Memento Mori

I’m probably going to die someday. It is possible that medical technology will advance to the point of immortality before my consciousness disintegrates (or transfers to some other existence), but I’m increasingly doubtful. It is also possible that I have some sort of genetic mutation ala “The Man From Earth” and I’m immortal, but that seems even less likely.

So, I’m probably going to die. But I’m okay with that. I don’t fear death, even if I’m not particularly interested in it happening anytime soon. I used to be terrified of death back when I was a Christian, which is kind of ironic. I’m not sure how close the connection is between my spiritual evolution and my comfort with non-existence, but I can’t help but think they are at least somewhat connected.

Religion didn’t give me much peace because there was always this fear that I wasn’t “truly saved”, that I had fucked up something between baptism and death and would be spending eternity being tortured by red-horned demons. Now that I think about it, that is pretty psychologically scaring, particularly for children.

Death is often on my mind, not as a fear but as motivation. If this is all ephemeral, if can truly “leave life right now” then life is put in perspective. It motivates me to make the most out of my time here, but also not to take things too seriously. It is a source of inspiration to write a book, record a podcast, skydive over Antarctica, and try anal sex…. because if I don’t do it today then I may never get a chance to do it.

But, it is also a way to provide a little modesty. I’m simply not that important. I’m going to die like everyone else. My name will be forgotten. I will return to stardust, just like everyone else. And that is a huge relief. I can enjoy life and the moment for exactly what it is. As Hairy Soul Man says in his Stoic Hedonist sonnet, “Fuck Everything”:

Now I know most of you don’t agree
with my bleak outlook on life
But I say, it’s the thing that sets me free.

Cause I don’t give a shit what you think of me
No, I don’t give any shits
That’s right, I don’t got any shits to give

Now I’m not saying you can’t go out
and live a fantastic life
You totally can!

You just need to remember
You’re not the center of the fucking universe

So I want to celebrate the absolute insignificance of our existence by coming together, coming together to say…

Fuck everything

So, today I will go out and live my life because I might leave tomorrow. That means enjoying the good things that are within my control. I will enjoy time with my partner, go outside for a run, test my body and mind, and enjoy that strawberry even if there is a tiger trying to eat me. Also, I will try and ignore the garbage in the world like the news and most of Facebook and trash TV (unless those things provide some mental health benefits). I may die tomorrow, but that’s okay because my life is been lived. Besides, my death won’t matter to me or anyone else in the long run and it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

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.

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All the, small things….

“Well-being is realized by small steps, but it is truly no small thing.”
– Zeno, quoted in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers

It is incredible how our minds are able to see patterns and themes among the incredible amount of sensory information we take in each day. I’m sure we have all had the experience where you learn a new word and suddenly you hear it everywhere, or you notice specific numbers that become “my numbers” because they seem to show up more often than not (I notice 541 and 387 a lot). And I’m sure we’ve all noticed the same with certain insights or subject matters.

Recently, my partner and I were discussing certain behaviors that lead to long-term growth and improvement, but have an almost imperceptible short-term gain. When I lift weights (okay, I don’t really lift weights often but bear with me) the tears in my muscle tissue are microscopic, but if I lift weights for months or years the microscopic tears build up. Diet is similar, if someone cuts out 100 calories a day (or about two Oreos) they won’t notice the change on the scale but after a year that is over 10 lbs lost (or at least 10 lbs not gained). This pattern is everywhere: compound interest, doing the dishes as you make them dirty, weeding the garden daily, practicing a foreign language, meditation… these are all small things that add up to monumental changes in the long term.

Anyway, so that discussion was on my mind when I started my Daily Stoic morning routine (buy that book!) and the above quote from Diogenes book that maybe Zeno said but maybe Zeno was quoting Socrates (sidenote: hmm, it is almost like books that are 2,000+ years old might not be the most reliable sources for objective facts). The quote and the subsequent discussion in the Daily Stoic fit nicely with my mindset and how small, incremental, daily changes are what great big results. Unfortunately, that is difficult for us humans to deal with, we want to minimize work and maximize pleasure. We want things now and get frustrated when we don’t see instantaneous results. We are natural hedonists who find a way to simultaneously make decisions that only benefit us now but mentally are always trapped in the future and past. That, I think, is why we need philosophy and meditation, in order to make the right decisions for us and society based on reality instead of dreams and carnal desires.

But, what if it sucks?

I was recently SnapChatting with a friend and former colleague of mine when the subject of sex came up. The fact that the conversation went that direction is not really much of a surprise. She and I have a flirtatious history and many people (including us) thought that we would hook up at some point. But, alas, circumstances never really matched up for us bang but we remain good friends (and still occasionally sext).

As we discussed whether we would eventually hook up (I think it is likely) we talked about whether it would be good or not and, in particular, what would happen to our friendship if the sex was bad. I don’t think it would be bad… we are both friendly, generous, fun-loving people… but if it was bad I don’t think that would be a big deal. A bad sexual experience is something that we would just laugh about because our self-confidence isn’t based on something with so many unknown variables like a great sexual experience. A friendship that can’t handle bad sex or the awkwardness that comes from getting naked together isn’t a very strong friendship.

Besides, it probably wouldn’t be bad. Realistically, I don’t think it would be mind-blowingly great either. People (at least in my experience) are generally kind of awkward and weird the first time they hook up. There is an excitement in exploring a new body and new sensations, but there is also a lack of knowledge about what will pleasure the person. There is a learning curve that doesn’t exist with a regular partner. I think sex with my partner is amazing and I wouldn’t trade it for a new experience (luckily, I don’t have to) but new experiences also bring variety and a fresh perspective.

The truth is, if/when she and I hook up it’ll probably be “pretty good”. Our minds tend to live in extremes, everything will be absolutely terrible or absolutely wonderful, but reality is kind of mediocre. We put special events like sex, weddings, and vacations on this pedestal that can’t help but be a bit of a letdown when our fantasies collide with reality. And we assume certain terrible things will destroy our lives, whether that be the death of a family member, losing your job, becoming paralyzed, etc. but we actually recover quickly if we allow ourselves too. That is part of why I have found so much strength in mindfulness meditation and the Stoic philosophy, they allow me to live in the moment and see reality for what it is, and to only worry about what is under my control.

But, maybe the sex would suck. Maybe it would be terrible. Maybe neither of us feel a lick of pleasure or joy or satisfaction. Instead, we fumble around uncomfortably and lose all sexual desire for each other. Well, that would be okay. She is a dear friend and I’m not keeping in touch with her as a sort of investment where I expect sex later. Nobody is a sexual Roth IRA that you plug time into monthly and expect to withdraw an orgasmic payoff down the road. If the sex is bad, we will laugh about it, drink a beer, and go about our lives with one less thing to be curious about. It is better to have a few bad experiences than spend your short life wondering “what if”.

Hey! I’m always looking for things to write about. Have you got a question or comment for me? Feel free to submit anonymously to my SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH). No subject is off limits (just see some of my previous questions here to get a feel for what people ask about… it is mostly sex)

The Banquet of Life

“Remember to conduct yourself in life as if at a banquet. As something being passed around comes to you, reach out your hand and take a moderate helping. Does it pass you by? Don’t stop it. It hasn’t come yet? Don’t burn in desire for it, but wait until it arrives in front of you. Act this way with children, a spouse, toward position, with wealth – one day it will make you worthy of a banquet with the gods.”

Epictetus, Enchiridion, 15

This passage seems to really have two key messages in it. The first, which doesn’t seem to be the main point, is about moderation. At a banquet (or, I assume any event with free food and/or drink) we should consume in moderation for both individual and social reasons. It is healthy for us, both mentally and physically, not to lust after things or allow ourselves to act on our carnal desires. It is bad to give up logical control and eat and drink to the point of gluttony or foolish intoxication. Also, it is healthy for others. If we consume in moderation then there is enough to share with other people at the party (or in life). All things are finite and if we hoard things then that leaves less for other people, and what remains is more difficult to attain.

The second point of the passage seems to be focused on patience, that all the good things in life will come to us at some point if we wait until the right time. I kind of agree with this, but I also kind of disagree. I agree that we shouldn’t rush things or try to attain things when we aren’t ready. The most painful example of this is pursuing love or a relationship with someone because you want to be married (or social pressure), not because you are compatible with our partner. This is akin to scarfing down the food at a party you don’t like simply because it is close to you (or because the crowd is cheering for you to eat). So yeah, in this way I agree with Epictetus and I think we should have patience.

But, I also think you should be proactive and pursue the things you desire. If you want to meet someone and get married, then you need to go out and do things that you like to do. Sitting around and just waiting for the tray to be passed around doesn’t work if you are curled up in the corner refusing to make eye contact with the server. Patience isn’t enough, action is also required. Things in life don’t “just work out”, you need to say yes to opportunities and take risks to live the life you want. The timing will never be completely perfect and nobody is coming to sweep any of us off our feet and rescue us from the situation we are in.

**I am currently using “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman as a daily practice. I think I am going to share my thoughts as I go. It will be interesting to explore the works of the Stoics and see where I agree with them. I highly recommend the book if you are interested in an introduction to the ancient Stoic life philosophy**

Invincibility

“Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside of their reasoned choice.”
– Epictetus, Discourses, 1.18.21

When I first read this passage during my morning reading I found it to be so simplistic that it was almost meaningless, but the more I think about it the more I realize that this sentence may be the foundation of Stoicism. Invincibility is what the Stoic life philosophy (as well as most religious practices) attempts to give all humanity.

A peaceful, happy life comes from control of your emotions and understanding that most things are not within our control, which means they are generally a waste of time to worry about. Unfortunately, like all ethical standards, it is an ideal that we all can aim for but never really achieve. It is a secular version of being Christ-like or attaining Nirvana. It is a noble pursuit, but the path never ends.

So, if this invincibility is impossible to attain, why should we try? And, maybe more importantly, how do we do it?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think having a peaceful mind allows me to have a better life, as well as improve the lives of others. I have a finite amount of mental energy and if I waste it on things outside of my control then I can’t use it on the things within my control. If I use my time and energy to read Facebook articles or worry about Trump as President then I have less time and energy to create art, take my dog for a walk, call my best friend, or volunteer at a homeless shelter. Trump and virtually everything produced by the media is completely outside of my control, but my dog, my writing, my friendships, and my community are within my control.

The mind is a physical organ with limited energy reserves, just like the rest of my body, and my mind can be improved. The strength of my mind is a mixture of genetics and my history, both of which I can’t do anything about. I am not helpless, though, because I can implement practices that will improve my mind and bring me closer to invincibility. So, here are the practices that seem to be working for me:

Cut Out Negative Stimulation: This is primarily directed at Facebook, but also other media sources. The vast majority of what I read on Facebook does not make me happy and it doesn’t improve my life, so I’ve reduced my Facebook time to 10 minutes per day and removed the app from my phone. I have kept the Facebook Messenger app so that I can communicate with friends, and I still use positive social networks like Instagram, UnTapped, and Goodreads. “Staying Informed” is overrated and I can do that by reading a few headlines a day, at most. For example, I don’t think it is necessarily harmful to know that a major world event happened, but I can gain that knowledge in just a few seconds.  I don’t need minute-to-minute updates or to read every opinion in every newspaper or blog about the event The additional value I receive for every extra minute I spend on the same piece of news drops quickly.

Minimize Decisions: Reducing the amount of decisions I make during the day helps free up mental energy for the things I care about. This includes eating the same meals daily and only owning plain t-shirts and jeans. I also use the app “5×5” to plan my workouts for me and I only check my emails twice a day. The more things that I can automate or turn into mindless habits, the better.

Exercise: The mind is a muscle and exercise is good for it. This includes physical exercise through daily weight-lifting, jogging, and/or yoga, but also includes mental exercises to wake up my logical facilities. Learning is good for me and helps me be more productive, so each morning after a cup of coffee I get on Khan Academy and spend 30 minutes or so learning new math skills. Reading, as well as creating art (whether that’s writing, painting, playing a musical instrument), also help exercise the mind. I try and write daily, as well as spend some time in the morning reflecting on a stoic passage (compliments of “The Daily Stoic”) and read each day. My daily readings vary wildly depending on my interest at the time and I’m currently reading two pieces of non-fiction, one piece of fiction, and a graphic novel.

Mindfulness Meditation: I guess this is technically an exercise, but I feel like it deserves a special mention. Spending just ten minutes a day trying to meditate can really strengthen the mind and bring clarity, as well as enhance creativity and peace. I use the “Headspace” app for this.

Nutrition and Sleep: Eating a balanced diet with minimally processed food is absolutely essential for my mental health. A diet that is heavy in vegetables, fruits, and legumes gets me all the micronutrients I need and makes me feel energized throughout the day. I also try to drink only water, coffee, and tea, which is nice. I think sleep is underappreciated. I used to say I could never be a “morning person”, but that really wasn’t true, I never tried. Now, I am in bed by 10 pm and up at 6 am, and I try not to watch movies or get on the internet after 9 pm. I only use my phone to listen to an Audiobook to help me fall asleep, and I use the “Twilight” app to keep my screen red. I get way more done now that I’m on a sleep schedule that maximizes my time awake with daylight.

Better Living Through Chemistry: Most of the stuff I do is pretty cliche… eat right, drink water, get sleep, exercise, etc. I think those things are the foundation for my pursuit of invincibility and a good life, but I don’t think we should neglect modern science. I am a big fan of nootropics and take L-Theanine in the morning with my coffee, as well as Choline/Inositol, Gingko Biloba, and DHEA twice a day.

I’m very happy with my current practices, but I don’t want to remain stagnant. I want to keep pushing my mind and body and improve my inner peace. There are certainly more toxic things that I can cut out of my life and ways in which I can refine my current systems, as well as change them as my life changes. Habits are important, but they all should be evaluated from time to time to make sure they don’t become something I do just “because that is how it has always been done”.