Open-Sourcing the Transformational Process with Psycho-Tech Protocols

So the question for us is what Meaning 3.0 might look like. Can we architect culture that balances the salvation of traditional religion with the inclusion of liberalism? Can we do it not by top-down fiat but rather by bottom-up mobilization? And is truly inclusive salvation even a thing we can hope for?

A viable candidate for Meaning 3.0 will need to fulfill the pro-social functions of traditional 1.0 Faith—Inspiration, Healing, and Connection. And, to stand a chance of helping the world, it needs to fulfill the inclusive promise of 2.0 Modernism, and be Open Source, Scalable, and Anti-fragile.

We need to reinvent religion. ... By bringing a Human-Centered Design process to the challenge of Meaning.

  • How might be think about the challenge of finding meaning in life on a mass scale?
  • How might we open-source experiments on the very operating systems within ourselves that give us feelings of connection and purpose?

We went over the major problems of Meaning 1.0 and 2.0 in part 1, now let’s dive into a solution — Meaning 3.0!

In the same way that science hypothesizes and validates how things work in the material world, we’re attempting to do the same thing for the inner world and the process of meaning creation.

The Three Pillars of Meaning 3.0

Sacred Design Lab at Harvard Divinity School has distilled them down to three core elements: Beyond, Becoming, and Belonging. Three essential nutrients vital to human flourishing. Or put another way, inspiration, healing, and connection. The ancient Greeks called those three ecstasis, catharsis, and communitas. While they go by different names, their role supporting human flourishing is essential.

In order to architect effective protocols for the development of meaning we must have all three pillars: Communitas, Ecastasis, and Catharsis. So let’s take a deep dive into each one of them.

Pillar 1: Ecstasis / Techniques of Ecstasy

Ecstasy: experiences of transcendence, awe, beauty, cosmic significance and meaning.

People who experience reliable access to peak states report having greater overall life satisfaction than those who don’t.

experiences of awe can relieve stress, improve life satisfaction, decrease physical pain, and alleviate depression.

We cannot have exponential tech without exponential meaning. And that’s where psycho-technologies of ecstasy come into play. Ecstatic techniques are the keys to meaning-creation. Without them, we tend to fall into either nihilism or fundamentalism.

Techniques of ecstasy include (but are not limited to):

  • psychedelics
  • meditation
  • kundalini
  • tantric sexuality
  • breathwork
  • prayer
  • qigong
  • trance music & dance

The problem that we’re facing as a culture is how to use these psycho-technologies wisely and build the cultural cognitive frameworks (aka cultural cognitive grammar) around the experiences. One way to frame this is that right now our culture accepts only a very particular metaphysical and ontological worldview. Techniques of ecstasy tend to push past the boundaries of this frame, leaving us confused and ungrounded.

How long can I sustain living from a more courageous, more vulnerable, more open state, until that becomes more familiar than my anxious, depressed default state that I’d been living in my whole life?

These tools aren’t to be messed around with. The most salient example is the fact that medical-grade marijuana is easily purchased in many states around the US and countries around the world. I’ve had many distressing and psychologically destabilizing experiences with weed as I’m sure many of you have as well. Blanket legalization may not be the answer. Perhaps we need a more robust system to educate what a wise use of psychoactive substances looks like, for starters.

Similarly, being too cocky with psychedelics can easily backfire on us. The last thing that we want is to get traumatized by the very ecstatic techniques that have the power to break us out of our individual (and collective) meaning crisis.

Pillar 2: Catharsis - Processing Trauma

Catharsis: healing the grief, micro-PTSD, and autonomic trigger responses of our nervous system that we’ve picked up in life.

The rest of us suffer micro-PTSD nearly all the time. Having a way to digest our grief, rather than choke on it, becomes essential.

Our nervous systems accumulate stressors until we’re fibrillating messes.

Wheal speaks on the fact that in order to architect culture, we need to process a bit of our trauma. We need more than just transcendence and bliss and awe, we need the dirty, messy, human process of grappling with and facing our inner demons.

Techniques of catharsis include:

  • internal family systems therapy
  • trauma release exercises
  • somatic experiencing
  • group therapy sessions
  • personal inquiry
  • specialized diets
  • cleanses
  • breathwork
  • men’s groups

This is the raw, messy human components of the developmental journey. Transcendence is great, but only to the degree that it’s balanced out by catharsis. Without catharsis, ecstasis gets lost in the clouds and divorced from reality.

Pillar 3: Communitas — Community & Belonging

Communitas: community, human connection, sangha, family, kinship, love, romance.

Connection—the third essential quality that faith has always conferred upon believers—is connection to community.

Techniques of communitas include:

  • circling
  • authentic relating
  • eye gazing
  • practicing vulnerability
  • dialogos

Communitas is a pillar that has been beaten to the ground by the push for individuality and personal responsibility in western culture. Modernism has stripped us of the connection that we used to find from religion, and the rise of mega-cities have led more and more of us to live in isolated apartments and work in isolated cubicles(/home offices) and lead isolated lives. We live behind screens and fake social media connections.

“While we are superficially more hyperconnected than ever (think of people you know who have maxed out their five-thousand-person “friend” count on social media), we are more isolated than ever.

Isolation, he concluded, is a “root cause and contributor to many of the epidemics sweeping the world today from alcohol and drug addiction to violence to depression

That’s what connection does—it gives us a chance to share the burden and absurdity of life with others.”

Personally, I’ve noticed a direct correlation in my life between depression/nihilism and isolation. The degree that I find myself isolated from the world and others is the degree to which I feel hopeless, apathetic, depressed and like life lacks any meaning.

How I interpreted Wheal’s version of communitas was that it had two separate components.

  1. Building Ethical Communities
  2. Deepening Our Connection with friends, family, romantic partners, etc.

Building Ethical Communities

The problem that we’re tasked with is to construct new ways of forming community and new practices that facilitate deeper connections.

Regardless of our relational formats, it’s essential for us to start small, go slowly, and forge intimate, deeply trusting connections with others as we find our way forward.

In my own life, communitas is entirely front and center. I’ve chased ecstasis and catharsis full-heartedly for the past few years but have entirely lacked the deep trusting connections that truly balance out the insane metaphysical and ontological reality shifts that accompany the chase for transcendence.

For example, in 2021 I found myself in the aftermath of a Bufo Alvarius experience traveling around Central America being woken up in the middle of the night by ontological terror of unforeseen proportions. I remember vividly in the months that followed, various waking and dreaming reality shifts that left me feeling isolated, lonely, and like I had no nets of support to guide me back to reality when being launched into existential panic attacks out of my own volition.

And a friend of mine also shared a very similar experience. After attending an intense ayahuasca and bufo alvarius retreat, he mentioned that it was one of the most challenging psychological experiences of his life to travel Mexico alone with no support network, hopping from Airbnb to Airbnb, hostel to hostel trying to reconcile the incredible depth of experience that was glimpsed just weeks before in ceremony.

Late last year I wrote about my experiences seeking community while traveling, and how most communities that I found lacked depth and genuineness. I’ll admit that I have a high standard for communitas and none of the communities that I’ve found so far have met this standard.

The first step in connectedness, Tyson Yunkaporta explains in his book Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World, is forming pairs (like kinship pairs) with multiple other agents who also pair with others.

It becomes exponentially more difficult to maintain depth of connection the more people that you throw together into a room. Let’s start by adding greater depth to the people already surrounding us.

hardest problem of all—creating communitas without the cults. If we can pull that off in a way that is truly open-source, scalable, and anti-fragile, then we have a chance to bring these broader ideas to the world.

We all have shadows and when our shadows come into contact with each other, it can get ugly real fast.

an ethical cult does neither. Instead, it seeks to* enhance the sovereignty of the individual while increasing the intelligence of the collective.***

From all of my experiences in various communities, supporting individual sovereignty seems to be the single most important component in developing healthy communitas. And for good reason, because it requires a degree of working with the complexity of the relational dynamics that requires our full participation.

There must be protocols and fail-safe mechanisms in place to prevent any individual from becoming too narcissistic in a way that deteriorates the sovereignty of each individual in the group. If someone becomes too full of themselves the trap of the golden shadow is likely to emerge.

Our golden shadow refers not to the dark parts we have a hard time owning up to but to the bright parts we are afraid to own. When we can’t accept our own power we “give away our gold.” We hang it on the neck of our guru. They are wise, strong, and compassionate. We’re not.

Ultimately what I’m currently imagining is that we need to develop the psycho-technologies in a community where the discernment of each individual is up-regulated. Where one learns to trust their gut and listen to the signals of their body such that if there’s dissonance in their system around something that is happening in the community it can also be adequately expressed and where there’s always space to share the dissonance that one feels with the community.

Cultural Toolkit / Hedonic Engineering

Hedonic Engineers—technicians of the sacred. We can remember who we are through sublime peak experience, we can mend where we’re broken through cathartic healing, and we can choose to connect—as couples, communities, and citizens. That’s the challenge in front of us: to engineer Ecstasis without the Crave (of addiction to altered states), prompt Catharsis without the Cringe (of indulgent self-help), and create Communitas without the Cult (of unreliable leaders and followers). That’s a Meaning 3.0 worth living into.

we need to extend our design thinking to architecting culture more broadly. What are the essential ingredients for Meaning 3.0? What, in other words, is the tool kit for building ethical culture?

Art, music, and even sacred sexuality were common. They were mystic seekers, not institution builders.

At this point Wheal goes into multiple chapters talking about the specific tools (aka techniques of ecstasy) that we can use to elicit the “experiences of awe [that] can relieve stress, improve life satisfaction, decrease physical pain, and alleviate depression.”

The toolkit that he lays out includes:

  • Breathwork
  • Embodiment Practices
  • Sex
  • Music
  • Sacrament

And then he asks us to consider what a combination of these different practices may look like?

If you want to learn more about how to create a personalized plan using this toolkit / learning more about these techniques of ecstasy I recommend checking out my friend Eric Brown’s piece on hedonic engineering (also inspired by Wheal :)

Another powerful taboo to negotiate is the notion of combining substances and sexuality.

Breath work works. So does body work. Music. Substances. Sex. Pick any one of these paths, and they can lead to insight, integration, and bonding.

Solo practices that can be done by anyone anywhere. Think breath work combined with body work and music

Jamie Wheal spearheaded a hedonic engineering study with remarkable results!


“start low and go slow.” They were then free to add additional intensity and complexity only after comfortably integrating prior practices.

Start low and go slow is one of the most important parts of Recapture the Rapture that I imagine gets overlooked.

One of the most regrettable traps that I’ve fallen into and that I see being promoted by way too many people in the digital-psychonaut communities is **to go way too fast and to stretch the limits of your experience **(“you gotta shoot for 5 grams in silent darkness bro”). We can end up blowing ourselves to smithereens if we’re not careful.

Wheal speaks at length about how wisdom lineages of the past gated access to various psycho-technologies that were too powerful for the newbie. This feels like a beneficial thing to do in our modern context as well. It feels like a serious problem to me if we’re giving newbie psychonauts the idea that it’s a good thing to move as fast as possible to a heroic dose / 5-MeO-DMT breakthrough (i’m looking at you, Terence Mckenna and Leo Gura👀).

The alternative that I’m picturing is a multi-year-long progression with various assessments and displays of proficiency before one ever gets access to the more potent psychedelic substances.

What we’re trying to avoid here is the case in which someone does way too high of a dose and ends up more traumatized than before they used the substance. Which ends up creating a physiological trigger/fear response to psychedelics for the rest of their lives. And trust me, this has happened to far too many people. I heard numerous stories in the hippie circles while traveling Central America, of people who had sworn to never use psychedelics because “back in the day they accidentally did a heroic dose of MDMA and LSD.” Let’s take preventative measures so that newbies are more likely to experience the beauty of these tools without the high-dose existential terror.

Open-Source, Interoperable Experiments in Architecting Meaning 3.0

What I’m imagining is that we begin to build gated structures with new governance tools like DAOs where the access to psychedelics is gated, but the reason that they’re gated isn’t because of some arbitrary rules created by sleazy politicians, but because enough people that have had difficult experiences with psychedelics understand the risks and have intentionally put certain mechanisms in place through democratic processes. While committing to a consistent trial and error process where the gated access to these substances gets more robust and calibrated with the best current cultural frameworks we have on the nature of these experiences.

An unexpectedly interesting finding was the self-organizing innovation that arose within the study cohort. Instead of sharing specific instructions, we dumped out a bunch of Lego blocks (in the form of the Hedonic Engineering Matrix and default practice schedule), showed how they can snap together in different configurations, and left a few potential recipes around to inspire creativity. That was the “liberating structure” of this experiment. Over the course of those three months, couples continued to modify and innovate the beginnings of what can perhaps best be described as a Sexual Yoga of Becoming.

By beginning to build structures that open-source the community building that enhances sovereignty in the individual, this sovereignty can then be used for more effective creation of personalized hedonic engineering matrixes (or ecologies of practice) which will be the first step in developing the Listening Society that Hanzi Freinacht lays out in his series on the Nordic Ideology and Metamodern Politics.

Upon laying out the different components of Meaning 3.0 I think it’s valuable to add in the necessity of adding the scientific method to all of this. We’re talking about intentionally designing new forms of meaning in modern culture in a world that’s becoming a vortex for nihilism.

What I’m noticing in culture is that we’re seeing a shift towards decentralization and transparency. This is important for many reasons. First is that so many of the problems that we’re seeing with building communitas and with the potential traps of seeking ecstasis and communitas lie in a lack of communication and mutual learning among the various communities, traditions, experiments, etc. that are all happening around the world in tandem.

So many people are performing similar psycho-technological experiments around the world and none of them are communicating with each other. This is where I’d love to see a re-emergence of the scientific mindset. One in which we’re hypothesizing and testing various experiments, except now we’re focusing mainly on the internal domains.

Many people around the world are hypothesizing and experimenting with the best ways to build Meaning 3.0 and how to architect healthy versions of ecstasis, catharsis and communitas and then sharing their results in a replicable way throughout global networks of decentralized information sharing systems.

Web3 and DAOs currently feel like the most effective tools for accomplishing this.

If the nascent discipline of Hedonic Engineering stands a chance of addressing the Meaning crisis, we need objective, open-source research that can build on itself.

Calibrating the frequency and intensity of these protocols to match the psychology of participants, the cultural context of their experience, and their “constellation of care,” i.e., the medical, psychological, and pastoral professionals in their orbit, is essential. Hedonic Engineering is deceptively strong medicine.

The current solution that I envision is a Psycho-Technology Pattern Language: a dynamic Wikipedia (open-sourced, and updated by the community) that includes a library of tools of transformation, how to use them, best practices, and what other tools they are the most compatible with.

Another solution could be an ecology of practices *software: *a digital tool that builds a system of psycho-technologies uniquely suited to the particular self-structure, environmental context, cultural upbringing, familial structure, and calibrated to their individual socio-psycho-cultural context given the data they want to share(where the individual owns all the data and chooses to use it solely for this purpose).

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