I've received some interesting emails and updates over the years from weightless warriors of past tribes, but the one below from James - Tribe 1 - may take the cake.
James is a wonderful person - strong, focused, witty, and very likable. He's a man of tremendous willpower, but when we first met he felt a bit scattered, unfocused, and passionless. That was his motivation to join. He wanted change.
At that time, in the early tribes, I'd select one primary objective / target for each trainee, that would ideally upgrade mind-body liabilities and design genuine integration. These targets were achievable, but not without a good deal of struggle, failure, and soul searching along the way. None were ever achieved before week 12 of 14 weeks. And most were achieved week 14. I did my job well.
This is the key to peak performance a la The Weightlessness Process, though programs have morphed in format a bit since then. I selected a target of reverse counting from 1,000 for James - to be achieved over our 100 day training window.
This is a practice of pure concentration, if done properly, and one that must be done with specific technique and cadence, progressing by 100 (starting at 100, moving to 200, then 300, and so on) at a time only when specific parameters are met. This is the brother meditation metric to 'slow breathing practice,' each working on a different personality trait along the mind-body axis.
After 100 days James reported having extraordinary focus and clarity, and to those of us who witnessed his progress, he was indeed a different person.
I had to chuckle when I received James' email, because, despite his horrific experience demonstrating a high level of competence in all four pillars of training, and therefore masterful expression of all four mind body archetypes - grit, sensate, cerebral, and fluid - it was the archetype embodied by his mind-body target of reverse counting from tribe 1 - Cerebral - that he called on survive.
This is why we train.
James knew that weightlessness manifests when all pillars - nutrition, strength, flexibility, and meditation - are trained in tandem. He knew that one trains to make life work, rather than waiting for externalities to be manageable so that he could train. And he knew that HE was at the center of it all, and if his mind-body weren't prioritized and treated first, nothing else would work. He got all that right.
But when push came to shove, it was Cerebral - the mind body archetype cultivated through concentration practice, the very practice he mastered over 100 days - that allowed him to organize himself when it mattered most, and dare I say, thrive despite it.
"We don't rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training." - Archilochus
And now, a word from James:
I apologize for the long email, but I hope you can take the time to read it and accept my thanks.
I recently went through an ordeal that no-one should have to withstand, and one that you and Weightlessness helped me overcome. This is a note of absolute gratitude and appreciation for what you have taught me.
The long and short of it is that I was under suspicion of drug use, Marijuana, and picked up by the police a couple of weeks ago for testing and questioning. FYI currently Chinese citizens can get rewarded up to 1000rmb for live leads, as advertised widely on WeChat.
I was given a blood test, found trace positive and put into ten days of “Administrative Detention”, a holding centre for misdemeanors and minor offenders like myself, visa overstays and deportees. Thankfully I do not have a criminal record in China or the rest of the world as a result of this.
Ten days was absolutely brutal.
There was no violence or physical harm whatsoever. It was all mental torture. A very rigorous routine was enforced but nothing was ever allowed to be completed.
Meals interrupted, TV channels endlessly switching randomly, and repetitious voice recordings changed cycle everyday. Like a routine through a kaleidoscope, all the parts seemingly fit together to make a “day”, but when looking closer at the parts they were all fractured and incomplete.
They pumped out old propaganda movies on big screens all afternoon, and literally spelt out every single letter of the laws and regulations of the facility, which they repeated 4 times over - an agonizing process that took an hour to complete.The food was awful. I developed sores in the corners of my mouth on day 4 and stopped accepting the soup that came with every meal. This improved things, but the water was also very chalky, so although I was hydrated I was dry to the bone. A cellmate had peanut butter which became an absolute godsend at breakfast with a steamed bun.
After a couple of days adjustment I devised a plan, pulling from three key resources:
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing - Daniel H. Pink
Man’s Search for Meaning - Victor E. Frankl.
Weightlessness - You. Yessir.
When taught me the need to understand the value of time and how to manipulate it to your advantage in extreme situations. It made me recognize the victory of the middle. It made me strategically position certain high-energy survival techniques into certain parts of the day, and low energy to others. And, it made me know how to intellectually defeat the duration of 10 days.
Man's Search for Meaning made me understand the need for meaning in all my actions no matter the place, time, or circumstance. It made me define myself in an attempt to survive, in that place. That person only existed in there, but that person created a meaning out of something truly ugly. It made me understand that I can be in any situation no matter how depraved or sadistic and still own my reactions. I cannot control the things around me but I can control how I react to them and what I do with what happens to me.
Weightlessness equipped me with the tools to translate this into real, actionable tasks that I could perform everyday at their allotted times knowing they would keep me sane, strong and unrestricted throughout my confinement.
During my adjustment period I got a sense of the erratic structure of their routine which had fairly consistent gaps in it for me to monopolise on: there was a large morning chunk that I could extend if I was smart with my breakfast, an hour and a half mid afternoon nap time where we were lying down (crunches!), and two slots either side of dinner 4:30, and bed at 9pm.
The mornings were quiet, but more importantly extremely reliable, and the afternoons were loud but constantly disturbed, with cell mates slightly agitated, shuffling and in need of a very calm environment.
I created three activities for separation. Times where I could mentally dissociate from my surroundings, activate an ever increasing achievement cycle and smash goals every day. Perhaps more importantly, they allowed me to do it with dignity and self respect.
1/ Exercise - Squats, Push Ups & Abs.
For 6 days, starting at 100reps, I progressed by 50 press ups and crunches. I treated squats differently as 100 was not challenging enough, keeping them at 200 most of the time. I also threw in 3x 1min wall sits and 1 min plank super sets fairly randomly.
For each session I had 20 minutes to complete the workout, leaving enough time for a wash at the basin.
By day 6 I had 350 press ups in 20 minutes, completed in an initial set of 60 incline, 3 sets of 20 normal, and the rest 10’s from a wide position to a regular position, with no longer than a ten second rest period at extended arms, until done.
Abs I did everyday at the end of our morning nap time. 12 to 13.30. Progressive crunches starting at 100, final day 350. Then 150 flutter kicks, legs crossovers (?), and superman crunches(?) for my back.
2/ Stretching - Forward bend, Hip Flexor, Pancake, Butterfly etc.
I could do stretching at any time because being interrupted during a stretch didn’t make a dent on my sense of achievement for the day. This made stretching a fairly consistent and constant thing, at times a full hour and half long. The seats we had were rock solid so I mapped out walking time and stretching time for the day.
Forward bend and hip flexor were both extremely enjoyable and alleviated enormous amounts of tension throughout my body. As the seats were so low my knees were up around my ears making my hips quite excruciatingly painful at times.
3/ Breathing - 8 to 15 Minutes Slow Breathing (8 second cycles).
In the afternoon they played movies and shows really loudly making focus very hard and “mindfulness” borderline impossible. Not only that but it was hard to tell how long anything would take which meant I had to devise “sprints”.
8 second inhale through the nose and 8 seconds exhale through the mouth - 57 times for 15 minutes.
There was very little they could play, or repeat, that could bother me during this time.
I also did 4,7,8 breath cycles x4 morning and night as a fantastic reset.
Reverse counting was kept mainly to early mornings and nighttime, when in bed. 300’s were short enough to not get interrupted and long enough to really dig in and hold focus amongst the noise and general mood of the place.
Clearly there is a ton of stuff to tell you and I’m missing large chunks with regards to dream states and other fun things that come along when they never turn the lights out. I sincerely hope I can retell the story fully someday.
There is literally no way I can thank you enough for the tools you gave me. Without you and W100 (The first Weightlessness Tribe) I think I would have been quite severely traumatized by my ten days. Instead I feel a fair amount of shame and stupidity for letting it happen in the first place, and a large hunger to leave the country and do something entirely new.
I hope you are well and I’m excited to get my hands on the new book.
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