Day Fifty Two: Nonconformity

Daily Journal:

darkrestThis morning, I’m shopping for a new tent to replace my Ozark Trail L-shaped 12 person tent that was such a disaster for camping in everything except for perfect weather. I gave it two more chances after the nightmare fall camping trip in Flemingsburg, KY two years ago. Verdict: It could not handle high winds due to its shape. I’m looking at two camping trips this year: one in Brown County, Indiana and another at Red River Gorge in Stanton, Kentucky. So far, I’m looking at two different 10-person instant tent models, one by Coleman and the other by Ozark Trail.

Deng Ming-Dao on Nonconformity:

The world is dazzling,
I alone am dull.
Others strive for achievement,
I follow a lonely path. 

Chapter 52 was very familiar, having so far had a somewhat unconventional life by the standards of most people, I’d imagine. It’s not that this kind of life is preferable, recommended to someone else, or lived for the sake of uniqueness. I was raised in a family environment where conformity was demanded. Having freedom as a core motivation of my personality it seems, I rebelled without even trying at all, doing things that would not have been considered rebellious at all in most other middle class families. Even then, that was superficial nonconformity, mostly about choice of activities, fashion, and intellectual pursuits.

A couple of years ago, I went into a deep depression after considering myself a failure in life compared to other people. It really was about listening to other voices, opinions, and advice. What I’ve really heard from just about everyone else for my entire life, or at least the message I always thought I heard was “YOU NEED TO CHANGE INTO WHAT I WANT YOU TO BE”. I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to change into someone else, for someone else, and it has always failed.

The other day I had an epiphany and I wondered if anyone else had realized this. Looking online, I found a blog entry I really identified with called “Everyone Is Full of Shit”. I do not know what enlightenment is, but having this realization is as close as I’ve ever gotten.

I’ve often been thwarted by the attempt from others to “help” me, or give me advice that may have worked well for themselves but didn’t really apply to me so much. I heard a funny joke from Alan Watts the other day about thinking you know what is best for someone else:

“Kindly let me help you or you will drown,” said the monkey putting the fish safely up a tree.

I’ve given up on fighting to become a conformist, or change for other people.

So, just to break down a couple of key points in Deng Ming-Dao’s entry today:

  • Conventional people may label our behavior as erratic, antisocial, irresponsible, inexplicable, outrageous, and sometimes scandalous.
  • We do not care about social norm. We only follow Tao.
  • We all have many voices, personalities, ambitions, and tendencies within us. (Those I find similar to ego, superego, and id. We want the ability to distinguish between them, and to silence all voices save for Tao (the reason for meditation?)
  • All that matters is constant cultivation with Tao, not self perfection.
  • There are others who follow Tao but it is not always possible to meet them. It is a lonely path. (Hence, the appearance of nonconformity)
  • You need to be sensitive enough to hear the call of Tao, and strong enough to walk the solitary path.

“So, tell me, pretty baby, are you still talking ’bout yourself?
You’re such a non-conformist, just like everybody else”

-The Dictators, “I Am Right”

The Daily Stoic: Wish Not, Want Not

Today, Ryan Holiday covers a subject in Stoicism that overlaps with Buddhism: The idea that desire is suffering. He quotes Epictetus, who says (I paraphrase): If we desire and place high value on anything external, not just wealth and status, even “good” things like learning, peace, travel, and leisure, that brings us under dominion of something external, which can create an obstacle for us.

When it comes to your goals and the things you strive for, ask yourself: Am I in control of them or they in control of me?

Holiday, Ryan. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living (p. 61). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The message here is that it is okay to desire things, as long as you understand they are external and you do not rely on external things to bring happiness to you. This is a message that I’ve heard over and over in Buddhism, but would probably be found in all spiritual traditions as well as this Stoic tradition in Western philosophy.

Tomorrow, I have a day off and I hope to experience it with mindfulness.


Day Forty Nine: Death

Daily Journal:


This week, I’ve been listening to many old recorded lectures by Alan Watts, available everywhere as podcasts, YouTube videos, MP3s, etc.

Really busy week here. Mandatory overtime has been called for Sunday, I’m signed up to work today (Saturday) so whatever time I have this weekend will be traded to my employer for more money. I expect the day at work to be pretty chill, so I’m probably going to listen to the audiobook version of The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts while I’m working, which is available to hear on YouTube.

One of the things I love about my job, if not the only thing, is that I’m able to listen to podcasts, music, lectures on MP3, audiobooks, etc. while I’m working. So I dabble in everything while I’m working. Yesterday, I listened to Ryan Adams on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. The last band I was in, Gravel & Spiders, covered his song “Note to Self, Don’t Die”. I knew an old punk rock scenester named Brew Kerr when I lived in Phoenix  who loved Whiskeytown, who were going at the time. (Brew was in the Texas band The Hormones in the 90s with Tim Stegall, who was writing for Guitar World and other zines back then) I knew very little about Ryan Adams, aside from the fact that people either didn’t know who he was, confused him with Bryan Adams, or were rabid and fanatical about everything he’s done, most of which I’ve never heard. It was a pretty good interview. Ryan Adams and I have many things in common, being roughly the same age, from the south, with a similar music background, and so on. He failed at selling me on the Grateful Dead, but click here if you want to hear his cover of “Wharf Rat”.

Another podcast I listen to quite often is Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio with Miguel Conner. It’s roughly based on Gnosticism, which may require a definition:

a prominent heretical movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church, partly of pre-Christian origin. Gnostic doctrine taught that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the demiurge, and that Christ was an emissary of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric knowledge (gnosis) of whom enabled the redemption of the human spirit.

I actually enjoy his goofy/spooky spoken word intros, with cheesy/creepy background music, with surprisingly funny references and jokes here and there. The guests are hit and miss. I listened in to one of his episodes about The Gospel of Thomas yesterday.

Deng Ming-Dao on Death:

Today’s entry reminds me of the talk I heard with Eckhart Tolle and Oprah Winfrey in their 10 week New Earth webcast in 2008. (The entire series is available on YouTube, and it’s a companion for Tolle’s book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose) You can often hear a quote about the law of thermodynamics: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed into something else. We really do not know what happens after we die. We can speculate about it, be we cannot really know. The first of the Four Seals in Buddhism states that “All compounded things are impermanent”. Humans are compounded things, containing water, chemicals, other matter, etc. Those parts are not “blasted from all existence”, as Ming-Dao says. He says, what dies is is the identity of the person, our “story about ourselves”. Most of the spiritual books I’ve read have this idea as a common theme: The story about yourself comes from the Ego, or False Self, which is not your True Self. I’ve read about this in books by Eckhart Tolle, Thomas Merton, and many books on the subject of Buddhism. Basically, the ego dies. Ming-Dao and many others suggest there is someone else there in a person that is not just ego. That someone else, they say, will not die.

As of today, I still fear death. I did not fear death in my teens to late 20s, because I somehow walked around with a sense that death wouldn’t happen to me. It only happened to other people. Do you fear death?

Daily Stoic:

Today’s entry was short and simple, and quoted Epictetus. Called “Prepare for the Storm”, it’s an idea we’ve heard from our parents and grandparents, but maybe we never followed their advice. I’m reminded of how much destruction and loss of money was created by the mother of my children suddenly leaving me one day, followed by loss of employment and two different income sources, and then by medical leave. I did not have money saved to get me through the storm. I found myself at the mercy of my parents and government assistance to help me. It was a good lesson. I cannot stop “storms” from occurring. They inevitably will occur. For the most part, in the United States, storms involve loss of money, a problem that can only be fixed by money, so I need to save, which I am doing now. Having lost both my physical and mental health (at the same time!) before, I know those two things are very important to me and I need to figure out ways to protect them the best I can.

Tonight, I will hopefully catch up with yesterday’s blog post. Lesson I’m learning is that it really sucks to fall behind just a couple of days. I hope I can make a daily post for the remainder of the year, and I believe I can, but I find it doubtful that I will not fall behind once in a while and have to catch up.