The Banquet of Life

“Remember to conduct yourself in life as if at a banquet. As something being passed around comes to you, reach out your hand and take a moderate helping. Does it pass you by? Don’t stop it. It hasn’t come yet? Don’t burn in desire for it, but wait until it arrives in front of you. Act this way with children, a spouse, toward position, with wealth – one day it will make you worthy of a banquet with the gods.”

Epictetus, Enchiridion, 15

This passage seems to really have two key messages in it. The first, which doesn’t seem to be the main point, is about moderation. At a banquet (or, I assume any event with free food and/or drink) we should consume in moderation for both individual and social reasons. It is healthy for us, both mentally and physically, not to lust after things or allow ourselves to act on our carnal desires. It is bad to give up logical control and eat and drink to the point of gluttony or foolish intoxication. Also, it is healthy for others. If we consume in moderation then there is enough to share with other people at the party (or in life). All things are finite and if we hoard things then that leaves less for other people, and what remains is more difficult to attain.

The second point of the passage seems to be focused on patience, that all the good things in life will come to us at some point if we wait until the right time. I kind of agree with this, but I also kind of disagree. I agree that we shouldn’t rush things or try to attain things when we aren’t ready. The most painful example of this is pursuing love or a relationship with someone because you want to be married (or social pressure), not because you are compatible with our partner. This is akin to scarfing down the food at a party you don’t like simply because it is close to you (or because the crowd is cheering for you to eat). So yeah, in this way I agree with Epictetus and I think we should have patience.

But, I also think you should be proactive and pursue the things you desire. If you want to meet someone and get married, then you need to go out and do things that you like to do. Sitting around and just waiting for the tray to be passed around doesn’t work if you are curled up in the corner refusing to make eye contact with the server. Patience isn’t enough, action is also required. Things in life don’t “just work out”, you need to say yes to opportunities and take risks to live the life you want. The timing will never be completely perfect and nobody is coming to sweep any of us off our feet and rescue us from the situation we are in.

**I am currently using “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman as a daily practice. I think I am going to share my thoughts as I go. It will be interesting to explore the works of the Stoics and see where I agree with them. I highly recommend the book if you are interested in an introduction to the ancient Stoic life philosophy**

A few notes on writing

I’m wrapping up the final edits and formatting of my first book and had a few thoughts I wanted to share about the experience. I am painfully aware that I’m not an expert on the subject, but maybe that is okay, maybe the perspective of a struggling novice can be valuable.

  • Writing my first book was a lot like sex. The first time was awkward and kind of terrible and I’m glad it’s over. You can’t aim for perfection, but you can aim for a completion, and completion is pretty damn satisfying. Despite how painful and tiring the first time was, I’m super excited to try again soon with a new subject.
  • Don’t compare your writing to the successful works of famous authors, it is better to look at their early works. Very few people have heard of “The Burning Wheel” by Aldous Huxley, “For Us, The Living” by Robert Heinlen, or “Rocannon’s World” by Ursula K. Le Guin, many authors don’t find success until decades after they start writing, and many early works are absolutely dreadful. Or, better yet, don’t compare your work to anyone
  • I kind of wrote my book in three phases. I started by writing the whole thing as a skeleton, providing structure. Then I edited to add muscle and organs, strength and function. After that, I went in and added skin and hair, making it beautiful.
  • Asking people to read your work and provide feedback is valuable, but not everyone will share your vision or philosophy on writing. It is okay to reject someone’s edits for any reason, even just “that doesn’t feel write to me”. Don’t lose your voice trying to please everyone.
  • Finding a system that worked for me was incredibly important. In the beginning, I gave myself certain writing milestones instead of setting aside time. Later, during the editing process, I switched over to setting aside time.
  • Always have something nearby to record your thoughts. Sometimes moments of clarity and inspiration will come at bizarre times like when you are exercising or standing in line at the DMV or in the middle of the night. An idea only exists if you record it.

So, those are some of my thoughts on the process so far. I still have a ton to learn, which is pretty damn exciting.

Raw

A couple of days ago I put a post on Facebook that was kind of emotional and raw. I knew exactly why I was feeling raw, my serotonin was low from a night of rolling during the weekend, but I still wanted to share. I feel like we don’t share our day-to-day negative emotions and experiences in a constructive way on social media, we always seem to either rant and rave about stuff or pretend that our entire world is perfect. We are afraid to be vulnerable and open, particularly when it comes to mental health. Whenever I roll I know that the mental health issues that I deal with under the surface are going to be more exposed, so instead of bottling them up I decided to share them with my network.

Getting feedback from friends and strangers (even when I specifically said I wasn’t looking for that) was both good and bad. I believe everyone that responded had the best intentions, but in some cases, an attempt to diagnose me seemed to be inappropriate unless they knew more about me than you could get from a Facebook post. I guess this is the nature of social media, though when you share a status people assume you want their thoughts on how to fix the “problem”. The general consensus was that I was dealing with imposter syndrome and/or depression, a diagnosis that I don’t completely disagree with. One person also tried to convert me to their religion (I think), which I am sure was well-intentioned because they gain strength from their faith, but it was clear they didn’t know me very well. Just because something (religion, meditation, therapy, etc) is helpful for one person doesn’t mean it is a panacea for another person, if you are going to give someone advice it is best to know something more about that person than just a rant you read on Facebook.

The feedback that I found most helpful came from people who reached out in a personal message to share love and support, instead of posting something public. Those messages felt sincere and I was much more inclined to enter into a conversation and open up. It was through those private conversations that I really had a few epiphanies about my situation and the anxiety I’ve been feeling under the surface the last couple of weeks.

I don’t think depression or impostor syndrome is the right overall diagnosis for me, even if I display some of those symptoms. I think my biggest issue recently is that I’ve been relatively successful at the things I’ve tried and I don’t see any challenges on the horizon. My job is going well, my body is at a health level that I am satisfied with, my book is in the final edit phase, my relationship is great, and my life is pretty damn secure. I know how shitty it is to sound like I’m complaining about success, but for me, struggle is necessary to feel satisfied and happy. I need a challenge and for most of my life, the primary challenge was survival and security. I was stuck on the bottom layers of Maslow’s Hierarchy that now that I have moved up I don’t know how to handle it. I keep feeling like I should sabotage myself so that I have a struggle again.

I don’t really want that, though. I don’t want to worry about paying my bills or whether I’m killing myself with what I eat. I need to move the things I strove for from the “goal” part of my day to the “daily practice and maintenance” part of my day, and I need to find new goals, hobbies, and passions. I don’t know where to start, though.

I am playing around with the idea of writing a new book or starting a podcast, and there are a handful of little skills that I’d like to learn, and maybe I can find some artistic outlets. I also really need to get outside and meet people, working from home traps me inside a lot of the time and it is difficult to make friends in a new town. I need some social hobbies or volunteer work or sports, but man, taking that first step and hanging out with strangers is super anxiety-inducing for me.

I’m going to try, though. I don’t want my new life in Wilmington and the new year to go to waste. This transition is tough, but hopefully, I can make it without backsliding too much.

A New Year is Born

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair”

The last 365 days were a whirlwind, both in my personal life and within the world. We saw heroes die and villains raised to power, but we also saw more prosperity and technological advancement than humankind has ever known. My life, as well as the lives of my friends, were filled with successes and failures, disaster and celebration. I mourned the death of friends and felt joy when my friends gave birth, I saw relationships end and new ones begin. It truly was the best, and the worst of times, just like every year will be.

In 2017, I expect much of the same. More icons will die and I will likely lose a personal friend or family member, but new life will come and the world will keep getting better. I’m not really one for specific New Year’s Resolutions, but I do see the value in ceremony and participating in a cultural event that is bigger than myself. Today is a new year, and that symbolism matters and can provide strength, and with that strength and the support of friends I want to refocus my life and seek to make 2017 the best year I’ve ever had. For me, that means finding processes that I can implement to improve my life.

Mental Health – To improve my mental health I need to continue my meditative practice which allows me to focus on the things within my control and ignore the things outside my control. I also need to keep trimming my Facebook feed and unfollow people who only share current events or politically charged posts. Politics and pop culture is beyond my control, which means I am better off ignoring them.

Physical Health – Every day I try and do one thing physically active. That is my only real “goal”, but within that goal, I have other interests I want to explore. I’d like to run a triathlon this year, and I’d like to explore physical activities that inspire challenge me. Yoga, rock climbing, and martial arts are currently on the top of my list to try out. I also want to keep eating healthy, cook more, drink less, and keep improving my knowledge of nutrition.

Self Experimentation – I am going to continue to experiment with my body and mind. This includes introducing new nootropics and supplements into my diet, as well as trying new things that have interested me but that I haven’t explored as much as I’d like, such as parts of my sexuality, skydiving, read more books, pagan spirituality, podcasting, theater, gardening, volunteering, woodworking, and art.

Writing – I try and write or edit every day. Right now my focus has been on my book, but once that is completed in the coming weeks I am going to start blogging more again. I also would like to take some creative writing classes, continue with the grammar lessons on Khan Academy, read more, and try to expand my vocabulary.

Fiscally Responsible – The less money I need, the less I need to work and the more leisure time I have. I want to keep finding ways to trim my budget and spend less money. I’ve done a pretty good job so far by living without a car, getting a gym membership at the YMCA, and cooking 90% of my meals at home. But there are still places to improve.

Relationships – One thing that I’ve been lacking in Wilmington is new relationships. It is difficult to meet people, particularly when I work from home and am fairly introverted. I need to start getting out of the house and trying new things to meet people.

So, those are my basic goals. The best process for me is an Excel spreadsheet that I mark off as I accomplish something in each category each day. Sometimes the accomplishment is small like I priced out skydiving lessons, but the process works for me. Any day where I am able to advance my health in some of those six categories is a good day. I find this method to be much more effective for me than setting goals like “Lose 10 lbs.” or “Read 30 Books”.

I’m excited for this next year and everything that it can bring in my life. Most of my unhappiness this year was due to things outside of my control, hopefully, I won’t fall into that trap as much in 2017.