Kevin Wammer

Kevin Wammer

Tells stories about life, geek culture, philosophy, lifestyle, and much more. WTF is a niche?

The shaman with the bank account

I didn't know shamans had man buns and goatees.

I was sitting on the floor of an apartment, on a cushion in a circle with three other people. A man who went by "the shaman" (but had the most basic Spanish name you could imagine), my fiancée and the shaman's younger blonde and blue-eyed assistant – who, it later turned out, was also his wife.

The room looked like your typical apartment room, built in the 90s when they used wooden floors that cracked when you walked on them, beige walls and high ceilings.

The walls were plastered with images of Aztec gods (or are these Mayans?), every interpretation of the Buddha, Yin Yang symbols and mandalas. There were gongs and different drums of Southern American nature I had never seen before. And a lot of books. Weird books. Books that seem to come with a lifetime subscription of healing crystals and essential oils.

We were here because this shaman invited us to be part of a "sacred, ancient ceremony", he explained with his thick accent. "The bufo will open up our spirit and help us be one with the universe. "


Bufo stands for Bufo alvarius, the Latin name of a toad native to Mexico and parts of the United States. This toad releases toxins through glands on its skin that could easily kill a small animal. But when dried, the poison evaporates and what remains is 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin, both molecules classified as hallucinogens.

So yes, psychedelics. This sacred tradition the shaman referred to was smoking psychedelics. And how ancient is this tradition? The first time anyone recorded the practice of smoking toad toxin was in... the 1970s.


The shaman wanted to help us on this journey but first needed to know why. What did we need healing from? He took, in turn, our left hands in both of his "to feel what the heart will tell me". He started with my girlfriend, asked a few questions, talked about her relationship with her parents and seemed to guess quickly what the issue was. He spoke of her energy, what it was telling him, how it was beautiful but melancholic energy.

I wonder if my energy is beautiful. Do I have good energy? Wait, do I have sad energy?

He turned to me. Took my hand in his. Felt my energy, "oh, so beautiful." Ha! "But I also see a lot of sadness!" I knew it.

He looked at me, saw the tattoos on the insides of both of my forearms. "What do they mean?" I showed him the left tattoo, "a vegvisir, an Icelandic symbol". He interrupted me: "Ah, yes, I felt your Viking ancestor speak to me!" Technically, my ancestors are Italian, so more gladiator than Viking? "And this?" I explained the second one, and all the others, too. He didn't seem to like them:

"The body is a sacred temple, and we have to treat it with respect." He let go of my hand, leaned back and put his hand on his belly that made him look more like a new-age version of Budai, the fat Buddha, than of a kale smoothie loving and quinoa bowl eating yoga instructor.

He went on, "our body is a source of energy, one with the universe. There are no cells in our bodies, and we are made of stardust that connects us to all creation." Well, yeah, we are composed of molecules composed of elements. And these have been created by stars, so you are technically correct? "We know everything we need to know already. Which is why diseases can't harm us." Sorry?

Then suddenly, he asked: "Are you vaccinated?" "Like in general or against Covid? Three times against Covid got the booster not even a week ago." My arm still hurt from the injection.

He seemed disappointed. "You see, the vaccine..." Oh, no! "... contains tiny micro-blades, which..." Wait, what? "... will get into your brain and cut up your neurons and destroy your inner eye." My fucking what now? "Because science doesn't want to heal us, it wants to control us by keeping us sick." What is he on? Well, I know what he is on, but what is he on?! I looked at the assistant-wife, who nodded and assured me: "Yes, it's dangerous. People died from the vaccine." From the vaccine? The Covid-vaccine?!

By then, I blanked. I saw his mouth moving, but I couldn't hear his words anymore. I had heard enough. I was ready to leave. All I needed was a sign from my fiancée. I'm done. Say the word, and we'll leave. Or cough, touch my hand, look at me, throw something at the shaman, throw something at me. Just do something, anything, please.

I glanced at her, faking a smile, though now I am not so sure if I didn't resemble Melpomene much more than Thalia. She was looking at the shaman, nodding. Wait, is she still listening? Does she freaking believe him?

(She was, in fact, not freaking believing him. She wasn't even listening but mastered the art of pretend-listen. So, we stayed.)

"We will start the preparation now; please follow my wife to do some breathwork to be calm and receptive for the energy".


Breathwork I know. I have been meditating for the last ten or so years. I have been to retreats, was at least once subscribed to every guided meditation app in existence, and read all the meditation books by all the meditation teachers.

But I never had any sort of enlightenment, any of the cognitive breakthroughs longtime practitioners can experience. No dissolution of the ego, no oneness with the universe, no non-duality of anything. Despite all my efforts, I had no such experience, ever.

This is why I wanted to turn to psychedelics and hallucinogens. According to my research, they are a shortcut to "enlightenment" for at least the duration of the effects. So that I know what to expect if I ever get there through meditation alone.

And this is why I went to the shaman. I wanted the shortcut.


The shaman with the Spanish name heated a glass pipe, started to sing, pray, hold the pipe in all kinds of directions and then handed it to my fiancée. He told her to inhale.

Barely a few seconds after, she zoned out. Her arms became heavy and dropped to her side, her mouth fell open, and the shaman helped her lay down. "Now, we will start a journey."

He continued singing in Spanish some of the time, and in a language I had never heard before some other time. My fiancée was lying peacefully on the floor, physically there but mentally not really.

He handed me the pipe, let me inhale and helped me lay down.

Ok, my turn. Any second now!

Bufo, or rather 5-MeO-DMT, is an intense but relatively short experience, and it peaks a minute after inhalation and can last up to around 30 minutes. Practitioners report out of body experiences, whiteouts, feelings of oneness with the universe, and strong open eye visuals. I was ready for all of that.

So, I waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

But I felt nothing. I was lying on the floor, looking at the ceiling, listening to this guy singing, waiting for any experience whatsoever, but all I felt was awkwardness.

Something went wrong. Where did I fuck up? I don't know how to inhale smoke, maybe I messed it up? Mister Shaman, Sir, could I have some more? It's not that very comfortable lying here. I would like to be one with God, a god, any god. I mean, I'd even hug Zeus if he shows up.

Zeus didn't hear my thoughts, but apparently, the shaman did because he handed me the pipe again, and this time I inhaled as hard as I could.

And finally, I felt something. My body became heavy, my arms and legs felt limp. I wanted to move them to see if I still could, yet I didn't want to.

Soon I will finally know what it means to feel enlightenment, right? Right?!

Not right. The heaviness of the body is all I felt. My mind remained lucid throughout the whole experience, which was pretty boring. I have been lying on floors before, and this floor was nothing special. It was also very cold.

I didn't experience any psychoactive effects. I couldn't get into the mood, still shocked by the supposed micro-blades swimming through my body to cut up my head and turn it into mush because science wants to control me. Me! A random 30-year-old guy from Luxembourg!

After what felt like an eternity, the shaman and his wife helped us up and handed us a glass of water before teaching us how to drink that water sacredly. (Two hands on the glass, one on the bottom, to infuse it with energy or something, in two big gulps, and with the remaining few drops in the glass, you cleanse your body. No soap needed.)

I started laughing. So did Mister shaman and assistant-wife. I don't think we laughed for the same reason.

This was all too ridiculous. In search of enlightenment or whatever the fuck you want to call it, I ended up on the living room floor of anti-vaxxers and smoked something. I doubt any frog was ever involved in the whole procedure. (My girlfriend later told me she felt no psychoactive effects, either.)

We stood up. The shaman grabbed our hands again and told us how we had just experienced this sacred, holy journey together. How we are now closer to godhood, and one with the universe and on the path on healing and what else. He smiled and looked at his wife. She smiled, too. Then asked:

"So... Do you want to pay by cash or card?"

PSA: No more newsletter on the blog

A little public service announcement to start the day. This goes primarily out to my RSS-readers, of which, I believe, there are a few.

I took the decision not to publish the newsletter on the blog anymore. It didn't work out, I didn't like the way it was presented, and I feel it doesn't fit the blog's theme.

I explain more in today's email (it goes out in one hour). You can always sign up for free with this link. But to give you a tl;dr, I wrote:

To me, my blog posts are a bit more on the serious side, while the newsletter is a bit sillier, a bit more personal, a bit less sculpted. If the blog is the equivalent of a carefully crafted and rehearsed stand-up show, the newsletter is the small, private club where I try things out.
Publishing the newsletter on kvn.li blurred the line for me a bit too much and just made it feel... redundant? Same same but not very different? So it has to go. Bye-bye newsletter on the blog.

And to be fully transparent, I am also wondering if I want to take my newsletter paid. To quote me again:

I am currently considering to maybe take the Letters of Clio one day paid. Lock it behind a subscription. My goal is not to get rich, but at least cover my expenses.

And:

But before you panic and hit the unsubscribe button: Whoever signed up before the eventual switch to a paid subscription will continue getting these emails for free, forever.

So, if you like my writing, want more of it, and especially for free, you can subscribe to my newsletter here.

Thanks for listening.

Twelve (mostly) Truths on Money

As mentioned in my Tsundoku for December, I went deep into a financial rabbit hole. When I came back out, I hadn't found any rabbits, but I came packing a few money truths. I share them below. They are in no particular order.


But before, a note on why I even read (past tense, I hate that word) these books:

I know the theory, especially the big stuff. The stuff your grandparents keep spitting at you. The stuff like "live below your means", "save x per cent of your income and invest it", "don't buy things you don't need".

Nothing new here. But... I'm human, and I'm anything but rationale (no one is, see below). I resemble my dog more than I want to admit: Whenever I see a shiny new thing, my brain goes into squirrel mode and shouts, "Oh, want! Must have! Now! My survival depends on this! Where's my credit card?".

I guess this is what it means to be human? So, these rules are not there to show you how well I can read. Or how intelligent I am – quite the opposite, actually. I am stupid, and I need to remind myself not to be a financial idiot by looking at them regularly.

And now, back to your regular programming. The actual rules:


  • Money doesn't buy happiness, but it surely helps to have enough (what can be considered "enough" is strictly personal).
  • People often mistake what they want. They think they want to buy possessions when they want to buy freedom.
  • Money is a tool, and it's neither good nor bad. Wanting to have more money is also neither good nor bad.
  • The pie is growing/infinite. Someone else doesn't have to lose for you to win.
  • Time is the single most powerful force in investing.
  • Humans can't be rational (no, you aren't either). We should at least be reasonable.
  • It doesn't matter how wealthy you are. Everyone should always live below their means. (This is the truth numero uno.)
  • Investing (into bonds/ETFs, etc.) is a sure way to grow money, but a slow one.
  • There is such a thing as getting rich quickly (quickly still taking a few years), but there is no such thing as getting rich easily.
  • Most debt is bad, but not all debt is bad. Credit card debt is bad. Financing a car, you could buy cash because you want to deduct it from your taxes could be considered "good" debt.
  • Becoming rich is a process, not an event. (And you have to go through the process. This is why lottery winners lose their money as fast as they win it.)
  • Everyone has different needs. Write yours down, and don't play someone else's game. (Don't mistake their game for yours.)

These are nowhere close to all the things I learned during my reading. But it's what remained with me the most. They might not all make sense taken out of context, as here in this blog post.

Why I plan to look at some of these truths in more detail in the future.

Sources (Click this)

In case you care, here are the books I got these truths from:
The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco
Die With Zero by Bill Perkins
The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
Happy Money by Ken Honda

The Letters of Clio #7 — Welcome to 2022, time to take a stance

Hello, good morning, happy New Year. I am clio, and this is a Letter of Clio, a weekly newsletter about... stuff!


The holiday breaks were refreshing. Both to my mind and my body. That's what soaking in a jacuzzi 24/7 does to you, it seems. (If I have awakened something in you, I'm sorry and... you are welcome? But no, I don't have an OnlyFans. I'll ping you if (when?) I'll create one.)

As promised in last week's letter, I have not touched my phone during my stay abroad (except twice to wish my family Merry Christmas — I am not a monster—and a friend happy birthday).

It has been surprisingly easy to go offline, which I believe came with the place. We were at a wellness hotel, staying at one of a couple of swimming pools for most of the day. That's not a place to bring a smartphone, though I had the Kindle on me all the time. And oh, did I read — five books in four days. I inhaled books. Finished one, breathed in, started the next. My mind was on reading overdrive. And despite how tedious it might sound, it calmed me down. This might be that famous "active rest" everyone talks about. Here is what I read, by the way.


I also had a lot of time to think. When you feed your mind good stuff, it tends to spit out good stuff. I experienced a few epiphanies, some personally, some on a professional level. For example, I have figured out where I want to take this blog. Finally. It only took me a few years:

I much rather want this blog to be some public notepad, where I share what I have learned by reading, observing the world, talking to people, and thinking in silence.

And:

I try to live a more or less good life while I can, and everything I learn follows that goal. This is why I care about philosophy, technology, science, human psychology, neuroscience, behavioural science, etc.

Finally:

So, to summarize in a sentence what my blog will be about:
„Essays on being human with a pinch of philosophy and a dab of science.“

Don't worry, I can't take myself seriously, so I hope my writing never becomes too — for the lack of a better term — stick up its ass.

And now to the link section:

What passed my radar

I am sorry, but we have to go down the web3 rabbit hole again. Don't hit the unsubscribe button yet!

Hyp3
Some thoughts on the “Web3” hype
We can all agree that there are legitimately cool things about “Web3”. And some things will undoubtedly be transformative in some industries, in certain ways. But if I had to guess the way this all plays out — which is what I do here on the internet — I would guess that all of this is not nearly as transformative as the hype might suggest.

I am still trying to understand the web3 discussion fully and feel I slowly know what I have to know. And the gist is: this will introduce a bunch of cool things on top of the cool things we already have. Though, I don't believe it will change "everything" in a meaningful way. Also, and this is a personal belief, it won't be long until centralization takes its reign in this world. Hell, even O'Reilly says so:

Why it’s too early to get excited about Web3
I love the idealism of the Web3 vision, but we’ve been there before. During my career, we have gone through several cycles of decentralization and recentralization. The personal computer decentralized computing by providing a commodity PC architecture that anyone could build and that no one controlled. But Microsoft figured out how to recentralize the industry around a proprietary operating system. Open source software, the internet, and the World Wide Web broke the stranglehold of proprietary software with free software and open protocols, but within a few decades, Google, Amazon, and others had built huge new monopolies founded on big data.

Unfortunately, we can't talk about all this without talking about politics. But before you grab your pitchforks and hunt me down (no matter which side you are on, I have pissed on everyone's leg), bear me with for a second: I don't know yet on which side of the crypto-craze I stand. And I don't think I want to take a stance, to begin with. The whole discussion around web3, the blockchain, and cryptocurrencies is so utterly polarized that there is no more grey area, only very deep blacks and very white whites.

But this isn't how life works (well, except on the comment section of the internet). Life takes place in the grey area. When, in the real world, do you see things as being genuinely one-coloured? Whenever I feel life is black/white, it's either my lack of knowledge on a subject or my tainted view of things. I am the one ignoring the grey.

My belief, stolen from Buddhism, is: The middle way is the right way.

And this will probably be what view I will adopt regarding web3. Where there is smoke, there is fire: Refuting all this because of a few morons crypto-bros is an unwise choice. You risk ending up pushing something away that could be revolutionary. But buying (literally, using your money) into the hype without as much as a grain of scepticism is dangerous. That's a tulip mania.

So my (hopefully) final conclusion regarding my foray into the web3, blockchain and crypto:

  • There are a bunch of cool things being created right now
  • There are a lot of jerks on either side of the discussion
  • I have still no clue what most of it means
  • It's very early days and still needs a lot of work (read energy consumption, absolute shitty UX)
  • The bubble probably has to burst for the bad stuff to die and the cool stuff to remain
  • I prefer real Shiba Inus to Shiba Inu coins

Enough newsletter. Have a great week.

Tsundoku | My Reading List For December 2021

Look at my new, fancy bookshelf

I didn't think I'd get around reading that much last month — mainly due to the move. But I ended up inhaling five books in four days during my off-time. It shows you what not using a phone for a few days can achieve.

The focus of December has been money. I have been thinking about some financial changes I want to introduce to my life, so I figured it would be a good idea to refreshen my knowledge of the financial world and learn a thing or two. I read four books on money, all very different (and yet very similar).

In the future, I might do this more often. Have a particular month turn around a single topic and read non-fiction books based on this. But I will still read fiction books. It's my way to wind down in the evening.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

This book is... challenging. It's anything but a happy, feel-good story. And yet it keeps you hooked. The gist is: Due to a dream, a woman turns vegetarian, impacting her family and everyone around her. However, it's not about vegetarianism, and frankly, it doesn't even go into the topic at all. Trigger-warning: It talks of abuse.

The Vegetarian

Han Kang

Bookshop

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

I read every book on Greek mythology I can find. Thus, I have heard of most of the bigger storylines already. This was still somehow new, though. A Thousand Ships is a retelling of the Trojan War from the women's point of view. What happens to them after the war ends? What do the widows feel? What happens to the losing side? This book tries to answer that question.

A Thousand Ships

Natalie Haynes

Bookshop

Happy Money by Ken Honda

Happy Money was the first book in my money deep dive. It shares its same name with another famous money book, but it is by Japanese author Ken Honda. In it, he focuses on our relationship with money and tries to help the reader heal from untreated wounds. From time to time, the book is a little weird. Honda tells us to thank our money for every transaction and keep having a positive attitude. These parts were a bit too esoteric for my liking.

Happy Money

Ken Honda

Bookshop

The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco

The Millionaire Fastlane focuses on getting rich quickly (quickly, not easily!). The author believes there is no way to get rich by investing only while still young enough to take advantage of your wealth. Instead, DeMarco wants to teach you how to get rich while young and what it takes to get there (a company). And yes, I know how this sounds. But believe me, this is not a money-grabbing scheme by the author. Frankly, it's not really about money but rather a guide on entrepreneurship. What makes a company successful, how do you deliver value to your clients, what different types of company structures are better suited for wealth, etc.? I can recommend this to anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit.

The Millionaire Fastlane

MJ DeMarco

Bookshop

Die With Zero by Bill Perkins

This book resonated the most with me. In Die With Zero, Bill Perkins teaches you to use money to maximise life quality. According to the author, different life periods are better suited for specific experiences than others. So, instead of saving when young, you should use some of it to go skiing, for example. Because at a particular time, you'll be too old to have this experience despite now having money to burn. The book also tries to uncover the exact moment you should stop saving and start using your money. The goal? Die with a zero on your bank account.

Die With Zero

Bill Perkins

Bookshop

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

This might have been the book I should have started my deep dive with. When I ended up reading this one, I've already known most of what this book talks about. Still, I believe it was a great way to summarise what I've learned. If you want to follow in my footsteps and reread the mentioned books, I suggest starting with this one.

The Psychology of Money

Morgan Housel

Bookshop