Method: HAIETMOBA or, "How Am I Experiencing This Moment of Being Alive?"
This method comes to me by way of the Actual Freedom Trust which, as far as I can tell, is the work of either a group of well-intentioned eccentrics, a dangerous cult, or both.
—personally, I'm a big fan. Their website is delightfully bizarre and would be fascinating in its own right even if it were a work of fiction, and I'm convinced that it's not. I think their method produces more or less what they claim it does which is, well, I'll let them tell you: 1
The day finally dawns where the definitive moment of being here, right now, conclusively arrives; something irrevocable takes place and every thing and every body and every event is different, somehow, although the same physically; something immutable occurs and every thing and every body and every event is all-of-a-sudden undeniably actual, in and of itself, as a fact; something irreversible happens and an immaculate perfection and a pristine purity permeates every thing and every body and every event; something has changed forever, although it is as if nothing has happened, except that the entire world is a magical fairytale-like playground full of incredible gladness and a delight which is never-ending.
I have a bunch of reasons why I believe this sort of awakening is plausible, not the least of which being that you can live this way for the next twelve hours, just trade a hippy ten bucks for a tab of acid.
This similarity is not coincidental as the father of Actual Freedom himself writes:
[The event which] set in train the entire process eventually resulting in an actual freedom from the human condition, was inadvertently precipitated by psylocibin (given to me by a well-meaning but somewhat misguided associate at the time who told me it was similar in effect to tetrahydrocannabinol only much stronger).
Huh. Imagine that.
The event in this quote is what he's dubbed a Pure Consciousness Experience, or PCE. For an aspiring Actualist (e.g. you), learning to trigger a PCE—which I'll define in a second—is essential. Its discovery acts as a sort of experiential magnet that then pulls one down the rest of this path, eventually culminating in an "actual freedom."
I am doing this because the PCE Mode is so exceedingly compelling and vindicating that all the rest seems like some odd nightmare by comparison, and I mean that literally as well as metaphorically.
—Daniel Ingram, taken from DhO
It is no longer a matter of choice … it is an irresistible pull.
What's a PCE, then?
has died, breath
is completely dissolved;
fruit of the real:
to whom can it be told?
The Default Mode
It is useful first to reflect on some of the properties of default, standard consciousness—that is, what it's like to be you, right now.
In this standard way of being, "you" feel as if you are the king of your mind. You are not so much your body as you are that which controls your body. You imagine yourself as, basically, a little man behind your eyes who pulls all of the levers.
This is your "ego self."
If your experience were the solar system, this ego self would be the sun. Everything is defined and understood in relation to it. In this default state, to be aware of something, it has to pass through this ego self. With this awareness there is a sense of efforting—you're trying to notice what is happening, often with dubious success, as any meditator can attest.2
If you imagine experience—everything that is happening to you, right now—as an ever growing tapestry, a heady mix of exotic threads, this default, ego-self is like the eye of a needle. To be aware of something is to manage to carefully, patiently unravel and thread an experience through this needle.
In a PCE, this default, ego-self is temporarily suspended and, with it, this bottleneck disappears. The primary characteristic of a PCE is that awareness flows without effort. "You" don't have to try to be aware of anything. In this state, experience knows itself. Everything that happens generates its own self-awareness. Experience is now batteries-included. It's all known but not in reference to or by a knower.
There is a sense, too, that this ego self has been this very gross impediment to clear seeing. Some have used the metaphor "like dust on the lens", but that's not quite right. This ego self is much more in the way and active than any dust. It's more… if your mind were one of those fancy DSLR cameras, the default state with an ego self is a bit like if you had an actual frog jumping about inside of the lens, fucking up 95% of your photos. In the PCE, the frog (temporarily) disappears and you realize, "There was a big ass frog in my camera! How did I miss that!?"3
Along with and perhaps due to this strong, automatic awareness, mental content loses its "grabbiness." The default state feels frenetic in comparison, with the ego-self in constant pursuit of something, running & running & running like a hamster on a wheel. Without this grabbiness, problemness ceases, and there is a profound reduction in any emotional content. This reduction lends the state a sort of detached, objective tone which enables one to perceive in a more direct manner than ever before—paradoxically, closeness born of detachment.
The whole thing is quite peaceful. Without the ego self, there is a palpable sense of relief, like you've just set down a sack full of 7 lb (!) goliath toads, toads that you didn't realize you were carrying.
One last (bizarre) thing I want to mention: the default mind finds it quite difficult to remember and understand the PCE. From the perspective of the default mind, the PCE is fuzzy and alien. I suspect the mechanism here has something to do with autobiographical memory—in the default state, everything is referenced in relation to this ego-self, including memory. In the PCE, this ego-self doesn't exist, hence memories are encoded differently, hence the ego-self has difficulty remembering or making sense of a PCE.
It's a very Jekyll and Hyde experience. Daniel Ingram, in his investigations, described it this way:
Oscillating some number of times/day or week between these is very disorienting, and talking to me in one mode or the other would seem like talking to two completely different practitioners, as my mode of relating to reality and the underlying paradigms are so dependent on which mode I am in that the difference is amazing even to me who has seen it change so many times between the two. This makes commentary difficult, as depending on which mode I am in I might say very different things. As I write this I am probably in cycle mode, in case anyone is wondering.
Here is Richard saying something similar:
I have generally found that, when the direct experience (actual intimacy) of being here now (pure consciousness experiencing) diminishes and one reverts to normal, the immediacy of being this flesh and blood body only in infinite space and eternal time as the universe's experience of itself, vanishes completely … and one (strangely) starts to settle for second-best.
How do you trigger a PCE?
they can occur when the mind is relaxed, not lunging onto phenomena, not identified with self, not attached to thinking, when one is truly relaxing all the selfing processes, gently focused on something in the field of experience…at the point of contact. people do not often 'relax' enough for it to occur. it happens randomly.
To transition into a PCE, there are two things that need to happen:
- You need to access a state where the thinking mind and the push and pull of emotions are relatively subdued. In other words, a state where less ego-self is fabricated.
- Then, the mind must be stabilized at the fleeting moment of awareness before the mind judges the experience, grabs onto it, and determines to do something about it. In other words, the point of contact in the chain of dependent origination.
—you are already experiencing these contact moments all of the time, but not paying much heed to them. Here's one description, by way of Mindfulness in Plain English:
When you first become aware of something, there is a fleeting instant of pure awareness just before you conceptualize the thing, before you identify it. … It is that flashing split second just as you focus your eyes on the thing, just as you focus your mind on the thing, just before you objectify it, clamp down on it mentally and segregate it from the rest of existence. It takes place just before you start thinking about it—before your mind says, "Oh, it's a dog."
The Method Itself, HAIETMOBA
To trigger a PCE, one asks oneself (with sincerity!), "How am I experiencing this moment of being alive?"—HAIETMOBA. This query acts like a chisel that, diligently applied, sooner-or-later thrusts one into the PCE.
When one asks HAIETMOBA, one of three things happen:
- Nothing, because you failed to invoke it with sincerity, instead treating it as a chore. You have to be interested in the answer or the method doesn't work. 4
- You become aware of the dominant mood coloring your current experience.
- You become aware of the "point of contact".
Entrance to the PCE
By repeating the query, perhaps once every 5 to 10 seconds, the mind is consistently returned to this fleeting moment of awareness, the "point of contact". Just as it would during a meditation focused on the breath, your concentration grows and attention starts to stabilize at this point. These moments of "pure awareness" lengthen and take up an increasing share of your experience as a whole.
As long as your ego-self is subdued, meaning you are in an at least neutral mood and your thoughts are near exclusively HAIETMOBA, each time that you ask HAIETMOBA there is a chance that you will experience a foreground-background reversal. Where before "you" were the dominant foreground experience and this moment of contact, this pure awareness, was a fraction of that, the background, this flips.
When it does, viola! Automatic, effortless awareness. No ego-self. That's the PCE.
It's this simple:
- Subdue the ego-self.
- Repeatedly investigate this moment of being alive.
Yeah, but how do I subdue the ego-self?
You'll notice when too much ego-self is being fabricated because asking HAIETMOBA will point toward some mood, some kind of affective content. These moods and the ego-self are intertwined and, when there is too much of either, they block the PCE from occuring.
Experientially, this 'blocking' feels quite literal, as HAIETMOBA keeps hitting on this mood instead of moments of pure awareness. It really does feel as if this ego-self and emotions are getting in the way, that they are an obstruction. Bad moods are especially sticky and difficult in this regard. HAIETMOBA does not work well when done from a sour state.
There are a bunch of things you can try here. Remember, the goal is a state with less selfing. You're looking for a state with less thinking, less problemness, free of negative emotion. Less fabrication. Anything that gets you there will work, like:
- Withdraw attention (& thus fuel) from the ego-self process by paying attention instead to the physical senses. The classic method for meditators is to concentrate on the breath. Try counting up to 10 breaths then back down to 1. Repeat for maybe ten minutes.
- When a thought, tension, problem, etc. pulls you away from the physical, mindfully release it, relax the body, and smile. Rest in this state until another distraction surfaces. Repeat for maybe ten minutes. Then try HAIETMOBA again.
- One of the reasons that bad moods are so stable is because there is a strong sense of "having a problem." This problem tends to keep the bad mood around. When this negative mood is in the way of a PCE, the bad mood is itself the problem which then circularly justifies its existence. You soon find yourself in a bad mood because you're in a bad mood. Ridiculous, but often surprisingly difficult to notice.
- In general, you will be best served by being open to and recognizing whatever mood is currently occuring. Often, genuinely acknowledging whatever mood is there can be enough to shift it. Ignoring it or resisting it and thinking "I don't want this mood" all serve as fuel for the perpetuation of the ego self, the opposite of what you're trying to do.
- If all else fails, just wait! The mood will eventually pass. Try again later.
Happiness & Fascination
A good mood acts as a powerful accelerant for triggering a PCE. In a good mood HAIETMOBA is an amplifier, enhancing the joy of this moment of being alive. This motivates you to pay greater attention to HAIETMOBA, in turn creating more joy, creating a positive feedback loop.
This loop evolves into a fascination with this present moment, powerful in itself, and this joy additionally pacifies the ego-self. Talk about a pairing! As fine as peanut butter on a sweet potato (just try it). Foom. Escape velocity. PCE.
When this interest develops into a fascination, one does not have to generate enthusiasm, as is the case when one is merely interested. Fascination pulls one forward.
Use your environment to your advantage! Combine HAIETMOBA with stuff you enjoy: put on your favorite music, walk in nature, wear your favorite clothes, breathe deep and soak in this moment. Feel it in this flesh & blood body. Notice the endless detail in this world around you.
Ascetic renunciation is not just unnecessary here but harmful.
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…
—Henry David Thoreau
Sincerity & Naivety
Watch out for that cynical, rigid stance that inclines toward and bypasses investigation with, "I already know what this moment of being alive is like."
Cultivate the opposite stance. Be naive. Be sincere. What is this moment like? I don't know… let's find out!
Aspire to be the rough hick, mouth agape at this wondrous world, not the sneering, cultural sophisticate possessed of the most refined misery.
HAIETMOBA will eventually, inevitably trigger a PCE if it is investigated with enough diligence. Aim to spend at least 30 minutes consistently and sincerely investigating HAIETMOBA every 5 to 10 seconds. If you can manage that, you will eventually get there.
But be careful not to end up treating yourself as both slave driver & slave. This isn't rigid drudgery to be endured. There's something and not nothing, how odd! Let's investigate.
Addendum: May 2018
With the benefit of a couple more months of practice with HAIETMOBA, I've a few new thoughts about the practice and have been meaning to update this page. The main thing I'd like to add is to emphasize the importance of the emotional component of HAIETMOBA.
I fleshed this out more in one conversation I had over email:
WHAT exactly is meant by "how" in HAIETMOBA? How can be taken in a couple different ways. As in, what is the quality (affect) of this moment? Or, what is the actual mechanism by which I am experiencing sensory input? I actually think I found Richar's answer on one of the threads, and he said it was the first. But perhaps it makes sense to play around with the phrase in different ways?
Yeah, this is one of the main things I want to update in my article on HAIETMOBA, to add a greater emphasis on the emotional aspect. Here are two bits from the AF website:
To explain: the whole point of asking oneself, each moment again until it becomes a non-verbal attitude or a wordless approach to life, how one is experiencing this moment of being alive (the only moment one is ever alive) is to experientially ascertain just exactly what is the way or manner in which one is personally participating in the events which are occurring at this particular moment that one is alive … after all, irregardless of whether one takes the back seat or not, we are all busy doing this business called being alive by the very fact of being a sentient creature known as a human being (with all that inheres in being and doing that).
> Affectively, of course … that is how you are experiencing this moment. Look, let us not unnecessarily complicate things here. The 'how' simply means 'what feeling am I experiencing right now with' … which is: 'Am I bored?', 'Am I resentful?', 'Am I at ease?', 'Am I glad?', 'Am I sad?' and so on. You see, peace-on-earth is here right now – the perfection of the infinitude of this universe is happening at this moment – and you are missing out on it because you are feeling what it is like to be here instead of actually being here. Hence: 'How am I experiencing this moment' means 'What feeling is preventing the on-going experiencing of peace-on-earth?'
The idea is sort of, well, imagine if you went around all day and paid very close attention to the sensations in your left foot. Over time, you'd get better and better in keeping your foot in conscious awareness as you went about your daily life. Indeed, you'd probably get so good at this that your ability would well surpass whatever you had imagined accomplishing when you began.
HAIETMOBA aims to do this same thing, but instead of foot sensations, you're developing an acute awareness to how you're relating to being here, now. It's like strength training, in that this capacity, this awareness, becomes fuller and deeper and automatic over time, in a way that has been (at least to me) surprising. I've been walking around with this sort of arrogant assumption that of course I know how I'm feeling but, when I take the time to reflect "well, maybe I don't know what this moment is like. What am I really feeling right now?" and take a few long moments to shuffle through my mind, I often find that I was mistaken in my belief that I was feeling neutral or whatever, and there's actually some grief or annoyance there. And this emotional awareness is malleable and trainable. Neat!
Now, the point of doing this is that this affective awareness acts sort of like a compass, one you can use to steer yourself into calmer waters and get back to enjoying and appreciating this moment of being alive. This is what Richard is saying here, although in somewhat convoluted language:
Note: asking how one is experiencing this moment of being alive is not the actualism method; consistently enjoying and appreciating this moment of being alive is what the actualism method is. […] An affective awareness is the key to maximising felicity and innocuity over all those alternate feelings inasmuch the slightest diminishment of enjoyment and appreciation automatically activates attentiveness.
This segues nicely into another piece of the Actualist method, which is working with triggers, mentioned above as "the slightest diminishment of enjoyment and appreciation automatically activates attentiveness." The idea is that you stabilize into a state of enjoying and appreciating this moment of being alive. Then, using the affective awareness you've developed with HAIETMOBA, you notice whenever your state changes, whenever you're pulled from being happy and harmless. Working backward, you track down what it was that offended you so, notice how silly whatever it was, and then you're back to enjoying the present moment. Repeat.
Over time, this uproots more and more of your habitual triggers, resulting in fewer interruptions in enjoying this moment of being alive, further stabilizing this present-focused savoring and appreciation.
I' set the minimum standard of experience for myself: feeling good. If 'I' am not feeling good then 'I' have something to look at to find out why. What has happened, between the last time 'I' felt good and now? When did 'I' feel good last? Five minutes ago? Five hours ago? What happened to end those felicitous feelings? Ahh … yes: 'He said that and I …'. Or: 'She didn't do this and I …'. Or: 'What I wanted was …'. Or: 'I didn't do …'. And so on and so on … one does not have to trace back into one's childhood … usually no more than yesterday afternoon at the most ('feeling good' is an unambiguous term – it is a general sense of well-being – and if anyone wants to argue about what feeling good means … then do not even bother trying to do this at all).
Once the specific moment of ceasing to feel good is pin-pointed, and the silliness of having such an incident as that (no matter what it is) take away one's enjoyment and appreciation of this only moment of being alive is seen for what it is – usually some habitual reactive response – one is once more feeling good … but with a pin-pointed cue to watch out for next time so as to not have that trigger off yet another bout of the same-old same-old. This is called nipping it in the bud before it gets out of hand … with application and diligence and patience and perseverance one soon gets the knack of this and more and more time is spent enjoying and appreciating this moment of being alive. And, of course, once one does get the knack of this, one up-levels 'feeling good', as a bottom line each moment again, to 'feeling happy and harmless' … and after that to 'feeling perfect'.
(Source of all of these quotes is the "this moment of being alive" page.)
This, I think, is the "core loop" of the AF method. Enjoying yourself -> trigger -> not enjoying yourself -> realize enjoyment diminished -> rewind and investigate -> notice it's silly -> back to enjoying yourself. (Figuring out your triggers this way is often really interesting and rewarding, as many of them are unconscious and thus surprising.)
For this to really work, you need to be running the thing a lot. If I'm lazy and haven't been practicing for a couple of days and then find myself in the middle of a free-floating sadness without an apparent cause, I never have any luck walking back and finding a trigger. Usually I just wait until I'm feeling neutral to get the thing going again.
Strong attention on the body is also really useful for a couple of reasons—it tends to anchor one more fully in the present, the sensory organs are brimming with enjoyable things (smells, tastes, textures), and noticing tension enhances affective awareness.
Last thing I want to touch on is apperception/PCE. My current thinking is that when you're not in a PCE, it implies that there is an emotion outside of conscious awareness that is "running things from below." When you expand awareness so that it contains everything happening inside/outside, then awareness becomes self-aware and thus apperception/PCE. This is easiest when done from a base of feeling good, because strong attention to this moment when feeling good results in a feedback loop of more feeling good, which leads to fascination, which naturally pulls everything into consciousness -> PCE.
I've found it very useful along these lines to relax into a state of open defenselessness. It's like… you know when you're in a conversation and someone says something that hits on one of your identity buttons, and you tense up and start to feel like you're being attacked? Take that state and do the opposite. Open, non-defensive ease. Then, adopt a stance of, "Maybe I don't know what this moment is like, even though I feel like I do," and proceed with sincere investigation of this moment.
Actually, last last thing, you say here:
Or, what is the actual mechanism by which I am experiencing sensory input?
I don't know how important this is for AF, but I think this this can take you some interesting places. You know how, when you first learned to drive, everything was first effortful, you had to think through "this one is the brake, this one is the gas," but eventually it all became automatic and habitual? I think something similar happens with perception during childhood, where stuff like judging/wanting/object recognition/sense of self become automatic and habitual.
Thing is, and you can do this with a physical skill, if you bring strong attention ("beginner's mind") back to what you're doing, it loses this automatic crystallization and becomes malleable again. I think you can similarly unpack a lot of the habitual, unconscious mechanisms supporting "your world," the actual mechanics of your perception. Then you can modify them.
In the AF context, this is most often mentioned around replacing the habitual judgments of good or bad with silly or sensible.
Anyway, hope this helps and I'd love to hear more about "unprovoked happiness," your thoughts/experience with the method, and any input you get from alums!
Addendum: July 2018
I'm finding it easier to break the method into two phases rather than try to jump from default into enjoying this moment of being alive.
In the first phase, what I'm doing is I'll ask myself, "Who am I?" and then try to let go and relax into and remain in the gap that question creates. So say when in conversation, instead of thinking about something else or preparing what you'll say next, just relax into here, and once that's stable/while stabilizing, try to open yourself to more of the present moment, like the actual timber of the voice instead of just the words, or the microexpressions on their face while they speak. The emphasis here is on relaxedly opening to and noticing what is. You'll start to notice things you've never seen before.
Once I manage to stabilize there, sometimes it is enough to notice something surprising and welcome—what I guess Richard would call felicitous (which once struck me as confusing but writing this now it seems perfectly appropriate)—and that joy will grow into enjoying and wondering at it all. Specific example: focused on relaxing into the senses while fishing, was listening to Spotify's recommendations, hit this song with the chorus "same days forever", reflecting that this is wonderful, it's always now, same day forever indeed, how apt -> consistently enjoying this moment of being alive.
I like that entrance a lot because of some sort of allergy I have to doing but it's more reliable to take an active approach once the sort of barrier between you and the actual world becomes thin and ask yourself, "How am I experiencing this moment of being alive?" And then: could I enjoy this moment instead? (By this point it ought to be an easy yes and, if not, either abide more as the senses or investigate why you don't want to enjoy this moment of being alive and see how silly that is.)Then intend to delight in it. That's the second phase.
Then you keep it going by noticing anything that sucks you out of it, deconstructing yourself in the process.
- My understanding of the PCE draws heavily from Nikolai Haley's article about it and his practice journal.
- More good commentary here. And here.
- Daniel Ingram wrote a useful retrospective about his experiments in Actualism.
- The Actual Freedom Trust is just plain fun and has a bunch of useful pointers on applying their method (duh). Some of my favorite pages: this moment of being alive, virtual freedom, selected writings on the PCE, on being serious, and silly or sensible.
- I find myself returning to this tips thread again and again.
They also really piss off dogmatic Buddhists. Nice.↩
By awareness, I mean the beat of knowing that follows something. Thinking a thought is a separate experiential thing from knowing that you thought that. Awareness here means this latter thing.↩
You don't notice the frog because you believe that you are the frog.↩
"It is a question, not a phrase to be memorised and repeated slogan-like (or as if chanting a mantra for instance), and it soon becomes a non-verbal attitude to life … a wordless approach each moment again whereupon one cannot be anything else but affectively aware of one's every instinctual impulse/affective feeling, and thus self-centred thought, as it is happening."↩