My Foreign Policy 2

Pushing Upward

Tom Nickel
10 min readFeb 20, 2022


Dymaxion world projection, wikipedia — read My Foreign Policy 1 here

People say, ‘that’s just a story you’re telling yourself,’ like it’s a bad thing.

It can be, I guess, if you buy into stories that make you feel bad, or if you don’t realize the reason you’re suffering is a story you made up.

That’s why we are advised to step out of the story and into the moment, naked and narrative free.

Frequent contrarian that I am, I have been throwing myself into present moments and bringing stories with me for a long time. For me, it feels not only possible but desirable to be here now along with the story that got me there.

That’s what My Foreign Policy is.

Calling it My Foreign Policy is ridiculous; that is, it should make me an object of ridicule for such a patently nut bar claim. I’m just some semi-old nano-influencer living on a little island off the coast of nowhere.

This is how I remember the story is just a story, by not forgetting how ridiculous it is.

My Foreign Policy is as absurd as Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill and calling it his Human Resources Policy. It works me for me and, according to Camus, it worked for Sisyphus too.

Having a story with me in the moment energizes me, while the absurdity of it reminds me it’s all made up, which helps ensure I will not get attached to any Foreign Policy outcomes.

My Foreign Policy wants it both ways and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. It’s consistent with the world as we now understand it — the coexistence of contraries, the superposition of beliefs .

I know that being in the moment means smelling the air after a rainstorm and savoring each spoonful of ice cream like nothing else exists (my personal favorite mindfulness practice), but who we really need to be here now for is each other.

We need to be fully present to make good inferences about what the heck the other ones are thinking and how we can be with them.

My Foreign Policy initiatives are expanding and contain more in-the-moment presence with other people than ever. So far my crazy made up story that I can have a foreign policy feels like a slightly moving sidewalk under my feet, guiding me along. Seductive, right?


I know things aren’t going to work out. There are enough holes in my plot line for any dystopian future to crawl through easily.

I know it’s a story with no clear great ending, except mine.

It helps me think about other people instead of just myself because I can’t implement my foreign policy without forming significant relationships, non-mercantile relationships that can have an economic component but, for me, need to be based on a deeper connection.

image from U.S. Department of State

My Foreign Policy: Russia?

Anatoly showed up at an open discussion of Death his first day in VR. It happens.

He’s not just from Russia, he was in Russia. That doesn’t happen very much on social VR platforms at the moment.

He listened to people bring up questions or talk about someone they’re worried about or they miss, or their own anxieties about dying.

Late in the second half he raised his hand and introduced himself in easy-to-understand English with an easy-to-hear Russian accent. He got to the point and spoke about his mother dying, recently, and the time he spent with her trying to help her find peace, help her find forgiveness for all the hurt she was still holding onto over a lifetime.

He went slowly because the right words did not flow easily in another language and maybe he was also working to manage the flow of his own emotions, we couldn’t tell.

We were all riveted.

Anatoly finished what he wanted to say. He knew how to tell a story but he was not performing.

He and I talked back and forth just a little. He knew he was heard.

I Friended him.

Three days later, I saw that Anatoly was in VR.

The fact that I’d Friended him meant that my personal dashboard shows when and where he was active on that platform. It’s basically Friend Spyware and it makes the world something like a small town because I decided to ‘Go-To’ him and I could. easily do it

I want to focus on this moment because it’s the real roll-the-dice point where you can take a risk and try to go deeper with another human or just let the moment pass on by.

I didn’t let it pass on by. This time. I have let the moment pass on by plenty of times, probably more often than not. It’s only a capital M Moment if we make it one.

I spawned into a new world Anatoly was creating. He was there in a smallish auditorium, alone. He noticed me and remembered. He told me what he’d been doing with ‘his son’s’ VR headset. He sounded pleased with what he was making.

Anatoly didn’t quite understand ‘Going-To’ yet, so I explained and let him know I did it to connect and get-to-know him. He was, like, ‘Ah, thank you!’

Anatoly and I hung out. Talked about VR and work and things we like to do. For a side hobby, he writes children’s stories, fairy tales. He told me about one that’s translated into English, that he will send me.

To me, this is the real deal. How relationships are formed and grow. Putting ourselves into situations with each other without props or an obvious script. No safety net. Not selling anything or pushing a perspective, other than the perspective that people connecting with other people for a purpose tbd, if any, has high value.

Anatoly’s physical body is off somewhere in Russia. But I have his email address and he has mine and I feel we are at the beginning of a friendship. We liked each other. As we learn more about each other we will both find things we don’t like too, but my guess we will then appreciate each other even more.

Appreciate doesn’t mean just liking. It means understanding someone or something’s value. Human value that is not counted in dollars is what I try to invest in the most now and I look forward to more Anatoly.

I’m not sure where he fits in My Foreign Policy. Maybe he doesn’t. I’m drawn to him because he’s a gung-ho teller of fairy tales which goes a long way with me.

image from U.S. Department of State

My Foreign Policy: China

U.S. Foreign Policy toward the People’s Republic of China, announced and unannounced, makes my foreign policy more difficult.

U.S. Foreign Policy uses the same playbook for all situations in which another sovereign nation will not do what they’re told. With respect to U.S. citizens, the unannounced but ubiquitous China policy is to fan the flames of fear, constantly.

I wish they didn’t. Nothing I do and nothing anyone I know or could even reach through six degrees of separation can do anything, directly, to stop them dividing us as a calculated instrument of policy.

I have to deal with the mess they’re making without anywhere near the budget they have for dividing us. It just makes me enjoy it more because I know there is a network of human relations that is stronger than ever. It’s a new kind of relationship and it happens fast and deep with the right people and right circumstances.

My China policy is to get people meditating and eventually, meditating together. How is that an actionable policy?

First, there are not very many teachers in China who appeal to the people there most interested in learning how to meditate. The practice has declined in popularity for several generations. Now many well-educated, hard-working people are actively seeking ways they can de-stress and relax.

In addition to the qualified teachers who are available to help grow the practice in China, it is possible that English-speaking meditation leaders from outside might be able to help, since the country has so many English-speaking people — especially the ones who are interested in meditation. It might even be beneficial to be led in a second language if the vocabulary is easy, which meditation is inherently.

We are currently exploring language, length of sessions, best time slots and other foundational questions in a very small-scale pilot.

Second, we are laying the groundwork for shared group meditation among people around the world, including China.

The same day I started getting to know Anatoly in the morning, Ashley, my friend in Chengdu, joined a small group of us in AltspaceVR and made her first informal presentation to the Tripp/EvolVR meditation community.

It was something like a miracle that it could even happen and it could have gone off the rails in more ways than I could ever imagine but it didn’t.

It was touching and personal.

Ashley and I have gotten to know each other as well as possible for two people separated by generations, cultures and the zeitgeist.

Because she is very smart and very brave, and because we have developed trust between us, a small group from the U.S. and Canada saw slides of people in Chengdu meditating, just like we do.

They heard someone who is a 中国人 (a Chinese person), in China, talking personally about her life.

The hexagrams in the I Ching are pictures of change. There are 64 pictures, 64 types of change produced by the interplay of natural forces like fire and water, wind and thunder.

Pushing Upward was the hexagram I received when I was reflecting on the event late that night. It shows the gentle force of a sprouting seed just beginning on its way.

Next, our community will provide a few more session leaders for a few more time slots, using WeChat to lead English language meditations for 中国人.

public domain image

My Foreign Policy: Africa

Paul Simon’s Africa wrapped its fourth and fifth episodes in mid February, on Thursday nights in the Pacific northwest, Friday morning in Nairobi.

Episode Four featured ‘Housing,’ with examples from the villages and the cities. He explained that in some villages, a man can have multiple wives, who each have their own mud-and-straw place in the cluster of homes.

Paul gets better at it every week. He is presenting to 20 or so avatars at any point, but they enter the event, and some leave, at any point. There were 47 total attendees who left an average rating of 5 out of 5.

The events have no beginning or middle, but there is an end. The trick is to welcome folks whenever they join and try to help them feel it’s just the right time.

Whoever does come feels like they are in an African movie set. It is a world, in social VR terms, a preliminary level one world a friend of mine built that’s just good enough for us to host events learn from the experience.

The next world for Paul Simon’s Africa will be much more sophisticated.

Kibera, wikipedia

He finished the Housing episode in Kibera, which is considered the largest slum in Africa. He helped us understand how it all fits together — the village, the growing middle class, and Kibera. And the government that pretends not to see Kibera so it can serve as a massive reservoir of cheap labor from people with no options for corporations with no humanity.

We learned about Kenya in a way no TV Show or documentary could help us. We were in a place together that felt like Africa with a host who was in Kenya showing us pictures and telling us stories about Africa.

We learned about Flying Toilets, because Paul has a sense of humor. There are no sewage or septic systems in Kibera. There is only a plastic bag that residents fill with solid waste and then, during the evening stroll, give it a toss.

That was funny and dark. Some of the Courtship practices he showed us in Episode Five, during the week of Valentine’s Day, were just plain funny but some were just plain dark.

Who doesn’t like a male beauty contest?

But what are we supposed to make of Courtship rituals that involve whipping? Are practices that have been integral to a culture for thousands of generations beyond question and criticism from other perspectives?

Paul Simon’s Africa: ‘Courtship,’ S1E5, stirred things up for another 47 attendees. They came from the U.S., Canada, and Europe as far as I could tell.

What are Africa’s natural resources? The wildlife and diversity of cultures, or precious metals non-Africans are bent on extracting?

Paul and I are building something together. That is the story we are both telling ourselves. It helps me make up meaning as I go along and I think it’s something like that for him too. Plus he needs to make a living, so there’s that.

We got out ahead of most people in Africa on Metaverse matters and now we just have to keep showing up, keep getting better at what we do, and be ready to help the next wave of young people in Africa who will want to join Paul Simon’s Africa.

image by David Denton

I write about VR and other topics I have no standing to write about on Medium and Substack.

I have a black belt in learning and I’ve been meditating for so long it’s ridiculous I’m not enlightened yet. But I’m definitely not.



Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos