The 7 Sins of the Modern World.

In Western society we have all heard of the seven cardinal sins. And, whilst it’s a Christian concept, pretty much every person in every society can see why they are viewed so negatively. Pride is not only unpleasant to be around, it can motivate people to act in their own best interests rather than those of the group. Wrath is dangerous to a society, the wrathful person and their victims. Envy can be a motivator behind violence and more unpleasant activities. Lust undermines the romantic and political structures behind human relationships. Greed can encourage people to focus only on themselves, or to work only for unconsumable rewards, again interfering with society’s function as well as being irritating. Gluttony can make the sinner unhealthy as well as risking an imbalanced divide of consumables, causing starvation. Sloth makes people unproductive, encourages them to rely on the work of others and is a general bane to society.

And, just as most people in most societies understand the problems the cardinal sins bring, most people and most cultures have their own examples that spring to mind when these sins are mentioned. In the West, we picture the arrogant businessman with an inflated sense of self importance as Pride, the angry harpy beating her boyfriend over every misdemeanor as Wrath, the teenager keying his wealthier classmate’s car as Envy, the amateur “stripper” with a partner count in the 100s as Lust, the elitist CEO driving third world workers to death as Greed, the morbidly obese hedonist gourmet-meets-gourmand as Gluttony and the bone-idle thirty-something shutaway living off their parents and the dole as Sloth.

But we have these views because they disconnect us from the reality of these sins. These extreme examples are extreme because of how massively they impact those affected. But they are hardly the most common manifestations of these sins. Each is more common and just as extreme in our daily lives, and whilst the impact of one or two people engaging in these behaviours is small, their collective impact is destroying our society.

Pride = Entitlement

Pride is an overinflated sense of self-worth accompanied by an expression of that sense and often poor self-esteem. Basically, a proud person believes they are very important whilst harbouring volatile insecurity beneath the surface. Hence “pride goes before destruction”, as the inevitable result of pride is the cracking of the shell.

And nowhere is pride more evident in our society than in our fragile and all-encompassing sense of entitlement. Often confused with narcissism, this form of pride comes young. Children already display it in a way not evidenced in tribal or pre-1900s societies. It is the obsession with your own worth, the idea that you deserve everything you want, that every denial is injust, that everyone who dislikes you is jealous and everyone who loves you does so for the right reasons. It is born of a combination of easygoing parenting, extreme wealth and a deep fear of abandonment and hatred. Whenever pride is denied or the illusion is broken, a feeling of resentment and fear ensues.

It may manifest as an expectation that you’ll get a certain gift for valentine’s, a desire to be deeply loved by everyone or a need to get your ideal car, at your ideal price, regardless of all context.

Wrath = Stress

Wrath is intense, uncontrolled anger, normally born from vengeful desires. Basically, a wrathful person is quick to anger, sensitive to other people’s anger, quick to act on their anger and often paranoid.

Wrath in our society is actually a more subtle sin. Due to careful indoctrination in schools, extreme policing and careful observation of our social rules by both individuals and organizations, there aren’t many vents for anger. Not only is this bad for general irritability, as bottling your anger isn’t very good for you, but it’s even worse in terms of wrath. When you bottle rightful anger and wrath together, you can lose sight of what is a helpful emotion designed to tell you what is harming you, and what is a rooted desire for vengeance and destruction. When this happens, we begin to pile straw onto the camel’s back. Everything gets mixed up and causes stress. Because we’re angry, frustrated, wrathful and can’t express it, identify it, deal with it. Stress is your body’s response to danger. And when we harbour wrath we can’t act on, we feel endangered, hurt and start to become stressed.

Of course, not all stress is born of wrath. A lot of stress comes from exhaustion, overworking, etc. But, then again, some of the most effective stress release therapies involve violent outbursts. Boxing, pillow-screaming, stress balls, punching pillows, martial arts… Think of how many people do that to let off steam. Consider how much wrath could be behind their stress, unaddressed.

Envy = Debt

Envy is a desire for something that someone else has, usually largely because they happen to have it. Basically, an envious person wants to own the things that others have. They would not want them if the other person did not have them or enjoy them. They feel an acute pain when someone else has something good and they desire it.

Just to be clear, I am not saying debt is envy. Rather, a lot of debt in modern Western societies is the manifestation of envy: its physical result in the real world. Some people will be in debt due to a crisis: sudden unemployment, illness and injury, fire in an uninsured home, etc. But this isn’t the case for the vast majority of Western people. The vast majority are in debt because we spend beyond our means, buy pointless things and always need to upgrade. Students who get engineering degrees are rarely in debt for very long. They get out, get work and pay off their debt. But students who aren’t bright or qualified enough for an engineering degree would rather accumulate debt they can’t repay in a marxist film theory degree than be “outshone” by the engineers. People with good money can afford yearly new cars and £1M houses. People without good money will use credit, mortgages and installments to live a good money lifestyle.

Most individuals are in debt because a friend, relative, celebrity or random person on TV showed themselves to have more than the individual had, so the individual got a degree, a car, a house, etc to compete with everyone else. Keeping up with the Joneses is envy that begets debt.

Lust = Porn

Whereas envy is a reactive desire: wanting what someone else has because they have it, lust is an active desire: wanting something because it is. Lust is perceived as an integral, animalistic drive, following your baser instincts rather than taught behaviours. It is usually connected to sex, as sex is the strongest source of spontaneous attraction to humans, often coming before food.

I know this one has been done into the dust, but it has because it’s true. Lust in our society manifests primarily in our consumption of pornographic materials. And boy do we consume them. Pornographic content is available at the touch of a button online, composing around 5% of websites and getting more traffic than Netflix. There are also forums and message boards dedicated to it. And where it’s viewed as a man’s problem, people are starting to become aware that when women feel the urge, we are just as likely to go to a porn site. To add to that, we have the traditional sources of porn: magazines, erotica, photos, both in their old forms and online forms. Furthermore, we have become so obsessed with sex that we need to talk about who is or isn’t having it, what is appropriate to do in your private bedroom and whether breastfeeding is sexual. We are so obsessed that we now use sex icons to sell fairly innocuous products and all sorts of items, for men, women and teens alike, are sold using sex.

When we watch videos worshiping the female behind, when we buy a product that was sold using sex, when we consume erotica, pornographic videos or “soft” pictures, we are indulging lust. And almost nobody is exempt.

Greed = Workaholism

Greed is “excessive aquisitiveness”, or the desire to possess more than you need. Basically, the greedy person is a hoarder, wanting to accumulate beyond what they could possibly ever use. They never have enough, whatever they add to the hoard becomes the new “baseline” they never want to drop below. They just keep accumulating.

Greed in our society is manifest as workaholism. Now, again, we’re not talking about the actual medical condition where someone is basically addicted to the work itself. We’re talking about the far more common form: the addiction to earning. These are the people who ate their jobs and do the bare minimum for their hourly pay, but will do extra hours, extra work and take on secondary jobs to get more money in the bank. They will then use that money to buy material goods to hoard or boast of, or events and experiences to boast of. All that matters is accumulating enough wealth. And most people indulge in greed to a degree.

Yet thanks to a combination of greed, pride and envy, we don’t realize how greedy or jealous we actually are, as we will spend right the way to the edge of every paycheck trying to keep up with the Joneses. Plenty of people survive on 4-10k/year in Western countries. Yet a workaholic with a 200k paycheck and 100k in debt feels like they are living a bare basics lifestyle when, in fact, they are consumed by greed and envy.

Gluttony = Obesity

Gluttony is often confused with greed. Gluttony is the permanent desire for consumable goods and an overconsumption of them when they get them. Basically, a glutton is someone who longs for more food than they need and regularly indulges that longing.

And our manifestation of gluttony is obesity. Now, you could argue that gluttony is also manifest as gourmets, gourmands and bulimics. But these people, even added up, do not make up a half to two thirds of any given population. We are surrounded by food and the only people who are not truly gluttonous are those who eat the amount they need to sustain themselves and eat largely if not wholly for sustenance. So two thirds of the population is already excluded and that’s without counting thin people who suffer from binge eating disorders, who obsess over food, who eat only for pleasure and not for health. In short, we live in such a time of abundance that not only is the temptation to be greedy strong, there are few among us who haven’t succumbed to it.

Sloth = Infantilism

Finally, we get to sloth. Sloth is an aversion to work or activity, not at all limited to the physical. Basically, a slothful person will be work-shy, physically idle and therefore unfit, uninclined to make up their own minds about anything, needing to have their opinions and ideas fed to them, fond of mindless entertainment, etc.

As you have probably guessed, sloth is as prevalent in our society as pride, gluttony and envy. Probably more prevalent. And it is because of taught infantilism. Infantilism is the state of being mentally younger than your biological age. Taught infantilism is when that state is not a result of disability, but of upbringing. And every generation is more and more infantilized. We are hand-held through life. Our parents guard and protect us from bad images on TV, insults and fights with siblings. Our parents can’t punish their children efficiently any more. The government coddles and stunts children. We know no suffering, no pain, no fear, no injury, no insult. Too many children never hear “no”. Between weak parenting and government intrusion, many people don’t mentally mature beyond the age range 8-13, leaving them overly sensitive to insult, insecure, with abandonment issues, unable to look after themselves, relying heavily on the government for their income, safety, education, security, decision-making, etc.

The results of infantilism are fairly evident. Children need to look up to their parents, trust teachers and siblings, learn from their elders, rely on others to make decisions for them, etc. That is the natural order. But in an adult who should be robust, mature and independent those behaviours are just slothful. Someone who needs a comfortable car to go everywhere, who needs to be told who to vote for, who needs someone to protect them whenever they choose to intoxicate themselves, who needs to slap them on the wrist when they hurt themselves… that person is as slothful as someone who never gets up from the sofa.

Sins = Chaos

So there are the seven cardinal sins, why they are a problem whether you are Christian or not, religious or not and how they manifest in our society. You needn’t have any faith at all to realize that cardinal sins are sins because they mess things up for everyone and shouldn’t be done.

But as a population and as individuals we regularly indulge the seven sins. It’s quite likely that at least half the population gives into all seven over the course of a week and doesn’t even realize they have done it. We expect to be catered to by everyone and guarded from ourselves by the government, but we don’t see our pride and sloth. We obsess over earning more, getting good credit, all so we can get a car that our mate Dave has been showing off, but we don’t see envy, greed and pride. We overeat and get fat, but we don’t see gluttony and sloth. We long for every item we see for sale, but we don’t see greed, lust, pride, and envy. We get overly anxious at work because we aren’t earning enough and need a promotion to pay off our mortgage faster, but we don’t see greed, envy and wrath. We treat each other as objects, trying to extort money, sex, attention, all sorts of things out of the people who pass through our lives, but we don’t see lust, pride and greed. As a population we are consumed by the seven cardinal sins. And our society is a perfect example of why these sins are so much of a problem.

We can move beyond it on an individual level. We will all succumb to them from time to time, but we can at least strive to be modest, unselfish, calm, kind, loving, active, restrained and mature, to make the most of what we have, enjoy others successes, strive for our own success and be moderate in all we consume and use. But unless 99% of the Western world adopted that approach, we will be a drop of water in the ocean.

What do you think? Do you agree on the modern representations of the sins? Do you fight them, or do you “enjoy the decline”? How do you deal with people who display all these problems? Share your thoughts, knowledge and experiences in the comments!

TTFN and Happy Hunting.

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5 Diet Myths You Probably Believe.

I think everyone has a few ideas on diet they cling onto for no reason at all. I know fruit is no worse (or should I say no better?) for me than potatoes, but I still love potatoes and neglect fruit. I probably believe or do some things that are completely nonsensical because I picked them up and never let them go.

But some of these myths are held by so many people that sometimes we have to complain. And that’s what I’m going to do. Here are five diet myths that are demonstrably false which you probably actually do believe.

1. X/Y/Z Is Bad For You.

Yes, we all use it as an expression. But we also genuinely believe it about certain things. You may think meat is bad for you, carbs are bad for you, sugar is bad for you, salt is bad for you, alcohol is bad for you, etc. And we incorporate this into our daily diets and the diet advice we dole out. And to a degree, it’s true. Alcohol does your liver some harm in any amount. Junk food messes with your metabolism. Sugar strains your pancreas. But there is an implicit falsehood in it.

You’ve probably already heard “everything in moderation”, the argument that nothing is inherently “Bad”, just that it can be consumed in too high a quantity. But there is another side to that argument: nothing is actually inherently “Good” for you either. Everything we consume has necessary nutrients, every nutrient is necessary. Everything puts some strain on the body or has some toxic products or byproducts. Avoiding one or two specific things is as meaningless as eating one or two specific things. Teetotalism makes you no more a saint of health than eating Goji berries does. It’s better to work out how your body, on an individual basis, processes all sorts of foods and to balance the right amount of everything.

And, mentioning toxins…

2. Detox.

Detoxes are a joke. Think about this rationally. If you drink enough alcohol that your liver can’t eliminate the toxins, you die. If you eat an apple pip, you body processes the cyanide, if you eat cyanide crystals, your body detoxes too slowly and you die. So, if your body wasn’t detoxing, you’d not be here.

And what about progressive buildup? Well, that’s a whole other can of worms. For the sake of simplicity: if you are keeping your body consistently just below the mark for poisoning, do you really think fasting, drinking green smoothies or some magic shake is going to undo all that damage and filter all that out? And do you really think a detox is a better option than not poisoning yourself to begin with? Seriously?

3. Dietary Variety.

Now, what isn’t a myth is that dietary variety benefits you. But the two main benefits of dietary variety are that you’re less likely to be poisoned and guaranteed nutritional variety. However most people throughout the world avoided poisoning and nutritional deficiencies on a fairly plain diet at some point in history or another. And with modern sanitation we can keep our food clean and with modern nutritional data we can assess our food’s nutritional quality. So there is no longer any actual need for dietary variety. Hell, teenagers can survive on chicken nuggets and you can meet your requirements for every nutrient on a diet of potatoes, bananas, liver, sardines, eggs and sunflower seeds.

Now, your health may be improved if you add some variety and the need to meticulously weigh every serving of food goes away. But the sheer amount of variety some people think we need is not only historically impossible, but is also not at all required for life and general fitness.

4. Going All Out On Cheat Days.

Not so much a rule or belief as an action that has just as negative an effect. When we diet strictly or diet at all, when we’re trying to lose weight or get fit or get healthy, we have cravings for foods we’re not allowed. You could go on an “only my 5 favourite foods” diet and eventually get sick of them and crave something you never thought was all that great. So, we allow cheat days. And the general idea of a cheat day is to go all out, eat and drink everything you can’t eat or drink the rest of the time. And we somehow think this is healthy.

After 150 days. And that’s still not doing his organs any favours. Mull that over.

But overwhelming your body isn’t healthy. Let’s use the pancreas as an example. It secretes insulin in response to sugar, enzymes in response to fat, protein or alcohol and triggers hormonal regulation that affects youth thyroid and adrenal glands, among other things. If you eat low carb, no junk food, moderate fat, just the right amount of protein and no alcohol for six days and then on the seventh day you eat four pizzas, a steak and chips, a tub of ice-cream and a bottle of vodka, you are throwing a week’s worth of work onto your pancreas in one go. Your body just isn’t designed to deal with that. That is why alcoholics get liver disease but some people get severe acute pancreatitis from two beers.

In short, either restrict your cheats to a single meal or follow the 80/20 rule, unless you want to overwhelm your body and make yourself ill.

5. I’ll Just Work It Off.

Surely eating too much or eating junk or drinking too much doesn’t matter, because you can burn it off at the end of the day? Well, we only believe that because we conflate being slim with being healthy. In reality, plenty of thin people have metabolic disorder, heart attacks, liver disease and colon cancer. So working off the calories in your food will not fix you or make you less prone to illness.

In reality, whilst nothing is inherently just “Bad” or “Good” for you, if you do overconsume something that wears your body down, the calories aren’t the only thing impacting your health. And you just can’t “work off” insulin resistance, liver scars, diverticulae or thyroid imbalances. You can only prevent these things from happening by eating a healthy, balanced diet.

And those are five diet myths you probably believed. Do you know any other diet myths that are demonstrably false? What advice would you give to anyone struggling with the issues here? How do you keep fit and healthy? Please share in the comments!

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

FitFriday, FatFriday. 6 Things About Eating Disorders.

So, in the USA and UK it’s currently National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. In the spirit of that, rather than my usual ranting about body struggles, feeling fat/thin, laziness and food, here is my experience with disordered eating and 6 thoughts about eating disorders. Unlike similar posts I’ve done, I haven’t managed to keep this post very short, so this time I would really like you to go through it well and, if you or someone you know is affected by disordered eating or a clinical eating disorder, think about how these things affect you or them.

I don’t usually do trigger warnings, but if you’re still in the early stages of recovering from an eating disorder, either give this a miss or put on a brave face and be prepared to see words relating to eating disorders. There will be no images.

My story.

Like pretty much every human in the Western world, I have often had access to too much food. Like around 9/10 of us, I have had to actively control my food intake to look after my weight and health. Like 20-35% of dieters, I went from just exercising a little bit of control over what I ate into proper disordered eating. To this day I’m not sure whether at the time I was meeting the requirements for an early stage eating disorder or just a normal teenager eating in a disordered manner under the mistaken impression it was good for me. Currently I meet the criteria for ED mentality, even if I am keeping healthy.

I have been unhealthily underweight and overweight in my life. At a couple of points I have had visible ribs even when bent over, some visible spine and heavily protruding hipbones. Likewise, at 5’4″ I have weighed around 80kg and possibly up to 90kg when I was not weighing myself.

Both these situations came about from disordered eating and a pretty shoddy perception of my own body. Most people experience slight fluctuations in our perception of the world. For some of us it’s a little more extreme. Some days I will think I look big, or tall, or broad, or short, or skinny. But at the time I started eating in a disordered manner, even when I felt I looked skinny it wasn’t enough. Not only was I not seeing things properly, when I was seeing them properly I wanted to see more. I was absolutely fascinated with bones and leanness. I somehow knew that I was a little broader than the typical Mediterranean girls I lived around, but it entranced me to see how broad and large my ribs, hips, collarbones, etc were compared to theirs.

Ultimately, the only way to push back was to ignore it. When I say I don’t know how I got fat, I seriously don’t know. I know I ate too much. But I can’t remember much of it. Just looking in the mirror one day and saying “Hey, I’m actually fat now. Not just tubby or deluded. I’m actually fat.” I made sure to keep covered up. I didn’t like the way I looked but I didn’t want to undereat again.

I did eventually get my weight and health under control, but I do still deal with distortions close to BDD, confusion about my actual appearance some days and the odd cycle of wanting to overeat, to starve or to purge. Just because I resist these thoughts and drives doesn’t mean they’re not there. It just means I don’t really need help any more.

So, with that said, here are 6 things about eating disorders and disordered eating that you might not be aware of.

1: There’s An Eating Disorder, Then There’s Disordered Eating.

Eating disorders and disordered eating are two separate things, though often disordered eating will become an eating disorder and most people with eating disorders eat in a disordered manner. If that makes any sense.

Disordered eating is probably the norm in the West. Pathological dieting, overeating, binge eating, comfort eating… These are all disordered from the natural state. Sure, overeating one day and fasting the next is natural to your body and natural in the wild. And eating when you’re hungry and not eating when you’re full is also natural. But when we live in a state of permanent abundance with all sorts of unnatural foods around us, very few will eat naturally.

An eating disorder is something different. There’s an element of compulsion, of a mental state to it. At the extreme end, it can take five or six healthy nurses to force-feed a 40kg teenage girl because she’s that afraid of food. At the mild end you see people eating kilos of leafy salad to keep full, or rewarding themselves with candy and food. The line between a habit and pathology is very fine and we don’t really have much of an idea what a healthy human eats like because we aren’t living in a natural state. Giving in and eating what we want isn’t natural any more. Even trying to copy the diets of healthy hunter-gatherers can become pathological.

2: There Isn’t A Reason.

Everyone has their own reason. Some people get depressed and forget to eat, leading to a habit that becomes impossible to break. Some people fast to be thin. Some people binge eat to be huge. Some people binge and purge because they love food and love being thin. Some people don’t realize what size they are. Some people think they’re being healthy.

Mentally, there is no one reason for being a certain weight or for having an eating disorder. Not everyone is a delusional teen brainwashed by the media into seeing themselves as 400lbs when they look in the mirror.

3: It’s As Much Habit As Desire.

A desire to recover is the first step, but never enough.

Often, an eating disorder born of self-punishment, fear, mental health issues or confusion can persist even after the root cause is gone. The reason for this is, as far as I’ve experienced and seen, twofold.

Firstly, habits that form are very hard to break. When you eat something that makes you sick, next time you smell it you may feel sick. Likewise, someone who associates eating with purging may automatically feel the urge to purge or even do so when they eat. Someone who has got in the habit of turning down food may feel awkward accepting meals, or even forget to. Someone used to binging may not think twice at a buffet until they see the five plates in front of them. Even when you’re not thinking about it, your habits can creep back in.

Secondly, giving in or not giving in to the habits can cause a mental relapse. It can depend on the person, the day, anything. One moment you’re having dinner at your parents, the next you feel a bit sick and thoughts of inadequacy start rushing back. Or you’re just eating a little less to lose your Winter pouch and your depression kicks in hard.

So not everyone with an eating disorder wants to have it or is currently battling every aspect of it. Someone may want to recover and just be trying to get out of the habit of having an eating disorder.

4: BDD Is Probably More Common Than You Think.

Again, when most people picture BDD they tend to think of the skin-and-bones teenage girl looking in the mirror and seeing a 400lb version of herself. In reality, it’s more subtle and less specific than that.

The two sides to BDD are:

1: Excessive worry or shame about your appearance despite being seen as normal by others and

2: excessive preoccupation with improving your appearance, hiding your flaws and trying to look “as you should”.

So, obviously someone who is very underweight or overweight, disfigured or similar, whilst suffering poor confidence about their state isn’t healthy, wouldn’t qualify as having BDD. But these same people becoming obsessed with a trivial mark on their skin, or a particular piece of their fat or bones? Or someone who at a healthy weight thinks her arms look too fat, even though nobody else can see it? Or someone who is convinced they’d look better at a certain weight, maybe a weight they’ve never been at before? These people are likely to have BDD.

It more often manifests as obsession with little details about yourself rather than all round loathing your body. It’s more a visual distortion than schizophrenia. A sufferer isn’t looking in the mirror and thinking they’re 400lbs. More likely, they’re looking in the mirror and choosing to look at that tiny pocket of fat on their thigh than at their visible ribs. The ribs are fine. Or too thin, even. But they want to keep losing weight until that tiny bit of fat is gone.

Again, everyone’s experience will differ. But I’m sure how you can see that BDD is not actually as extreme or, probably, as uncommon as many people would like it to be.

5: Everyone Needs Help.

Here’s my bit of tough love. Ignore all the nonsense about skinny shaming or fat shaming. If someone is all skin and bones and scared of food, they need help. If someone eats 2000kcal a meal and then rushes to be sick, or exercise, or fast, or take a laxative to “compensate”, they need help. If someone is 400lbs with a goal weight of 800lbs, they need help. If someone is convinced they eat enough and are bony and malnourished, they need help. If someone is convinced they don’t eat and morbidly obese, they need help. If someone lives off lettuce and spinach thinking it’s a recipe for longevity, they need help.

You can’t recover from an eating disorder without realizing you have one. And sometimes, often in fact, people will not know. It isn’t kind to let someone starve or eat themselves to death because you don’t want to offend them. It’s cruel. I’m not saying you should approach anyone who’s over or underweight and tell them. Just that if you have a friend or relative who is eating in a disordered manner, obviously not healthy and not dealing with their size or diet, they are suffering. And they don’t need to be ignored or left to sort it out. They need a friendly nudge or twenty in the right direction.

6: Good Diet Education Helps.

Now, you can’t exactly play the part of diet counselor, therapist or nutritionist in anyone’s life. But being well educated about diet, health, energy, fitness, etc can help you and anyone around you. Firstly because you will understand whether someone’s habits are actually problematic or whether you’re making a rash judgement.

Secondly, because people with eating disorders often seek a sense of control and stability. That stability isn’t found in a disordered eating habit, but in actually understanding your body. How many calories it really needs, what sorts of foods make you energized and happy, what sort of foods make you lethargic, etc. Learning about healthy diet was something that helped me regain control over my eating and start eating to properly feed my body, rather than as a reward, for the sake of it or as a punishment.

And I haven’t any more of vital importance to say.

I’m happy to answer any questions or hear about your experiences in the comments.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

The Importance of Sacrifice.

Lent started last Wednesday. Which means that for Christians a time of self-deprivation and religious reflection has barely begun. Pretty much every religion has a tradition of enforcing humility, fasting and the giving up of your leisures, to surrender your earthly possessions, your greed and your desire where they are affecting your spiritual growth.

But the purpose of such tradition can be lost on most of us. We’re pampered, coddled souls in a world that offers us nearly everything we demand. Not only that, but we’re sheltered from the sufferings of others and we hide from things that our ancestors and relatives in distant lands witness daily. We haven’t really known scarcity. We haven’t really known poverty. We haven’t really known death, disaster, loneliness. Even when you’ve gone a day without food, you’re moments away from a bite, a bit of kindness away from sustenance. The idea of going a week without food and with none anywhere in sight is gone. We don’t know true hunger or true deprivation. We just know mild forms of suffering, catch glimpses of it through a screen or over a sanitary barrier.

And as such we desperately need sacrifice. We can’t actually experience the mental state of scarcity this way. After all, you can easily just go and buy a chocolate bar during Lent or get yourself a flashy red car as a Buddhist. Nothing stops you. But at least it will help us reflect on how much we have and how little we need.

Because we really are overwhelmed. We’re obese, abusing medications, developing alcoholism and drug addiction, not managing to sustain relationships, giving children vaccines for STDs, shopping our way into debt, partying all night with our 500 facebook “friends” and still somehow bored, lonely and sad. But it isn’t, as some people assume, despite the abundance and freedom we have. It’s because of it. There is too much of everything, it comes too easily and it’s killing us. Like many animals, humans are meant to jump at every chance to eat, rest, have fun, reproduce and socialize. But we’re surrounded by these chances and we’re indulging them too much. These necessary acts we used to perform to keep us alive have become abundant indulgences that make us ill.

Not only have they become indulgences. Because we have almost no upper limit for these acts, they have also become booming industries, with vast numbers of brands and products competing for our attention and wealth. So we’re not just surrounded by food, drugs, media, shops, sex and events. We’re also surrounded by constant reminders of them, a constant pressure to consume.

So eventually, in our own little way, we cave in. We eat too much, take drugs (in one form or another), enjoy casual sexual stimulation, overspend and generally obey the media around us, wondering why we’re still not happy.

And we’re not happy because too much is never enough. I used to be obese. Between that and the preceding eating disorder, I have actually lost my appetite signals, have an overly flexible stomach and can eat almost continuously. When I was obese, however much I ate wasn’t ever enough. I needed more and, even as I was getting fatter, congratulated myself on my restraint. Even after losing weight, that feeling of permanent hunger was so hard to fight that I would indulge, guiltily nibbling at unhealthy foods to kill the cravings. But then I tried fasting. It was as part of a Paleo style diet and I figured that if my ancestors managed to fast for a day once in a while, so could I. The first twelve hours were tough. I was sure that the next day I would be famished. But I wasn’t. The following day I ate moderately and cleanly, not craving junk foods and not wanting massive portions. I felt genuinely satisfied on what would have previously been seen as “too little”. And, for the first time in years, I felt full. Too much was never enough, but sacrifice was plenty.

Likewise for everything. Living on a lower income than you actually have is more rewarding and enjoyable than keeping up with the Joneses. Drinking only on special events improves the taste and enjoyment of the alcohol and helps you drink less, sometimes you’ll even turn down a drink even when you’re “allowed” one. Working your way through lethargy leaves you feeling more rewarded and at ease by nightfall than sleeping or resting until noon does. Spending time in your own company leads you to better appreciate whose company is good and whose is bad. Too much is not enough, sacrifice is plenty.

So give up something, anything, everything. Maybe for Lent, maybe for a day, maybe for a year or forever. Reflect on the abundance around you, on the pleasure of indulging in a controlled manner, on the joy of prohibition and the freedom of sacrifice. Your body, mind and soul will thank you.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

The Chains We Tie About Our Necks.

Chains1

I’ve seen this quote a thousand times and often thought upon it. You see, the idea is inspirational. We, like birds, have a million places or more we could be if we wanted to, if we really wanted to, yet we don’t go there. We dream of having the money, the freedom, the means to travel to distant places, or live somewhere better. Yet we’re apparently already free to go there. However, when I thought about it some more, I realized the modern Western human does not have the freedom of movement that Harun Yahya implied we do. In fact, we are firmly anchored, chained to one spot. And really, we have nothing and nobody to blame but ourselves.

Of course, we start out free enough. And, in the beginning, we are locked down by others, innocent in our own imprisonment. As infants, children  and often as teens we need our parents for sustenance, safety, education and comfort. Where they go, we go, and unless they fail to provision us one of our four main needs, we will be tied to them for many years. Even if we were to be separated from our parents, a new set would take us on, or we’d be cared for by an institution or another relative. Many of us, myself included, have been taken to new countries, quite against our own desires, thanks to our bond with our parents. Finally, being yet unformed, unwise and uneducated, children need guidance. A child that is free and wild is usually a child that is dead, so even if we were to secure freedom at a young age we would promptly die, implying that said freedom truly is unattainable to a child.

Fortunately, whilst we are bound to our parents, they at least normally act in our personal, individual best interests. Where they will guide us to becoming a more adjusted individual that fits well into society, they would never actually cause us harm so as to bring good to society as a whole. Having children is a selfish act and thus, so is raising them. Most parents want their children fighting fit, educated and free to fly the nest whenever they need to.  The same can’t be said for what is often our primary caregiver in terms of time invested: the educational system. Don’t believe me? A child can spend 8 hours at school (8 til 4, as it was in one of my past schools), one hour traveling to school and one back, plus at least one hour, if not two or three of homework every school day. That’s around 55 hours a week, not counting any weekend work, that a child dedicates to education over term-time. Meanwhile, a primary caregiver parent may spend two hours helping them get up in the morning, then two hours at the end of the day before it’s the child’s bed-time or TV or computer time. If we include after-school activities, a parent’s time with their children on some days could merely consist of getting them up in the morning, a few hours of driving them around followed by dinner. At the weekends the parents take control, but if a child lies in until 10am, spends 6 hours playing with friends or having fun on their own, one hour on homework and then goes to bed or back to their gadgets at 7 or 8pm, that gives the parent an opportunity to get in a whopping eight hours per weekend with their kids. So the time a child invests into parent-child time could be as low as 28 hours for primary caregivers, or even just 7 hours a week for working parents, a far cry from the 55 hours that education seizes.

Yet our new primary caregiver doesn’t particularly care. Children are kept sat still at a desk, in a small room, for between five and ten hours a day, either paying attention in class, doing extra work, having lunch indoors, doing their homework, etc. This is far from a healthy start and promotes inactivity and restlessness, contrary to the Victorian beliefs that came up with these schooling systems. Children are given large amounts of homework they are expected to complete to reach their target grades and not given any idea how much or how little this homework will help them. [Confession: as a teacher you sometimes have to hand out homework but don’t have the time to make some, or don’t see any way it would help. So you give the kids sheets that don’t help at all and will take half an hour to complete.]

And, of course, children are encouraged to be uniform in appearance, sometimes even having to wear little, expensive suits and ties to class; are educated and directed in matters of their social life, morality and individual purpose. They are tailor-made to slot into any available job or university degree around, to seamlessly fit in and start turning their little gear of society. They learn to fear nonconformism, adventure, alien beliefs and moralities. They learn that their purpose, their life, is designed for them, so they don’t need to work. Just fill in the multiple-choice test, get on the conveyor-belt and start turning your gear.

And when they reach higher education they stumble on another stone in the path, one that peddles the complete opposite message: “You can do whatever you want! Follow your dreams!”

Coincidentally, Aaron Clarey went into this a short while ago, which means I don’t have to. But the short form is: if you dream is to be a rainbow unicorn, then good luck there.

But this idea has become so prevalent that a lot of modern youth then proceed to get a degree, any degree, without considering employment prospects, time and money invested or even whether they actually want it. I’ll go into this in a little more detail in another post, so just take home that many Western graduates come out of university in debt, having lost anywhere upwards of three years of their lives, with no employment prospects in anything other than menial work. Which leads us on to the next stage: work.

The modern work system is a thing of genius. You have already skimmed the cream off the milk by filtering it through higher quality universities. Sure, a few drops remain, but all you have left is the more watery portion. They have spent almost the entirety of their formative years in a system, sometimes in daycare from age 1 until graduating at around 25, the age when your brain ceases to drastically change. You have created an adult in the system. They have little to no knowledge that would burden them with an awareness of their own state. They know nothing else but uniformity, sedentary life, conformism and slaving away. They have only just been severed from their parents and they already have debt, which means they need to work and work hard. Of course, this system is now failing due to the burden of caring for so many uneducated, weak-willed, dependent creatures. But for companies they’re still a goldmine. They can turn out a problematic worker at the drop of a hat and swap a more compliant one into their place. They have an infinite supply of a workforce.

And the workforce plays along. After all, they need the money to pay off their debt. And, even though their degree didn’t give them the rainbow unicorn job they’d dreamed of, any money is good money when you’re broke and in debt. This is often a little easier for British graduates, as we get a break when it comes to tuition fee loans. However many UK students also end up with private debt and the free access to education encourages us to fritter away three or four years of our lives even moreso. The end problem is the same, just with differing levels of hardship.

And all the while the graduate is convinced they’ll finally get their rainbow unicorn job, if only. If only they save up and specialize more in their dead-end. If only they get the work experience they need to get the job where they will get work experience. If only they pay of the debt, then they’ll be able to move somewhere there’s a demand for rainbow unicorns. They cling onto these hopes, knuckle down and continue to dedicate their lives to coffee, mops and chips. And they spend a lot of time on this coffee, mops and chips. Sometimes 40-60 hours a week. Which leaves them drained and with little time for self-improvement. Most have a day that looks like this:

6.00: Get up, dressed.

6.10: Eat something. Get ready for work. Mess around on your phone or computer.

6.30: Go to work.

7.30: Sign in.

11.00: Snack break.

11.15: Back to work.

13.00: Lunch break. Eat food and mess around on your phone or computer.

14.00: Back to work.

17.30: Finish work. Tidy up, get changed.

17.45: Head home.

18.45: Get home and sorted. Get food.

19.30: Eat food.

20.00: Mess around on your phone or computer, watch TV.

20.30: Tidy up a little, maybe do the dishes or laundry.

21.00: Get ready for the next day.

21.15: Mess around on your phone or computer, play games, read gossip or watch TV.

22.00-1.00: Go to bed and go to sleep.

Sometimes going out drinking or for dinner is inserted, or an exception is made and something worthwhile is done, like reading, properly socializing, going to the gym, studying or practising a skill. And, of course, some people made wise decisions and are in far better places than that well before they’re 25. But generally, that is a day in the life of a graduate.

But what happens if you swap out the phone, computer, games, gossip and TV? Swap in some valuable habits? Well, then we see people getting run down. A minimum-wage, full-time job is designed in the assumption that self-improvement is not your goal. Many full-time workers in jobs they don’t like find themselves becoming tired, frustrated and depressed when they curb their idle pleasures. You need these things to keep you sane. You live in a small, unnatural environment, your spare time is restricted, you are easily replaceable, eveyone around you is tense, angry or depressed, your hopes are being shattered, debt looms over you and everything is generally rubbish. Without escapism many graduates wouldn’t be here today. Financially, many end up losing out or breaking even. They may pay back their loans and finally make enough money so they feel their time was well-dedicated. But they may also end up forever burdened by the loan and their job, never quite paying everything off, going from university debt, to personal debt, to a mortgage, to the grave in debt. And any financial support that would help keep them out of the red is often more debt or charity. Basically, unless you’re truly destitute, you can’t even buy yourself time without borrowing money to buy it with.And, finally, there are the continual, gnawing, low-level expenses. I will challenge you here and now to keep a diary for 6-12 months. Every time you spend over £100 on something that isn’t groceries or rent, every time you pay more than usual on your groceries or bills, every time you have an accident and need more money, note it down. Then divide it by the month. Most people will spot anywhere from £100-300 of entirely unaccounted money leaving their accounts every month. It may be new tyres for the car. Or a more expensive phone-bill. Or new clothes. Or an upgraded games console. Or a leak in the kitchen. Or a night out. Or an ill pet. It won’t be a consistent thing. Every time you’ll just tell yourself how its “a one off”, how it “won’t happen again for a while”. But the money going out is consistent.  And oftentimes when you add the low-level expenses to your rent, debt, bills, groceries, transport expenses, hobbies and the likes, you’re breaking even or in the red. So even saving has become difficult.

Yet we can’t entirely avoid these expenses. Some happen due to pure chance. And those that don’t are almost a responsibility. Why? Well, being social animals, humans respond to other people. Whether it’s someone pressuring you into going to their cousin’s birthday party, the desire to own a new bag to fit in with your friends or being guilted into helping someone out with an expense, we all end up spending on our social lives, often more than we’d like to or are able to. Because we just can’t break those ties. And the more ties your form, or the longer you hold them, or the more you give in, the more you’re expected to spend.

But other people add more than financial ties to your life. Above we addressed our first chain: a dependence on our parents. Well, now we are choosing our social chains and I’ll suggest that parents are also tied by their children. Children depend on you. They need sustenance, shelter, protection and affection. They must be educated, raised in a stable environment. And in order to provide for a child, get them educated and keep them safe and happy, we must stay put, at least most of the time. Same goes for any dependent. When we take on the role of a carer, we sacrifice a certain amount of freedom.

However people who aren’t dependent on you will also act as a chain. If you have a partner, not only do you have your work, debt, dependence or dependents, but you take on theirs as well. As long as you are a unit with someone, you embrace their restrictions and problems and welcome them into your life. The same often goes for close friends.

Finally, on the matter of social life, we have influence. As most people lead unhealthy, unfulfilling, consumerist lives, then chances are that most of our family, friends and acquaintances will also lead such lives. And if most people around you live a certain way, then you are more likely to be drawn towards it also. If your friends want to go out and get drunk, you either go with them or miss out. If your partner doesn’t want to go to the gym, you either stay home or go on your own. The fewer people that surround you when you step outside your comfort zone, the more likely you are to return to that comfort zone. And most people’s comfort zones are the same. We seek light, easy, unfulfilling entertainment. Stuff that numbs the pain and boredom of everyday life, even if we need a continual supply of it. Humans being neophiles, we become almost instantly addicted to these new streams of bland entertainment. And even if you don’t succumb, the majority do, which means the majority of your social circle does, which means you also may eventually slip.

And what are the consequences of the way we live our lives? Well, besides the limitations I have already mentioned, we see plain, run-of-the-mill ill health. As I have already said, the average person has little time to exercise or little time they are willing or able to dedicate to exercise. Most people you know will either drink, smoke or take drugs, if not all three. Most people you know won’t work out regularly. Most people you know watch 2-4 hours of TV a day. Most people you know eat a rubbish diet at least half the time.
Our workplaces keep us out of sunlight and away from nature. The modern recommended diet, with it’s high-carb, junk-friendly bias is similar to those diets imposed by cult leaders to promote passive, weak, sheep-like followers. We are surrounded by pollution of all varieties. And our doctors are so used to just being asked for a pill that many prefer to recommend medication over lifestyle changes, even where medication is the least effective option. Our environment and our social circles conspire together to keep us overweight, undermuscled, lethargic, passive, ill, drugged-up. And when you are weak in body and mind, your will to escape comes only second to your will to survive.We are bound by debt, work, children, friends, obesity, peer pressure and ignorance.

However, ultimately, we only stay in these bonds because we want to. Not because we want the bonds. No. We hang these chains around our necks because we dislike the alternatives. Sometimes we’re afraid. We go through education because we’re scared of not having a degree, of not getting work. We go to work because we’re scared of not having money. We tie ourselves to people because we’re scared of being alone. However sometimes we’re not even afraid, sometimes we’re just too comfortable, it’s just too easy. We do what everyone else does, we refuse to change, because this takes effort. We’re led into these chains and willingly, out of pure ignorance hang them around our own necks. Eventually we reach a point where we can only stay chained through our own faults, yet our faults are the only reason we needed the chains to begin with. We’ve created characters out of ourselves. Characters that are idle, ignorant, weak, debt-ridden, consumerist, hopeless, peer-pressured, obese, neophiles, hen-pecked, infinitely replaceable people. Characters that have debt gnawing on their skulls, people depending on them, a contract. Characters who have already dug themselves in so deep, they may as well keep digging. There’s no way out for them either way. We depend on the chains to excuse and support us, because, like an arm in a cast, we have become dependent on our limitations to support us.  And keeping these comfortable chains is easier than the pain of ripping them off and standing on your own.