“The Raft is Not the Shore” – A Reflection (Part 4)

This is the fourth part of a short series where I reflect on one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read, “The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward A Buddhist-Christian Awareness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan.

Part 1 is available here.
Part 2 is available here.
Part 3 is available here.

Chapter 7: Economics and Religion

"That is why unity can exist among the more liberal monks and the more conservative ones, because behind each monk, each community, there can be no big institutions." - Nhat Hanh

As institutions grow they become less personal and less interested in the individuals themselves. This is a great way to increase the efficiencies of markets, but it is a terrible way to practice spirituality. Large institutions get bogged down in rules and bureaucracy, there is no need to find consensus or understanding because someone at the top of the hierarchy can just make decisions without any strong ramifications (particularly in religion where many people believe they have a monopoly on truth... you can't "vote with your feet" by going to another religion if you believe that all others are false).

"In the States, a source of agony for us has been the immobility and neutrality of the churches facing the tragedy of the last decade. We are convinced that financial interests are at the heart of it. We sense a freedom of conscience in the Buddhist church - the fact that the Buddhists are able to see a moral issue and to follow through on it, even to death itself. Whearas in our country it is so rare to come upon this sense of things." - Berrigan

I don't know much about the financial situation of churches in the US but I wouldn't be surprised if some decisions are weighed in favor of money over morality. Even if it means not doing something because it is illegal or put a church's tax status at risk. When I read stories about people being arrested for giving shelter to the homeless or food to the poor the first thing I wonder is why aren't ALL the churches in that community doing that? Why don't they band together against cruelty from the state. Are Christians so afraid of an overnighter in jail that they will reject Christ's instructions to clothe and feed those in need? And shouldn't the church respond with a stronger voice in the face of stronger injustice?

"If you rely on rich people, then that's the end. But the monks rely on street merchants - people who sell fish and vegetables in the markets - and pedicab drivers. They are the most faithful people in the society. You can trust them; they stick to the struggle." - Nhat Hanh

Rich people and those in power will always support the status quo over revolution. They will always support force to keep things the way they are and they want others (churches, non-profits, politicians, etc.) to be dependent on them.

"I think we're learning that the West is in the last days of a system which has already proven itself antihuman and bankrupt, and this includes the last days of the church as we know it. The church has entirely meshed its destiny and method with that of capitalism and the military. Once you get beyond the religious talk, its institutions are no different. All are making money off the misery of people elsewhere in the world, and are helping weapons systems be created." - Berrigan

Alas, we weren't in the last days then and we aren't in the last days now. I'm afraid that collapse of this system isn't imminent. It would be great if Christians in America were to refuse to serve in the military or work jobs that brought death to innocents, they make up 70% of the population and if they did what was right the military-industrial complex would come to a standstill. But they won't because most aren't true followers of Christ, they are followers of American Jesus (TM) who has lept straight from a misattributed Sinclair Lewis' quote.

"This is part of the torment of younger people, I think, who have some relibious hpe, who would like to identify with the Catholic church or Judaism. But they find that they're being mobilized into a system which is part of the death system." - Berrigan

This seems true today. I think one of the reasons we see a rise in the "spiritual but not religious" and other similar categories among Millennials is that we want some sort of spiritual community but don't know where to find it. Most organized religions are nearly indistinguishable from government organizations, so why go for government light when you can get the whole thing? Churches have been in bed with the government for so long that they are no longer a moderating force or moral light on the hill. The cross has been drenched in the blood of innocent people.

"But I think in the United States there are places where you can just be quiet." - Nhat Hanh

"The war is not in our country; it's 'somewhere else'" - Berrigan

"It's too far away. It's like strange stories, very far away. A kind of isolation. We know that when we transformed our temple into a resistance stronghold, we could no longer merely meditate." - Nhat Hanh

It sure is easy to believe in the power of prayer instead of action when the blood-soaked soil is somewhere else. Vietnam is pretty similar to Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

"But it seems that compassion, but in Buddhism and in Christianity, is so important, so basic, that you can be rich only when you can bear the sight of suffering. If you cannot bear that, you have to give your possessions away." - Nhat Hanh

Fuck. This applies to me, as well as people who follow Christ or the teachings of Buddha. The truth is, we can all bear the sight of suffering pretty easily. We dehumanize people, we justify why our $4 is better spent on a sugary coffee for us instead of a meal for a homeless person. We have extra bedrooms and cars and throw out food on a daily basis. I work to buy stuff I don't need instead of giving my labor and money to those who need it. I need to be better about this. My cost/benefit analysis should involve more than just me, it should involve my community.


Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/user/show/5292148
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

“The Raft is Not the Shore” – A Reflection (Part 3)

This is the third part of a short series where I reflect on one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read, “The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward A Buddhist-Christian Awareness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan.

Part 1 is available here.
Part 2 is available here.

Chapter 4: Priests and Prisoners

“One of the great tactics of prison authorities is to awaken and make more violent the racism of the prisoners so that they will go at one another’s throats.” – Berrigan

It is interesting to read quotes from a Catholic priest that could be attributed to a prison reform advocate or “social justice warrior”. My experience with Christianity rejected any sort of institutional issues, it was very much an American conservative Christianity which rejected social pressure, norms, or institutional racism or bigotry as having any blame or effects on individuals. It was very much an individualistic spirituality and seemed to have more in common with the Old Testament than Christ.

Chapter 5: Self-Immolation

I didn’t actually highlight any particular parts of this chapter, but I did find it to be an interesting discussion on an act that we would generally call suicide. It makes me think about what part intention plays in an act. If I jump on a hand grenade to try and save other soldiers then that is a noble act and wouldn’t be judged as suicide (even if it is an act that I voluntarily take that will result in my death), but if I take my life in order to bring attention to atrocities or end a war then that would likely be viewed as suicide. I think, in addition to intent, people judge intentional self-death by what other options are available. Jumping on a grenade may be the only option to save a life but self-immolation may be one of many options to end an injustice, and people view the preservation of life as sacred, only to be ended as the last resort. I’m not sure I agree, but that seems to be the cultural (and often religious) perspective.

It also raises questions about how we know other options exist and what the bar is for noble self-death versus a wrongful self-death. If I donate my heart to save a child, knowing I will die, is that noble? What about ending my life to prevent my family from going into debt and suffering? I think life is incredibly valuable and should be cherished, but I don’t think life is necessarily the most important thing above everything else.

Chapter 6: Government and Religion

“It is part of the wisdom, I think, of the religious tradition to always be skeptical of what the governments are doing.” – Berrigan

Wow, what a great first line to a chapter filled with them. I think that if I grew up in a spiritual tradition that was actually skeptical of worldly power then I may still be with that tradition. Too often religious leaders see the state as a potential ally, but they don’t realize that the state is always in competition with religion (and the state has guns). Religion can’t fight the state with violence or else it becomes the state itself.

“But, the idea that being informed leads to more humane decisions or more enlightened politics on the part of those in power, I think, is very questionable. Because the people can very easily, as in the United States, be lulled into a belief in ‘free press’ and ‘free television.’ After all, for twelve years we saw on our screens what we were doing to the Vietnamese people. It’s very questionable that that changed anything. – Berrigan

“Well it’s a problem which goes much deeper than the business of being what they call literate or informed. In fact, the impact of the media can quite possibly be in another direction. People can become so bewildered with the mass of information and news brought down on them that they’re unable to move, they’re paralyzed. So, the question of selecting, meditating, having some interior life of one’s own in the midst of this becomes quite important.” – Berrigan

It is rare that you hear anyone actually question whether having a free press is a good thing. I agree that in theory, a free press is a good thing, but like all rights there comes a certain responsibility and not everyone can (or will) exercise those rights responsibly. It is possible that many, or even most, people are so overwhelmed by the media that it actually causes a form of paralysis. Violence and rights violations on the part of our government become the norm and we are numb to them. We start to think that it is the natural state of things unless, as Berrigan recommends, we are able to select what we view and meditate. This is a synthesis of both Buddhism and Stoicism. The American people have known that we have been bombing, killing, and invading countries for over 16 years now and they really don’t seem to care. Both of the major political parties are pro-war and all the major candidates were hawks.

“Fear and anger are often used for political purposes. Anti-Communism has been very much used and fed, encouraging the fear that Communism will destroy freedom or worship. They stress that fear so that people will not see other aspects of the problem. Because when you consider Communism as the worst of evils, you forget the other evils that are closer to you, that are on the anti-Communist side.” – Nhat Hanh

Holy shit. Things really don’t change. Substitute “communism” with radical Islam, LGBT, immigrants, or even liberalism and you have the modern conservative playbook. If only The Who were right…

“Christians, wo are supposed to be able to cope with persecution, trials, jail, or any kind of human suffering, and still not despair. But it seems the spectre of Communism awakens the utmost despair, a kind of carte blanche to do anything in the name of anti-Communism.” – Berrigan

Yep. That hasn’t changed either.

“if you’re going to recommend speedy death for other people you ought to go and taste it yourself, maybe it wouldn’t appear so attractive.” – Berrigan

The world would be different if the politicians (and those who elected them) were required to serve on the front lines of combat. It is easy to command death from a couch, but to feel, taste, and smell violence first hand and to risk your own life is a very different thing.

“‘Whenever the prophet sits at the king’s table, both are corrupted.’… The priest doesn’t belong there. If he belongs anywhere in the palace precincts, he belongs in the king’s dungeons. He doesn’t belong at his table.” – Berrigan

I wonder if any religious leaders have been arrested for opposing the current wars. I know a lot of them have dined with Presidents.

“Well, it seems to me, it’s a sign of the decline of the whole religious community that priests take on the role of politicians. It’s a loss of a clear-cut sense of their priesthood… Every time priests played politics, there’s been a deleterious effect upon the priesthood, the community, and civil life as well.” – Berrigan

“Once drawn into politics you are caught.” – Nhat Hanh

Yep.


Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/user/show/5292148
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

10 Days Without Facebook

I’m interrupting my blog series about “The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward A Buddhist-Christian Awareness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan to do a quick update on how things are going since I stopped going to Facebook. Well, I mostly stopped going to Facebook. In the last ten days I’ve logged on twice for less than five minutes each to see if I had any new messages. I scanned my notifications to see if there was anything particularly important (there wasn’t) and I didn’t even look at my newsfeed. Facebook is a great way to communicate one-on-one, so I’m checking it weekly to instruct people to email me if they’ve reached out to me that way.

So, how is this little experiment in anti-social networking going? Pretty good, but it isn’t without struggles.

First, the good. I am being WAY more productive. In the last ten days, I have blogged every day, meditated every day, gone on a run every day (for a total of 42 miles), finished reading five books, practiced yoga 8 times, scheduled my first therapist appointment and set up an interview with a possible life coach. I’m also considerably happier, am sleeping better, drinking less, eating better, and communicating better with my partner. I don’t think all these benefits really come from not wasting time on Facebook, I think it is more of a mental thing. I would always feel grumpy, exhausted, and combative when on Facebook, but like any addiction, I kept going back for a little fix, a little dopamine shot. I would scan the timeline hoping to see something, anything of value and then keep scanning because I was sure there must be something worth seeing just down the page. I would read people’s comments and get annoyed, and see news articles that are highlighting all the negative things in the world that are outside of my control. It was truly toxic to me and I am doing much better now that I’ve cut it out.

Now, the bad. I am kind of lonely. A significant part of my social life was online and I don’t really have a lot of friends here. I do miss a lot of the support and intellectual stimulation I got from the private FB groups. My introversion/anxiety/shitty internal dialogue often prevents me from getting into situations where I will make friends or asking my friends if they want to grab a coffee. I think this negative aspect may become something positive though, without my online social fix I am more motivated to be more proactive in the meat-suit world to meet people. I’m going to check out a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or an obstacle course fitness class this week (not sure which one) and I am also really interested in volunteering with the local hospital. Hopefully, I’ll push out of my comfort zone now that I need to find a network to avoid being lonely (working from home has its downsides).

Additionally, Facebook is really the best place to share my writing and thoughts. I don’t think anyone really checks my blog unless I post it on Facebook (which is why I decided to log on in a few minutes and share this post… I understand the irony). If I am series about becoming a writer and creator then I need to act professionally, and that involves a level of advertising that doesn’t come naturally to me. Maybe I can pay someone to log in to my account daily and share my posts or I can somehow use it without getting sucked into the negativity.

Anyway, that’s how my ten days are going. It has been a roaring success and I’m going to stick with it. I’ll probably report back at the end of the month with another update or when I have something professional to announce (hopefully, my podcast series will be done this month).

Until then, please feel free to reach out to me via non-Facebook means (see below).

Much love to you all.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/user/show/5292148
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

“The Raft is Not the Shore” – A Reflection (Part 2)

This is the second part of a short series where I reflect on one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read, “The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward A Buddhist-Christian Awareness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan.

Part 1 is available here.

Chapter 3: Exile

“Another difference is that in the Vietnamese language, the word ‘I’ (toi) is quite different from the ‘I’ in other languages. In our language, toi means ‘your servent’; there is no ‘I’ as such.” – Nhat Hanh

I think language can tell a lot about a culture and provide great insight into new ways of thinking. It is so easy to be Anglo-centric in my thinking, especially as English becomes a more dominant language throughout the world. It is a shame that we don’t have more exposure to other languages, I think it could really spark creativity if we explored the world through additional linguistic lenses.

“when religion is true to itself, it is embarrassing to the politicians.” – Berrigan

This is a theme throughout the book (and much of history). When religion is true to itself it acts as a powerpoint that politicians must fight or coopt. Religion is part of community and government is the opposite of community. Letting another source of power run free and criticize the government is embarrassing (or threatening) to politicians. Religion provides a moral standard for behavior that can often run counter to the legal standard of behavior demanded by politicians.

“That’s a terrible injustice to human beings – to carve the world up and declare who is eligible to exist and who isn’t. Of course, it is another form of war – a war against human freedom and dignity.” – Nhat Hanh

Open borders is the ethical choice if you support human freedom and dignity. If you see humanity as one race that is equally loved by God or deserve human rights then you can’t support putting up walls and punishing people for being born in a different area of the planet. Last I checked, Jesus didn’t command his supporters to allow the children to come to him EXCEPT those that were born elsewhere. His message of love and forgiveness and charity is supposed to apply to all corners of the globe, and that means tearing down the walls and opening our homes (and countries) to those in need instead of declaring war on them.

“After a while one gets the impression that if you are really speaking up for humanity, you’re unwelcome everywhere… practically everyone today should be either in exile or jail or in some kind of trouble.” – Berrigan

This immediately made me think of “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau. As Thoreau said, “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison.” If we are acting justly, morally, ethically, and fighting for those in need then we should be the enemy of the state. Our lives should be a struggle. We should be imprisoned, exiled, and impoverished (just like Christ, et al). If not, then we are arm-chair Christians or advocates for justice. We are risking nothing but feel good because we pray, put things on Facebook, or occasionally march in the streets (as long as the schedule matches up with my work schedule and I won’t get in trouble). A real focus on higher ideals means rejecting this world.

“The nation-state is becoming more and more violent and suspicious and repressive. Yet we have no clear alternative to all this except to say no to it.” – Berrigan

I’m not sure if the nation-state is becoming more violent or not. I think that things overall are getting better thanks to the market and technology. It is more and more difficult for regimes to remain repressive, at least in the traditional sense. Violent police officers and war crimes are brought to light more quickly than in the past and people seem much more willing to mobilize than before. There is an alternative, but it is not popular or clear to me that it really would work well. Anarchy. That black flag that conjures up propaganda images of violence and chaos. What it really is is peace, love, and humans working cooperatively and consensually. Sadly, we probably aren’t ready for it.

“He dares to attack a convention, a polite way of coping or dealing; so they decide he must die.” – Berrigan

“Why don’t you do what everyone else does? But if you are determined to go your own way, to do what you like or what you think is right, they think you are crazy. In such cases, you are a little bit in exile just because you don’t act like others.” – Nhat Hanh

The first quote is in reference to “The Stranger” by Camus (I need to re-read that) and leads into Nhat Hanh’s thoughts. Society is often more concerned with maintaining norms than the pursuit of justice. We punish people because they fall out of line, not necessarily because they cause harm. Sometimes the justice is legal and sometimes it is a form of ostracism from society because behavior makes us uncomfortable. We preach and preach about being loving and accepting, but when faced with a way of living that isn’t our own we cast those people out. If you tell someone that you are choosing to remain childless, decided not to have a career and instead travel around for decades, have a consensually sexually open relationship, or responsibly use drugs recreationally then people (all but your closest friends) freak out. They become threatened by your life, even though it has no impact on them. I think this is because it stirs up doubts, it makes them wonder if they could have lived a different (better?) life. It is easy to be content when everyone is living the same way, but that contentment is shattered when a stranger walks into your life that is happy and did everything differently.

Alright, that’s it for today. Tomorrow I will tackle a couple more chapters with comments on sections that I highlighted. I definitely, definitely, definitely recommend this book.


Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail about life in general?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

“The Raft is Not the Shore” – A Reflection (Part 1)

Every now and then a book stumbles into your life that speaks to your soul. Oftentimes, at least for me, that book sits on the shelf marinating for weeks or months or years until you (or it) are finally ready to consume. I recently read such a book, “The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward A Buddhist-Christian Awareness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan. I don’t remember when I first heard about this book but it has been on my shelf for quite a while. I read the whole thing in less than three days (partly because it is short and easy and partly because I loved the book) and it is now filled with highlighted sections and comments in the margins. In fact, it had such an impact on me that I’ve decided to do a short series of blog posts about the sections that sparked my interest. I hope you enjoy these posts and will consider purchasing the book for yourself.

Chapter 1: Memory, Eucharist, Death

“the future always belongs to the remnant which has come out of slavery.” – Berrigan

Slavery, trials, tribulations, facing evils strengthen us and allow us to be present in the future. Those that live a privileged life struggle to be a part of the future because they grow weak and egotistical, and they are pushed aside by stronger people. When you are on top you are destined to be pulled down.

“the culture is almost totally bankrupt of a vision of what a good life might be. We’re ridden by consumerism, fear, violence, racism – all these terrible mythologies which forever put off any real vision… War becomes the continual occupation and preoccupation in the minds of people who are purportedly trying to get a better life.” – Berrigan

This realization is what originally drew me to Stoicism and Buddhism. There is a lack of “philosophy of life” in today’s society. The good life is seen as little more than getting things or abs or having more sex. There is no analysis of whether that is true or good for the soul. The American mythologies of what is “natural” or “good” are even more flawed than the mythologies that have stood the test of time. America isn’t all bad but any culture that gives rise to such racism, war-mongering, death, and waste must have some problems as well.

Note: Despite growing up in a Christian environment I had to look up the word “eucharist”. It is just Communion, we never called it eucharist.  I didn’t find too much in this section about the eucharist interesting or ground-breaking. Maybe I would if I had more knowledge of Catholicism.

Chapter 2: Religion in the World

“I was struck by two things. First, in Israel and elsewhere, the people who were thoughtful were antireligious. And the religious people we met were very closed in the suppositions about the state, in obedience to the state, and in violence.” – Berrigan

I imagine the same could be said of Americans today. There is a certain American evangelicalism that has wed itself to the state instead of Christ and supports all kinds of offensive and defensive wars (not that we’ve had a truly defensive war in several generations). This is all despite Christ’s teachings and example which involve things like “love thy neighbor”, “turn the other cheek”, “blessed are the merciful”, “blessed are the peacemakers”, “blessed are those who are persecuted”, and other Christian teachings like “Repay no one evil for evil… for it is written, ‘Vengence is Mine, I will repay’, says the Lord”. But, in our culture religion has decided to ally itself with the state (which is at all times a violent institution), they traded their cross and soul for a flag and power.

“By organizing violent resistance, they might have preserved something that is called Buddhism, but they might not be Buddhist at all in substance.” – Nhat Hanh

“I thought that it was quite plain that if you have to choose between Buddhism and peace, then you must choose peace. Because if you choose Buddhism you sacrifice peace, and Buddhism does not accept that. Furthermore, Buddhism is not a number of temples and organizations. Buddhism is in your heart. Even if you don’t have any temples or monks, you can still be a Buddhist in your heart and life.” – Nhat Hanh

Ditto for much of modern American Christianity. They have decided to use violence against immigrants, women, and people abroad, and they think they are somehow living sin-free because they are laundering their support through the state.

“I think there’s a wave passing over the world – a wave of blood, of utter irresponsibility toward others… the mainline religions have joined this effort to make killing acceptable and normal – at least through silence. Usually there is some kind of an obsession with their own well-being.” – Berrigan

“If you are in power, they will try to bring you down. So, you make a compromise in order to be able to continue. You compromise to the point that you become like those whom you opposed before you came to power.” – Nhat Hanh

This is simply a political reality, whether it is in a democracy or after a revolution. If you seek power then you want to keep it, it is easy to justify this desire but the desire exists. To stay in power you need to sacrifice your morals and become what you once hated. There is no such thing as getting “the right people” in power.

“We don’t look for a world in which murder will not occur; that seems unrealistic. But we don’t want murder to be looked upon as virtuous and legitimate.”

Put a uniform on a person and pay them with tax dollars and all of the sudden all sorts of atrocities are “legitimate”.


Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail about life in general?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

 

Whispers and Roars

If you listen to a problem when it whispers, then you will never need to hear it roar.

I went to the VA hospital yesterday for my initial exam. I was supposed to do this over a year ago but I kept putting it off. I have an aversion to doing the right thing sometimes. Part of it is because of my introversion and minor social anxiety, I hate talking on the phone or going new places or bothering people.

I am undecided on whether the internet has helped or hurt this aspect of my life. On one hand, I can accomplish many things online with automated systems like order a pizza, a blood test, or schedule a sewage inspection by the city. This helps me get things done that I need or want done. But it also means that on the rare occasion when I actually need to call someone or visit a place in person I have no practice and am practically paralyzed. I want to take dance classes or get a massage or try a new yoga studio, but if I have to actually call the business for details then I just never do it. I’m even currently still paying a monthly fee to a gym that I am no longer visiting because canceling involves going down there in person and giving them bad news.

Anyway, that isn’t really what I planned on talking about. I just wanted to give you some background that explains why it took me 18-months before my initial physical exam at the VA hospital, despite having some mental and physical health problems that should be addressed. My body and mind have been whispering that I need to get things checked out but I kept pushing it down until that whisper became a scream, and now I wonder if the time I’ve waited was too long.

My body has had a few problems recently related to my military service. When I was on a training exercise in Lousiana my unit jumped in to a simulated warzone to spend a few days on mission. The paratrooper behind me went out of the C-130 wrong and sent me into a bad spin. As a result, I ended up landing very poorly and I lost consciousness and injured my left knee and hip. I thought this injury was in the past but after working with my personal trainer I’ve come to realize that I still have hip and knee problems. Part of me knew that these issues were coming up, but I just ignored them and hoped they would go away.

I have the same experience with my mental health. I thought my PTSD was under control but a few months ago I broke down in front of my partner. I found myself sobbing in the fetal position while my mind relived the lives and deaths of people I knew. It was a crashing wave that I couldn’t stop (and maybe didn’t want to stop). But after the wave subsided I figured I had everything under control and just went back to my normal life… even when my mind was yelling at me I tried to ignore the problem.

This is a common theme in my life, to ignore problems that whisper at me until they reach the point of yelling. Ignoring the trickle until it turns into a flood.

I was in a job in LA that I was not a good fit and that was contributing to my unhappiness, but I stayed until I hit a breaking point. I should have tried to do more to make the job work well for me and then cut ties when I knew it wasn’t possible.

I have been in relationships that weren’t compatible but I stayed in them because I didn’t want to admit the problems. I didn’t seek a therapist or admit defeat, instead I stayed until we hated each other. I lost the opportunity for a lifetime friend because I didn’t listen to the whispers of problems we had.

I’ve had car and bike and computer problems that I ignored because I wanted them to pass. A creaking sound in my bike crank, a check-engine light on my car, a slow start-up on my computer… all things that may cost a little bit of money to fix if I would have addressed them early become catastrophic and require replacement if I ignore them long enough.

So often, I’ve ignored problems and as a result, lost moments of my life that I’d never get back. Every day in a bad job or bad relationship is one that I won’t have in a good job or good relationship. Every dollar spent on repairing a problem that cascaded because I ignored it early on is a dollar I won’t have to adventure with my partner or it is an hour that I’ll have to spend working to make up for that cost.

My body, my mind, my relationships, my jobs, my possessions are all subject to entropy. They are going to wear down and possibly break, and if I love them and I love my life then I need to address these problems as soon as possible, while they are manageable. I am sometimes afraid of what I’ll find when I tear open the hood and see what the source of those whispers are…

  • is it cancer?
  • am I doomed to mental health issues my whole life?
  • is my partnership no longer compatible?
  • is this job wrong for me?
  • is my car breaking?

It seems better to ignore it and remain ignorant, but that won’t make my problems go away, it’ll only make them scream until I take notice, and then it might really be too late.

 

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail about life in general?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

Week 1 Progress

I’ve been on my “no Facebook” routine for a week now and I am really quite thrilled with the results. I definitely feel like I have more time and energy, and my productivity has been pretty high. I don’t think FB really took up much time, but the constant fighting, negativity, and news kept my mind in “fight or flight or flee” mode, which isn’t conducive to creation and life improvement.

I’ve been fairly busy with work but I’ve managed to meditate every day, run every day, and hit the gym three times. I also stuck with my nutrition goals except for one “cheat day” that I allowed myself when my partner and I visited some friends. I also finished one book and will probably wrap another one up today or tomorrow. My podcast is also coming along nicely and I’ve been consistently working with Codecademy to learn to code. All that sounds great but it is difficult to truly measure progress without some objective measures. So, here are some of those with regards to my fitness goals (reminder: I generally feel healthiest around 155-160 lbs and 15%-17% body fat). But first, some photos… not a lot of visual progress but I feel like my waist looks a little slimmer. I also continue to look miserable in my pictures, maybe I’ll have my partner take pics in the future so that I can get a better angle.

Pre-Photo:                                           Week 1 Photo:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Measurements:

Pre Weight – 187.5 lbs
Week 1 – 177.5 lbs
Change – -10lbs
(This is mostly water weight, glycogen, and an improved digestive tract. I am aiming for only 1-2lbs fat loss per week)

Pre Waist – 37.75 inches
Week 1 – 36 inches
Change – -1.75 inches
(Again, mostly just bloating and water weight in response to not having a shitty beer and salt filled diet)

So, that’s where I stand now. I’ll update again next week whether it is good, bad, or ugly.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail about life in general?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

Little Boxes

“Although we might think we’re a certain type of person, the more we witness the transient nature of body and mind, the more we realize that our true nature is forever undefined. As human beings we like to define things, to put labels on things, to put things in boxes. That’s especially true when it comes to ourselves, we like to think of ourselves as a certain type of person. We may wish we weren’t that type of person but we’ve still decided to think of ourselves as that type of person.” – Everyday Headspace, 2/6/2018, Headspace App

I spent most my life putting myself in boxes. I defined myself and my behavior certain ways because I believed that was “who I was”. I was a jealous person, therefore my jealousy was justified. I couldn’t help it. That’s just who I was. But emotions are always changing and my mind was able to practice control over them. Now, I am no longer jealous, and the first step was changing the way I talk to myself. I had to stop wrapping my identity int he emotion, in this weakness.

The same thing applies to many aspects of my life. I told myself that I just “wasn’t a runner” and that I didn’t and couldn’t be good at it or love it, and today I signed up for three 9+ mile trail races and have come to really enjoy running. I don’t identify as a “runner”, but I don’t identify as a “not runner” either. Running is currently an act I am capable of, it is a way to experience the world and this body that evolved for activity.

When I first started evaluating my diet and the ethics of food I was convinced that I could never be a vegan. I loved cheese too much, I could never give it up. I had a running script in my mind that highlighted my weaknesses, my lack of control, and I was just a victim of circumstance. All the ethical standards and health reports relating to dairy production meant nothing until I got rid of the internal dialogue that told me that I “couldn’t do it”. But here I am now, I vegan. It is still a struggle and I fail from time to time, but I know that I actually can live without cheese… all of us can. There is certainly a time and a place for exaggeration and hyperbole, but that place doesn’t include our minds and limitations.

Of course, sexuality and relationships are a big part of the human experience and how dynamic it can be. It is easy to classify myself as one thing “monogamous”, “straight”, etc. but those labels only box us in and put up barriers to new and authentic experiences. I had a drill sergeant once ask my company how we knew we were straight if we’d never sucked a dick. Crude, yes. But there was some truth to it. I certainly think that people know the basics of their sexuality from birth, it isn’t just a conscious choice and there is a genetic component to it, but if we take that genetic starting point and decide that we can never exist beyond it then we are just limiting ourselves. If I tell myself I could never be in a relationship with or have sex with or experience intimacy with a certain person based on genitalia, gender, or sexuality then I am only isolating myself from new opportunities.

Nobody should do something they don’t want to do or squicked out by, but that should be an honest response to a situation and not a mental model put in place in the abstract. We don’t know what we are capable of until we break down the negative identities that tell us what we are not, what we can’t do, what experiences aren’t true to us. We should be critical and examine all information received, particularly the information that comes from our own minds.

“There is nothing that is stable, and there is nothing that can be defined. That’s freedom.” – Everyday Headspace, 2/6/2018, Headspace App


 

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail about life in general?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

Little Moments

I got back from a work trip at 7pm tonight and all I wanted to do was zone out. Being productive, fulfilling my commitments to myself, keeping my habits going… that all sounded too exhausting. I wanted pajamas, a bath, maybe some masturbation, and the numbness that comes from zoning out to shows on Netflix that I’ve seen a thousand times.

But, I didn’t do that tonight.

Instead, I got my ass outside and went for a run. My partner and I have a daily Netflix and chill date most nights at around 9pm and I knew that I had limited time to get the things done that I needed to get done. It is always so easy for me to just neglect a day of habit building because I had to travel or work was busy or I have friends coming over or I have too many errands to run. There is always a reason why the day isn’t the perfect one and I should be excused from my commitments to myself.

There’s always tomorrow… until there isn’t.

Memento Mori

So, instead of waiting until tomorrow I made a quick list of what I needed (deserved) to do. Run, yoga, write, read, meditate, and coding. Yes, I can do all that in two hours. It won’t be a lot of each thing, and I won’t be great at any of them, but they will get done.

So, I went for a run. It wasn’t long and it wasn’t fast, but I beat the pavement.

Then, I meditated. It wasn’t long and my headspace was shitty, but I sat.

I followed that up with yoga. It was only 15 minutes and my mind wandered, but I practiced.

I also did some reading. Only a few pages and it was hardly mind-blowing, but I turned those pages.

CodeAcademy got some practice as well. The lesson was quick but there are new skills marinating in my mind.

And now I’m writing. Just word vomiting on the page, but I blogged something again and my daily streak continues.

Sometimes, or maybe even often, greatness isn’t about a result. Sometimes, greatness is just showing up (again and again and again), even when the day is long and shitty and you just want to sit down and lounge.


Day 4 and 5 Update of “Operation: Shut Off Facebook and Become Who You Want to Become”

Mixed results for the last two days. On Sunday I did a pretty good job of prioritizing my habits and eating well while I was at home. My partner and I went to Myrtle Beach to see some friends and because I had a work thing on Monday. Dinner went well but after dinner, we had some drinks while playing board games. My original plan was to go without booze for all of February but I’m rethinking that (or coming up with an excuse). I think I’m going to allow myself up to three light drinks if (and only if) there is an event going on with friends. I’m not going to force myself to have those drinks, but I’ll allow it if I feel like it, particularly if it isn’t beer. I also did a very quick Facebook check on Sunday to see if I had any messages or friend requests or anything urgent. There wasn’t anything of real notice and I felt no urge to scroll or post or anything… which I see as a good sign. I think a weekly check for urgent things may be a new thing I do too.

Monday was uber busy with work stuff, which really put my routine out of my control. I didn’t really get any exercise or walking and my food choices were limited. I did keep my kCals and eating time in check though, which is good. I just wish I would have had more time for some running or getting to the gym. Alas, no day will be perfect.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

Invincibility – Revisited

Today’s “Daily Stoic” reading and associated journal prompt involve one of Epictetus’ most popular pieces of writing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important or a bit profound:

Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside their reasoned choice. – “Discourses”, 1.18.21

Two short sentences.

A question and an answer.

So much to digest and ponder over. (In fact, I did a blog post about this subject a year ago…)

First off, is invincibility even truly attainable? Or is it some sort of religious/spiritual/philosophical ideal that should be pursued with full knowledge that it will never be attained? Is it an end goal, or a horizon like Buddhahood or Christlike perfection?

I see it as the latter. Something to desire, to strive for, to put into our daily practice but realizing that we will never be invincible and that we will be upset by things outside of our reasoned choice.

I have two reasons for seeing it this way. First, Epictetus seems to treat invincibility as part of a binary. Either you are invincible or you are vincible not invincible. But that doesn’t seem to be the case in the real world. Control over your emotions exists on a spectrum, it isn’t “yes, I’m in control” or “no, I’m not in control”, it is “I am more (or less) in control now than in the past”. Controlling our emotions involves practice and building the mental muscles necessary to handle the challenges, and the challenges are infinite.

Second, to see invincibility as attainable is to see the possibility of becoming THE PERFECT STOIC. But perfection in this sense can’t exist. Our minds are a combination of genetics, free will (maybe), and reactions to our environment. We can’t control two of those and free will may not really be a thing. I think this is one of the weaknesses of Stoicism (at least as an attainable ideal), it doesn’t recognize that there is more to our mental processes than just being strong and using our rational mind. Mental health issues are real and they distort these processes, some people can’t just use their rationality to overcome their emotions. Trauma, chemical differences, and a plethora of known and unknown processes shape how we respond to the world around us. We are more than just reason.

But, I still think it is something to shoot for. There is great joy in pursuing something that you’ll never attain, struggling just to struggle, pushing to see how far you can get before this moist meat-suit that we call a body decides to return to the dust from which it came. At least it is to me.


Day 3 Update of “Operation: Shut Off Facebook and Become Who You Want to Become”

Yesterday was my first real weekend and it went really well. I went to the gym, got my 10,000 steps in, read, meditated, did some coding, practiced yoga, and kept my calorie consumption where it should be. I even went out for a friend’s birthday party and stuck to my diet… and I didn’t even drink alcohol! I actually had a really good time, I’m not sure why but I felt more open, personable, and interested than I normally do in social situations where I don’t really know anyone. It certainly helped that Anna was there, that I sat next to our friend, and that two of the people next to us were SUPER talkative and friendly. Sometimes extroverts can be overwhelming to me, but these people were good conversationalists and asked us real questions. We chatted about world travel, the military (he was a vet), and drug use very openly. I think it helped that I didn’t have booze or Facebook to retreat into.

So, it was a good day. I didn’t lose any weight (but that’s not surprising given the 7 lb drop on Friday) but the weekend was productive and off to a good start. I have reasonable goals for today (several of which I’ve already accomplished) and my partner and I are heading down to the Dirty Myrtle tonight to make the most out of a quick work trip I have down there on Monday.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”