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.

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

Our Energy Should Be Spent on That Which We Can Change

I had a Facebook friend respond to a post I made about circumcision in a way that I felt warranted a blog post response. This is kind of rare for me because usually Facebook comments are only slightly a step above the comment thread on media websites and very little value comes from engaging people in a public argument.

**Side Note: The person who made the comment is someone that I’ve never met in person. I met them through my brother and playing D&D online. One of the amazing things about D&D, particularly a group that is kind of randomly assembled, is it brings together people from a wide variety of backgrounds. My current group is made up of people that range in age by probably 30 years, are different races, genders, birthplaces, and economic backgrounds. It is a melting pot. Anyway, on to the meat of the blog post**

The post that my friend commented on was about circumcision. This isn’t my first time posting about this topic, but it is still one of the topics that seems to bring a lot of disagreement, much to my surprise. I am against circumcision for a variety of reasons, but I realize many people disagree. My friend posted this in response to the topic:

It’s so weird I’ve never heard you once post about how women’s clitorises are being removed completely by a huge portion of the world population primarily in the middle east, yet you won’t stop posting about a little bit of foreskin. Your views seem so intolerant of western culture. I’m not pro-foreskin removal per say but it’s absolutely nothing compared to clitoris removal. I’m not saying you are pro-clitoris removal either, I’m just saying one issue is obviously more pressing.

Okay, whew, there is a lot to unpack here so let’s get started. First, a quick correction: transgender men often have clitorises too, it isn’t just a female body part.

Alright, it shouldn’t be weird that you haven’t seen me post much about female genital mutilation if you understand my personal life philosophy. I have posted about FGM before, but it is true it isn’t as often, that’s because I believe that energy should be used on the things in life that we can actually change. Awareness without action is worthless.

I can’t stop FGM throughout the world because, like the commenter said, it is happening primarily on the other side of the globe. I don’t have many, if any, Facebook friends there and I don’t have the resources to travel there. Basically, to post something about FGM would be nothing but signaling to like-minded people that I agree with them. That has some value in some cases, but not in this case because, again as the commenter said, I am against FGM, for many of the same ethical reasons that I’m against circumcision. We should not prioritize our energy into things based on how evil they are, we should prioritize our energy into things based on how much we can actually affect change. This is the same reason that I would take care of my wife when she has the flu over trying to find someone in Cameroon that has cancer and help treat them. The latter task is nearly impossible and would cost a considerable amount of resources and time, even if I recognize having cancer is worse than having the flu.

I think the world would be a better place if less focus was on “awareness” and more focus was on action. It might feel good to share articles proclaiming your disgust for the treatment of Coptic Christians in Egypt or the LGBT community in Chechnya, but that does little more than provide signaling to your group that you share their values. That might make for good conversation around the pre-church service coffee table or over avocado toast and mimosas at lunch but it doesn’t help save the lives of those in need.

So yes, I choose to focus on the things that I think can have an impact on the world. I share articles that are applicable to people in my life and I try to present my point of view in a challenging, but loving way. Now, that brings us to the second main point, that I am somehow “intolerant of western culture”. First, a quick correction, circumcision is not part of “western culture”. It might be part of the American and Canadian culture, but the vast majority of “western culture” (however you define that) has low rates of circumcision. In fact, circumcision is primarily done in Africa and the Middle East, so if we are looking at numbers it is primarily part of the Arab culture.

But, that doesn’t address the complaint that intolerant to western culture. The answer to that, like all things, is kind of nuanced. Basically, yes and no. I don’t think I’m intolerant to western culture but I don’t think we shouldn’t criticize the parts of it that are wrong. Society is ever-changing, there is no end to western culture, and the most appropriate people to institute criticisms and change are those within the system.

Americans should be the primary ones to criticize and fight for change within the US.
Christians should be the primary ones to criticize and fight for change within the Church.
Students and teachers should the primary ones to criticize fight for change within the schools.
Police officers should be the primary ones to criticize and fight for change within law enforcement.

Fighting for improvement within your group doesn’t make you a traitor to the group, it makes you a hero. When someone from the outside tells us how to live our lives then we bunker down and fight harder, even if they are right. But if someone within our life tells us ways to improve then we are more willing to listen. Change in society, much like the individual, comes from the inside. It is like Christ said in Matthew 7:5 “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”. We should constantly aim to improve the world in which we live, starting with the spheres of influence in which we are closest to so that we can be an example to other places and provide shelter and strength to those in need.

Wanna hear my thoughts on some random controversial subject like abortion? Got a question for me that is too personal to ask directly? Do you just want to tell me that I’m not living life correctly? Send me an anonymous message and I’ll respond on my blog! Just fill out this simple form on SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH) and if you need inspiration check out the previous questions that I’ve answered here and you’ll see that no subject is off limits.

“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.

Yesterday

Sometimes, the most difficult thing for me to do is let go of yesterday. I know that yesterday is gone and shouldn’t determine what I do today, but it is difficult sometimes. All the mindfulness meditation and Stoic philosophy that I absorb points to living in the moment and not allowing my mind to be bogged down with things that are outside of my control (and is there anything more outside my control than the past?), but I can’t help it sometimes. Yesterday can become a weight that seems to drag me down a predetermined path, destroying my productivity and making me feel like a failure.

This weight upon today usually takes one of two forms. The first seems positive, but that is deceptive. Whenever yesterday was good and productive I tend to justify taking today off. Maybe I got a lot of work done, cleaned the house, went for a run, spent an hour doing yoga, and did some reading. Maybe I also avoided bad things like Facebook, sugar, alcohol, and weed. A perfect yesterday is a fertile ground for an imperfect today. That shouldn’t be the case, the good I did yesterday does not excuse doing bad today.

The other form is when I have a bad yesterday. Maybe I slept in, skipped the gym, didn’t do any writing, and ate a bunch of garbage. That bad day becomes a momentum killer. Undoubtedly, when I skip one workout it quickly leads to skipping two, then three, then ten. A bad day becomes a rut that drags me down, particularly if there are not any immediate negative consequences. That is the worst scenario, when nothing really bad comes of my slacking. Maybe I don’t work out and eat garbage but don’t gain any weight. Or maybe I don’t meditate but I still feel mentally strong. It becomes easy for me to think, “Well, nothing bad happened yesterday so why should I put in the effort today?” That mindset leads to failure and destruction.

I don’t know what to do about these traps. Every morning is a struggle to develop good habits and accomplish things. My passion to create and the satisfaction I get from having a good, productive day are always at odds with the evolved drive to do as little as possible. Procrastination, slacking off, and being lazy are in our genes, it is one of the features that allowed our species to thrive. But, like many (most?) of the traits that took us out of the trees, they aren’t necessarily good in today’s world. IN fact, they may be harmful.

So, I struggle on. Each morning requires a refocus and hard work, and it requires forgiving myself for bad yesterdays and suppressing my ego after good yesterdays.

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”.