Meeting Your Enemies

One of the biggest tragedies of life is that most of our ideas about the world come from things we read and hear, instead of what we ourselves directly experience.   When this is combined with modern social media, we can get stuck in a filter bubble, where our digital systems look at our past search history and likes, and slowly separate us from information which disagrees with our viewpoints.  Quite easily we can end up in cultural and ideological bubble realities.

A great example of this is in the video below.  We find a young woman who used to be a feminist.  She decided she’d create a documentary exposing the nasty woman-hating which takes places within men’s rights groups across the nation.  To her surprise, she finds out that these men have no hatred of women and actually support women’s rights; they only feel that many men are suffering as well and more should be done for them.  They also brought up a lot of struggles men go through, issues which she wasn’t even aware of.  As she records hundreds of hours of video footage from something like fifty men-rights leaders, she finds her bubble collapsing.  The information she’d been getting from her far-left extreme feminist websites and blogs, particularly information pertaining to men, was way off the mark.

What I really want to point out to you all is Cassie’s resistance and inner dialog in the face of the information these men were giving her.  Notice that her mind was twisting everything they were saying.  She had been a die-hard feminist for ten years, and these men were challenging her most deeply held and cherished beliefs.  I mean, think about it for a second.  This is a woman who felt so passionately about this topic that she felt it her life purpose to spend years of her life producing a documentary exposing this issue.  Her ideological lens couldn’t handle or accept the information she was hearing.  After all, these men were the “enemy”.  She wasn’t respectfully listening to them, she was lying in anticipation, waiting to expose them and their women-hating.  It wasn’t until she was spending countless hours editing her documentary, watching their footage over and over, carefully transcribing and analyzing their words, and then carefully fact-checking what they were saying that she realized her own bias and prejudice.  It took years for her to escape her bubble.

And while we’re speaking on meeting the enemy, here is another video I love.  We have a lesbian feminist who decides she’ll cross-dress as a man and hang out with us for half a year.  She held all sorts of strange ideas about men.  After spending six months with us as a “man”, she realizes she didn’t understand us at all.  She comes to find out that we’re not mean or violent, that we’re extremely kind to one another, and that life as a man is far different than what she had imagined.

She concludes that women have no idea what life is like for men.  Even after trying to be a man for six months she feels there’s a lot she doesn’t understand and may never be able to understand.  I bet it would be.  I can’t imagine what it’d be like to put on a dress and make-up and then spend six months as a woman.  It’d be an insane adjustment.  I have a lot of respect for her.  She concludes that men deserve respect and should be treated kindly and that we all need to do our best to try to understand one another.  It’s a good message.

I haven’t written this post to pick on feminists; I’m just using them as an example.  This same dynamic happens with politics and many other areas of life.  Those on the left and right just as easily end up in bubbles.  I experience this all the time.  When I go to the university I’m surrounded by faculty who are very far-left, and then I go the gym and I’m around guys who are all extremely conservative, and then I’m around family who are also conservative.  It’s really sad seeing how each group talks about the other, and neither side understands one another.  Both sides say the exact same things about the other.   Both sides think the other side is intolerant, both sides say the other side won’t look at the facts, both sides think the other is morally compromised, etc.  That’s probably another post in itself.

While it is true we have quick access to all kinds of information with our computers and devices, that doesn’t mean that any of it is accurate or reliable.  From what I see, no matter what you think about some topic, there are all kinds of websites, blogs, youtube channels, facebook pages, and other sources ready to give you a slew of information justifying and rationalizing anything you want.  They’re ready to pull you into their side, to demonize others outside their group, to give you some sort of purpose fighting for their cause, etc.  And this sort of thing is like the evolution and the spread of viruses.  That’s why we say that things on the internet go “viral”.  Whatever websites and articles are effective in creating this dynamic in people are the very ones which are pushed up to the top of Facebook, Youtube, and other sites.  And then before long, people all over get sucked into their respective bubble realities with their own set of facts, causes, enemies, etc., and are all fighting with one another, each thinking they’re right and the others are wrong.  It isn’t until you step out of your bubble, get off your computer, and actually meet your enemies that you realize that you don’t know them at all.

That is something I’ve learned as a physicist.  The scientific way of thinking basically says that unless you’ve carefully examined something, looking solely at the observed facts, without bias, you have no idea what you’re talking about.  And even then you’re probably wrong because reality rarely fits within simple models and frameworks.  Also, the easiest thing to do is fool yourself.  These days, unless I’m an expert at something, and that’s specifically my field, when people ask my opinion on it I tend to say, “I don’t know.”

I’ve read all kinds of books on many different topics, whether it be history, economics, politics, neuroscience, psychology, etc., and in most areas other than physics, I know just enough to know that I don’t know what I’m talking about.  I’m aware enough to know that the subject is really complicated and that I haven’t put in the work necessary to have a strong opinion on it.  But unless you’ve worked really hard to become an expert in a particular field, you may not even understand that idea.  You don’t know what I mean when I say, “put in the work”.  That doesn’t mean reading a few articles online.  It doesn’t mean you’ve watched a documentary on Netflix.  It doesn’t mean you’ve read through a single book you picked up in the bookstore.  I’m talking about a process that takes years, examining things from every angle.  It takes time and a lot of effort.  And even if you wanted to, you can’t master more than a few subjects within a lifetime.  In everything else, you’re going to be dabbling and probably just repeating information you’ve heard from others, likely not deeply understanding what you’re talking about.

The Best Thing You Can Do For Yourself

Change oftentimes happens so slowly in each of us, we don’t realize that we’re changing when we are.  The biggest change that’s happened with me over the past, oh, I don’t know, past several years is I have far less inner dialog in my head than I used to.  That’s not to say that I don’t think or plan for the future.  It’s moreso gaining control over my thoughts, removing a lot of useless negative thinking, and suffering a lot less.  One of the greatest forms of suffering is rooted in that inner dialog gone out of control.  There is this incessant chattering in the skull, always judging things, narrating your life, comparing this moment to another moment, reflecting on the past, worrying about the future, asking you why you didn’t do this or that, wondering how things could’ve been had you taken a different path in life, and all that sort of thing.  Largely removing that voice from my head has been one of the greatest blessings.

Things started changing for me years ago when I began listening to people like Alan Watts, or there is this other Indian Yogi philosopher I began to enjoy named Sadhguru.  They always stress removing useless inner dialog and being more present, being more accepting of reality as it is, and being less judgmental.  It’s done a lot for me.  What someone new to this line of thinking has to understand is that it has nothing to do with “living in the moment”.

As Sadhguru points out, our brain is like a super-computer that nature has produced over hundreds of millions of years of evolution.  It can remember the past and it can imagine the future, and that’s a beautiful thing.  The problem is that this power, which the animals lack, requires a lot of operator know-how to make it function properly.  The brain is highly programmable, and you have to know how to use it, or else it runs a muck, making you and everyone around you miserable. Sadhguru made a point which stuck with me — much of the haywire happens when we have certain ways of interpreting the past or the future that aren’t good for us.

I’ve noticed I always get irritated when I have something I planned to do, or there’s a certain way I think things should be, and things refuse to go along with my expectations. That’s life in a nutshell, I guess. It can be small things or large things.  For a small thing, I may be immersed in a video game then get a random text or some other distraction. At one moment you’re the hero saving the galaxy, the next you’re scooping out the litter box or carrying a smelly bag of trash to the bin outside. Or larger example, I had all sorts of expectations for what I thought a university would be like when I enrolled. I got there and was quickly disillusioned and disappointed. It’s always the same dynamic.  You wanted to experience one thing, then things don’t go as planned.

Expectations can make you miserable.  This may sound like “giving up” to some people, but at some point you have to be satisfied with your life, even if things didn’t turn out how your know-nothing teenage self thought they would.  Maybe your husband or wife isn’t everything you always dreamed of, maybe your career isn’t exactly what you had imagined for yourself, and maybe you’re not as successful as you had once thought you would be.  When is happiness and peace finally going to be a part of your life?  When?  Do you really have to achieve everything you imagine in your head before you can enjoy this life?  The older I get, the less I think any of that matters.  Your state of life typically isn’t the problem, it’s how you perceive it. In most cases, you can enjoy life and be at peace if you have the right way of looking at things.  Keyword is most cases.

This may sound at odds to what I was writing about in my last post.  After all I talked about working hard and not making excuses when it comes to your goals.  I firmly believe in that too.  If you think you’ll never be happy, or ever have peace, or ever find joy until you achieve such and such, then go and do that.  Quit daydreaming about it.  Go and do it.  If you think it all hinges on this or that, then go make it happen.  But it gets annoying when you’re around people who think where they are isn’t enough, yet aren’t doing anything to change it.  “This place sucks, but I’m stuck here.  And nothing’s worth changing”.  That attitude is annoying.

What I’ve found even after achieving goals I set for myself is I don’t feel all that different than what I did initially.  Take one stupid thing.  I remember as college went on, I was normally so busy with that that I didn’t get to play a lot of video games that were coming out.  There was this big gap, like seven or eight years of good games I hadn’t gotten to play.   And this kept building until it became a fantasy in my mind.  I was like, “Oh, if only I could get away from all this work I have to do and play these games.  I bet they’re so fun.”  You know what I did?  I took an entire semester, only took one class (just so I could stay enrolled), and bought all those games and played a lot of them.  It was ok, I guess.  Wasn’t worth all the hours I daydreamed about it though.  I ended up spending most of the time studying artificial intelligence instead.  But that’s what you gotta do.  Just do it.  Get it out of your system.  Maybe after you’ve experienced this a few times you’ll realize that the mind is always trying to draw you away from the present moment and steal its joy, telling you the joy is somewhere else.  Oh, once I get this job, or find this perfect woman, the perfect man, or get this new car, or this home, or whatever you think it is, then the joy will flow, but not now.  Nope, this situation sucks, and if only I knew how to change it.  You think that’s where life is?  Go ahead.  Do it.  Go for it.  Change.  Go bungee jump off some mountain and drink champagne in Paris.  I can almost guarantee you it’s going to let you down, but you’re not going to believe me.  And who am I to say?  Maybe it’ll be a transformational experience for you?  Never has for me, but it may be for you.

Peace seems to come from within and it flows out of you into the world and changes your surroundings.  But most people seem to think their surroundings are going to change them, not them change their surroundings.  If you take a person who doesn’t have their mind together, and put them in beautiful place, they’ll trash it.

I can’t remember where I heard this from, but I once read someone say that the entire world around you is a reflection of who you are.  There’s a lot of truth to that.  The people you draw into your life, your friends, your relationships, your career and education choices, everything is a reflection of who you are.  The people in your life are a reflection of yourself.  Your choices.  The way you see things.  What you believe about the world.  About yourself.  If you want the world to change, you change.  Then as you change, certain things will fall out of your life and other new things will come in.

But even when I’ve changed inside, the world around me hasn’t always changed in any significant way.  When I was entrepreneur, I hated that world.  I hated the greed, how everything was about making money, how people treated each other terribly, and the whole way it operated.  So I changed and decided to be a scientist.  Felt more noble.  And while it’s true that my surroundings changed, I saw the same sort of human shortcomings and failings in the world of science.  The things I hated about the business world were just as present in the university and world of research.

A lot of people talk about coming back from near-death experiences, seeing that realm of love, and just having no interest in much of how we do anything here on Earth.  They often give up everything and refocus their efforts on healing people, like being a counselor, social worker, or some job that deals with healing people emotionally and spiritually.  I saw one guy who was a rich Wall-Street investor, he died and had an NDE, and then he gave up his firm and became a trauma counselor.  The more I think about things, it makes sense.  That’s really what the world needs.  A lot of healing and more love.  Sounds hokey, but isn’t it true?

I’d personally like more peace of mind.  I talk about finding peace wherever you’re at, and letting it flow out of you, and all that, and in some cases I feel like I can fix situations with that, but at other times, even if I try to inject goodness and beauty into the situation, there is so much toxicity and darkness in a place that any goodness I bring into the place is stamped out and smothered.  Some people just resist it and choose darkness.  So much of life is soul crushing.

The soul crushing comes from other people, mainly.  The longer I live, the more I see life as a sort of spiritual journey.  So often I just want to live in the woods in a log cabin and have next to nothing to do with anybody.  I’ll tell you why.  I can watch near-death experiences and people talk about dying and entering heaven.  They’re greeted by a massive crowd of people who all hug them, and cheer that they’re there, and telepathically beam unconditional love into their mind, and it’s just an ocean of love, gratefulness, and appreciation.  I wish the world would treat me that way, but it doesn’t.  I go to bring more of that into the world, and I so often get none of it back.  But it’s always worth doing your best to bring it into the world.  I got my teaching evaluations back from the last semester.  I was rated a 3.9/4.0, and one student wrote that I’m a “badass” and left a cryptic emoji sequence that I’m too old to understand.  The only complaint seemed to be that I sometimes didn’t talk loud enough for those in the back rows.  That was nice.  My parents and immediate family can be really kind and loving toward me, and I have some good friends, but the world overall is ice cold, indifferent, and uncaring.  There are times I want to scream at people, “Why are we treating one another this way?”

I guess I can create little loving bubbles with students I teach and my family, but the rest is up to, well, the rest of you.  And it’s not like I can insulate myself from the rest of the madness.  The stupidity seeps into my world as well.  I hate grades and the whole way the academic world operates, other than actually teaching students and conveying knowledge.  So I gotta give students “grades”.  Stamp letters on all their heads.  What do they mean?  Who knows.  Nobody knows.  Write a hard test, they all get A’s, a harder test they may get C’s, yet both are the same students with the same knowledge.  And what does 73% mean as opposed to 81%?  The grading scheme and point awards are arbitrary.  And if they miss something, why don’t we just work it again, and again, until everyone understands everything they want to?  I don’t get it.  They’re paying a small fortune to be there.  Why is there not enough resources to tutor them until they get it?  People can sign up for websites and for $15 a month access live tutors, 24 hours a day to talk with them about any problem they ask.  Yet they can pay thousands of dollars and they may get a special day once a week for that, and maybe some office hours, but other than that nope.  And if they bomb a test, they can look forward to thousands more to take the course again.  No retakes!  That’s unfair to the other students, you know.  These arbitrary grade assignments and relating student performances to one another is everything, don’t you know!

But yeah, I feel a bit reserved saying that you can find peace, regardless of your situation.  I don’t know if that’s true or not.  It hasn’t been true for me.  From my own experience, there are places and situations where the best thing you can do is plan your escape.  There are some people who will make your life miserable.  There are places, like that university, that are difficult to enjoy.  When you’re forced to spend 10-12 hours a day studying, tediously memorizing calculation procedures you know you’re going to forget and likely never use, and constantly being threatened that if you don’t memorize all of it, in vivid detail, they’re going to rip away all your dreams, well, that just isn’t a loving, caring environment.  No room for mistakes.  No real connection with the people there.  That was my life, for years.  Just wake up, study things I oftentimes didn’t want to be studying, go to bed.  Do it all over again the next day.  Sad thing is, I’d sometimes blame myself.  I’d be like, well, I have to take responsibility for this, I choose to leave the software world and do this.  In the back of my mind, I’ve viewed it all as a huge, giant mistake.  But after I’d invested years of effort into it, I didn’t know whether to turn back or keep going.  I kept going.  – shrugs –

Though I haven’t wrote about this on my blog, I’ve also dealt with family members who have drug and alcohol addictions.  I’ve had  family members who’d get drunk and rage, running around punching doors, slamming cabinets, getting in my face yelling.  Then they’d break a bunch of stuff, and there’s glass shards all over the floor, and I’m cleaning that up and they’re continuing to yell at me, and I’ll readily admit, I was not at peace.  It’s a difficult emotion, when you both love someone yet also want to shove their head through the wall.  Jesus teaches to turn the other cheek, and that’s pretty amazing, but when I try to emulate that, I end up with anxiety attacks.  There have been times where I’ve endured that for three hours straight, just standing in one spot in the kitchen, the person pacing around, punching things, yelling, screaming, getting in my face.  Each time, them getting in my face, knowing I’m strong enough to destroy them, but keeping my cool.  Friends have told me that I should bust them up, just once, showing that I won’t put up with it and put a visceral fear in them to doing that sort of thing around me.  But I don’t know.  As it’s gone on, now just certain noises give me these anxiety spikes.  One time I saw a table with different bottles of alcohol on it and I was filled with rage.  Almost like a crazy person, I was going to tip it over and bust all the bottles on the ground and just yell, “Garbage!  Why does this mind-maddening poison exist in this world?”  Then I snap back to reality, and there’s just anger.  Just sort of mutter under my breath, “Get this away from me.  I want out of here.”  I hate alcohol and drugs both.  Deep down, visceral hatred, at the core of my being.  I guess I’m stuck with family members, but I’d never voluntarily let someone into my life that drinks, at least not around me.  Not even casual drink.  I won’t deal with it.

When that stuff happens, you don’t want an apology.  The only thing you want is change.  I remember hearing the story of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, and everyone was calling her a gold digger.  Then she released that video of Johnny getting drunk and slamming cabinets, and yelling at her, and I was like, “Girl, get out of there.  You don’t need that or deserve that in your life.”  I don’t care how rich someone is.  I’d rather live in a tiny apartment, struggling to get by, with someone who loves me and treats me well, than live in a golden palace with someone that acts like that.  I saw that video and instantly connected to her.  I have seen that same thing so many times.  I know how that goes.  It might’ve only been a minute long clip, but that’s all I needed to recognize it.  If you’ve never been around it, you won’t get it.  But once you have, it’s misery, and if you have the option to get it out of your life, you should get out of there as soon as you can.  But those sorts of people latch onto their family members, because loving parents, and other loving family members get worried that if they don’t help the addicts, that person would end up homeless.   A long time ago I wrote a post that I hate drugs and alcohol.  I mean it.  I HATE drugs and alcohol.  The second I even see alcohol, I dump it down the sink.

Sorry for that rant.  I mostly shared that stuff to show you guys that there have been situations in my life where I couldn’t find peace, I just had to get away from the source of misery, or at the very least wait for it to end.  When I was younger I used to have a judgmental side of me, where I would almost sort of look down on people who would get divorced, or people who wanted nothing to do with certain family members, or people who had a deep hatred for their job.  Now I don’t judge them at all.  I still think forgiveness is the best option, but once you’ve been seriously hurt or wronged, that’s easier said than done.  When I see all this sort of thing, all I think is I’m sorry you couldn’t find happiness there, or that you got stuck in some terrible situation and couldn’t find a way out.  Maybe that’s part of getting older?  You experience a lot more, have seen a lot more, and can relate to people and their struggles a lot more than you could when just a young teenager.

Thoughout my life, I’ve tried to impose my will on reality, but the universe always kicks, screams, and thrashes its way out of whatever mold I try to put it in.  I can’t control it, so a new strategy of mine is to create “space”.  Space is simply room for other people’s goals, intentions, failings, and things which don’t line up with what I want or even need.  I expect whatever.  I go to do something, make all kinds of plans, hope for wonderful things, do my best, then I just wait.  I know it’s coming.  A grand shower of crap I didn’t want or expect.  It’s like, yeah, we could do things in a way that makes sense and would actually work.  Things could be peaceful and good.  We could all share the burden, live responsibly, all do our best.  But yeah.  Ok random person who came screaming down the road on drugs, slamming into my car in the driveway, destroying beautiful trees in my front yard.  Don’t know where you came from, but you’re here.  Now what?  Actually when this happened to me, they weren’t there.  They were driving a beat up junker, fled the scene, and of course didn’t have insurance.  Ohh, MY insurance rates will now be going up?  Fantastic.

Where am I even going with all of this?  I don’t know.  Something along the lines of, yeah, reality is crazy, but I’m going to have peace of mind, be loving, and not let all this garbage change who I am.  Be a light in a dark world.  Be warm when everyone’s cold.  That sort of thing.  But most of all, you have to have things together in your head.  I had some things I wanted to talk about related to that.  About removing the inner negative dialog in your head.  I think it’s one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself living on this planet.  It doesn’t end suffering, but it keeps you from amplifying it, and dragging it with you into your future.

In the video above, Sadhguru points out that one of the main problems people do is wrongly identify with the things they perceive, and that gets their mind’s chatter going.  I really do believe that each one of us has at our core all the peace and happiness we need.  Your true self is already at peace.  That’s why a lot of people meditate, just to simply perceive this fact.  But what happens is people have this brain machinery, it’s being filled with garbage (mostly from all the things we experience in this place), and it’s constantly taking a mental diarrhea on the core of their soul, blocking it out from their consciousness.

In my world at the university, I see so much status seeking.  Write up your papers and get published in the most prestigious journals.  Get invited to conferences, have people pat you in the back, tell you you’re a big deal.  None of it is real.  When I was beginning my PhD research, I had professors offering me to work on research with them, and when they’d talk about the work, they didn’t talk about real value it’d bring to the world, or how interesting it’d be, it was, “This work would be prestigious.  It’ll help advance your career.”  Careers, money, status, fame!  My mind sort of shuts off and I think, just leave me alone.  When you think about it, does any of it even make sense?  So I’m going to work on something I’m not interested in for years, working eight to ten hours a day, all in the hopes that somebody else, who I have no control over, may acknowledge that what I’m doing is worthwhile and invite me to a conference, where I’ll spend a weekend or so in a hotel room, then go and give a little talk to people I do not know and am not emotionally attached to, and hope (keeping my fingers crossed here), hope that they’ll pat me on the back, tell me I did a good job, and validate that all the work I did was good for something.  No thanks.  Why do people do that?  I don’t understand awards, status seeking, prestige, fame, or what value any of it has.

I’d rather just enjoy right now.  The majority of my time awake and living.  I’d like for that to be pleasant.  And really, I’d like for that peace and happiness to depend as little as possible on this transitory, crazy world.  Do I have food in my belly?  Am I warm?  In decent health?  Hopefully I already have more than enough to find a good degree of peace as long as I shut off the mental diarrhea chatter.  Mute the world’s most negative narrator.  You have to learn to sort of step out of your mind, no longer identify with those thoughts, just see them happen, let them happen, and then analyze what causes those negative outbursts of mental diarrhea, and rethink why you think that way.  Well, unless things get too crazy.  Maybe if I was more spiritually developed, I could even find peace in a warzone, or when an addict is yelling in my face, but I’m not there yet.  Understanding and empathy is the best approaches in this situations, but those only go so far to me.  Maybe there is a sort of pride in me that, “I’d never do that”, incapable of identifying with terrible behavior.  It’s probably something I should reflect on more and think about.

A lot of thought patterns aren’t helpful to you.  Like for me, during my entrepreneurial days, I had developed patterns of thought that were very hostile and untrusting toward people and the world in general.  For various reasons, I felt I always had to cover all my bases, making sure that nobody can ever take advantage of me.  Then I learned to find that inner peace and it’s like, “What is anyone going to take away from me?”  Then I realized that all of that bad thought pattern was based on this idea that earning all this money was my ticket to happiness, and otherwise I’d be stuck in this miserable state of life, working some crappy job I didn’t want to be at, subject to what other people told me to do all day long.  I saw that pattern and was like, well that’s not true, especially not anymore.  I don’t mind teaching, I’m totally fine with it, I don’t have any particular use anymore for huge sums of money, and this way of thinking is of no use to me anymore.

Today I could work most any job and be ok with it.  Like I was hanging out with some guys in the gym and they all do construction.  One reason they all lift weights is to stay strong enough to lift heavy equipment and things on the construction site.  I got to thinking the other day that I wouldn’t mind working construction.  I think those guys are really cool.  I’d rather work with them, where I’m respected and feel comfortable, than be somewhere where I make loads of money but the people are nasty.  I used to be weak and scrawny, but after almost three years of weight lifting, I’m one of the strongest guys in the gym.  I can lift heavy boards, jackhammers, and other equipment.  I think it’s cool to build beautiful homes.  What’s wrong with that?  It’d be cool to build a new deck for someone.  Growing up I used to do that sort of thing with my dad and grandpa.  I don’t get why people look down on blue collar work.  I don’t.  I wouldn’t mind working on roads, or working for the power company repairing electric lines, or laying pipe underground.  I could be a firefighter.  I could work for the parks service stocking fish in our lakes and rivers.  I don’t see being a theoretical physicist as more prestigious than what they do.  I don’t even feel I’m smarter than they are.  I just know different things, that’s all.

I’ve noticed that that’s what most of spiritual teachers do — they reprogram your mind to think in new ways that are more loving, trusting, accepting, more open, more secure and confident in yourself, less worrying, more productive, etc.  The brain is a complicated instrument, full of a bazillion knobs and levers, capable of thinking practically an infinite number of ways.  You have to be careful what you let in there.

The only thing that seems real to me anymore is bringing more happiness and peace into this world.  Physics is fun too, trying to figure out what this world is that I’m experiencing, but at this point it’s mostly just a really interesting puzzle to work on.  Physics is about understanding the stage that this show of life is happening on.  But the stage isn’t what’s most important.  It’s about both putting on a good show, and having the audience enjoy it.  The people are what matter.  Also, in my eyes, one of the greatest achievements is to have a peaceful, loving mind.  Even if the show’s going well, if your mind’s a mess, you’ll screw up any good situation.  If you can go through all the hell this life puts you through, and still love people, still be good to people, and have peace of mind, you’ve accomplished the biggest feat there is, I think.

I’d like to get to a place where I love the world.  I can’t say I feel that way now.  “The world” is kinda vague, I guess.  There are things I like, and a lot that I don’t like.  That might be the better way to put it.  However, the more I’ve applied everything I’ve been learning, I’m slowly getting to where the crappiness of the world doesn’t bother me nearly as much, but when I objectively look at so much of the world, I can’t honestly say to you, “Things are wonderful.”  People just aren’t good to each other.

So I live a sort of walking contradiction.  I don’t think my mind is wrong when it looks at so much of this world and says, “This isn’t good.”  The negative voices is oftentimes telling the truth.  But I’m not going to spend each waking hour letting this negative tape recorder play negativity in my mind, playing the role of world’s most miserable narrator, constantly murmuring and making everyone miserable, robbing me of what happiness there is to experience in this life.  It’s not useful to anyone.  If you’re in that situation, the greatest thing you can do for yourself is start listening to enlightened people, cut out a lot of the negativity, and deprogram your mind of all that garbage.  Get rid of those bad thought patterns which aren’t helping you.

Transforming Any Aspect Of Your Life

We’ve just started the new year and many people have made all kinds of resolutions to change.  I wanted to briefly share my experience with how transformations happen in life.  Since most people want to transform their body in some way, I’ll talk about my own body transformation over the past few years.

I’ve always been extremely scrawny.  My parents were scrawny, and growing up they always told me I had inherited this scrawniness from them.  By the time I had reached my late teens, I was six feet tall and 120’ish pounds.  I was skin and bones.  When I’d take my shirt off, you could see my ribcage.  I had no muscle definition and I hated how I looked.  I’d even try to hide it by wearing baggy clothes, or wear several t-shirts, or try other things to make myself look bigger.  I just thought that was how life is, and how it’d always be.

However, that was totally wrong.  I didn’t have to be that way, and as I’m writing this right now, I’m 180’ish pounds, ripped, and look like a totally different person.  In another year and a half, I’ll be reaching my goal weight, which is 200’ish, to 210’ish, and not fat, but muscular with abs.  I will literally look like those guys you see on the covers of magazines.  It blows my mind sometimes, but I look in the mirror and it’s happening.  I’m 3/4 of the way there already.

I was eating dinner with my parents the other night, and as my mother put my plate down in front of me she said, “What have you done with my son?”  She went on to tell me that I’m an imposter, a giant that’s took his place.  At thanksgiving, I was over at my aunt’s house and an old family friend (a family from my parent’s church) came.  She hadn’t seen me in ages.  The woman came to up to me, grabbed my arm, looked at me dumbfounded and said, “Is that you, Jay?”  She couldn’t believe it.  I have these big muscular arms, big chest, v-taped back, strong legs, etc.  She barely recognized me.

How did this transformation happen?  It happened like any other transformation happens, I decided I was sick of being scrawny and wanted change.  I didn’t know how to change, I didn’t know what I needed to do, but I said to myself, “If there’s a way to change this, I’m going to.”  And that’s the first step: wanting to change.  If a person doesn’t want to change, they won’t and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The next step for me was learning about the problem, understanding what was going on, and learning what steps I had to do to change the situation.  In my case I started out reading some web articles and watching Youtube videos.  Then I went on and bought some bodybuilding books, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “New Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding”, and spent a lot of time reading and studying.

As I gathered more and more information, all of the sudden a path opened up in my mind.  If I do this, this, and that, consistently, my body will change in the way I want it to.  In my case, I learned that I needed to intake a lot of protein, along with carbs and fat in roughly the right amounts.  There were certain key foods that were best to eat, and I should focus on those.  And I was to go to the gym, so many times a week, and do specific lifts.  I was to do such and such weight, for such and such reps, and do it, over and over.

The basic story went like this.  I followed Arnold’s advice, did the exercises he recommends, along with others my cousin (a body-builder) recommended, and I went to the gym five times a week, for anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours.  I didn’t really know what I was doing at first, but I would watch Youtube videos of each exercise, and also over time I met a lot of great guys in the gym with a lot of experience, and they showed me how to do things properly.  Over time I slowly acquired weight-lifting gear, such as straps, belts, and all that stuff.  And now I’m stronger than most all the guys who were giving me advice when I first started.

It’s really a science.  Your body is a machine.  You put this fuel into it, put it under such and such a stress, and it will respond in very predictable ways.  I learned that 90% of transforming your body is the food you’re eating.  It’s much easier to just not eat something than it is to get on an elliptical machine or treadmill and work off those calories.  Just learning how nutrition and the body works was an amazing experience to me.

Learning is an amazing thing.  If lifts this darkness from you, and when you learn how things work, you look back on the ways you used to think, and things you used to do, and you just think, “Why did I do that?”  But that’s how it is when you’re unaware.  When you’re in darkness, you don’t even know you’re in darkness.  You’re unaware of the fact that you’re unaware.  You don’t even know what you don’t know.  You just sort of flail around in stupidity.

There are millions of ways to fail, and you don’t have to fail.  But in the past, I had tried to transform my body and failed.  In my early twenties I had started weight lifting with my cousin and got nowhere.  I worked my tail off, was sore all the time, lift and lift and lift, and I’d look back in the mirror and be like, “I’m still scrawny.  Guess that’s just the way it is.”  But want to know what my problem was?  I didn’t understand how anything worked.  I had just watched the Rocky movies, watched the training montage and just thought to myself, ok, I gotta get out there and run, and lift stuff, and then yeah, I’ll climb up some mountain and raise my arms in victory!  I thought I just gotta have heart, and determination, and stick with it, and that sorta thing.

Well that stuff’s only part of the equation, unfortunately.  There’s a lot more to success than the emotional hype.  My scrawny self didn’t know that it doesn’t matter how hard you work in the gym.  The body is a machine and it works a certain way.  What are muscles made out of?  Protein.  How do muscles grow?  You lift weights, create micro-tears in the muscle fibers, eat lots of protein (fish, chicken, protein shakes, etc), and your body repairs those muscles using the protein you just ate, and it makes them bigger than before so that they can withstand the stress you put them under during your workouts.  And you have to make sure to eat enough so that your body doesn’t use that protein for fuel.  You have to have excess calories in there.  You just do this over and over, and then you become a buff dude.

What was scrawny, twenty-one year-old Jason doing?  He’d work his butt off in the gym, then go home and eat a peanut-butter sandwich.  Just one of them.  How much protein is in that?  Next to nothing.  It’s almost pure carbs and some fat.  And it wasn’t even close to enough calories.  To build muscle mass you need excess calories so you go into an anabolic state.  No protein + no excess calories = no muscle growth.  I was just spinning wheels.

I’m sure lots of people are starting this new year wanting to lose weight.  Once you understand how things work, it’s very doable.  During my 2nd year weight lifting, I had gained a lot extra weight because I was eating too much.  I wanted to keep my body in an anabolic state, so I kept eating and eating and eating.  My strength went way up, but I gained a lot of fat.  But I wasn’t scared of that.  Why is that?

People started to tell me, “Uh oh Jason, you’re gaining a lot of weight.  You better watch it!”  I noticed that gaining 20-30 lbs of fat terrifies people.  “How will I ever lose it?”  In my case I was about 165 lbs of muscle with about 30 lbs of excess fat, so about 195 lbs total.  I wanted to lose the 30 lbs of fat.  What did I do?

I did a combination of things.  I kept my protein intake super high, eating a lot of chicken and fish.  That way my body wouldn’t cannibalize my muscles.  I kept myself in a large calorie deficit, and also did a ton of cardio.  I would wake up in the morning, hungry, and I’d hit the gym, doing sometimes up to an hour and a half of cardio each day (on top of my normal lifting routine, which I’d do that night).  I’d cue up Netflix on my phone, watch a movie and do mid-range cardio the whole time.  I lost all that weight in no time.  I had acquired that fat over two years or so, and it only took me a month and a half or so to lose it.  I did it, you can too!

I’m old enough now to know how all this works.  You want some change in your life?  It could be a better career, lose weight, gain muscle, better relationship situation, etc.  There’s where you are right now, and then there’s where you want to be.  To get where you want to go there’s some some obstacle, a bunch of stuff you don’t want to do.  It’s probably overwhelming.  You may not even know how to approach the problem.  Here’s what you do.  It’s always the same process.

Take it one step at a time, one day at a time.  Most of all, you have to take action.  You have to actually DO something.  If you’re committed to change, and you’re consistently after the problem, constantly try to learn, evolving, etc., you can fix it.  You can do it.  And you don’t have to get it all right the first time.  In fact, you’ll learn from your mistakes along the journey.  I know it’s cliche, but just do it!

You want to change your career?  Stop complaining.  Stop whining.  Enroll in school, enroll in some training program, whatever it is, get in there and do the work.  Want to lose weight?  Learn about it, get in there, and do it.  Just like I did.  Just do it.  That’s not to say hard work will get you anywhere.  You might enroll in some worthless degree program, work hard to get the degree, and it doesn’t do a thing for you but run up a huge bill.  You have to be smart about what you’re doing, and have direction, but just do it.  I don’t know what else to tell you.

I didn’t want to go to college.  I can’t stand classes, grades, or tests.  Who likes any of that stuff?  I’ve never met anyone who does.  But I wanted to be a scientist.  So I started that journey back in 2010, and I’m now working on and finishing my PhD thesis.  I’m at the end of a crazy-long road.  It’s a been a helluva long journey, but now I can lift up that degree and be like, “I did it.”  I had to take so many stupid courses that I hated.  I had to sit through classes where I learned absolutely nothing.  I had to spend so much money, money I didn’t want to spend.  But are you willing to do what you have to do?

I’ve met so many people who see the obstacles they’re going to have to overcome and they just give up.  Or they won’t try.  Or they make excuses.  Or they rationalize their way out of the situation, saying they couldn’t do it even if they tried, so what’s the use.  They think it’s impossible.  “The economy is my problem.  It’s society’s fault I can’t get a good job.”  Or here’s one I hear, “I can’t lose weight.  It’s my genetics.  I have a horrible metabolism.  Lucky you.”  Just whatever, excuses, excuses, excuses.   I hate to sound cold, but I get tired of excuses.

Year after year, I see people whose lives never change.  They have the same excuses.  The same bad patterns of behavior.  With some people, I don’t know how to snap them out of it.  They’re in some rut they’ve been in so long, they’ve totally given up.  And when they’re in that state, their mind sits there and builds up massive defenses, justifying why it’s others faults that they’re there, how they couldn’t change despite their best efforts, and how the world’s holding them down.

Just look at our society today.  People would rather rationalize obesity, calling for an entire body positivity movement, instead of just reevaluating what they’re putting into their bodies and considering getting more exercise.  They have diabetes, high blood pressure, their knees are in pain, and their back hurts them just to get off the couch and go to the bathroom, but they don’t have a problem.  The rest of us just don’t realize that it’s actually a positive situation.  In reality, they’re in a destructive, horrible pattern of behavior, and they’ve have chosen to unpack their bags there, set up shop, and try to make life work in the gutter.  And you think why?  But what can you do?  If they don’t want change, you can’t change them.  Only they can change themselves; they have to be able to envision some realistic ‘new them’, and get off their rear-ends and do what they need to do.

Some goals aren’t worth pursuing, and there are crazy pipe-dreams which aren’t reasonable, but you can improve your life drastically.  Don’t let yourself fall into that situation where you hate aspects of your life but then just say, “Well, nothing I can do about it.”  You’d be surprised if you only realized, hey, there’s actually a whole lot I can do to make things better.  And that’s all you gotta do.  Just makes things a little better each day.

Do something small at first.  Just clean up the house.  Clean up your bedroom.  Then you look around, it’s clean, and it’s like, hey, this is nice.  One small victory.  Then do some exercise.  You lose a tiny amount of weight.  Another small victory.  Be kind to your wife or husband, tell them you appreciate them, do something nice for them.  They’re shocked but are happy about the change.  Another small victory.  You finally actually enroll in school, or join a gym, or whatever it is.  You finish your first workout.  Another victory.  You do your first homework assignment.  Another victory.  And you just keep those victories coming.  And guess what?  Five years from now, ten years from now, those small victories add up to a massive transformation.  It happened gradually for you, but to others they’re like, “Wow, what’s happened to you?”  Like what happened to me with that woman.  Grabbing my big arms and she’s like, “What is this?”  She was grabbing lots of small victories over almost three years in the gym.

Who’d have thought I’d be a theoretical physicist, with a PhD, spending my days cranking out the mysteries of the universe, looking jacked, making good money, building better relationships with people everyday.  When I was in the dumps after my software adventures took a nose-dive, I didn’t picture this.  I had reached a point back then where I was so angry with the world, I just wanted to escape and would play World of Warcraft for the entire day.  Nobody who knew me back in the day expected any of this of me.  I wasn’t voted most likely to succeed, and nobody who knew me when I was younger thought I was “smart”.  But I graduated from one of the top science and engineering schools with a 4.0 GPA, with a PhD in theoretical physics!  If I can, so can you.  Remember, the people who used to know you are not in control over where you end up.

I guess I haven’t shared with you guys what I do these days.  My PhD research is on sending electromagnetic waves through the skull.  I want to be able to send signals to and from the brain through the skull, noninvasively.  It’s been proven that it can be done, but it requires advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning to modulate the waves just right so they pass through the skull without being absorbed.  My dream is to build a helmet that you can put on and be immersed in full VR, like the Matrix movies, or self-induce crazy states into your brain to explore how consciousness works, or even use it for medical applications.  When I invent it, and all of you can get one in the comfort of your home, and play video games, or watch fully immersive VR movies, you all can remember that some ordinary guy, living in a rural town in Missouri built that.  Maybe I’ll write an entire post about my research sometime soon?