No, but life’s not fair.
Have you ever gotten so wrapped up in a task that someone had to interrupt you to stop? You looked up from your project as if being woken from a dream. It was slightly disorienting as if you had forgotten where you were. You’d forgotten the world outside of that task existed.
I hope you’ve experienced that because it’s an amazing feeling. People often find similar experiences in performing arts, in athletics, or in artistic expression. I’ve found it in things as diverse as the final minutes of a lacrosse game or the home stretch of a race to the deepest states of meditation I have achieved. It’s the point when you’re perfectly balanced on the edge of chaos, at the limit of your ability, when your mind is so focused on one thing that it doesn’t even have the capacity to keep track of its own existence. It’s the feeling of being exactly where you belong.
The question becomes, how do we produce this feeling more often? Why do we enter this state only on those few euphoric moments of our lives? Why can’t this be a daily occurrence? Sure, we probably can’t live there perpetually, but getting there for a few hours a day should be possible. Hell, that would only get us through a fraction of the workday, which practically demands that we have such focus!
I’ve learned some practices that have helped me get there more often, but like with anything worth having, it’s not easy. I used to be much better at it, but I’m cultivating those habits again, and today I started to see the fruits of my labour.
On my way back from Oslo, I listened to this debate between Dr Jordan B. Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and Dr Susan Blackmore, who is currently a visiting professor at the University if Plymouth. They discussed the role of God in giving meaning to life, and they did a much better job of diving into the subjects than I did, so check out their whole 45-ish-minute discussion here.
The title should say it all.
Here are some valuable links:
Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation
A great podcast from the BBC’s The Inquiry about meat consumption and climate change entitled “Can we eat our way out of climate change?”
And for those of you who still aren’t sure how I managed to convince a random Norwegian family to pay me in food and housing for three months, here’s a link to the WWOOF website.
Onto the vlogging!
Hey everyone. If you’re subscribed to this blog, get ready. The spam flood is nigh. One of the things that I really liked about being an English teacher is that I had ample opportunity to practice my speech. When I gave my first presentation in several months after having left Korea, I felt like I was constantly stumbling over my words, not finding the ones I wanted, and leaving concepts poorly explained. I hope I can go back to teaching in the future, partly because I like the challenge of lecturing.
Well, one does not need a classroom to practice public speaking in our digital age, so here it goes!
30-day vlog challenge!
Almost four years ago, I started a blog by doing a 30-day writing challenge, and it was one of the best things I ever did. By the end of that month, I could actually see the improvement in my writing, and I definitely felt how much easier cranking out 500 words at the end of the day had become. I would like to have the feeling with speaking to a camera.
So, here it is: for the next 28 days (I’m already two days in), I’ll post a video of at least one minute. There are no other requirements such as topic, fluency, location, etc., but knowing me, I’ll try my best to limit verbal pauses, make the sentences flow together, and have something interesting to talk about. I’m on this philosophy kick pertaining to progress and ideals, so I’ll probably pontificate on that for a while.
If you want to get links directly to the videos, hit the “Subscribe” button below the video. I’ll try my best not to make these a waste of your time, but in the end, you can always just ignore me. Youtube has literally billions of other things for you to watch, and probably some number of millions of them are actually worth watching.
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.
I shamelessly admit that I’m done. I’ve seen what I came to see. I’ve gone where I wanted to go. Experienced more than I could have expected. This adventure is rapidly coming to a close, and I would be perfectly happy spending the rest of it lounging around in cafes. Indeed, that’s where I am now. I scaled a ridge this morning, but it was a battle just to get myself moving. I’m glad I did it though. This place continues to blow my mind. Even after seeing it with my own eyes, I find it hard to believe that this is a real place. When I reached the top of the ridge along the trail that connects Klaksvik and Árnafjørdur, it literally felt like walking into another world.
But now I’m back at sea level and perfectly content with my cup of tea, comfy chair, and internet connection. I’ve budgeted a nice cushion for emergency hostel stays that was to be used if I couldn’t find a host or if the weather drove me inside. Now that I only have 5 more nights when I need to figure out my lodging situation, I’ll take my reward for disciplined budgeting. We’ll see where I end up.
I’m a bit sleep deprived but very excited for the next leg of the journey, which is expected to be the climax: six days camping around the Faroe Islands. I’ll try to upload posts as I go, but I don’t plan on having access to any modern amenities until I board the next ferry to Iceland.
Today’s featured image: Except for a duffel bag of clothes and a guitar at my parents’ house and the clothes I’m wearing, everything I own is in this photo. I’m not trying to brag, but it’s a reaffirmation of a lifestyle that I enjoy. I don’t get too attached to things. I have no need to own a houseful of stuff. I have what I need and little more. It’s a frame of mind, and it makes me feel free.
I’ve (almost) done it. It has been 30 days of writing. I’ve not written my full quota every day, and several days’ posts are still in my journal, but I have written something every day. Though it has not been my most successful 30-day challenge, it has accomplished its mission: I have a new habit.
The habit is not only the daily urge to write, but it’s also a new mindset. My brain is now in the habit of looking for a way to turn some event or idea I have encountered each day into a 500-word story. I look specifically for details of my environment and consider the words I would need to describe it most accurately and in a way that best reflects the feeling of the moment. I’m not always successful, but such skills come with practice.
Tomorrow, the habit will take on a new form. I will begin work in earnest on stitching together my travels during November and December 2015 into a coherent story that I hope will one day be published as a book. I will have about six weeks to generate the content, but I expect I’ll need to do some significant editing after I leave Poland. I’ll try to keep posting occasionally on the blog as I explore Krakow and the surrounding areas. I may make a couple jaunts out to Slovakia Hungary, or other cities around Poland, but I have no plans yet. Staying put for a few weeks actually sounds pretty nice right now.
It will be nice to build some other habits. My fitness and diet routines have been rubbish for the past month, so that will definitely need to change. I’d also like to start building some other habits, ones that can help me go a little deeper into my own mind.
Just as this habit of writing has started to train my brain to think in a certain way, other habits can have similar effects on our intellectual minds. For example, building the habit of meditating every day can have noticeable effects on the ability to concentrate throughout the rest of the day. I’m sure there are deeper benefits to meditation, but I have not yet experienced them.
I’d also like to rebuild the habit of eating a plant-based diet. I stayed with a guy last night who has explored the philosophical ideas that have come up on this blog much more deeply than I have, and a particularly interesting insight was that he actually started eating a fully “vegan” diet before he had the ethical impetus to do so. It was a rational decision not to support the animal agriculture industry even via egg/dairy consumption, but his ceasing of eating these products allowed him to open up to his connection to the rest of the animal world. Now, eating any animal products just feels wrong because it depends on the causing harm to sentient beings that are not just anonymous unseen animals in some distant farm, but another feature of the universal self. To participate in such harm is harming oneself, which is not only terrible but unnatural and irrational.
It’s a bit of a tough concept to grasp, but our rationalizing minds are very good at finding ways to justify our current behaviors. Our mind doesn’t want to believe that our current habits are self-destructive. If we cease the habit, perhaps our mind will open up to the idea that those behaviors were wrong.
sidenote: I’m really trying to get into this whole tolerance and oneness thing, but there is one type of person whom I don’t think I will ever be able to relate to, tolerate, or have one iota of respect for: loud eaters.