Monday, December 31, 2012

Move To The Rhythm!

Recently, I read a book on trauma therapy. It said, among many other useful and intriguing things, that they endorse methods of meditation or therapy that are centered in the body: such as qi gong, yoga, etc.

Now what is the common factor of all those methods?

They get you to take deep slow breaths, they get you to move in a certain smooth way, they get you to focus on your breath, and they get you to synchronize your movements to your breath. (*)

So quite possibly, this simple trick - move to the rhythm of your breath - is therapeutic in and of itself. I can attest that it feels good, regardless of whether you do the prescribed motions of, say, qi gong, or whether you just move about in that way. I wonder, how about doing your daily chores in such a way?

Anyway, it's part of my daily routine now, and it feels great.

I say, hooray for reductionism!

And Happy New Year!





(*) To be fair, I can't remember whether I read that in said book, or whether this is my own huge revelation.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

"For Serious Tantrikas Only"

I'm currently experimenting with Diigo.com, an online bookmarking, sharing, highlighting and annotation service. So, this is a bit of an experiment... you can click on the following link to see the whole original article along with my annotations (just hover over the little speech bubble thingies). There you can view my annotations in the original context. Below that, I'll focus on the two or three most interesting remarks and add my personal views.

"For Serious Tantrikas Only": Good Tantra Article from Pinklotuss.com

multiply orgasms,  non-ejaculatory (non-depleeting) orgasms, full body orgasms, spiritual orgasms...simply all the capabilities that have been given to women by nature.
Well, that line about nature's gift to women is definitely a good sales pitch. And of course, it's probably more of a snarky remark than a serious description of reality. At any rate, I do not have the impression that it is true. Too many women going on about how they can't reach orgasm at all; too many women who don't have any connection with spirituality whatsoever.

I believe from my own experience that tantra can help you reconnect your sex with your "spiritual" side, however you like to define it. I believe that this is a very good thing. Would my (young, attractive, female) next door neighbour profit from it? I can well imagine that. (Especially if I were to teach her...) Would the journey be any easier for her than it is/was for me? Without really knowing her, I highly doubt it. Given she's a young citizen of a modern western society, she probably has all the misconceptions in her head that a slightly catholic modern upbringing will give you... she'd probably think she has better things to do, and if there are issues in the bedroom, she'd try all kinds of stuff  (including, of course, outright denial) before daring to venture into tantra... let alone serious daily practice. So, even if there may be some slight advantage for women here, because we grant them more emotionality, a lot of other factors will far outweigh that slight bias.

And of course, ultimately, it doesn't matter. You go on this journey because you feel that it might help you, and you stay on it if you feel that it actually does, and that's all that really matters.

It it's about taking the lust out of sex and transforming it into love.
I wouldn't call it "taking lust out...". It's more like adding a completely new quality to it. My approach here is very much like my approach to dieting: always add good stuff - the bad stuff will fall away all by itself anyway. Well and also, I don't see lust as a bad thing. But I do respect that it is virtually impossible to talk about those things without exposing any bias whatsoever, and I don't think that this sentence was intended quite the way it may sound.


Tantra is a path of enlightenment, differing from other spiritual paths by not trying to escape the reincarnation cycle, but bringing enlightenment into this body, into this world.
This definitely has a true ring to me. Putting aside the issue that enlightenment doesn't exist in any strict sense, as far as it goes it is definitely to be found in the body.

Or, putting it into more secular language: Paying more attention to what actually goes on in your body, without being judgmental about whatever happens to surface, seems to me like one of the healthiest things you can do (as long as you're not suffering from some severe mental condition or substance addiction that might warp the experience into some freakish nightmare).

we don't talk  much about the 'death of the ego' (this only sets the ego up for a fight), essentially that is what happens.
I often have the impression that tantra is something of a form of benevolent self-outmaneuvering.

The old ego is to be transformed into a devoted servant to the soul.
It is somewhat shocking, but I do know what she's aiming at, and in some way I even agree.


At some point it dawned on me that this path is not about 'happily ever after'. What I was presented instead was the process of developing ability tobecome comfortable with increasingly higher levels of discomfort.

I had never realized it, but "becoming comfortable with higher levels of discomfort" really nails it (harhar). In a way, orgasmic meditation seems to help me overcome my civilizational discontent. I never felt so free to assert myself as in those past few weeks, and at the same time, it was never easier to accept the sheer insanity that any sane family will always throw at every last one of us. It is distinctly odd when your father says something that always has you up in arms, and being almost completely unaffected.

The danger is, obviously, to delve into apathy and disaffection. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. So I have some hope I'll manage not to go there again!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Three Things

Three things will end any discussion with me right there on the spot:


  1. Hitler ate sugar, for obvious reasons.
  2. Using quantum physics to support anything outside of quantum physics, because a) that's not what it's supposed to do, and b) in all likelihood, you have no clue what you're talking about.
  3. Using evopsych to support your hypothesis, because at the current state of evopsych, you can use it to prove everything, including its opposite.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Few Highly Useful Tools For Productivity

These are just a few tools that I discovered only recently, and that have proved highly useful to me, in that they help me streamline my online reading and discovering process. They are specifically useful if you're an information junkie like me, and do a lot of reading:


  • Diigo (http://www.diigo.com/)
    An online highlighting, bookmarking and sharing tool. You download a browser plugin and highlight parts of a webpage, or add sticky notes to it. The highlights are public, which is okay for me, but definitely something to be aware of. Here's the link to my diigo library, if you're interested: http://www.diigo.com/user/betlamed. Be aware that highlights are limited in the free version.
  • Readability Redux
    A chrome browser plugin that strips off all design elements from a page, and formats the main text in a narrow column with a large font. Makes it much more readable. Sadly, it has some issues in combination with Diigo on some pages (most notably, Wikipedia).
  • Postpone Page
    Yet another chrome browser plugin. This one simply adds the current page to a list of postponed pages for later reading. I prefer this to the diigo "read-later" list because it's fully integrated in the browser and doesn't upen up a seperate page for the list of postponed pages. Well and also... I just like it better, for whatever reason.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Unconscious Satanism vs. Free Will

Only recently, I encountered, once more, one of the oddest doctrines of christianity; which, even more oddly, seems to be very widespread, at least among literalists and fundamentalists. I don't know whether other mainstream religions have the same doctrine. It is, however, extremely popular with destructive and fringe cults.

I became interested, and I did a few google searches to find out about the history of said doctrine. However, I don't know its official name or proper theological terms to describe it, so my search was rather unsuccessful.

I'm talking about what I might call the "doctrine of unconscious satanism". In it, every non-believer is not only evil, but is a follower of Satan without even knowing it.

I will only touch the fact that the idea of unconscious, unintentional evil is somewhat dubious; or that, in the bible, god himself hardens the heart of the pharao, only to then turn around and punish his whole people in a true gorefest for the pharao's next actions; or that, back when I was a christian, there was also the opposite idea - Gorbachev, it was speculated, was an unconscious servant of god, much like Kyros in the old testament. (Yep, I'm that old, and that was indeed so long ago!)

Instead, let me focus on two highly interesting aspects:

1. This doctrine is almost unavoidable.

If it is true that one can only be in the Jesus camp or in Satan's host, and if it is also true that some nonbelievers claim to have nothing to do with the devil - then those people must either lie or not even know that they've been had. It is interesting to see that christians were not generally willing to presuppose that us puny nonbelievers are straight-out liars every time we open our mouth. Since they're essentially claiming that we're servants of the ultimate evil anyway, what difference does it make? Besides being a wee bit more polite, I mean. (But only really just a wee bit, if you think of it.)

I think the reason is more of a psychological than a theological nature: Christians were always forced to do business with non-christians, some might even fall in love with 'dem godless basterds, and it is just incredibly rude and impolite to accuse your local grocer (in my case, a muslim) of lying about having a contract with Old Nick, blood signature and all. If you think of them as completely deceived, that... well... it feels better. A bit. You're still surrounded by hordes of demon-ridden zombies. But at least they're not intentionally clearing the co-driver's seat for My Boyfriend When I'm In Hell.

And of course, you can't avoid it anyway. Once a dualist, always a scapegoater, as the old saying goes.

2. This doctrine is at odds with the christian doctrine of free will.

Once the devil has me, it is completely impossible to escape to find Jesus. The devil has complete control over the world; it's like the matrix, only even more so. The devil will always make me use the fiendish tools of logic and reason to convince me that there is not enough evidence, that auto-suggestion is not an adequate tool of determining objective facts, or that there are several major logical flaws in christianity's internal structure. Therefore, if the doctrine of unconscious satanism is indeed true, I have no chance, as an atheist, to ever decide that I want to become a christian.

So, how can a nonbeliever ever become a christian? After all, it seems that there are people like that. Does the devil trip up at times? How does one reconcile unconscious satanism with free will?

Of course, the easiest explanation is that ultimately, only god has the power to convert people. But that doesn't solve the problem - again, how does one reconcile that with free will? In what way is my will truly free, if it is simply a question of god intervening, or the devil gnawing away at my soul?

I'm sure there are numerous large theological volumes that have been written about just this subject. Sadly, my attempts at finding those have hitherto been very unsuccessful. If you have any pointers, please let me know - specifically, I would be interested in the history of this doctrine, since I have the impression that it is prefigured in the bible itself (god blinding pharao, Judas, etc.), and must also have its place in rabbinic thought in some form. I also hypothesize that it goes back to older, more rudimentary beliefs about spirits influencing people and demonic possession. I would really like to read something a bit more scientific about the subject.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"How To Change Your Beliefs And Your Identity" follow-up

Dear Stefan Pylarinos,


yes, blocking people who are skeptical about your claims and ask you to provide the proof you claim on your website, as well as removing their comments from your youtube videos, sure speaks to your professional attitude, success as a self-help guru and personal decency.

I guess we have settled that issue, haven't we?

To be fair, there has been one person claiming that she did get rid of her bipolar disorder by practicing emotion management. Her name is Tieu Nguye, and here is her comment at the youtube video. However, she doesn't claim that she used your method, and her claim is very vague and generalized.

I never doubted that emotion management has good effects; I'm doubting that your outrageous claims are true, that you actually have the proof you claim, that you ever cared to actually test your own claims, and that you can provide "hundreds of examples" of people who experienced fast, radical and lasting change by applying your method.


Sincerely

bet lamed

Searching for something to love in something you loathe...

Over at deliberatism.com, Eric Karjaluoto asks a very sensible question about all those failed attempts at self-improvement:

What if the missing part of the puzzle is not a lack of willpower, but instead a lack of love?
The runner discovers tranquility on the road, forgetting the pain. The writer gives in to the joy of playing with words, moving past the aggravation. The entrepreneur finds purpose in making something, and stops noticing the long days.

It has long been my impression that willpower is severely overrated. I prefer the word pleasure, because  of all the baggage the word love carries with it. But in principle, I agree with the premises of the article.

I don't quite agree with his conclusion, because I think that putting in the hours will often help you discover the pleasurable aspect of an activity that you used to loathe, and that our current focus on instant gratification leads nowhere. And also, there are chores that we simply have to put behind us whether we like them or not, like bringing out the trash or preparing for that exam. But I do agree that sheer willpower and little self-help tricks are not the solution.

The big question still is: How do you find something to love in what you loathe, and pleasure in pain?

It worked for me with my change of diet, it worked with physical exercise to some degree, and it doesn't work at all in some other areas.

So far, it's still poking around in the dark until I hit something useful. So the OTHER big question is, can the search for something positive be systematized, even in the face of strong negative emotions attached to the activity in question?

I don't think that "letting go of the goal" is the ultimate answer, though I suspect it to be one huge part of the solution. The same goes for affirmations, visualisations, meditation or more positive and motivating language patterns (see what I did there? *g*).

I do think that all of these, and certainly quite a few more, can be valuable parts of a practice of permanent personal development. Over time, you acquire your very own, very personal set of best practices that help you the most. In between, there are necessarily shots in the dark, total misses, complete disasters. And some big hits. The trick being, of course, to keep track of the real hits and stick with them no matter what, while getting rid of what did not work as soon as possible.

Do tantrikas provide a happy ending?

It seems that some people arrive here because they seek an answer to the question "Do tantrikas provide a happy ending?"

What seems like a straight and trivial question is really a bit tricky once you look into the details.

The short answer is: Yes, in my experience most professional tantrikas and masseuses will ask you whether you want a "happy ending". Sometimes they will charge a few extra bucks for it. (I have packed the naked factual information into the Tantra SSC FAQ for your convenience.)

However, the thing about tantra is that it is essentially about letting go of the goals and experiencing life from moment to moment. The idea is that our habitual focus on goals often gets in the way of just enjoying what is. When you're completely immersed in something and enjoying it with all your senses, you will rarely ever think about its "goal" or "purpose" or "finish". You're simply present in the here and now. And one effect of tantric practice is to help you be in that state more often. Essentially, you learn how to ride the wave of pleasure instead of asking where it will lead you.

So the question is actually a bit misleading, because it presupposes that the "happy ending" is the client's goal. That may or may not be true. Hazarding a guess, I'd say that first-time clients will always seek the "happy ending", while with more experience, at some point people discover the intricate and subtle pleasures of not having the pleasure end at all, and will stop asking for it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why rant against self-help gurus?

What reason do I have to rant against self-help gurus and personal development systems such as NLP, etc.? After all, live and let live, as the saying goes.

Because I believe in change. Because I believe in personal development. I have seen it, in my own life, in many regards. I have also seen myself struggle and be frustrated, time and time again. And in some important areas of my life, I am not ashamed to say, I have still not managed to succeed.

At first, the frustration came from the silly idea that I can never change, that I have to live with unacceptable and arbitrary limitations.

Later on, another form of frustration came from the idea that I bloody well can change, but I have no clue how. I learned all the concepts, and I had some promising initial results, but a lot of it didn't seem to stick. I repeatedly fell off the wagon, and the old habits came through again and again. At any given time, the system seemed flawless; or, well, at least that was what I was trying to believe. What I desperately needed to believe. The system was so logical, so obviously beneficial, and a lot of people swore by it.

If that sounds very religious to you, then I agree: It is indeed religious. It is what religions do, at their core. It is why I reject religion, among other things.

All those systems, be it NLP or the systemic approach, positive psychology, mindfulness-based therapy, nonviolent communication, buddhism, etc. etc. - they all have their merits. They all have some truth hidden within. But as a whole, the only thing they do is block your development.

You cannot have a one-size-fits-all system of personal development. Humans are just too disparate. Our genetics, our history, our personality vary so much that it is extremely hard to derive common general principles.

For example, almost every communication trainer will teach you that you should avoid the negative. The reasoning is that the brain cannot really process a no: "Don't think of a pink elephant." Yes we did think about a pink elephant...

Consider a support team in an IT business. They tell customers, among other things, "Please do not hesitate to call us when you encounter any additional problems." Every self-respecting communication trainer will bang their head against the next wall, and then replace this with "Please feel free to call us in the unlikely event of another challenge."

However, on the other hand, there is also the concept of an "away-from" motivation. The idea is that some people are motivated more by negatives than positives. Seems pretty obvious, given that humans are very, very good at anticipating danger and running away from it.

But... how can both ideas be true at the same time? If some people are motivated by "away-from", then it's pretty much possible that they are actually the majority, in which case it would be much better to keep the original phrasing. Assuming we actually want them to call, of course.

Now, if even this very basic cornerstone of communication is more like a guessing game than anything else, then what about the more intricate points? How on earth is a "six-step reframing" supposed to work for all clients? I can attest that it never worked for me. No, I did not do it wrong.

Why do I rant? Because I suspect that all those nifty methods and systems and strategies only create frustration in the majority of practitioners. And then they come back for more and lose more time and money to the guru. And then, at some point, they get frustrated or simply run out of money, and then they give up on their original dreams and goals. And that is such a big shame, such an awful and despicable loss of human potential and happiness.

Because, as I said above, I believe that change is indeed possible, if you set your mind to it. Not without putting in the hours, and your best creative effort, and probably some lengthy talks with people who did affect change in their own lives. Not to coach you. Not to run a few patterns on you. But to share their own personal experience, so that you can develop your very own coaching system.

But of course, this will rarely ever happen. The universal systems will thrive, and people will put their money there. Well, duh... it is all in the name of good intentions, religious freedom, and making money no matter what. So, all things considered, all is good, I guess.

Brussels sprouts!

One of the most fascinating aspects of my dietary change is my change in liking. This morning, I cooked some brussels sprouts (without any condiment), made me some homemade fries, made a green smoothy and started to eat. Hesitatingly, I must add. I never liked brussels sprouts. They're frakking bitter!

However, this time, I really liked them. Had I not been too lazy, I would have cooked a second serving. I really dig their bitterness. It's totally delicious!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

How do you know whether this belief is useful?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"How To Change Your Beliefs And Identity"

Dear Stefan Pylarinos,




in our recent conversation on your youtube video about "How To Change Your Beliefs And Identity", you claimed that you can give me "hundreds of examples of people that have made amazing changes." From context, I infer that you are talking about people who have made changes following your own method which you detail in your videos and on your website.

Talking about your website, you claim there that you have a "7-Step Proven Method To Creating The Life Of Your Dreams" and that you know and can teach people "How To Change Any Negative Behaviour Or Emotion Instantly".

Regarding those claims, I have a challenge that I am sure you will enjoy to meet. After all, what's in it for you is nothing short of the best publicity you can ever hope to get: independently verified, irrefutable proof of your claims. You can find this challenge at the end of this blog posting, under the heading "The Challenge".

Before we start, I would like to make one thing abundantly clear: I do not doubt your sincerity. I am perfectly sure that you believe what you say, and that you are convinced that you're doing a tremendous amount of good for other people. The same goes for many other life coaches out there. To what degree that assessment is correct, of course, is an entirely different question.

A Few Remarks About Skepticism And Beliefs


Let's talk a bit about your latest contribution to our youtube conversation, and let me clarify a few things. Here is your text:

I have some feedback, if you're open to it. You have a very disempowering way of looking at things. You very much have a pessimistic or skeptical view of life coaches in my opinion, which is all fear based - it's a fear of being disappointed, or that change can't happen that fast. As long as you believe this, how is it going to help your life? How does believing what you just said going to empower you in any way? I can give you hundreds of examples of people that have made amazing changes.

First off, please stop calling this feedback. It violates pretty much every rule of feedback I ever learned in all the communication courses I took: It generalizes my remarks about self-help and life coaches to my overall worldview, it personalizes matters, it attempts to turn the factual problem I raised into my own personal issue, and most amusingly, it is an attempt at reading my mind. You don't know anything about my personal fears or disappointments, because I never talked to you about that. If you've taken any NLP course at all, you know that mind-reading is one of the main ways of distorting your internal representation of the world. It is also a good way of unnecessarily escalating a conflict, and in the case of a life coach, it is entirely unprofessional and unacceptable.

In short, I guess I might have struck a nerve there, ain't I?

Fast Change


Let's talk about "fast change" first, since it is a repeated topic here on my blog. (Probably even ad nauseam, sometimes, I'm afraid...) Do I believe that change can't happen "that fast"? (How fast is "that fast", anyway? Well, you claim instantaneous radical change on your webpage, so let's go with that.)

Well, I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of very fast changes.

What I can say is that I have never witnessed any such change. What I can also say is that I probably should have witnessed at least a few, given that I have a sheet of paper in my drawer that says "NLP practitioner" in nice golden letters, that I have another certificate identifying me as a mediator, and I've looked into various "transformative" practices ranging from christianity to kabbalah to buddhism over the years. In my NLP class, there were about 30 peple, and we spent a lot of time with each other over the course of about 18 months. And yet, none of those 30 people ever reported any significant, mind-blowing, instant changes, even though NLP claims to be the most effective method ever, and the institute is probably the largest and most renowned NLP institute in my country. Are we to surmise that they all had those drastic mind-boggling revelations, but somehow all of them just kept their mouth shut about it? Perhaps they talked with each other and somehow kept me out of the loop? Possible. But not very convincing, if you ask me.

As I said, I don't even claim that instant, radical change can never ever happen. I'm sure it does. In fact, it happened to me, and I blogged about it here and here. I do think, however, that probably no-one has ever devised a fool-proof, 100% method of achieving it. If that were not so, how do you explain thousands upon thousands of self-help books and methods, all claiming total effectiveness, often contradicting each other? Don't start with "not everything is for everyone". The moment you admit that, you have essentially admitted that your specific method is not proven, not 100%.

In short, if anyone has a "100% proven method for achieving instant, radical and lasting change", where the heck do they hide their Nobel Prize, and why do they hide it in the first place? Looking around, this is the most sought-after knowledge since the goddarn frakkin' dawn of humanity. If you claim that you have a method like that, be prepared to back that up with evidence. This is a very, very, VERY extraordinary claim, almost as extraordinary as the claim of being able to walk on water or raise the dead. Evidence for this should be MASSIVE if you want it to be believable.

Change is chaotic and unpredictable, in my experience. We can learn how to ride the avalanche, how to steer it to a degree, and that's about all we can do.

Skepticism


You write that I have a "pessimistic or skeptical view of life coaches". You are spot on: In fact, I do, and it is backed by my own experience. Looking at the name of my blog, what else do you expect?

I don't claim that they're all completely bogus, and I do think that a lot of them actually have something useful to say. But I also think that most of them overgeneralize their own experience, have read a few books here and there, and create some brilliant positive, good-sounding, overly optimistic ideology from that, and then sell this as absolute truth. I also think that this is a devastatingly destructive way of going about things that ultimately hurts the customers way more than it benefits them.

But all that is just my own very personal rambling, and skepticism is not about that. Skepticism is about requiring evidence. You made a claim, you show us the evidence, we examine it. Simple, really, isn't it?

The Usefulness Of Beliefs


You asked me (rhetorically, I guess), "How does believing what you just said going to empower you in any way?"

I take from that that you have a very utilitarian view of beliefs. In fact, it is the view taught in NLP and next to all self-help and life coaching. I bought into that view myself, for a while.

Here's the catch: It is not TRULY utilitarian. It consistently overlooks the fact that beliefs, ultimately, are tools for survival. And they can't well function as that if they are not in some way realistic. Yes, beliefs can be disempowering, and we can rephrase and reframe a good many of our beliefs in better ways so as to better empower ourselves and others. But I have also found that I can not make myself believe something that I know to be objectively false. Have you ever tried to make yourself believe that you ate ice cream for breakfast, when you really ate toast? Go on and do it, I challenge you. I predict that you will fail. Your brain will simply reject it as not consistent with your experience.

How will my belief about life coaches empower me? By avoiding to fall for bullshit claims that don't actually work in reality. By avoiding to invest time and money in methods that fail to deliver.

And yes, I did try that stunt with the ice-cream, thanks for asking.

The Challenge


Okay, here's your challenge. As an honest entrepeneur, a decent human being and a great life coach, I'm sure you'll be happy to meet the following criteria:

1. Hundreds of Examples


Regarding the hundreds of examples of people that have made amazing changes, I am looking forward to having all of those reply to this posting. Specifically, I require that the following criteria be met:

  1. Every entry has to come from a different person.
  2. Every single one of them has to be properly authenticated, so we can make sure that none of them are faked. I am flexible about the method of authentication; however, I'm sure our audience and your prospective customers will have a keen and skeptical eye on any method you come up with.
  3. In order to reflect permanent change, the radical instantaneous experience has to have taken place more than 6 months ago.
  4. The report has to be detailed and sufficiently void of vague language.
  5. The person has to attest that the change they achieved was actually the change that they planned to achieve before the experience.
  6. Your influence on and involvement with the change have to be obvious in the report.
  7. The challenge is met if there are at least 200 ("hundreds") such entries within the next month. For starters, I'll be happy to provisionally declare the challenge met if we have 50 entries within one week.

2. 7-Step Proven Method


Regarding your "7-Step Proven Method To Creating The Life Of Your Dreams", kindly answer the following questions:

  1. Without revealing any trade secrets, what is the main psychological method that you base your method on?
  2. What renowned institution performed the scientific tests necessary to devise the proof you claim?
  3. What methods of psychological and sociological measurement were employed?
  4. Were the tests double-blind?
  5. Were the tests quantitative or qualitative?
  6. How many subjects were tested?
  7. What measures were taken to avoid, or at least account for, confirmation and selection bias?

I am looking forward to literally hundreds of replies...



With kind regards,

Betlamed

Big Words

I am highly skeptical of Big Words. For example, the word "love".

"You only have to learn to love yourself". Well, duh, as if that were so easy!

Those Big Words are often so bloated with meaning, they cross the line twice and essentially become meaningless.

I say, if the Big Words fail you, how about toning it down. There is tremendous potential for mental blocks in focusing on the Big Words. It's just so demanding. It can end up putting more pressure on yourself, than it actually helps you. You don't manage to love thy insufferable sexist racist white trash neighbour, and next thing you know, you hit yourself with a large wooden stick for your own failure.

So, let's focus on ourselves first. Self-love. Sound excellent. The trouble is, you probably encounter the very same issue:  This time, you don't manage to love thy insufferable unsuccessful virginal shy not-the-life-of-the-party self, and then hit yourself for it.

Self-empathy, then? Self-appreciation? Boosting your self-esteem with mantras and affirmations?

Still too far-fetched. Still too complex. Too much technology, hype, marketing, NLP. Too little real results.

Don't get me wrong, I love me my affirmations and breathing techniques. I practice them almost daily. I just think that they're somewhat auxiliary. I think that there is no magic pill. I think that change takes time, and deep change takes a frakkin' lot of time. I have learned through many failures that being slow might actually be the fastest and most effective way to go.

Remember that one time when you DIDN'T hit yourself with a large wooden stick? When you just... forgot doing that?

There you have it. That is your first step. Learn how to repeat that. Instead of focusing on big steps and big changes, focus on the tiniest step possible. The quantum leap, in the real sense of the word. Focus on doing the smallest change that you can think of. Instead of talking at yourself in the mirror, "I'm so beautiful and successful and will make a million euros next month", just omit that one thought of how ugly you are. Nothing more. Every time you manage not to put yourself down, that is one big achievement. You can cherish that, and you should. Focus on that one achievement, and how to repeat it - and let all the empathy and esteem and love and sex and money develop naturally over time.

Since we're talking about starting the journey to Alpha Centauri with one tiny step... Only yesterday, I picked up some self-help book, opened a random page. The first sentence I read was this: "It makes sense to start with little steps and first set some realistic and achievable goals." Oh yeah! Excellent strategy: Let's focus on the impossible a little bit later!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How can we turn struggle into pleasure?

In the past view days and weeks, I've seen quite a few weight loss videos. Some of which are more inspiring than others.

I really dig how people share their weight loss experiences on youtube. This is how social networks are supposed to work, in my view: building up support networks and helping each other on journeys of self-improvement.

One of the best youtube channels in this respect is Jumoke (http://www.youtube.com/feed/UCf2gJTH7ItjH0BUWmevtkIg). Huuuuge dude, with a good heart and a great sense of humor, who lost 50 lbs in 6 months and is still going strong.

Now, with my recent revelation about healthy and delicious food, I can't help but notice with some sadness one fact about many, many of those videos: They're often telling the story of a struggle. A fight. For example, there's these two fine ladies.

I sincerely wish the best for them. That they reach their goals and move on to live happier lives.

But, judging from my own experiences, it's not going to happen. I don't know how to put this in a way that is not disavowing or dismissive, which is one reason why I didn't put it in a youtube comment. They will last for a month or maybe two, and then they'll bounce back. It is my conviction that you will not succeed on a journey like this as long as you think of it as a fight. I mean, maybe other people are just wired differently, but I cannot imagine how to go on, day to day, with a practice you secretly loathe.

Once you discover the pleasures of whatever it is you're doing, it gets easy. Almost a bit too easy in a way. It's hard to believe, some days, that, yes, I found the way to sustain a healthy diet. After I spent at least 5 or 6 years trying ever so hard to find that way, without making any progress whatsoever.

Tantra, to me, is (among other things) a way to turn meditation into pleasure. Of course I will practice my breathing, if it is one way to get pleasure, whenever I want it, wherever I want it, completely for free!

So, the big question is: How can you turn the challenges you're facing into pleasure? How can you find pleasurable aspects in your chores - taking out the trash, doing the dishes, working at your job, etc.

I have not, as of yet, found a way to generalize my experience with tantra and food to other areas. I'm fairly certain that there is one, and I'm almost sure it has to do with self-empathy, self-love and mindfulness.

One lesson I took from these past few weeks is that it is not always a linear process. Years and years of struggle, and then one youtube video changed it all. So I guess that the struggle is one necessary part of the trip. Maybe it's life's way of "softening us up" so we're prepared for the one sudden revelation. Okay, that's metaphysical b.s., admittedly. But maybe something is actually happening on the psychological level while we're going through all that struggle. The big question is: what is it? What can we learn about it? Can we speed up the process? Or maybe it is all about not doing that, about just giving in to whatever happens?

One big guessing game.

I will keep you posted as I find out more.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I am not a vegan. I sincerely hope I never will be.

I eat lots of vegan food. Sometimes I eat meat. But regardless of how this develops in the foreseeable future, I will not be "a vegan". I don't want to identify with my food habits. I have enough labels as it is, thanks a lot.

Michael Pollan's Rules

Michael Pollan, in his book "In Defense Of Food", lays out a few rules of thumb for what to eat. They are not only enormously helpful, but also rather amusing. I don't remember all of them (there are about 20 or so). Here are the ones that I found most helpful:


  • Only ever eat food that your great-grandmother would have recognized as edible. I.e., no green-colored sausage from a tube.
  • Prefer stuff from the outer rim of the supermarket. That's where they hide the fruits and vegetables. In Austria, this is actually more like "prefer stuff from near the entrance".
  • If something proudly proclaims that it's "healthy" on the package, avoid it like hell. Apples and broccoli don't need to tell you how healthy they are - you already know that anyway.
  • Prefer non-packaged food. The less plastic-wrap, the less industrial processing it has probably gone through.
  • Remember that you are eating food, not nutrients. What makes a carrot so healthy is not the vitamins and beta-carotin, but the combination of it all. That's why naturally vitamin-rich greens are way more healthy than vitamin pills.

Here are a few from my own recent experiences:

  • It is amazing what you can do with tofu. You just have to learn how to use the stuff, and many folks do get it wrong. My initiation was a vegan bolognese that tasted way better than the "original".
  • Yeast flakes (if that's the correct english translation for "Hefeflocken"?) plus ground almonds and salt make a perfect Parmesan replacement.
  • Once you get off the addiction, healthy food actually tastes way better than empty calories. If it doesn't, that means you have not found what works for you yet. Keep looking for good recipes. There are lots and lots of information on vegetarian internet forums or in cook books.
  • Buy a smoothie maker and start the day with a smoothie! Green smoothies are even better, but even "normal" smoothies will help you stay away from the packaged chocolate bars and candies.
  • Cook your own meals. It's fun, it doesn't actually take much time, and it tastes much better anyway. One of the traps of pre-packaged or delivered meals is that they come in large portions, and people tend to eat what's on the plate, so you will eat more than you actually want. If you cook your own meals, you can make your portion exactly the size you really need.
  • Always add good stuff, instead of avoiding bad stuff. After a good and healthy lunch, I find I have absolutely no need for a Big Mac or Döner Kebap.

Oh and one last thing: definitely try to replace milk with soy milk for a week. You might be lactose intolerant without even knowing (a huge percentage of the populace is, for evolutionary reasons). I found that it helped me a lot.