Abba Anthony, Inspiration

We may find some ways of life enough to cause us to analyze our own style enough to make changes. One of the many forefathers that has always inspired me is Abba Anthony Greek: Ἀντώνιος Antṓnios; Arabic: القديس انطونيوس بادية مصر‎; Latin: Antonius; Coptic: Ⲁⲃⲃⲁ Ⲁⲛⲧⲱⲛⲓ; c. 12 January 251 – 17 January 356).

While he is technically not the first hermit or ascetic, he is certainly someone to give credit for regarding the directions that Christian Monasticism would eventually take. I happened across “The Writings of the Desert Fathers” a few years back, at a time where I was looking for a change. In this supposedly illiterate monk, I found something that had a profound impact.

What stuck with me was not a particular bit of speech or some great story of a miracle, but the rather simple observation that maybe I had too many things. I was at the time a Vision Engineer and Data Scientist, had a rather large home, and could have been considered reasonably successful by most outside observation. On the other hand, I was devoid of anything that caused me joy. Reading about how this man gave away all he had to move to the middle of the desert and work on his spiritual journey hit me hard.

So, I did as closely to that as I felt was still being responsible for my family. I left my job, moved to an unfinished cabin, gave away my old house…and began again. There is no point in which I would consider going back. It has changed my way of looking at the world, and I would say certainly for the better.

In the finishing of my cabin, I have made a conscious effort to have either no negative impact on the environment, but in some cases to reuse items that would otherwise be waste (root cellar walled with earth-packed tires, for instance.) This can be viewed from many perspectives: that we should take care of our mother earth, that less is more, that our wasteful ways need to be reversed…but my own is simply “The Lord Provides.” The interpretation is up to the practitioner, and I am in no position to denounce any effort to help make improvements to the whole world.

It has caused me a few moments of scratching my head about some of the things considered “unusable.” My 2nd floor is decked with 2*12″ douglas fir, because the boards which were 24′ long to begin with were “cosmetically flawed.” I didn’t need boards that large anyhow, so I got what amounts to thousands of dollars of lumber for nothing more than the effort to take them off of a lumber yard.

Ours is a culture of waste, so it becomes increasingly difficult to tell someone living in intentional poverty from someone trying to live a life of “high art.” I have had many compliments on my cabin project, as though it was based in intentional decisions. The truth is, I use stone because it’s free. I use cedar because it’s often removed from areas being cleared for new construction, and the contractors simply want it gone. In the end, the finished product would be far too expensive for me to buy, but it’s simply keeping my eyes open and not being afraid to work hard to make it all useful.

…hilariously, this works to help me improve my climbing strength, which is what I’d be going to a gym for had I stayed in my “old life.”

Food, “So much turkey” , Exercise: Lots of “strap pull ups” with a loading strap hung from the rafters.

Attachment to Things

Recently, the exploration of what it is that brings unhappiness has been at the forefront of my mind. Many of the things are…”things.” The upkeep and acquisition of goods seems like it should bring joy, at least that’s how things are explained.

Oddly enough, though, I find that the less I have the more time I have to focus on things that really matter to me. I recently had a very nice laptop cease to work, and I made a conscious choice to use an older Linux laptop I had sitting around. While it’s not even close to as high performance, I can say that limiting myself has brought about an odd sense of joy. Rather than play video games, I have found myself resuming training for rock climbing. Doing so has in turn altered my own view of my time and actions.

Minimalism has been in the forefront of my mind for a while. As I have mentioned previously, I have spent some time as a monastic. Learning that you don’t actually -need- all of the things is useful, but it’s a very different thing to decide what is worth keeping and what isn’t. Moreover, it may still be too conservative in how we come to understand the value of items.

I do not personally see it as “What can you live without,” but rather, “What things bring your actual life goals into view?” I know a few people who embrace minimalism that insist that the few things you own should be of a high quality and value. This, while right, is a very subjective stance to take.

I could write pages upon pages about how the Nagas, Buddhist Monks, and Early Christians (primarily the ‘Desert Fathers/Mothers’) would turn away from any concept of ownership. This…may not be totally wrong. What having less things seems to do is not really cause us to miss out on anything, but to bring into much clearer focus what we actually care about. In my own case, it’s family, friends, and adventure. Bouldering requires very little gear, and I do not need to own the boulders that I go to solve. These belong to the Earth, and I am just a visitor. Perhaps all of life is like that, and we are better off the sooner we recognize it.

εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς Ὁρᾶτε καὶ φυλάσσεσθε ἀπὸ πάσης πλεονεξίας, ὅτι οὐκ ἐν τῷ περισσεύειν τινὶ ἡ ζωὴ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν ἐκ τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῷ. (And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” – Luke 12:15)

“A man who gives way to pleasure will be swept away by craving and his thoughts will make him suffer, like waves.” – Buddha, Dhammapada v. 339

अहिंसासत्यास्तेय ब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहाः यमाः ॥३०॥

“Non-violence, Non-falsehood, Non-stealing, Non-cheating, and Non-possessiveness are the five Yamas.” — Patanjali, Yoga Sutra 2.30

“Whoever knows what is enough will always have enough.” – Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

As I grow older, I find that the truth of this is apparent. Possibly worth mentioning, I left a very lucrative career to move to a cabin about 1/5th the size of my old home, and that led to me realizing that I not only do not need the same amount of money to survive, but that I find much less worry about the shifting nature of the world around me.

Essentially, this has led me to make even more decisions to reduce the things I own down to the point that if it does not directly benefit my individual goals or my family, then I do not want it. The joy of spending time with people you love will always outweigh buying them things, and to spend time with those you care about adventuring through a big world will create memories that matter.

A story: “A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, ” I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”

There is a caveat, though. It is not the reduction of things that makes the difference, but the reduction of desire itself.

Diet: Tuna wraps with apples, Alcohol = None (and figure I can drop explaining this one since I have no desire to go back to drinking), Workout = Wim Hof Breathing, Yoga, and tons of climbing work: front/back levers, hangboard, etc.

Pneuma, Simple and Complex

The word Pneuma (πνεῦμα) is a rather interesting study of what could possibly be the only thing that defines “life.” We briefly touched on this subject in discussing Epictetus/Stoicism, but the concept itself is far more expansive than just that.

The use by Anaximenes of aer (ἀήρ, “air”) as the foundation of all other elements could be very worth exploring. Considering this idea shows up around 550BC, we’re not breaking any new ground. Anaximenes spoke of not only this, but that the entire Universe was in constant motion and transition. The more that we learn about atomic and subatomic structure, the more true this holds. Even things that appear “still” are quite vibrant with motion when looked at deeply enough. He also is the earliest example of using “pneuma” as a synonym for “breath of life.”

In what would eventually be a choice, much of the translation of “pneuma” coming from the Septuagint into what would be the modern day Bible was placed onto the Latin word “Spirit/Spiritus.” Why in the translations to English this word was not made into “breath” confuses me still. I believe it has caused much more confusion than it has helped. If someone tells you they see “spirits” the last thing most of us would assume is that they meant they could see the effects of the wind.

Looking at this from a very literal scientific sense, though, we can define much of life by the capacity to breathe. Animals breathe in what plants breathe out, and vice versa. It’s through this process that we arrive at a type of balance that continues the cycle of life. There is almost no system that did not emphasize this fact.

All of these concepts are both used as a metaphysical word for life-force and also translate quite literally as “air.” Perhaps there really isn’t a great difference in the usages, but there may be some very applicable information to glean here.

If our emotions are getting away from us, we may hear “take a deep breath” or “slow your breathing and count to 10.” When we are stressed out, our breathing becomes more shallow. Interestingly, breath is also both an automatic impulse and directly under control by will. If you forget about it, you will still breathe. On the other hand, you can control the rate at which you inhale, exhale, or hold your breath. This has been studied.

By exploring the breath, such as in the Wim Hof method, qigong, or pranayama, we find our emotional state is strongly affected by our breathing. Through regularly exercising control and observation of our breath, we can actually learn to directly alter our emotional state. This fascinates me greatly.

Perhaps if we examine our understanding of spirit as being both the essence of God and also our very breath, we may unravel deeper understandings of our own mechanical nature, and how to gain conscious control over it.

וַיִּיצֶר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” – Gen 2:7

καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἐνεφύσησεν καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς Λάβετε πνεῦμα ἅγιον· “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” John 20:22 (ΚΑΤΑ ΙΩΑΝΝΗΝ 20:22 Greek NT: Westcott and Hort 1881)


Exercise = Hatha Yoga, Diet = Sandwiches and Holiday food, Notables = Wim Hof breathing, 4 rounds followed by cold shower.

“Breath of Life” by is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Epictetus, a Cognitive Pioneer

A slave turned teacher, Epictetus is one of the premier minds of stoicism. Stoics often get very misunderstood, and it has a great deal to do with linguistics. What was once a practical way to evaluate your own actions and morals eventually became a way to simply call someone “emotionless.” I was recently called stoic, and found that rather interesting. I’m not so sure that it’s accurate, but I for sure respect the stoic way of viewing the world.

Our point of inspiration today is Epictetus (Ἐπίκτητος if you prefer) who was born a slave in what is now in modern day Turkey. With a name that practically translates “Acquired” it’s pretty obvious that our friend here was born into a life of hardship. It’s practically miraculous that so many of his teachings survived, and if not for one of his students, Arrian, they likely wouldn’t have.

There are many, many fantastic summaries of what is known of Epictetus’s life, and the collection of his words in the Enchiridion. I won’t simply rehash those things here, as they’ve been said by people far wiser than myself. What is important is how his words have influenced others, from George Washington to James Stockdale. Perhaps we can even, to a great degree, credit Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, and by proxy Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a growth from his core principals.

I actually came to similar views before being introduced to Epictetus’s teachings. When I was learning taiji, I spent some time with Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming at his YMAA retreat center. I found it a very fun experience, but at the same time, I was sharing communal sleeping areas, washing clothes in a bucket with a stick, and pushing my body far beyond comfort. Had someone been -forced- to go from a rather cushy existence as an engineer to such an environment, it’s very reasonable that they would think “Oh my, how much -worse- this is than how I was a few weeks ago!” This judgement is all within not the events themselves, but by the way that they are interpreted.

This is such an echoing sentiment in other schools of thought. It’s worth noting that Kiyozawa Manshi, a reformer of Jodo Shin Buddhism, quotes Epictetus as one of his major influences. Moreover, there are many similar concepts within Stoicism that relate to Christianity.

I’m certainly not claiming that the two worldviews are the same, as there are certainly some significant differences, but both are Monotheistic (“Logos” is named specifically by Heraclitus, which if we look at the Greek in John 1:1, we see that Jesus is also referred to as “Logos” or “The Word.”) And something I personally find very interesting is from Psalms 33:6 –

τῷ λόγῳ τοῦ κυρίου οἱ οὐρανοὶ ἐστερεώθησαν καὶ τῷ πνεύματι τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ πᾶσα ἡ δύναμις αὐτῶν

By the word (logos) of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the host of them by the spirit (pneuma) of his mouth.

I am for sure intending to write on the subject of using the Latin “Spirit/Spiritus” in place of pneuma (πνεῦμα) and how it may differ significantly from psyche (ψυχή), and is closer to ἀήρ (air.) I personally see this as a point of confusion in some theologies, and that it may be extremely practical information.

In stoic philosophy, pneuma is seen as a type of “breath of life” which they saw as a mixture of air and fire.

At this point, I feel it is necessary to point out the similarities to the Naga Yogis and Hinduism Practitioners, and their use of prana (प्राण, prāṇa“) and tapasya (root in ‘Tap/”to burn”, and can be understood as “Produced by Heat.”) Jainism also covers tapas in the Uttarajjhyayana.

You’d be hard pressed to convince me that these are not all really solid concepts. To remove from anything “alive” both breath and heat…simply does not leave it in a state of “Life” for long. I find myself questioning often why these concepts are not explored in greater practical depth, and…well, that will be our experiment for the Following iteration! F(1)

For F(1) I will follow one full month of Wim Hof breathing and condition exposure (more to come on this method) and a series of exercised designed to increase heat. Perhaps these experiences as a method will change my mood.

Today’s alcohol = none, diet = enchiladas, guac salad, exercise = minimal walking.

I had a panic attack today.

…I’ll get to scoring these later, but only when it benefits our experiment iterations.

An Overview of The Duality of Posts

This may all be a bit different, but there’s a method to it. Allow me a moment to explain.

I’ll assume that the ‘about’ page is not step #1. Even if it was, there would be some gross oversights on the layout of each post.

Each Post consists of 2 parts

  • A random thing that I find worth talking about, which is also an invitation to discuss with me.
  • A summary of things happening in my own life, followed by a set of metrics to measure mood (BMIS: Brief Mood Introspection Scale.)

The reasoning behind this may help to make connections that might be missed by metrics alone. Where the mind is, the mood may be also. Not only this, but it will allow me (and the reader) to apply some degree of analysis to help solve the human condition.

1.) Make an observation.
Despite great deals of study, training and experience: I think many unhelpful things.

2.)Ask a question.
Are there patterns in my life that might lead to better understanding why I think unhelpful things?

3.) Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation.
Diet, Spiritual Practice, and Chemical Consumption are likely major players in where my mood is.

4.)Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.
I expect there to be a way to correlate my daily behaviors and my thoughts with my overall feelings.

5.)Test the prediction.

6.)Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions

The final two steps are obviously unfinished, and essentially, there’s no point where the test needs to end. F(x) ad infinitum. Through these iterations, I may take short moments to reflect, or simply leave that up to the readers to summarize.


The Paradoxical Relationship Between Happiness and the Pursuit of Happiness

One of the most frustrating parts of my own journey thus far is that when I tried the hardest to be happy, I found that I was at my most unhappy. For a while, I blamed this on the fact that I was only trying so hard because I had already started the spiral into depression, but it turns out that there could potentially be far more to it.

In this interesting study, it was shown that there was an inverse correlation between trying to be happy, and being happy. The more than someone was told to value their happiness, the less they perceived themself as happy. For someone trying their best to work through a depressive episode, trying to cheer up may become their sine qua non. Simply put, though, that may be entirely counterproductive.

To relate this to myself, I know that if I am trying to “take it easy and de-stress” then my personal actions almost assure that I will begin to do things that actually make me more isolated and focus on my own well-being. This has -never- worked. I can actually think of times when I would decide to play video games to unwind, only to become totally absorbed with my goal pursuit in them, and subsequently, feel more stressed than when I began.

As this particular blog is directed around not only science, but also the relationships to spirituality, it’s worth looking at the words of a couple of well known spiritual leaders:

Now this, bhikkhus, is the noble truth of suffering: birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.” – Buddha, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.  And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’  So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘Fool!  This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?‘” – Jesus, Luke 12:16-20

What may prove useful here is that across a few years and a minor distance, these two have both arrived at a similar teaching. The styles are for sure different, but in talking to the people that they are working with, they both downplay the point of “looking for comfort or happiness.” While it may not exactly seem transparent, what they’ve both said should have actually led their listeners to abandon their attempts at something that would actually work against them.

Essentially, to look for happiness makes it harder to find. There’s certainly more to come on this subject, but we hopefully have time to explore this in greater detail.

Today: Alcohol = None, Exercise = Minimal, Special Projects = Origami with 9 year old son:

…could have done with a much cleaner diet, but this close to the Holidays, it’s difficult to not end up eating cheese balls that other people offer me. I’ve been trying to make sure I’m eating fresh veggies along with the regular Christmas dishes of “Cheese and Potatoes in Cheesy Sauce.”