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Hedonic Engineering: Building a Psycho-Spiritual Growth Stack

Designing a personal evolution growth stack.
Hedonic Engineering: Building a Psycho-Spiritual Growth Stack

This post double-clicks on a key component of the Yoga of Becoming, that of Hedonic Engineering. If you haven't yet read the essay, it's helpful to start there before exploring further.

The Yoga of Becoming is a dynamic dance between inner world development and outer world engagement, unifying them in a virtuous cycle for sustained personal evolution.

If your external engagement with the outer world surfaces latent blocks/traumas/obstacles that need to be addressed β€” how do you go about doing that?

What does the 'inner work' aspect of the Yoga of Becoming look like? It looks like Hedonic Engineering β€”Β creating a bio-psycho-spiritual growth stack to address and compliment the specific areas of focus you identify.

For a great introduction, I'd invite you to watch this talk by Jamie Wheal, where he lays out many fundamental principles we'll address here in more detail.

🧠 The Fallacy of Mind-Body Dualism

Modern culture is currently plagued by the epidemic of Mind-Body dualism, the idea that the mind and the body are somehow entirely distinct and separate entities, influencing each other but remaining largely islands of their own.

This is entirely false.

You are a holistic, dynamic, complete organism. There is no separation between mind and body. Fortunately, this is a gift, an opportunity. It means your surface area for development has dramatically increased. You have the entirety of your Being available to enact and implement solutions to any identified problems.

🧬 Re-Enchanting the Human Organism

A quick note on the ancient wisdom of the human organism. The human body has been largely villified by modern culture as the rational mind and scientific materialism have risen to power.

On one hand, we still carry latent beliefs inhereted from Christianity that the body is essentially the vehicle of Sin β€” full of primal drives that lead to anarchy. On the other hand, we've also inherited the Scientific Materialist paradigm that what you truly are is a Mind riding around in a largely useless meatsack prone to deterioration and primitive modes of being. Both of these stances are revolting.

Let's set the record straight: your body is the most ancient and advanced biological technology in existence. It has been refined through millions of years of successfully adapting and evolving to be best suited for Reality-At-Large. It has millions of years of iterative progress ahead of the absolutely infantile pre-frontal cortex you hold so dearly and that we as a society now value above all else.

Instead of rejecting the body as dumb and archaic, I'd invite you to worship it as fiercely intelligent and highly advanced. Do otherwise at the expense of your own suffering.

As you progress on the path of individual awakening and personal evolution, psycho-somatic body-based solutions should be your first choice, not your last option.

You do not need to have a cognitive understanding of what you are healing for it to work, you do not need to mentally grasp the concept in order for it to become a part of you. Though this can assist the process, it is not necessary. This will be the entire focus of next weeks article on Embodied Awakening.

We've established the importance of body-based solutions for inner work, we've re-echanted the human organism as a source of profound ancient wisdom and capacity. Now let's dig in to the mechanisms, drivers, and levers we can work with to create our psycho-spiritual growth stack.

πŸ”‹ PEMS Energy Systems

When we say "personal evolution" or "developing the inner world," β€” what does this actually mean?

One frame I quite enjoy is the PEMS Energy System. Personal evolution involves both balancing and increasing holistically the 4 pillars of personal energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy.

Most of us are extremely imbalanced in one or more of these key areas. The imbalance is the problem. Why? Because when one of them is off balance, your body will tell you. Your body is a work of homeostatic excellence β€” balance is the name of game. Equillibrium is the aim. You should aim for balancing, and then expanding, your capacity across the board.

  • πŸ’ͺ Physical: Physical energy is apparent to most of us. Do you have clean, smooth energy throughout the day? Are you strong? Flexible? Alert? Focused? These are all signals of physical energy.
  • πŸ’› Emotional: Emotional energy is a very pronounced experience. What's your baseline mood? Are you numb? Do you fly off the handle a lot? Are you easily triggered? Consistently anxious? Deeply depressed? Ecstatically manic? All of these are signals of emotional energy imbalance.
  • 🧐 Mental: Mental energy is perhaps less intuitive to some of us. Are you engaged? Can you handle complexity? Can you explain your thinking? Can you act on your intentions? How is your willpower?
  • πŸ™πŸ» Spiritual: Spiritual energy is the most amorphous, but arguably the most important. Are you fulfilled? Is your life meaningful? Do you feel like part of the great Web of Being? Are you removed from the Circle of Life? Do you wish you didn't exist? Is sleep a reprieve from the suffering of life?

Most people focus on one area, thinking they can somehow overpower the other areas that are lacking. This is not entirely true. It is true that emotional joy can increase your physical energy. That deep meaning can clarify your focus. However, the aim should be balance, to become well-rounded across the board, not merely compensating for imbalances.

When designing a hedonic engineering protocol β€” identify the areas here that are currently imbalanced, or an area you would like to develop further, and ensure that the following protocols serve this area.

🚦 The 4 Pillars of Hedonic Engineering

You have four main pillars you can work with when coming up with practices that are best suited to unlock and unblock yourself.

Though these can stand alone, it is best to find practices that can work with 2 of more of these pillars simultaneously β€”Β the more thoroughly you can bring your entire Being into the process, the deeper the results, and the more profound the outcomes will be.

  1. 🧠 Psychology: Mind-Body dualism is not true. You can trigger and resolve internal conflicts by resolving things psychologically. There are many reported cases of 'spontaneous healing' where individuals fixed paralysis, blindness, chronic illness, and more, simply by resolving trauma or making breakthroughs on the psychological level.
  2. πŸ’Š Pharmacology: Exogenous (outside of body) compounds can have profound effects up and down the mind<>body spectrum. Intentional, safe use of pharmacological triggers can invite profound healing and deep states of Being to help you along your personal evolution process.
  3. ⌚️ Technology: Floatation tanks, magnetic stimulation, resonance machines, and more offer initial glimpses to how technological intervention can be a powerful mechanism for inner development. Though be warned, outsourcing your healing sovereignty by becoming dependent on external tools is dangerous. You should master the basics first, then invite in external tools.
  4. πŸ€ΈπŸ»β€β™‚οΈ Neurobiology: And of course, body-based practices are a powerful mechanism you can use here. Breathwork, movement, trance states, and more are extremely significant tools available to you in this process.
First Lesson: any hedonic engineering protocol you develop, and any of the practices you invite into this protocol, should address ideally 2 or more of these pillars at once.

🧐 The 5 Foundational Levers

As we mentioned, body-based work here is the name of the game. It's important to note that your human organism has developed over millennia, far before the introduction of modern technology. The levers you have available are ancient, and within you at all times.

This is empowering β€” you need very little, if any, modern equipment to make the most of many of these practices. The specific practices should anchor themselves in one of these 5 signifcant levers:

  1. 🌬 Breathing: Breathing is one of the few bodily processes that is both automatic and conscious. You can breathe intentionally, or you can let your breath happen naturally. You can't actively run your kidneys. Breath-focused techniques help move you into a parasympathetic state, or into a sympathetic state. It can give energy, it can calm your heart rate, it can bring you into altered states entirely. It is an extremely powerful lever, and should be included in all practices and protocols.
  2. πŸ† Sexuality: The most fundamental of the human drivers, and one of the most powerful psycho-spiritual triggers humans have. Wondering where you're still traumatized? Try asking for what you want during sex. The Daoist sages practiced Sexual Kung Fu, as the post-orgasmic state (la petit mort – the little death in French) can bring you into states of unity and oneness with life. An inconvenient truth for most dudes is that the majority of the male pleasure centers (million dollar point, vagal nerve stimulation, mixing power dynamics between partners, etc.) only begin below the ballsack, a territory most men avoid religiously. Working with your sexuality can trigger an immense number of pleasure centers, induce altered states, and surface hidden traumas you didn't even know about. Sexuality work is more advanced, and arguably not the place to start, but if you're ready, it can massively accelerate your process.
  3. 🧘 Embodiment: Movement, dancing, somatic trauma release, and shamanic trance states all have deep embodiment as a core driver. You can switch brainwave patterns, surface historical trauma, even the simple act of becoming more flexible in the body will lead to greater mental/spiritual flexibility. Again, there is no separation between the mind and body. Embodied practices (as opposed to simply mental/philosophical work) should work their way in to any complete psycho-spiritual practice.
  4. πŸ’ƒπŸ» Music: Music pre-dates language, it is an absolutely ancient technique for psycho-spiritual work. It is not to be passed over. Shamanic drumming soundtracks can induce out-of-body experiences, chanting is practiced in nearly every indigenous tradition, binaural beats shift brainwave patterns to unlock insight, calmness, and healing. If you want to change your energetic state, change your music. If you want to amplify or stack the benefits/salience of your other practices, weave in rhythmic music patterns at different frequencies and varying BPM's.
  5. πŸ‘… Substances: Psychedelic or entheogenic compounds are an obvious choice here, but food/water (or lack of food/water) are also relevant in this category. Nootropics, psychedelics, macrodosing vitamin stacks can all bring about exceptional states. Do your research here, be smart, but don't doubt the profound power of adding intentional substance use to your protocols. Don't become dependent, but don't overlook entirely.
Second Lesson: If you want to increase the depth of the experience, the richness and saliency of the information you access, and the durability of the post-experience shift β€” stacking as many of these core levers together as possible is the way to go.

An example of stacking them all together is ketamine breathwork.

You're regulating breathing, becoming deeply embodied, pairing it with rhythmic music, taking intra-nasal sprays of liquid ketamine every few rounds, and can even throw in some sexual stimulation if you're feeling spicy. You've checked every box, and you will be floored by the intensity of the experience.

Of course, there are other practices like this, all at varying degrees of intensity and number of levers stacked together. Experiment to find the practices that work best for you given your current circumstances.

πŸ—Ί Creating a Hedonic Engineering Protocol

Thus far we've laid out the groundwork for developing your hedonic engineering programs and protocols. All of the fundamental building blocks are there. But what does a protocol actually look like? How do you go about developing, refining, improving, and enacting these programs?

  • πŸ”‹ Energy System: I would recommend two core areas of focus here: a set of practices to maintain all of the energy systems, no sense in making backwards progress. Regular, ritual activities that help maintain, and then identifying 1 or 2 systems to focus on expanding. How do you identify which ones you expand or work on? Investigate your current blocks/traumas/imbalances, and work on that category.
  • βš™οΈ Available Practices: It's helpful to find individual practices that address multiple energy systems. Yoga is an example of a practice that hits every energy system at once. Meditation is another that hits several areas. Tea ceremony hits a few. Journalling. Talk therapy. Breathwork. There are many examples that either directly hit, or can be tailored to address, mutliple energy systems. This is helpful because if you only use very narrow, focused techniques, you'll end up with 15 things on your daily to-do list just to manage your energy. Stack benefits, find practices that hit multiple systems, and increase the intensity slowly to get more output for less input.
  • πŸ”¬ Micro, Meso, & Macroscopic Levels: This is one of the most imporant areas of focus when developing your protocol. Think at the micro, meso, and macroscopic levels. Microscopic is the daily practices. The 15 minute meditation, the 30 minute yoga flow. These become the bedrock, the things that maintain the gains you've made thus far. Mesoscopic is the least addressed area in modern culture. What are the monthly or seasonal activities that can help perform broad nervous system resets, or help make significant expansions of your systems? Longer breathwork experiences, intensive meditation, fasting, psychedelic ceremonies, weekend retreats, shamanic trance journeys, specific trainings, these are all things that can be weaved into the mesoscopic. Macroscopic is more apparent to many. The plant medicine retreat, the meditation week, multi-day fasting, transformational festivals, significant psychedelic experiences all fit into the macroscopic. These can provide a step-function increase in one or more energy systems. The challenge then becomes integration, which you perform by diving back into complimentary micro and mesoscopic practices back at home.
  • πŸ—“ Calendaring: You know the energy systems you want to focus on, you've got a list of practices and progressions that can address that, and you've broken them down into the daily, monthly, and annual experiences. Now it's time to put them on the calendar. This is your personal evolution we're talking about here, if you can schedule your work meetings, you can schedule your evolutionary initiatives. Daily, microscopic practices can go into morning and evening routines. Mesoscopic practices might fit with the changing of a season, a new lunar cycle, or the beginning/end of a month. Macroscopic practices need to be scheduled in advanced, planned for, schedule cleared, etc. Layout the picture of your evolution on your calendar.
  • ⚑️ Benefit Stacking: Now of course, you can increase information richness and experience intensity by stacking benefits from complimentary practices. Doing breathwork before a cold shower creates a synergy stronger than either individually. Meditation after yoga is much better than meditation before yoga. Matching intense psychedelic sessions with a renewed journalling practice afterwards is extremely beneficial. As you start tinkering with the building blocks of hedonic engineering, start playing with the sequencing and stacking of each individual practice, find the ones that fit best for you.
Third Lesson: If you came to this article expecting me to lay out a hedonic engineering protocol for you, I can't do that. You are fundamentally unique, and the exact mix of practices you will need are unique to you. I have laid out all the core components you need here.

I would suggest setting some time aside to go through each of these sections for yourself. What energy system do you want to develop? What are the practices available to you that can help with that? What do the micro, meso, and macroscopic levels of that protocol look like? Schedule it. Start it. Refine as you go.

🧬 My Current Hedonic Engineering Growth Stack

Here's a look at some of the practices and protocols that have become staples in my growth stack. Of course, this is always shifting and evolving, as the specific things I'm working on are always changing.

  • πŸ”‹ PEMS: Current focus on Physical and Spiritual. I have largely neglected my body my entire life through some pseudo-spiritual belief that negating the body was necessary. This is a major focus. The Spiritual is also a major focus, embodying new levels of awakening (this will be expanded on next week), and connecting deeper and deeper with my identity as All-That-Is.
  • πŸ› Pillars: Current focus Neurobiology & Pharmacology. Exploring and refining somatic, body-based techniques has been central for me, and the intentional use of exogenous compounds for significant meso-/macro- experiences.
  • βš–οΈ Levers: As many as possible in each experience.
  • πŸ”¬ Microscopic (daily): cold showers with breathing work, rapΓ© (Amazonian snuff powder) with meditation, matcha tea ceremony, Komuso breathing tool, meditation, yoga with music and pranayama, journalling.
  • β˜€οΈ Mesoscopic (~monthly/seasonally): Kambo (Amazonian frog poison) dosing session, individual psychedelic ceremonies, 1-hour+ breathwork sessions, circling sessions, technology fasts, intermittent fasting (16h or 1/3-day), various meditations.
  • πŸ”­ Macroscopic (~annually): Plant Diet (Amazonian intensive retreat), Plant Medicine 1-week retreats, festivals, ecstatic dance, floatation tanks, sexuality work, deep dive into new potential practice.

Of course, I don't hit these all the time. But on any given day, I use 80% of the daily practices. Every 1-3 months, I do 80% of the monthly practices. Every year, I hit 100% of the macroscopic practices. If a new practices emerges (or I identify as being extremely relevant for my process), I'll often drop a few and make that a much more central part. Some times my meditation is 10 mins a day, sometimes it's an hour.

Fourth Lesson: To tie this all back together into the Yoga of Becoming, you can refine your ability to identify which set of practices is most relevant by deeply engaging in the world and staying mindful of triggers or internal shifts. Your triggers show you where you are not free.

For example: if through working in a group, you recognize that your communication skills need some work, you can develop a hedonic engineering protocol which includes: circling sessions for interpersonal relating, breathwork for nervous system resets, and cold showers and switching to matcha tea for cleaner, less jittery energy throughout the day.

In your engagement with the world, identify what (Physical, Emotional, Mental, Spiritual) is currently blocking you, come back to this Hedonic Engineering framework, and use all the tools/levers/mechanisms as possible to custom-tailor an evolutionary process to address that.

If this virtuous feedback cycle becomes a regular part of your life, you can skyrocket in your progress and personal evolution.

β›‘ Contraindications & Considerations

This work is no joke. A strong ketamine breathwork session can leave you questioning the nature of reality. Deeply vulnerable sexuality work can surface latent traumas or patterns of behaviour you never knew existed. Kambo and traditional plant medicines are highly intense experiences and should be treated with reverence, respect, and caution.

A few key areas of consideration as you embark on your hedonic engineering journey:

  • ❌ Contraindications: Everything from ice baths to breathwork to meditation have contraindications (signs that you should NOT do this practice). Make sure you research contraindications for practices and be aware of the risks before beginning. If needed, consult trained practitioners or get your own trainings before doing these to yourself, by yourself.
  • 🚨 Legality: Like it or not, several of the practices I listed here are illegal in the majority of the world. Make sure you're aware of the legal landscape and accept these risks before moving forward. But another note: the law always lags behind the reality.
  • βœ… Efficacy: What works for others may not work for you, and vice versa. Take caution recommending things to new practitioners. Test and experiment with practices yourself to guage what works best, highest leverage for minimal effort.
  • 🀝 Support: You can seek additional support from friends, family, trained practitioners, clinicians, shamans, and more. Though this is a personal process, it's not something you need to do alone.
  • πŸ“š Preparation: Get your shit together. Be prepared for the experiences. Don't rush in, don't take it lightly. The more you prepare, the deeper the experience, the higher the payoff for energy exerted.
  • πŸŒ€ Integration: Integrate the lessons. If this doesn't assist your evolutionary path, stop doing it. It's not an ego game. These experiences aren't trophies to collect. No one is forcing you here.
Final Lesson: don't end up dead, in jail, a hospital, a court, or a psych ward. Be safe, come back stronger, and have a hell of a lot of fun unlocking and unleashing yourself.

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