Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Butcher's Mindset

               Our society glorifies violence. I believe that anyone who looks at our society truthfully would agree to that. Nearly all movies, even those made for children, show the good destroying the evil in righteous combat. The same can be said for many video games, and even books.
                I take issue with this because I believe the idea of the 'good' fighting the 'evil' is far removed from reality. Casting someone as evil is a good way to dehumanize them, but it doesn't allow for the truth of the situation to be seen. I'll give an example.
               If a man attempts to kill me with a knife, and I end up killing him instead, it would be easy for me to rationalize that he was evil and stop thinking about the encounter all together. The truth of the matter is this. He was a complex being, with hopes, dreams, desires, people he loved and people who loved him. His motives for trying to kill me were probably complex as well. If I were put into his exact situation, I might have responded in the same way. Thinking of the man I killed in this manner is far messier. It leaves me open to feeling pity, remorse even.
               I personally believe that everything living has an innate spiritual aspect to it. A sliver of the divine, sewn into its being. When I enter into a situation where I am preparing to kill another being (human or animal) I find myself shutting this idea of innate spirituality out of my head. I deny that that being has a spiritual aspect. I like to call this denial the 'butcher's mindset' (a term taken from an old kung fu instructor).
               In my experience, it is damaging to adopt the butcher's mindset. Whenever I am forced to kill something (or prepare to kill someone) my emotions fall flat. I am no longer capable of the same depth of feeling. My introspective tendencies fall away as I try to ignore the reality of what I did. I try to rationalize my actions, as best I can, given my world view. After a few hours, maybe days if it was an emotionally traumatic incident, these side effects tend to fade. For many veterans who have been forced to kill their fellow man, the side effects of that event stay with them for years, if they ever overcome them at all. I personally have a great amount of respect for anyone who kills livestock for a living. If I needed to kill an animal in order to eat meat, I would most likely never eat meat again.
               The butcher's mindset relates back to our over glorification of violence in this way. I noticed that many of the young men I taught when I worked in the middle school had adopted the butcher's mindset in an abstract sense. They thought that killing certain humans was a good thing, perhaps even a fun thing. They thought nothing of killing animals. I believe this is due in large part to the playing of first person shooter video games and because many of them have never actually killed anything. How many virtual murders has a child perpetrated by the time they are ten in our society? For most children the answer is at least over one hundred. Placing cross-hairs over another human form and pulling a trigger is normal, exhilarating, and rewarded. How many of these children have helped their fathers butcher livestock? Very few. They have never been confronted with the reality of killing.
               I'm not advocating that anyone keeps their children away from video games, but I do think it's important to educate our children on this one fact. You pay a spiritual price whenever you kill. The act of killing does damage to the one being killed, but it also damages the perpetrator of the violence, regardless of how righteous their motivations might be.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Overcoming Laziness


            I ride my bike roughly ten miles a day. I probably work out twelve hours a week, not counting my bike riding time. I also have a confession.
            I'm lazy.
            I am, in fact, one of the lazier people I know. Whenever I tell people this, they usually laugh me off and assume that I'm joking. I assure you, I'm not. It would probably be more accurate to say that my natural inclinations lean toward laziness. I love to lay around and do nothing. It's pretty hard to get me to leave my house and do anything that isn't prearranged into my schedule, as my friends can tell you. So, being that I'm lazy, how do I force myself into keeping an active lifestyle?
            First, and most importantly, I try not to force myself to do anything, because that's a losing game. I personally adhere to the idea that willpower is a finite resource. I only have so much willpower to get me through the day, and I use up small bits of it whenever I need to make a decision. Some psychology texts also refer to this as ego depletion.
            To negate this effect, I don't decide to say, ride my bike seventy miles a week. Instead, I just don't own a car. I change the way my life functions. Let's use an analogy. I like to think of my life as a constantly moving river. If I want to change the way it is flowing, taking a bucket and trying to heave the water elsewhere (using my willpower) isn't going to do much. To get the change I want, I need to change the topography of my life. That's one reason I don't own a car. At this point in my life it I don't really need one, and if I had one I'd never ride a bike. If I want food, money or human companionship, I need to get up, get on my bike, and ride a few miles. This lifestyle choice keeps me at a baseline of fitness that is higher than your average person, even if I stop all of my other exercise routines.
            That is one example, obviously it won't work for everyone, but I believe the theory is sound.
            Another way I structure my life is by making my exercise routine as accessible as possible.  I make workouts that I can do in my bedroom. If I have to get up, put clothes on, pack a gym bag, drive to the gym, put gym clothes on, then decide what machines I'm going to work on that day, I won't do a damn thing. That many choices = ego depletion.
            However, if I have to roll off my bed, put on some underwear, and start doing jumping jacks, I'll probably do it. Which leads me to my next tactic. I make the first two exercises in my workout deceptively easy. If I have to start with squats, pushups or updowns, I'll never start my workout.
             If I start with a few jumping jacks, I'm already in the zone when the time comes to do updowns, and by then it's easier to push through than it is to stop. I also suggest creating three to four 20 minute workouts for yourself and using them for most of your exercise days. Once you create those workouts, that's another decision that you don't need to make.
            With that said, you'll still have to make a few decisions if you want to start an exercise routine. But the fewer decisions you have to make, and the more you structure your life around that routine, the easier it's going to be to keep up.
            Before I end, here are two things I have learned to be true for 90% of the population. If you eat dinner before you workout, you're probably not going to workout. If you plan to wake up early in the morning and get a workout, you probably won't workout then either.

Also, if you want to hear some beautiful warrior meditation music, check out my soundcloud @ https://soundcloud.com/thesantafeninja .

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Dancing, Muay Thai, and the Hater Inside Me


    Four months ago I embarked on an exciting journey. I began taking my first college classes. Being that I had never registered for college, mistakes were made. One of those mistakes was my enrollment in a class  for something known as The Nia Technique. I didn't know what to expect, and in my naiveté I didn't google it to find out.
    Upon arriving to my first class I noticed that the class was mostly made up of empowered middle aged women. There was one other man, and he didn't look like my type of guy. He looked like he enjoyed tofu and saying namiste.
    After introductions we engaged in an activity that I think is best described as 'hippy dancing'. It involved a lot of waving arms, swinging hips, and spins. This first class, I mostly stumbled around as I tried to mimic the instructors footwork and battled my inner demons. These demons, kept up a constant dialogue, telling me how foolish I looked, telling me men aren't supposed to move that way, as well as spitting vitriol about the other people in the class and how they danced. Overall, it was an illuminating experience that showed me two things about myself. I didn't know how to dance, and I was incredibly insecure, which is something that I thought I had overcome.
    Over the next few weeks, I continued to go to the class, even as I was informed that I should not have taken the class, and that I was not receiving credits for it. I continued the class because it made me incredibly uncomfortable. One rule I have created for myself, and a subject that deserves full exploration in its own right, is to move toward my anxiety. If I am worried about something, or something scares me, I want to move toward it, figure it out, and conquer my fear. 
    I found that learning these dance moves much like learning new martial arts techniques. It involved watching someone's body, then mimicking their movement, and eventually making it my own fluid motion. While I learned these moves some part of my mind was continually trying to convince me that I looked like an idiot, that everyone else looked like an idiot, and that I should be angry. This struck me as interesting, because it reminded me of when I first started practicing Muay Thai.
    The first Muay Thai class I attended began with jump roping, and then the instructor said "Shadow Box." Before this class I had no real idea what shadow boxing was, though I'd heard the term. Everyone else in the room began punching at the air, doing roundhouses, and making funny noises. I tried to mimic them, though I had no idea how to throw a proper punch. In my head, a ruthless judge popped into being. He attempted to find any fault he could in my fellow classmates, as well as telling me I was doing everything wrong and looked foolish. This voice persisted throughout class, and many classes thereafter. At times, it made the experience wholly unenjoyable. Eventually, once I reached a moderate level of ability, this voice subsided. Instead of degrading myself and those around me, I simply enjoyed practicing the movements. I thought that harsh judge within me had disappeared.
    Fast forward to my Nia class. The dark judge had cometh once again. I recognized it, though that didn't help to quiet the chatter. The only thing that did seem to help was coming to the dance class regularly and pushing through the dance moves, no matter how uncomfortable they made me, which is the same technique I used to get through my Muay Thai class.
               I've been in the dance class for 15 weeks now and more than half of the people who started in the class have stopped coming, including the only other man in the class. I comment on this, because I see the same thing happen in Muay Thai quite often. We will get classes of 15+ people every few months. Slowly, the class will be whittled down to about 6 people again. I'm sure there are many reasons for people to stop taking Muay Thai or Nia, but I believe this harsh self criticism might have something to do with it. For those who may suffer from this, I encourage you to continue taking these classes. Your discomfort will fade and you will learn to enjoy the movement, whether it's a roundhouse or pirouette.