Day Thirty Seven: Discord

Daily Journal

Good morning.

Teddy Roosevelt tried to retake the White House, losing badly and nearly being assassinated in the process. He nearly died exploring the Amazon River, killed thousands of animals in African safaris, and begged Woodrow Wilson to allow him to enlist in WWI despite being 59 years old. (Source: Ryan Holiday, The Daily Stoic)

Today I’m working through Chapter 2 of Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Yesterday, I blogged about Workview and today is about Lifeview (or “matters of ultimate concern”). So far, I’m really enjoying this book. It’s a really easy read, and the exercises are simple and fun.

Just as a side note, I’m working on time management and blogging. I try to limit my time to one hour per post, but yesterday I spent three hours (mostly by going down the “research” rabbit hole). Keep in mind this is a journal that I’m sharing with everyone who wants to read it, so I’m not submitting persuasive essays that were perfected as much possible before hitting the Publish button. Actually, much of this writing is stream of consciousness and may contain some errors and flaws.

Interesting coincidence, by the way! I was doing some Google searches for “Designing Your Life” and found an unrelated MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) course called “Designing Your Life”, taught by Gabriella Jordan and Lauren Zander. It’s available as OpenCourseWare. Unfortunately, there are no lecture recordings, but the lecture notes are very detailed, with all the original assignments. The tone of this material is much different from the Bill Burnett and Dave Evans book. More of an aggressive “tough love” approach to detailing with your vices and problems, eliminating excuses and so on. The course recommends Ayn Rand and Neville Goddard, so that should give you an idea of the philosophy going on behind the course. Interesting and worth a look.

Lifeview: Matters of Ultimate Concern

  • Why are we here?
  • What is the meaning or purpose of life?
  • What is the relationship between the individual and others?
  • Where do family, country, and the rest of the world fit in?
  • What is good, and what is evil?
  • Is there a higher power, God, or something transcendent, and if so, what impact does it have on your life?
  • What is the role of joy, sorrow, justice, injustice, love, peace, and strife in life?

Here we are, revisiting the existential dilemma again. In the past, I my lifeview was atheistic (bad experiences with fundamentalist southern churches as a kid) and when I learned about existentialism later on, particularly Jean-Paul Sartre, that really clicked with me. Existence is absurd. Everything is random. Life has no meaning, unless we create that meaning for ourselves. I’ve identified as an atheistic since I was a child. My father threatened to slap me at the dinner time when I was young because I said I didn’t believe in God. (In those days, that’s what happened if you noticed inconsistencies and big holes between what people preached and what they actually do, and questioned anything. You were intimidated and threatened with violence.)

About two years ago, I started to get a sense that things were not so random and there might be some order, and not all chaos, in the universe. I just began to notice that certain causes produced certain effects in a very predictable way, and there were cycles of destruction and rebirth going on. I really began to notice that when someone hurt me, they could not build their happiness on top of my misery, they were punished for what they had done to me, it seemed, and every time without fail. Could my own suffering be the result of causes that I also created? As Deng Ming-Dao spoke in yesterday’s entry, you can predict the future, if you have some awareness of how things work in the world, if you are looking at it from a vantage point. I was in a locked room, as the metaphor went, so I was unable to see storms coming, and the approaching of unexpected guests.

Why are we here?– I do not know. I no longer care to take on this issue with the logic brain anymore. David Livingston Smith, Ph.D. says life has no purpose. Here are some Psychology Today articles that attempt to tackle the Big Question. Aristotle theorized that happiness is the meaning and purpose of life. You can look to religions for other answers to the question. I really just don’t know why we are here, and I’m okay with that.

What is the meaning and purpose of life?- Buddhism says the purpose of life is to end suffering. Taoism says living itself, and the journey of life, is the meaning of life. In Christianity, the meaning of life is to glorify God (at least per several Christians on the Quora message boards). Here is a list of the numerous approaches to answering the question “What is the meaning of life”? I lean toward the Taoist idea: “Only introspection can then help us to find our innermost reasons for living … the simple answer is here within ourselves.”

What is the relationship between the individual and others?- I was born and raised in the United States, where we are not instilled with a sense of collectivism and consequently, we seem to be left with a mental block where we sometimes cannot see things from another’s viewpoint. I had this problem for a long time, until I began to learn about spirituality, and the idea that we are all one, and ‘if I hurt you, I hurt myself’. In other words, we are all taught that Ego is good in America, an idea which comes into conflict and contradiction with the many other teachings we might receive. I believe that I cannot completely lose my ego, I need it, but I need to move away from this Individualism idea and get more with an idea like “We are all one”. I want to move away from being a selfish person who is in constant conflict with other selfish people, living a life dedicated with winning more of the advantages and resources through competition and so on.

Where do family, country, and the rest of the world fit in?- I am grateful to live in a free, first world country, and I love the United States for all its cultural myths and magic, like rock n roll and country-western music, cowboys, denim jeans, and so on. I also love the natural beauty found in the United States. But I don’t do nationalism or patriotism. If there is a God, and I suspect there might be something like God (it’s one of the next questions I will address) and if God is a personal, loving god who looks upon its creation without indifference, God doesn’t prefer Americans over everyone else in the world. God doesn’t prefer Christians or Muslims over atheists . We are human beings and we are united with other human beings by being human beings, and we are not separate. I want to have that viewpoint, and it is difficult to get there, and to commit to that view above all other possible views.

As Thomas Merton wrote:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

What is good, and what is evil?- I belong to modern times, so I have a “broad definition” of good. Love, life, charity, happiness, justice, and so on. I pay them a lot of lip service though, because I’m sometimes hateful, not particularly charitable, often unhappy. I think I’m consistent with justice though. That’s probably my core of idea of good, in both philosophy and actual practice. The Republic by Plato is a good read on the subject of justice. There is evil, but there is also just plain bad, or not-so-good. I got this modern definition of evil from Wikipedia: “conscious and deliberate wrongdoing, discrimination designed to harm others, humiliation of people designed to diminish their psychological needs and dignity, destructiveness, and acts of unnecessary or indiscriminate violence.” Buddhism calls greed, hatred, and delusion the three poisons. I also think the 7 “Deadly” Sins are a pretty good list of what is bad. I have a pretty standard, modern sense of what is good, I do not act in ways that are evil (although I have a really strong, natural inclination toward ill will if I’m wronged), but I do a whole lot of “bad” things, as I imagine most of us do.

Is there a higher power, God, or something transcendent, and if so, what impact does it have on your life?- As I mentioned above, my previous beliefs were atheistic and existentialist (once I learned what existentialism was, I immediately realized I was an existentialist). This went on until I was about 38 years old. I would say that I am a “pantheist” which means I believe there is a God and I think God may be reality itself. I don’t know that there is a personal god, or that there are gods in human form. I do not believe that any religious texts are the literal truth, although I believe there are truths contained in many of them. I believe God is beyond any concepts that I can understand, but I am seeing what I believe are divine forces in the world. One I got closer to age 40, I had enough history to draw from, just from the experience of being alive longer and being a witness to life.

What is the role of joy, sorrow, justice, injustice, love, peace, and strife in life?- Most of those seem to be emotions, or related to emotions. All of these are universally experienced by human beings.

Deng Ming-Dao on Discord:

When things are in disagreement or out of tune. By the way, I looked this up. I wondered if dissonance and discord meant the same thing, in musical terms. Dissonance is a repulsion between notes that creates a sense of instability or restlessness. This sound of repulsion is not the same as an out-of-tune instrument. Discord is more like an out of tune guitar, not dissonant notes.

“There are times when we feel out of harmony with our surroundings, matters do not go our way, and we feel confused and disoriented… When we feel like this, we are not integrated with the Tao, or as it is sometimes metaphorically said, Tao has flowed elsewhere.”

He says if we are patient, we can ride out these times. If there is an opportunity to take action, take it. Or you may need to wait. Both are actions and we should always try to bring a situation back into balance with Tao. He says once we know Tao, we will recognize these times and not lose faith.

Daily Stoic: Don’t Seek out Strife

Today, Ryan Holiday gives the example of Teddy Roosevelt’s “work and activity addiction that was seemingly without end.” He says many people are like Teddy, “afraid of being still, so we seek out strife and action as distraction”.  You have problem observed this is many people you know. They get a little bored, so they stir up drama and trouble, or look for risky ways to distract themselves. I admit to this being something of an affliction for me. Maybe I didn’t seek out strife, but I certainly haven’t always been good about ending the drama and strife, and often I have perpetuated it.

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.