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A Follow-up on X, after 12 years
Dec 1, 2019, 10:19p - Life

Man, it has been almost 3 years since my last blog post. Having a kid sure does make time scarce in a way I had never experienced.

I found myself writing a long email response to a stranger on an important topic, so I figured that could be a blog post.

He wrote:
I came across you while considering the BOSS survival camp. And in doing so, I came across your old blog and was very intrigued by your experience at BOSS and your quest for "X" after the fact. I see you have sponsored some students in the past for BOSS and even done your own experiments to re-capture "X". I am curious to know your findings and if it was possible to re-capture for an extended period of time. With "X" being so amazing and creating a euphoria, is knowing what it is like and now not being able to obtain it a bad thing (making things now mundane)? Or still worth it knowing what it is like/what is possible?

I have been considering the 28-day BOSS class for the past 3 years, but have not fully committed yet due to financial and time-constraints. I'm not only interested in the survival skills learned, but also to become more self-aware and appreciative of life and daily occurrences. This "X" is very intriguing to me.

Thank you for your time and I hope me reaching out isn't an inconvenience.

So here is my response:

Thanks for the email. Yeah, X was never something I expected to experience post-BOSS, and it was the most significant effect of BOSS. It is difficult to describe to others who have not experienced it, and even if you understand it on a cognitive level you don't really understand it until you understand it at the experiential level (which I guess is true of most important things in life). X is also an ambiguous term, as I've talked with several friends post-survival school about X, and for a moment I think we are talking about the same thing, and then after more discussion I learn that maybe we aren't - or maybe we are. The phenomenon/experience itself requires further defining and articulation, but I've done what I can with the blog post. Here is a little more:

Post-BOSS, after returning to civilization, I had an experience of X that lasted from August to October, or about 1-2 months. X is multi-faceted and it at least involved the absence of all anxiety (which I had never experienced before) and a sensitization to the everyday pleasures of life: Love (seeing people hold hands made me feel warm - I had never experienced that before); Food (every flavor was a novel, savored experience, and my stomach had shrunk, so both features together meant I ate everything slowly; as an example, over 1 day of a road trip I ate just 1 cookie my girlfriend had baked; also, food was so amazing that I didn't want to talk to anyone while I was eating, as talking distracted from the experience in front of me - now, I can barely eat without having a conversation in parallel); and the Basic Comforts of shelter, a bed, a shower, and not having to walk everywhere (driving truly is marvelous).

Note that X happened when I came back; it was not present during survival school. During survival school I was mostly in a state of deprivation - hungry, cold, wet.

When X was gone, I wondered 1) if it could be recreated outside of survival school, and 2) if it was a 1-time thing or could be experienced over-and-over. I never went back to survival school, so I don't yet know if it was a 1-time thing. But I tried a couple experiments to see if I could recreate it outside survival school. In the first experiment, while in grad school, over 28 days, I ate the same diet as in survival school and walked 6 miles a day (to simulate the hiking done in survival school) to and from the lab. I lost the same weight I had lost in survival school (about 20 pounds, dropping from 160 lb to 140 lb), but I barely had any X after I was finished. So that was a big disappointment. In the second experiment, my friend who had also done BOSS and I went on a 7-day BOSS-style trip to Yosemite. We took the same limited supplies and rations. My friend was smoking a lot and in very bad shape, and it was so easy to quit, so we only lasted 2 nights before we bailed. Suffice it to say that we again did not experience X.

The real test for me is to go back on another 28-day trip. I have a son now so this is much more difficult, so it probably won't happen for another 15 years or so. Perhaps sooner. But my need to go back has also waned. I think part of the reason might be some of the long-term effects of BOSS and other changes in my life since BOSS (which was now 12 years ago).

Knowing what X is like and not being able to attain it again has not been a bad thing for me. Just knowing it exists perks me up. But this will likely depend on your personality. My friend who did BOSS (and who I went to Yosemite with) got very depressed after X went away. So I can't tell how one might respond to its loss. My friend has said that being at Burning Man has elements of X in it - I have not been yet but am very interested to go one day to see this for myself. This might also be a clue as to why I was not able to recreate X in my experiments, and I have more to say about this, perhaps at another time.

Read comments (3) - Comment

cptobv - Dec 3, 2019, 4:53p
i experienced x with lsd. no anxiety, food was better, etc

nikhil - Dec 3, 2019, 5:03p

Does X occur every time you take LSD? How long does X last - only while you are on LSD, or after?

Kirk Carlson - Aug 17, 2023, 12:28p
Definitely are not missing anything. Nothing today seems close to what they were in the past. In fact for the little bit of euphoria you get you have so much more in consequences. It makes sense that as we advance in science that the people making things would get better at making sure you want more. It's like it's purposely designed to do very little other than make sure you want more and before long there is no stopping. Fortunately thanks to boss training when I came across it I could tell something was wrong and kept my distance.

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