Category Archives: Religion & Philosophy

Atticus and Holden discuss religion and philosophy from a skeptics point of view growing up in the bible belt of America.

Thoughts on Ego and Self Improvement

I haven’t written anything here for a while. Mostly because I have been trying to take a more introspective approach to “journaling” by keeping a hand written notepad in my office.

Writing for yourself as opposed to an “audience” is quite different and in many ways, for me at least, more sentimental and casual. Physically writing things down seems more permanent – forces me to take my time – slow my mind.

Still – writing things down in any form is valuable. For example, flipping through the pages of my journal there are a few topics that come up again and again. Call it self-data-analytics.

1. Self improvement
2. Ego

For me these two topics are closely related in that they directly affect one’s ability to find and maintain happiness.

Take self improvement for example – Most of my entries on self improvement involve developing a greater understanding of fulfillment and “enjoying the mundane”. I try to focus on optimizing simple tasks like enjoying a cup of coffee, a long walk, or cooking dinner. Things I would have (and still do, most times) rushed though given my natural personality.

The entries about ego discuss how too much ego can lead to suffering. For myself, I’ve come to realize how my selfish ambition has the tendency to result in long working hours and stress. The consequences, left unchecked, cause more harm that help.

Sometimes I consider sharing these thoughts on this blog instead of my little diary, but it almost feels like a perversion of the points I’m trying to make. How can an amateur talk about ego on a public blog like people are expected to read and consider the writing with any level of seriousness? Seems egotistical and simultaneously oxymoronic (is that a word?).

I don’t want the undeveloped ideas I’m working through to come across as something other people should implement in their own lives – or even consider at all –  I don’t know that they should. On the other hand – maybe others are working through these same things and can offer valuable insight?

For now most of my thoughts will be relegated to the pages of my personal journal.

Empathy Versus Excuse Making

I want to share an email exchange between Holden and myself that I believe is valuable:

Holden’s Message:

Dear Atticus,

Is it weak to empathize with my wife and the man she cheated with?

The anger books and in fact, practice of medication itself from a Buddhist tradition at least, focus a lot on gaining empathy for other people and learning to understand other’s suffering. The Bible teaches the same thing. Jesus’ philosophy was to pray for your enemy and turn the other cheek.

I keep being brought back to the same shitty thoughts. Because of the insane detail I was able to get off my Wife’s phone, I know exactly when she was with him. I can literally go back and remember my entire days, all the things I did those days, the things she and I talked about.

I keep getting hung up on it. I take a few steps forward, then another back. To deal with the anger, pain, suffering, sadness, etc, I have used a combo of Buddhist and Christian ideas. From the Buddhist perspective, I work on meditating on the pain points until I gain comfort then I work to put myself in my Wife’s and John’s (they man she cheated with) shoes. I work to ease not only my suffering but my Wife’s and work to not cause John any additional suffering in his life by interfering with him (basically just letting it drop and leaving him be).

I work to understand what they must have felt, how my Wife must have felt, why she did what she did. From the Christian standpoint, I work to forgive and let it go. I work to empathize. But then I seriously question if I’m just making excuses for both of them. Wrong is wrong.

Is empathizing in this particular scenario the correct path?

Anyway, just a thought. Not meaning to whine or rip off scabs on wounds that have begun to heal. It was more just a question I keep returning to that I wanted to share. I figured you might actually find it intriguing.

-Holden

My Response to Holden:

My Friend Holden,

I believe the portions of Christianity and Buddhism that you are referencing are the appropriate ones and perhaps the strongest assets both philosophies have to offer.

Forgiveness and meditation are tools that help you mentally adjust, not for your Wife’s and John’s benefit, but for your own healing. Ultimately you cannot heal and move forward without letting go of the past. You cannot let go of the past until you have forgiven. You cannot forgive until you utilize logic an reason to empathize and understand their situation.

This is the process – to gain understanding of all facets of the situation and become a master of it. Once you have mastered the situation, you can control it, let go of it, and move on. These are the reasons that forgiveness, meditation, and empathy are cornerstones of a healthy mind and spirit.

You shouldn’t make excuses for you Wife, but it is okay to empathize with her plight (for the reasons mentioned above). Excuses imply that you apply blame to yourself or on others and do not hold your Wife accountable while empathy implies that you hold her accountable for her actions, but apply higher game to truly understand the situation – thus have the capacity to move on.

Excuse making implies that you set yourself up to become a victim. Empathy implies a mindset of forgiveness, compassion, and maturity. Distinguish the two inside yourself during meditation.

– Atticus

Pillars of Self Improvement

As I alluded to in the previous post I am undergoing a personal transformation. Moving forward I have identified three pillars in which I want to focus my efforts. The Physical, the Mental, and the Emotional & Spiritual.

In my personal journal I broke it down like this:

Pillars of Consciousness

I know that each of these elements are tied together – meaning that you cannot be successful, say mentally and emotionally, if you are not also making an effort physically. For example, one thing I am trying to do is bring mindfulness to my diet. Not just by eating healthy, but by taking a methodical approach to choosing and preparing my food.

For example:

This evening I prepared Salmon with my wife.

We searched for the perfect fillet. We settled on one with a great silver skin and beautiful deep red flesh. We chose peppers and spices for our sauce. Smelling each ingredient and holding it directly to my nose. I could almost see what the sauce was going to look like. Red and creamy with small flakes of chili’s – delicious. (I normally run through this process without thought.)

Then while preparing the meal I took time to appreciate each component. We spent over an hour dressing the meat, preparing the vegetables, and cooking. Coating every inch of the salmon in an even coating of sauce before carefully separating the collard from their stem. Each time I took time to appreciate the direction and speed I separated the vegetables – in clean symmetrical lines running perpendicular to the leaf’s veins. The stems in one pile and the leaves in another.

The Result:

Taking time to be mindful of meal preparation meant I spent more time with the family, enjoyed the food a lot more (it was the best salmon I’ve ever prepared), and ate something very nutritious. In this way I combined physical (diet), mental (researching meal preparation), and spiritual/emotional (zen – enjoying the moment).

I hope to share these efforts a little more often going forward.

A Journey of Consciousness

I have been thinking a lot about happiness and longevity lately. Probably because of my knee and facing surgery and downtime.

I have an internal struggle with myself that pulls in two different directions. On the one side I have an unwavering desire for greatness (what greatness is I have not defined). On the other side I have the knowledge that happiness doesn’t necessarily come from being the “best”, but rather from ones own “higher game” as we’ve come to call it.

All of this causes internal conflict. Naturally, I want to be the best. I want to push myself. I want to do things better and beyond what others do. This has its pros and cons. On the one hand I am rewarded by the hard work with money, success, pride, and all that comes with it. On the other hand “burning hot” results in sacrifices to my body, health, family, and who knows what else.

The trick, it seems, is to find a healthy balance between longevity and personal challenge. Letting go of those things that hurt more than help.

For Example

For example, today I went to dinner with my neighbor who does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He invited the gym guys over to watch the UFC fights. During conversation I learned that he has had two knee surgeries (the same knee surgery I will have) and currently has one knee that needs to be re-operated.

Frankly, he is in top physical shape. He is a 6′ 2″ and 200 lbs with hardly an ounce of fat. On the other hand – do I really want to be a 40 year old man with two knee surgeries under my belt and with aches and pains? What will that be like at 60?

All of the guys there seemed like good dudes with great attitudes and in great shape. Which is common in the BJJ community. As I move through this journey I want to take the best parts of this philosophy and keep it – while losing the bad parts.

Alternatives

I think I am approaching a time in my life where I need to consider a shift in my way of thinking and approach to overall health, happiness, and longevity – all without becoming luke warm or losing passion.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is changing my workout routine and diet (which are both already pretty strict). Right now I’m too rough on my body and I could have better discipline with my diet. Going forward I want to switch to lower impact high result workouts. Focus on flexibility, strength and conditioning, eating fresh foods, and making sure I enjoy it. (All of this I’d like to discuss in more detail in later posts.

Similarly, I want to boost my efforts on learning, culture, and relationships.

Pride, Ego, Spirituality, and Learning

I want to expand my mind and lose pride and ego. I think my pride and ego sometimes get in the way of doing what I really want. By that I mean that I want to do less of what is expected by society and more of what I truly want to do. Typically, I have been pretty good at doing that, but I want to double down on my efforts here.

I want to stop caring so much about “things” and find what really makes me happy and dedicate my life to it. I want to focus on being content while also striving to expand my personal philosophy.

And I don’t mean by just being a minimalist, but I mean by truly being content. I want to focus on little things more and derive pleasure from them without rushing through or skipping. For example, when I made coffee today I focused on each step (grounding the coffee beans, spooning the grinds into the coffee maker, the smells, the appearance) and enjoyed it as much as the beverage itself. I want to expand this methodology into all aspects of life.

I’ve already started this journey mentally. Reading books about great men and various philosophies. I hope to stumble upon a few people and philosophies that I truly admire and relate to then at that point take a deeper dive into those schools of thought.

I wan to be conscious. And my journey beings now.

iPhone Generation and The Long Game

Run 4.2 miles. Immediately following Holden and I get coffee at the local coffee house that is a half mile walk from my house. We don’t buy anything fancy, just a strong cup of coffee. It cost $2.00 even.

The coffee shop is  trendy (call it hipster-esque) with local art hanging on the walls, a starry night themed study room, and a barrister with a handle-bar mustache. One painting always makes me shake my head because it looks like a beautiful painting of a young girl that someone scribbled over top with purple crayon. Art.

My community is a pretty interesting mix. There are lesbian couples, a mysterious guy in great shape that curls rocks in his front yard, a few veterans, accountants, religious, atheists, old people, and young. There are antebellum homes, American flags, and an art/farmers market every weekend.

Holden and I sit in the trendy little coffee shop – mostly empty on a rainy morning. We still have our workout clothes on and talk a little too loudly for a near-empty coffee house. We feel free to speak our mind and pay no attention to the patrons at the next table. They pay no attention to us either.

These are my favorite kind of mornings. Holden and I chat and boost each other’s ego then laugh about it. Casually praising the other, but in a natural and healthy sort of way. We talk about personal growth, family, travel, and life. Our talks are, in many ways, an extension of this blog.

Even as we finish our coffee I enjoy the thought of the half mile walk back to my house.

Holden and I have been friends for nearly a decade. We have traveled to the third world, helped each other through relationship problems, and personal growth. In fact, this is the longest friendship I’ve had to date (I’m 27). It has taken a lot of work for both of us, but like any craftsman, the result (and journey) has been worth the effort.

Which brings me to my point:

I want to teach my daughter (and anyone else who will listen) the value of time well spent. I feel like most people want instant gratification. Holden and I call it the “iPhone generation” (a term we coined over coffee). The value of the “long game” (also coined over coffee) has been lost.

Everything I value in life was developed over years and decades. None of it was given to me. And everything I worked for and continue to work for I appreciate on a different level than those things that were handed to me. It is a unique type of appreciation that is only privy to those who have the experience of having done it. (Which is also why I’m beginning to realize the value of experience and age.)

It’s like reading a good book rather than watching the movie. It took a few days or weeks to get through the book. You spent time with it, developed a relationship with it. You can watch 6 movies in a day on Netflix and forget which before you go to bed. The “long game” is a good book.

These are the differences between sitting in a coffee shop talking about life with your best friend and liking a photo on Facebook.

I don’t believe in God. Should I attend Church for the benefits?

I am not a religious person. I don’t see any evidence that leads me to believe in God as described in the Bible. There are just too many things that don’t add up, too many things that I would have to consciously ignore, and I can’t do that.

My wife on the other hand enjoys the comforts of religion. I think part of her sees me as arrogant and foolish for ignoring that God exists. She’s no fool. She see’s the holes in the Bible as well as I do, but for her she feels it. My wife is an emotional creature driven by what feels right. She’s sensitive, artistic, and loving – all of this is why I married her. And part of me knows that church, the community, and the comfort would be good for her (and our relationship).

I don’t consider myself an Atheist though. I think to be an Atheist you have to be confident enough to say there is no God. I am not that confident. I admit the possibility of some higher being, a creative force, perhaps intelligent, perhaps (and more likely) something beyond our understanding – beyond out ability as humans to sense or perceive it. If there is a higher power I doubt (s)he has anything to do with our lives and unlike my wife – I don’t find much comfort in the idea (or going to church).

For the last 10 years I have been stubborn about attending church and sometimes about religion itself. When I attend church I see a bunch of hypocrites. I see a bunch of people who “believe” in a God, who has established these strict rules, but doesn’t follow any of them. I hate the idea of cherry-picking the parts of the Bible that are convenient. These are some of the things that bother me.

At Church there is an expectation that I believe and celebrate the God as described in the Bible. I see people around me praising God, raising their arms in the air as if praising the God of Thunder, and I feel like a hypocrite – like an idiot participating in it. I feel like a hypocrite for being in church and to myself for spending time (wasting time?) in a place when I could be doing something more productive.

I also know that focusing too much on your “feelings” is no way to make decisions. The reasonable part of myself knows there are two sides of this Church-equation so I break it down into pros and cons: Should I attend Church?

Pros:

1. This is a good community and support group for my Wife (and me).
2. There are a lot of good people in Church (great networking opportunity).
3. Churches provide many good resources (child care, athletic facilities, community).
4. Being known and liked by a large group could be beneficial politically and financially.

Cons:

1. My wife and child may rely on something that is not real. How will this affect their decision making? Is it healthy?
2. I will have to compromise my beliefs.
3. Church would mean a large time commitment each week.
4. The implications of exposing my family to a largely fictional belief system.

When I examine the costs and benefits of going to Church I find that it would probably be a net benefit to attend. I would gain connections, my wife would have a sense of emotional comfort and moral compass that she craves, there would be numerous social and economic gains, and my family would be surrounded by a group of positive and well connected individuals.

The down side is that I would have to accept that I am going to church for non-religious reasons. I also worry about what I am doing to my family. Is it evil to expose my family to a lie even if that lie is a net positive in their lives? Do the positive result justify the philosophical negatives?

What if I am honest with my daughter and wife? I explain that church is a positive social organization, but they should be critical of the teachings? Can you enjoy the benefits of church and ignore the teachings? Can you separate the fiction from the good lessons? I suppose you can – everyone has read Harry Potter, right?

If I made positive relationships, did good for the community, and used this new resource as an overall benefit to society would I still be an impostor? Would I be a hypocrite? Would I be wrong for doing so?

I guess the problem with being an ideological purist is that it doesn’t leave a lot of room for pragmatism. I’m not an ideological purist (I wouldn’t know which ideology to be pure about), but I’m also not a manipulator or liar. So what should I do?

Cornerstone

As a youngster I remember my great uncle. I still see his face now. Clean shaved with a shadow of beard that he can never fully rid himself. He has deep wrinkles from a calm smile that never totally leaves his face. I remember the sincerity in his voice that always struck me.

“Papa” on my wife’s side of the family was the same type of man. Though he died years before my wife and I became a couple not a holiday goes by that I do not hear fond stories about Papa’s role in their lives.

On Thanksgiving day 2014 -at age 27 and my house full of family – after my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law hugged me and thanked me for “taking care of the family”, my nephews asked how to be successful, and my father-in-law asked for advice – I realized I had become a Cornerstone too.

For me, there are more questions than answers about this journey. About the type of man I want to be. How to do what’s right. What is right anyway? And how to lead.

I think conscious effort is a good first step. Here I am.

Live That Way

At least three times a week I run 5 miles. I live in a historic area of Atlanta, GA so the scenery is quite charming. The path is full of historic homes from the early 1900s and the occasional plantation home – now surrounded by urban development instead of farmland.

My run happens in stages.

For the first mile my brain is disconnected. This is the most congested part of my run. I focus on avoiding traffic, crossing intersections, a train track, and clearing my mind.

Miles 2-5 are where the magic happens. I’m in the zone. My mind drills deep into itself. My thoughts follow through no particular path, create hypothetical situations, and eventually lands in some place I find enjoyable or helpful.

Sometime I relive college wresting matches in painstaking detail. I shoot – take the opponents leg – circle, circle, circle – head in leg, finish the takedown!

Other times I walk through scenarios at work or home. How to treat my family better. How to be successful at work. Always in great detail. I visualize body movements, voice inflection, outcomes, and various alternatives. I see myself sitting behind a desk at work. Moving my arms confidently as I discuss a project. Remember to smile. Listen, head nod, courtesy.

Sometimes I think about my death bed too, but not because I’m afraid of dying. Because I want to be at peace with death when I get there. By thinking about my death bed I’m really contemplating life.

I see myself lying back with oxygen running to my nose. There is always natural sunlight hitting my face because my bed is near a window. In my vision I know my family is there, but I always focus on my face as if I am a camera man staring from the foot of the bed. Maybe the view a small grandchild would have.

In my final moments I close my eyes and smile. I smile.

Two phrases have become quite important to me over the years:

1. On my death bed I want to close my eyes and smile knowing that I have given life everything I have.

2. We are given one life, one chance, we should live that way.

Neither of these ideas are unique or original, but I take them seriously as part of my vision of life and death. Instead of being a cliche’ quote I’ve consciously tried to put these ideas into action. I can’t tell you how many trips I’ve booked immediately following a long run. Or how many times I’ve come home and been a better father or husband.

For me, very little happens by accident. Most things I have been truly successful with have come from hours of deep thought and mental preparation. Long runs or laying in bed at night – just thinking. Then taking those thoughts and putting them to action.

You are given one life, so you should live that way.

In the Moment

Orange, green, and brown leaves. A perfect seventy degrees. There’s a beautiful family walking down the mountain trail as my own family walk up it. The trail is steep and there are a lot of roots and large stones so we move to one side to let the family pass. The Dad, head of his family, marching proud down the trail. He leads his wife and three kids down.

His wife has brown-blonde hair. She also looks happy to be on the trail. Their children following closely behind like young ducklings. A proud momma of a son and two daughters.

But something is different about their children. Their heads are down. They aren’t looking at the beautiful leaves, they do not have the same proud look their parents have, and they are missing it. There is a lack of life in their movement. A lack of interest. Missing the golden leaves, the breeze, nature. Missing all of it. They are out of touch – eyes glazed. The youngest’s nose almost touching the screen of a phone.

That night my wife and I return home and begin to make dinner together. We turn on music, chat about the day, watch our daughter play with her toys and scoot across the floor. I pick her up and throw her up and her head almost touches the ceiling. She laughs and I put her down. She craws across and I am impressed with her speed. We are in the moment and enjoy each other’s company.

The Indoctrination Process

Six children and one women sitting in a circle holding hands. There heads were bowed and the women was mumbling softly. The children paid close attention.  As I jogged by the group one child looked up at me, almost afraid to be caught, with one eye barely squinting open, and immediately returned to the correct posture.

I slowed my jog to a walk so I could see the events unfold in more detail. In the front yard of the old house there was a small television with cartoon characters in the same posture as the women and children. I noticed that the children’s mouths were mumbling at the same cadence and volume as their teacher’s, but I couldn’t make out the words.

It was a vacation bible school camp. One just like the kind I had attended dozens of times as a child too.

In retrospect I remember all of the things I was taught as a child. How I was taught to think and not think. Not to question, to have faith without evidence, and to obey authority. The cost of disobedience was worse than death. Hell. My parents, grandparents, and the rest of my family enforced these ideas too. I believed it all without question.

When I think of it now this seems so unfair. It is such an obvious process of indoctrination that I can barely believe that such an institution, in its present form, exists at all. The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.

When you think about it, it’s not too different than how any society works. Even here in the land of the free.

“The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.”

Patriotism enforced by a since of community , unlimited hours of (un)reality TV available for consumption, a media network that pumps ideas into the psyche of the public, and a since that we owe it all to those in charge. We hold our leaders up like infallible idols – as long as they belong to the correct political party. A false since of choice.

This form of indoctrination works. It has been and continues to be used. We just can’t recognize it because we are part of the process. But once you recognize that such a thing exists it’s a lot easier to be yourself. Not what they told you to be.