Being Social

My time away from Facebook continues to benefit my mental health and productivity, but there are some downsides that I want to address. I miss having social interaction with the people I’ve met and become friends with online. I want to maintain those relationships and even build new ones. I’m not exactly sure how to do that, but I have an experiment in mind that I hope you’ll help me with.

Serendipitously, a friend of mine recently brought my attention to a practice that he learned about from Gretchen Rubin (personally, I haven’t read any of her writing yet but I plan on it). Apparently, evidence shows that maintaining close relationships is mostly about knowing mundane and intimate details about each other’s lives. The practice she uses involves keeping open-ended threads and conversations going. Neither party is obligated to respond to all or any part of the thread, the main goal is storytelling about your life to the other person.

I’ve been told that I generally do a good job of this on Facebook because I’m so open about my life (for better or worse). I want to keep up that openness, which leads us to this blog post. I’m going to share some stuff about my last week (and life in general) and I’d love for those interested to either respond in the comments, send me an email that will start a personal chain between us (pjneiger@gmail.com), or perhaps send me an anonymous message that I can respond to here (pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH). It doesn’t matter to me if we are close friends, acquaintances, or strangers at this point. I want to see if this practice can deepen our relationship and allow for a healthier, more personal alternative to Facebook in our lives. Again, there is no obligation to respond directly to what I’ve shared, this is more of an opportunity to share about your life and allow us to have a forum to deepen our understanding of each other. All too often we make assumptions about people based on a few small bits of information.

So, without further ado, here is a bulleted list of random things going on in my life or that are on my mind.

  • My partner and I are currently house-shopping and it is the most stressful thing we’ve ever done together. We’ve spent years travelling by bicycle through rain and snow and summer heat, but that was a cake-walk compared to this for me.
  • I am currently in love with trail running. I ran a 9-mile run on Saturday and it was fucking fantastic. The people involved with trail running are so much nicer and laid back than road racers. I am already excited for the next one.
  • I have recently been given a raise at work and more responsibility. I love it, but I’m nervous about it too. My imposter syndrome has kind of been hitting me hard recently.
  • The worst part about working from home is the lack of social activity. I’m trying really hard to get out there and make friends, but doing that as someone in your 30’s without kids in a new city is tough. Anna and I have a couple friends who are awesome, but I still feel a bit lonely because I don’t have any friends of my own.
  • For the first time in a LONG time I’m actually excited about a book I’m writing. I’m not sure what form this world will take yet, but I’m stoked about it.
  • My D&D character (a Level 7 Paladin/Barbarian Dragonborn) had a really epic week this week. I was betrayed by an ally and almost died, I knew the betrayel was coming but I didn’t expect it so soon. I survived though, the traitor is dead, and I got to slaughter some barbarians that were entranced by the illusion of flying fish that my Triton clan member created.
  • One thing I really miss about California is having access to clothing-optional venues. There are beaches, festivals, and friend’s homes where it is okay to be nude. I don’t have that here and I didn’t realize how much I miss feeling that free. We have a few friends who we are comfortable sending and receiving nude and/or sexual snapchats, which is nice, but I’d like more.
  • I have become increasingly aware that my relationship with food and alcohol isn’t great. I have been scaling them both back to a healthier level but it is tough, I tend to turn to them in times of stress and I need a better way to cope.
  • This year has a lot of beautiful things lined up for Anna and I. We’ve got Austin for Kesha, 10-days in Iceland, and a week-long bike ride across Iowa. I’m so excited and I’m working hard to be at a level of fitness and confidence for all these events.
  • This last week I finished reading three books: “Principles” by Ray Dalio, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by JK Rowling (side note, did you know that the British title of the first book is ‘and the Philosopher’s Stone’, but they changed it for Americans… dumb) and I’m probably going to finish another 2-3 this week.
  • I decided to start talking to a life/career coach this last week and I’m really glad I did. She gave me some fantastic feedback and perspective that I think will help me reach more of my goals.
  • This next week I’ve got a Marketing Meeting for the Cape Fear Community Land Trust (I’m the new chair of the committee), a workout with my personal trainer, a massage scheduled (treat yo’self), D&D, and Anna and I plan on going to the 20th Birthday Party for one of the bottle shops in town. I am also going to start rucking again because of an event I have coming up next month. Oh, and there is a group called “F3” that I may join for a workout or two. All in all, a busy week. 🙂

Thanks for taking the time to read through this. I would really love to hear from you all if you feel inclined to try this experiment in increased friendship with me.


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 5)

This is the final 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.
Part 4 is available here.

But first… a very quick question from my Sarahah page. If you’ve got something on your mind feel free to submit it and I’ll respond here. As you can see from my AMA page, I enjoy discussing all types of subjects that most people consider off-limits.

“How do you pronounce your last name?”

🙂 I have definitely had this question before in my life. Whenever people find themselves in the unenviable position of pronouncing my last name (Neiger) there is always an awkward pause. I actually had a drill sergeant in the Army who refused to say my name and a squad leader who just called me “Peanut Butter” (because, apparently, I looked like the type of guy who would put peanut butter on my dick and have a dog lick it off). *le sigh*

Anyway, I’ve done some research into my name. My family told me it was German in origin. While it follows the German pronunciation rules with the hard “g” and “when two vowels go a walkin’ the second one does the talkin'” I’ve found my last name is likely Jewish and is more common in Israel than elsewhere in the world. (Note: my research is very elementary and shouldn’t be taken as fact).

The easiest way to pronounce my last name is to remember that it rhymes with Tiger, which actually happens to define my attitude (in bed). Rawr.

Now, on to “The Raft is Not the Shore”.


Chapter 8: Jesus and Buddha

“As the Buddha says, ‘My doctrine is only a raft helping to bring you over to the shore, not ultimate reality; you shouldn’t worship it.” – Nhat Hanh

This teaching, which is clearly the source of the book’s title, is something that I never really saw growing up. There was no sense of modesty in how Christ’s words were taught to me. Jesus was shown to me as a god to be obeyed (sort of) and not a guide on a path. His word was the shore, not a raft to find the shore. I should re-read the red letters to see what impression I get from his actual words now that I have been away from church indoctrination for over a decade.

“I always try to be aware of the fact that when the Buddha or Jesus said something, they were saying it to someone or some group of people. I should understand the circumstances in which they spoke, in order to get into communion with them rather than merely take their saying word for word.” – Nhat Hanh

This view of the big picture, this nuance is sorely missing from a lot of religious teachings. Instead of looking at patterns of love or tolerance or forgiveness, many churches get stuck on specific words or rules. I think this is truer when you read Paul than Jesus, but Paul’s impact on the church shouldn’t be understated. He may have more influence on modern American Christianity than Jesus.

“I thought one reason for the deep trouble among the students at the seminary was that there was no atmosphere around them inviting them to become Christians. Rather, the atmosphere was urging them to become experts in Christianity. And the two are very different things.” – Berrigan

I don’t have any particular knowledge of the seminary (obvi), but if this is true I find it troubling. Samual Clemens old saying, “Don’t let schooling interfere with his education,” applies to seminary as well as secular education.

Chapter 9: Communities of Resistance

“One should not be idolatrous or bound to any doctrine, any theory, any ideology, including Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought must be guiding means and not absolute truths.” – Nhat Hanh

This mindset has become increasingly appealing to me. It is like Huxley’s “The Perennial Philosophy” or even Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” and Jung’s “Collective Unconscious”. Our species uses stories, mythologies, and religious teachings in the pursuit of an absolute truth that is larger than any of the individual means of attaining that truth. All are different paths up the same mountain, and no path has all the experience or knowledge to fully understand the mountain. I think this is why pagan practices and the Unitarian Universalist church both appeal to me so much. They are seeking truth and justice and peace without ideology.

“And resistance, at root, I think, must mean more than resistance against war. It is resistance against all kinds of things that are like war… resistance means opposition to being invaded, occupied, assaulted, and destroyed by the system. The purpose of resistance, here, is to seek the healing of yourself in order to be able to see clearly.” – Nhat Hanh

Resistance to sexism, racism, bigotry, emotional attachment, animal abuse, pollution, government… all things that invade, occupy, assault, and destroy our bodies and minds and others.

“the invasion, the loss of soul, loss of self-understanding on the part of many modern people. In the form almost of madness, one is invaded by demonic values of this world, and runs with them.” – Berrigan

We are a culture of damaged souls.

“If in many monastic communities people are praying and meditating but do not resist, maybe it’s because they do not pray and meditate properly… meditating and praying should be in the context of life. And if you isolate yourself from the reality of suffering, I think that something is wrong.” -Nhat Hanh

It is easy for me to scoff at religious people who fall back on “thoughts and prayers” for every tragedy or ounce of suffering in their community. But I’m just as bad. My time is often spent in relative luxury while others suffer and I just hope/think someone else will take care of it. Is that better or worse than just praying about it? I don’t know.

“Do not judge each other too easily, too quickly, in terms of ideology, of point of view, strategies, things like that. Try to see the real person, the one with whom you live. You might discover aspects that will enrich you.” – Nhat Hanh

Amen.

And this ends my reflection on “The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward a Buddhist-Christian Awareness” by Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan. I highly, highly recommend picking up a copy and flipping through it from time to time.


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”

Week 2 Progress

My focus on improving my life has been chugging along at a good pace this week. I am DEFINITELY happier and more productive without Facebook. I’ve logged on a few times for very specific reasons and I think if I keep it to reasons like that then I can stay in a relatively good place with it. Here are a few milestones from this week:

  • Went to the doctor (finally) and had a good experience with the VA. I was able to schedule an appointment to see a therapist to assist with my mental health issues. I also had blood work done, aside from very slightly high levels of LDL cholesterol it all looks good. The VA even did x-rays of my left hip and knee (which I injured in the Army) and I start some physical therapy next month.
  • I started a new “Miracle Morning” plan where I wake up at 5am (my schedule below). It has been working really well for me the last couple of days and I plan on sticking with it. The book I got it out of is worth reading but it is a bit like an infomercial, so be prepared. There is good info in it but I got the feeling that the author was really much more interested in selling side products than actually helping people. It probably could have been a week-long series of solid blog posts instead of a book.
  • I checked out a new fitness place in town that focuses on Spartan-style obstacle course challenge and rucking, and I really enjoyed it. It is a social place and will complement my personal training and running really well. I signed up for an overnight event they have coming up next month, which is exciting. I really haven’t had much of a social life since getting to Wilmington, being an introvert and working from home can really turn you into a homebody sometimes. Oh, I also have a 9-mile trail run on Saturday, which should be fun.
  • One of the things I miss about Facebook is the social aspect. So, I’m logging on once a week or so to get email addresses and birthdays from the system and I plan on reaching out to people in a more personal manner throughout the year. Hopefully, this will sustain and build relationships with people that I like.
  • Today, I have a phone session with a life/career coach that I am considering working with. I have come to realize recently that I would really benefit from having someone to hold me accountable and provide me with support as I try to make writing more of a career, or at least expand my current position to become more stable and lucrative.

Alright, here is my routine for the last three days. It has been really successful but it will get more challenging soon. Anna has been gone the last three nights but she comes back today.

0500 – Wake up, brush teeth, drink water, feed animals
0515 – Meditation via the Headspace App
0530 – Affirmations
0535 – Visualizations
0540 – Light exercise (yoga, walk, jog)
0600 – Journaling (GoJournal and The Daily Stoic)
0610 – Personal Development reading
0630 – Creative Writing
0650 – Blogging
0710 – Reading
0800 – Right of Passage work
0830 – Skill-building
0900 – Gym or long run
1000 – Work and other daily activities
2055 – Set up next day
2100 – End of day journaling (GoJournal and Daily Stoic)
2115 – Evening Walk
2130 – Visualizations
2135 – Affirmations
2140 – Meditation via the Headspace App
2150 – Water, teeth, bed

As far as physical progress, things are still moving along but have slowed down a little. I think I just burnt through the low-hanging water weight fruit and now it is going to be a slower chug towards my goals. I definitely notice some slimming around the waist in my profile picture and front picture.

Weight:
Beginning – 187.5 lbs
Week 1 – 177.5 lbs
Week 2 – 176.4 lbs
Total Loss – 11.1 lbs
Weekly Loss – 1.1 lbs

Waist Measurements:
Beginning – 37.75 lbs
Week 1 – 36 inches
Week 2 – 36 inches
Total Loss – 1.75 inches
Weekly Loss – 0 inches

Week 2                                                          Beginning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I’m happy with my progress but I’m still dedicated to moving things along. My nutrition has been on point and my work-outs are paying off. I feel much stronger even if my appearance seems to have stalled out a little bit.

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”

Turning to the Pros

I’ve always resisted asking for help. I tend to try and do things my own way for far too long before seeking support. I don’t learn from others mistakes and I experiment irresponsibly, it is a wonder that I’m alive. I’m trying to change that this year, though. I’m trying to reach out and get support in order to reach my potential. There are a few key areas of my life where I am now seeking help.

First, my physical fitness. I can work out and get in generally good shape, but it is unlikely that I’ll reach my potential in a timely manner without help. So, I’ve joined a gym, hired a personal trainer, and started attending group classes. I will be able to receive guidance from people who specialize in building my body and increasing my health, and they will provide me with motivation as well. I’ve often heard something like “you know your body best”, and that is true to an extent, but I don’t know human physiology or what bodies are generally capable of. My mind is my own worst limit and having someone there who can structure a plan around my desires and has a larger pool of experience to pull from is beneficial.

Second, my mental health. For far, far, far too fucking long I’ve put off my mental health. I need a therapist (and so do you). I’ve neglected it by saying that my PTSD isn’t that bad or that others are worse off or that I can’t afford it (more on that below), but I was just scared. I didn’t want to know if I was broken completely. I didn’t want to tell my feelings to someone. I wanted to stay bottled up and angry or frustrated behind a stoic mask. I thought I could handle it, but I can’t (and I don’t need to).

Third, my career. I’ve read self-help books and I’ve implemented new routines and habits, but that can only get me so far. I want to be a writer, a  creator, and a healer but I lack the drive to do it on my own right now. I need an objective third party to help move me in that direction. I’m sure some people have the internal strength to reach their potential without help, but I am not that person and I think it is wise for me to admit that. If I try to become a writer alone then I am going to have decades of blank pages ahead of me. So, I’ve set up my first phone call with a potential coach tomorrow.

Lastly, I’m considering going back to school for something more healing. Massage therapy (with a focus on sports massage) is incredibly appealing to me, but I have a few reservations about it. I am also interested in becoming a therapist but the programs are so expensive and my student loans are still high. It is easy to say “the internet exists, why do we need schools?”, but I guess I don’t work that way. I’ve tried to self-educate myself to learn foreign languages and other skills, but it just hasn’t worked. Maybe I could have been an “unschool” kid but the time and energy it would take to become an “unschool” adult seems much higher than the time and energy it would take to just go back to school.

Yes, these mostly cost money but in each case, I’ve made a cost-benefit analysis. In some cases that analysis was fairly straightforward. If I pay a life coach X amount of dollars but I think it is reasonable that I’ll earn X+100 each month working with them, then it is a good deal.

With my physical health, it is a little bit more difficult to calculate but can still be done. Using random numbers, if I pay my trainer $100 a week and he gets me to my training goals in 3 months instead of 6 then I’m living the life I want for longer. I also feel like there is a mental health boost to physical fitness (the brain is part of the body, after all) and, though difficult to measure, there is a possibility that physical health actually will pay off financially through more creativity, greater confidence, and reduced health problems in the future. How much money will I save if I can prevent myself from getting heart disease or diabetes or face cognitive decline a decade or two earlier (or ever)? I don’t know, but an “expensive” trainer may end up being cheap in the long run.

The most difficult cost-benefit analysis is seeing a therapist. I think there are some potential work-related benefits, but again, they are hard to measure. If my therapist is able to help me work on my (increasingly bad) inability to focus, concentrate, or stick with a task, then I’ll be able to log more work hours and earn more money. I’ll also be able to build a greater skill set in school if my mind is in a good place. Dealing with PTSD won’t really provide a financial payoff that I can think of, but life isn’t about a financial payoff for everything. If dealing with my mental health issues allows me to have a life filled with more love, patience, and peace, then it is worth it. It is a service I’m paying for, not an investment. And isn’t that the point of earning money, to pay for experiences? To help other people? To make the most out of this life? Time is our most scarce resource (until technology advances more) and it is worth spending on getting guidance.

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 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”