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 Thirty: Lovemaking


Hiking the Fresh Loop at Waverly Park.

I had my last cigarette on Friday night, and as can be expected, I’ve been eating like a pig. Many resources, including the Allen Carr book I just read, say that the nicotine withdrawal is very similar to food hunger, which causes you to eat more.

Yesterday, I decided to go for a long hike through Waverly Park in Louisville. I did the Clinic Loop and the Fresh Air Loop, for a combined 5.3 miles, according to the map here. I was originally planning to hike the paved road at Iroquois Park, and made a last minute decision to try Waverly after seeing the sign to Waverly on New Cut Road. I was hoping that maybe I would see the famous, haunted Waverly Hills Sanatorium. While it was nearby during part of my hike, I wasn’t able to see the place. What was surprising were the mansions and wealthy neighborhoods hidden in this area. Although not quite a ghetto, the nearby New Cut Road does have a blue collar vibe, with all the warehouse work nearby.


Two discarded auto seats on the Fresh Air Loop at Waverly Park.

I have noticed that with quitting cigarettes, my productivity has jumped tremendously. The reason for that is you never get a cigarette break. You are also really engaged with doing the work, because you aren’t half-assing the work so you can have the next cigarette break. So this weekend, I got a lot accomplished. My home is clean, I caught up with three days worth of blogs, did some cooking for the week last night. Otherwise, my sleep is disrupted from quitting. I’m waking up in the middle of the night, waking up earlier than usual, getting tired throughout the day, and going to sleep earlier. I’m expecting this to even out in the next few weeks as nicotine leaves my body.

I’ve also fallen off the wagon with my diet. The only reason is convenience foods aren’t usually healthy foods, and being busy working overtime this past week hasn’t given me much time for cooking. I did some cooking last night and I have some healthy food for today at least. Last week, I was also waking up late every morning. This was mostly due to long hours with no days off, and evening activities and blogging to do. I stayed up late every night to do housework before bed. Another issue was caffeine after 7PM. I’m not beating myself up over this. I expect this week to be challenging as well, with overtime worked to get out of debt and hit some savings goals.

Deng Ming-Dao on Lovemaking

Today’s 365 Tao entry is on the topic of sex, and he has a different opinion about sex from the many Buddhist books and lectures I’ve been devouring the last two years.

“Too many other layers of meaning have been imposed upon sex. Religions straitjacket it, ascetics deny it, romantics glorify it, intellectuals theorize about it, obsessives pervert it.”

“Sex should not be used as leverage, manipulation, selfishness, or abuse. It should not be a ground for our personal compulsions and delusions”

-Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Following the end of my previous relationship (with the mother of my children), I found myself thinking about dating again and got into a rebound relationship a few months later. As had previously been the case in my relationships, I found sex to be misused as a tool for manipulation and power.

After that, I spent about a year being involved in the Men Going Their Own Way movement, which can best be described as the male equivalent of the “I don’t need no man” kind of feminism. I remember being inspired at the time by the Breitbart article, “The Sexodus, Part 1: The Men Giving Up on Women and Checking out of Society”. As the website explains in their mission statement:

Men Going Their Own Way is a statement of self-ownership, where the modern man preserves and protects his own sovereignty above all else. It is the manifestation of one word: “No”. Ejecting silly preconceptions and cultural definitions of what a “man” is. Looking to no one else for social cues. Refusing to bow, serve and kneel for the opportunity to be treated like a disposable utility. And, living according to his own best interests in a world which would rather he didn’t.

I found inspiration from the monks at The Abbey of Gethsemani, a monastery here in Kentucky that I regularly visit for a hike on the property, sometimes attending a church service and visiting the gift shop. I noticed that I’ve been with a partner at all times for at least the last 15 years. For the most part, the relationships ended with each partner hating the other. Meanwhile, the monks haven’t had partners for most of their lives, and seem happier than I have ever been.

You sometimes hear the expression “Men Going Monk” instead of MGTOW. That’s the direction I went in. I decided to avoid romantic relationships in the present climate of perceived hostility toward men in society, but decided that I did not want to be as hateful toward women as MGTOW were. In other words, I would become a celibate who did not want to be in a relationship with a woman, but we can be friends.

I lifted my moratorium on dating women last summer and I am in a relationship with a woman now.

Prior to becoming involved with her, I did a lot of soul searching about sex and relationships. At the time it seemed that western sexual morals had failed me, and relationships did more harm than good anymore. What did the Buddhists say about sexuality? From what I was able to learn, Buddhists are not opposed to premarital sex, but are opposed to using sexuality to harm others (and yourself!) For me, that meant avoiding what they call “toxic relationships” (I can’t stand that tired expression anymore) or any relationship where there is manipulation or abuse. I also no longer become involved with people I don’t love or aren’t attracted to, and vice versa.

As Ming-Dao noted, most people probably have the wrong perspective on sex. He said, “Religions straitjacket it, ascetics deny it, romantics glorify it, intellectuals theorize about it, obsessives pervert it.”

Taoism, according to Ming-Dao anyway, seems to be a bit less casual, yet not quite puritanical, about sex in comparison to Buddhism”

“Sexuality an honest reflection of our innermost personalities, and we should ensure that its expression is healthy. Making love is something mysterious, sacred, and often the most profound interaction between people. Whether what is created is a relationship or a pregnancy, the legacy of both partners will be inherent in their creation. What we put into love determines what we get out of it.”

The Daily Stoic:

Ryan Holiday’s chapter title for January 30th is “You Don’t Have to Stay on Top of Everything”. By that he means that the media coverage runs 24/7 and we feel that we are expected to stay current on everything, and be able to articulate an informed opinion about all current events, or keep up with popular TV shows. He’s saying it’s okay to say “I don’t care.” I’ve noticed this on Facebook a lot. A certain scandal or controversy is going on this week: Gay marriage one week, the Confederate flag the next, Hillary Clinton and deleted emails, gun control, and so on. We can try to research the issues and have an informed opinion, if only we could figure out which news source is unbiased and reliable. The end result is a lot of time and thought spent composing debate comments. Everyone fights, tempers are lost, people are unfriended. Next week, it’s another issue and the old issue is forgotten. I consciously decided, as a 2017 goal, that I do not want to participate in Facebook trolling and debating anymore. I don’t need to stay on top of everything in the news. I’d be better served spending time on bettering myself and improving my life than wasting it on frivolous arguments and information overload.

Tomorrow is the last day of January, meaning that I have completed one month of daily blog posts, as I plan to do every day of the year 2017. I will record a podcast tomorrow where I will discuss the experience of blogging for one month, and how things are going with all  the goals, and what has been learned. I will also update my goals for February.

See you tomorrow.

Day Eleven: Healing

I’m now on my fourth day of waking up at 5:00AM. I didn’t count my vacation days because I was in a different time zone and stayed up late Friday night to play with The Earps, but I didn’t sleep after 7 or 8AM on any of those days.

I am aiming for this morning ritual:

neil peart.jpg

Neil Peart, drummer of Rush, on his motorcycle trip he made to heal from the loss of his wife and daughter. 

  1. Wake up.
  2. Coffee, tea, or water.
  3. Shower and dress.
  4. Journaling or blogging.
  5. Short Reading.
  6. Meditation.
  7. Simple breakfast.
  8. Leave for work and arrive ten minutes early.

As I said in a previous post, mornings have mostly been pushing Snooze several times, waking up for a rushed bathroom  routine, and speeding off to work, for most of my adult life.

Right now, I just have to wake up at 5AM, and do whatever I want before I leave for work, for 7 consecutive days. Then, the following week, I’ll wake up at 5AM, and take a 10 minute walk every morning for 7 consecutive days. Things will be changed and added every week as I work through the Self Mastery book.

Why New Years Resolutions, and self improvement in general, are so difficult to pull off: 

I am basically a paid slave, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I have cultivated some self discipline from showing up every day at a job for over 20 years. I’ve been in leaner times the last couple of years, losing jobs and my part-time music gigging income. I make $12 an hour loading trucks and packing boxes. After I pay daycare, phone, car insurance (mine is especially expensive after two minor wrecks in the last two years), medical bills, groceries, gas, there is little left for dining, entertainment, etc. and if I want to pay off my debt too, I need to work any overtime that is offered. So that’s 10 hours per day, at least 4-5 days per week. Weekends are spent with my kids.

Most of my time is sold to someone else.

I would say this is true for most other people.

My secret weapon will be my weekday off. Wednesdays.

Today, I will log how I spend my day and post the log tomorrow.

Chapter 11 of 365 Tao: Daily Meditations

Key points: 

  • No matter how extreme a situation is, it will change.
  • Fires will burn out, turbulent seas will become calm.
  • Nature balances itself by having its events seek its opposite. This is the process of healing.
  • This process takes time. Days, years, even lifetimes.
  • In an extreme situation, the wise are patient.
  • All life is destruction and healing, over and over again.

It might be irresponsible of me to criticize psychiatric medicine, but having tried that route before, the medicines administered to me did not bring healing. That said, I think the medication may have been useful during my freakouts. The problem is there was no plan of taking me off the medications, which caused unpleasant side effects. I stopped taking the medications on my own and chose not to adopt the label of “mentally ill person”. The doctor advised that I must keep taking Risperidal or I would end up back in the psych ward. There was an assumption made that I might no longer work and would draw disability.

There was no real diagnosis. They simply didn’t know what was wrong with me, with no prior history of serious mental health issues. I was marked as “Schizophrenia/Other”.  There were other opinions too. One hypothesis was that I suffered head trauma from my fall in November 2015. Add extreme rage and depression, sleep deprivation, stress factors such as job losses and changes.

After being referred to Communicare, I decided they were pill pushers and the counseling wasn’t helpful and I couldn’t understand how a 20 year old female psychiatry student as a counselor could relate to the issues of a 40 year old man who went through the meat grinder of divorce with kids and the loss of just about every thing he loved in a swift blow of the midlife destruction hammer. How could she relate?

I simply stopped going there.

Instead, I started hiking on a regular basis, going to group meditation, studying Buddhism, reading Thomas Merton and self help books.

If money were no object, I could take some time off, and I had no dependents who rely on me, I would have taken the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage or hiked the Appalachian Trail. Instead I take my pilgrimage, 6 miles at a time, every Tuesday night after work.

Joe at Loose Leaf Hollow told me, “Grief is not in your head. You can’t think your way through it, because it’s in your body. There is something about movement.”

This seems to be true. The drummer from Rush, Neil Peart, took a very long motorcycle trip following the death of his wife and daughter in a short time period. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig, Wild by Cheryl Strayed. And so on.

The Buddha said that all life is suffering and the third noble truth says there is an end to suffering (which I wanted) if you follow the Eightfold Path.

I don’t want to take pills. I’m putting all my faith in ancient wisdom, and that is why I’m here and what this blog is about.

Meanwhile, the Stoics say something different. 

“Epictetus is reminding you that serenity and stability are results of your choices and judgment, not your environment. If you seek to avoid all disruptions to tranquility—other people, external events, stress—you will never be successful. Your problems will follow you wherever you run and hide. But if you seek to avoid the harmful and disruptive judgments that cause those problems, then you will be stable and steady wherever you happen to be.”
-Ryan Holiday, If You Want to Be Unsteady, The Daily Stoic

Thomas Merton said something similar:

“If you go into the desert merely to get away from people you dislike, you will find neither peace nor solitude; you will only isolate yourself with a tribe of devils.”

Photo I took at Thomas Merton’s grave on September 8, 2016.

Same place, tomorrow. 


Day Four: Reflection

Moon above water. Sit in solitude. 

I started doing meditation for the first time on Monday nights with the Louisville Vipassana Community, led by Glenda Hodges-Cook, at the Clifton Universalist Unitarian Church

Glenda referred me to Joe Zarantonello at Loose Leaf Hollow in Bardstown to avoid the long drive to Louisville. 

“He’s a Catholic Buddhist. A Catholic priest who is also a Buddhist.” 


As I began attending and had a two hour or so 1 on 1 consultation with him, I learned that he has a Catholic background, but isn’t actually a priest at all. In fact, he’s a married, a teacher who retired from a local Catholic school in Bardstown and opened a retreat center at his home. The group meets on Thursday nights at 7pm. 

It took me a few months to figure out that you can’t really put labels on Joe, like Zen, Catholic, Buddhist, etc. 

I’ve only recently learned that there isn’t much need to categorize and label everything, a habit I picked up early on, noting in school that everyone assumes an identity to a group. 

Nerds. Jocks. Stoners. Rockers. Preppies. 

This habit was reinforced by the record stores, where everything is neatly categorized. 

Post-punk/New Wave. Psychedelia. Hard rock/metal. Ska/reggae. Jazz/fusion. 

Labels are useful to a point to find what you are looking for, but creating an identity with a certain label blocks you from experiencing other ideas and causes you to live in a bubble. 

So if I must apply labels and descriptions to Joe and Loose Leaf Hollow, it seems to be very influenced by Trappist monk writer Thomas Merton. Buddhism. Sufism. Zen. Irish poetry. Enneagram. Lapsed Catholicism. Contemplative writing. 

Meditation is just sitting. Or just walking. Or just writing. Or just washing dishes

You don’t have to be a Buddhist, a Taoist, a Zen practitioner, a monk, or a hippie to meditate. 

“If waters are placid, the moon will be mirrored perfectly. If we still ourselves, we can mirror the divine perfectly. But if we engage solely in the frenetic activities of our daily involvements, if we seek to impose our own schemes on the natural order, and if we allow ourselves to become absorbed in self-centered views, the surface of our waters becomes turbulent. Then we cannot be receptive to Tao.”
-Deng Ming-Dao

Today on the flight to Phoenix, I will use mind mapping to brainstorm book ideas.

 On December 6th, I received an email from Chandler Bolt announcing the launch of his latest book “Published. The Proven Path From Blank Page to Published Author” on Amazon. The new book is available on Kindle Unlimited, so I downloaded it, along with the free audio book version, available from a link on Page 3.  I decided to go ahead and use his system for writing a book this year. 

I have no idea what the book will be about at this time. 

“So many of us out there simply have stories to tell. Whether it’s a biographically-based tale of triumph, a step-by-step guide to solving a problem, or a fictional story crafted to entertain (yes, that includes children’s books)—they are all stories inside you waiting to get out. No matter what your story is, you can use it to make a difference in the lives of the people who read it. You have all these wonderful ideas running wild in your head. It’s not fair for you to keep something so great trapped inside. Why not share it? You never know what impact you are going to have.” 

– Chandler Bolt

The Tao Te Ching

I bought a copy of the Tao Te Ching, the Shambhala Pocket Classics edition,  translated by John C.H. Wu, for 7.99 plus tax in the gift shop at The Abbey of Gethesemani in New Haven, KY. 

Today, I read the first verse. 

Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.
As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless:
As “the Mother” of all things, it is nameable.
So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence:
As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects.
These two flow from the same source, though differently named;
And both are called mysteries.
The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.

Translated by John C.H. Wu (1939)

And today’s little piece of Stoic wisdom:

“Control your perceptions. Direct your actions properly. Willingly accept what’s outside your control. That’s all we need to do.”
-Ryan Holiday, The Big Three, from Daily Stoic