BOOK: ΤΗΕ WAR OF ART

The War of Art

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

I’d heard of Steven Pressfield’s book Gates of Fire, an epic historical novel about the Battle of Thermopylae (which I image is less Dan Carlin’s King of Kings which looks at the famous Persian Wars from the seldom sung Persian perspective, and more Frank Miller’s 300, but that’s just me guessing).

It seems that apart from historical battles, Mr Pressfield can also make an epic story out of the clash that’s forever raging on inside each one of us: the battle against Resistance.

What kind of Resistance, you’re asking? Like a force as real as gravity, friction and actual electric resistance, this is the power that stops us from doing what we need to do, more specifically create what’s aching to be born of us, and more specifically (for Mr Pressfield’s case), write. Just simply write.

Resistance is like the Alien or the Terminator or the shark in Jaws. It cannot be reasoned with. It understands nothing but power. It is an engine of destruction, programmed from the factory with one object only: to prevent us from doing our work. Resistance is implacable, intractable, indefatigable. Reduce it to a single cell and that cell will continue to attack.
This is Resistance’s nature. It’s all it knows.

This work is a very short motivational book that gave me a feeling very similar to the one I get when I listen to or read Jordan Peterson’s work: “alright kiddo, go clean your room. Do the work.”.

Peterson would continue with “only then can you stand to criticize society — only then can you look at the face of your father”, but Pressfield’s message instead is “you will doing us all a favor by becoming who you’re truly meant to be and creating a better world in the meantime”. It’s less a message of tough love and more one of much-needed empathy. We all have this Resistance, after all.

We’re wrong if we think we’re the only ones struggling with Resistance. Everyone who has a body experiences Resistance.

It’s quite reminiscent of one of my favorite Jung quotes: “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” It’s something to live by.

I felt good by reading this book. But the rest, of course, is up to me.

I also recommend Mark Manson, Julien Smith and yes, Jordan Peterson in the “do the work” genre.

View all my reviews

30 DAYS NO ALCOHOL/COFFEE/TOBACCO/SUBSTANCES — MY EXPERIENCE

This was the first challenge in the 30 Challenges to Enlightenment “obstacle course” I started last month.

From June 13th to July 12th I did not consume coffee, alcohol, cigarettes or other kinds of mood or consciousness-altering substances. I wanted to share my experience and encourage you to try it and once again discover what real caffeine or alcohol feels like.

I expected not drinking coffee to be much harder than it was (and was the reason I was initially putting off trying out this course — I thought I would never be able to do it!), but somehow I avoided getting the worst of the effects of caffeine withdrawal, which are brutal for some people — yeah, guess what, coffee is still a drug. I still drunk decaffeinated coffee and tea and ate small amounts of chocolate, so it didn’t quit caffeine completely, but even so, it was a difficult but fulfilling step for my body which had been used to taking in more than one coffee every day for more than a decade. Avoiding caffeine also helped with the 72-hour fast I did during the same period.

Alcohol was easier. You also save crazy amounts of money by not drinking, though going to weddings is much less fun. Actually, the whole thing about not drinking alcohol is that it makes it obvious how socially acceptable the consumption of a drug with the express purpose of making socialising less awkward is. It’s all a bit mind-bending: alcohol is one of the most individually harmful and society-disruptive of all drugs known to man (and in some countries like Britain it even tops these lists, though there are claims the methodology behind these studies is flawed), yet everyone’s favorite depressant is by far the most socially acceptable substance to consume — to the point it’s frequently considered impolite to turn down a shot of raki or similar.

See this video, “our love for alcohol is bizarre”, for more on this topic.

What would happen if we all suddenly gave up drinking alcohol for a whole month? I suspect nobody would leave their apartments, at least at first — what would be the point? And then, like a society in detox, we would find out that alcohol isn’t necessary to have a good time after all. Just try going to a party and dancing without having drunk anything. Force yourself to. It won’t take long before it just feels great dancing sober among drunk people, and part of this pleasure will be derived from you knowing that you’re sober.

Now, tobacco… I didn’t even miss tobacco. Whenever I smoke, which is kind of seldom nowadays, I’ve almost always had something to drink first. No wonder I didn’t want to smoke. Not touching tobacco for a whole month made cigarette smoke smell even worse. Why are we doing this to ourselves again?

Giving up other substances wasn’t really a problem because I don’t have any habits formed around their consumption. So that was a non-issue.

My biggest takeaway from this experiment was the sheer power of the drugs we are addicted to. Our tolerance is astounding. Give up caffeine for a month and go drink a freddo espresso. I mean, drinking a decaffeinated coffee while I was doing this challenge did suddenly start feeling like what drinking a normal coffee felt like when I was addicted, so you understand, after a month of abstention, a normal double espresso really, truly felt like what it essentially is: a double shot of the world’s most popular stimulant. And, of course, it felt great. I don’t want to get used to this sensation and get hooked to coffee again. So what I’m trying to do now is switch every day between coffee and tea and not drink more than a certain amount per day. I haven’t formed a new habit — yet. We’ll see how it goes.

As for alcohol, I also want to say that drinking one beer or a glass of wine every day, e.g. with lunch or dinner, makes no sense — unless it’s good quality beer or wine, which, let’s face it, it usually isn’t. I think it’s better to treat alcohol as the powerful drug it really is and drink a lot when you want to drink a lot and avoid it completely the rest of the time. This way you don’t end up getting used to it (and you avoid the slippery slope of always-looming alcoholism in all its various flavors). You get the best of both worlds: you don’t end up spending too much for no real reason and get to enjoy being sober.

The only thing you need is self-restraint.

NOTE: I realise I speak a bit slowly, so you can try speeding up the video a little!

EARWORM GARDEN — SENIOR LIVING

My earworms are BACK! Protect your ears.

I love, and secretly hate, the top comments on Youtube where they so creatively capture what’s so great about any given piece of music, or anything one can experience, really. My knee-jerk reaction tends to be “why didn’t I think of this first?!” but then I could be saying that about everything I come across. No, let the people enjoy their innovative thought. They deserve it.

Ah yes. The top comment about this one is: “If PInk Floyd and Air had a love child this is what it would sound like. Epic.”

No food for 3 days — My first 72-hour fast

GREEK VERSION

Why I did it

Just for the experience. I love playing around with my body chemistry and other circumstances and seeing how changing very specific variables can have a greater or lesser impact on my mood and consciousness.

Almost all religions and thus cultural traditions practice fasting in one way or another, and while I wouldn’t say that on its own this fact proves anything, I would say that global culture, which has taken a different, disdainful stance when it comes to the periodic abstention from food (and the only Gods in which it believes are the scientific method and the credit card) has a less balanced relationship with health than any culture that came before. To illustrate, more people die from eating too much than from not eating enough — and that’s in a world where billions are ravaged by malnourishment.

I wanted to see if there was something in these old traditions and whether there was something we have been missing in our decadent, bloated, food-obsessed culture that worships boundless debauchery in the same breath as Instagrammable “clean eating”, rejecting fasting out of hand because “it doesn’t make scientific sense” within the materialist framework.

So there was an extra spiritual variable in my desire to explore myself: would not eating make me feel differently on a spiritual level? Would it clean the antennae of my consciousness and make me more aware of myself and my surroundings, more grateful and less prone to self-sabotaging, destructive or egoic thoughts? It sounded like a truly valuable spiritual tool.

Apparently (link to Joe Rogan w/ Rhonda Patrick video) the health benefits of fasting are huge. Contrary to the beliefs of most people (and even popular medicine), anecdotal evidence and studies show that it is in fact a healthy and way more natural habit than stuffing our face with meals and snacks all-day long. When the body is starved of nutrients, it starts breaking down its own cells, but the first ones to go are the least used or necessary ones — inactive, dead or even cancerous cells are first eliminated and given as food to the rest of the body — a process called autophagy. After 48-72 hours of fasting in most people, the body also starts burning more fat to meet its daily requirements in calories, and toxins stored in the fats are released and excreted. This process also teaches the body to more readily look for energy in its fat tissues than elsewhere, a process called ketosis (and the basis of the ketogenic, or “keto”, diet). Most amazing of all, it seems that fasting is linked to increased longevity, at least in mice (which, in my opinion, is not enough evidence, but it’s the “industry standard”).

In short, by fasting you can prevent cancer, lose weight, reset your immune system, get rid of toxins and even live longer, and all that by doing nothing. Amazing, right?

The perfect excuse made its appearance when Marilena, my girlfriend, also had to go on a restricted diet for a couple of days. So, I thought I’d take the opportunity to support her, thus killing two birds with one stone — or in its vegan version, downing two drones with one command!

How I did it

My last meal was a small bowl of apricots with dried wheat sprouts and coconut milk on Friday morning before going to a morning yoga class. Nothing intentional about it; it was just a combination of things that could be combined and that were sitting in the fridge.

I did not consume any calories for 72 hours.

I drank water, green tea (which kind of went against my no alcohol/no caffeine “fast” I’m doing this month, but this is another topic for another day!), as well as some “mountain tea” (sideritis or ironwort). I also put salt in some of my water, up to a about a teaspoon per day, to recover electrolytes.

Ι was quite active during this time. I did not refrain from walking around a lot during those days, and I even went to the gym on Saturday (around hour 30) and did a workout with less than half the weights I usually select on the equipment.

My first meal was a pea protein (~30g) shake and a small piece of dark chocolate I ate on Monday morning, followed by some cashew nuts and almonds a few hours later. I started eating normally again around 6 hours after that, although my stomach felt significantly smaller.

What I learned

I lost around 3 kilos which only became obvious a couple of days after the fast was over, when my body felt it was safe again to fully release the liquids and solids it had stored (to put it politely). I expect to gain it back very soon, which is good, since I do not want to lose weight.

90% of the time I wasn’t even hungry. My stomach just shut down after about 12-16 hours without food, and as I was getting closer to completing the 72 hours, smells got to me more, but eating had somehow become less inviting. It was as if the high strangeness of the very concept of eating (nourishing oneself by ingesting and assimilating mixtures of parts of the dead bodies of other living organisms) suddenly became apparent after a lifetime of never giving it a single thought.

I got massive insomnia the last two nights, barely sleeping more than 3 hours each.

Most of the time I felt weak but alert. The sensation it felt closest to was the tingling you get after not having slept a whole night.

Indeed, I felt like the days contained more hours. Eating, cooking, digesting, defecating and everything related to food takes up a good chunk of time every day we seldom pay any attention to. I suddenly found myself having more time than I knew what to do with. I didn’t always have the mental clarity to actually do something very creative with it (I’m in the middle of market research for buying a new laptop, so I spent most of it obsessively reading reviews, comparing models etc), but I would definitely recommend doing this fast over a few days that are otherwise busier than usual, something which would also keep you occupied and away from thoughts and/or social interactions involving food.

After hour 36, during the second night, I started getting leg cramps and pain and I felt like walking was difficult. This could also be linked with me having gone to the gym a couple of hours prior, but apparently it is something normal that happens due to vitamin and especially mineral deficiency. Lack of these minerals can also cause mental fog and inability to concentrate properly, which is important if you’re planning to do some work while fasting. It’s a good idea to take magnesium/calcium supplements as well as the sodium (salt) I mentioned earlier (which I didn’t do).
After eating some thick salt, the pain slowly subsided and that helped me sleep a little bit. Some people recommend ‘stocking up’ on sodium before beginning the fast to avoid issues like this.

With the above in mind, next time I’ll try drinking ΞΥΝΟ ΝΕΡΟ or some other kind of mineral water (instead of normal tap water) which contains these minerals in quantities large enough that 4L of the stuff every day should make a difference. Anyway, I far prefer mineral water to normal water and I’m one of those people who loves the bubbles.

What now?

All in all, the experience was very satisfying and after a couple nights worth of good sleep I don’t feel weak anymore. In fact I feel great. It’s too early to say I feel healthier than ever, but I’m grateful I made this choice.

This was my first real foray into the world of fasting, and now I’m discovering there are also different types.

There’s the one where you limit calorie intake to 500 two days per week.

There’s one where you fast 24 hours every week.

Some people do this 72-hour fast several times per year, or even once per month.

But what I’m experimenting with now as a follow-up to my 72-hour fast is intermittent fasting: only allowing yourself to eat within an 8-hour window during each day. This appears to be a healthy lifestyle choice and I’d like to look into it more.

Here’s a couple more videos to get you started.

Don’t be scared to try this out: you and your body are made of stronger stuff than you think!

SOLSTICE

Google’s doodle for yesterday.

It is just me or isn’t this a very insensitive picture? Like, we have been getting headlines about how Greenland’s been melting away much faster than anyone expected — next thing we know we’ll have palm trees, palm oil plantations and holiday resorts in Svalbard.

When will people start taking climate change seriously? Like, REALLY seriously? As seriously as people take gender right issues or the Macedonia issue or whatever. Or is it just people playing games — “as long as it’s not in the headlines, it can’t be that bad”?

TURNING THIRTY

Today I turned thirty. I’d been semi-dreading this day for many years, the day my 20s would be over forever.

But then I decided to change my perspective.

Turning thirty isn’t something to be feared; it’s something to be celebrated in our youth-obsessed world. I’ve been hanging out with plenty of thirty-somethings lately and they all agree that being one is better than being a twenty-something. It could be because they’re thirty-something themselves, but not everyone has such self-confidence, and definitely it’s not everyone who sees their own side as the greener one.

My inspiration for this post was actually the realisation that being upset over getting older is the epitome of entitlement. I fear this common form of entitlement makes it harder for people to enjoy simpler lives that don’t look so great on social media.

How about: I’m lucky to be alive, healthy, not poor yet not too tied down by the obligations and insecurities that wealth brings with it, not in debt, young enough yet getting wiser, still mobile, coherent, able and eager to learn, with some experience under my belt yet with enough waiting for me in the future — hopefully.

I don’t have so much time for socialising, yet time itself makes my existing relationships more meaningful. I’m not the brightest guy, not the best fit to survive, not the alpha male type, not an amazing entrepreneurial spirit, yet I’m not too incapable to adjust to and navigate this very weird, very exciting, very dark period of human history.

There’s responsibility to all this that tastes sweet instead of bitter.

My father told me yesterday “I wish I was your age”.

I’m as old as I’ll ever be; I’m not getting any younger either. But I’m still here. So let’s make the best of it.

5 PODCASTS I LISTEN TO THESE DAYS

Almost 5 years ago, I made a list of my favorite podcasts in the first episode of my then-hopeful new podcast qbdp which I stopped doing because it lacked a real purpose.

I’ve gone on and off some podcasts in the past years, like Mysterious Universe, but these are the 5 podcasts I tend to load up my old-fashioned, dedicated MP3 player with and go for runs, walks, commutes etc.

Dan Carlin

The first podcast guy I started following many years ago. Nowadays he doesn’t make episodes so often, but I love his super-longform Hardcore History series and the blitz episodes he makes. Some of my favorite recent and not-so recent episodes:

Nightmares of Indianapolis —  how a shipwreck days before the end of WWII became a true horror story. Dan Carlin’s personal “the place I’d least want to be across time and space”.

Painfotainment — people in the not so distant past enjoyed witnessing suffering, pain and brutal executions as a form of entertainment. Have horror movies and Netflix become substitutes for our bloodthirsty urges, and what does that mean about human psychology?

Blueprint for Armageddon — the first episode of this series was released in 1914, 100 years after the beginning of WWI. Now it’s been a few months after the centennary of the end of WWI. No better time to educate yourself about the true horrors and fascinating history of the time period between 1914 – 1918.

Potterless

Inspired by J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore, Potterless is “a magical journey following Mike Schubert, a 25-year-old man, reading the Harry Potter series for the first time, as he sits down with Harry Potter fanatics to poke fun at plot holes, make painfully incorrect predictions, and rant about how Quidditch is the worst sport ever invented.”

His tour through the books and silly commentary has certainly taken me back 15+ years, when I was a big fan of the Harry Potter universe and was growing up together with Harry and gang. A great way to revisit the books and feel embarrassed about your adolescent taste.

Personality Hacker

The ultimate typology and self-development podcast on the web. Anthony and Joel are excellent, well-rounded hosts that are looking at personality psychology as the necessary social technology we need to supplement our other kinds of technological progress. A podcast that has certainly helped me develop my knowledge and interest in the MBTI and the Enneagram.

Also check out my review for their recently published book, cleverly titled Personality Hacker.

No Such Thing As a Fish

The creators of QI (Quite Interesting) introduce four fascinating facts each week about history, culture, science and life. Useful for building a stockpile of “did you know” conversation starters and/or “actually…” conversations killers.

Skeptiko

Who watches the Watchmen? Who’s skeptical about scientific skepticism? Alex Tsakiris, that’s who. This podcast is dedicated to challenging scientific materialism. His guests and interviewees will broaden your concepts on subjects like life after death, NDEs, telepathy, artificial intelligence and more.

SPOTTED BY LOCALS CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN

I wrote this on my Facebook, but since I’m definitely more of a blog kind of guy than a social media maven (as you can tell by the number of likes inversely proportionate to the number of words), here goes: Places like Amsterdam, Venice, Lisbon and even our own Athens are experiencing overtourism. We all know what it’s about: “the phenomenon of a popular destination or sight becoming overrun with tourists in an unsustainable way”, according to the Collins dictionary. This word didn’t exist before 2016, and one popular newspaper said that it should be “the word of the year 2018”. Overtourism means that not only do popular destinations become less appealing, but also locals find that this blessing is actually a curse in disguise that destroys their quality of life. It might sound like a first world problem (sort of like overconsumption), until of course it is your city that is hit by overtourism. Then, all of a sudden, rent becomes impossible to afford, small businesses disappear and your neighborhood turns into a theme park geared to satisfy the needs of the visitors, not the residents. Thankfully, we don’t have to be part of the problem just by fulfilling our urge to explore. Here’s an initiative to help spread tourism around the world to places that really need our time, attention, money and understanding. The global ‘underdogs’ in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia deserve to be our next travel destinations as much as any of the ultra-popular “musts” that could really do without us. I’m writing all this because we just launched a crowdfunding campaign at bravely independent Spotted by Locals. Do you like what we’re doing? I’d be very grateful if you can contribute and / or share. You’ll also get a good deal in return, especially if you consider yourself a demanding, mindful traveller. I’ve been an Athens Spotter for Spotted by Locals since 2013, and the network’s editor since last year, and I can vouch for them. I was with them yesterday, helped them shoot the video below. It’s not just that I have the good fortune to work with Bart & Sanne closely: these guys have a brilliant, caring vision about a sustainable, no-borders world, and I truly want this campaign to become a success. Check it out here: https://igg.me/at/spottedbylocals and thank you so much for caring for the future of local travel!