Regret

Today’s featured image: A pea farm west of Uppsala, Sweden. I’ve talked down the natural beauty of Sweden to a few of my friends who have been visiting Scandinavia, but I’ve done so because I’m constantly comparing it to Norway. Compared to just about anywhere else, Sweden really is a beautiful country. And when it looks like this at 5:00 am, it’s easy to get up early.


I’m already regretting everything, every recent decision. I’ve made so many mistakes. Someone recently told me not to regret anything because whatever decision I made was the best I could have made at that time. Bullshit. Complete and total bullshit. I’ve made a lot of decisions that I knew were not in the best interest of my future self, whether a few minutes or months in the future. Regret. Fatigue. Frustration. Contempt. Fear. Doubt. It’s all here, but it’s in no way inevitable.

None of this bothered me three weeks ago. Even with the heat, the filthy living conditions, the malnourishment, and the sedentariness. It was just the way things were, and my mind had no aversion to it. There was no disappointment of the poor organization of the program I had traveled halfway around the world to participate in. There was no frustration with my inability to sit properly, focus consistently, or motivate myself to exercise sufficiently. No, there was only the understanding that such things had happened and that I wanted to alter what was reasonable and possible to affect. But those things that could not be affected were what they were, and that they would remain with no judgment.

What was the difference? I was present. When one lives in the present moment, they accept it. When we live constantly in the future or the past, we are constantly frustrated by the fact that were are not actually in either of those imaginary worlds. The present world is the only one that exists, but we are humans. We don’t want what we have; we want what we don’t have. We don’t have a future different from the present. We don’t have the past that we had no way of holding onto. We don’t have the comfort, the thrill, the pleasure, the [whatever] that we think we will have if we could just fix something about our current situation.

The modern technological world all but demands that we exist in this state. Feeling lonely? See who liked my latest Instagram photo. Feeling bored? Scroll Twitter for an interesting idea. Feeling curious? Google something. Has all this task switching left you feeling too tired to think? Go down a YouTube rabbit hole. And every time we indulge, we reinforce the behavior. We train our brains to be averse to boredom, to stillness, to silence, to the present.

And that is exactly what happened. I am addicted to my phone. I am addicted to being connected. And since I’ve had almost constant internet access since I left Wat Khao Tahm, I have undone all of my practice. Each impulsive unlocking of the phone, checking of another app, or playing of another podcast, or reviewing of another photo satisfies only that instantaneous need. And the satisfaction is as fleeting as the craving that it addresses. But if it were only this, it would be an equally satisfactory way of life. I’m so often connected that it’s completely sustainable to do this consistently. If the present moment is all that exists, why not just continue to satisfy the present needs?

It doesn’t actually work. Each repetition results in a lower high followed by a lower baseline. In between distractions, there is a level of experience at some “neutral” position. When living from dopamine hit to dopamine hit, I find that this neutral baseline is less and less likely to be even moderately pleasant. When the cycle is broken, however, I find this state comfortable. There’s little disturbance, little grasping for change. Stillness becomes acceptable, and whatever action I am doing is the right action. It makes doing unpleasant things far less unpleasant. It makes the act of resisting known ephemeral pleasures far more satisfying. It makes having discipline easier.

It is, however, a bit of a catch-22. In order to live in our modern world while steering clear of the distractions that incessantly scream for our attention, we must exhibit discipline. It’s a feedback loop. As discipline is cultivated, it becomes stronger. As discipline is shirked, it becomes weaker. It is a practice just like any other skill, just like training the physical body.

I wrote a few months ago about Jocko Willink’s motivational rhetoric on “discipline equals freedom“. It is a cycle that feeds on itself, whether upward or downward. But it is not entirely self-propelling. It takes some effort to continue guiding it in the right direction. It takes resolve to resist the daily temptations of social media, junk food, gossip, and general comfort. It takes effort to work toward our goals, to exercise, and to focus on the task at hand. When energy is low and feelings are strong (oh, ya know, how you feel after crashing from too much caffeine, staying up late because of a red-eye flight, not sleeping well on said flight, eating garbage food before and during said flight, and trying to reset your body clock in a new time zone), I do not have the strength for such effort.

I will not rise to the level of my expectations; I will sink to the level of my training. Have I been training my mind through meditation? Or indulgence? Have I been training my habit of exercising? Or lounging? The answer to those questions will determine my next move. Do I continue to train for a better life? Or a worse one? Do I continue to train in such a manner that makes things better for my future self? Or worse? As Jordan Peterson said, “If you have any sense, you’re going to insist that at the end of the day you’re not in worse shape than you were at the beginning of the day because that’s a stupid day!” I essence, do my habits make for good days or stupid days?

I left Singapore thinking about what it means to “progress”. What ought we be progressing toward? It’s probably most useful to start thinking about what that means for me individually. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be formulating the personal moral code that I started reworking at Wat Khao Tahm. That’s something I’ll be progressing toward, but one doesn’t need a moral code to know that if you end the day feeling shittier than you did at the beginning of the day, that’s a stupid day. I’ve had a lot of stupid days over the past year, and training my mind with distraction and negative self-talk is a downward spiral to more stupid days.

Moral of the story: it’s good to have my computer back. I can type faster than I can write so I can keep up with my thoughts. Working out these thoughts helps me stay sane, stay motivated, stay disciplined, stay focused on where I’m going, and stay out of the cycle of regret.

Yes, I feel regret over how I have trained my mind of the past couple weeks. The poor training has left me with feelings of regret over having eaten so poorly on the road, having not kept up with my fitness regimen, and having made stupid mistakes that are costing me money that I would have preferred to spend on other things. And now that I’m back in Uppsala, I’m feeling the regret of having not prepared to the best of my ability for that Ph.D. interview, which could have led to my long-term stay in this lovely city with an income to support actually experiencing what it has to offer. Yet all of this regret gets me no closer to even my poorly defined goals.

If I have any sense, I’ll make a damn schedule and stick to it.

This is starting off well

Not gonna lie: I was really getting excited about having my computer again. But my past self is conspiring against my present self and putting my future self in a less than optimal financial situation. After buying an unnecessary (and probably useless) flight ticket that allowed me to check in for my flight to Sweden, I was reunited with my giant travel pack of the things I plan to live on for the next several months. One of those things is my computer. It cost me $180 to send the bag, but it seemed worth it to have my $1000-computer. Except, said computer is worthless without electricity, and the charger is probably packed irrationally in a box in my parents’ basement. I also forgot the charger to the hair clippers I packed (which I bought in order to save money on haircuts). It’s not an enormous sum to replace these things, but it annoyingly makes me adjust my budget. And of course all the hassle of finding chargers. So, until I get a new charger, I’m still doing videos instead of writing.

And that’s all from Southeast Asia

It’s actually hard to believe I’ve been on the road for over a month now. The time just disappeared. But not in the way of a reminiscent octogenarian longing for their better years, but rather in the way of when someone says,”Time flies when you’re having fun!” Three new countries, lots of history learned, a wealth of wisdom gained, and a handful of new friends made. Oh, and buckets of sweat. Can’t forget the sweat.

It has already been one hell of an adventure and it’s only just begun. This was really just a detour before I have to go figure out how to put my life in order in Europe, but I will start that process with much needed clarity and focus.

Until then, here are a few clips from my past few days. I have a couple more, but I can’t connect to the WiFi, and I don’t feel pressured enough to use my data for video uploads.

And a few photos:

A park near Sifat’s apartment.

Some shots of the Singapore skyline:

And from the Gardens by the Bay. It’s actually very peaceful if you go the opposite direction from the herd.


Georgetown

I’m about to leave Penang to wander some of the more truly Malaysian places further south and break up the bus ride to Singapore. I say “more Malaysian” because I’ve heard that Penang tried to split away like Singapore did, and some believe that Penang had even more reason to be independent from Malaysia. I have no reference to judge by, so I’ll spend at least a day in Malacca and might make one more stop before reaching the island city-state and economic tiger, Singapore.

While my favorite way to travel is still by train, the buses are so cheap, it’s hard to say no to. It also gives a bit more flexibility in where I can stop.

The wifi has been slow on the island, so I’ll post some more photos and such when I have a better connection.

Manipulation

If my oversized boots and dangling water bottle weren’t enough, the confused look on my long Caucasian face made it clear that this foreigner was out of his element. He was lost, and he had no idea what he was doing. The perfect opportunity. The middle aged man with the short black hair and kind wrinkles in his round face made a smooth approach to ask, “Where are you going?” His accent was noticable but clear. He worked with foreigners regularly.

“Is there money exchange nearby?” I asked hopefully.

He thought visibly for a moment and reported, “Exchange money in town. About 20 minutes by walk.” He pointed to the corridor leading out of the train station where a steady stream of travelers were exiting. “But you come in my taxi, and I charge you only one way. We go both ways.” He looked at me plaintively to assess my reaction to his proposal. His innocence was fake and transparently so.

For this lost and confused traveler was not nearly so green as he appeared. I was calling his bluff.

“Well, I’m about to miss the train, so I’ve got a couple hours to kill before the next one,” I said before turning on my heel and joining the flow.

His estimate wasn’t far off. It took me about 20 minutes to find an ATM, but that was only because I got turned around and almost walked right back out of Malaysia into Thailand. Malaysian ringgit in hand, I made the 10-minute walk back and bought my $4 ticket on the commuter train to Butterworth. I did indeed miss the train and now have another hour to kill before the next one.

Wat Khao Tahm recap

That was one hell of an experience. I learned to get comfortable with being disgusting for days on end, to accept that giant spiders and geckos are my friends because they eat the bugs that were hell bent on eating me, to focus my mind well enough ignore the hunger of four days ingesting only water, and that sitting motionless and upright for even five minutes can be excruciating. I grew. I gained wisdom. I survived. And I’ll never do it again.

There’s too much to go into with only my smartphone to talk at and type on, but here are a few of the highlights. Shoot me a message if you want to talk more.

As noted, here are some links to more resources.

Alan Watts was a teacher of Buddhism in the US during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. His lectures were really the best introduction to Buddhism for me. Many of his common catch phrases came to mind as I was listening to our teacher, who is a Buddhist monk.

Start here, and you can go down the rabbit hole pretty quickly:

For a more modern and rationalist investigation, Sam Harris studied Buddhism for a long time, and in this episode of his podcast, he interviews Robert Wright, the author of Why Buddhism Is True:

https://samharris.org/podcasts/is-buddhism-true/

Many people have latched onto the teachings of mindfulness meditation for its effect on productivity. Cal Newport wrote a book on it called Deep Work. He talks with Ezra Klein here:

https://art19.com/shows/the-ezra-klein-show/episodes/0a9f3344-a186-4627-bc3a-f6bf2c6b9f1f

And for specific information about the retreat, here’s their website:
https://www.kowthamcenter.org/

And this was our teacher. Yes, even Buddhist monks are on Facebook.

https://m.facebook.com/Marut.Damchaom

Southeast Asia updates

Hello all.

I’ve made it to Thailand and reconnected with my friend T’ew. I’ll crash at his place for a couple nights before jumping on a couple trains to get myself down south to Koh Phangan. Though my Project Fi service is excellent here (not so much in China), I will be doing my best to stay off my phone.

Before I sign off, here are some thoughts from the last couple of days:

Hey everyone. A couple videos to share from my day in Guangzhou, China. If you’re unfamiliar, Guangzhou is a large city just north of Shenzhen, the city across the strait from Hong Kong. It also appears to be the main hub for China Southern Airlines. I just wanted to expand on a few of the things that I alluded to in the video.

While I don’t think I could sustain this life of adventure indefinitely, it is certainly the thing that gives my life any spice right now. And I think that for those of us who have tasted the thrill of adventure, anything less is unsatisfying if not downright boring. And the best part is that nothing particularly interesting even needs to happen for their to be an adventure. All it takes is a bit of a snag in the plans, and things suddenly get interesting. For example, customs. I had to go through customs when I landed in Wuhan, China. I had no business there, but they required that we get off the plane, clear customs, and get back on the plane to fly to Guangzhou. Not knowing that I would be given a temporary visa and allowed to leave the airport, I asked for an arrival card, planning to use a (still valid) visa I got back in 2015. That threw off the flight attendant who then assumed that I was not continuing on to Guangzhou. She therefore did not give me a reboarding ticket, so I showed up to the security desk with nothing but the stub of my original boarding pass and a slip of paper from a machine that took my fingerprints and apparently confirmed that I’m not an international fugutive. After a moment of confusion and the efforts of a security agent who tracked down the crew, all was fine. But I couldn’t help but laugh at myself as I stood awkwardly aside while the line flowed past me. This stuff always happens to me.

And then there was the hotel room. Ah yes, they set us up in a hotel! Good thing I was listening as I passed by baggage claim and a crew member said something about a free hotel for flight CZ660. After passing out of the controlled area to ask directions and subsequently being redirected through the explosives check on the way back in, I found the desk where my fellow travelers were being assigned hotel rooms. A short ride in an electric van (it took me several minutes to figure out that it and most of the other vehicles on the road were battery powered), I filed into an eerily dark and quiet (but otherwise elegant) hotel. The darkness persisted when I got to my room. After fiddling with all the switches and even conceding to using the toilet with the aid of my phone’s flashlight, I inspected the widgets by the door long enough to realize that one of them was a slot for the room key, whose presence would energize the room. But then, I never figured out how to turn off the light on the desk, so I unscrewed the bulb for the night.

Oh, the things one learns when they travel! The past 48 hours have been almost a constant flow of these learning experiences. It’s what happens when one immerses oneself in a culture vastly different from their own. People just do things differently. If there’s anything that will continue to draw me back to China, it’s the strangeness of the place and the interest in figuring out how to go about a normal life amidst such customs. Of course, it is only strange to me. To everyone else here, it’s just the way things work. This stinky giant in the goofy shoes is the strangest part about any place I go in this area of the globe.

Global Adventure Part 2: Portland

Hello, friends and family!

The journey is about to get very real very quickly! Actually, it’s going to be a brutally long journey, but only in comparison to our concept of time in the internetted age.

Lots of things to recap, but here’s a quick summary. I’ll speak to you next from Thailand!