Like so many of you, I have recently been checking out the AI ChatGPT chatbots thing. It's fascinating. We are definitely in the early, curious and awkward stages of something that has many potential benefits and a wide field of potential problems. And there are a lot of very valid and important questions surrounding its development and use.
I studied both Philosophy and Literature, so I have a lot of thoughts about this stuff in general. But I don’t want to lay some esoteric essay on you here and bore you… especially since those chatbots can be so much more fun…
Instead, as a life coach and consultant, I want to focus practically on how the current generation of AI chatbots relates to the field of personal development and wellness. And what this might mean for you.
In particular, I have tried interacting with this Life Coach AI on the Character.AI site. This is a chatbot similar to ChatGPT but overlaid with a focused “personality” to specialize in giving life guidance. And wow! I was very surprised by the naturalness of its responses. I ran it through a very common scenario of wanting to change jobs but not really sure what to do... (Yes, I was sort of "catfishing" the chatbot, sorry!)
I expected to receive some very general, commonsense advice, which is what I got. But what I didn't expect was how it actually asked me clarifying questions and then gave me specific and detailed lists of things to consider and actions to take. And this was all with a naturalness of tone and conversationalism that made me wonder if there might have been a real human back there catfishing me under the guise of an AI...
You can read a full transcript of the conversation here.
One of my friends told me about a similar experience they had talking about a real relationship issue with this Psychologist AI on the same site.
So what's the hot take to take away here? Could this revolutionize the wellness industry, make counseling more accessible, and put me out of work?
I definitely think this could make basic counseling more accessible to people. And I think that’s a good thing. Even if (when) this free honeymoon period ends and we all have to start paying for it, the cost will still likely be quite low. It’s available anytime, responds asynchronously at your pace, and feels very anonymous. That creates a very low barrier entry for people to try their first experience of receiving some kind of counseling.
And it’s pretty easy to imagine someone playing around with this as a curiosity and then end up actually asking about their real problems…
As for the quality of chatbot counseling, I would characterize it like this:
if you want a distillation of common wisdom on the issue you are working on but don't want to spend hours searching and reading blog posts, this would be very efficient and helpful. And it comes to you in the engaging form of an interactive conversation.
For some people that’s all they really need to get them going on their way themselves. Yay! Score a point for the ease and efficiency of AI--
For others, this could be their first step onto the path of getting the quality help they really need to deal with deeper, more intense issues: an easily accessible gateway to future wellness…
And that’s exactly where professionals like myself come in. We do spend hours researching, reading and writing blog posts and books on psychology, neuroscience, physiology, productivity, spirituality, etc. We study and create a variety of specialized and useful techniques that are not common knowledge and require skill and experience to implement effectively (such as hypnotherapy). And if this is what you end up needing to go deeper and farther in your journey of personal development and wellness, we are here for you.
So I actually encourage you to go ahead and give chatbot consulting a try-- lightly, gently. See if its conversational distillation of internet knowledge gives you some keys to open the right doors to wherever you need to be--
I say to try it lightly and gently for a reason. And this is important. Because in their current iteration, GPT-based chatbots are not sentient, conscious AI with general intelligence. They are actually just predictive text algorithms (like your smartphone’s autocomplete function) that have been leveled up in sophistication and statistically trained on a massive dataset of written stuff (basically everything on the internet in the year 2021)... So they don’t have any real intention behind their output. And because of that, they sometimes innocently but confidently spout nonsense or inaccuracies. And there is always the chance that something very inappropriate and hurtful can slip through their internal filters onto your screen. So please don’t take them too seriously, no matter how natural and helpful they might sound. And if you are suicidal, I would recommend skipping them entirely and going directly to a human you can trust...
If you've seen an internet meme with 9 pop-culture icons categorized on a grid as Lawful-Good to Chaotic-Evil, then you're at least somewhat familiar with the character alignment system. It comes from the classic Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game as a way for players to consistently portray their characters' motivations and actions.
Why am I talking about a silly game mechanic here, and why should you care?
Well, first of all, it can be fun and lightly enlightening to try mapping famous people or literary characters onto the alignment system grid. or even daily items like foods or tools. You could even end up creating a viral meme of your own this way...
To help you with that, I'll give you a quick rundown of the categories. It's a grid with two scales that cross-index. The first scale is Lawful / Neutral / Chaotic. Lawful characters live by rules or codes and value social hierarchies. Chaotic characters value individualism and personal freedom and live by their passions. Neutral folks see some value in both and don't get overly committed to either. The second scale is Good / Neutral / Evil. Good characters respect life and other beings, often above their own individual selves. Evil characters are totally selfish with little to no respect for life or others. Neutral folks respect the rights and needs of others but tend to prioritize their own. The intersection of these two scales can give you a Robin Hood (Chaotic-Good) or a Star Wars Imperial Officer (Lawful-Evil).
In games, stories, and movies, the heroes are Good, the villains are Evil, and the regular folks are often Neutral. And most of us would say that's really the most important scale to judge people by. But I think it's also important to consider the other scale too, because it says a lot about the type of person you are in society.
And that's where I will pivot to the deeper point of my little talk...
One of the fundamental mistakes of modern Christianity (and, well actually, many ethical philosophies) is mistakenly ranking the ideals of lawful-good above neutral-good. The "Good News" of Jesus was clearly articulated as freedom from living, sinning, and dying under the impossibly strict legal system of the Old Testament. And he regularly criticized and interfered with the strict consequences of that law, offering instead the ideal of living life by a compassionate conscience.
I'm pretty sure the glorification of lawful-good ideals by the church comes from when Christianity was taken up as the official religion of ancient Rome. It suddenly had to back up the whole government and social order of an empire. Which is specifically not what Jesus had in mind for his spiritual reformation, and completely reverses the stated purpose of his self-sacrifice.
For Jesus, being compassionately neutral-good was the pinnacle of goodness rather than the authoritarian lawful-good or the anarchical chaotic-good. And in this I completely agree--
It's a message that I think modern Christians should really remind themselves of (I was raised Christian so I'm talking to my past self here too) and even non-Christians (my current self included) should consider as an excellent piece of social wisdom.
Of course the world needs lawful-good individuals to help us build stable communities, and we need a few roguish chaotic-good rebels to keep us from growing fossilized in our good intentions. But as a whole, a society based on the values of neutral-good would make for such a kinder, gentler world,
the kind of world I certainly want to live in,
and I hope you will join me in that direction--
〜Clearing your space with Reiki〜
I recently decided to add some lighter, more fun, and more utility services to my reiki healing and channeling menu... so I opened up a Patreon-like support shop on "Buy Me a Coffee" (sounds more fun, no?)
I'm starting with 〜Clearing your space with Reiki〜 and I'll soon be adding options like charging personal items with reiki or designing custom bindrune symbols for fun or enchantments...
all these will be available from just $5 to $15 and handled conveniently online at:
〜Clearing your space with Reiki〜
Reiki is a balancing and purifying universal energy that is great for clearing a space. As a reiki master, I will clear the energy in a personal space of your choice: your room, altar, kitchen, entry or hall, garage, car or RV, storage, and yes even the attic or basement...
The cleared space will be infused with a well-balanced energy that can be maintained with some care by yourself, but will eventually be depleted by consistent disuse or unfriendly influences.
Reiki energy works from a distance, so simply describe the space to me and I will perform a clearing ritual with reiki, sage, and a crystal tuner from here in the mountains of Japan within a day (our timezones are probably quite different!).
It's just $10 and can be easily ordered online through my support site below:
The reason politics, and therefore society, has become so messed up is that we do politics the same way we play games. In games and sports we do our "all-or-nothing" best to manipulate the rules and playing field to outwit, outmaneuver, and overpower the opponents. That's fine for the goal of winning a game that has a limited timeframe and then shaking hands and going home to enjoy our separate lives...
But politics isn't played in the lines of a limited field or board, and it doesn't end at the buzzer of a timeclock. The results of political fights go home with all of us and effect everything we do throughout our daily lives. That's because, unlike a game, playing politics is playing with real life in a permanent, take-home sort of way, and the losers suffer lasting harm that they can't just "shake off".
From years of this kind of political cycle, it shouldn't be surprising that the opponents have become locked into position as bitter enemies, and a sportsmanlike handshake seems impossible to imagine.
Please understand that I'm not pointing at any particular group or party. I'm calling out everyone, because we all do this. And I'm actually not just talking about government politics. We do the same at all levels of society: at the office, with our families, even within our closest personal relationships.
And it's harmful.
It's harmful to the losers in obvious ways. But it's also harmful to the winners to create entrenched enemies who will do their best to eventually turn the tables. It fills any social situation or relationship with antagonism and distrust. And there's no way to "leave it on the field".
When people say:
I'm not into politics.
I hate office politics.
I don't like playing games in relationships.
This is exactly what they're talking about.
And the competitive gamification of politics is exactly why.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
Gaming is based on competition, which seems to be a natural urge for us humans. And we should go ahead and enjoy that aspect of life with the wide variety of sports and games we invent to fill that need.
But politics isn't an artificially designed game with a clear winner and loser determined by points scored in a determined place within a limited time. It's an unavoidable negotiation about how we prioritize and use resources for all the various necessities of life.
Politics is ultimately based on cooperation. It's never perfect, but when it's going well more people tend to live better, and when it's going badly more people tend to live worse. So it's actually in most of our best interests to do be doing it well.
In a win/lose game there can be no compromise. And even in a cooperative negotiation, compromise is not as satisfying as getting everything you want. And clearly there are better compromises (everyone gets "enough" of their needs met) and worse compromises (no one really gets their needs sufficiently accommodated). But politics should be an ongoing process to keep working and adjusting those compromises to support as much of the group as well as possible.
An important flaw in all of this is the difficulty that small minorities face at the negotiation table. Some racial groups, people with disabilities, children, etc, simply don't have the numbers, recognition, or power to be well represented. This is an unfortunate reality. So it is really on the major players to carefully consider their needs and make sure that they are fairly accommodated in the cooperative solutions and policies of the whole group. This is not just the ethical thing to do, it also avoids making embittered enemies of forgotten or abused minorities who might someday rise to power with a score to settle...
So whether or not you enjoy a ruthless game of basketball or scrabble, leave those instincts on the field and try considering the benefit of all the participants when you sit down to negotiate in the town hall, in the office, or at the family table. Commit to the wellbeing of everyone to create a more stable, sustainable situation for yourself and the day-to-day world you are living in.
Nobody likes the smug
Redefining the root of all evil:
Pride is totally fine.
Mediocrity is actually blissful.
Being smug, everyone hates that.
Go big, or just relax...
You don't have to be the best at everything (or even anything) you do. Do what you want to the level that you want, and enjoy it.
Autistic adults we never knew we met...
How many of us would do our best to treat an autistic child with kindness and respect? I think most of us would. But even I, who has worked so long and patiently with autistic children as a teacher, can sometimes forget that there are lots of "undercover" autistic adults out there in the workaday world.
Maybe they have learned to "mask" most of their typical autistic behaviors to get along in society, or maybe they don't even know that they have "mild" autism. But they probably still end up showing some traits that many of us find annoying and irritating (social awkwardness, difficulty communicating, lack of humor, intensely specific interests, repetitive behaviors, rigid routines, emotional outbursts, hypersensitivity, physical clumsiness). And since it's really hard to know that they are in fact autistic, we pretty naturally assume that they are just irritating "normal" people getting in the way of our daily life...
I'm not going to say you're a big jerk because you unintentionally find some behaviors irritating in the adults around you and that maybe you don't always handle them well. As I said, even I don't always handle these things perfectly, and I've developed an incredible amount of patience from my long years of working closely and lovingly with autistic children.
What I will say is that when facing non-harmful but irritating behaviors in others, it's good to remind ourselves that we should really just be easygoing with everyone.
This will save us from looking like a jerk for lashing out and traumatizing someone who actually has underlying "disabilities". It will also make everyone's day go just a little bit smoother when you can gracefully let these things go. And finally, it will lower your own stress levels and blood pressure if you can manage to smile your way past it, which is a big win for your long-term physical and mental health.
I'm not saying you should completely ignore all problematic behavior around you, especially in longer-term relationships, but next time you find yourself getting annoyed at some trait or behavior that isn't likely to cause any actual harm, consider that there may be underlying factors (autism, anxiety, depression, insomnia, an illness in the family, grief over a loss, the list is long...) and see if you can let it slide. Even if there isn't anything deeper going on, your own health will still benefit anyway--
What some awesome women with autism want you to know about their experience:
Some powerful words from my favorite person known to be on the autism spectrum: the successful, sexy, and very witty science communicator, Kyle Hill
Is reiki OK for Christians?
Though I left the church long ago, I grew up as a very serious Christian so I know just how important this question can be.
You may have heard that reiki is a universal energy and its use is non-religious and non-denominational. While this is basically true of modern Westernized reiki practices which are primarily focused on physical healing and relaxation, the deeper truth is that reiki originated as a way to reach Enlightenment in the Buddhist sense. So it is still inherently spiritual. Furthermore, the higher levels of all reiki practices still use symbols borrowed from Buddhist texts. And although as a reiki master I do consider its energy to be from the universal source, I realize this concept itself can be problematic in the basic Christian worldview.
What this means for you is that:
If you are a pretty liberal Christian who basically believes in God and thinks the compassionate teachings of Jesus are something we all should be following, but you don't necessarily attend church regularly, and maybe you do yoga, listen to Enya, and have a few crystals lying around the house, then I think you would probably be fine to receive reiki treatments. And especially if you feel like God is a universal source that might be accessible through other ways and faiths, you could perhaps even become a first-level practitioner. The important thing is to check in with your personal connection to God and follow the answers from your heart...
On the other hand, if you are, or have recently become, a fairly strict Christian and regular churchgoer who tends to interpret the scriptures literally, I think the Buddhist origins of reiki are probably going to cause you a lot of internal conflict sooner or later and I wouldn't recommend that you receive or practice reiki at all.
Either way, while you really shouldn't worry if a well-meaning acquaintance tries sending you reiki without you asking for it, if you have intentionally received reiki treatments or practitioner attunements and now have regrets, please talk with your pastor about it or feel free to contact me directly for some free advice in line with biblical teachings to help you out of such a situation. Your spiritual peace of mind is so invaluable to your overall wellbeing--
Facing the spider on the windshield...
It is possible to adapt our fears so that they serve us rather than dominate us.
Today on the drive to one of the schools where I teach English, I rolled down my window to enjoy the fresh mountain air. Unfortunately, I also startled a giant huntsman spider (literally the size of the palm of my hand) who proceeded to scurry from the window column just behind me and scamper back and forth across the inside of the front windshield looking for a way out of his predicament...
Luckily for both of us I've spent the last several years building up an immunity to giant huntsman spiders, so I was able to calmly find a wide turnout on this narrow, winding mountain road and stop safely. He was totally flipping out, looking desperately for a place to hide and finding none on the wide expanse of the front glass. Fortunately I was able to reach across the car to open the passenger door just as he started to drop down, and he jumped right out.
Unfortunately, because I had stopped on the opposite side of the road, this put him right on the edge of the roadway, and because I prefer not to drop off passengers directly into danger, I got out to find a way to coax him into the bushes on the shoulder rather than crossing the street and getting run over... Well, he wasn't willing to climb onto my boot (understandably I suppose) for a walkover, so I looked around and found some random bamboo branch to scoop/chase him in the right direction. In the end, my stowaway and I were both saved from high-impact deaths and I happily arrived just in time for my first class.
If you detect a whiff of affection for my unwitting passenger, you wouldn't be wrong. I do actually admire and respect these gentle but impressive giant spiders that share my environment and home. But it definitely wasn't always the case. In fact, I used to be terrified of all spiders as a child and young adult, and killed them on sight, without mercy and no questions asked.
So what changed? How did I trade such a common spider phobia for my current calmness in the face of giant arachnids? Well, there were certainly stages to the process...
First of all, there was an odd but practical decision to be made. I went through a pretty serious goth phase during which I thought authentic spiderwebs made for excellent room decor. And of course, having authentic spiderwebs decorating ones house means that there must be some real live spiders dwelling there at least part-time. So I made an uneasy alliance with the smaller spiders that as long as they stayed (and decorated) in the corners, they could stay. If they ventured out into the living spaces I frequented, they would be killed immediately. I also began carefully researching which spiders might actually be safe so that I could sort out the truly dangerous ones and continue killing them with extreme prejudice.
Along the way, through research and simple observation I learned some things about their lives and habits and the fact that, like my predatory pet cat with mice, they kept the local fly population down. Slowly, I began to get used to them and got lazy about enforcing my territorial death sentencing. Around this time I also became a vegetarian and eventually began thinking that if I was changing my diet to avoid killing cows, I should also probably start applying that same logic to the smaller creatures in my environment...
By this time I was moving out of the cobwebby-style goth and into more glamorous goth stages and instead of killing the spiders whose spinning services I no longer required, I was catching them in a glass and relocating them outside where they could continue to keep the local environment pest-free and I could feel good about not murdering them unnecessarily. This kind of constant close contact with them helped retrain my physical aversion to them so that I could calmly scoop them up without any fear or loathing. I had befriended the spider.
This process came in very handy when I ended up moving to Japan where lives the giant huntsman spider. These spiders are confrontingly huge and shockingly fast. And they are everywhere. They don't spin webs but just hide out in corners and then suddenly run across the floor or wall or ceiling... I was certainly intimidated. But I had already researched what creatures are dangerous in Japan and these monsters are definitely not on that list. So I knew I just had to reapply my previous training on a larger scale...
Through research and observation I found that they are actually pretty much blind and they run after things that vibrate the floor like bugs, or my feet. So yes, they do sometimes run at my feet aggressively but as soon as they notice that I also happen to carry a big shadow they instantly retreat with equal speed from whence they came. And if I try to move them off with a broom, they rear up and try to look like bid baddies at first, but on the second try they give up, flop over, and pretend to be dead, just big and dead. Oh, and they eat cockroaches, which are also big and everywhere here...
So by the time I moved out here to the mountains of Japan, where relocating each individual spider would be a hugely pointless waste of time, I had made my peace with the giant huntsman spider. Now we coexist in a kind of partnership with them eating the more unpleasant pests of the humid summers and me providing them with plenty of corners to hide in during the cold winters...
So what is the point here? Well, first perhaps something about how a reasonable concern about something as dangerous as black widow spiders needn't prompt us to also kill cute little helpful jumping spiders on sight. And how that can be logically extrapolated up to more intimidating but equally harmless creatures as well (including, umm, the infinite variety of humans).
Second, fear itself. Fear can certainly help keep us safe, but it can also harm us. My old fear of spiders could have just killed me on the road if I hadn't already dealt with it. Yes, that's a rare case of serendipity, but fear can easily push us into poor choices in the mundane situations of daily life, and it can limit us in some of the life-changing opportunities that do sometimes come up.
And finally, adaptation. I adapted to living with spiders (and a lot of other creatures actually) through the practical realities, then research and observation, and then familiarity. It is possible to adapt our fears so that they serve us rather than dominate us. Each fear and each person will have a different process, and some will probably benefit from including therapy of some kind... But if you have some fears that are limiting your life, consider processing them too. It can be so freeing--
After injuring my back in early summer, I finally started running again this morning. It was only about one kilometer, and it was basically three short runs interspersed with three short walks... but it felt great to be breathing hard and sweating a little from physical effort (rather than just sweltering in the summer heat). I followed up with some easy yoga and then a bath with relaxing epsom salts.
If you have also let your exercise fall by the wayside for some reason, now is an excellent time to start it up again... Why? because Fall brings back cool mornings that are refreshing but not too cold to easily get moving. And if you can get out to a park or other natural space, experiencing the change of the season can give you a fresh, motivating feeling. There's just something in the air...
A bit of advice though, don't let that invigorating feeling in the air overstimulate you into jumping right back in where you left off. Autumn also says, "Take it easy..." Start slow and gentle so you don't injure yourself and set yourself back even further. If you do muscle training, maybe start with just your body (pushups, etc.) before doing the heavy weights or machines. If you run, begin with long, slow strides that gently stretch and warm up your muscles, and intersperse your running with periods of long, slow walking. Or try some leisurely cycling... Focus on your breathing, and don't forget to enjoy the air and signs of the changing seasons around you.
Autumn with its colors, smells, foods, and traditions is my favorite season and no matter your favorite season I think we can probably agree that there is a certain magic in the early fall. If you are able, I urge you to get out there and soak up that magic right into your physique with some refreshing, reinvigorating, but also relaxing physical activity--