Thankfulness for Loneliness

For the past three weeks, I have been living alone – my wife started her new job as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I wanted to work a few more weeks in Flint because I like my coworkers and our credit card is smoking because of some recent trips to the furniture store. I knew being alone would be difficult, but I had no idea that the experience would lead to a weird blog post. Before I get started, I must clarify that I was not “completely” alone – my Chihuahua stayed with me so Christina could entirely focus on her transition. The first couple of days after my wife’s exit were not bad at all; actually, it felt like a brief vacation – a break from picking up after myself and worrying about peeing on the toilet seat.

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The two to three-day break from a spouse is the worst possible thing for a marriage. The reason for this is twofold. The first is that it gives a person a false understanding of what it feels like to be alone. Humans seem to have a camel-like reservoir that enables them to go through mini-droughts of human interaction; we are just peachy doing our own thing for a couple of days. The second reason is the natural consequence of our camel mentality – we think that the reserves will never fail and our mini-vacation mindset will last forever – making us question the point of having a spouse in the first place. Pause for an important note. This camel mentality is only present in long-term relationships – so all you firecracker young couples can take a chill pill. As I was saying, it was great being a slob and my longing for Christina was just around 15% battery life.

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Fast forward to four days of being alone. The reserves just seemed to take a pitfall as if my hump was the gas tank of a hummer accelerating on the freeway. From that point on I started to look at pictures online of my wedding day. I watched Sam I Am and actually cried. I dreaded going home after work. I began to talk to my books as if the characters could listen. I called my friends excessively as if we were living in some 1980’s sitcom. I went on like this for close to two weeks. I began to miss Christina as much as a man wandering the desert misses water. My senses started to play tricks with me as if they too wanted some sort of interaction: unidentified objects flew past my field of vision, voices were heard in adjacent rooms, inner thoughts morphed into OCD tendencies.

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It all came to a head on one of the last days before I was reunited with Christina. As usual, I was reading, and the house was eerily quiet. There was a noise in my bedroom that kept nagging at me, and I thought it was just another one of my lonely hallucinations. After finishing my book, I decided to investigate and went to my bedroom. The noise was there, but I just couldn’t pinpoint it. With a flick of the switch, I saw what my loneliness had come to. The sound that I heard through the whole house was actually Max – yet again playing his skin flute on top of my pillow. As soon as the lights came on, he froze like a homunculus deer, and we both awkwardly gawked at each other. It was at that point that I reached my lowest level in this experiment of seclusion. I shut the light, went back to the couch, and just stared at the wall – with the same faint noise continuing in the background. Here is the moral of the story: too much loneliness is not suitable for man or beast. We need people, and we need to appreciate our loved ones. That is why in this season of Thankfulness I am appreciative of my loneliness – just the right amount makes you come bumbling into your wife’s arms like a soldier who has come back from war – or merely a traumatic encounter with a chihuahua. 

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Want to Join a Cult?

What does it take to start a cult? What does it take to join a cult? Both of these questions are extremely interesting because they try to get at the heart of human behavior. We are social creatures who crave acceptance – sometimes this acceptance leads people to believe in bizarre things. For example, take the Mormon cult leader Warren Jeff who controls a group of fundamentalists from prison – even after being charged with sexually assaulting children and having 70 wives.

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How about one of the most famous cult leaders of all time – Jim Jones. Jones led a group of over 900 people to Guayana, South America to start their own socialist colony. This socialist experiment in Jonestown quickly turned into a horror movie after Jones convinced everyone to commit mass suicide. I am amazed at the ability of cult leaders to have total power over their followers; I barely can keep my chihuahua from peeing on the carpet. To better understand the birth, growth, and death of Jim Jones, I read The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn. This book is exceptional and really helps the reader understand the evil of Jim Jones. Jones was a charismatic leader who never backed down and desired complete control. Unfortunately, these traits were mixed with just enough moral ambiguity that followers thought they were being led to the promised land rather than their gravesite.

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Jim Jones was born on May 31, 1931, in a small Indiana town. He was raised by an eccentric mother who defied conservative social norms with her independent attitude, beliefs in reincarnation, and prickly personality. Jones’ father was a WWI vet who could not work because of his disabilities and who had no energy to raise an energetic boy. Jones was a loner and soon began to stand out from the other boys with his religiousness. On any given Sunday, he would go to several services, not to praise God, but to understand what preaching style worked best to energize congregants. By the time he finished high school, Jones was working at a hospital where he would eventually meet his future wife, Marceline Baldwin (not pictured below).

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Jones and his wife would quickly move to Indianapolis where Jones attended some college and preached at evangelical-tent events. Jones would eventually establish the Peoples Temple in the mid-1950s – a church that trumpeted racial integration, socialism, and community action. It was at the Peoples Temple that Jones discovered the power of deception by performing false healings and false prophecy; he would many times walk around the congregation with rotted chicken offal claiming it was cancer just removed from a member. Jones quickly gained followers from all walks of life who appreciated his message of social equality and marveled at his God-like abilities. Jones would eventually move this congregation to Northern California using the tool of fear – he claimed that there would be a nuclear holocaust in the Mid-West and that they were no longer safe.

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It was in Northern California that the Peoples Temple morphed from an eccentric Christian church to a full-blown cult. Jone’s began to have his members live communally and give large portions of their paychecks to the “socialist” cause. With greater wealth, Jone’s was able to expand his ministry and garner even more membership. Jone’s quickly began to stretch himself too thin and eventually, he began to take painkillers and amphetamines. His drug use made him more erratic and power-hungry – he would gradually start asking for sex from his female congregants. This sex was supposedly meant to lift up the women, and few members resisted; he would even have sex with several male members asking some if they wanted to be “fucked in the ass” after church meetings. This “uplifting” sex gave Jones greater control which eventually expanded to increased paranoia. Staged assassination attempts led his followers to believe that the FBI, CIA, and Fascists were after their happy community.

[Jim Jones, Peoples Temple Church Services]

The Peoples Temple morphed into a military compound with several members patrolling the grounds with firearms. This paranoia and the fear of nuclear holocaust led Jones to found Jonestown in Guayana. Jonestown was meant to be a sanctuary, but it actually represented the apex of Jone’s control over his members. In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan went to investigate Jonestown which led to him being attacked by a Temple member – Ryan escaped with 15 of Jone’s followers. Jones, in all his paranoia, told his members that the government would soon come to torture them and convert the children to fascism – to prevent this from happening everyone had to commit suicide. 909 people, including Jones and his wife, died from cyanide in the mass suicide – 304 were children.

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So how did Jone’s get 909 people to commit suicide? It began with his ability to twist the truth so that the majority of his followers believed he had special powers – all while an elite inner circle assisted with these deceptions. Why did the inner circle help him? Because they often believed in his message of social change and felt powerful being in the graces of such an influential leader. Most of the congregation was made up of poor-uneducated members who were entirely dependent on Jones for their jobs, housing, and food.

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It was hard to leave the cult because Jone’s would actively prevent dissenters and it was easy to rationalize that he was telling the truth – “If there are lawyers, teachers, and businessmen following him, then he must be the real deal.” Finally, Jones was an expert at fear which he used as a tool to further separate followers from leaving the Temple. All these things mixed to create a twisted peer pressure that propagated infidelity, drug use, bullying, harassment, corrupt morals, and eventually death. We need to study these things because there are cults today and leaders who use the same principles. Be wary of half-truths and always seek knowledge so that this particular past will never be repeated.

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Treasure Island

“A friend is a gift you give yourself.”
-Roberst Louis Stevenson

Growing up in the 90’s was the best time for Disney musicals. There was Aladin, Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Hercules, Mulan, Pocohantes, and Muppet Treasure Island. Muppet Treasure Island was one of my favorites because I loved all things, pirates. A particular memory stands out to me that exemplifies my fascination for the Jolly Roger. One summer, probably in the mid-90’s, my Mom forced me to go to day camp. This day camp had everything a fat boy dreaded: high humidity, tag, shirtless swimming, mediocre cold lunches, and overly energetic counselors.

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In an attempt to forgo the see-through white t-shirt, I decided to opt out of swimming. Instead of having fun with the hyperactive kids, I sat under a shade tree and read an enthralling book on pirates; it explained pirate culture, swashbuckling battles, and treasure hunts. I think this event in my life stands out to me because it was the first time I realized that I was an old man in a young body. Today, my Mom and I laugh about those times, and I can finally breathe a sigh of relief that I no longer have to carry around a tube of Preparation-H in the case of post-tag chafing. With this background and love of pirates in mind, I was excited to crack open my next classic, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Treasure Island was published in 1883 and is actually a children’s story written by Stevenson for his stepson. This novel is responsible for most of modern culture’s pirate imagery: Billy Bones, a parrot on the shoulder, a peg leg, Long John Silver, X on a treasure map, pieces of eight, “Yo ho, yo ho, and a bottle of rum!” The main character is Jim Hawkins, a boy who stumbles upon a treasure map and then goes on an adventure to retrieve it – one in which goes completely awry after Long John Silver and his pirate crew attempt to take the treasure for themselves. It is a coming of age story for Hawkins and the reader witnesses his transition from a cowardly boy to a courageous man.

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Throughout the book, there are various father figures for Jim and Stevenson highlights how difficult it is to decipher a person’s real character. For example, Jim loves hanging out with Long John Silver because he is fun and personable; on the other hand, Jim feels disconnected from the stern captain of the ship and feels uncomfortable in his presence. Unfortunately, Long John Silver ends up being the anti-hero who leads Jim astray while the Captain remains a bedrock of sense who eventually leads Jim safely home. Stevenson highlights the difficulty that children face when trying to decide good vs. bad, friend vs. foe, and caretaker vs. conman. The people we spend time with significantly impact our character and our life choices. Think of all the bad habits in your life; how many of those habits are the result of your friends’ and past social activities? Be weary of the Long John Silver in your own life and realize that there may be treasures waiting just outside your echo chamber.

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Small Steps = Big Success

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.

-Jim Rohn

What is the key to accomplishing all your goals in life? It is simple, small steps repeated day in and day out leads to success. Whatever you wish to accomplish can be achieved by just small actions on a regular basis. Think about your goal. Is it to lose weight? Become stronger? Write more? Master the guitar? Learn something knew? Be more social? Be less material? Whatever the goal, there are usually things we do to set ourselves up for failure. Below are the top 3 reasons we fail at our goals.

  1. Wrong motivation: We take up a goal not for the betterment of ourselves but for bettering people’s image of ourselves. The motivation should come from intrinsic desires not extrinsic. Ask yourself this one question: Would I still pursue this goal if no one but me could see/acknowledge its completion? For example, would you still want to hike the Appalachian Trail if you had to keep it a secret for the rest of your life?
  2. Too grandiose: Do you have a weird pear shape and think that you can workout enough to look like a celebrity? Are you extremely introverted and want to have 20 close friends? Sometimes we need to be realistic with our goals and not set the bar too high. It is always good to better ourselves but don’t forget that we are all unique and do not possess all the same abilities and talents. The perfect goal is one that pushes us enough to progress and shoot for the stars that are realistically within our reach.
  3. Too impatient: It is easy for us to expect results from our goals immediately. I remember picking up weights for the first time and after a week wondering why I didn’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Make intermittent-measurable steps for your goals so that small wins can snowball into big victories overtime. There is a reason why most people are overweight-uneducated-couch potatoes; it is easy. Bettering yourself is hard and it takes a crap ton of time. Don’t expect quick results, look at all your goals as marathons-not sprints.

So what are your goals? Did you make some goals back in January that are currently gathering dust? Whatever you wish to accomplish try these three steps.

  1. Spend at least 30 minutes a day towards your goal.
  2. Write your goal down and place it somewhere you and others can read it.
  3. Make a small event that can measure your progress

So what does this look like? I am trying to play my guitar again and it is not easy. I love  it when I have mastered a song but the process of learning chords and notes is painful. Hence, I have made the goal of playing at least 30 minutes a day, writing down the song I am currently learning, and setting a date for recording it on my video camera. I am far from perfect in achieving my goals but writing about them helps me and will hopefully help you also.

A Bra a Day Keeps the Minimalist Away

My wife and I have a lot of crap! I see myself as a semi-minimalist but I still feel overwhelmed by all of our stuff. The amount of underwear between the both of us makes it look like were stockpiling for a zombie apocalypse. Go up to our attic and there is junk that is just stupid to have: assignments from old classes, a cheap plastic tape dispenser that is broken, a Hanson CD, and five ear buds that don’t fit my infant sized ear holes. Why the heck do we keep this stuff? Well I think it is because we think one day we will use it. And there lies the reason why most people struggle with an excess of everything! This point and many other minimalist thoughts were mulled over in my most recent reading Do LessA minimalist guide to a simplified, organized, and happy life by Rachel Jonat. When we buy something we keep it because it cost us money and we believe that we will use it in the future. Unfortunately, we end up pushing said object into an unorganized space to be later forgotten and never used at all. For example, I got a hair up my but to make homemade ice cream. Well I made homemade ice cream one time and then the ice cream maker got shoved in my garage, where my Dad used it to store his golf balls. Another example, I bought some super tight jeans that made me look like a hipster even though my legs are naturally the size of a sequoia. Well I gained 5 pounds and those pants go up to my mid calves now. Did I donate the pants? No… they are still in my closet reminding me of my odd pear-shaped figure.

Living a minimalist lifestyle means getting rid of the stuff you don’t use and only keeping things that you actually need on a regular basis. By reducing the need for “things” in your life you gain more time to do the “things” that matter to you most. If you have a smaller house, a smaller car, less clothes, less electronics, less fancy food, and less internal desires…you need less money. If you need less money then you don’t have to work as much. If you don’t have to work as much then you gain more time. If you gain more time then you can focus on what truly interests you. I love this quote by Socrates, “The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” In addition to obvious material excess, we need to simplify our social circles. Be willing to let go of friendships that are not a positive force in your life. Stop spreading yourself thin between a ton of superficial relationships and focus on a few deep relationships. Along these lines, find the hobbies that you truly love to do and not hobbies that you think you should do because you see others doing them (think Pinterest). So my challenge to you is to go through your stuff and donate the things that you don’t use regularly. Down size. Spend less. Have more free time. As a motivator, write in the comments your top three hobbies that you would love to spend more time on.

By simplifying my life and spending less money I will have more time to…

  1. Read (History, Philosophy, Psychology)
  2. Write (For my blog and my book ideas)
  3. Exercise (Walk outside and Weight lift)

Let’s end this post with a great quote.

“Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more, and all good things will be yours.”

-Swedish proverb