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

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

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

Chapter 7: Economics and Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4: Priests and Prisoners

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

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

Chapter 5: Self-Immolation

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

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

Chapter 6: Government and Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep. That hasn’t changed either.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 1: Memory, Eucharist, Death

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2: Religion in the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I’m Going to Suck

I’ve wanted to be a fiction author for a long time. I took writing classes in middle school in which I started (but never finished) all manner of fantasy novels. As a child, my favorite books were The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings and as an adult, I love The Wheel of Time, The Dark Tower, and A Song of Fire and Ice. I am amazed by authors who are able to create such complex worlds and I would love to have that type of impact on someone someday… but I’ve never really started.

There are many reasons that I have not written a novel (yet?), but I am having trouble convincing myself that the reasons are good reasons. As cliche as it is, I am afraid that what I write will be bad or hated or whatever. But I also know that it absolutely will be bad, at least in the beginning, and that’s okay.

I recently read “Rocannon’s World” by Ursula Le Guin. Even if you are familiar with Le Guin you probably have never heard of “Rocannon’s World”. Le Guin is a fantastic author but this novel is really not that good. It was her first novel and it is mediocre, at best. It was the first place that the word “ansible” was used for faster-than-light communication, but that is really all it contributed to science fiction. I have a tendency to not only compare myself to the best, but compare myself to the best works of the best. I read books like The Dark Tower series and am in awe, but I forget that King’s magnum opus is the result of over 40 years of professional writing, 22 years of writing on that series, and thousands upon thousands of hours of practice. Even if I have a smidge of writing talent I have not put in the hours necessary. So yes, my writing will be bad. As Macklemore says:

The Greats aren’t great because at birth they could paint
The Greats are great because they paint a lot

Practice, practice, practice… but I don’t practice, I want the stories swirling in my head to magically appear on paper. I wait for the perfect sunny day where I have the right amount of creative energy to even sit at my computer to write. And because of that, my stories may go untold.

So, is this blog post just a wordy recommitment to writing?

Not really.

I’ve done that before. For some people it helps to make public statements, but not for me. When I make a public statement it tends to destroy my motivation. I feel like talking about creating is enough, that it is an appropriate substitute for actual creation.

I want to be a writer. I want to tell my stories. I want the world’s that swirl around in my head to be made real. And to do that I need to have perspective. My first novel won’t be a best-seller, I’m not Patrick Rothfuss and that’s okay. I’d be fulfilled if I could just tell my tales, and if 2018 is about anything for me it is about seeking fulfillment. 2017 was happiness and stability, but happiness and stability aren’t the end goals of life and I hope I can move beyond them.

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.
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PayPal: pjneiger@gmail.com
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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 🙂

“Whole Motion” by Derek Beres

I’ve read a couple different places that the most successful people in America read around 60 books per year. It isn’t because they have more free time, it is because they use their time in a way that allows them to consume more. I don’t know if there is a specific direction of causation between success and reading, but I would be willing to bet that they are a feedback loop.

Anyway, I am trying to up my reading and want to read one book per week. That’ll bring me to 52 books, I think the other 8 will come from the Audiobooks I listen to. I may never get caught up on Game of Thrones but maybe I’ll find tools and methods that help create the success I want. As I finish books I plan on writing a brief summary of what I read. Having a blog post in mind helps me really study the material and reviewing it helps me retain the information.

So, my first book is “Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body for Optimal Health” by Derek Beres. I can’t remember if someone recommended this book to me or if it just popped up on my Goodreads feed because it matched my interests, but I’m glad that I got a hold of it. Beres views health and human optimization in a similar way that I do. Our different areas of life cannot be compartmentalized and that healthy practices in one area can positively impact other areas. For example, regular physical exercise can improve cognitive abilities and mental health. Our body is one unit that includes a lot of different parts that depend on each other.

Beres divides his book into three parts: Setting the Stage, Movement, and Mind. In Setting the Stage he runs through his hypothesis, that we are meant to move, change is good, the body and mind are tied together, and that regeneration (rest, stretching, etc) is a necessary and often neglected part of health. To back up his hypothesis, Beres provides just enough scientific research and biology refresher to support his claims without getting overly technical (though he does provide a lot of references for further reading). I actually really appreciated this approach.

In the second section, Movement, Beres starts providing concrete things that we can each do to add more healthy movement to our lives. Nothing in this book requires any special equipment, each physical exercise can be done in the home with body weight. While each of the subsections could be performed in isolation, it is actually beneficial (and one of Beres’ arguments) that health comes from utilizing all the techniques. Nothing in here is magic or a silver bullet. On the contrary, Beres reminds the reader many times that everybody is different, but the variation from each subchapter does work to reinforce healthy habits and provide variety to the workout.

The second section, Mind, moves us into non-exercise related habits. Meditation, healthy eating, flow states, music, community, and technology are all addressed. This section was really beneficial to me and I enjoyed the practical advice that he gave. Some stuff (like eating healthy and meditation) I was familiar with but the benefits of certain types of music and community were kind of new.

Overall, I loved this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in finding some concrete steps to get a little more out of their life. Beres does a great job of providing evidence for his theory and reminding us that we are animals that evolved in a different environment and that by being aware of that and embracing play and nature we can improve our lives. Health isn’t about ripping muscles or fast marathon times, it is about improving the quality and quantity of our time in this beautiful universe.

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Thoughts on “The Dead Zone” – *Minor Spoilers*

I finished reading Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone” today, and holy cow, I really enjoyed it. Reading it reminded me how much I enjoy King’s writing style and really reignited a fire in me to read more of his works. While he is primarily known for his horror stories (many people forget he wrote “Shawshank Redemption”, arguably one of the best films ever made), he has a wide variety of genres that he taps into. King is not a horror writer, he is a character writer. He is skeptical of plots and instead he puts characters into a universe and just lets things play out.

This method feels more real to me, and in a sense more “true”. But, of course, that means that the good guys and bad guys are not always easy to identify and the endings are not always happy or satisfying. King was once asked how he felt about the ending to The Dark Tower series and I think his response sums up most of his work, “it ended the way it should end.” There are sometimes loose ends, sometimes the bad guys win, but that is how life is. Writing like that is what separates entertainment from art. Art is concerned with being true and entertainment is concerned with pleasing an audience.

Anyway, onto “The Dead Zone”. The basic premise of the book is the protagonist gains the ability to see things about the future and the past when he touches someone or certain objects. During one experience he realizes that a rising politician was going to become President someday and would start a nuclear war, killing millions. It is basically a “would you go back in time and kill Hitler” story.

It is basically a “would you go back in time and kill Hitler” story. I am sure we have all thought about this and many people say yes, they would. But I wonder how people would really act. For one, ending a human life is not easy. It is unlikely that a time traveler would be looking down the scope of a gun and see Hitler in the act of hurting someone… acting in self-defense is relatively easy compared to shooting someone while they are playing with their puppy or taking a nap or eating dinner.

Second, most people want to believe they are noble and will sacrifice their own life and safety for “the greater good”, but rarely do people really go through with something to any real degree. How often have we all heard that either Obama or Trump is “Hitler” or a fascist or going to destroy America? If people truly believed that then there would be assassination attempts all the time, but it doesn’t happen because people either don’t believe it or they are not willing to risk their own safety for the greater good. I actually think it is mostly the former… I think people like to bitch and moan on the internet but don’t actually believe what they are saying, or maybe most people are cowards.

Regardless, I enjoyed the book. It is a true work of art that makes you wonder what you would do in a fictional situation and how you will live your life in the real world with the knowledge we have. Is there a point where any of us would risk our safety to stop someone from doing harm? Would we stand by and watch an assault? A rape? A murder? Do we cut back on unnecessary purchases to donate money to refugees? Blood to the Red Cross? Hours to a homeless shelter? What is our comfort, our time, or life worth, when others reap the benefits? How comfortable should we be with the way we live our lives (and in some ways waste our lives) when others are living in discomfort? Art raises questions, art makes us uncomfortable, art puts a mirror in front of us, art uses a story to show us truth, art inspires us to play in that universe and write our own truth, and King is a damn good artist.

Forward Tilt: An Almanac for Personal Growth

Isaac Morehouse and Hannah Franklin have completed a new book that I desperately needed, something I didn’t realize that until I purchased it. “Forward Tilt: An Almanac for Personal Growth” is a battle plan for every artist, entrepreneur, life student, or individual who needs a kick in the butt occasionally to create and grow.

The book is broken down into 52 posts and each post has a brief explanation and an action item. The action item is my favorite part, it provides an actual outline for how to get more out of each day or week. I’m notoriously terrible at sticking to long-term plans (as all humans are) and having weekly benchmarks is perfect for me. You can just read one a week but the sections are so short that I’m going to read it straight through this week.

As part of my dive into this book, I will be posting weekly updates about each chapter and my own action plan. I have a Google Calendar alert set up for 1400hrs every Sunday for “Tilt”. When that alarm goes off I am going to look back on my accomplishments over the previous week, print out the new week’s section and pin it next to my, and then blog about it all.

For anyone who follows Isaac’s blog (and everyone should) you will recognize some of the advice in this book. His casual and inspiring tone comes through clearly and this book is easily worth the $0.99 for the Kindle edition (yes, that’s ninety-nine cents). Hell, the fact the book inspired this blog posts means I’ve already gotten my money’s worth.

This book is a mixture of Steven Pressfield, Tim Ferriss, and Ryan Holiday, and provides a blueprint and inspiration for success. So, go out and grab this book. Even if you don’t follow the plan to the letter, there are bound to be some pearls of wisdom in this short book that will make the path towards your goals a little bit clearer.

“Buddhism: Plain & Simple” – A Review

Title: Buddhism: Plain & Simple
Author: Steve Hagen
Pages: 159 (including Appendix)
Rating: 5/5 Highly Recommended

It is hard to me to pinpoint exactly when I started to have an interest in Buddhism. I remember learning about it in a high school religion class, but that introduction was little more than “it isn’t really a religion but it kind of is”. I was a hardcore Christian at that time and I have no doubt that I saw Buddhism as simply another Satanic ruse to steal souls from Heaven.

In the decade and a half since high school, my interest in Buddhism has bubbled in my subconscious. I’ve purchased several books about it but rarely finish them. As much as I am interested in Buddhism the works I’ve read seemed unnecessarily vague and complex, I felt like the authors were playing tricks with words instead of just coming out and saying what Buddhism is.

Buddhism: Plain & Simple by Steve Hagen is the opposite of that.

Hagen does a fantastic job of stripping away the ceremony and tradition and supernatural side of Buddhism and gets to the core. He does a great job explaining what the foundation of Buddhism, to simply see the world as it is and to live in the moment. After finishing this book I couldn’t help but see incredible similarities between Buddhism and the Stoic philosophy that I know and love. I can’t help but wonder if followers of Buddha somehow interacted with the Ancient Greeks and helped influence Stoic thought. It seems plausible that in the 200ish years between the life of Buddha and Zeno’s teaching at the Stoa Poikile someone would have made it from India to Greece.

Buddhism and Stoicism are both tools that work to find the truth about the world and encourage rational action in response to the truth. They are about helping individuals live better, happier, more satisfying and authentic lives. This is unlike the faith that I grew up in that demanded obedience to rules and discouraged intellectual inquiry. Buddhism explicitly rejects any hard rules and recognizes that the world is fluid and nuanced and diverse circumstances can easily turn rules into tools of injustice.

Mostly, I enjoy that Buddhism does not need to conflict with scientific discovery. As the Dalai Lama said in the foreword to Destructive Emotions:

I have often said that if science proves facts that conflict with Buddhist understading, Buddhism must change accordingly. We should always adopt a view that accords with the facts. If upon investigation we find that there is reason and proof for a point, then we should accept it.

Here was a system of spirituality that didn’t conflict with the natural world, and I believe that is why Buddhism will end up outlasting many of the religions of today. I am still far from an expert on Buddhism, but Buddhism: Plain & Simple laid the groundwork for me to continue my pursuit of knowledge in that direction. It is an easy, quick read that is made up of relatively short and succinct chapters. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in understanding this life philosophy.