How Do I Wish To Suffer?

I recently finished “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” by Mark Manson (10/10: Would recommend). It is a really solid self-help book… though it is more of an anti-self-help book. I actually plan on re-reading it here in the next week or so and trying to set up some action items to implement the book’s philosophy, but until then I am going to continue to ruminate over some of the concepts discussed.

There is one in particular that I can’t get out of my head, the concept of suffering. Maybe it is because I’ve been getting a bit into Buddhism or maybe it is because the “what makes you happy/passionate/excited” question never worked for me. Regardless, Manson flips the script and instead of asking “what is your passion?” he asks “what are you willing to suffer for?”.

Suffering is inevitable, it can’t be avoided, it is part of life, we evolved because we suffer. We suffer because we want, crave, desire, long for things we don’t have, and when we acquire them we just move the goalposts. But suffering isn’t necessarily bad for us as individuals or as a species. Suffering leads to finding food, crossing continents, having sex, climbing mountains, working in soup kitchens, growing a garden, and flying to the moon. Humans unique (mostly, as far as we know) ability to envision a better world and feel longing for it both causes our suffering and has allowed us to become all we are. You are suffering and will continue to suffer until the day you die, and so will I.

So, the question remains, if I could choose how I wish to suffer, what would that look like?

At this point in my life, I have come up with three ways I wish to suffer. I’m sure there are more as I continue to dive into my mind a bit and refine things, but these are the basics.

My body: I am willing to suffer to make my body into something that is healthy and sexy. I could claim the work I go to is only about health, longevity, etc., but the truth is that I want to feel sexually attractive and working on my body helps that. Vain? Superficial? Shallow? Maybe, but it is also the honest truth. I like sex and flirting and new experiences and my opportunity for those increase if I have a strong, healthy, fit body. So, I must suffer. I forgo the savory and sweet foods that are unhealthy, I will go through the painful process of exercising, pay for a trainer, and fast regularly.

My partnership: Relationships involve suffering. Though, it is mostly indirect suffering (hopefully). I am prioritizing one person in my life when I crave more variety. I forgo adventures and travel because I desire my partner with me. My life is filled with a million “what if” scenarios that don’t involve my partner because I have set myself on a path with her. Now, I don’t regret it at all and my choice to be with her has opened up a million new scenarios that would never present themselves if I was single, but choosing is still suffering. I’m willing to suffer for us, though, more than any of these others.

Assisting With Death: This is the newest one to come to the surface but it has been an undercurrent in my life for some time. My training with the International End-Of-Life Doula Association has sparked a desire to suffer for this cause. I am willing to spend hours of my limited life learning, training, and volunteering to help ease the transition for both the family and the dying person. I’m willing to get out of my shell and learn to be more personable, compassionate, patient, mindful, and confident. I’m willing to spend money and time to expand my skill set (particularly massage) and I’m willing to suffer the failures and setbacks that come from starting a business.

So. Suffering is unavoidable, but I can direct my suffering to what I believe in instead of letting it direct my life. In fact, we all can.

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
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

How to Change Your Mind

I just finished “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence” by Michael Pollan. First off, I kind of hate the title. That unneccesarily wordy subtitle doesn’t really do a good job of explaining what the book is about. Sure, that is all in there but it is actually a small part of the book. That isn’t to say I didn’t love the book, I did, I just don’t like the title.

So, what is this book about then? Well, a bunch of stuff. It provides a great historical account of scientific research into psychedelics. It has an interesting discussion of mushrooms. It is a first-person account of the author’s psychedelic experiences. And it looks into how psychedelics can help with dying, addiction, depression, etc.

For me, this book came at a very serendipitious time. I actually ordered it a while back but it was a pre-order, which means I was a little surprised when it showed up on my doorstep last week. Of course, it was new and shiny so I brought it along to the INELDA training I went to in Toronto. Plane rides are the best opportunity to read books and spending four days mostly alone in a strange city provided additional opportunities to dive into the book.

Not only was its arrival great timing because I needed something to read, it was also wonderful subject matter for the training that I took part in. The same weekend I was training on how to help others with death I found myself reading a book where some of the pages were devoted to how psychedelics can help people with death. I’ve long resisted my interests in sex, drugs, and death. I didn’t see them as something that I could turn into a career and I wasn’t really sure why I’m comfortable with them (is it because they are taboo or because they are all altered states of consciousness?). That has changed though. I see a vague path in front of me where I can merge the death and drugs in a way that will allow me to be a healer. Where is this path leading, exactly? No fucking clue, but the path is clearer now than any other time in my life.

I guess my dream would be to have a facility where dying people and their families can come to receive psychedelic drugs to help them with they dying process. We’d also have other professionals (nurses, doulas, massage therapists, therapists, nutritionists, etc) that are all focused on dealing the physical, mental, and spiritual struggles that come with dying in a healthy way. After my training, reading this book was like icing on the cake.

And, as is the case with all books, it has opened up a lot more rabbit holes. Like always, the back cover is filled with books I want to read and things to continue researching. This list includes:

  • “The Botany of Desire” by Michael Pollan
  • “The Varieties of Religious Experiences” by William James
  • “Altered States of Consciousness” by Tart
  • “Animals and Psychedelics” by Samorini
  • “The Philosophical Baby” by Gopnik
  • “The Perennial Philosophy” by Huxley
  • Holotropic Breathwork
  • California Institute of Integral Studies
  • Katherine MacLean
  • Compass Pathways
  • Journal of Psychopharmacology
  • Al Hubbard
  • Paul Stamets TED Talk
  • Keats, “negative capability”
  • Henry Berson
  • Siddha Yoga
  • Esalen
  • Phenomology

I’m working down in Florida today and my upcoming weekend is busy as tits, but I really, really, really hope to start diving into this work more soon. I am no longer going to spend my time reading and doing the things I should do when I feel a passion growing inside me to help others in this important way.

Oh yeah, and the book made me want to try psychedelics again, but in a more therapeutic and controlled setting. I’ve never really been into psychedelics, my experiences have been mediocre at best. But I’m willing to give them a try again.

Vigil and Last Breath Ritual

As promised, here is my current death plan. I am sure that things will change considerably in the coming centuries but this is where I stand now.

Vigil

Once my body is showing signs that I’m in the last couple weeks of life it is time to start the vigil and get me into the last place I’ll be alive. Planning this was actually pretty emotionally difficult. I broke down crying when I was thinking about taking my last breath. My tears weren’t because of sadness really, or fear. My last breath is going to be fucking beautiful and a pretty awesome end to a life well-lived.

So, this plan is based on a “dream” scenario where I die at an old age in some home that I haven’t built yet.

I want my last days to be in my bedroom where there is a massive window that looks out into the forest. Occasionally I’d like to be wheeled outside to feel the sunshine, look at the stars, and feel the rain. I love the rain and spending a few minutes just feeling drops of water would be wonderful.

My bedroom will be mostly empty except for the things I’d like people to read to me. I want people to tell me stories about our lives together, read letters that they’ve written, read some poetry, play acoustic instruments, and read some books that I never got around to reading. The only time I want any television on is at the end of the day when I’d like to watch Netflix with Anna, just like we do most nights now.

I’d like candles that smell like blueberry or vanilla lit occasionally. And each morning I’d like someone to bring me up a fresh cup of coffee that I can smell. Music should be played regularly as well, specifically a death playlist that I’m still compiling. If anyone wants to sing some of the songs I choose or play them on a musical instrument that is cool too.

Oh, and I want a peace lily in my room.

Before entering into the room where I am dying (and I definitely want visitors) I want to people to really get into a good headspace. My room is not a place to argue over money or logistical bullshit, keep that outside. Before entering my room I want everyone to take a scrap of paper (the doula will organize this) and write something they are grateful for. It doesn’t need to be something huge, it can be something simple and plain. The grateful notes will be put in a box and read to me on occasion.

All friends and family are encouraged to visit me and take care of any unresolved issues. As most people know, I love being touched. Friends and family are welcome to touch, hug, cuddle, etc. The only limit is my head. Only Anna can touch my head or play with my hair. Oh, and I’d like my dog to come and curl up at my feet whenever possible.

Last Breath Ritual

When my body starts actively dying it is time to get the last breath ritual started. First, I’ll need someone to light a small campfire outside using oak if possible. Then, when I’m in my last hours of breath (or shortly after I die if I go quickly) I want to be taken outside and put into a hammock that is set up for this occassion. Ideally, Anna will be cuddled up with me and will gently remind me from time-to-time that it is okay to let go (damn it, now I’m starting to cry in the airport).

Four Candles

Once I’m set up in the hammock I want four candles set up at each corner of the hammock. The first candle will be green and once I’m in settled in I want my mother to take fire from the campfire and use it to light the green candle. This represents my birth, the springtime of my life. I’d like people to sing or play Amazing Grace when the candle starts burning. While this candle burns I’d like it to be fairly solemn and people can discuss my life, how I impacted them, and such. Next to the green candle will be a picture of my birth (or when I was a baby).

When the green candle is nearly burnt out I want my father to use some of the remaining flame to light the second candle, a yellow one. This represents the summer of my life that my father helped prepare me for through his example. I’d like an acoustic version of “Southbound” by MxPx played when this candle is lit. Then, the doula will bring out beer and other drinks or food. This is a bit of a party period and I’d like laughter. Next to the yellow candle will be a picture of the four of us guys from high school.

Once the yellow candle is nearly gone I want Josh to use the flame to light the third candle, an orange one. This represents autumn of my life and how Josh acted as a mentor and best friend throughout adulthood. When the orange candle catches fire then I’d like an acoustic version of “Past Lives” by Kesha played. Next to the orange candle will be my wedding photo. This period can continue the party.

When the orange candle is burnt down I want Anna to light the final candle, a blue one. This is the winter of my life and Anna, as my partner, was with me until the end. When this candle is lit things should calm down a bit. “My Way” by Frank Sinatra should play but when the song is over I’d like it to be mostly nature sounds and gentle conversations. I’d like the candle (or replacement candles) to keep burning until I take my last breath. After my last breath the doula should blow out my candle.

When I am no longer breathing I’d like to be moved to a bike-powered carriage and have loved ones bike me down to a pre-determined spot where I will be buried. It should be near a river and I’d like to be washed in the river.

Once clean, I want friends and family to lower me into the ground. In my mouth I want a little bit of MDMA placed, in my right hand a beer, and in my left hand a book on Stoicism (specifics TBD). I want to be wearing a plain t-shirt and jeans. A black flag should be folded and placed on my chest. Once buried I’d like a final poem by Hafez to be read by the doula and then they should say “We are stardust, and to stardust we shall return”. I don’t want my grave marked.

After those words people can head on up to the house to have a celebration of their choosing.

So, there it is, part of my death plan. There are still things that I haven’t figured out yet like a Legacy Project, but at least my final days are somewhat taken care of. Oh, and it should go without saying but I’ll say it, if there is anything I missed then Anna has the authority to make those decisions. I know I didn’t cover any medical stuff. I don’t view death as a medical emergency, or even a medical issue, but decisions may need to be made and I want her to make them. I want Josh, Kayla, and Jordan to support her and provide any guidance she may need. If somehow there is a significant disagreement or a compromise can’t be made then flip a coin.

It was interesting and somewhat difficult to do this exercise, but I actually feel more at peace now that I’ve given it some thought. Not only that, I’m inspired to make the most out of my life. I’m motivated and excited and can’t wait to keep trying to make this (probably) one conscious life count.

Memento mori

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
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

End-Of-Life Doula Training – A Post-Mortem

Well, I’ve had almost 24 hours to settle my mind a bit about the training I just completed. I’m going to reflect on it here, but first I think some explanation of what the EOL Doula perspective is and why it is of interest to me. This is just a quick elevator speech and I highly recommend people check out the International End-Of-Life Doula Association website for more information.

The basic goal of the doula is to help a dying person have a good death. It is a push away from the industrialized death industry that is so pervasive in our culture and a recognition that death is natural and shouldn’t be hidden away. We live in a very unique time in history where we try and hide death, and that is a mistake.

In general, a doula works with the dying person and their family over a number of months both before and after death. They work with the dying person to reflect on their life, recognize their legacy, and resolve any issues that may still exist. They work to establish rituals and set up the location for death in a way that is as pleasing as possible to the dying person. When you close your eyes and think about the moment of your death, what do you want the area to look like? Smell like? Sound like?

Do you want to have open windows, natural light, and the sounds of nature? Or do you want to be surrounded by laughing loved ones, Frank Sinatra on the radio, in a cozy, dark room? Every person is different and the doula’s goal is to work to make these things happen. The first step in any action like this is to acknowledge death and explicitly talk about it (which is why I will be posting my current death plan stuff soon). Unfortunately, very few people want to discuss death and what their loved one would like in their final moments, even when the dying person is clearly close to death.

The doula is also a source of information about what the dying process can look like. There are a lot of things the body can do once the body starts actively dying and those things can be scary if you are unprepared for them. The doula eases this fear by being someone who is experienced and educated on death.

After death occurs, the doula helps implement whatever plan was developed for the moments after the last breath. They help facilitate so that family can express their emotions freely and not worry about details like who will call the funeral home, who will light candles, etc. Some people who die don’t want a fuss after their last breath and others want a celebration. A doula facilitates that.

Lastly, a doula works with the family for weeks or months after the death to help them process their grief and the death experience. They are a source of comfort and reflection when all the hustle-bustle dies down. When someone dies they often have family and friends in town to lean on for a few days or weeks, but eventually, people move on with their lives and the deceased spouse, children, or other close family members can feel isolated and alone. The doula checks in and helps during this vital period.

So, that is a quick down-and-dirty run of what I spent the last 3 days training to do. I am definitely still a noob and have a lot of learning ahead of me but I feel passionate about this and I am looking forward to exploring exactly how I will help people have a good death. The next step for me is to get a business legally started, start volunteering at hospices/hospitals/VA/prisons/etc, and go to massage therapy school to specialize in massage for the dying and those with terminal disease.

While that is my path, it isn’t necessarily the path of everyone who attended the training. There were 19 of us that ventured to Toronto to train and we have very diverse backgrounds and motivations. Take, for example, the other four members of my Table Tribe (or “Lee’s Tribe”) – Oh, and names changed because I did not receive explicit consent to share too much:

  • Allison – Retired pastor who is in her 60’s. Now lives in a rural community and loves horses.
  • Bethany – Somewhat hippy mother of two and former American. Loves Burning Man and cheese.
  • Carol – A French-Canadian mother in her 40’s.
  • Debby – A younger (late 20’s?) musician and business owner.

We spanned all ages (from early 20’s to 80’s), political view points, and geographic regions. To be honest, the only thing that most people had in common is that it was a very female-dominated training event. Out of the 20 people involved (19 students and 1 trainer), there were only two men. Is this because men aren’t as interested in death or compassionate enough for this role or people don’t want a male doula? I don’t know, but the fact is that being a male EOL doula, much like being a male massage therapist, is rare.

Oh well, I don’t mind.

Wait, there was something else that stood out to me. The EOL training had a relatively large number of LGBT members. I’d guess at least 25% of the participants were LGBT, and maybe as high as 50%. My estimate is based on explicit conversations with people, as well as the general terminology people used like “partner” instead of boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband.

Post-Script: This is to the person who sent me a message on SurveyMonkey. I’m really glad you reached out and that we met and I’m thankful for whatever it was that brought our group together. Much love your way and I can’t wait to get the letters started so that we can all learn a little bit more about each other. Writing is definitely something that I love, even if my blog has been kind of angsty lately…

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
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

 

Toronto – Part III

I almost deleted my last post. I rarely even consider that. No matter how raw or controversial or unsure I am of what I’m writing, I always see value in keeping it posted. As the group I’ve spent the most time with here in Toronto can attest, I let my freak flag fly pretty quickly. Luckily, they are all bad ass.

Anyway, I was embarrassed about my last post. Alcohol is really the only drug that I use that can lead to embarrassing moments of potential regret. But, instead of deleting it I decided to reflect on it and revise it a little bit.

First off, I realized that I drunkenly wrote about sex for two reasons, one fairly direct and one more indirect. The first reason was that I was hoping that by posting that someone at this event would see it and want to hook up. That’s kind of a longshot because I only know of one person who really knows of my blog and I doubt anyone is spending their free time reading my randomness. Posting it was a way for me to be passive, to feel like I was doing “something” when I was really doing nothing. Writing like that is about as likely to get my some intimacy as liking Facebook prayers is going to stop world hunger. I wanted intimacy without effort, I didn’t want to put my ego out there because I have fairly low self-esteem and a distorted image of myself.

The second reason is that talking about sex is a way that I cover up my need for intimacy and physical touch. Maybe it feels more masculine (in a toxic way) to be chasing sex at all times, even at a death conference, or maybe it is something else. Regardless, talking about death all day and literally writing out how I want my last moments to be is a very raw, deep, and intimate process. And I’m someone whose love language is “touch”, so when I am feeling deep and raw and emotional I want to express that through touch. My partner is a thousand miles away and I am an introvert who is painfully aware that it can be threatening for a male to try and initiate touch, so instead, I write about it where very few people will notice it.

There are definitely more things that I want to write about this experience and I am going to publicly post my plan for a good death, vigil, and rituals that I want to have completed when I die. I used to think that I didn’t want anything special but the more I think about it the more I want to be a little fucking selfish. So, that means all my loved ones will have to hear a few Kesha songs, drink some hoppy beer, and do things my way.

I’m a little sad for all this to end and I wish I would have gotten to know everyone even better. I feel really close to my little table tribe (there are five of us) and I am going to miss them. This was such a bonding experience and they are all super cool. I hope we stay in touch… actually no, I’m not going to rely on “hope”. I’m going to make a strong effort to stay in touch by email, snail mail, or smoke signals.

Post-Script: Last night I went down to the hotel bar and drank beer while watching the Stanley Cup. Canada should just issue me a citizenship right now. Though, as fun as that was I feel like it was kind of a failure. My therapist has been gently encouraging me to be more outgoing and strike up conversations with strangers but I never got the courage to do that last night. I just sat there and drank beer by myself and felt slightly confused by some of the things I saw on the ice.

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
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

 

Toronto – Part II

I’m a little bit drunk, so bear with me. First, the carnal things:

  • The lighting in my hotel room is great and my workouts are paying off. As my snapchat friends know (well, those who have consented to nudes) my back and ass look pretty good right now. Getting a personal trainer was one of the best decisions I’ve made recently. I’m very satisfied with the results.
  • It is a new experience being in a place where there are two guys and 17 women. Being in an open(ish) relationship means I should be thrilled but I don’t know what other people’s relationships are like (or if they have them) and I’m still introverted as fuck. So, despite my partner’s support for me making out with strangers I’ll probably keep going to bed alone. At least the bed is huge and I can sprawl out naked.
  • Is it weird that I still think about sex and hooking up at a training situation that is focused on death? Probably. Cie l’evye (my french is terrible). Sex (like death) is an important part of life. I can’t turn off my desire to be intimate and curiousity about the look and touch of other people.

Alright, less than carnal stuff.

  • The more I learn about being an End-Of-Life doula the more I feel a calling towards it. How we deal with death in western culture is pretty fucked.
  • My fellow trainees (is that what we are called… maybe we are pre-doulas… or baby doulas…) are all incredible people. The variety is astounding. There are 26-year old college students and 70-year old retirees here. Such a wealth of experience and knowledge and perspective.
  • Drugs are a bonding experience. Once I mentioned my love of MDMA the flood gates opened and many people discussed how psychedelics and such have helped their life.
  • I need and want to write my death plan. It is never too early.
  • Shit… I’m sure there is more… I’ll be back to this later when I’m less intoxicated or horny or alone. Actually, I’ll still write when I’m alone.

PS: I see a lot of red underlines, which means that I misspelled everything. Sorry about that, I hope you can still get the gist of it.

 

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
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

Toronto – Part I

Well, I arrived in Toronto yesterday for my End-of-Life Doula training. The training doesn’t actually start until today, but I wanted to give myself some extra time in the city. Besides, I hate feeling rushed.

I’m really glad I gave myself a day or so on the front end. First off, customs and getting from the airport downtown took longer than expected. If I had scheduled my flight to arrive this morning I may not have made it in time. Second, it has been a pretty cool experience exploring the city. I may talk more thoroughly later but here are some things I’ve noticed.

  • These are the worst drivers I’ve ever seen. Aggressive, dangerous, and often distracted. Way worse than both LA and DC. I saw several multi-car accidents on the freeway in the 30 minutes from the airport to downtown. Traffic was backed up, but it wasn’t really that bad. I don’t know why everyone is so aggressive. I actually gave my first 1-star review on Lyft because of it, my driver was dangerous and several times had to slam on the brakes because he was following too close. From watching others on the road that seemed to be standard.
  • In person, people are super nice here when you are in their businesses. People walking around have the standard “I live in a city and am going to mostly stare slightly at the ground” look.
  • The bike and pedestrian trails and paths here are fantastic. There are actual physical barriers to separate motor vehicles from non-motor vehicles.
  • I am torn on having 1-dollar and 2-dollar coins.
  • Visiting a city in a country where my cell phone doesn’t work has been really nice. I walk around and look at art, architecture, and people watch. I got a little bit lost and I feel much more “in the moment”. No texting, email, SnapChat, etc popping up.
  • I’m alone here, which has forced me to get out of my shell a bit. Both times I’ve gone out to eat I end up eating alone and reading a book. I haven’t actually talked to anyone though…
  • I went for a run on Lake Ontario this morning. It was a little bit chilly but I was surprised at how bundled up a lot of people were. I kind of thought they would be more tolerant of the cold than me.
  • Canadians pronounce Mazda differently than in the States.
  • Hulu doesn’t work, but Netflix does.
  • So far, I really dig this city. I’d like to spend more time here.

Homework Results

Well, I’ve received about 25 results from my homework request yesterday. I’m going to leave the survey open for a bit just in case someone else wants to send a message. Thank you to everyone who decided to help me out with this, it really means a lot to me. I think the exercise was both valuable and challenging and overall I’m glad I did it. I actually wasn’t planning on writing an update post about some of the messages I received but due to the content of some of them, I changed my mind.

A quick note before the results. If you were one of the people who said you wished we stayed in touch more or missed talking, whether I knew you from the military, high school, DC, LA, Burning Man, biking, whatever. Please, shoot me an email, I really would love to catch up and reconnect (pjneiger@gmail.com).

So, here are the results as well as my initial thoughts about them, as well as how I tried to combat any negative thoughts.

First, there were some pretty strong overall themes throughout the messages. The four most common things mentioned were:

  • Openness, transparency, vulnerability – particularly when it comes to daily struggles, successes, recreational drug use, sex, and sexuality. This part of my personality helps others feel more comfortable with who they are (which is a pretty high compliment to me)
  • Adventurous, risk-taker, free-spirit, courageous, joie de vivre (I had to look that one up) – this mostly related to my bike adventures and the random trouble I get myself into. I find it interesting that this particular aspect of my life would be viewed as a negative by some people.
  • Non-judgemental, open-minded – people like that I’m willing to attentively listen to those who have different opinions, give people the benefit of the doubt and am willing to challenge all of my own core beliefs.
  • Kind, compassionate,  – I’m willing to put others first, help those in need, and be supportive of friends. I’m also willing to give advice on sex, relationships, safe drug use, and pretty much everything else. In fact, I enjoy doing that and receiving Sarahah messages with questions is one of my favorite things.

My initial reaction when reading these was discomfort and a part of my brain tried to minimize their value. A little voice inside my head was saying, “So what if you are open, that comes easily to you. There is no value in doing what is easy”. But the truth is, it wasn’t always easy for me, it was something that I intellectually valued and had to work hard to get comfortable with. There was a day when I wouldn’t have been okay with people knowing at what age I lost my virginity (23) and now I don’t care if people know that I like butt plugs and have erotically sensitive nipples. I should give myself credit for working at these values and seeing the fruits of that work.

I may have felt a little uncomfortable with those common themes, but they didn’t particularly surprise me. There were a few things that really surprised me though. A few people said they think I’m attractive, funny, and fun to hang around.

The truth is, I don’t really see those attributes in myself, particularly being attractive. Getting an unsolicited “hey, you look good” or “hey, you have a great chest” is really surprising to me (in a good way). I’m just not used to physical compliments from someone I’m not sleeping with or sexting on Snapchat. My therapist and I have been exploring this a bit. I am beginning to realize that I do have a pretty distorted view of my own physical appearance. I think this comes down to two interrelated toxic ideas that have grown inside my subconscious.

First, that attractive people are assholes. I don’t logically think this is the case but I still feel like attractive people (particularly women) will look down on me and won’t value my friendship. It is much harder for me to open up to someone who I think is attractive because part of me feels like I’m the butt of a joke. I really don’t know where this came from. The hot people in my high school were always super nice, my attractive co-workers have always been great, and women I have encountered throughout life have been lovely. Is this shitty society or puritanism or something else? I don’t fucking know.

The second idea is that being physically attractive is somehow something we shouldn’t see as valuable. Now, I understand that a lot of people hit the genetic lottery when it comes to their appearance, but that is true of intellectual things as well. Stephen Hawking didn’t prosper purely based on hard work or merit, he was born with a powerful brain. Should we discount him because of that?

Also, it isn’t all genetics. I have been working very hard to get healthier and sexier. It has taken time, money, and effort. I’ve had to sacrifice things I enjoyed because I had a desire to accomplish things that required a certain level of fitness. And I also like feeling attractive to other people. Actually, I think maybe working in an office is having a negative impact on my self-image. I haven’t had a good, in-person flirt in a very long time. I miss that, the subtle smile, the longer-than-necessary eye contact, that tangible feeling in the air.

Oh, one more thing, I think that our culture does a really shitty job with encouraging body positivity. I didn’t see another naked man (outside of porn) until I was in my 20’s. We don’t see non-sexualized nudity and the sexualized nudity we do see involves actors who are chosen based on certain physical characteristics. My only point of reference for how an abdomen or dick should look was from porn. So, even to this day when I feel my most self-conscious I end up googling “average dick size” or “average weight for 36-year-old male”, etc. to reassure myself that I am not substantially “weird”. As a side note, the fact that dick size is linked to value for men is pretty shitty. Nobody has control over that.

***Damn it, I had something else I wanted to say but got distracted by spell check***

Oh, I remember. I think this lack of non-actor body experiences is why I really enjoy my Snapchat friends who share nude and sexual pictures with me. Seeing the different vulvas, chests, areolas, etc. only serves to increase my self-confidence because I see the variety that human bodies come in. We are beautifully diverse and by sharing that diversity we make others more comfortable. That’s why I love events like The World Naked Bike Ride, and going to nude beaches, and hanging out with a few of my friends naked on a lazy Saturday, because that casually nudity breaks down body negativity and increases confidence.

Oh, and someone sent me this image which I thought was pretty perfect.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? 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
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

Therapeutic Homework

Yesterday, my therapist gave me a homework assignment. There seems to be a lot of homework in my life recently. Between therapy, group meditation, and my upcoming end-of-life doula training, I have a lot of random readings and assignments to do in addition to normal life.

*le sigh*

C’est la vie

My assignment was to reach out to some friends and ask them two interrelated questions:

“Why do you continue to stay friends with me?”

“What are some things you like about me?”

I sent this message to a handful of friends but I also was curious what other people thought so I’m asking for anyone who is reading this and willing to fill out this quick anonymous survey. I’d like complete honesty, no reason to fluff anything up for my ego or anything. The truth is best.

I know this may seem super awkward and weird. Trust me. It feels super awkward and weird to me too.

Alright, so some of you might be wondering why I am seeing a therapist weekly. There are a few different, overlapping reasons.

First, I think everyone should see a therapist regularly. Having a trained third party provide guidance and support is incredibly valuable. Therapist, to me, can be like a personal trainer. Yes, many can generally get to a certain level of mental fitness alone but in order to really excel, to really be healthy, it is beneficial to have an expert help motivate and educate.

Charlie, my personal trainer, helps me both heal and push towards my physical potential. Kayla, my therapist, helps me both heal and push towards my psychological potential.

Second, I deal with some anxiety issues pretty hardcore. I haven’t kept this a secret. I’m on Buproprian, which is helping, but medication isn’t going to get me to where I want to be. Maybe an example would be helpful, here is something that happened last week:

  • I receive an email from my boss that has information for an important client
  • I email my boss to get some clarification and my boss tells me to contact the client directly (something I’ve never really done)
  • My pulse quickens, my breathing gets shallow, I feel an uncontrollable desire to pace around the room. A warm pulsing pressure appears behind my eyes.
  • My mind goes into a death spiral
    • What if I screw up the email?
    • What if I accidentally attach a phone from my desktop or my writing isn’t professional enough or I make a mistake.
    • This is an important client. I might embarrass myself and my boss.
    • If I disappoint my boss he may hit a breaking point and realize that I’ve been faking it and am incompetent
    • If that happens then he will probably fire me and then I will be out of a job and my world will collapse.
    • I need to get out of my office. Is there food in the house? I need something salty and savory. I need a beer.

Yep. Illogical as fuck. Several months ago this experience would have likely paralyzed me but I have been improving using some techniques given to me by my therapist. So, it isn’t as bad as it has been and I’m still managing to get things done at work.

Lastly, Kayla and I are working on my personal confidence and self-image. This is incredibly difficult for me. My evangelical Christian upbringing and time in the military kind of did a number on me. I am constantly apologizing for things (a close friend actually pointed this out last week) and I view myself as unworthy. I have a very difficult time feeling comfortable or valid. I often feel like I am wasting people’s time when I want to hang out with them, so I never initiate things even when I really want to. And I also don’t go out to new places or events where I can actually make friends because I feel like I am imposing on other people’s sacred spaces. Basically, I feel like I have nothing to offer. Also, after talking about how I view my body Kayla feels that I have a distorted view of my own physical attractiveness.

So, that is what brought about this homework. I’m nervous and feel super weird about this but I trust Kayla and I’m trying to trust the process. If you are willing to anonymously help me out here is the link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9739QVD

 

 

Staying Shallow

This morning during my daily Stoic readings I found myself ruminating about a comment my therapist made on Thursday (ugh, I guess you will all need to bear with me, I don’t want this blog to just become “Today in Peter’s Therapy” but it might be for a week or so). She made a comment that it seemed that I didn’t go particularly deep into my own analysis at times. I recognize the patterns and some of the base causes, but finding the roots of things is something that I don’t really do (yesterday’s post was related to this too).

I definitely see some truth in that and I think it extends beyond my own internal analysis. Let’s take work, for example. I have never really had a job that went beyond the entry-level position. Part of this is certainly because I’ve changed not only employers but career fields, about a half dozen times since graduating college. But another part of it is that I have an aversion to being a professional, to being in charge, to being responsible for a finished product or the primary contact for a client. I tend to lack the confidence necessary to do this and it is so much easier to say “well, I was just following orders” instead of saying “I fucked up and I should have known better and now there may be irreparable consequences”. This is starting to become unsustainable at work though, my bosses (I hate that phrase but it’ll do) actually have a ton of confidence in me (hello imposter syndrome, how are you doing today?) and want me to take on more independent tasks. So, I’m trying to get over my aversion to becoming a professional.

Another area where I tend to avoid deep work is the way I spend my reading and research time. I read about a ton of different subjects but never dive into any of them. I feel completely out of my depth when discussing political theory, philosophy, economics, or science with anyone who has read more than just a few pop-books on the subject. I never dive deep, I feel overwhelmed and stupid when I struggle to understand something. I have a very difficult time concentrating or staying focused for more than a few minutes when reading difficult things. The exceptions to this rule is research and readings about sex or death or drugs, those things I seem to be able to focus on. Huh, maybe I should take this as a sign that I should spend more time diving deep into those fields. Maybe that is my calling, to use my comfort with the taboo to improve the world.

Speaking of drugs… another area where I tend not to dive deep is drug use. I love MDMA (obvi) but I really haven’t had good experiences with psychedelics. MDMA, in many ways, can be a very superficial drug. It is euphoric and tactile, things feel good and you enjoy just being. Yes, it definitely can be used to have deep discussions, deal with interpersonal issues, and bring peace with regards to death and trauma, but that hasn’t been my regular experience with it. Psychedelics, on the other hand, seem to force you to dive deep into your psyche, and I resist that. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m afraid of what I’ll find. My one memorable LSD experience wasn’t particularly bad, but there were times when I recognized a darkness in me, a lust for violence, a comfort with causing pain, even a desire to kill, and it kind of scared the shit out of me.

But, maybe in order to heal and I grow I need to stop fighting that dark wolf inside me (us 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
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”