Eric Fisher was an early employee at Facebook and helped them design their social strategy. He now runs a company called Mindful Improv which helps individuals and companies find chaos in the rigidity of modern life. Below is a transcript of our conversation.
Eric introduces himself and explains his current passion which is mindful improv. He teaches groups of people how to respond mindfully to social situations. He explains some exercises that he uses at the beginning of class.
He talks about how he helps beginners get through initial blocks and past their fears of opening up in front of an audience. Stewart then brings up his experience as a beginner in Salsa and how when we begin anything we are only aware of a small fraction of the stimuli that is being presented to us. After we start to improve whole new layers of awareness open up.
Eric explains how he views teaching and how its really important to impart to new students only one thing about what they are learning. He has people focus on their emotional experience. Whether they are fearful or excited? This brings people into how they are feeling now. He says that mindful improv is about helping people develop a practice of it not only in the class itself but in their lives as well. Stewart brings up how this is one of the most important parts of a meditation practice as well: to bring the practice into daily life.
Eric explains how he has been practicing disciplined mindfulness practices for several years now and has taken notes. He shows how no matter how much we practice some things just continuously come up and we have to learn how to deal with these issues and not wish them away.
We talk about how Eric doesn't really have a formal practice and that he really tries to bring the practice into daily life. He mentions that many friends of his try to convert him into a formal meditation practice. From Eric's perspective, he is already aware, at least a little bit, in everyday life. Awareness is always present so its a better practice to just heighten that awareness in everyday life as opposed to setting off a time where we do it.
Stewart mentions how historically he would have disagreed with Eric about the necessity of having a daily formal sitting meditation practice, but how over the last couple years he has started to see it differently. Any technique is just a crutch that makes the conditions more favorable to drop into a meditative state. The meditative state is what we are looking to engender, not the technique. Humans have a way of turning positives experiences into stable beliefs, but these beliefs are not accurate indicators of reality.
Eric mentions that culture itself is a byproduct of these stable beliefs. He explains the process of ego development in a young child. The infant starts off as just pure consciousness. There is no separation between the baby and its environment. The baby just is. As it starts to develop, the baby takes on communication with the family and starts to develop a sense of self. The baby starts to develop likes and dislikes.
At some point, the individual then becomes conscious of this conditioning and they have an opportunity to make a shift to say "Oh now I'm an individual and I am on my own". In reality its difficult to do this because the process of the individual's relationship to the environment continues. We are always conditioned to the environment around us. There is no separate self.
Eric goes on to explain how formal sitting practice might be helpful for someone who has a 9-5 job and needs a sense of structure to their practice to make it stick. Eric doesn't have this life. He talks about how his schedule is very erratic.
Stewart mentions that he often finds himself in a state of friction and that its difficult to remember in those times that those times are necessary for the creative times.
Eric mentions the cult of working hard that is endemic in the startup world. He believes that this type of deification of work is unnecessary. He mentions that most work and conversation are worthless and busywork.
Eric mentions the importance of being clear from the outset as to what the people working on a task are doing. He says that many of his friends are working long hours in something that they supposedly like, but then end up totally drained at the end of the week.
He talks about how work environments lead to people stealing energy from each other. He mentions that with his company Mindful Improv, he teaches people how to share energy with each other which leads to lots of exponential benefits.
We drastically switch topics to how Eric uses marijuana to improve his meditation practice. He says that it helps him to do problem-solving and increases his sensitivity.
He talks about his personality and how he tends to always be in problem-solving mode. He says other people used to tell him that he overanalyzes anything and he agrees, but at the same time, it is a gift as well. Weed helps him tap into this more frequently.
Stewart asks Eric whether he has any negative aspects of his marijuana use. He says that after intense analyzation and note taking he can't find any real drawbacks to its use. Sometimes he has to police his use and he checks in to see whether it is a problem, but he hasn't been able to find any.
Stewart explains about the endocannabinoid system and how its the oldest system in the body. It reacts directly with cannabinoids or cannabis. An Israeli researcher found something called Anandamide when researching cannabis and named it after Ananda, or the unconditional bliss that arises once you tap into a meditative state. Anandamide naturally occurs in the body, but if the endocannabinoid system doesn't produce it naturally due to trauma or other conditions, the body can react favorably to cannabis.
Stewart talks about plant medicines and how they make it clear that we are not separate selves and we are in a constant relationship with the outside environment. Eric brings up how the cells in our body are constantly changing.
We bring it back to Mindful improv and how relationship is really important and maybe one of the most important places to bring mindfulness into. Conversation is not a real thing. They are symbols of reality. They are not reality itself. Language is a construct that humans created.
Eric explains how his sense of self developed. He never felt like he fit in with the kids at school. He never liked the noise. Kids usually create an identity for you. This leads to a sense of self and kids who are bullied usually need to develop a protective shell by becoming what they think they are as opposed to what the other kids say.
Eric talks about how the ego develops and how we find ourselves in romantic relationships with people who fall in love with the false ego we have created. Then when the partner starts to change from the thing that we fall in love with, we fall out of love with them because they aren't the person we fell in love with.
Stewart brings up how the sense of self is changing just like everything else, as much Buddhist wisdom points to. Everything is impermanent.
Eric brings up the fact that many humans are tied to an emotional connection with people and people are balls of emotional baggage. It's important to be careful with those we choose to be an emotional connection with because everyone has stuff going on beneath the surface.
Stewart starts to tell his story of how he created his sense of self as an overweight nice kid who people liked, but was a bit of a loner and awkward. At the age of 19, he started smoking cannabis and his diet changed radically. Eric says "shouldn't you have eaten more because of the munchies". Stewart explains how he started to change his diet based on the input of cannabis. After Stewart lost the weight people treated him very differently.
Eric also has a similar story but with different storylines. He was thin and people treated him that way. He brings up the idea that its hard to tell what other people see when they look at us.
Stewart asks about Eric's practice and whether he has any practices that have to do with the breath. He says that anxiety is excitement without the breath and that for much of his life he hasn't been breathing.
He explains that he moved to San Diego and he took four months to just focus on breathing, weightlifting, yoga, and eating. He gained 16 pounds of muscle which went away right after he changed his diet. He tapped into a different way of breathing underneath the anxious breath. Weightlifting and yoga taught him how to find this deeper breath. He found this breath quite liberating because he decided to take this time after getting tired of constantly over analyzing everything. He could take all the energy of trying to analyze everything and just focus on being here now.
Stewart asks Eric whether he has any practices currently. Eric explains how he is now done with a five-year challenge where he moved to a new place every 6 months and practiced creating a new version of himself. He would meet totally new people and developed a new sense of self based on these new relationships with other people.
Stewart explains his own experience living in new countries for a year at a time and then came back to integrate it and then repeat in a new country. This experience allowed him to form a new more confident self who wasn't trapped by the boxes that other people placed him in. He became more confident and ready to take on challenges. The most difficult thing about this is coming back to family and having a total reversal of all this to come back and play the old family dynamics.
Eric explains how Boulder is great for him because he has a fast paced mind and Boulder is slowed. He can't live in fast-paced places because it's too intense. He had a moment in New York where he realized that he isn't even there when he is there. He says New York is a place of human doing, not of human beings. He says that in Boulder people are ok with just being.
Stewart asks Eric about the most important thing going on in his life right now. Eric says that a wise friend once told him that there are three phases in your life that you must go through. Number 1 is to figure out who you are. Number 2 is to figure out where you want to be. Number 3 is who you want to come along.
Stewart asks Eric about the balance between chaos and rigidity and how he deals with it. Eric says that mindful improv brings a lot of chaos into that. The ego creates rigidity. If you have a strong ego it makes it difficult to adapt to change. This applies to companies as well. He brings up that humans are the most adaptable species on earth.
Stewart brings up a theory from "Sapiens" by Yuval Harari about how grains and other vegetables used humans to make themselves more widespread.