Find Your Edge (Sling Some D)

Hello fear, you are welcome here.

Our bodies and minds naturally want comfort and ease. We have an ingrained tendency towards whatever avoids discomfort and rewards with comfort. But the very act of living is to accept a universal challenge- a cosmic throwdown against the elements, time, and inevitable death. The idea that we can avoid discomfort is an illusion.  Every time we choose the path of least resistance, we perpetuate this illusion.

"All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's impossible), but calculating risks and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer." -Niccolò Machiavelli

Only when we realize that constant comfort is unattainable can we abandon its pursuit. This frees us from our inclinations to make choices based on ease and comfort. It opens us up to a world of possibility. Fear becomes our guide towards the adversity that will make us stronger. Comfort becomes a temporary break from meeting the challenges of living. This leaves us with a simple choice: to meet these challenges or to let them find us.

"Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive." -Don Miguel Ruiz

The less we challenge ourselves with novel situations and intelligent risks, the less skilled we become at navigating the territory outside of our comfort zones. The boundary that divides comfort and safety from the novel and unknown is your edge. Your edge is that place where you smack against fear. It’s the place your physiology tells you to quickly squirm away from.

Your edge is always moving based on our choices in life. It expands with every conscious choice to challenge ourselves and retracts each time we take the easy path. What makes a strong person is how often they willfully challenge their edge, gaining experience and composure with each encounter. 

We each have our own challenges so everyone’s edge is unique. It’s up to you to figure out the best way to find and challenge your edge. Sports that demand you stay cool under intense pressure- like ju jitsu or rock climbing- can work wonders. Art and creative endeavors require you to assume a greater vulnerability. And there’s always public speaking, spiders, and the opposite sex.

Now In case my point still isn’t clear- I’m calling in the big guns. No one gets this point across more poetically than comedian Joey CoCo Diaz. Uncle Joey relentlessly challenges his own edge, a habit that has gotten him through incredible obstacles, including jail time and drug addiction, to a career as a full time entertainer. Uncle Joey has his own hilarious phrase for challenging the edge that I wish I had thought of:

It's a well known cliche that we become the average of the people we spend the most time with. Surround yourself with inspiring people that challenge you. If you don't have people like that in your life, that sounds like a perfect challenge to tackle.

https://twitter.com/madflavor

https://twitter.com/RevolutionM_E

Now get out there, and sling some d***.

Review: Sam Harris "Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion"

The self is an illusion.

That's the theme that stands out in Sam Harris's latest bestseller. This idea is usually confined to books on metaphysics, but Harris firmly roots his case in neuroscience. If that's too dry for you, he also embellishes his arguments with insights gained from his extensive experience with meditation. The result: A much needed and fascinating reconciliation between science and spirituality. In Waking Up, Harris distances himself from virtually all other "atheist" writers by offering the first stone in the bridge between science and spirituality.

What unifies science and spirituality is the common ground of reason. At it's core, spirituality attempts to better understand reality through direct, transformational experiences. It boldly attempts to find truth behind the veil of normal perception through a variety of practices that anyone can experiment with. He cites the core principles of Buddhism as the prime example, while separating meditation practice from unnecessary Buddhist dogma such as karma or reincarnation.  If you practice technique X you will get result Y. This removes the faith aspect from spirituality because nothing need be believed without direct, personal experience. With this in mind Sam argues that spirituality is essentially the scientific method applied to transcendental human experience. 

Both science and spirituality require an open mind and an a relentless passion for discernment. And the self is one of the first causalities of this discernment. Harris suggests that there is really no individual "you" that "witnesses consciousness and lives somewhere in your head." There are only experiences themselves. His most compelling arguments for this come out of his expertise in neuroscience (he holds a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from UCLA). Sam blows minds by citing research that demonstrates that our brains are independently and simultaneously conscious in multiple areas. "What is most startling about the split-brain phenomenon is that we have every reason to believe that [they] are independently conscious. ...in such cases, each hemisphere might as well have its own beliefs." If that's not enough, he also explains that if we were to cut my brain in half and each hemisphere went on to survive, there would become two of me with the same memories and presumably the same identity. He eviscerates the idea that the self can be pinpointed in any exact location and suggests that it's neurologically more accurate to say that there's many versions of you contained in your brain. He makes a strong case for the idea that consciousness emerges from specific biological organization and is also physically divisible, which pokes an uncomfortable hole in the idea of a soul.

Waking Up doesn't only challenge those of us that believe in a soul. It also challenges the rigid materialists and skeptics that see no value in spiritual practices such as meditation. Sam suggests that the selflessness revealed by neuroscience is reflected in insights gained through many different styles of meditation practice, especially Dzogchen. He describes this process of tying to describe mediation insights to a skeptic:

"Imagine that you want to show another person how a window can also function like a mirror. As it happens you friend has never seen this effect and is quite skeptical of your claims. You direct her attention to the largest window in the house, and although the conditions are perfect for seeing her reflection, she immediately becomes captivated by the world outside. What a beautiful view! ...In every moment, it is clear to you that your friend is starting directly through the image of her face without seeing it."

To Harris, spiritual practice absolutely has a role to play in the lives of reasonable, scientific people. Ignoring the benefits of such practices because of some of the outrageous and occasionally hilarious claims made under the guise of spirituality is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Waking Up is ultimately a reclamation of the word "spirituality." Spiritual claims do not have to be unverifiable, nor accepted on blind faith in gurus or strange rituals. To this end, Harris finishes the book with a critical look at some of the claims of meditation masters and spiritual gurus. He highlights the distinction that between meditation and morality- just because someone is a master of meditation or a spiritual leader does not mean that they will always behave morally or should be blindly followed. The emphasis here is on personal exploration and self determination in one's spiritual life.

Other Mind Teasers from waking up

  • Self transcendence, oneness, and other spiritual feelings are universal human experiences, regardless of culture or religion. The interpretation of these experiences is the result of one's culture and religion. As a result, these experiences are explained in whatever religious terms an individual knows and used to legitimize religious beliefs.
  • Psychedelics- particularly LSD, DMT, psilocybin, and MDMA- have therapeutic and transcendental potential but are widely misunderstood largely because they are  stigmatized and categorized as "drugs."
  • This definitely doesn't mean that all psychedelic use is beneficial: "For every insight of lasting value produced by drugs, there was an army of zombies with flowers in their hair marching towards failure and regret."
  • Harris offers bold criticism of the hugely popular book Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife and the phenomenon of Near Death Experiences (NDEs).
  • Consciousness is still a mystery. It probably can't be explained by describing physical states alone, and might not even be comprehensible to humans at all.

Summary

Waking Up is excellent. It's well-written with very clear language that is difficult to misinterpret. Rarely do you find a book with the potential to simultaneously engage and piss off both rigid skeptics and loose spiritualists. No matter where you fall in this spectrum, Waking Up promises to challenge your preconceptions.  If you're interested in meditation or in starting a meditation practice, this book provides a great overview of the often forgotten goal of spiritual practice- seeing through the illusion of the self. Once again, Harris entertains and enlightens.

You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.
— Sam Harris


Posture of the Mind

I recently starting reading Kelly Starretts exceptionally titled "Becoming a Supple Leopard." This book is the ultimate guide to movement. It's the missing user manual for having a human body that should be issued on birth. It describes the proper way to hold yourself and perform common movements in order to maximize strength and minimize brutal injures that show up after years of improper movement. It was humbling to realize that I had been doing basic things like standing, walking, and sitting completely incorrectly for my entire life. These mistakes are probably to blame for a torn meniscus, a slightly curved spine, and occasional bouts with knee and back pain. Praise science that I am able to correct these patterns now rather than awaiting for them to manifest as a surgery, arthritis, or some other terror.

Correcting these bad movements is a challenge. I have to override 25+ years of bad programming, starting with fixing my posture. Correct posture and spinal cushion is everything- it's the foundation that all of your other movements rely on. Is your pelvic bone straight, core engaged at about 20%, shoulders tilted back, and head aligned properly? That's a lot to think about, and until I have made it into a good habit, it takes up most of my RAM. If It didn't feel so incredibly good, it wouldn't be worth the effort.

While working on improving my posture today, it dawned on me that this is the perfect analogy for our minds. We are born and rushed into the world with no training about how to best manage what goes on in our heads. We are given a litany of rules about how we should act and feel, but seldom any training about how to handle the avalanches of thought that assault us daily. Just like I had no idea about how to stand correctly, I imagine most people have no idea hold themselves mentally. I wonder how many correctable thought patterns we harbor. Just like walking duck-footed can eventually lead to knee and spine problems, how many our of minor neuroses will eventually lead to full-blown depression or other psychological disorders? If we develop a habit of good mental posture- equanimity, objective observation, and unattachment- we can prevent many of these afflictions.

There are no skills more basic than how to move and how to think. Despite this obvious truth, these are two areas that are not widely talked about. We are so eager to get impressive things done that we start weight training before learning proper body movements and we start studying engineering before learning how to manage our minds.  Take the time to develop a healthy physical and mental baseline. It is well worth the effort and will exponentially increase your physical and mental satisfaction. 

it all comes down to training.

We have to train our minds and bodies to the point where we develop optimal baselines that we can return to in moments of stress or fatigue. It's easy to maintain a good outlook while things are going well, but how do you respond when life throws challenges at you? The same is true for athletic movements- sure you might have a great running posture...until you get to your sixth mile. We practice ideal movements and ideal mental states so that we naturally return to them as often as possible. Don't try to be tough. Life will make of point of proving how untough we are. Be trained.

There is no such thing as tough. There is trained and untrained. Now which are you?
— Denzel Washington, from "A Man on Fire"