good place to turn that around.

mountain natgeo-gifs.tumblr

What’s the big deal?

Fair question. And, to be clear, the reason to consider building a mountain – rain to help crops and flora grow – is not the issue. Making rain is an age-old challenge to many people across the globe. Some have risen to it and others have succumbed.

It’s also not about how much money it would require. That, not coincidentally, is enormous.

One proposal to build a 1.2-mile-high mountain in the notoriously flat Netherlands was found to be feasible if the mountain were hollow. Estimates for the cost went as high as $230 billion.

The UAE has spent $400,000 investigating the idea. Speaking to Arabian Business, NCAR’s (Roelof) Bruintjes acknowledged that the eventual cost of the project may be too much for the UAE.

“Building a mountain is not a simple thing,” he said.”

You think?

Even by Dubai’s standards, $230 billion could mean a (ahem) mountain of debt.

The question on earth’s table is whether building a mountain crosses a line.

It’s one thing to help build coral reefs with underwater art (which is marvelous and wholly beneficial.) Isn’t it another to place a manmade mountain on the outskirts of town?

I’ve got questions.

  • What happens to the flora and fauna around it? Protected or pummeled?
  • Is one mountain sufficient? Or could more be required? In which case, when does it stop?
  • Would it be seen as a helpful idiosyncrasy or an unorthodox abomination?

If it produces rain, most will say it’s worth the financial cost. Then what? Will other countries start their mountain-building departments?

Will we re-engineer our topography?!

What will Mama Nature do if her creation gets jerry-rigged?

sheep pushes man into lake

These are important questions for environmental ethicists. And us couch philosophers, of course.

But don’t get me wrong. I’m not sour on the idea.

I applaud the concept.

Because this is a great example of thinking differently about a real problem. It’s visionary. It’s futuristic. It’s never been done and it’s dramatically inventive. It could solve, or minimize, the precipitation problem.

And should this idea become reality, it could be the home to even greater benefits.

They can landscape the mountain to be an extraordinary thing of beauty. Or turn it into a giant work of art. Or make it home to a new generation of herders, farmers, and agriculturalists.

They could call it Billy and Ethel the tree could grow off of its shoulder.

It’s interesting. In Hinduism, there’s a story of Lord Krishna lifting a hill because the people were getting deluged with rain.

Krishna-lifting-Govardhan-Hill via krishnabhumidotin

This seems like a twisted inversion of that tale, albeit with people acting as gods, creating a really big hill in order to get the rain instead of avoid it. (Monsoons in India are much different than drought in the Middle East, natch.)

Is the world ours to manipulate? Or is it something to revere?

Is this another crazy idea by us small-minded homo sapiens? One with inconceivable consequences destined to occur, both natural and societal?

Or is it ingenuity taken to its fantastic, benefit-to-society conclusion?

Or is it both?

As with most big ideas, monumental potential is balanced by considerable risk.

BEST bldg with fissure via I Blog Because I Forget

What’s your take? Leave a comment and let’s discuss.


Photo credits:  rSexyness | National Geographic Gifs | The Chive | | I Blog Because I Forget

How To Reach A Peak Experience

How To Reach A Peak Experience

Live Streaming Event: Interview with Dr. Mindy Howard of Inner Space Training

UPDATE: Goodness gracious! This event suffered the cruel fate of technical difficulties. I will reschedule. Apologies for any inconvenience.

Have you heard about the peak experiences astronauts have in space? Those moments of eye-opening transcendence when universal truths are revealed? Or something even more mindblowing?

I’ve never left earth, but I can imagine how a peak experience resembles, or includes, an epiphany. Maybe several. But I need more information.

What defines a peak experience? Do all astronauts have them? What about space tourists? Are there challenges to achieving them? And how can you boost your odds?

We’ll find out when I interview Dr. Mindy Howard, founder of Inner Space Training.

Mindy Howard of Inner Space Training

She helps new astronauts and space tourists overcome emotional and mental challenges to achieve peak experiences

I wouldn’t be surprised to find you can use her methods here on Earth.

This interview will be rescheduled when Google Hangouts On Air (or otherwise) decides to play nice. I hope that will be soon.



Drop Your Jaws

Drop Your Jaws

Ah, the epiphany. The hallowed ground of aha! The unexpected flash of insight. A lightning bolt of wisdom straight outta who-knows-where.

It’s like a mindset orgasm. And it’s the holy grail of this (not so) humble blog.

If I could manufacture an epiphany for you, I would do it every ding dong day

animated explosion in lab

Alas, I can’t just cook one up. There are no tools, processes, or black magic that can birth such a thing. That’s one reason epiphanies are priceless.

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know it’s a jewel of an experience that’s always on my radar. And this week it was dropped on my place setting in several ways.

First, space.

An astronaut’s peak experience may reach the heights of an epiphany, so they’re often synonymous

I’m really excited to learn more about peak experiences, and what it takes to put yourself in position to have one, when I interview Mindy Howard, founder of Inner Space Training. Her organization helps new astronauts and space tourists overcome mental and emotional challenges to reach peak experiences in space.

cat jumps into space

That interview is happening Thursday, April 28th, at 11AM PST. Mark your calendars.

More details in Monday’s newsletter (you gotta subscribe to get the extra treats I pack in there). I’ll also post them here around the same time.

Next, in the Wall Street Journal this week, six “luminaries”, including a Harvard science professor and a documentary filmmaker, were asked to say something about epiphanies. It’ll take <5 minutes to read, so I encourage you to do so. But let me bring your attention to two particular points of view.

From award-winning playwright/screenwriter Tony Kushner:

“There’s something like a hallelujah imprinted in the word epiphany. The force of these moments is part of the reason we even create a category like epiphany. They chasten you, suggesting that there are levels of meaning and comprehension available that choose human beings rather than the other way around.”

Ok. It bears repeating. Epiphanies can’t be induced.

The conditions can be right for an epiphany to occur. But you can’t order one up at the drive-thru

mini car at drive thru

However. What’s interesting about this perspective is that, when you try to make sense of it all – when you’ve had the aha! and you’re standing there, with your jaw on the ground, parsing the Amazing that’s just occurred – you can also realize that this wasn’t something that happened TO you. It’s something that happened WITH you. FOR you, even.

The universe somehow recognized a fertile field, then planted its eye opening seed.

That’s pretty cool.

And from novelist Elizabeth Gilbert:

“The reason epiphanies feel so surprising is twofold. First, it’s the surprise of seeing a truth revealed. Second, it’s the deep shock of wondering why it took you so long to see it in the first place. It’s something that was there all the while.”

This is the meat-and-potatoes of epiphanies. It’s not like a veil is pulled back to reveal giants exist or we’re all made of LEGO. No.

The reward – the insight of epiphanies – is understanding

Suddenly there’s one less mystery in a world full of them. You’re a step closer to universal truth, even if that’s never fully within reach.

I have gone to find myself T-shirt

Finally, in Atlas Obscura, Sarah Laskow writes about an infrequently-visited topic: Awe.

Awe is not necessary for an epiphany. In fact, awe can often happen after the fact. But awe has much in common with epiphanies.

For instance, psychologists discovered awe “typically includes feelings of vastness—something larger than a person’s self or experience—and accommodation—that a person expand their understanding of the world to include this new information”. “It often occurred when a person had an opportunity to expand their knowledge of the world” and it “makes you re-evaluate what you actually know.”

Familiar, eh? It continues.

“Awe also encourages people to account for what they’re experiencing. When you’re feeling this emotion, “you have this strong motivation to explain what’s in front of your eyes,” says Piercarlo Valdesolo, an assistant professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College. A couple years back, he and a colleague looked at how people deal with the uncertainty inherent in awe. They found that awe seems to nudge people towards “agentic explanation”—they’re less likely to accept that something happened randomly.”

“Instead, they’ll attribute it to an agent, like a god, a supernatural force, or a person.”

bike trick without a bike

Kushner may ascribe divine agency to the stroke of insight, but people still want the cause of awe to be logical and rational.

One of the best parts of awe, like epiphanies, is the after-effect, the glow

According to University of Houston assistant professor, Melanie Rudd, “awe promoted generosity. It also improved participants’ ethical decision making. A paper still under review indicates that awe makes people more humble, too.”

“We actually experience awe a lot more frequently than we think,” says Rudd. We encounter something in the big wide world, our minds opens as we look for an explanation, and as a result we open up to connecting to other people. “But if you are keeping yourself in your routine of life, it’s going to be hard to experience that feeling of accommodation,” she says. “Just going out into newness, you’re going to be more likely to run into something that’s awe-inspiring.”

And THAT, my fine friends, is why I write: to help you think differently, try something new, expand your mind, and reap the rewards.

I hope you find it awesome.

man on outside of skyscraper just chilling


Photo Credits: Shonduras on YouTube | The Chive


Lickin’ the Lack of Love

Lickin’ the Lack of Love

The Roches, a super-talented trio of sisters who can harmonize with the best of ‘em, have a song that always stuck in my craw. It’s called Want Not Want Not.

It’s an upbeat, almost proud bit of lyrical perspective on eliminating desire.

You can take my picture I don’t care
You can have my attitude I don’t care
The limousine I never ride in I don’t care
Go ahead fix my wagon I don’t care

Want not want not want not

I wish there was a true love
I wish there was a great art
I wish there always was enough
But I’d not want if I were smart

Want not want not want not

We’ve heard this before, right? Desire causes suffering

Nonetheless, we want away. We want so bad it hurts.

Some glorify their goals as if they’ll bring instant, never-ending bliss.

Man rides ass with fireworks

Others get obsessive and make their desire a full-time job.

But that can get in the way of appreciating what’s right in front of you.

Bunny sees self in latte

If we don’t get the thing we want, we feel like dirt. We failed. Life sucks.

Or we get what we want, and it turns out to be something other than what we expected.

Panda says What

So it seems logical that, if we simply stop wanting, we stop feeling bad

Ummm, yeah.

Let’s be real. How many of us would just turn off wanting? Really. How many of us can?!

You know, if your life is nothing but meditating in a cave, maybe you can get to the point where you have no desires. But it’s just not the case for anyone I know.

We’re human! We want our lives to be better, richer. To experience more love and peace and fun.

girl with toy microphone

We naturally have desires. When we were fish, we desired food, so we sprouted feet to walk on land. Now we desire fish for dinner, so we sprout keys to the car to take us to the market.

The wanting of something, no matter how trivial or grandiose, is part of the human experience. But here’s the thing.

With desire comes the acknowledgement of what we lack

It has to, doesn’t it? The moment I say I want a new Tesla, I’m identifying the lack of a Tesla in my garage.

(In my case, it also indicates the lack of a garage. Grrrr.)

Tiny trailer

That was always my beef with the law of attraction. It’s one thing to focus on what you want, which is certainly helpful for its attainment. But it’s another – an impossibility – to ignore the lack of that thing. It’s implicit.

This is both a relief, and cause for concern, for anyone seeking love

As shared by Brain Pickings, psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, in his book Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life,  tells us that the partner of our dreams isn’t, exactly, separate from us.

“We fall in love not just with a person wholly external to us, but with a fantasy of how that person can fill what is missing from our interior lives.”

I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine a significant other fulfilling the desire to have a significant other. But this is about how your loved one actually quells a frustration inside us.

“All love stories are frustration stories… To fall in love is to be reminded of a frustration that you didn’t know you had (of one’s formative frustrations, and of one’s attempted self-cures for them); you wanted someone, you felt deprived of something, and then it seems to be there. And what is renewed in that experience is an intensity of frustration, and an intensity of satisfaction. It is as if, oddly, you were waiting for someone but you didn’t know who they were until they arrived. Whether or not you were aware that there was something missing in your life, you will be when you meet the person you want.”

Whoda thunk? We’re so used to the idea that the world exists outside of us, our dream mate must exist outside of us, too.

But maybe it all begins with what’s inside of us, what our psychic persona is made of. Maybe we create our loved ones.

“… the person you fall in love with really is the man or woman of your dreams; that you have dreamed them up before you met them; not out of nothing — nothing comes of nothing — but out of prior experience, both real and wished for.”

It’s like, who we are dictates who our squeeze will be

Chicks on cat via The Chive

But before we decide to skip Tinder and search within, let’s look at this a little more closely.

It’s weird to think that what is lacking in our lives – and that feeling of accompanying frustration – indicates our future partner. Isn’t the world more arbitrary? Aren’t we bouncing around the world like ping pong balls on lottery night?

And what about love?

How can true love be boiled down to, essentially, an internal itch that gets scratched?

First, let’s admit there’s different kinds of love.

With romantic love, we think of what the other does for us, like “She makes me feel so good.” or “He brings me such joy.”

popeye and olive oyl

But there’s another kind of love. Some call it agape. It’s more of wanting-the-other-person-to-be-happy kind of love. This quote always worked for me.

Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

It’s about shared experience. It’s about giving your loved one the space to act individually, and with you, together. It’s less about how the other serves you and more about you serving everyone.

If you love someone set them free

So how can you find your true love, resolving a personal frustration, and avoid self-centered limitations?

I don’t know. But I have some ideas that are worth trying.

1. Turn the desire into an act of generosity.

We can’t stop wanting. And we can’t avoid the implicit lack that comes with it. So just ditch the paradigm altogether. Instead, look for ways to be the type of person you’d like to have in your life. If there is a law of attraction, you’ll be seeing a likeminded soul.

2. Reduce your frustrations.

Seems counter-intuitive. If, indeed, true love is a frustration resolved, are you less likely to find love if you have fewer of them? (Besides, who says reducing frustrations is any easier than desires?)

All I’m saying is, a less frustrated you is a happier you. And a happier you is more likely to meet a special someone. Just live in the flow of life, letting things be as they are without getting hung up on ‘em.

3. Redefine love.

We’re pre-disposed to want the love of another. Hey, it’s biology, after all. But think differently. Can true love come in many forms? Can it be artificial? Will a cuddle party serve your need for gentle touch? Would you facilitate one?

Life is so mysterious, and surprising, and wacky, and fascinating

Throw yourself into it. Desire all you want. Want all you desire. Just allow whatever happens to happen.

You may find yourself swooning.

In love gif


Photo Credits: The Chive | WENN | | StingVevo

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