Trigger people vs. triggered people

Some things you’ll do exclusively when a certain person (or thing) is nearby, even if you don’t usually do this thing. If you’re into self improvement, for example, you might be working on not letting your ego control your actions. And so, as time goes by, you get better and better, and your ego is very small. Sometimes it peers from somewhere and tries to say something, but you are mindful enough to be able to notice it and ignore it. But. There is this one person, situation, thing, whatever – that has the ability to get your ego out of you and, at least temporarily, make it do things. These people are trigger people, as they trigger certain unwanted behaviors in you. This can be ego, but it can also be any other sort of thing you usually don’t do (because you’ve worked on it), like any sort of addiction, anger, sadness, etc.

Basically, what you want in life is to be a trigger person to others, but not to be triggered by anyone. An exception can be made for people that trigger positive things in you, things you want to cultivate. If you are positively triggered, I would keep that connection. But generally, you really don’t want to ever allow this sort of thing. Obviously, we are all primed by our environment to a larger extent than what we acknowledge, but still. Ideally, you want to be as independent as possible, and you want the qualities you’ve cultivated to last even in adverse conditions. In other words, it’s one thing to be calm and relaxed when things are going well; the whole point is to have that same calm while things are not going well!

So, if it ever happens to you that you behave differently than you would normally, and it always happens with this one person, this one situation, this one thing – remember this article! Don’t do the thing anyway! If you’re trying to be more zen in life, then being more zen applies even in these situations. In fact, it applies even more in these situations than in regular, everyday life. Depending on the thing you’re trying to solve, a wise course of action could be simply to remove these trigger people from your life entirely. If you’re a drug addict, that’s probably the best thing you can do for yourself. But if you have a realistic shot at actually overcoming this obstacle, for example if you’re always anxious when you go to work even though you’re generally trying to be less anxious… I would not advise you to quit your job. You’d be better off having learned not to be anxious instead of simply running away from the issue.

Ultimately, the goal is Shoshin – the beginner’s mind. The goal is to always be open, doing the same things just as if you were doing them for the first time, every time you did them. Not bringing any emotional baggage. Just seeing how things are and not being compelled to react to them.

A Journey of Ice and Fire: My experience with the Wim Hof Method

As some of you might know, several months ago I ran a campaign on IndieGoGo to get funding for Wim Hof’s workshop in Poland. It fell short of the necessary amount, but I was able to purchase the online video course. This is a story of my journey into the cold.


 

It all started when I learned about this article. I thought to myself “what a load of crap” at first. I mean, come one, really? Influence the immune system with breathing? That’s the sort of thing you hear from quacks and pseudoscience people. But as I found more information about Wim Hof and saw that he actually did have achievements, quantifiable, testable things, like siting in a tank filled with ice water for more than an hour or climbing snowy mountains in shorts, I thought to myself “maybe there is something to this guy”.

Little by little, I started practicing the breathing method described in the post above and it just always felt… interesting. I don’t know if I was controlling my immune system or transcending anything, but the sensation I had from the breathing sessions was always interesting, probably in the way that drugs are interesting. More about that below.

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The video course

Control of the immune system

This is the first one and the most important one for me. You can control your immune system at will? That’s some Bene Gesserit shit, man. Of course I was very curious, but at the same time, I could not have been more skeptical. What I didn’t expect was that there was a study, not only on Wim Hof, but on people trained in the Wim Hof method. A study on PNAS, at that, a reputable science journal. I recommend that you read (at least a bit of) the study, but the short version is this: some people trained by Wim Hof and other untrained people were injected a bacterial endotoxin, something that produces a strong immune response. The control group (the untrained guys) felt sick, the Wim Hof group just breathed through it and felt okay. In other words, while the control group fell sick, the Wim Hof group was almost untouched by the endotoxin. Pretty nice, huh? Especially if this skill is transferable to other attacks on the immune system, not just endotoxins. You can wave goodbye to that cold that has been bothering you!

My own personal experiments: Two times I felt like I would get sick,  I decided that I would do no breathing techniques and see if there was any difference. I got sick both times. On all the other occasions that I felt like I would get sick (around 6 or 7), I did the breathing techniques and didn’t have any symptoms – all but once, when, despite my best effort and continuous breathing, I managed to get really sick. Of course, all this is really weak evidence, but it did work for me with a significant success percentage.

Seeing that there is nothing parallel to the Wim Hof Method, for the control of the immune system, I give the course a 5/5.

Cold resistance

The exercises are really well put together and you have a natural progression, there are no shocks. First you just do hot-cold showers, then cold-hot-cold, then just cold, then long cold, then ice baths… The progressions are easy and you are always prepared for the next week. I am still not entirely satisfied with my progress – I need to train more so that my toes and fingers don’t get numb during prolonged cold exposure, but I am much better at handling the cold. It’s also really cool if you have access to nature – taking a really cold swim or crawling through snow is much more fun than just cold baths and showers.

On cold resistance, I give the course a 5/5.

Mindfulness

I hoped that I would also see a significant increase in my mindfulness and “be more Zen” (that was one of my three goals before starting the course), but here I did not see improvement as in the previous two categories. It is probably because I have already done a lot of mindfulness meditation before the course, so the meditation part wasn’t as new (and by extension, as significant) as the breathing and cold exposure. Nevertheless, my Zen level remained roughly the same as before the course, which is okay, so I give the course a 3/5 in that category.

Material, organization, curriculum, communication

Here I see some room for improvement. I think that the course would benefit from an optimization process. What I mean specifically is this:

  • There should be more videos explaining the structure of the course, and the written explanations should be more clear. (the PDF to be printed doesn’t seem like someone put a lot of effort in it)
  • Despite the scientific studies that show that there definitely is something to the Wim Hof Method, the community sometimes dabbles in pseudoscience and mysticism, and the language can get ambiguous and unclear, as is usual in pseudoscience and mysticism. I think that the method would benefit enormously if Wim and others would read up on the scientific method, maybe on Less Wrong or some books, perhaps Feynman. Generally, Wim doesn’t make incredible claims, so it’s all cool, but you sometimes get the feeling that he doesn’t completely appreciate the importance of the scientific method. My personal (and very general) advice is more clarity. The Facebook community is a bit worse and people sometimes post stuff about spiritual healling and chi energies and supernatural things – Wim and his team should probably be careful that the community doesn’t become an alternative medicine cult; that’s another reason why I suggest reading more about science and rationality.
  • I know that the course moved to another platform now, but the old forum was poorly designed and there wasn’t much interaction with Wim or the trainers. I would appreciate if there was a Questions and Answers session for the people that buy the course, where Wim (or another instructor) can dedicate an hour of Skype calling to the buyer of the course, something like personal consultation. I don’t know if that would be cost-effective though, but it would certainly be nice. Generally I would advise more communication with the team/instructors/Wim.

In short, I would like to see more effort put into the course, more videos, more explaining, more Q&A, more consultation, more mentoring, better design, and the other thing I would like to see is a more scientific culture. Overall, I give the course a  2/5 in this category.

Athletic performance & breath retention

My breath retention increased significantly and I have found that if I do some sort of cardio interval training, if I do the breathing during a break between intervals, my performance increases (probably due to oxygen saturation in the blood; more energy is available with more oxygen, I suppose). I have also found that explosive, plyometric movements, like precision jumps, get like a little bit better: I can jump a bit higher or farther. I don’t lift weights, but I suppose I would find a similar result in that area too. This is a really incredible hack, so I grade the course 5/5.

The drug-like effect of the breathing rounds

This was a real discovery for me and I must say that I was impressed. When you start to do the breathing rounds, your inner mental state becomes somehow… different. Here’s a metaphor (that probably won’t be that useful unless you try it yourself): imagine all your thoughts as dry leaves lying on the bottom of a big jar. When you start doing the breathing sessions, what happens to these leaves is that they start to turn and fly around, like if there was a strong wind within the jar. This was my impression with my thoughts and ideas and emotions: they would seem to flow faster, in a more chaotic fashion, and I would make certain connections really fast. It was also a good thing for my creativity: I got a lot of good ideas simply from a round or two of breathing exercises. I would describe it as jump-starting your mindfulness meditation; shaking things up. You kind of shake everything around and observe what’s going on. As stated in a previous paragraph on Zen, I didn’t get any lasting Zen state (or, to be more specific, MORE Zen), but during the process I found a lot of interesting stuff and so I grade this 5/5.

Overall impression

I think that the course was really good and I’m happy that I bought it, as I learned a lot and gained certain skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have. The really impressive thing for me is the control of the immune system and I would like to see further scientific research and the MED (Minimal Effective Dose) of the Wim Hof Method: it would be cool (did you get it, cool?) if we could boil down Wim’s teachings to the minimum that’s required for the control of the immune system and cold resistance. I mean, it’s possible that this already is the MED, but I would like to see more studies done with people that have done just the breathing, but not the cold exposure, or just the cold exposure, but not breathing, or just like one breathing cycle per day, and so on. It would be nice to play with such variables and see what has the biggest ROI, and then focus on that. But, absent such studies, I think that the full package of the course is a great resource, I grade the course 4.5/5 and I recommend it to everyone.


 

If you want to try out the Wim Hof method, I recommend the new website and the free mini-course. For me, it was an incredible experience and I am glad that I did it.

Two Zen ideas

Idea 1: Witnessing

Our thoughts and our feelings are interwoven things, making up the same cloth. When you think thoughts, you see them and you do not attach yourself to them. They pass through you, you register them in your mind’s eye, but they do not take over you.

More importantly, when you feel feelings, like you saw your thoughts, you listen to what you’re feeling. Anger, confusion, love, depression, boredom, hate, aggression, shame. You are mindful of what happens within you. You register your feelings and you acknowledge them: “I am now angry.” Then, you may proceed to ask yourself why this emotion came, and then you learn much about yourself.

Zen is not about stopping thinking or feeling; nor is it about thinking only good thoughts and feeling only happiness. Zen is about witnessing what you’re feeling. Noticing the anger. Perceiving the excitement. Experiencing the depression. Hearing the shame. Witnessing.

Idea 2: Happiness

The first idea is the more important one; it is the basic notion, the point of departure. You simply notice how you feel, and you stay in that noticing mode.

However, there is another thing that happens sometimes, and it is happiness. Even when witnessing the most intense emotional pain, the most dire life circumstances, the most terrible loss, it is possible to feel happy still.

For happiness is not a thing produced by your life situation or by external circumstances. Happiness is a mindset. You start happy and then life happens, not the other way around. You broke up with your girlfriend and you’re lying on the bed, crying, experiencing very intense emotional pain. Witness it. Do you still have both your arms and legs? Is the bed not soft and warm? Do you not have a blanket? Do you not feel your body twitching and crunching in agony?

It is hard to accept this possibility, but many have experienced terrible things, and yet remained happy people. For the truth is that the very act of witnessing, if done often and much, is a thing that produces happiness. Something happens. A thing clicks. You detach yourself. A part still writhes in agony, but a part is happy just to be able to witness.