Charity Drive Success!

Happy New Year everyone. Thanks for all your support.

Here are the final tallies.

Against Malaria: 30,108
MIRI: 32,320

Massachusetts Bail Fund: 3000
Deworm the World: 7980

Total: $70,408

After the drive ended, another $4000 has been pledged towards http://www.reg-dfs.org/donate/ , and $17,452 came in for Against Malaria on the day after the drive, which REG DFS has agreed to triple.

 

This would bring the final totals

$70,000 donated

$70,000 matched by Dan and I

$5230 doubled by https://doublethedonation.com/miri

$4408 to be tripled by Reg

$17,452 towards AF which will be tripled by Reg

 

Including all the matching, this is a total of $210,854 raised for charity. If I were taxed at 40%, my $35,000 donation only costs me $21,000, and went very, very far. Matching can be a incredibly effective tool.  Even without running a drive, there are usually some great options available on the internet, if you were to look. Taking advantage of the tax write off can also make a very large difference.

Thanks again!

Charity Drive Success!

Charity Drive Over

Wanted to clarify the charity drive is over. I will do a proper write up when less hungover, but we cleared the goal by a sizeable margin. Happy New Year.

There is a great tripling challenge going on here http://www.reg-dfs.org/donate/ for those interested. Even if you don’t believe in the idea of a meta charity, every dollar donated still leads to $1.5 going to Against Malaria, and then the additional freeroll over $1.50 going to REG.

 

Charity Drive Over

Mid December Charity Update

EDIT: CHARITY DRIVE OVER. 

We more than reached our goals, thanks for participating.

 

Mid December charity update.

We are more than halfway to the goal with 38781 donated. An additional 5320 for MIRI has been matched by Double your Donation

Against Malaria 5401
Evidence Action 650
MIRI 32,330
Massachusetts Bail Fund 400

I wanted to clarify that Dan and I might take mild creative liberties but everything would be in good faith. We want to ensure that each charity receives at least $4000. Another example of a possible adjustment would be if someone where to donate the full $32219 to the Massachusetts Bail Fund. That would be great, but I would want to match to a different Bail fund. I think two funds having $32k would do more good than one having $64k.

Some of the donation receipts (I think just the ones from paypal?) have personal information. I wanted to clarify that of course editing out anything along those lines from the email is totally fine.

Dan and I decided we are going to stop matching MIRI donations at this point. We think they are doing great work (and when smart people like Elon Musk suggest something, I’m pretty inclined to blindly follow them). But from a feel good standpoint, we were hoping to spread out the donations a bit more.

Lastly I wanted to thank everyone for the donations. A donation of any size makes a real difference and is greatly appreciated.

Mid December Charity Update

December Charity Drive

Edit: We have maxed out our donations for MIRI. Details here

 

Dan Colman and I have decided to do a charity drive until the end of the year. We are matching all donations, up to a total of $70,000, to any of the charities below.

Pick a charity, and email your receipt to receiptsforcharity@gmail.com

If you end up using double your donation, or another matching service, please include that in the email. I am interested to see how successful this drive will be.

I can also accept some donations via pokerstars, bank transfer, Venmo, etc, if that is easier for people.

1) The Against  Malaria Foundation: Over 1 million people – mostly children – die from malaria each year. Insecticide-treated bed nets prevent deaths and many other non-fatal cases of malaria and are inexpensive – about $2.50 per. Rated the #1 charity  by http://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities

Tax deductible in US, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, and the following countries

https://www.againstmalaria.com/CharityStatus.aspx

2) Deworm The World led by Evidence Action: Around the world, hundreds of millions of people, mostly children, are infected with parasitic diseases that are extremely inexpensive to treat…50 to 81 cents per child depending on how the cost is calculated.

According to http://www.evidenceaction.org/impact-first-report/#impact-report , 200 million children were dewormed in 2015. #3 ranked charity on givewell.

Donate through givewell here  http://www.givewell.org/international/top-charities/deworm-world-initiative/donate

or directly to evidence action here
https://give.evidenceaction.org

Tax deductible in the US. Other countries can donate through http://www.charityscience.com/donate-givewell.html

  • “for donations greater than $1,000, can contact Charity Science at joey@charityscience.com for more information about giving by check or bank transfer (low or no fees). Note that there is an aggregate limit to how much Charity Science can give to charities that are not registered in Canada, so donors considering giving a gift of $5,000 or more for GiveWell, GiveDirectly, Deworm the World Initiative, GAIN, DMI, or Living Goods should contact Charity Science or GiveWell before donating”

3) Machine Intelligence Research Institute: Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking have all spoke out about the risks of artificial intelligence.  Waitbutwhy piece did a great, but super long piece explaining how this could become an issue http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artificial-intelligence-revolution-1.html I admit this felt a little ambitious relative to other ways one could impact the world, but on the other hand, if you consider even a remote possibility of saving the world from some massive society collapsing  technological disaster, the “implied odds” might be there.

Many employers are matching donations, you can check here https://doublethedonation.com/miri

or donate here https://intelligence.org/donate/

Tax exempt in the USA

4) The Massachusetts Bail Fund: I had wanted to help make a change in the prison system, and really wasn’t sure how. The system seemed to be so fucked that any donation felt futile. I asked a friend who’s a public defender for his opinion, and he recommended donating to a Bail fund.

The basic idea is that there are a lot of people are held in on bail in misdemeanor cases where if they were out they could fight the case, but to get out of jail they take pleas and get criminal records. This can have all sort of collateral consequences on jobs, school, housing, etc.
 A bail fund that posts these people’s bail would have very slow attrition. According to The Bronx Freedom Fund, 97%  of clients return to all scheduled court dates.  Source This would save lot of people from criminal records and jail time. The Massachussets Bail Fund only posts bails that are $500 or less. No one should have to sit in jail because they don’t have $200.

The Massachussets Bail Fund is tax deductible in the US,  donate here.

http://www.massbailfund.org/donate.html

 

I brought up the tax exemption multiple times.  If anyone doesn’t understand how that works, I will explain it here and why it’s important.

If you itemize your deductions, and are dealing with a charity that is an  IRS 501(c)(3) charitable organization, then your donation is tax deductible. Obligatory disclaimer: Everyone’s tax situation is different.  You should check with your own tax advisor on your ability to make tax deductible charitable contributions

Suppose you were in the 40% tax bracket, and wanted to donate $100 to a good cause.  If you just handed someone $100 and forgot about it; you have $100 less than you started with. If you donated $167 to a tax exempt charity, you wouldn’t pay your 40% income tax on that money, and you will still end up with $100 less than you started with, with an additional $67 going to the charity.

 

Now if someone were to match your donations, your initial investment is now $334 compared to $200. If you were to use double your donation your initial $100 investment is now $501(!).

If anyone has any questions, feel free to contact me. I would like to thank Ruari Donnelly and Adriano Mannino of REG charity for taking the time to answer all my questions, and helping me choose charities.

 

December Charity Drive

DFS thoughts

I just watched Jon Oliver’s Last Week Tonight https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mq785nJ0FXQ on DFS. While I think he is technically right about the fact that these sites have to prance around “is it gambling or skill” I think he is missing the bigger story about the UIGEA.

 

Using the definition “to lay a bet on something,” of course DFS is gambling. But I think gambling is a vague term. We gamble each and every day of our lives. We assess the risk, and make educated decisions. Sometimes, these things are very safe. We consider the very low risk of getting into a car accident on the 20 minute drive to work, and decide that is acceptable. We convince millions of teenagers that going to college is a good investment. Students can take in hundreds of thousands of unforgivable student loan, in the hope that some day in the future, he or she will have a successful career. This is a massive gamble, that I’m sure does not work out for many people . Pursuing your dream, in many cases, is going to be a huge gamble. But isn’t that our right?

 

The idea that the government has the basis to decide which gambles we do and don’t take is ridiculous. And the rules aren’t even morally consistent! Gambling is bad. Except in the cases of the lottery and horse racing, which are somehow acceptable?.Statistically, these are much worse than any casino game, because they take out ~27-40% in rake  [1]

 

Oliver quotes a statistic saying 1.2% of people win 91% of the money at DFS. I have not examined that study, but if I had to guess it’s somewhat misleading. Sample size here is tricky to consider, and I imagine a lot of players might just deposit $20 once time and lose it. I imagine it wouldn’t sound so extreme if it were changed  people who have played at least 10 times. Also realize, in Draft Kings’s most popular tournament, you can literally turn $20 into a $1,000,000, so people will be losing more often than that.

 

Oliver also brings up that DFS was only able to get off the ground as a bit of a legal workaround. While that might be true, I’m not sure that is necessarily a strike against it. Isn’t that just how the system works? The UIGEA was passed when it was hastily added onto a bill on port security, which made it close to impossible for politicans to oppose. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAFE_Port_Act

 

I think it is a dangerous precedent if the government is allowed to decide which risks we are, and are not, allowed to take. It is surprisingly easy to get your entire life savings trading options in the stock market. And there are definitely traders with advantages similar to DFS players who are doing more research or have opportunities for information or the ability to trade in such volume that casual investors just don’t have. But does that mean people should not be allowed to trade? I could make a similar argument with real estate, it is very easy to buy a home that you cannot afford that may or may not be a good investment.

 

1. I am not an expert on scratch offs, but I am confident they are designed to make you feel like you are very close to winning, much more often than you are. This is turn will trick many people into playing more than if they had used more honest methods. There are also advertisements for the lottery trying to appeal to the very people who have the least spare income to gamble with! And as an additional kick in the balls, if you are one of the lucky, lucky few, the US can tax you again on the winnings

DFS thoughts

Burning Man Blog

I went into the desert bringing some grand existential questions, and the playa provided more than I could ever have imagined. I am going to attempt to explain my Burning Man experience, but first I want to backtrack a few years and discuss how I found myself heading into the desert trying to find meaning.

This post ended up long, so I split it into 4 parts.

Part 1: Depression and meditation

In 2007, I was in the middle of my first semester at the University of Maryland. I wasn’t enjoying or doing well in my classes, most of which I had already taken in high school. I felt like I was paying ~$40,000/year tuition to go to crowded frat parties on the weekends. I decided to take a break from school to focus on something I was enjoying more, online poker.

Poker had been going well, and I qualified for the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure in the Bahamas. I decided to take my Dad, along with my good friend Charles. My family was not happy with my decision to focus on poker instead of school, so the trip was a welcome break from a tough time in my life. A few days into the trip while Charles and I were out at dinner, my dad had a heart attack at the craps table. A doctor was present, who performed CPR. Atlantis staff was slow to bring out an oxygen tank, and amongst other fuck ups, my dad died in what I was told should have been a salvageable situation. Getting a body out of the Bahamas sent to the United States turned out to be a bit of a logistical nightmare, but eventually it was done.

I thought my family and I would get some relief due to what I assumed was a slam dunk lawsuit. It turns out it is very hard to sue the Atlantis. Without a very large retainer which we could not afford, no lawyers were willing to take on the case. After a few months of turmoil and depression, I recommitted myself to poker.

Years later, the numbness I felt towards the world still had not gone away. I felt like some combination between a monster, and an emotionless robot. I questioned whether this was just going to be my reality.

I wanted to change the way my brain was wired. I found that my first thought was so often negative. If I were to lose my cell phone,  immediately I would consider the possibility that someone stole it before realizing I left it in my jeans. I wanted to be a more positive person, like my good friend Chewy. This seemed like a much more enjoyable way to view the world.

This was no easy task. I attempted to change my diet, exercise routines, sleep patterns, everything. One of the many strange things about humans is that we do not make good subjects for science experiments. It is really hard to isolate variables, and to figure out the proper cause and effects. Is it my new diet making a difference on my mood, or just the fact that winter is over and I have been getting a lot more sunlight?

I think as a professional poker player, it is especially difficult to isolate these variables. You could do be doing everything right, but sometimes luck is just not on your side. When you go out, and you lose over and over again for weeks or for months at a time, it can be hard to see the world in a positive light.

I tried finding a therapist, but this wasn’t easy. My personal history was long, and going through it was arduous. Going through several hours with someone, just to find out that you have no rapport with them, is frustrating. Even worse is spending many hours with someone who you had assumed had been properly trained… before realizing that just because they call themselves a therapist, does not mean they have any qualifications.

I considered antidepressants, but those also made me uncomfortable.  Most antidepressants need about 6 weeks to set in, and often have some very scary side effects. Knowing whether the drugs were helping or harmful or doing nothing seemed like a brutal thing to handle. I also was worried about the effect they might have on my poker game. Or my life. What if I wasn’t “me” any more?

I was recommended meditation, so I decided to give it a try. My first stint with meditation was brief and unsuccessful. I took meditation to mean the absence of thought. So I would try to sit down for 10 minutes without letting any thoughts come into my head. My “meditation practices” looked something like this:

“Ok, Dan, mindfulness… time to turn off your brain, now. Ohmmmmmm, FUCK, a thought. FUCK another thought. FUCK THIS I’m done with it.”

I gave up for a while, until a friend dragged me to a hot yoga class. I enjoyed it, so I started going more regularly. I found that during the last few minutes of savasana, I would be so exhausted that I actually felt somewhat free of thought, and it felt amazing. I wanted to achieve this feeling without all the exertion (and sweat!), so I gave meditation another shot.

I followed the meditation instructions in Unlearning Meditation.[1]. I decided to commit 10 minutes per day for a few weeks and see how it feels.

 

Early on in my meditation journey, I found myself attempting a guided meditation in Melbourne, Australia.  I had gone way deeper in this session than I ever have before, and it was very intense. For much of it, I was on the brink of tears. Here, I learned that certain thoughts or feelings I’ve had in the past, do not define me as a person. I remember walking home thinking that I was seeing the world in a new light. I even felt like I grieved my Dad’s death for the first time. Meditation has now became a regular part of my routine. [2]

I found after regular meditation, I was more in control of my emotions. I used to have a bit of a temper and would sometimes explode. Or I would find myself in an argument where I was certain that I was right. I would use a condescending tone, which encourages the other person to be defensive, and is actually counter productive to my cause. One example stands out in particular to me. A group of us were out to eat at a fancy restaurant. Our service had been very slow and in general pretty terrible. When we had asked for the check, the waiter made a rude remark. I was filled with rage, and was ready to explode. But I was able to “see” that I was just upset, and that yelling at this waiter would not make our situation any better. I feel like this moment is indicative of a change being made. Now mediation is a pretty reliable tool to reset my mood when I find that I am cranky or lacking focus or just generally off.

Another example occurred when  I was renting an apartment on vacation and my friend and his girlfriend flew in to visit for a music festival. During the festival, the landlord freaked out on me, makes a huge deal out of nothing.  She took all of our belongings out of the apartment and changed the locks on me. This would seem like a pretty reasonable opportunity to lose my shit.

But I took a breath. I knew that ultimately, everything was fine. I called around town, found a hotel for my friends and me. I was able to accept my new reality, understood that getting upset wouldn’t change anything, and even managed to have a good time with friends for the rest of the weekend in the overpriced hotel. This ability to control my emotions is one of the most valuable skills I feel I have ever learned. Writing this felt preachy, but it was an important enough lesson for me that I want to leave this in here.

Part 2:  What I wanted to get out of Burning Man and the hardships of being a professional poker player

I have been dealing with some general existential questions about meaning. I really wanted to be “prepared” for Burning Man. I made a point to read Sam Harris’s Waking Up , I rewatched the really fantastic David Foster Wallace[3] speech *”This is Water”* (if you haven’t seen it, I would recommend watching it now .https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CrOL-ydFMI )

I have found that I am happiest whenever I am in the middle of trying to tackle a major project. Often, these have been poker centered. While I am in the middle of the chase, I wake up every morning motivated for the day and excited to attempt to pursue this goal. But I often find when I have achieved what I have set out to do, I am in the “what now” phase?

Sometimes, I like to think about the big picture. And, in an attempt to feel more human, I sometimes will fantasize about making the world a better place. But being practical, if I were to want to make big changes in the world, the most effective way to do it is probably to play as much poker as possible. We live in a society where money can make a big difference , and while reading books to children might be helpful, if I can play poker for 2 hours instead and hire 10 more qualified professionals to read instead, that is just strictly better.

But with that kind of thinking, it is easy to eventually feel trapped and obligated to play poker all the time. How can you afford to cook dinner yourself when you can have someone cook it for you and deliver it and you can sneak in an extra 45 minutes of playing? The opportunity cost of playing poker is so high, sometimes it is hard to do anything else. If I could be making thousands of dollars playing a poker tournament, taking a day off so I can do a yoga class and read a book feels extravagant. And if I am going to skip a tournament, to allow myself to enjoy the activity instead of focusing on what I am missing out on. I think this is a hard thing to balance.

Because it IS important to take advantage of poker while the situation is good for it. Think about how many big names players only 5 years ago can’t cut it anymore. People have been saying that poker is dying forever, what if eventually they are right? Even if it doesn’t die, every generation at poker has assumed that they would be on top forever. While I might be deluded enough to believe it, there may well be  a bunch of hungry 19 year old Russian kids studying 10 hours per day.

An issue I have with poker is it’s just impossible to entirely be immune to the results. On some level, if you wake up every day for weeks and lose, the world isn’t going to be as bright and shiny as you might like. While I find that rough, and something to work on, I can find that fairly acceptable. What I find really soul crushing, is what it takes to be satisfied.

This summer I ended up getting 3rd in the 10k Pot Limit Omaha event at the WSOP for $369,354.  With 3 players left, I was far and away the shortest stack. Small Blind calls for 100,000 chips, I raise to 300,000 out of my 1.4 million chips with KKJ4. He calls. Flop came QJ9, and I did not have a backdoor flush draw. I bet 250,000 intending to call when my opponent went allin[4] Instead of going allin though, my opponent minraises me to 500,000 chips. At the time, I was worried that when he minraises me instead of going allin, that the probability of him having a straight had gone way up. Ultimately, I decided to stick all my chips in the middle and my opponent had me crushed with KT, the nut straight. Instead of being satisfied with my top 1% finish in a 387 person tournament for a bunch of money, I was disappointed and worried that I had made a mistake. Could I have gotten away and kept fighting?

Obviously if before the tournament you were to tell me this was going to be the result, I would have been thrilled. But now at that point in time, I have already locked up third place and that is the worst possible result I can finish. That is now my reality. And I think it is easy to take this mindset into our everyday lives https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill

After extended periods of serious poker, I sometimes stop feeling like myself. I start to feel like I have disconnected from my emotions. Because sometimes you are just going to take a brutal string of luck for an outrageous amount of EV… life changing money.  And you really have to shrug it off, because there is another hand being dealt. Or another tournament to play. And the inability to deal with this disappoint and frustration can ruin a career. People go off playing pit games and lose their life savings. There are players on tour who everyone knows are liable to blow up once things get rough.

So you stop feeling the excitement. And some people manage to not let the losses get to them. I feel like I sort of recalibrate myself to become as good of a gambler as possible . It’s really not natural for humans to be gambling huge and all the time. Tournament players enter events they know they are favorites to lose in a given day.In a typical tournament, the top 10% might make the money. There is a sliding payscale, each place closer to #1 gets a bit bigger prize. The best player in the field, even if he’s playing way better than everyone else, might make the money (typically top ten 10% of the field) 20% of the time. Twice, as often as he’s supposed to, very impressive. But that means 80% of the time he still walks away with nothing. [5]

Humans are “supposed” to learn that something bad just happened to us. Our instinct is to make sure we don’t do it again. But we train ourselves to put our hands on the stove, and keep at it . I think over time, it takes a toll… I always am so relieved when the WSOP is over.*[6]

 

In some cases, the question of how much your soul is worth can be calculated. If you could make 10x the money you currently make but have to live somewhere unpleasant… would you do it? What about 2x? What if you would make significantly more money on a nocturnal schedule due to the routine of some weaker players? What if your plan was just to do it for two years and then have more time to pursue personal projects? These kind of questions can be tough to answer.

I also find it hard when asked if I am going to be playing poker for the rest of my life. On the one hand, the idea of a job sounds so crazy to me. On the other hand, when I look and see some of these live pros who have been playing poker for 20 years, it’s a little scary. They are not usually the most chipper bunch, quite often they are pretty crude individuals. If I were to turn into one of them, I must have made some mistakes along the way. People often say “ just try something else, and see what you think of it.” But what if after really attempting something, I decided that I missed poker. Or  the lifestyle it provided. Or I was inspired by a project that needed funding, and the most efficient way would be for me to play poker. If I were to take an extended break, who’s to say if I could still be near the top?

Non poker wise, I still sometimes find that I am paralyzed by decision making. Even if it is something that truly doesn’t matter, I try to calculate the expected value of both options to a painstaking degree. This is something I would like to improve, but I find it hard to turn off my brain.

I also would like to be able to improve my focus. There is no need for me to be constantly rechecking the pokerstars lobby to see who is winning at 1k/2k triple draw[7], or to be checking skype to see if anyone has posted in my group chat, or checking to see how many retweets my last tweet has gotten.

I am a big waitbutwhy fan[8], and enjoyed their explanation about procrastination http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html

Part 3:  Drugs

I have decided to be fully honest, and open up about my experiences. This involves some drug use, but I don’t want to make it come across like I made these decisions lightly. I even felt obligated to include these few paragraphs below which is my attempt at a disclaimer.

 For several years, I had decided I wasn’t in a place where I wanted to rock the boat with any psychedelics. I think it’s important not to force these things. Drugs can be a very intense experience, and I think it is important to respect that.

        With that being said, the idea that the FDA has the best idea of what is safe to put in my body is ludicrous. I sometimes have a hard time falling asleep, especially after I play poker. If I were go to a doctor, I could get some very serious, and potentially harmful drugs… but the idea is that smoking a plant might somehow be worse for me? How is that the status quo ? I have friends who can’t smoke weed, because they might get drug tested. But somehow abusing adderall and alcohol and ambien is OK?   I found the fall Time Magazine: Marijuana Goes Main Street to be informative, especially with giving an idea as to how the laws came into place.

        There are studies that show some medicinal benefits of taking mushrooms, acid, and MDMA, specifically in depression, PTSD, and substance abuse. Anecdotally, on the infrequent times I have experimented, I feel like I come out feeling inspired and having learned something about the world. The drug induced closeness from the night before will often linger on. I  did once have a rough come down the next morning, but the lessons I learned about myself was worth the cost.

There are some things you can do to make it more likely that you will have a good time. I like to be well educated on what I am taking. I find that having some sort of idea of what is going to happen, and an approximate range of times when it will happen, makes me feel easier with the whole process.  I usually wear a stopwatch, and track how much time has passed so I have a better idea of the situation. There are sometimes supplements you can take that will help, such as 5-HTP.

I would strongly recommend testing your supplies. Especially if you do not have a reliable source, sometimes they can be cut with something you do not want to put in your body. These tests are very easy to use. https://dancesafe.org/product/complete-adulterant-screening-kit

        I enjoyed this brief youtube video on the topic of the medicinal benefits of psychedelics https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=379&v=sPZU6tx4AQk

Part 4: Burning Man Trip Report

Monday-Tuesday

On the 13 hour drive into Burning Man,  I was really excited about the self reflecting, bonding with my friends, escaping from society and technology… I just remember thinking why are we off to the desert? For all the costs we were paying such as: roundtrip flights into Vegas, inflated round trip flights to Reno, (book them early people!! they are going to sell out!), costumes, tickets… I remember thinking if we were going to be spending money, why couldn’t we go on a spiritual journey at say, a fancy resort with running water or at least milder weather conditions. Having been there, I now understand why. Getting to experience a place as close to without judgment as possible is a really freeing experience. It’s easy to forget how many things there are to be self conscious about. But when you have 70,000 people who all buy into a different kind of environment, it’s really contagious.

During the first day, I remember that I didn’t really believe in the Burning Man idea. I was going through the motions, but I didn’t feel at home. I remember washing some extra dishes, but it wasn’t for some inherent idea about the good of the Burn…I just wanted to be off the hook another day if I was too hungover to get out of bed.

Before the first night out, I was trying to formulate a plan. I couldn’t decide what substances, if any, I was going to be on. I heard everyone rave about the first time experiencing the playa. “It’s a life changing experience. You will never see anything like it again.” So I put extra significance into the situation, tried to analyze all the possible permutations of the week, and how I was best going to MAXIMIZE MY LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCE.

Should I stay stone sober for the evening? Try to soak up what Burning Man really is, and try to get my bearings? What it really is… what does that even mean anyway? I could start sober, and trip later. But that would mean I wouldn’t be tripping with the others. Would that reduce bonding opportunities between? What if I got lost? Or feel uncomfortable tripping in such a large group? Unsuccessfully, I tried to solve a cost benefit analysis.

I ended up settling on starting off sober and re-evaluating[9]. Most of the rest of our group took some liquid psilocybin. [10]

We ride our bikes into the playa and start exploring. Other members in the group are giggling. I remember thinking that I was enjoying myself, but I was not experiencing anything life changing… it was just pretty cool. The whole gravity of the situation hadn’t set in yet THAT WE ARE ALL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FREAKING DESERT, AND THIS PERSON JUST HAPPENED TO CREATE A FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON SOLELY FOR THE PURPOSE OF ENTERTAINING US.. I decided to try to get on everyone else’s level. I took a gram of psilocybin.

I started tripping very quickly. We are riding our bikes around checking out cool shit, when I remember thinking that I would like to lay down. It seemed like a few other group members were in a similar situation. We just happen to pass a beautiful pulsing LED wave pattern set to classical music that you could lie underneath (http://burningman.org/event/brc/2015-art-installations/#Firmament). The playa provides.

Soon, I realize that the visualizations I see when I close my eyes are even more significant than in the firmament . When I close my eyes, I am trying to look in at my inner self. I sort of feel like I am close to having a breakthrough, similar to the guided meditation years ago, but before I can breakthrough, external stimulus keeps distracting me. Most of the group wants to move on from the light show and keep exploring. Some people are shrooming too hard and want to head back to camp. I go with them; this breakthrough felt close. We bike back for 10 minutes, and I lay down in the hammock. I close my eyes, but the potential deep meditative breakthrough is gone. I felt guilty for not having more fun… It’s my first night at BurningMan, not even midnight, and I’m just laying in the hammock at my own camp.  I’m in an introverted, quiet mood on what is supposed to be the best night of my life. Some other people I didn’t know where also coming back to camp, but I was tripping on shrooms. I couldn’t go talk to strangers. They would see me. TRIPPING ON MUSHROOMS. I stayed on the hammock for a bit, caught in my own head.

Fortunately, some of my close friends came back and found me. I was immediately thrilled to see them, and able to socialize again. It’s amazing how quickly I was able to get out of my own head in the right setting. Just a moment ago, it felt impossible.

My friends had heard that we didn’t do the Burning Man Virgin ceremony. Though it just involved a little playa dust and some primal yelling, the ritual felt very comforting.  I immediately felt like Burning Man was home, and I was inspired. I went out, I talked to strangers, I saw ridiculous things, I bonded with my friends. Someone got hungry, and happened to know that we were only two blocks from a camp called “Moon Cheese.” They make grilled cheese between the hours of 9-12 at  B and 9. Burning Man.

So we go exploring, and I keep having the “OH MY GOD WE ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT” realization. I start thinking about all the time that is spent by people on these amazing creations, just so that we can enjoy them. What a ridiculous concept.

I start thinking about the total costs of Burning Man. 70,000 people paying $500 for a ticket plus food, accommodation, party supplies… it is a big number. And I think about how many lives that money could feed, what a change it could make on the world. If this just total madness? But we also get to experience this unrivaled inspiration. Who knows how that might affect the world.

Wednesday:

Our camp was gigantic, over 100 people. For the most part, I was connecting with people I was already quite close with. I wanted to improve in my ability to interact with people I didn’t know so well. I sometimes meet a stranger with dread, worrying that it is going to turn into the exact same small talk I have had hundreds of times before. Whomever I am talking to would frequently pick up on my angst, and sense I’m uncomfortable, and this more or less ensures the conversation is not going to go well.

So, being an over analytical poker player, I talked to someone who seemed to thrive at it, and see if he had any recommendations for me. He said that me having this limiting belief about not being good at small talk, was in fact making me worse at small talk. The second suggestion was about a willingness to open us. People tend to reciprocate, and if you show vulnerability people will often respond very well. In the spirit of Burning Man, I gave it a go.

I sat down next to an older couple and say hello. I tell them about my Burning Man experience thus far. I open up about lessons I feel I have already learned, and issues that I am still struggling with. Very quickly, we are in the middle of a serious heart felt conversation. She is telling me about how she first went to her first Burn when she was 45 years old. She was self conscious about being single, and worried about her future. But at Burning Man, she learned that age is just a number, and she regained a lot of her confidence. She ended up meeting her husband that week, and they have been happily married for 18 years.  BURNING MAN!

        That, night we went to Opulent Temple for their annual white party. I ended up putting 500 milligrams of molly and mixing it into a gatorade bottle. I used a marker to identify certain points so I would know how much I was taking and when. I started off with ⅓ of the bottle. Our group is listening to music, dancing, having a great time. It was a great start, but I am going to gloss over this part (realize how wild Burning Man when I am ignoring a 5000 person rave on ecstasy with great DJs , acoustics , environment etc etc).  

About 90 minutes after my initial, I redosed. Things were progressing normally, until all of a sudden I was overwhelmed. I went from having a fun night to OH MY GOD THIS IS THE BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE AND THE WORLD IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE. I felt like I truly loved and appreciated myself for the first time. I was able to respect the gravity of what I have been through and accomplish. I had never had experienced this before, but I strongly felt that I was in the middle of a defining moment of my life. In that moment, I was certain that I was special. And knowing that I was special, it made me want to make a positive change in the world.

Thursday

        I was coming off of the best night of my life and woke up feeling great. I decide that night to half a hit of acid with friends. In the past the idea of LSD had scared me. I had been worried that something with my dad might trigger a bad trip. The length of the trip scared me a bit as well (acid can last up to ~12 hours). But Burning Man really felt like as comfortable of an environment as possible for it. If I were to find myself stuck in my own head, I thought there would be enough bright shiny things to pull my way out of it. Plus a friend of ours is trained on how to deal with people having difficult trips. It seemed like a good situation to explore myself.

I end up putting a half tab of acid on my tongue. I started a timer on my watch, so I would have some idea of when effects were starting to kick in. We bike around as a group checking out these ridiculously trippy exhibits.

        A few of my favorites include 1)http://flaminglotus.com/art/the-serpent-mother/

2) https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/50487042/love-burning-man

3) Tripper Trapper:

Here is a list of other exhibits http://burningman.org/event/brc/2015-art-installations/

I’m having an absolute blast exploring, but I also am struggling to be a human. I get lost in thought trying to put on my bike lock. “Hmmm, what am  I doing. Oh right, I’m putting on a bike lock. And why am I doing that?  I guess so no one steals my bike. And why is it MY bike…?”

It is an interesting perspective when you are questioning literally everything you have ever known. One of the things that fascinates me about drugs is the different change in reality. We only get to see life through our point of view. And that is unbelievably hard to comprehend. No one can have any idea what it’s like to be Dan Smith. And just tiny change in chemicals in your brain[11] could make you so different in so many ways.

And I could know someone really well, but on some level, I just have no idea how they perceive the world. Psychedelics are interesting in that you get a new way to see the world, if even just for a few hours.

We check out this multi story exhibit. On the top floor, there are chalkboards everywhere. I see someone giving a very thorough explanation for what a hypercube is. More and more people start crowding around and the discussion gets more scientific. Out come the diagrams.

hypercube

And then right next to it, I see it. Half dick. Half shark. Dick shark.[12]

FullSizeRender 2

I am really enjoying myself until we get to this massive concert. I find myself getting more and more uncomfortable. I am even unsure whether I am still tripping. I start thinking about all of the things I don’t like in that instant. I can’t see the stage. It’s crowded. I’m not into the music. I make a comment to a friend about feeling uncomfortable. She laughs and says, “Try jumping up down and yelling WOOOO.” And goddamnit, jumping up and down yelling woo surrounded by people in incredible outfits is just enough to remind you that everything is awesome.

Still, our group decides to split off from the dancers and keep exploring. We are biking around deep playa, when I see a man in the distance spinning a blue neon rope in front of his face. I ask my friend “What could possibly motivate someone to spin a light in front of their face in the middle of the desert so far away from all the people?” And he has no idea.

I’m inspired to meet this guy, who I assume must be on all sorts of crazy drugs. I go up to him and say hello, Up close, I see he’s not alone, but he is laying on someone’s lap. I realize the neon light he is spinning, is to make himself more visible, so that no one rides him over on a bike. And to my knowledge, he wasn’t on any crazy drugs. We have a brief, but nice chat. I remember being surprised when he took an interest in me. He was asking me questions, and seemed genuinely interested to hear about how my first Burn is going. And I remember thinking “What does it say about the world, that when a stranger takes a genuine interest in your well being, it’s a surprise?”

Our group explored for a bit while we waited for the sunrise. One of the things I like about festivals is the opportunity to talk about things we usually don’t have time for in society.  Here we got to ponder the meaning of life, what is love12, discuss dreams for the future, and troubleshoot things in our lives we were unhappy with. it was great. And when the sun finally rose, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Friday-Saturday: I wake up Friday feeling inspired about the world. Everything seems clearer. I am reminded that the world is a beautiful place. I had decided last night I should see the temple. Even though the Temple at Burning Man is only around for a week before it is burned, you can feel the emotion inside, just by looking at it.

Previously, I might have thought the idea to writing to someone who had died was just a waste of time. But I felt like it could be a healing process, and I gave it a go. I wrote a letter to my dad to bring to the temple. I cried a lot while writing it, and it took me several hours, but I eventually wrote something I was pleased with. I headed over to the temple. On the way, I realized that I meant to take a picture on my phone to save a copy. I decided maybe there would be something therapeutic about spending time writing something, just to let it burn.

I go inside the temple and I start crying uncontrollably. I get consoled by this couple. I open up to them about how Burning Man has changed my life. It turns out they are working on a documentary about the movement and want to do an interview with me https://www.facebook.com/goingfurthur . The parlay of events that led to me getting interviewed outside the Temple reading the letter to my Dad felt pretty remarkable.

The next day I felt motivated to share my story. I showed up to center camp during open mic to read a piece I wrote about how Burning Man has changed my life. Before I go on and read my somber piece, a guy shares a story about where the punch line is him accidentally jizzing all over his own face.  Burning Man!

Aftermath: I fly back to Toronto, and it was a cold, windy, day. Despite the miserable conditions, I was enjoying myself.  After a strong gust of wind, I was trying to figure out how the wind could possibly change directions. [13]  The difficulty of holding onto my umbrella was somehow fun to me. This really seems like the characteristics of a happy person, compared to someone not that long ago who was burdened with depression.

6000 words in, and I haven’t even come close to answering  “What is Burning Man?” As cliche as this sounds, I think of a blank canvas, and you can really make anything out of it.  I had the best week of my life, filled with some crazy adventures, intense bonding, and valuable life lessons.

And this is my gift to the Burn.

 


[1] I have heard many people recommend 8 Minute Meditation, but I have not read it. Other books I have had friends recommend to me but have not yet gotten to reading are The Power of Now and The Relaxation Response

[2] With several goals, including meditation, I found that writing down my plan on a sheet of a paper to be helpful. Here it was no longer an arbitrary  idea, but a more tangible thing that I wanted to accomplish.

[3] I’ve been loving DFW lately, which is why I’m using so many footnotes

[4] With less than 2x pot and an overpair and a gutshot I can’t really imagine doing anything else.

[5] The results can be pretty horrifying. If you cash at a 13% rate, 30% better than the field, you are still 25% to miss the money 10x in a row! In the midst of a losing streak, it’s easy to play even worse, which in turn can make losing streaks even more likely…

[6] Every summer I tell myself that this summer I am going to take it easy and not play so many hours… maybe next summer!

[7] Isildur, obviously

[9] Whenever I don’t know what to do, I try to let future Dan deal with the situation

[10] If you were going to try mushrooms,  I really enjoy these. Compared to just nibbling on some dry mushrooms and going through the typical Monologue. “Hmmm am I tripping? It’s been an hour, am I still coming up or should I eat some more ”  These set in much quicker, in 10-30 minutes, have a much shorter duration, and you can measure out the exact dosing you want to take, see how you feel and adjust pretty easily. Because the psilocybin has already been extracted, your body doesn’t have to break the physical mushrooms, which can cause upset stomachs

[11] Assuming I can use the metric system, I took 1/1,000,000,000 of my body weight in acid.

[12] These were 2 of the 5 photos I took while at Burning Man. Oops.

[13] science

Burning Man Blog