For The Love of Life

At D&D on Wednesday one of the other players commented that she liked my gym photos on Facebook/Instagram because I look like I am suffering. I’m not sure if she hates me, was flirting, or something else, but she is correct, I am usually pretty miserable at the gym (and while running).

I’ve never been someone who enjoys working out. I don’t find it relaxing or therapeutic. I don’t easily jump out of bed and throw on my shoes to pound the pavement. I do everything I can to procrastinate it including, but not limited to, cleaning the house, masturbating, reading, writing, doing laundry, etc. But I do try to exercise daily for one simple reason: I love life a whole fucking bunch.

From all the research I’ve read there are a few key factors in our control that can increase the quality and quantity of our lives: don’t smoke, exercise regularly, eat whole foods plant-based diet, drink water, and sleep. Everything else is just details. So, I exercise in order to increase my chances as a longer and more pleasurable life. It sucks, but I view it as an investment. I spend 4.17% of my day in order to make my one life better then that is probably a good payoff, particularly since the gains are not only a longer life but one in which I can do things I’m interested in…

I want to climb mountains and camp under the stars and see the Pyramids, Great Wall of China, Pantheon, Dead Sea, Red Square, and Antarctica. I want to raft down rivers and sail across oceans and take a spaceship to the moon. I want to know what it feels like to be exhausted and sweaty and bleeding as I wander up to the top of a mountain and see the world below me. I want to weep tears of joy and suffering as I see land for the first time in days or weeks.

I want to dance at my great grand-nephew’s wedding. Cycle across the country with my partner when I’m 100 years old. I want to be able to give 1,000 pints of blood. I want to see what the next five generations of Neigers will be like.

Sidebar: Despite having five siblings (four of which are male), at this point, there is nobody carrying on my last name. That doesn’t really matter to me, I just find it funny. My sister has two boys but they took her husband’s name (as did she when they got married) and I my two brothers who have reproduced have only had daughters. This isn’t important, just kinda funny.

I want to know what my body is capable of, whether that is getting a six-pack, trying out for American Ninja Warrior, or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro without a shirt. My body is the greatest gift I have ever received, I don’t know if there is a conscious source of this gift but I am still going to try and respect it, care for it, and take it to the limits. It would be a shame to go to waste because I don’t want to be uncomfortable for 4.7% of my day.

I want to live. I love life and to get the most out of this (probably) one life then I need to suck it up and go for a run, lift some weights, and practice yoga. Very few things are within my sphere of control but, to some degree, my body is.

As I think about it, this love of life is really a big part of a lot of my identities. I’m a vegan because I love life and don’t want non-human animals to suffer or die for my pleasure. I’m an atheist (partially) because I love this life and want to make the most out of this one existence, looking towards an afterlife would hold me back. I’m an anarchist because I see the state as the largest threat to and violator of life and freedom would expand life. Part of why I’m polyamorous and pansexual and a psychonaut and kinky is because I want to taste and experience love and intimacy and reality in as many forms as possible.

So, that is why I run and lift and suffer. That’s why I pay money for someone to push me beyond my comfort zone or why I sign up to run with strangers at the buttcrack of dawn. Because in those moments I experience life and I expand my potential for more life in the future. And damn it, I love life.

If you have a question or comment feel free to use the links below. There is literally nothing that is off-limits. You can also email me if you want a personal response and I won’t post anything publicly if you want privacy.

Sarahah: pneiger.sarahah.com
SurveyMonkey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Email: pjneiger@gmail.com

Oh, and if you get some value out of this I’m always accepting tips and my book is available via the Amazon link below on Kindle and paperback.
Book: http://amzn.to/2f2tkYi

PayPal: pjneiger@gmail.com
Bitcoin Wallet: 3BZQcA31awrYj7LAXmMY5armp5s1T2gpsL
Ethereum Wallet: 0x05F040cd6FB61377c375d487A37229359Dd6D976

A Love Story

The following question has been in my Sarahah box for almost four months. My apologies to whoever submitted it. It was a difficult request and I have not been particularly inspired lately. Writing fiction is something that I want to be able to do but I have struggled with it. I have worlds in my mind that seem to disappear as soon as I sit down at the keyboard. The truth is, I fear what I write will be bad. I know that is an emotional response and not a logical one, the truth is that what I write WILL be bad but it will likely (hopefully) get better.

Anyway, here is the story of the first time I was truly in love with someone who I could have spent my life with. This probably wasn’t what you expected but it is a love story. In fact, it is even a true(ish) love story. I’ve changed a few details, though a clever person who knew me in college could probably figure it all out.

 

“Please write a public love story. Dealer’s choice. I am interested in the love story you choose to write. I asked because you seem thoughtful and kind and different from me, and because a love story is a good antidote to daily internet snark and negativity.”

It was her laugh that first drew me to her. She had an infectious laugh that blossomed throughout her entire face. Her cheeks raised up until her eyes were barely a squint, her face already lined with wrinkles showing a lifetime of laughter. Her voice was husky and almost sandy, but distinctly feminine. There was an old soul inside her that had moved beyond the skepticism and apathy that often plagues us as we get older. She was beyond that, she was to the point of seeing joy and love in every moment. Not because she thought everything was perfect or that she would live forever but because she knew that it wasn’t and she wouldn’t. She was one who wanted to suck the beauty out of life and live every moment and that passion came through in her laugh.

At the time I was 27 and a senior at the College of Charleston. My years off after high school and time in the military made me older, though hardly more mature, than my undergraduate classmates. I felt a little odd hanging out with them sometimes and found myself interested in hanging out with the grad students. Which is what I was doing when I first heard her laugh, I was at a grad student party that was mostly Marine Biology students.

Almost without thought, I drifted towards the beer pong table where she was chatting with some friends. I awkwardly tried to join the conversation but spent most of the time listening and trying not to stare. I was painfully aware of my close-cut hair which still reflected my time in the army. I didn’t keep my hair short out of some sort of allegiance or political statement, but because I was broke and literally had no idea what else to do with my hair. Buzzing it monthly was easier and cheaper than going through the anxiety-ridden process of finding a barber, telling them what I want, and suffering through the process of talking with a stranger. Instead, I just buzzed it.

She and I eventually ended up chatting alone as alcohol coursed through our veins. Our inhibitions were low and I was talking openly about my life and she shared her experiences. I learned about her family in the northeast, her studies, and just life in general. I tried to focus on her words but felt captivated by her freckles and dark red hair (I would later find out she is “black Irish”). With every new piece of mental stimulation, my body responded with greater desire. People drifted out of the party and I knew the end was approaching, I wanted the talk to continue, I wanted to kiss her, but I couldn’t bring myself to make either happen.

Instead, we said our goodbyes and I went home, but that wasn’t the end.

Over the next few months, we crossed paths several times at parties and events. Each meeting brought bigger smiles and more talking, and eventually more than that. Our relationship changed after one fateful party when she invited me home with her and I had some of the greatest drunk sex of my life. I shouldn’t have driven to her place that night, I was too drunk to be on the road. That night shouldn’t have happened, but it did and things ended up okay.

After that night we didn’t really discuss what our relationship “was” or if we were exclusive. We both declared what we wanted, I wanted to be open and she wanted to be closed, but we never made a decision. We just assumed the other person was doing what we were doing… which was a mistake. Despite the ambiguity, we grew closer and closer to the point where professors and friends were asking if we were dating, a question we both always just shrugged off but I think others were more perceptive than we were. We were often together, had some of the deepest and most fulfilling conversations, and the most electric sex. We were dating, even if we didn’t want to admit it.

Things continued to go great for about a year. We had told each other that we loved each other and we traveled to meet each other’s family and friends back home. Things were great, but they had to end because our lives were on different trajectories. Upon graduation, I accepted a position in Washington DC and she was staying in Charleston to finish her grad work. I think we wanted to make it work long-distance, but we really couldn’t at that time. We were perfectly in sync and in love, except in the ways that are most important for long-term commitments. We just weren’t going to be in the right places at the right times.

So, after much struggle and suffering, we officially ended things. We tried to remain close friends but neither one of us could really move on as long as the other person was available. We both turned to each other with drunken phone calls and saw each other when I visited Charleston. We had great sex afterward but the spark, the love, the life of our relationship was safely buried to protect our hearts. Eventually, we changed phone numbers and unfriended each other on Facebook. It was love. It was true love. And it was my first. But neither of us were willing to make it happen, and that’s okay because there is no “one and only” and true love can happen many times.

I still wonder about her from time to time, particularly when I hear Flogging Molly or drink a Guinness. I wonder what could have been if I decided to stay in Charleston. I wonder if my life would be different or better, but those thoughts are fleeting. I am happier now than I have ever been and because of our decision to pursue our own lives, I ended up meeting my partner, my second true love, and the best connection, compatibility, and sex of my life. And I think she is doing well too. She is married now to someone she met shortly after we broke up and their connection is deeper than hers and mine was (she told me that shortly before we saw each other last).

Our lives turned out better because we decided to see this love as something that has value even if it isn’t “forever”. In fact, I think the ephemeral nature of it makes it more valuable. It was perfect for a time, but that time had to end. We learned from each other, we grew as people, and both ended up happier in the end.

I love her. I always will. And if she ever reached out to me to rebuild a friendship then I would welcome that. I’d love to meet her husband and I’d love for her to meet my wife. But I don’t think that’ll happen. Instead, I’ll treasure our love and the memory of what we shared together and forever appreciate what we had.


So, that’s my love story. Wanna share yours? Or do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to use the links below. There is literally nothing that is off-limits (as you will probably notice if you read through the on my AMA page). You can also email me if you want a personal response and I won’t post anything publicly if you want privacy.

Sarahah: pneiger.sarahah.com
SurveyMonkey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Email: pjneiger@gmail.com

Oh, and if you get some value out of this I’m always accepting tips and my book is available via the Amazon link below on Kindle and paperback.
Book: http://amzn.to/2f2tkYi

PayPal: pjneiger@gmail.com
Bitcoin Wallet: 3BZQcA31awrYj7LAXmMY5armp5s1T2gpsL
Ethereum Wallet: 0x05F040cd6FB61377c375d487A37229359Dd6D976

Working Through “Principles”

Part of my new(ish) morning routine involves spending some time reading and studying a life-improvement or self-help book. I consider this category pretty broad and in the past it has included everything from “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, etc. Basically, anything that will motivate me or provide me with tools to get the most out of life falls into this category.

Unfortunately, I have a pretty strong history of just reading a book, being motivated for about 45 seconds, and then moving on to the next thing. I’m sure what I read is lingering in my neuropathways somewhere, but those lessons aren’t easily accessible or applicable to my day-to-day life. So, I’ve begun more actively studying instead of reading, which involves taking notes, underlining, and reviewing what I read and wrote at the end of the day.

Alas, that has not been enough… I need to more actively apply what I’ve been reading. I thought about waiting until I finished my current book, “Principles” by Ray Dalio, but decided to start working now instead of waiting until the end. In my experience, you should always get started before you feel ready.

To summarize the book, Dalio has recorded a bunch of principles of life and work that he views as being successful. In this book, he shares those principles and encourages the reader to develop their own. I’m not at the point of really reflecting on my life to develop my principles in a concrete way, but I am going to use the principles that worked for him in my own life, in particular I’m using Principle 2 (Use the 5-Step Process to Get What You Want Out of Life) and Principle 5 (Learn How to Make Decisions Effectively). These two sections, in particular, have very actionable advice.

First, the 5-Step Process:

  1. Have clear goals.
  2. Identify and don’t tolerate the problems that stand in the way of achieving those goals.
  3. Accurately diagnose the problems at their root causes.
  4. Design plans that will get you around them.
  5. Do what’s necessary to push these designs through to results.

Second, the important parts of Principle 5:

  1. Recognize that the biggest threat to good decision making is harmful emotions and decision making is a two-step process (learning and then deciding)
  2. Track your progress and goals through time to make sure they are both heading in the right direction and the trajectory is steep enough to reach your goals in a reasonable amount of time.
  3. Be an imperfectionist.
  4. Decisions and goals are set at different levels and it is vital to navigating these levels effectively.

Alright, with all those nice numbered lists in mind I’m going to share one of my goals. After each goal is the next level (from high to low) which basically takes a dream and turns it into day-to-day action items. Below is an example of one of my goals (Financial Security), but I am also working on this process for other (sometimes overlapping) goals which include: Live a Long, Healthy Life; Continue to Learn and Develop Skills; Have an Adventurous Life; Discover My Potential; Explore My Kinks and Other Interests; Community and Giving Back.

Goal 1: Financial Security – Enough money to retire
1.1) Pay off student loans by Jan. 1, 2021
1.1a) Earn $60* per workday beyond living expenses (or, earn approximately $130 per workday)
1.1a1) Work at least four hours in primary job for this purpose
1.1a2) Do not spend money on unnecessary things or short-term satisfaction.

1.2) Have >$400,000** in an investment account by time I turn 55
1.2a) Earn $1,850 per month beyond debt and living expenses and put that into appropriate investment accounts.
1.2a1) Work at least three hours in primary job for this purpose and place in Roth IRA or other investment accounts
1.2a2) When necessary, transfer money from high-risk (ie blockchain) accounts to a lower risk account (ie Roth IRA) to meet monthly contribution goals


Problem 1: In the past, I’ve spent too much money on unnecessary things like coffee, pizza, and beer.
Solution 1: Use tools and habit-building to prevent unnecessary spending.
Solution 1a: Allocate a certain amount of “fun” money for splurging and take that out in cash. Don’t use credit/debit card.
Solution 1b: Reread and “The Power of Habit” to develop a plan to break spending habits.
Solution 2: Diagnose why I am spending money on things that end up being poor long-term investments.
Solution 2a: I turn to some foods (particularly pizza and beer) when stressed out or feeling depressed.
Solution 2a1: Research finding a counselor or therapist to help address these issues.
Solution 2a2: Reread and “The Power of Habit” to develop a plan to break habits that respond to stress.
Solution 2a3: Increase time spent in healthy, stress-reducing activities each day (ie exercise, mindfulness meditation, etc.)

Problem 2: Job and life changes could reduce or eliminate my primary source of income.
Solution 1: Work to diversify income stream with entrepreneurial activities
Solution 1a: Finish podcast series and publish
Solution 1b: Write blog daily to build audience and monetize
Solution 1c: Write more books
Solution 1d: Build additional skill sets that can be done remotely and find secondary work (GIS, data visualization, coding, etc.)
Solution 1e: Produce sex communication card idea
Solution 1f: Research food truck idea
Solution 2: Place money into savings account to minimize harm from this possibility

 

Well, that about wraps up this example of how I am trying to be more consciously aware of my decision making to get the most out of life. I don’t know if anyone else got value out of this but I sure did. And, as always…

If you have a question or comment feel free to use the links below. There is literally nothing that is off-limits (as you will probably notice if you read through the on my AMA page). You can also email me if you want a personal response and I won’t post anything publicly if you want privacy.

Sarahah: pneiger.sarahah.com
SurveyMonkey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Email: pjneiger@gmail.com

Oh, and if you get some value out of this I’m always accepting tips and my book is available via the Amazon link below on Kindle and paperback.
Book: http://amzn.to/2f2tkYi

PayPal: pjneiger@gmail.com
Bitcoin Wallet: 3BZQcA31awrYj7LAXmMY5armp5s1T2gpsL
Ethereum Wallet: 0x05F040cd6FB61377c375d487A37229359Dd6D976

 

* This is all pretty rough math. My current debt is ~$55,000 (or ~$1,145.83 per month to pay off in four years) and my living expenses are about ($1,400 per month and includes rent, internet, cell phone, utilities, food and fun fund, and taxes)
** This is basically how much I need to maintain my current lifestyle just by living off of a modest 7% annual return on my account.

Animals and the Future of this Blog

I have the goal of reading 60 books this year, which means I’ve been reading a lot more than I did last year. Those books have provided obvious inspiration for blog posts (see below), which has made me start to reflect on what the future of this blog holds. I originally started blogging back in 2009 as a way to record my cross-country bicycle ride (see: Wandering Oak for those old posts) but as I continued writing this blog has evolved. Now, it seems like it is going to mostly be my reflections on what I’m reading and solicited advice on sex, drugs, and all of those taboo subjects of life for anonymous friends and strangers. I didn’t expect this, but life is often unexpected (which is what makes it so exciting!!!!). And, to be honest, I’d love to keep doing lots more advice stuff… so if you have any questions or comments for me please send them my way. As always, no subject is off limits and I will respond to all of them as openly and honestly as possible.

Okay, on to the book stuff that inspired this post.

I’m currently reading* “The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory” by Carol J. Adams and it has caused me to reflect a bit on two labels that I apply to myself: vegan and feminist. I haven’t really spent any time reading or analyzing those labels in a formal way. I’ve called myself a feminist for several years but have never read anything explicitly feminist until picking up “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” by bell hooks a couple weeks ago. Similarly, my veganism came primarily from personal reflection on my values and had little to do with the effect others had on me.

Okay, that last part is only partially true. I originally looked into being vegan because a woman I had a crush on was vegan. We didn’t end up together (she is still a friend and is married to someone MUCH more compatible than I would have been) but once I opened the door to veganism and started thinking about it I was stuck. Hormones and lust may have lead me to veganism, but logic and ethics kept me there.

Which brings us to “The Sexual Politics of Meat”, a merging of veganism and feminism.

Wait, sorry, I need to back up to bell hooks first…

There are two concepts discussed in “The Will to Change” that I should lay out first (by the way, I highly recommend “The Will to Change”, 10/10, will read again). The first is compartmentalization. I was raised in a world where generally compartmentalization was seen as a good thing. I should separate my role as a soldier, student, Christian, Republican, etc. from each other. Christ says “turn the other cheek” but the soldier in me says “kill ’em all, let God sort them out”. Christ says “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.” and the GOP says “build a wall”. I thought I was at ease with my spirit, job, politics, and other roles in society being in different spheres of my life… but that wasn’t so. I couldn’t live with integrity – my life wasn’t integrated – if I was fracturing things. Reading hooks made me realize that my happiness, sense of self-worth, and ability to love was correlated with the years when I was able to break down the barriers between my roles and find a way to become united.

The second concept is really summed up in a quote hooks highlighted from Nathaniel Brandon. It is about taking responsibility for my own ethics instead of defaulting what is easy.

I am responsible for accepting or choosing the values by which I live. If I live by values I have accepted or adopted passively and unthinkingly, it is easy to imagine that they are just “my nature,” just “who I am,” and to avoid recognizing that choice is involved. If I am willing to recognize that choices and decisions are crucial when values are adopted, then I can take a fresh look at my values, question them, and if necessary revise them. Again, it is taking responsibility that sets me free.

Freedom comes from taking responsibility for my own actions and ethics instead of defaulting to the state, religion, or parents. As Socrates/Plato states, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” (Ugh, how cliche is it to quote Socrates?)

Okay, on to the actual meat of my thoughts when I was reading “The Sexual Politics of Meat” (see what I did there?). It really comes down to my ethical thought process for being a vegan, which is mostly admitting my own ignorance.

When people justify treating non-human animals differently than human animals they usually come up with some sort of line that separates us from them. Occasionally, I still hear things like “veganism isn’t healthy”, “you can’t get enough protein”, or “veganism is expensive”, but those arguments are getting factually weaker and weaker for most people. I do recognize that many people live in food deserts or lack the time, energy, and other resources to be completely vegan, but I think everyone can make small changes to minimize the harm to animals. Sorry, off on a tangent…

The one argument I hear regularly for separating human animals from non-human animals is that we have the capacity to “reason” or have “free will”. Here are my problems with that argument:

  1. Using “reason” or “free will” seems pretty arbitrary. Basically, people found something that appears to make us different and decided that it makes us so special that different ethical behavior applies. This is only a difference of degree not a difference in kind of the belief that white people are superior because they are white or men are superior because they are men. Finding the difference between two groups and deciding that is the line where ethics is drawn is not appropriate.
  2. It is weirdly anti-individual, but only for the benefit of humans. Many humans (due to mental illness, brain damage, age, etc.) lack what we would call “reason” or “free will” but we hold ourselves to a certain ethical standard for how we treat them. They are treated a certain way because they are human, not because they can reason. But the opposite is true with animals, even if we could prove that a certain individual ape (or dolphin, pig, whatever) could reason then we would still treat them with lesser rights because the majority of their species lacks that ability.
  3. To my knowledge, measuring “reason” or “free will” isn’t really possible. If they exist it seems that we can’t really determine it and it may exist on a spectrum instead of being binary. Animals show a level of problem-solving, self-awareness, emotions, etc. that shouldn’t be ignored. Many people discount this as just instinct… but couldn’t the same be said of humans? Pigs, in particular, are cognitively advanced. Just because our instinct is more complex doesn’t necessarily mean that we are better or deserve better treatment.

Really, the foundation of my view is that I don’t know how conscious animals are and I want to err on the side of peace and non-violence. I’d rather live a life where I am sure that I tried to minimize the suffering and death in the world than one where I just decided to go with the cultural norm even if it meant there was needless pain. I wouldn’t want Higgins to suffer and be killed for my pleasure ), and I don’t want animals that I haven’t named to be tortured and killed for my pleasure either (whether that pleasure comes from taste buds or from viewing makes no difference). Evolution has made me care about Higgins more than other animals, just as it has made me care about my partner more than a stranger. But if humans stand for anything, if free-will and ethics exist, then they implore us to move beyond evolution and show love and peace for those we don’t have the instinct to.

Think I’m batshit crazy? Am I wrong? Or maybe you want to send a kind message… I’m always open to criticism and respond to everything

If you have a question or comment feel free to use the links below. There is literally nothing that is off-limits (as you will probably notice if you read through the on my AMA page). You can also email me if you want a personal response and I won’t post anything publicly if you want privacy.

Sarahah: pneiger.sarahah.com
SurveyMonkey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Email: pjneiger@gmail.com

Oh, and if you get some value out of this I’m always accepting tips and my book is available via the Amazon link below on Kindle and paperback.
Book: http://amzn.to/2f2tkYi

PayPal: pjneiger@gmail.com
Bitcoin Wallet: 3BZQcA31awrYj7LAXmMY5armp5s1T2gpsL
Ethereum Wallet: 0x05F040cd6FB61377c375d487A37229359Dd6D976

 

* I’m actually also reading “Principles” by Ray Dalio and working my way through “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman again but those don’t really play into today directly… but I’m sure they will in the future 🙂

Seeing Our Addictions

Another year, another effort to get my writing habit developed. I’m going to keep trying to write daily until I get it down or I die (probably the latter). Oh well, life is about the journey and the struggle…

Anyway, as part of my daily routine I read a section from “The Daily Stoic“. I completed it last year and started it anew on January 1st. I have also added “The Daily Stoic Journal” to my morning routine to help me dive deeper into the text. Today’s passage and prompt really hit a sensitive spot for me:

We must give up many things to which we are addicted, considering them to be good. Otherwise, courage will vanish, which should continually test itself. Greatness of soul will be lost, which can’t stand out unless it disdains as petty what the mob regards as most desirable. – Seneca, Moral Letters, 74.12b-13

I have two thoughts on this passage. First, I disagree with the absolutism of Seneca in this case. I don’t think that it logically follows that because the “mob” thinks something is desirable then it is necessarily something we should “disdain as petty”. The mob can be wrong a lot, but it takes more analysis than just “they like it, so I hate it”. This absolutism is one of the areas in which I tend to disagree with the Stoics and this is a textbook case of that. A better way to put it would have been “Greatness of the soul will be lost, which can’t stand out unless it rationally looks at what the mob regards as most desirable to determine if it is truly of value.” Our reasoning mind is what powers us through life and we shouldn’t value being a contrarian over being a rational being.

The second thought is more personal and has to do with my own addictions. I think addiction exists on a spectrum (is anything in nature truly binary? Spoiler: no). There are certain things in my life that I have an addiction to that really do me no significant harm, other than the fact that I am a servant to these tools instead of the other way around. Coffee falls into this category. Other addictions have some harm but I generally have control over, but I need to be aware of them to make sure the bad doesn’t outweigh the good (alcohol, MDMA, video games, and pizza are in this group).

The last group is the most troubling, these are things that I know are causing more harm than good and I feel like I lack the control to give them up. Scrolling Facebook, reading the news, and concern over my online persona/image are the big ones for me in this group. I wouldn’t say things have spiraled out of control, but they are inching down that path and I find it troublesome. So, I’m going to focus on building a healthier relationship with these things so that I am in control and they are not. I’m not sure what tools will be effective yet, but I think abstinence from the news is doable and valuable. Facebook I want to maintain the good without the bad, which means not scrolling through my feed. There are groups on Facebook that I’m a part of and are really valuable to me, so I’m going to try and stick with replying to those and ignoring the rest.

So, we will see how it goes. I’m really excited about 2018 and I think it is going to be an amazing period of growth and new experiences.

As always, I’m an open book. 

If you have a question or comment feel free to use the links below. There is literally nothing that is off-limits (as you will probably notice if you read through the questions). You can also email me if you want a personal response and I won’t post anything publicly if you want privacy.

Sarahah: pneiger.sarahah.com
SurveyMonkey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Email: pjneiger@gmail.com

Oh, and if you get some value out of this I’m always accepting tips and my book is available via the Amazon link below on Kindle and paperback.
Book: http://amzn.to/2f2tkYi

PayPal: pjneiger@gmail.com
Bitcoin Wallet: 3BZQcA31awrYj7LAXmMY5armp5s1T2gpsL
Ethereum Wallet: 0x05F040cd6FB61377c375d487A37229359Dd6D976

Respect the Journey

I was listening to the most recent “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” podcast and found myself feeling a little surprised. For those of you that don’t know, “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” (or MBMBM, pronounced ‘MuhBimBam’) is a podcast hosted by three brothers and they call it ‘an advice podcast for the modern era’, but they rarely actually give advice. Instead, they take the questions they are sent and use them as a catalyst for comedic discussions. Anyway, in the most recent podcast, they actually provided some wisdom that I’ve found myself thinking about a lot ever since.

The question they were sent is pretty irrelevant, but the advice they gave was to “Respect the journey of other people”. This advice was really two-fold. First, if what someone else is doing isn’t directly harming you then you really shouldn’t worry about it. Is someone wearing a weird shirt? Are they brushing their teeth while in a public bathroom? Do they have a whole lot of sex? Are they Mormon? It doesn’t matter… just let them live there life. Respect their journey.

Secondly, try and put yourself in their shoes, but move beyond trying to figure out how you would feel at that exact moment. Instead, try to figure out what logical things in their life lead them to that moment and try and realize that you would act in a very similar way if you grew up in the same home, had the same bad day, read the same books, were exposed to the same experiences, etc. We aren’t that different. Trying to imagine what life would have to throw at us for us to act differently can really increase our empathy for others, which is particularly important in our current era.

What life would you have to live to have a different opinion of Trump? Or support/oppose gun control? Or believe in God? It is easy to just say someone is illogical or stupid, but that gets us nowhere. That dehumanizes people we disagree with, it turns them into people to be pitied at best or hated at worst (either way, it justifies ignoring them instead of treating them with love, understanding, and respect).

We are all doing the best we can and have very similar goals in life. We want a safe place to live, an opportunity for prosperity for our loved ones, and good health. Our methods may vary based on our understanding of how the world works (or should work), but our goals are generally the same. So, before we hate Trump supporters maybe we should try and understand why someone would think Trump is the best option to lead the country and why his proposed policies are going to provide a safer, better world. Similarly, those who worry about gun control or illegal immigration should try and understand why supporters of those things think that they would create a safer, better world (and why someone would break the law to cross a border… the odds are they are doing it for their family, and wouldn’t we all break laws to provide food and shelter for our loved ones?)

Basically, respect others journies and maybe try and understand how they ended up on that journey to begin with.

First Class

On Tuesday I flew out to Denver for a work event. When I checked in at the airport I was prompted with the normal “Would you like to upgrade?” question that I normally ignore. This time, I decide to actually upgrade my ~4 hour flight from Charlotte to Denver, and it was an interesting experience. The reasons/justifications/excuses that lead me to this decision are many:

  • My other seat assignment was a middle seat
  • I’ve had a pretty good couple months of work and had the money
  • It was only ~$125
  • It’s my birth month and I wanted to treat myself
  • I kind of lack self-control

Riding up front for the first time* was a bit of a culture shock. I was unaware that drinks and food were free in the beginning and was a little cautious to partake. I also was surprised that a lot of the “rules” didn’t seem to apply, particularly when it came to stowing laptops. Apparently, if you pay enough you don’t need to stow your laptops during take-off or landing and nobody was really checking for airplane mode on cell phones and such (the lady next to me was texting until she lost signal at some point due to altitude). All this makes me wonder… are these regulations in place actually necessary for safety? If so, why would an airline risk death, lawsuits, etc. just to keep a few wealthy people happy for a few extra minutes? Is there something about stowing laptops in Couch that actually does increase safety but doesn’t apply to the front of the plane? It was all kind of confusing.

At the end of the day, I felt more comfortable on my return flights back in the rear of the plane with the plebs. Well, I wasn’t “comfortable” but I felt like I belonged, and the temptation was WAY less. I don’t know the exact reason, but I have a lot of trouble saying no to free food or drinks. I think part of it was growing up kind of poor, the idea of letting food go to waste or not fully taking advantage of the opportunities that I paid for felt blasphemous. I didn’t grow up in a family where we worried about our next meal, there was always food, but I think the psychological issues that come from growing up in that environment still manifests itself in that way. Add that to my tendency to turn to food when I’m bored or in a situation that I can’t control and it is a recipe for me gorging on food and drink, and feeling a bit of hostility towards the woman next to me who was so financially/socially comfortable that she could say no to one more drink or a dish of mixed nuts.

So, where does that leave me now? I don’t know really. It gave me some insight into my own psyche (thanks, in part, to reading “The Power of Habit” on the plane). I certainly don’t feel an urge or need to return to First Class, but I can see splurging for a ticket for special occasions like a honeymoon or something with my partner. I do feel like I got some insight into the world of the “other”, the wealthy. Planes are one of those rare places where nearly all social classes exist in a confined space and you can visibly see one group being treated significantly better than another. It isn’t just the larger seats or legroom, it is the whole demeanoir of the staff who wanted to treat us as clients instead of cattle.

Oh, and seriously, what the hell was I supposed to do with that warm cloth? I decided to wash my balls in my seat, but I don’t think that was right….

*I was actually in First Class for a flight from Cameroon to Switzerland when I was in college but I was exhausted and feel asleep after they handed me a glass of champagne. I didn’t really experience it.

Versus My Mind

This week a friend of mine mailed me a book, which is probably the best gift ever. Is there anything more amazing than when someone thinks of you while reading a book and then sends it to you?

Anyway, this friend and I aren’t particularly close. I actually think we’ve only talked in person a few times and it was probably all superficial stuff, but thanks to Facebook I know he and I share a lot of things in common. I imagine that if we lived near each other we would be much closer and go on lots of adventures together. So, when I got a book from him I knew that it would be good because of the connection we’ve had online.

The book, “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright, has been absolutely phenomenal and entered my life at a perfect time. I’ve flown through 75 percent of the book in only a couple days and each chapter brings at least one “Aha!” moment. There are two things that have really impacted my life immediately.

The first thing, that our minds are “modular”, really changed how I view self-control. There is no logical, dictator that is in charge of our minds. There is no “me”. Instead, my mind is made up of a variety of modules that overlap, compete, and cooperate according to the way in which our minds evolved. Instead of viewing self-control as “logic vs. emotion” I’ve come to discover that everything is emotion-based, and that knowledge can be leveraged to make better decisions. I am trying to no longer view things as “me vs. craving for pizza”, but instead recruit the other modules in my mind. It becomes “evolutionary drive for salty, savory, high-calorie food vs desire for longevity, desire for secure finances, desire to be sexually attractive, desire to live an ethical life”.

Our minds are more like the House of Representative than a dictatorial king. There are impulses and urges and drives pulling in different directions and c0mpeting for control during different circumstances. These impulses and urges evolved in a different world with different struggles and they aren’t well suited to the modern world, but at least we are self-aware and work to adapt to the modern world.

The second thing is a new way to view my meditation. I struggle with meditation (as I’m sure all meditators do). I get carried away by thoughts and even counting ten breaths without getting distracted is incredibly rare for me. One method discussed in the book is to identify the thought and then try to find the emotional root of it. For example, when my mind wanders to an embarrassing moment in the past instead of just noting “thinking about the past” I investigate the memory and see why I might be thinking about it. It becomes “The past came to mind because it was a time when I craved friendship and I currently don’t feel like I have close friends in Wilmington”, and that is something that I can work with.

It provides a solution to the thought, which weakens the thought and it slowly fades away. Instead of fighting thoughts I now lean into them and investigate them with a detached curiosity. I’ve already noticed that I can apply this technique when my mind wanders in my normal day-to-day activities and not just when I’m meditating. It has helped me concentrate on work, my reading, and my writing. This might not be revolutionary to other people, but it has stuck with me.

I’m really looking forward to finishing the book (probably today or tomorrow), and I’ll write up a summary when I do but I already recommend it to anyone who is interested in the intersection of psychology and meditation and wants a science-based analysis of Buddhist practices. It is probably the best book I’ve read all year and has been a great book for these early days of my new project to read one book per week for a year.

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Competition

I’ve never really been particularly competitive. I played Little League baseball and one year of football in 6th Grade, but I never really got into it that much. The truth is, I’ve never really cared about winning that much and when I am competing (these days it is most likely a board game) I don’t really try that hard. I haven’t done much where failure was a strong possibility, and when I have done risky things I just shrug it off as unimportant. Like most things, I have a lot of trouble getting emotionally invested.

I always viewed this apathy to competition as a good thing, but my morning reading from “The Daily Stoic” has me reconsidering that.

“Difficulties show a person’s character. So when a challenge confronts you, remember that God is matching you with a younger sparring partner, as would a physical trainer. Why? Becoming an Olympian takes sweat! I think no one has a better challenge than yours, if only you would use it like an athelete would that younger sparring partner.”
– Epictetus, Discourses, 1.24.1-2 (Translated by Stephen Hanselman)

I don’t really buy into the whole idea that there is a God who has hand-picked a struggle for me to rest my mettle against. That kind of supernatural determinism reminds me too much of my Christian days where empty platitudes like “God won’t give us a struggle we can’t handle” replaced actual positive support for people, but there is still something there that is gnawing at the back of my mind.

Maybe there is some value in competition to test myself and grow stronger. Maybe my “I’m not competitive” mindset is a way of saying “I’m afraid to test myself because I might fail”. I have a history of focusing on individual tasks like school and running while ignoring competitive tests like chess or sports.

I think I’d like to change that. I’m not going to ignore yoga, but maybe there is room for some martial arts in my life. I’m going to keep studying and reading, but possibly I could benefit from chess or another mental test that requires an opponent. It might do me some good to give something my all, try as hard as I can, and then get my ass kicked.

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Fight or Flight

We evolved to survive. Not forever, but long enough for the next generation to become strong enough to survive on their own and reproduce. Unfortunately, the environment in which we evolved in is drastically different than the one we live in. We weren’t designed for the modern world… hell, we weren’t even designed for an agricultural world. Many of the traits that increased the odds of survival in the past are actually harmful in the present.

20,000 years ago the fight-or-flight response triggered by a perceived attack was a very real need. Maybe it was a wild animal or a hostile neighboring tribe that triggered it and that flood of hormones allowed for quick survival. Sometimes our minds made mistakes, that rustling of wild boar in the bushes was really just a squirrel, but the odds of survival was greater due to the false positives. Being wrong 99 times but correct 1 time worked well.

But, we don’t live in the past anymore and the odds have shifted greatly. Not only are the physical dangers when we are out roaming the world nearly non-existent, we are constantly triggering our fight-or-flight in situations where there is absolutely zero chance of real danger.

Take, for example, Facebook. I’m guilty of spending too much time on Facebook. Not only do the constant likes and comments on my post make me feel good (yay, addiction!) but it places me in an environment where it feels dangerous and that I have enemies. It triggers my fear response, which gets the adrenaline going. It is a rollercoaster without the fresh air, a horror movie without the unnecessary topless women running around summer camp.

The chemical cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters isn’t necessarily a bad thing (everyone knows I love a good serotonin rush), but the fight-or-flight response that we evolved with isn’t conducive with modern life. If I want to get a good night’s sleep, the last thing I should do is check Facebook. Seeing a “friend” who posts bigoted stuff is going to pump up my body for battle, not bed. By checking my phone (or even work email) at night I am sabotaging my own desires for a restful night sleep… or anything productive really. This response makes my relationships worse because I focus on the negative instead of the beauty of the world. I’m constantly on edge and stressed out because the system I evolved with is being over stimulated.

So, what can I do about this? Well, recognizing it is the first step, but overcoming it can take some work. As Robert Wright talks about in “Why Buddhism is True”, simply knowing that our mind is responding to evolutionary urges that no longer match our needs doesn’t necessarily lead to overcoming them (just look at food… I know my sugar cravings come from a time when fruit was the sweetest thing around but I still cram donuts in my mouth that destroy my body). What I need

What I need are practices, support, and an incentive system set-up to help me accomplish my goals. That means shutting off Facebook most of the time (particularly before bed), exercising more, reaching out to friends for support, meditating, and finding a way to make my health a moral imperative.

Sadly, I don’t have a lot of answers. I’m going to try to get control over my evolution though. That’s what it means to be human, after all. We have urges to reproduce, eat high-calorie food, be slothful, etc., but we can be stronger than our urges. We are not animals that live only to fuck, feast, and sleep. There is nothing special about reproducing, eating, or napping. Embracing our humanity means seeing these things for what they are, tools for happiness and by defaulting to them without conscious thought we are doing ourselves a disservice. It may feel good (because we evolution requires them to feel good) but that doesn’t mean they are good for us.

Got something to say? Wanna buy me a beer? There are many ways you can show support and connect with me! Send me a message anonymously via Sarahah or SurveyMonkey or email me. If you’re interested in a bike adventure I went on you can read my book! And I’m always accepting tips via PayPal or Bitcoin.

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