Czesc! Welcome to this week's digest. This is a very special "Subway" edition, because most of this was created in transit under NYC. This week's topics include acceptance, embezzling, public health, philosophy, and learning from horror stories. Enjoy!
If you like this digest and know others who want to live an examined life, share this with them, write a thank you note, and / or act like a candle in the wind.
"Staying occupied is a socially sanctioned way of remaining distant from our pain." ~ Tara Brach
BEST OF WHAT I CONSUMED THIS WEEK
BOOK - Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach (My full Kindle highlights) - Tara's work is not particularly different from other books in what I'll call the 'mindfulness for beginners' genre. And there are plenty of repetitive anecdotes to skim / skip once you've understood her points. That said, Tara regularly demonstrates excellent writing, and her focus on acceptance and compassion can be the right entry point into this genre for many who are curious.
While all humans feel ashamed of weakness and afraid of rejection, our Western culture is a breeding ground for the kind of shame and self-hatred the Dalai Lama couldn’t comprehend. Because so many of us grew up without a cohesive and nourishing sense of family, neighborhood, community or “tribe,” it is not surprising that we feel like outsiders, on our own and disconnected. We learn early in life that any affiliation—with family and friends, at school or in the workplace—requires proving that we are worthy.
We must overcome our flaws by controlling our bodies, controlling our emotions, controlling our natural surroundings, controlling other people. And we must strive tirelessly—working, acquiring, consuming, achieving, e-mailing, overcommitting and rushing—in a never-ending quest to prove ourselves once and for all.
Staying occupied is a socially sanctioned way of remaining distant from our pain.
In contrast to orthodox notions of climbing up a ladder seeking perfection, psychologist Carl Jung describes the spiritual path as an unfolding into wholeness. Rather than trying to vanquish waves of emotion and rid ourselves of an inherently impure self, we turn around and embrace this life in all its realness—broken, messy, mysterious and vibrantly alive.
Most of us spend years trying to cloister ourselves inside the palace walls. We chase after the pleasure and security we hope will give us lasting happiness. Yet no matter how happy we may be, life inevitably delivers up a crisis—divorce, death of a loved one, a critical illness. Seeking to avoid the pain and control our experience, we pull away from the intensity of our feelings, often ignoring or denying our genuine physical and emotional needs.
It is easy to feel that something bad will happen if we don’t maintain our habitual vigilance by thinking, judging, planning. Yet this is the very habit that keeps us trapped in resisting life.
We often try to satisfy our emotional needs with the more immediate pleasures of food, alcohol and drugs. When they “work,” these strategies provide immediate gratification through a temporary surge of pleasant sensations. They also numb or cover over the raw pain of shame and fear. But because they don’t genuinely address our needs, our suffering continues and with it our reliance on whatever provides pleasure or relief.
Fear takes over our mind with stories about what will go wrong. Fear tells us we will lose our body, lose our mind, lose our friends, our family, the earth itself. Fear is the anticipation of future pain... Facing fear is a lifelong training in letting go of all we cling to—it is a training in how to die.
Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance.
The path of awakening is simply a process of wakeful, profound relaxing. We see what is here right now and we let go into life exactly as it is.
PODCAST - Joe Rogan Experience: #1158 - Chuck Palahniuk by Joe Rogan - I first heard about Chuck Palahniuk in junior year of high school, when my friend Will was reading Fight Club and raving about it. Of course, regrettably, I ignored this recommendation for four years, finally picking up Fight Club in college. I was immediately hooked, and read through a dozen more of Palahniuk's novels over the next few years. Chuck's writing could be summarily dismissed as going for simple shock value, but you'd miss the tremendous depth of characters and exploration of meaning in our lives. Chuck brings us closer to all of the realities of the world, particularly the absurd, and in doing so helps us come to terms with the ridiculousness and subjective nature of how we fill our lives. This podcast was my first time experiencing Chuck the person, rather than the author, and his approach to writing and life offered lots of inspiration and learning.
That was the best thing she ever wrote. And her editor said that is not going in this book, because we want this book to be a big book. And if we see you jerking off your grandfather and then killing baby birds, that is not gonna make Oprah Winfrey happy. It was a magnificent piece of writing, and a magnificent parallel and awareness for a child to have. Its juxtaposition of sexual assault and abuse was magnificent, oh my god, it worked on every level. But the publisher said this was not going to be in the book.
There are jokes that I told where I got hissed by 800 people. If you can live through those moments, you realize you can live through a lot. If you can be hated by eleven hundred people at a Barnes & Noble on Union Square, yeah, you can be hated by your mother, it's OK.
I got embezzled... This was a man I worked with for 21 years... I have been really poor in my life, and it was never my goal to be really rich... It was my goal to be a writer, it was my goal to be able to write books for a living. And I can still do that.
In a way, you have to accept that ultimately everything is a gift. It's always about cognitive re-framing. Whatever happens, you re-frame it in such a way that you recognize the value of it.
There is a disillusionment with the goals of the baby boomers. So many people have seen their parents achieve what they thought was going to make them happy. With the houses and the trips and the careers and the possessions and the wives and the second wives... They are seeing their parents get everything that they want and still not be happy. So you see a generation that is kind of floundering, thinking they don't know what is going to make them happy, I don't know what is going to make me happy... It's a big struggle, everyone blind and in the dark right now.
RESEARCH - American Journal of Public Health: Weaponized Health Communication: Twitter Bots and Russian Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate - Sharing this research paper to highlight the potential for potent discord in public health discussions (even without malicious bots, and even with tremendous evidence on one side of the conversation). As highlighted in this paper, this discord is particularly damaging when sown intentionally as marketing by incentivized actors, e.g., companies selling products and services with questionable scientific evidence. I also appreciated the irony that reading anti-vaccination content led to malware infections ;D
Accounts masquerading as legitimate users create false equivalency, eroding public consensus on vaccination.
Directly confronting vaccine skeptics enables bots to legitimize the vaccine debate. More research is needed to determine how best to combat bot-driven content.
...bots and trolls are actively involved in the online public health discourse, skewing discussions...
Alcohol use is a leading risk factor for global disease burden and causes substantial health loss. We found that the risk of all-cause mortality, and of cancers specifically, rises with increasing levels of consumption, and the level of consumption that minimises health loss is zero.
In estimating the weighted relative risk curve, we found that consuming zero standard drinks daily minimised the overall risk of all health loss... protective effects were offset by the risks associated with cancers, which increased monotonically with consumption.
ARTICLE - Aeon: Hume the humane by Julian Baggini - What a read! A wonderful overview of Hume's life and work. Hume's philosophy resonates strongly with me, in that he embraces our inherent imperfection, and highlights the heroic value (and difficulty) of doing the simple things well. Like Palahniuk, Hume's skepticism is part of a broader optimism living more meaningfully and in touch with reality (warts and all).
The life ‘most suitable to the human race’ is a ‘mixed kind’ in which play, pleasure and diversion matter as well as what are thought of as the ‘higher’ pursuits. ‘Be a philosopher,’ advised Hume, ‘but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.’
‘Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.’ Reason by itself gives us no motivation to act, and certainly no principles on which to base our morality. If we are good it is because we have a basic fellow-feeling that makes us respond with sympathy to the suffering of others and with pleasure at the thought of them thriving. The person who does not see why she should be good is not irrational but heartless.
Hume saw human beings as we really are, stripped of all pretension. We are not immortal souls temporarily encaged in flesh, nor the pure immaterial minds Descartes believed he had proved we were. Humans are animals – remarkable, highly intelligent ones – but animals nonetheless.
What we call the ‘self’ is just a ‘bundle of perceptions’. Look inside yourself, try to find the ‘I’ that thinks and you’ll only observe this thought, that sensation: an ear worm, an itch, a thought that pops into your head. Hume was echoing a view that was first articulated by the early Buddhists, whose ‘no-self’ (anattā) view is remarkably similar. He also anticipated the findings of contemporary neuroscience which has found that there is no central controller in the brain, no one place where the sense of self resides. Rather the brain is constantly executing any number of parallel processes. What happens to be most central to consciousness depends on the situation.
Hume’s kind of exceptionality is the opposite: he was more fully human than most, nothing more, nothing less. The virtues he expressed were not extreme ones of daring or courage but quiet ones of amiability, modesty, generosity of spirit, hospitality. Lest this sound like little, consider how difficult it is to live our lives consistently expressing such virtues.
Humean skepticism is an antidote to hubris, not a recipe for inaction or an excuse to defer to prejudice. Hume’s mitigated skepticism rests on the principle that we should proportion our beliefs to the evidence, not doubt the value of any of it. Hume would not be a climate change skeptic but skeptical of our glib assumption that whatever happens, we’ll be okay.
MOST FAVORITE FROM THE PAST
BOOK - Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk - Chuck's appearance on JRE reminded me of this novel. The summary in the link describes the book well, and I'm actually not the biggest fan of this one (Fight Club and Invisible Monsters are my favorite Palahniuk novels). That said, Haunted's overarching story, as well as some of the sub-stories, offer vivid versions of the horrifying means we can be tempted to utilize in pursuit of our hedonistic ends (e.g., fame, fortune, novelty, etc.). The consequences of utilizing those horrifying means (both unintended and intended) can alter us physically and mentally, often far worse than the benefit of realizing our ends. The stories within Haunted give us an opportunity to look at ourselves in cold, stark truth and more concretely define our values and principles as we pursue our dreams.