posttitle = art is choosing what to breathe life into titleClass =title-long len =41

art is choosing what to breathe life into

note to self: art is choosing what to breathe life into

a whiteboard with some sketches, including the phrases 'I am free to be decisive insofar as I am willing and able to listen', 'what matteringness is...', 'art is choosing what to breathe life into', and a big 'THIS' and 'NOT THIS'. an egg is depicted being fertilized by a sperm, who calls to the other sperm behind him 'I win! I'm sure yours would have been beautiful.'

art is choosing what to breathe life into


not this

this? not this. not this. this?



sometimes I get stuck because I have more urges than I know how to handle

“I want to write”

“no I want to take a shower”

“but before I take a shower I want to work out”

“but I’m still partway through writing”

“wait but I’m kinda hungry”

“wait no but I don’t want to eat if I’m about to work out”

…and on. and on.

so many urges. so many things to take care of. I can’t do all of them, not all at once. I can maybe take care of all of them eventually… but by then there will be more.

I can probably take care of what needs taking care of eventually, on some level of abstraction, somewhere up in my perceptual control hierarchy

even thinking a thought is sort of an urge

hi urge

you’re tryna take care of something

these urges are helpful

while it may be challenging when they’re all tugging in different directions

…these urges are all really helpful

honestly, they’re kinda… made of helpfulness

they’re kinda like meeseeks from Rick & Morty, I notice (my noticing surely inspired by my friend Romeo making the same observation)

In parallel, it’s important to briefly mention the role that subagents typically have in us. Namely, what Romeo Stevens calls the “Mr. Meeseeks interpretation of subagents”. The subagents are created to achieve a goal, they don’t really like existing, but will continue to hang in there until they’re convinced the goal has been met. The subagents are spun up in order to accomplish goals that would normally require you to spend a lot of attention but that cannot be simply offloaded to muscle memory (e.g. like driving a car).

except unlike that dystopic nightmare it is maybe sort of possible to release them before the goal has been achieved?

somewhere up in the stack, something lets go, allowing something lower to let go, and the meeseeks is freed

who am I?

with apologies for the homunculus fallacy…

I sometimes feel like a guy sitting at a desk in my own mind and receiving a bunch of incoming deliveries—answers (correct or not) to questions I asked moments ago or hours ago, possible courses of action, hamster-wheels of anxieties, idle curiosities, and so forth

and I’ve noticed it makes a huge difference whether my attitude towards all of these messages is one of harried annoyance & frustration, or one of wonder & curiosity & appreciation. even when the delivery is not what I want, and even if I choose not to follow a particular urge… there can still be a recognition that it was that part of my mind’s best attempt to take care of whatever it was trying to take care of!

I’ve found myself analogizing this to how a kind father might feel & respond, surrounded by a bunch of kids with chaotic urges, clamoring for attention and each let’s say wanting their favorite book to be read. the kind father has an attitude of love and delight towards each child, that is not conditional on them reverting the urge! even as he might say “we don’t have time for every book before we need to go. we’ll read yours right now and yours tonight”

who is this “I” creature that seems to be making those choices as myself?

is this consciousness? what is choosing, anyway?

art is choosing what to breathe life into

I’ve been puzzling for a long time about how to simultaneously be profoundly purposeful while not tangling myself up in knots of inner conflict

one day, I find a way to let the meeseeks die

all of them, as far as I could tell

I let them all go, at least for a few moments

I’ve been doing a lighter form of this with my nothing-to-do meditation and my days off. on this day I go deeper, using this guided meditation, and let my sense of self die as well

it’s remarkably peaceful, like drifting off to sleep… except there’s still awakeness, awareness

when I get up, afterwards, I feel reborn

I feel free

I feel more free than ever to do exactly what I feel like doing, and I feel profound unity of will—I had just let all of the urges die, so I I’m not being tugged in a bunch of directions

the urges are instead arriving nearly one by one, with lots of space to consider them

and I discover that I am free to be decisive insofar as I am willing and able to listen

if I try to move forward without listening, I invariably end up repressing and also making preventable mistakes. and I have friction, resisting my decision, making a mockery of the idea that I can even choose at all

gently, slowly, I learn how to embody this

I learn, increasingly, that I can choose from among my urges, hold it as an intention, and listen for any objections

and if an objection arises, rather than going back to the drawing board, or getting torn between two options, I can hold the intention, and the objection, and wait for an answer to emerge

maybe the objection simply releases

or maybe I notice a way to fold it in

or maybe it’s just a tiny thing that wants to be taken care of first

and then the main intention can choose to allow that

and then my intention can proceed, feeling fully free, uninhibited, unrestricted, unresisted


some moments after this rebirth it becomes clear I want to go for a walk around the block

so off I go, for a walk, with utter unity of intent

I head straight out the door and off the porch and—

stop in my tracks


not this.

it’s pouring rain

and part of me doesn’t want to get my clothes wet


I don’t simply want to walk

I want many things

but if, on the whole, I want to walk, then I want to simply walk

I want to walk unconflictedly, if at all

I take a few steps back up onto the porch to reconsider

a potential course of action arises: go for a walk in my underwear

it’s a serious contender; I’m broadly fine walking around in my underwear, and there’s something fun about it. but other parts veto, based on various factors

yet I still want to go for a walk

yet I don’t want to get my clothes wet

I wait, holding my intention and my objection

another potential course of action arises: go for a walk wearing just my pants. I happen to have a spare dry pair with me, and I’ll still be able to enjoy the water on my torso and not get too heavy & sodden

beautiful. perfect.


I go inside, change, and return outside

and simply walk

I walk with utmost peace and once again unity of will

the ground is kind of cold on my bare feet

but I trust I can handle it and this does not produce an objection

I don’t choose to trust—I listen and observe that I do trust

the rain is intense

and I am walking straight through it

I’m not flinching, because all of me is on board

often, I notice, we flinch at rain (and snow and cold) even though it doesn’t keep us much (if any) drier

I suppose that it’s because we haven’t listened to voices that don’t want to be in the rain, and they are expressing their disapproval by tensing

something like that

I release this line of thinking, and continue walking

I begin to sing this song I wrote over a decade ago, which came to mind because it contains the line “I’m easy-going… and I’ll go anywhere… sun, rain or snowing, well, I don’t care”

unconflicted will is a powerful thing

scary powerful

I grapple with the effervescent overflowingness of how many things I want to do

and the question of how to be unconflicted in the face of that

I reflect on the sense that some urges kind of die

I observe that this is a necessary part of evolution, of existence

that most possibilities are not actualities, are not actualized

(I actualize an urge to splash in a puddle, which I haven’t done for a few years)

I fancy my urges as like sperm, competing in the landscape of my bodymind for which one gets realized in a given moment

it’s my understanding that each bodymind is itself an evolutionary process

that thinking and willing and choosing involve some ongoing flow of something like bidding between urges

and anything can tip that balance—suppose you’re poised on the edge of whether to stay in or leave a conversation, and someone brings up a topic you love or a topic you’re bored of; the choice is suddenly clear! …or someone farts.

my urges are like sperm

which ones wins? which ones mate with the rest of reality and become a whole being, and which tens of thousands dissolve into nothingness?

in some ways, I am choosing

and in other ways I am the emergent process itself, merely witnessing

and maybe, maybe most usefully, I am cultivating the conditions for the process to flow smoothly. I’m choosing to expand awareness so that the urges can see each other and dance out what’s going to happen.

and I notice that something that feels important here is actually allowing the winner to win

if the winning urge doesn’t have the satisfaction of feeling in charge and able to direct things, then it hasn’t truly won. it’s merely the prime minister of a party with a minority government, eking out some compromised plan that nobody thinks will work and thus nobody is surprised when it fails, and nobody learns anything.

in an antagonistic and self-distrustful society of mind, the part temporarily in control tries to maintain control and sees the other intentions as hostile to that (which, in a sense, they are; no matter how engrossing your work is, eventually you will have to eat, and sleep, and take care of everything else that matters to you. that is what matteringness is.)

in a friendly society of mind…

mind—the word “friend” shares its roots with “free”

…in a friendly society of mind, the winning sperm turns to the ones behind and declares “I won! I’m sure yours would have been beautiful”. the winning urge does not need to dishonor or deprecate the other urges. rather, it experiences and asserts its temporary superiority simply by the act of winning. it gets the delight of victory and of being able to utterly have its way—not to have its way in opposition to the other urges (in which case there is still friction and the freedom is illusory) but to have its way with the complete blessing of the other urges, who release to allow it to flow smoothly.

thus I am free to be decisive insofar as I am willing and able to listen

this can be read as a moral/ethical statement, and that’s not totally off

but it’s not a prescription

it’s a fact I observe

if I try to act and I refuse to listen or I don’t know how to listen, I can generally expect to encounter resistance, opposition, counteraction

from whatever is other to my will—whether still conventionally some part of the being known as Malcolm, or someone else, or larger karmic forces

art is choosing what to breathe life into

“breathe life into”

art is what gods make


did I say art? everything is choosing what to breathe life into

life is choosing what to breathe life into


there is a grief in dreams left half-realized


energy invested in projects that got abandoned, that never got off the ground, that never got the life of their own that published works have

and yet… in a finite life, we soon discover that in order to give birth to some of our half-dreams… we must be willing to let others dissolve back into nothing

not this

tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Intend, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.

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