On The Periphery

There are certain things in my life that always seem to have been floating around the peripheries. Philosophies and ideas that I never quite got motivated enough to research or spend time contemplating. Habits and practices that I never really dedicated myself to developing. Pursuits and creative endeavors that I never quite made time for. These floating possibilities provide different ways I can shape my life, different paths I can take as I explore this (probably) one beautiful life that I have. The pursuit of any of these things with seriousness could shape how I view the world and how the world views me.

Meditation is one of these things.

I’ve long been convinced of the benefits of a meditative practice. I’ve read a few books and heard testimonies from high performers, but I’ve never really been able to make it work. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the most productive, healthy, fit, and happy periods of my life involved meditation. But was I meditating because I was in a productive phase or was I in a productive phase because I was meditating regularly?

I’ve tried a variety of tools like guided meditations online, the Headspace app, and my own failed attempts to just use my willpower, but nothing seems to stick. I try, and I fail, over and over and over again. I don’t really notice any tangible results, it never really got easier. I suck at it… but still it sits, floating seductively on the edge of my consciousness luring me to try it again because maybe, just maybe, this time it’ll stick.

So, I’m going to start giving it another try. But this time, I’m going to get some help. I’ve recently realized that I need professional help to thrive in the way I’d like. My fitness is benefiting from a personal trainer, my mental health from a therapist, my career from a coach, and my overall life from bi-monthly Skype sessions with two dear friends (who in a way are also mentors). I’ve decided to start attending group meditation sessions with the local Buddhist community, Bhavana Community of Coastal Carolina.

I was really inspired when I finished reading (well, listening to), “Hardcore Zen” by Brad Warner. The way the author spoke of zazen has me itching to stare at a wall. We will see how it goes. I’m sure I’ll fail, but I’m equally sure I’ll get back up and keep following the siren-call of silence.

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 1: Memory, Eucharist, Death

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 2: Religion in the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.
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* 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 🙂