In The Moment

One of the goals of meditation is to experience mindfulness all the time, even when you aren’t on the mat. Nearly every moment of our waking life is spent thinking about a potential future or mulling over the past. There is certainly a need for planning in life, but most of our thoughts are not really about planning. The wheels in our head are spinning but we are going nowhere. Meditation brings us back into the moment and, ideally, that enjoyment of the “now” (which is all that truly exists) can enter our everyday life.

In a lot of ways, meditation is a lot like MDMA for me.

When I take Molly I am truly in the moment. I feel my body, connect with my loved ones, and enjoy reality without concern over the past and future. This is a truly revolutionary feeling for someone who is kind of introverted like me. Usually, I live in my head, I live in the past and future. With Molly and meditation, I live in my body, the here and now.

I’ve often wondered if introverts tend to prefer Molly while extroverts tend to prefer psychedelics. That hypothesis kind of makes sense to me, though I’m not sure if it can really be tested… maybe someday.

I’m trying to take my meditative practice off the mat, but it is really difficult. Hell, it is still difficult for me ON the mat. But I trust the process and believe meditation will improve all aspects of my life. I just gotta stick with it and take moments each day to breathe and consciously bring myself back into the moment. Instead of showering and thinking about what my day might bring, I can shower and enjoy the feeling of the water, the music on the radio, the joy of being alive. When I drink eat breakfast I can admire the flowers and enjoy the sensations of eating instead of my mind wandering to something embarrassing I did in middle school (god, I hope nobody else remembers the stupid shit I did….)

Living in the now is important. It is all we have. Trapping ourselves in the past and future is a waste of life. I’ll keep working towards “the now” and use all the tools at my disposal, meditation, MDMA, and other practices that appeal to me. Maybe I’ll get back into fire dancing, that had a lot of flow.

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What Do You Really Need?

I’m about halfway done with “Ego is the Enemy” (stop reading this blog and go buy this book) and a paragraph really stood out to me. Okay, in reality, there are A LOT of paragraphs that stood out to me, this is probably the most underlined and highlighted book I’ve owned in a long time, but one particular paragraph stood out even more. I think it is kind of applicable to my way of thinking right now.

The paragraph is:

It’s time to sit down and think about what’s truly important to you and then take steps to forsake the rest. Without this, success will not be pleasurable, or nearly as complete as it could be. Or worse, it won’t last.

This is especially true with money. If you don’t know how much you need, the default easily becomes: more.

I don’t really sit down and think about what is truly important to me enough. I get in grooves and coast along and just kind of go where the river is taking me. For the most part, I think that is fine, it is valuable to “row with the flow” as Halcyon says. But, if you want to accomplish something then you need to be able to articulate what it is or how much you need.

Money isn’t terribly important to me, but it is easily quantified. So, as a thought experiment, I sat down and thought about how much I really need to have the things I want in my life. Then, I can work backward from there to figure out how much I need to be paid or how much I need to work. Caution: we are going to get into some math.

Current Monthly Financial Needs:

  • Rent: $387.50
  • Cell Phone Bill: $50.00
  • Internet: $20.00
  • Electricity: $75.00
  • Water: $30.00
  • Food: $400.00
  • Renter’s Insurance: $5.00

So, that takes care of the lower levels of Maslow’s Heirarchy: food, water, shelter, and internet. The total is $967.50 per month or $11,610 annually. In order to pay for that, I need to work at least 30 hours a week at minimum wage before taxes. After taxes are figured in I need to work 42 hours a week at minimum wage. That sucks… but I am not making minimum wage so there is some flexibility. Just working for $10/hr gets my work needs down to 30 hours.

As cheap as that is, there are things that I want to do that cost money and aren’t really “needs”. First, is saving for retirement. I’m going to use the 4% rule and make some wild assumptions.

  • Assumption 1: I retire completely at the age 65. That gives me 31 years to save
  • Assumption 2: The inflation change between now and 2047 is the same as the inflation change between now and 1985. Which means to cover my needs I will need to withdraw $36,000 annually from my retirement.
  • Assumption 3: There will be no technological advancements that will significantly decrease the cost of any of my needs. I find this highly unlikely and expect many things like internet, electricity, water, and maybe even housing to be lower when I retire, particularly since I’m willing to move to a cheaper place to live.

So, with those assumptions, I need $900,000 in my retirement account when I retire. That means it grows by $29,000 per year for the next 31 years. Shit.

Well, maybe it isn’t that bad. Investment and retirement accounts accrue interest. Time for some more wild assumptions… If I take the average annual rate of stock market return of 10%** and move it to a more conservative 9% I can reach my goal of $900,000 by 2047 if I invest $500 a month in the account.

That seems pretty far-fetched but let’s see where this rabbit hole goes. I can’t reach my financial goals unless I actually articulate them. With retirement included in my calculation, I need a monthly income of $1467.50.

I also want to be able to have vacations and travel and such. I’m going to call this the “Burning Man” fund. I won’t be going to the Playa every year, but I am sure I will be going some places every year… Iceland, or a series of small festivals and events, etc. I am going to be more liberal with this estimate and allocate $3,000 a year to having fun like this ($250 a month).

I guess I should also start paying my student loans (maybe). They are another $500 per month, and I also want to take some classes like yoga ($100 per month), have a weekly outing to drink beer with friends ($100 per month), and improve the house ($100 per month).

Where does that put me?

  • Need: $967.20
  • Retirement: $500
  • Burning Man: $250
  • Student Loans: $500
  • Classes: $100
  • Weekly Fun: $100
  • Home Improvement: $100
  • Monthly Total: $2,517.50

To reach my goal I have a few options.

  • Reduce my goal by decreasing my living standard
  • Earn more money (I’d need an extra $750 or so per month given my current income)
  • A little bit of both

I think Option 3 is the best option. To help with that I need to get a hold of my copy of 4-Hour Work Week. In it, Ferriss talks about researching and setting realistic goals over time frames. I could likely reduce my “Burning Man” goal by planning and be more reasonable. I can also reduce my home improvement, weekend fun and classes expenses. I’d also like to start dumpster diving and finding other ways to decrease my “need”.

I’d also like to start bringing in more income. I can start working more at my current job, look into finding a part-time secondary job (unlikely), and work towards what I really want to do… be a writer. If I can focus on getting my writing polished and sent to publishers (or self-publishing) I might be able to bring in the funds I need to have the life I want.

That monthly total is a pretty lofty goal for me, but now that it is quantified I actually have a chance of reaching it. Instead of just needing “more” money per month, I need $2,517.50 per month.

** A friend of mine who is a financial planner says my 10% was way too optimistic and 5% is a more reasonable growth rate. With that, I need to add about $1,000 per month to reach my goal. So, my new monthly goal is $3,017.50 without any reduction in expenses. I think I’m going to plot out things one at a time in a more detailed way to see if I can reduce those costs.

Week 7 Update

Overall, this week went pretty well. I wasn’t perfect in my routine, but who is? I have found myself really bored with my body weight workout. All I’ve been doing is a day of push-ups and a day of planks (the house I’m currently in doesn’t have a place for my pull-up bar), I’ve seen some nice improvements but I find myself dreading the workouts because of boredom. To help remedy this I’m going to start using this workout 2-3 times a week and use push-ups and planks as a progress measurement tool. On a related note, I’ve seen almost no growth in my chest or arms since starting this routine. Part of this is probably because of human error and inconsistent measuring, but most of it is that my routine hasn’t really made muscle-building a priority. The only exception to this is my thighs where I am seeing pretty consistent shrinkage, I think I store a lot of fat in my thighs as well as my waist. As my weight approaches a level that I’m more comfortable with, and once I move into my own house this week, I will start focusing more on muscle production. My performance and health will improve if I have strength underneath the fat I burn away.

I have also started taking two Coursera classes (one on writing and one on data visualization), and I’m also using Khan Academy to improve my math skills. I’ve hit a rough patch with my book writing and am having trouble getting myself over it. It is a struggle but I am still working towards it.

My nutrition work has been going really well and I think I’m going to start to stray a little bit from it. I think a cheat meal (or day or evening or something) each week will help keep me motivated. Ideally, I’d get to the point where having things around the house daily wouldn’t be a huge temptation or become a slippery slope, but I’m not there yet. Maybe in a couple of months I can enjoy just one alcoholic drink or small treat daily, but right now I’m going to just allow myself one night a week to not worry about calories.

The measurements (What is being measured: This weeks measurement (Change from last week, change from day one)

  • Weight: 164 lbs (-1, -14)
  • Waist: 33.5 inches (-.5, -3)
  • Neck: 16 inches (+.5, +.5)
  • Chest: 39.75 inches (-.25, -.25)
  • Left Bicep: 13.5 inches (+0,-.5)
  • Right Bicep: 13.25 inches (-.5, -.75)
  • Left Thigh: 23 inches (-.5, -1.25)
  • Right Thigh: 23 inches (-.5, -2.25)
  • Left Calf: 14.5 inches (-.25, +0)
  • Right Calf: 14.5 inches (-.25, +0)
  • BMI: 24.93 (-.17, -2.13)
  • Body Fat %: 19.00 (-1.10 -6.02)
  • Average Daily Calories: 1802.14 (-56.14)
  • Average Waking Mood: 6.29 out of 10 (+.14, +3)
  • Average Midday Mood: 7.29 out of 10 (-.43, -.14)
  • Average Evening Mood: 7.86 out of 10 (+.29, +.57)
  • Average Morning Sex Drive: 5.71 out of 10 (+.14, +.29)
  • Average Midday Sex Drive: 6.57 out of 10 (+.57, -.29)
  • Average Evening Sex Drive: 6.14 out of 10 (+.43, +.43)
  • Walked: 7.25 Miles (-3)
  • Total Walked: 90.5 Miles
  • Ran: 11 Miles (+-5.25,
  • Total Ran: 70.25 Miles
  • Biked: 52.5 Miles (+28.50
  • Total Biked: 103.75
  • Pull Ups: 0
  • Total Pull Ups: 196
  • Max Pull Ups Set: N/A
  • Push Ups: 196
  • Total Push Ups: 1,778
  • Max 2-Minute Push Ups: 68
  • Plank: 900 seconds
  • Total Plank: 3,210 seconds
  • Max Single Plank: 300 seconds
  • Meditated: 75 minutes (+5
  • Total Time Meditating: 325 minutes
  • Average Nightly Sleep: 7.93 hours (+.61)
  • Daily Orgasm: 5 out of 7 (-1)
  • Blog Posts: 6 out of 7 (-1)
  • Foreign Language: 7 out of 7 (+3)
  • Work on Book: 1 out of 7 (-5)
  • Khan Academy: 5 out of 7 (+5)
  • Coursera: 5 out of 7 (+5)
  • Resting Heart Rate: 54bpm (-8, -5)

Currently Reading:

  • “Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama” by Daniel Goleman (Psychology and Science – Career Development
  • “The Gift” by Hafiz (Poetry)
  • “The Great Hunt” by Robert Jordan (Fiction, Audiobook)
  • “The Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday (Personal Development)

Kindness

Yesterday, I finished the foundational 30 meditation exercises in the Headspace app and I am now free to pick any of the 10-session packages they have. There are about 15 packages that cover a wide range of topics to help with your health, relationships, and performance. I decided to start with “Kindness”.

I know that I am not always as kind to people as I could or should be. I don’t think I am cruel, but I do have a hard time feeling empathy or sympathy for other people. I want to enhance my emotional intelligence and stop being so logical. I wasn’t always this way, I used to be a hopeless romantic who wore his heart on his sleeve, but not really anymore. After my time in the military, an emotionally abusive relationship, and working in politics in DC, I had a hard time seeing people as humans or relating to them on an emotional level. I’m not as bad as I used to be, but there is still plenty of room for improvement and healing.

The first meditation lesson for Kindness focused only on being kind to myself. This surprised me at first, but maybe it shouldn’t have. One of the concepts discussed in one of the books I’m currently reading (Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama) is how the Tibetan and Western views of compassion differ. In Buddhist view, you cannot be compassionate towards another person if you aren’t compassionate towards yourself, while in the Western world compassion is generally focused only on someone else. My meditation practice isn’t religious but there are eastern philosophical views that run through it.

I don’t think that I am particularly unkind to myself, but there is a little bit of guilt that comes with taking care of myself or showing compassion to myself. I used to be much, much harder on myself though. When I was still coming to terms with my sexuality, relationship preferences, spiritual beliefs, and political viewpoints I was very hard on myself. I was still breaking out of religious conservative brainwashing and saw myself as a weak sinner who had no value and would be better off dead. Because I didn’t match what my family wanted I was a failure and had let down everyone. I don’t feel that way today, not by a long shot, but I still have trouble being kind to myself. I see so much potential that I fail to reach and occasionally beat myself up over it, or I look at myself in the mirror and wish I was more attractive or fit and think how my partner would be better off with someone else. These moments of unkindness to myself are rare, but they happen.

Hopefully, the meditation practice will help me continue on a path of growth and healing. I hope that it can help me become more kind to myself, and as a result more kind to others. It is hard being in a new city without a lot of friends… making friends is hard as an adult, particularly for two introverts like us. We aren’t big partiers and I am awkward at conversations because I want to discuss taboo things like sex, drugs, politics, and religion. Maybe kindness can help open some of the doors that have been closed to me in the past and allow me to make the world a better place.

Consumption is Key

In my experience, the best way to bust through writer’s block (or any block in creativity) is to consume more and more things. Now, I don’t mean “consume” like “spend money on a bunch of stuff or buy the newest gadget”, I am a minimalist after all. What I mean is, when the brain hits a roadblock it is usually good to explore new intellectual avenues and build some new neural networks. We live in the most amazing time in human history, the wealth of knowledge at our fingertips for free would take a thousand lifetimes to even begin to peruse. That information can help push us past our limits and help us discover new answers to our questions.

Consumption leads to creation. Just like the food we eat turns into fuel for our activities, the experiences we have turn into the things we create. And, like food and exercise, the more diverse and rounded our experiences are, the healthier and stronger the things we create will become. The body needs more than just one type of food and one type of exercise to be great and art needs more than just one perspective and one tool to be great.

Personally, I have a few “go to” services when my brain is stuck. Sometimes those services make intuitive sense. For example, maybe I’ll go to the library and pick up a book about writing (“On Writing” by Stephen King is my favorite) or I’ll check out a course on creative writing at Coursera.com.

Not all of the stuff I consume is based purely on writing, but they help my writing just the same. I’m working on improving my math skills through Khan Academy, which can help with logic and problem solving. I meditate using the Headspace app, which brings me a calmer mind and helps with focus (okay, I technically pay for this app but there are free options). Or maybe I read a book about Buddhism or business or psychology or some science fiction or philosophy or astronomy or pagan rituals to give me a new perspective on the human experience and how to communicate (or take Coursera courses about these things). Also, music and tv can help encourage new mental pathways and perspectives and, of course, video games (though, I find video games and tv/movies are the most dangerous sources of motivation because I can easily form an unhealthy relationship with them). I also enjoy looking into creating things in all the arts…. painting, dancing, cooking, drawing, etc can all make you a better writer because they round you out more as a person, they give you new adventures and perspectives.

There is, as always, a danger that consuming materials will start to become the goal instead of the act of creating. That risk is present with all things, that we will use consumption as an excuse to not create… but nobody ever said thriving in life would be easy. Ease and comfort do not lead to creation.

Fasting Days

Yesterday, I posted a quick up post on Facebook about my fast (see the bottom of the page) and received an unexpected response. I was trying to be a little tongue-in-cheek about being hungry, and I was exaggerating my feelings, but someone took it pretty seriously. I share some blame in the confusion, but I think his response was out of line (for a couple reasons).

When he read my post he said that he thinks I have an eating disorder. Here are my problems with that:

  • If you aren’t my therapist you shouldn’t be trying to diagnose a serious mental health issue
  • If you are my friend and are concerned about me you shouldn’t be calling me out in a public place about the potential for a serious mental health issue
  • By classifying my fasting as an eating disorder you minimize what people with true eating disorders deal with
  • My intermittent fasting (one day a week with about 600kcal while the rest of the days are around 1800kcals) is tracked heavily by me to make sure I get all the nutrients I need. I can pull up cronometer.com and show exactly how much of each vitamin and mineral I get. This is important because every diet (including veganism) has potential deficiencies if you aren’t careful. Unfortunately, I wasn’t careful in the past and wasn’t getting enough fiber and the essential vitamins that come primarily from vegetable sources. I would recommend everybody running their diet through cronometer.com once in a while to ensure they don’t have any glaring deficiencies.
  • My eating habits are centered around science and being healthy, which is a significant improvement on what my nutrition practices were in the past (which included lots of fast food, ignorance to what my body needs, emotional/stress/boredom eating, dehydration, etc).

So, all I can ask is that if you have questions about someone’s health because you care about them you should ask them in a private message instead of publicly calling them out.

Original post:

Theory: On my fasting days* I will have more free time because I won’t be cooking/preparing food and I reduce my workout to a more moderate level.

Practice: All my free time goes into reading research about fasting and planning my meal for the next day. Now I just need to decide, tomorrow do I want to make a potato and kale enchiladas with roasted chile sauce, lasagna with spinach and a mushroom marinara, or a spicy vegetable gumbo.

PS: I went with the lasagna with spinach and mushroom marinara… it was delightful.

Ego is the Enemy

I made a late-night, possibly intoxicated, impulse buy off of Amazon last week (one-click ordering is a blessing and a curse), but I’m glad I did it. One of the books I ordered is “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday, I can’t remember where I got the recommendation but I am really enjoying it so far. The book is part stoic philosophy, part real-world advice and pushes us all to ignore our ego and just create, create, create. There are also lots of historical examples throughout the book to back up the techniques and philosophy discussed.

I’ve only read Part 1 (of 3) but here are some of the quotes that stood out to me, mostly because they spoke to my own struggles becoming a writer. I don’t think I am an egotistical person (I’d actually say the opposite, I lack confidence), but I do have some habits that are harmful to my goals. The bolded ones are my top quotes.

  • For your work to have truth in it, it must come from truth. If you want to be more than a flash in the pan, you must be prepared to focus on the long term.
    We will learn that though we think big, we must act and live small in order to accomplish what we seek. Because we will be action and education focused, and forgo validation and status, our ambition will not be grandiose but iterative – one foot in front of the other, learning and growing and putting in the time.
  • Those who know do not speak.
    Those who speak do not know. – Lao Tzu
  • The empty text box: “What’s on your mind?” Facebook asks. “Compose a new tweet,” Twitter beckons. Tumblr. LinkedIn. Our inbox, our iPhones, the comments section on the bottom of the article you just read.
    Blank spaces, begging to be filled in with thoughts, with photos, with stories. With what we’re going to do, with what things should or could be like, what we hope will happen. Technology, asks you, prodding you, soliciting talk.
    Almost universally, the kind of performance we give on social media is positive. It’s more “Let me tell you how well things are going. Look how great I am.” it’s rarely the truth: “I’m scared. I’m struggling. I don’t know”
  • “Mere gossip anticipates real talk, and to express what is still in thought weakens action by forestalling it” – Kierkegaard
  • Talk depletes us. Talking and doing fight for the same resources. Research shows that while goal visualization is important, after a certain point our mind begins to confuse it with actual progress. The same goes for verbalization. Even talking aloud to ourselves while we work through difficult problems has shown to significantly decrease insight and breakthroughs. Afters spending so much time thinking, explaining, and talking about a task, we start to feel that we’ve gotten closer to achieving it.
  • Success requires a full 100 percent of our effort, and talk flitters part of that effort away before we can use it.
  • The greatest work and art comes from wrestling with the void, facing it instead of scrambling to make it go away.
  • The only relationship between work and chatter is that one kills the other. 
  • “To be somebody or to do something. In life, there is often a roll call. That’s when you will need to make a decision” – John Boyd
  • “A man is worked upon by what he works on,” – Frederick Douglass
  • The power of being a student is not just that it is an extended period of instruction, it also places the ego and ambition in someone’ else’s hands. There is  a sort of ego ceiling imposed – one knows that he is not better than the “master” he apprentices under. Not even close. You defer to them, you subsume yourself. You cannot fake or bullshit them. An education can’t be “hacked”; there are no shortcuts besides hacking it ever single day. If you don’t, they will drop you.
  • The pretense of knowledge is our most dangerous vice, because it prevents us from getting any better
  • Passion typically masks a weakness.
  • Those who have subdued their ego understand that it doesn’t degrade you when others treat you poorly; it degrades them.
  • “A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts, so he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions. – Alan Watts
  • Living clearly and presently takes courage. Don’t live in the haze of the abstract, live with the tangible and real, even if – especially if – it’s uncomfortable. Be part of what’s going on around you. feast on it, adjust for it.
    There’s no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned, in all that is around us.
  • Is it ten thousand hours or twenty thousand hours to mastery? The answer is that it doesn’t matter. There is no end zone. To think of a number is to live in a conditional future. We’re simply talking about a lotl of  hours – that to get where you want to go isn’t about brilliance, but continual effort. While that not a terribly sexy idea, it should be an encouraging one. Because it means it’s all within reach – for tall of us, provided we have the constitution and humbleness to be patient and the fortitude to put in the work
  • Make it so you don’t have to fake it.
  • Every time you sit down to work, remind yourself: I am delaying gratification by doing this. I am passing the marshmallow test. I am earning what my ambition burns for. I am making an investment in myself instead of my ego. Give yourself a little credit for this choice, but not so much, because you’ve got to get back to the task at hand: practicing, working, improving. 
  • Work doesn’t want to be good. it is made so, despite the headwind.