Day Fifty Five: Division

Daily Journal:

Dr. Martens 1460 Eight-Eye Aztec boots I bought this week.

I’ve spent the week shopping for new clothes, something I haven’t done that has been long overdue, especially following butt blowout on three pairs of old jeans in the last month. Lifestyle changes usually seem to result in changes to the wardrobe in my closet. For example, I spent about 10 years in cubicles in offices and call centers and have been working in warehouses for the last six years. I donated all “business casual” attire. Every last pair of Dockers-style slacks and every golf shirt. I’ve switched over to jeans (shorts in the summer) and t-shirt with comfortable shoes and backwards baseball cap for my present warehouse job. The other half of my clothes are “rock star clothes”, consisting of super tight stretching jeans, denims, cowboy boots, etc. (I basically mix rock fashion with western wear, a little 70s, a little 80s…) After getting out of the music scene, I’m finding that I no longer wear the rock star clothes.

I found some good simple men’s fashion advice from Models: Attract Women Through Honesty by Mark Manson, which I read probably two years ago. He says to buy a “black set” and a “brown set”: Brown jacket, brown shoes, brown belt. Black jacket, black shoes, black belt. From there, buy several pairs of jeans, ranging from light to black and different shades. About a dozen or so shirts. I went a step further, adding brown and black hats. I wear a lot of hats because (a) my hair is not easy to manage and look presentable and (b) I look great in hats.

As he says, start with jeans and t-shirt you want to wear. Then match with either brown or black. I thought it was simple and brilliant advice.

I bought a pair of brown Dr. Martens 8 eye boots, black Levi’s engineer boots, 4 pairs of jeans from American Eagle Outfitters, a brown leather motorcycle jacket, brown Justin cowboy hat, several baseball caps, $3.99 each, from Rural King farm store.

This week, I will declutter the closet, removing clothing that doesn’t fit, I never wear, I don’t like, etc. and donating it.

Deng Ming-Dao on Division:

Today is another simple entry in 365 Tao, it begins with a poem:

Problems cannot be
Resolved at once.
Slowly until knots
Divide to conquer.

You may have heard the old expression “Eat the elephant one bite at a time”. That’s what Deng Ming-Dao is basically saying today.

First, he breaks down into three types of problems:

  1. Puzzle- needs to be analyzed carefully, requiring patience.
  2. Obstacle- must be overcome. Use force or move around it.
  3. Entanglement- requires us to extricate ourselves from a “maze of limitations”

This is an area of my life that has improved a lot. Typically, I’m overwhelmed with problems I feel that I can’t handle sometimes. In the past, I would ignore them until they could no longer be ignored anymore. Over the last two years, I’ve gotten better at breaking down problems into smaller goals, especially in terms of getting out of debt, removing bad habits like drinking and smoking, improvements with cleaning the house, and so on. I loved Deng Ming-Dao’s phrase “maze of limitations”. More than ever, I have more limitations. Having children, you can’t just move anywhere you want, take any work schedule, or work too far from their schools, etc. Aging brings its own limitations as well.

As he says, fracture bigger problems down to their basic elements, which you slowly reduce until they are untangled.

Daily Stoic:

Today’s entry is another area where cognitive behavioral therapy owes a debt to Stoicism. Excellent quote from Epictetus:

“Keep in mind that it isn’t the one who has it in for you and takes a swipe that harms you, but rather the harm comes from your own belief about the abuse.”

His point is that if someone makes you angry, it’s your opinion of the deed that is fueling the anger, not the deed itself. Obviously, Stoic advice doesn’t apply to situation of extreme harm such as assault or murder, but is very useful for navigating around ordinary, daily drama.

Tomorrow, I will visit the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky to purchase some p and probably another Thomas Merton book.


Day Thirty Five: Utilization

Daily Journal

I just wrapped up two weeks straight of voluntary overtime at work. I have approximately $800 of debt remaining to pay off (mostly old medical and credit card bills I was unable to pay when I was unemployed for several months). That doesn’t sound like a lot, but my income is so low that it barely covers my expenses. So I have to work overtime. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I am following the Dave Ramsey “baby steps”.

you-are-here-arrow-big-stock-photoMy girlfriend and I have been working through the book Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. It’s a fun book to work through, the premise being that you can design your life in the same way that products are designed.

The Health/Work/Play/Love Dashboard:

You can download a PDF version of the Health/Work/Play/Love Dashboard worksheet from DesigningYour.Life website.

As instructed by the book, you must always start where you are. So the first exercise is to assess where you are in these four areas of your life, ranking them from 0-Full. Then find your problems and solve them.

As a note, about two years ago, all four areas would have been close to 0. No job. No love. Everything I ever loved taken away from me. I lived in isolation, and what little limited contact I had with other human beings was mostly conflict. No play or joy in life whatsoever. Poor health, especially mental health, but also a respiratory illness and an injury that put me on short term disability. I was entertaining the idea of suicide as a way out. 

Right now:

Health: I am in good general health, getting regular exercise at my job and hiking trails in my area. I am no longer a daily drinker and haven’t been for a few years, and I quit smoking cigarettes about a week ago. I still cave in to junk food temptations (my family loves junk food!), but overall my diet is gradually getting healthier, having removed most of the fast food/vending machine/gas station food that I was eating almost daily. I could stand to get more sleep, as I only sleep about 6 hours a night. I would put my Health at around 50%.

Work: I work in a fulfillment center warehouse that ships shoes and apparel. It’s not the worst job in the world, but I could use some better income and more growth opportunity. At least, I get physical exercise at my job, and there are so many employees that you can’t get to know many people and you can avoid drama for the most part. I have started blogging and writing again. I’m on hiatus as a musician right now. I volunteer occasionally  to work in the Edible Garden at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, Kentucky. I put my Work at 50%.

Play: Right now, it is winter time. My level of Play is really low this time of year, which I utilize to work overtime. Play will pick up in the summer time. For play, I go camping and travel (often to see bands or visit friends in other states). My Play is at 25% and I would like to keep Play sort of low, around 25%.

Love: My primary relationship is great, but is presently long distance as she lives in Arizona and I live in Kentucky. This will be resolved in March. My relationship with my children is okay. Unfortunately, I barely see them during the school year and their mother lives far away from me. These are “gravity problems”. I don’t have a lot of friendships in Kentucky and find it somewhat hard to relate to the culture in rural Kentucky. Most of my friends live in Arizona, but I’m blessed with technology that helps me to keep in touch with them and I’ve become accustomed to solitude. I have connections with my hiking and meditation groups. I have lost my passion for music, but have renewed my love for books and writing. I put Love at 75%.

In Chapter Two, the book covers Workview and Lifeview. I really liked this concept of two categories, one beginning related to personal development and goals, and the other related to spirituality and higher purpose, and seeking integration of the two.

I supposed I’m not too shocked, but as I completed the Workview exercise, I realized that I mostly view work from a crisis model. I don’t have enough money, so I take whatever work out of desperation just to eat and pay bills. Ideas like growth, career development, and utilization of my talent aren’t in the picture at all. The closest thing I’ve had to a career was in music, and for the most part, I’ve lost music.

The Lifeview Reflection exercise indicated that my values have changed from an atheistic, existentialist sort of model to a vaguely pantheistic, where there is more order to the universe than I previously believed, although I would not categorize it as hard determinism. I am exploring spirituality for the first time in the last two years.

Today I will do the full exercise of writing 25o words about each of the two views and comparing them.

Today, I will also do some running and work on writing a book. I have decided to write a book-length “manifesto”. I’ve gotten planning done and now I have to just get down to typing a draft.

Deng Ming-Dao on Utilization:

Today, Deng Ming-Dao says that harnessing the forces of nature is “proper utilization of Tao” and the idea is perfectly related to the Designing Your Life book I just mentioned. You can borrow from the power of nature, but we cannot change nature. As the authors of Designing Your Life, many problems are “gravity problems”. You can’t do anything about gravity. You can do things to make the struggle easier (like climbing a hill with a lighter bicycle) or use gravity to your advantage at times.

“When initiative and natural forces are combined, there is true harmony.”
-Deng Ming-Dao

That quote is really the entire theme of this blog. I am trying to combine my own initiative and goals with the laws of the universe and make them be in harmony.

The Daily Stoic

Reacting emotionally will only make a bad situation worse. If someone is provoking you, they may be trying to get a response from you. If we shrug off attacks, and easily handle pressure and problems, then we are invincible, per Epictetus.

Tomorrow, there will be more about the “Designing Your Life” exercise and I will provide a list of all the books I am using right now. I also need to work through the Tao Te Ching, which I’ve barely covered so far. I’ll eventually get around to everything, I supposed. Only 11 months to go!

Take care.

Day Thirty Four: Engagement

Daily Journal

Yesterday, I stumbled across a podcast I really liked, while just looking for a show discussing the topic of “mindfulness”. The podcast is called The Mystic Show and the host is Chris Curran, who seems to have had the privilege of much traveling abroad in his life, and has a background in the recording studio side of the music business. He mentions in one episode that he “overdosed on Tony Robbins a few years ago”, indicating that he is approaching the topic of spirituality after years of being immersed in self help and personal development. Not uncommon. I enjoyed the podcast and I plan to read through a book he covers extensively in the podcast called “Byways of Blessedness” by James Allen, which is public domain and available to read for free here.

The zendo at Loose Leaf Hollow in Bardstown, Kentucky.

I also went to my Thursday night meditation group at Loose Leaf Hollow in Bardstown. Since I’ve been waking up early in the morning (about two weeks now), I’ve had a lot of difficulty staying awake for meditation sessions there, which go from 7PM-9PM (including time spent socializing and having tea, and for Joe Zarantonello’s talks that go with the meditation). The sleepiness has been so bad the last two Thursdays, I really couldn’t even attempt to meditate. I almost felt like excusing myself from the group so I could go home and sleep. I would shut my eyes, nod off a little, and wake up when I started to fall over.

Lately, Joe has really been working with the Reggie Ray style of guided meditation and also chanting along with the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble’s track called “Abwoon” (The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic). Many different spiritual traditions are covered at Loose Leaf Hollow and chanting in Aramaic is new to me. Joe loaned me a copy of The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus by Neil Douglas-Klotz, but I haven’t begun reading it yet.

The track “Abwoon” from Ancient Echoes: Music from the Time of Jesus and Jerusalem’s Second Temple by San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble is available on YouTube. You can listen and chant along.

Deng Ming-Dao on Engagement:

Prey passes the tiger who
Sometimes merely looks,
Sometimes pounces without hesitation
But never fails to act.

Life, as Deng Ming-Dao says, “is a constant series of opportunities”. Whatever comes to us, we have to engage in it. We may let the opportunity go because the timing isn’t right. We can seize the opportunity. We must not let the opportunity pass because we were slow or unable to take the opportunity. This is what he calls engagement.

The Daily Stoic: The Source of your Anxiety

Epictetus defines the source of anxiety as wanting something outside our control. Ryan Holiday says “Staring at the clock, at the ticker, at the next checkout lane over, at the sky- it’s as if we all belong to a religious cult that believes the gods of fate will only give us what want if we sacrifice our peace of mind.”

Today, I find myself anxious, as I do most mornings. Can I squeeze everything I want to do in the hour or two before I leave for work? Time is always a source for anxiety for me, particularly as it relates to not being able to accomplish many things in the time I am given, getting in trouble for not doing what is expected of me, things that are often impossible considering time restraints.

As Ryan states, the anxiety doesn’t do me any good. As I finally figured out by trying to balance full time (plus overtime) work schedule with playing every weekend with bands and parenting a few years ago, my anxiety comes from not having more time. I was able to relieve this anxiety by giving up a responsibility: Playing in bands.

Another source of anxiety is not having control over the actions of other people, particularly the decisions they make that affect you in a negative way.

I don’t have control over congested traffic. Et cetera.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss dieting. Particularly my food diet and Facebook Diet!


Day Twenty Seven: Feasting

Daily Journal

Today, I purchased and listened to the audiobook version of Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. I was aware of the book and I may have even checked the book out at the library years ago and perhaps even returned it unread. I know the actor Ashton Kutcher had been a heavy smoker and quit using the book. I have quit smoking several times over the past few years. My most successful quit was for about a year ancigarettesd a half, 2011-2012, using the nicotine patch. I recall always feeling that I had made a sacrifice and wanting a cigarette every day of that year. I knew my days as a non-smoker were numbered when I joined the band Moonshine Millionaires and two of the guys were smokers. It was so difficult to go without cigarettes during those breaks between sets.

I had planned a quit date of February 1st, but after listening to the Allen Carr audiobook at work in only one day, I decided I didn’t want to smoke anymore and just quit immediately. No reason to smoke three more packs and wait to quit. Hard to explain how the book works but I believe it’s the best method for quitting I’ve tried so far. The author is not a health professional. He’s just a former three pack a day chain smoker who figured out how to quit and made it his life’s mission to help others quit the habit.

I would recommend the book to anyone who really wants to quit smoking. I know this will be my last quitting attempt and I will remain a non-smoker for the rest of my life.

It works like this: You have to really want to quit. If you read the book and still don’t want to quit, read it again. You have to read the entire book. You can smoke while you are reading the book too!

So far this is the easiest way to quit smoking that I have ever tried, because it address the bigger psychological problem (“brainwashing” as he calls it).

Deng Ming-Dao on Feasting:

Feasting is the flame in mid-winter
That kindles the fire of friendship
And strengthens the community.

This reminds me of trying to keep bands together- or preserving the unity of the group. It could apply to anything. Your family, your circle of friends, your Thursday night poker group, whatever. I wish I could remember the name of the documentary I saw many years ago with a quote about keeping a band together. I suspect it was the jazz fusion band Yellowjackets. Whoever made the quote, I paraphrase from memory, said that they kept the band together by getting together once a week for dinner, or maybe watching a movie, no matter how busy they were playing music. It kept them like a family. I think this is what Deng Ming-Dao is referring to, basically.

He says “like any other human endeavor, the feast is vulnerable to manipulation and politics, the selfish maneuvering of cynical individuals”- which I’m sure many people can relate to, regarding Thanksgiving dinner and family dysfunction.

He assures us that this is difficult to avoid completely. He recommends:

  • Keep intentions strictly on its purpose. (As a rule for me, in reaction to family problems when I was a kid, I do not allow arguing over problems, bad grades, getting in trouble, etc. while having dinner with my family. I grew up with anger and rage at the dinner time, with dinner plates being thrown and shattered. Family problems are to be discussed at a more appropriate place and time, with more patience. Family dinner is to create unity, not for engaging in conflict, in my opinion.)
  • Select leaders wisely.
  • The leaders need to be as enlightened as possible.

The Daily Stoic:

Today Ryan Holiday writes about the three areas of training, this time quoting Epictetus.

  • Consider what we should desire and be averse to. We need to want what is good and avoid what is bad. (Once again, a coincidence! I am learning to be averse to cigarettes and not desire them because they are not good).
  • Examine our motivations. Doing things for the right reasons? Acting without thinking first? Acting because we believe we have to do something and not for a real reason?
  • Judgment. See things clearly using reason.

Tomorrow, I will be working on my finances a little. It’s also my mother’s birthday tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Mom!


Day Nine: Optimism


Photo taken from the window of my flight back to Louisville. The bridges over the Ohio River between Indiana and Louisville.

I flew back home from Phoenix last night, with a connecting flight at O’Hare in Chicago.

It seems I had the usual O’Hare experience everyone complains about.

  1. The plane from Phoenix was late.
  2. I had 15 minutes to go the one mile to my next gate to catch the connecting flight to Louisville.
  3. I ran like hell to get there.
  4. I didn’t really need to run, after all. The Louisville flight was delayed anyway.

I’ve spent most of today finishing my blog posts from notes made during my Phoenix trip. I wanted to experience my trip, rather than spend the whole trip blogging.

Daily Meditation

Cameo appearance with The Earps at Chopper John’s in Phoenix. January 6, 2017.

Clearing blue sky,
A promise in bare branches.
In winter, there are sunny days.
In adulthood, childhood can return.
-Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao: Daily Meditations

Key points:

  • There is optimism in doing things in disagreeable weather to prepare for when the weather gets better.
  • Adults often see these responsibilities as obligations.
  • The gratification comes when these efforts bear fruits that can be enjoyed.

Self Mastery work this week:

After returning from vacation, I will now resume Week One of “Self Mastery: Personal Empowerment for Creating the Life You Desire” by Dr. Marcus Chacos.

Goal: Seven straight days of waking up at 5:00AM for breakfast, meditation, and blogging.


Working with The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday:

“Some things are in our control, while others are not.” – Epictetus, The Enchiridion

As I mentioned on Day One, I was taken by the sheriff’s department to a Crisis Stabilization Unit in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where I was absolutely crazy, freaking out, having all kinds of bizarre delusions, which eventually led to being sent to Hardin County Memorial Hospital for 72 hours, and later to the psych ward at Central State Hospital in Louisville.

While I was in the Crisis Stabilization Unit, we had a group exercise, asking the basic question while going through our the problems of our lives: What is in your control and what is not? Mind you, we all lived with some degree of dysfunction, substance abuse, any other problems which made us no longer functional adults.

Although the counselors base this work on The Serenity Prayer, made famous by 12 step programs, its roots are in Stoicism.

Epictetus says we control:

  • Our opinion
  • Choice
  • Desire
  • Aversion
  • Everything of our own doing

Epictetus says we don’t control:

  • Body
  • Property
  • Reputation
  • Position
  • Everything not of our own doing.

Lose your job?- You can’t control the loss of your job. You can control the choice to search for a new job.

Lose everything you own?- You can’t control your property. It can all be lost at any time, whether you like it or not. You can control your attachments and desire for ownership, and make a choice to take the steps to replace the things you once owned.

Someone close to you died and you are devastated?- It is okay to have emotions about the situation, but you cannot control your own body or someone else’s. You can’t control your own death.

Sounds too simple?

“What about when innocent victims such as children are beaten and murdered?” you might ask, for example.

Again, you could have only controlled that situation if you were present to save the child’s life, or least make the attempt. It doesn’t mean you can’t get angry about it happening, or help in some way to get justice.

The idea is very black and white, but it’s a good place to start working when you are suffering from a crisis. It doesn’t mean you will instantly get over everything in one moment after reading some Epictetus.

You only have so much control over the health of your body (You do have some control.) You don’t have control over thieves taking your property and getting away with it. You only have so much control over keeping your job. You have no control over what other people think of you. In fact, Epictetus might even argue that another person’s opinion of you isn’t your business- it’s their business!

Vacation over.

Tomorrow, I go back to work. Special thanks to Brian & Jan Sandwich, Frank & Sharon Labor, The Earps, and everyone who came out to Chopper John’s to visit me during the trip.



Day One: Beginning

Exactly one year ago today, I woke up with a hangover, after attending a New Years Eve punk rock show at Zanzabar nightclub in Louisville. Drunk. Depressed. Angry, even hateful. A month later, I spent three weeks at the Central State Hospital psychiatric ward. I was taken there in handcuffs. The details about the behaviors that put me there are really embarrassing.

In 2017, I will keep a daily blog here. 

The worst years of my life were 2008 and 2014. The late 80s and early 90s were pretty bad too. I wish I had learned about The Stoics and The Buddha sometime around 1985, but public schools in the Bible Belt glossed over that stuff. Maybe life would have been easier,  but no amount of learning and life experience had prepared me for the following to happen in the span of about a year between 2014 & 2015:

  • Sudden separation with the mother of my children. The result of her affair with a married coworker.
  • Her and my children being moved almost immediately into his home. 
  • Less access to my children.
  • Lawyer expenses.
  • Loss of employment.
  • Breakup of a fairly lucrative country band and the end (or maybe hiatus) of my music career in general, which my sense of self worth was based on in a very unhealthy way. 
  • Serious injury accident that prevented me from working for a while 
  • Mental breakdown

      “If you imagine that what is naturally slavish is free, and what is naturally another’s is your own, you will be hampered, you will mourn, you will be put to confusion, you will blame gods and men.” – Epictetus

      How to Make God Laugh

      My plans: This year, I  will work through several books, primarily “365 Tao: Daily Meditations” by Deng Ming-Dao, but also several other Taoist texts, and “Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday. I will also blog about my experiences during the year. 

      “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own . . .” —EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 2.5.4–5

      Overall, 2016 was a great year, despite the rough beginning. I set out to heal and recover from the several simultaneous life disasters and it turned out to be one of the better years of my life. During the year, I read many Buddhist texts that were helpful, established habits of attending group meditation sessions and hiking meetups. In November, I decided to plan some New Years resolutions (which I have rarely ever done) . I will work on small challenges and build on them as the year progresses. 

      Challenges for this week:

      1. Wake up at 5AM every morning. 
      2. Blog.

        “It is said that if one chooses to pray to a rock with enough devotion, even that rock will come alive.”

        Chapter 1,  365 Tao: Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao