Week 11 Update

Have you ever had one of those mornings when the universe just seems right? Where you wake up with a sense of motivation, clarity, and optimism?

I can’t recall having many but today was one of those days. I don’t know what caused it. Maybe the reduced stress from finally closing on our house has opened up some room in my brain. Maybe the weekly group mindfulness meditation session I’ve been going to has started to have an effect. Maybe I just got a really good nights sleep.

The reason is really unimportant. What matters is that I woke up ready to be productive and had an intuitive idea of what my priorities should be and some of the changes I need to make. As is the case with most my good days I started by scheduling my day, a little journaling, and The Daily Stoic. Here is today’s passage from Epictetus’ Discourses (4.12.1; 19)

“When you let your attention slide for a bit, don’t think you will get back a grip on whatever you wish – instead, bear in mind that because of today’s mistake everything that follows will be necessarily worse… Is it possible to be free from error? Not by any means, but it is possible to be a person always stretching to avoid error. For we must be content to at least escape a few mistakes by never letting our attention slide.”

My interpretation? Small decisions matter. Our trajectory can be altered by little things. We must be ever vigilant. But how can we do so? For me, it is a multi-tiered attack. Part of the problem is neurological and biochemical, for that I have Buproprion to help. But that is not enough, I need to practice mindfulness through meditation to strengthen my attention neuro-networks. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, I need to set myself up for success by altering my environment. I must remove those things that are working against my attention, the things that may feel good in the moment but in reality waste my life.

To quote Seneca again, “You are afraid of dying. But, come now, how is this life of yours anything but death?”

Ouch.

While I don’t think my life is only death, there are moments when I have retreated to death. I have adopted practices that waste these very precious moments. My time is spent staring at screens, scrolling through feeds, and checking emails when my time could be spent reading books, connecting with people, and engaging in deep work. I keep pretending that I can half-ass it. That my life will somehow keep moving in the direction I want it too on hopes and dreams alone even as my habits barely change. I’ve known what I need to do for a while, but out on my run today it became crystal clear.

As Marcus Aurelius says in Meditations, “This is the mark of perfection – to spend each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, laziness, or pretending.”

Frenzy, laziness, pretending. Anxiety, comfort, fantasy. How often have I spent my hours, days, and weeks engaged in frenzy, laziness, and pretending? How many moments in my life have ticked away wasted? Will I be perfect? Fuck, no. But perfection, like all philosophical goals, is a target worth pursuing even when you have full knowledge that it can never be reached. It is to enjoy the path with no hope for the destination.

So, it is time for a radical change.

The first step is to get rid of social media and staying informed, which is, by far, the biggest drain on my time and energy. Have you noticed that it isn’t just the time wasted? When I turn off Facebook I never feel better or more enlightened than when I started. I feel worse, depressed, gross. I know some people have a much healthier and productive relationship with it… I don’t. It just doesn’t serve a purpose for me anymore.

Here are my concrete changes:
– Logging off Facebook for at least the rest of 2018. The only exception to this is to participate in the End-of-Life duola training that I need to complete before the conference next year. I have changed my password to random jibberish and given the only copy of it to my partner. She will only give it to me for acceptable use. I have tried to restrain myself but I am not yet strong enough.
– I’ve taken Instagram, email, and other social networks off my phone. The only exception is SnapChat because the temporary nature of it doesn’t lend itself to unhealthy practices. I am also keeping PokemonGo, but I’m not sure if that counts as a “social network”.
– I’ve informed my boss that I will not be answering emails after 6pm, before 9am, or on weekends unless it is an absolute emergency. He will need to call or text me to inform me of the issue.
– Whenever I’m doing things with other people, whether it is grocery shopping with my partner, watching a movie, or playing board games with friends, my phone will not be on me.
– No phone at all within one hour of bedtime (usually 10pm)

For people who wish to get a hold of me, my phone and email are still available during appropriate time periods.

Whew, I didn’t mean to open this up with such a big rant about a major change in my life. Here are the other bullet points from the last two weeks in my life.

  • Finally closed on our house. For the curious, you can check it out here on Zillow. It is a little terrifying to add another ~$55,000 to my debt but at least I have something worth about $75,000 to me to make up for it.
  • My meditation group has been going super well and I love having some guidance, structure, and homework.
  • We went to a vegan festival here in Wilmington last weekend that was a lot of fun. Two of our closest friends came up to visit and we had a great time at the festival and playing the Harry Potter board game afterward.
  • The “no added sweetener and no alcohol” goal for April is going really well. The only exception to this rule was the vegan festival and the two days of unexpected recovery (see below). My partner and I are both committed to maintaining this experiment by not keeping anything with added sweetener in the house (with maybe a single “cheat” day a month or something) and minimizing alcohol in the house. If it isn’t readily available during my moments of weakness then I won’t consume it.
  • After our friend’s left Saturday night I decided to take a little MDMA. I kind of told myself that it was to test a new product, but the truth is I just wanted to do it. It is weird how I try to make an excuse for rolling in a way that I wouldn’t for alcohol. If I had a couple glasses of wine (or a six-pack of beer) because it was a stressful week most people would accept that, but tell someone you take a dose of Molly because it was a busy week and there is more judgment.
  • Then, on Sunday, I rolled again. This was much more planned and coordinated. It was a lot of fun (as it always is when you dump your serotonin into your brain). It is such a beautiful experience and I really support anyone who wishes to try it (but be safe… ask me for more details if you want).
  • The downside of rolling two days in a row is the hangover was a little rough. I had the “third-day blues” a bit but the day after wasn’t bad. I think the stuff we used was cleaner or something. Regardless, it is still WAY better than an alcohol hangover.
  • I kind of regret getting Poncho. I have no idea how to deal with a cat and it is SO FUCKING ANNOYING when an animal is roaming the house for literally hours meowing. He wants to go outside but that isn’t a realistic option and there is no way (that I know of) to train him to shut his mouth. He also destroys stuff a lot. I don’t think we will get a second cat.
  • Taxes are the worst and I hate them. I had to postpone paying my Federal taxes because I am being royally screwed and want to talk to an attorney or accountant or something. It pains me so much to see how much money I’ve paid in taxes in the last decade and know that if that money was mine I would have paid off all my loans and I would be actually stimulating the local economy instead of bombing brown children and padding the pockets of the military-industrial complex. Somehow we can bail out banks but not people. Shit like this is why I’m an anarchist.

Hmm… that ended kind of on a bummer. Sorry about that. Here is my fitness progress for Week 11. I’m definitely pleased with my progress and I feel it is time to shift away from weight loss and more into heavier weights. I’ve got a 12-mile trail race coming up in May but after today’s 8-mile run I’m not too worried about that. I’m more interested in getting my BF % into the 10% range and look a little like my fellow people, like this or this (not really, I don’t have the time for that but I’d like to head in that direction). I gotta get fit for beach season and hanging out with friends naked and nude beaches/bike rides/skinny-dipping, and group sex. Besides, I feel an ethical obligation to stay as healthy as possible for my partner and other loved ones. But mostly, I just like to feel comfortable naked.

Anyway…

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”

 

PS: I didn’t do a Week 10 update because I wasn’t really feeling it and I’ve been super busy and stressed. It just wasn’t a good week for me to do one.

Putting Down the Pen

For years now I have told myself and others that I was a writer and I wanted to make a career out of that. The potential to craft stories and worlds that impact people the way Tolkien and King and Lewis impacted me. Universes swirl around in my head that touch on our reality and inspire me in my day-to-day life.

But I haven’t written a damn word* (So, dear blog reader, this change will actually have zero impact on you because I haven’t actually shared anything as a writer)

It isn’t simply writer’s block or not knowing what I should do. The truth is, it isn’t really important to me at this point in my life. That is a truth that has been difficult for me to admit and accept. I have wrapped my identity around being a (future) writer so much that it has lead to stress and anxiety and heartbreak.

So, I’m putting down the pen (err… keyboard) and am no longer going to view writing as a career I strive for. I am still going to blog daily (mostly) because I really enjoy this format for spewing my thoughts out into the ether. I get a lot of joy out of blogging and sharing, it usually comes naturally even on the days when I’m just keeping the habit alive. I never felt that with my fiction writing. The truth is, I think the world’s in my mind are better suited for a video game or D&D style RPG or something.

Regardless, there is a stinging bitter relief that comes from laying down this burden. I have known for quite a while that I need to let this go and I’m finally ready. Maybe someday in the future, I will find myself longing to write a novel or short story or something but for now, I am going to focus on other things.

I don’t know what will take writing’s place in my headspace. I don’t know what costume I will wear instead of “writer”. I still lack a truly artistic outlet and maybe this is a chance to explore dance or painting or drawing or photography or music. I am also starting massage therapy school in a few months and am going to an end-of-life doula training session next month, so those experiences may provide me with some guidance.

There is a whole world out there for me to explore and I realize I had chained myself to an identity that does not serve me at this point. Maybe it will in the future, maybe it won’t, but I’m glad I mustered the strength to cast off a piece of myself that has caused me more suffering in the past few years than pleasure.

* Except for a memoir about my bike ride, but that isn’t really what I think about when I envision myself as a writer.

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”

A Response

I got a response to my blog post from yesterday from (I assume) the submitter.

“I was drunk when I sent that last one”

That’s cool, I don’t judge. I think drunk people say what sober people think. It brought out a bit of your subconscious. I think drugs (and I include alcohol in this category because it is a drug) can be powerful tools that help you figure out what you really desire out of life. One of the reasons I love MDMA is it breaks down the barrier between who I am and who I want to be. It helps me come to terms with my feelings, my sexuality, and passions in life. In some ways, it is similar to alcohol because it lowers inhibitions but in my experience, it never lowers inhibitions to the point where you will do something you regret. It gives you the insight and courage to pursue your interests and ask questions (of yourself and others) that you want answers to. If you are my friend on Snapchat you may have received some of these random questions from me while I’m rolling.

Of course, drugsan also bring to the surface some pretty bad parts of our psyche that manifest themselves in harmful ways. Our past and demons we haven’t dealt with can rear their ugly heads. So, this tool isn’t for everyone but I know my life has, overall, been greatly enhanced by drugs and alcohol. I am not only an advocate of their legalization, I am an advocate of their use.

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”

A Message

A couple of days ago I received the following anonymous message using the Sarahah service. It has been quite a while since I got one of these but I am really glad I did. I love communicating with friends and such, and I think an anonymous submission allows a degree of freedom that doesn’t exist when identities are known. If you would like to send me an anonymous message the links are at the bottom of this post. Also, if you’d like to read my previous questions and responses (I think there is over 100 at this point) I keep them all on my website on this page. Fair warning, a good deal of them are sex and relationship advice… which I actually love giving, so hit me up with your freaky questions 🙂

 

“I don’t know why, but I almost religiously read your blog posts. Why do you fascinate me? I don’t know. Is it because you live the life I secretly wish I could? Sometimes I disagree strongly. Mostly, I agree strongly.”

First off, thank you for reading my ramblings. It feels good to know that I’m not just screaming into the online ether here.

I’m not sure why you read it religiously… isn’t that a weird way to say it? I mean, I get the history behind it but I feel like using the word scientifically would be better. Religiously seems to imply following something out of tradition or because an authority figure tells you to without question. Scientifically would imply that you follow something thoroughly and adjust as needed to improve your life.

Anyway, unnecessary rant.

I am kind of honored that you find me fascinating. I find myself kind of dull most of the time. If you wish to live a life more like mine then I think you should go for it. I am not a unique or special person and my life is something that most people could replicate to some extent. It doesn’t require much money or resources or anything.

Sure, you may have made decisions in the past that may require some modification (like decided to raise a child or get married to someone or buy a house) but overall, my life is easy to replicate. Just be unapologetically yourself and get rid of things/people that don’t serve you.

Does your job suck? Quit.

Do you want to bike across the country? Start peddling.

Do you want to share your kinks and desires and raise your freak flag high? Start a blog… anonymously or stand proudly by who you are.

Interested in trying a drug or pegging or an open relationship or skydiving or sending nudes via Snapchat? Consult with any consenting adults that you need to consult and go for it.

You only live once. If you secretly wish you could live like me then I encourage you to give it a shot. I didn’t become who I am by jumping into everything at once, it was a lot of baby-steps. With each step I saw the world wasn’t as scary as I thought, the risks weren’t as extreme as I imagined, and for every secret desire there is a community of like-minded people who share that desire and would welcome you with open arms. The world would rather hug you than hurt you, and we are in desperate need of people who live unapologetically out loud and true to themselves. Don’t hide, you are beautiful and a gift to society if you live the life you truly want.

But, don’t necessary follow in my footsteps. Like you said, there are things you strongly disagree with me about (I wish I knew what they are, I’d love to hear your thoughts). Embrace those disagreements, analyze them, refine your arguments, test them against your logic and the logic of others. We grow stronger and more independent when we look at someone we respect and love and say “I disagree”.

You are awesome and I’m glad you sent me this message. I hope you are having a wonderful day, week, month, year and life. And I hope you reach out to me again. But mostly, I hope you live your life true to yourself, try new things, and shine brightly.

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 Practice That Keeps Calling Me Back

I’ve tried to develop many different skills and habits in my life. Music, dance, learning a foreign language, painting, fire dancing, coding, and several others are all things that I’ve dabbled in from time-to-time. None of them really stuck and, to be honest, I never really felt enough passion to push through with them. For example, I may have a vague love of the concept of learning to play an instrument but it never develops beyond buying a bass guitar, fiddling with it for a few minutes occasionally, and then letting it gather dust in the corner.

I love the idea of learning new skills or improving my life or creating something more than I actually love the act of learning new skills, improving my life, or creating something. I think the disconnect comes from not being convinced of the long-term benefits of these interests. I have a very difficult time viewing any of these things as having value beyond the process itself. I guess I’m too “goal oriented” in this respect (huh, this is the first time I’ve come to this conclusions… this is why I love writing my thoughts out).

Anyway, one area where I have consistently come back to over the last several years is mindfulness meditation. I feel like I fail at it constantly and the practice is difficult for me to keep up with most days, but I keep trying because I’m convinced by the science that it can improve my life. Also, it seems that the world’s high performers all practice some sort of meditation or at least all the ones that talk with Tim Ferriss do.

With regular practice mindfulness meditation has been shown to:

  • Decrease anxiety, depression, and irritability
  • Memory improves, reaction times become faster, and both mental and physical stamina increase
  • Help create better and more fulfilling relationships
  • Reduce key indicators of chronic stress, including hypertension
  • Reduce the impact of serious conditions such as chronic pain and cancer
  • Relieve drug and alcohol dependence
  • Bolster the immune system to fight colds, the flu, and other diseases

That all sounds great but if you are like me that fifth point should give you some pause. Cancer? Can it help with cancer? That is a huge red flag. As Dr. Sydney Mcelroy from the amazing medical history podcast, “Sawbones” says, “If something claims it can cure everything than in reality it can cure nothing.” There are no medical panaceas and inflated claims of treating cancer usually means that someone is a snake-oil salesman (sidenote: this is one of my main issues with marijuana advocates, they tend to rely on shitty science or untested hypothesis to treat the drug as a cure-all which only discredits the actual medicinal uses of it).

So, to discuss the seemingly magical properties of meditation. First, it doesn’t cure anything but it can help reduce problems with serious issues. It is not a substitute for medical care but it is a free supplement that won’t cause any harm.  For those interested in the actual study on meditation and cancer the article is “A randomized, wait-list controlled trial: the effect of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, pp 613-22 by Speca, Carlson, Goodey, and Angen.

Basically, meditation helps with stress and because stress fucks us up so bad and can really affect our health the meditation has a nearly universal benefit. But, like all things, it should be met with healthy skepticism and new research should be considered. At the very least though, I’m confident saying that there is no harm in starting a meditation practice and I think there is the potential for huge benefits.

So, I’m diving back into it again but this time I have more support than in the past. My therapist recommended that I join a mindfulness meditation group at the VA that meets weekly and I decided to do it. It is an interesting experience being in a group therapy session, I’ve never done something like this before. I think it will be good for me though, at the very least it will be good to have an explicit plan laid out for me so that I’m not just bouncing around on my own. I’m sure I’ll have more to report on during the eight weeks of the program.

If you are interested in trying mindfulness or reading about it here are my favorite resources on the subject, or you can send me a message (contact info below):

  • “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World” by Mark Williams and Danny Penman – The plan I’m using over the next eight weeks
  • “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright – A scientific and secular look at many of Buddhisms claims and practices, including meditation
  • Headspace app – My ‘go to’ for guided meditation, there are tons of different courses and they have a new meditation each day
  • “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn – A beast of a book that I haven’t read yet but was recommended for the group therapy program I’m in
  • “Hardcore Zen” by Brad Warner – A free-wheeling, DIY discussion of zazen Buddhism and meditation. It is more story than practice but shows how meditation helped the author.
  • “Run For Your Life” by William Pullen – Taking mindfulness off the cushion and into the world
  • “10% Happier” by Dan Harris – A memoir-style book by journalist Dan Harris that discusses how meditation helped him after having a panic attack on the air
  • “Everyday Zen” by Charlotte Joko Beck – An application of meditation to psychology
  • “Mind Over Mood” by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky – Another recommendation from my therapist, I haven’t read it yet.

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 9 Update

April has started off a little hit-or-miss for me. The beginning of this week was pretty solid, I stayed on task with my plan (mostly) and got a lot accomplished. But things kind of sputtered around Wednesday. I conducted an AAR (after action review) of the days I didn’t hit my goals to evaluate what went wrong and I was able to narrow it down to really an issue of planning. I overzealously planned my days and ended up feeling defeated when I didn’t hit my goals.

One major area was planning things for when Anna is home. Her days off kind of fluctuate each week and it is really difficult for me to bunker down and focus when she is here. I can usually do it for an hour or three but my daily plans are basically shot. Sometimes the distraction is legitimate like running errands and such. Sometimes it is less so, my morning routine takes much longer with someone else in the house than when I’m alone and the morning routine really sets the mood for the day.

So, what actions can I take in the future to prevent this? I think a big one is to try and take the same day off of work as her. Another one is to be more vocal about my need for time alone to be productive. Lastly, the tasks for days she is off work should really be minimal.

The second area of planning was unrealistic fitness goals. I had the goal of running a total of 25 miles each week this month and really only got about half of it. Part of it was a lack of time, I had a massage scheduled this week, a meeting with the organization I volunteer for, an mindfulness group meeting at scheduled phone meeting with an old friend, and a final walk-thru of the house we are buying. Basically, just about every single day had a multi-hour block that was dedicated to something that wasn’t my monthly goals (more on my goals below). Additionally, I overestimated my fitness and tried to run too much too soon, which burnt me out big time.

The actions to help with this is again more realistic goals at the beginning of the week. And I’m scheduling in some time on Saturday to take care of any goals that I miss.

The goals and tracking I’m using is based in part on books like Deep Work, the 4-Hour Workweek, and a great conversation I had with a close friend 10 days ago. I have a white board with the following stuff written on it:

 

Weekly Goal (Week 2):

  • Gym three times this week
  • Run 20 miles
  • Study massage for three hours
  • Work 25 hours
  • Complete 56-Hour Fast
  • Finish Taxes
  • Implement Part II of 4-Hour Workweek

 

Monthly Goal (April):

  • Weigh 165 lbs
  • Complete 4-day fast
  • Run 100 miles (reduced to 80 miles after week 1)
  • Pay State Taxes
  • Credit Card Debt = $0
  • 12 hours of massage study

 

3-Month Goal (by July 1):

  • 155 lbs
  • Complete Blue Clay Breakout
  • Total Debt ~ $52,000
  • Pay two quarterly tax bills
  • Complete End-Of-Life Duola Program
  • Implement 4-Hour Workweek Completely

 

1-Year Goal (April 2019):

  • 15% Body Fat
  • Run a marathon
  • Student Loans ~ $27,000
  • $5,000 passive annual income
  • Complete Massage Therapy Program
  • Volunteer at hospital, hospice, VA, etc.

 

4-Year Goal (April 2022):

  • 10% Body Fat, ~ 170 lbs
  • Run a 100-mile trail run
  • Non-mortgage debt = $0
  • $20,000 passive annual income
  • Business plan developed for end-of-life facility

 

Motivation to stay financially and physically fit!

  • May 10-15 – Friend visiting!
  • May 17-21 – INELDA  in Toronto
  • May 26 – Blue Clay Breakout
  • June 22-25 – Kesha in Austin
  • July 22-28 – RAGBRAI
  • August 25 – September 3 – Iceland!
  • October – Start massage school

It can be hard to focus on the day-to-day tasks that are necessary to accomplish my goals. Keeping the goals literally in plain sight helps me with that. I definitely need to keep tinkering with my shorter term goals and allow for flexibility, but I am still optimistic that this plan can work out.

This next week I have a lot fewer things on my radar and hopefully, I can have a really solid and productive time.

 

Fitness-wise, I feel like I’ve hit a bit of a plateau. When I look at both the objective measurements and how I look in the mirror I really don’t see much progress over the last couple of weeks. I think part of it is recovering from a mediocre March and part of it is just a need for a rededication to the cause.

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”

A Mirror of My Fears

I really don’t like going to the VA Medical Center. It isn’t really the bureaucracy or the building or anything like that. In fact, the employees and structure are quite nice here in Wilmington. I’ve received good care from polite and friendly staff. The building is clean, modern, and has some decent amenities (though, I wish they’d get something other than processed junk in the cafe area… is it really that difficult to have a banana or apples or something available?).

No, my discomfort and dislike come more from my fellow veterans.

I realize how shitty and pretentious that sounds.

I spent some time today giving some thought to my own negative emotions about the men and women who are seeking help from the VA and I realized my emotions are a reflection of my own fear. This fear takes two specific forms: health and achievements.

When at the VA I am surrounded by people who have significant medical problems. Many, if not most, of these problems seem to be related to obesity. I think this is part of the reason that I’ve been prioritizing activity and nutrition in my life more recently. As I spend more time at the VA I see what happens when you don’t take care of yourself and that scares the shit out of me.

I want to be able to climb mountains, much less stairs, without being defeated. I want to be healthy enough to dance at my nieces and nephew’s weddings instead of being winded. And, if I’m being totally honest, I want to feel like I’m sexy and attractive to the lovely men and women out there. Of course, there is a possibility that something will happen to me that prevents this despite my best efforts, but if I don’t take care of myself now then I guarantee that I won’t be able to be strong later. Going to the VA is a ghost of Christmas future and shows what I could become.

At first, I thought the health fear was the only thing that made me feel uncomfortable at the VA. After some more thought, I found something else that was a bit more subconscious, the idea of limited achievements in life. Many veterans, whether they served 4 years or twenty years, make that time period the focal point of their lives. They wear clothing daily and maintain haircuts that reflects their time in the service. It becomes all they are known for and they dwell on it.

Again, that scares the shit out of me.

I don’t want to be known for what I did for 5% of my life when I was basically a kid. It feels so one-dimensional to me. I want more for my life than any single role or experience. So many of the people that I have trouble relating to seem to be obsessed with only one thing… military service or being a parent or being a libertarian. I want more than just one identity, I want to be more than I was. Going to the VA is the ghost of Christmas past and shows me who I was.

As I gave it even more thought I realized that these two fears are really the manifestation of a single fear, the fear of a wasted life. I probably only have one life and I’m probably going to die someday. My greatest fear is that that time will be wasted. I don’t need to accomplish EVERYTHING on my list (spoiler: probably impossible), but I want to keep active and accomplish as much of it as I can. I think that is where a lot of my anxiety comes from, I’m worried that I’m a waste. That I’m am taking this beautiful gift of life and poisoning it by putting garbage in my body and by choosing existing over living.

It is actually kind of weird. I’m an atheist and don’t really feel like I “owe” anyone. This gift of life doesn’t really have a source, but I feel an obligation to make the most out of it. Maybe it would be easier if I was still a Christian, then I would have the added pressure of feeling like I was disrespecting God when I eat fast food, don’t exercise, or lounge in front of the tv instead of reading, writing, exploring.

Instead, I’ve got to motivate myself and I think this fear serves me well in that motivation. I feel kind of shitty for reducing the people I see at the VA to little more than motivational tools, but that is what I seem to be doing. I fear becoming the person they represent in my mind, not the real them (I don’t even know the real them). They are archetypes and stereotypes that I don’t want to see in myself. I don’t know if this superficial analysis is a good thing or not, but it is honestly what I’m doing… and I can’t grow and improve unless I’m honest with myself and keep asking myself why I feel the way I do.

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”

Speaking Love

A friend of mine recently posted a quick summary of the Five Love Languages (see the bottom of the page) that got me thinking again. For those unfamiliar with them, the “five love languages” are the five ways that we each express and experience love. It was developed by Dr. Gary Chapman, a pastor in North Carolina.

I first read the book (creatively titled, “The Five Love Languages”) years ago and, despite a bunch of unnecessary religious stuff, found it very valuable. It really helped me to think about how I express love and how I prefer to receive it. I was able to more clearly communicate with my partner to make sure both of our desires were met. It is so common for relationships to involve a level of miscommunication because those involved speak a different love language.

I have two primary love languages that I think shift slightly in importance depending on the person or circumstances.  I tend to interpret “Words of Affirmation” as a sign that someone loves me or cares for my well-being. Hearing that someone loves me or that they appreciate me or value my writing means the world to me. I also really value “Physical Touch”.  When I love someone I tend to want to hug them, hold hands, and curl up with them on the couch. This goes for friendships as well and I think it is a shame that there isn’t more hugging, kissing, cuddling, hand-holding, and physical touch in non-romantic relationships (but that is probably a different blog post).

I’m pretty neutral on two of the love languages (“Quality Time” and “Acts of Service”) but one love language actually makes me feel uncomfortable usually. “Receiving Gifts” makes me feel awkward. I am TERRIBLE at both receiving and giving gifts. I feel uncomfortable, guilty, and self-conscious. I know logically it is an act of love from friends but it ties my insides up in knots.

So, if you are interested in figuring out your love language I highly recommend taking the little quiz at this website (it is in PDF form as well if you don’t want to hand over your email address) and try to get your partner and friends to do it as well. It can really open up communication and increase your understanding of each other. And if you know how other people receive the love you can speak their language and be a better partner/friend/parent to them.

The Love Languages:

Words of Affirmation – Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important – hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.

Quality Time – In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really there – with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all the chores or tasks on standby – makes them feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.

Receiving Gifts – Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous – so would the absence of everyday gestures.

Acts of Service – Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Act of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.

Physical Touch – This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, playing with hair (my favorite), and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face – they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.

 

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”

Content Without

“Although a relationship might contribute to our happiness, our happiness must transcend the relationship. Ensuring that peace of mind is not dependent on any one thing or one person.” -Daily Headspace meditation (4/4/2018)

In 2005 my engagement to Leslie ended in an explosive fashion. There was screaming, ring-throwing, and anger on both sides. It took a few days, but eventually, I adjusted to living without her but not a day went by that I didn’t long for her to walk back in the door. She was manipulative, abusive, cheated on me, but I still wanted her. We had been together for two years and I didn’t know how to experience joy without her.

I soon drowned myself in people in order to be happy. For about a month I sought out one-night stands and eventually started dating Amy, a wonderful woman who I had no business dating. I hate to admit it, but I was with her to cover the misery in my heart. She deserved a lot better and I knew it at the time. Despite the happiness, she brought me I had a growing guilt inside me for staying with her when I knew that our lives were not on the same path and I broke up with her after about a year of dating.

For the next five or so years I managed to stay out of any personal relationship where my happiness was linked to the person. In fact, I kept a strong emotional barrier between myself and the people I cared about. Instead, I latched on to the libertarian ideology and economics. Instead of finding happiness in people I found it in an identity.

I guess this was better because it meant I wasn’t hurting anyone else, but it was only incrementally better for me. I was still attaching happiness outside of myself. This period pretty much ended when I hit my lowest point… drunk on my bed with a gun in my hand ready to end it all. Luckily, that low point wasn’t my endpoint.

The next several years involved a lot of self-examination and pursuit of health improvements. I had relationships but they didn’t involve an over-attachment or forced detachment. I wasn’t exactly healthy but I was, as Dan Savage puts it, “in good working order”. I became content with myself and was able to envision happiness even if I lost the people, roles, and things I cared about. I didn’t know it at the time but I was exercising a lot of practices that the ancient Stoics encourage (and later when I discovered Stoicism I was able to start implementing these practices more consistently and consciously).

I think most people agree that it is dangerous to attach your happiness to a romantic partner. When two people come together they should be independent enough to thrive without each other. The overall relationship dynamic should be one where you both lift each other up instead of one person disproportionately carrying the emotional weight for the other. If you suddenly end up without that person you should know you will be okay. Going into a relationship content to live without that person strengthens it further.

It seems less common, but maybe more important, to apply that same standard to other relationships. The most powerful connection is from a parent to a child but we should have the same ability to maintain our happiness independence in this relationship. To latch on to the parent identity is to set oneself up for pain unnecessarily. Eventually, that role of parent will end. Hopefully, it won’t involve the death of a child (but it might) and will be because the child grows up to be a responsible, independent adult. But either way, the role of parent will die and if happiness is attached to that identity then the individual will suffer. All things are ephemeral.

It isn’t only people that can bring about unhealthy attachment and dependence for happiness. Passion projects and other things that bring us joy we can become dangerously dependant on. I love cycling, it brings me great happiness, but there is a chance that I’ll walk outside tomorrow and get hit by a car and lose my legs. I also love reading, but I may come down with a disease that takes away my sight, or even all my senses. Will I be able to be happy? I hope so.

I think about these things, not to dwell or worry about them but because I don’t want to take anything for granted. I love the feeling of the wind on my face more when I realize that I may lose it at any moment. The joy that comes from a hot bath is intensified when I know that it may be my last. I feel the connection with my partner more deeply because I know she is mortal and our relationship will not last forever. Taking a moment to think about losing everything and how I will deal with that situation provides me with appreciation and knowledge of my own strength because I know I will be okay.

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”

Sun Kissed Cheeks

My partner and I went to the house we are buying last weekend to check out how much sun different parts of the yard get. The primary reason was to plan our vegetable garden. We learned a lesson or three trying to plant this year and we want to make the necessary adjustments to have a more robust harvest of veggies.

There was a secondary reason for me, though. I wanted to see how much sun different parts of the fenced-in backyard gets. It isn’t a huge space and has a high fence that I thought was going to keep the yard shaded most of the day. Luckily, I was wrong because I want to be able to hang out naked in my yard.

I love being naked outdoors and I miss being able to do that. When I lived in California I had access to clothing-optional beaches, as well as friends who were comfortable being nude together. It wasn’t a sexual thing or something that happened regularly, we all just were comfortable being nude if that was what we preferred.

We have such magical bodies and it is unfortunate that there is so much shame and discomfort around them. We are rarely exposed to nudity except in a sexual context or when we see beautiful people on tv. We have this distorted view of how varied and beautiful we all are. Our bodies are gifts and we should explore them and experience them in every possible way.

Every time I see a friend or “real person” nude it helps desexualize the body and makes me appreciate the great diversity of forms that we can all take. The spastic puritanism and oversexualized American culture has destroyed our ability to have an unbiased and healthy perspective of our own selves. And that is a shame. I love participating in things like the Naked Bike Ride, clothing-optional festivals, pool parties with uninhibited people, etc. It just helps me have a healthier appreciation for my body and a more accurate view of what people are like.

So, I’m excited to have a place with both sunlight and privacy from the outside world (I wish nudity wasn’t that big of a deal publicly but that isn’t the world we live in). Hopefully, in the next month or so I’ll be able to stroll out the door, lay down a towel, and enjoy nature in my natural state.

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”