Crossroads Conversations: Sylvanas Windrunner, Buddhist Empress

“I teach suffering. Its origin, cessation and path. That’s all I teach.” — Buddha

Due to an internet outage there was no Crossroads Podcast last week, so I’m going to use this opportunity to revisit a discussion we had on the show a while back. Before the latest World of Warcraft expansion came out, the pre-patch caused quite a stir among the community.

Many were outraged by the direction the story was headed. I saw something beautiful.

Whether you play Warcraft or not, read on for a counterintuitive discussion of philosophy. If you do play, I’m primarily examining the character of Warchief Sylvanas Windrunner and the burning of Teldrassil.

Life Is Pain

“It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.” — Seneca

Aesthetic is key to how we judge morality. My favorite example: in Norse mythology, light elves and dark elves had no inherent morality. Not until outsiders discovered and interpreted their stories through the modern Western worldview, which assumes that white-skinned beings are good and black-skinned beings are evil. Thanks for that, Tolkien.

In Warcraft, the pandaren have a very Buddhist “feel”. They speak with Chinese accents and like to sit cross-legged on lily pads. Not to say they don’t represent Buddhist values–I actually love their in-game culture and the views they express. The point is, the limited amount of actual philosophy worked into the game is magnified by their aesthetic.

Then we have Sylvanas Windrunner, Warchief of the Horde, an undead dark elf straight out of Norse mythology. When I propose to fellow Warcraft fans she might be Buddhist, they laugh. They don’t notice the signifcance of a statement she makes right before the Burning of Teldrassil: “Life is pain. Hope fails.” Sylvanas explicitly states the core tenets of Buddhism, nearly word for word straight out of Siddhartha’s notebook. The beliefs are right, but the aesthetic is wrong. To many, the key elements of Buddhism are tea and cherry blossoms, rather than the practice of living without attachment.

Aside from Buddha, another philosopher comes to mind at the statement that “life is pain”: Seneca. Well, any of the Stoic philosophers would work, such as Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius. I just happen to be most familiar with Seneca.

Stoicism is a Western parallel to Buddhism. It, too, starts with the assumption that life is suffering, but differs slightly in how one should deal with that fact. Buddhism teaches you to let go of attachment: if you let go of pleasure you’ll be free from pain; let go of hope to be free from fear; and so on. Stoicism teaches you to embrace everything. Love pain as much as you love pleasure. Love fear as much as you love hope. I think both are valid paths to peace and happiness, Stoicism just speaks more to me personally.

I think it’s safe to say practices at least a small measure of Stoicism. It would be impossible to function on a day-to-day basis if she didn’t. She’s died three times, had her soul ripped from her body, failed her people in their darkest hour, been turned into a puppet and forced to watch herself murder those she’d sworn to protect, and for a brief moment, after attaining the one thing she truly desired and having nothing left to live for, she committed suicide and managed to experience true oblivion.

What Buddha would call Nirvana. The cessation of self. The true loss of attachment and desire.

Then she faced a choice: to find freedom from the eternal pain of life, or to be brought back and serve selflessly.

She chose pain and service. Seneca would be proud.

Hope Fails

“If you stay in the center and embrace death with your whole heart, you will endure forever.” — Lao Tzu

Buddha teaches that attachment is a sure path to suffering. Since nothing lasts forever, you will inevitably lose anything you are attached to. Many recognize how this applies to material possessions, but fail to see it applies also to ideas, art, morals, traditions, philosophies, relationships, personal identities, goals, life, societies, worlds, and probably even the universe itself.

Hope is an attachment to something in the future that has not come to pass yet. It is a lose-lose situation: you’ll suffer because you never get what you hope for, or you’ll get it and suffer when you lose it.

Lao Tzu, another Chinese philosopher who predates Buddha by just a generation or two, also talks about hope in his Tao Te Ching. I’ve been getting really into his brand of Taoism recently and have already talked about it at length on this blog, so I’ll try to keep this short, even though just about every verse in the book seems to be written about Sylvanas specifically.

The Tao Te Ching warns that hope is dangerous, but does not advocate withdrawing from the world like Buddhism. Instead, Lao Tzu teaches wei wu wei, doing not-doing, which sounds like not doing anything but is the opposite. Wei wu wei is doing your work for its own sake, pouring your whole heart into it without attachment to outcomes. It’s the difference between writing a book because you want to be a rich and famous bestselling author and writing because you’re a writer and writing is what you do regardless of whether you receive any reward or recognition for your effort. You don’t hope for anything. You simply do.

Sylvanas Windrunner’s work is to lead the Horde. She is not a popular leader. The majority of the entire world hates her. Leadership has its own rewards, of course. Many despots enjoy the material luxuries of their station, or simply enjoy power. Sylvanas, a living corpse, does not eat nor drink, only breathes when the mood strikes her (usually in order to sigh), and lacks the ability to enjoy consorts. She doesn’t even sleep, so silk bedsheets wouldn’t do much for her.

What about power? It’s a humorous-yet-not-untrue observation that many of the world’s worst tyrants used power to compensate for a lack of sexual function. Deprived of all physical pleasures, does Sylvanas crave a different kind of fulfillment?

Not really, no. Thanks to books and short stories narrated from her perspective, we do not have to speculate about what goes on in the Warchief’s mind. She does not enjoy her position. Sylvanas came back from oblivion to take on the task of leading the Forsaken–a collection of undead like her–after being shown a vision of their bleak future without her. She rose to leadership of the entire Horde after being ordered to do so by her dying predecessor. It was the last thing she wanted, but duty demanded it.

Sylvanas does the work of Warchief devoid of hope. What is there to hope for? She will always be reviled, and there is no possible reward in it for her. There is not even any chance of success. The duties of the Warchief are ongoing, not something that can ever be completed. Sylvanas has embraced doing not-doing for as long as she holds her position. As she cannot die of natural causes, there is a non-zero chance she has signed up to struggle and suffer for eternity.

Her work is exemplified in the War of the Thorns, the campaign leading up to the conquest of Teldrassil. Many in her Horde questioned the decision to rekindle war with the Alliance so quickly. Most accepted that the war was inevitable, but urged her enjoy peace for as long as it might last.

For one who knows that life is pain and who holds no hope in her heart, there is only work. Sylvanas does not desire a reprieve from her work. Her work is to ensure that her people endure, and she accepted no delays.

The conquest of Teldrassil was one of the most ambitious campaigns waged in the history of the Horde. It had to be. The Horde has always been somewhat on the back foot, somewhat at the mercy of the Alliance. That state of the world is one of those attachments Buddha warns about. The Alliance takes the distribution of power.

Teldrassil is another example. The World Tree, the capital of night elf civilization. A living attachment which is never questioned. By taking it, Sylvanas shatters the established order, creates chaos and confusion. She acts according to Lao Tzu, dumping the water from the bowl so it may be filled anew, tearing down the established order to make room for a new one. To make space for the Horde’s future.

Only Sylvanas didn’t quite conquer Teldrassil, did she?

Now He’ll Understand

“You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame. How could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes?” — Friedrich Nietzsche

We relate the aesthetic of Buddhism to pretty and peaceful things, which makes us forget it is a philosophy primarily concerned with suffering, despair, and the quest for annihilation. Friedrich Nietzsche gets the opposite treatment, being associated with the aesthetic of nihilism and angst-fueled teenagers. Yet I’ve not found a philosophy more full of beauty and laughter than Nietzsche’s.

In the moments before she commits an act that changes Azeroth forever, Sylvanas Windrunner stands on a beach, in the shadow of the World Tree, in the dissonant calm that follows a desperate battle. She engages in a philosophical debate with a defeated night elf captain, who questions her motives.

“Life is pain. Hope fails. Now he’ll understand.”

“He” is High King Anduin Wrynn, Windrunner’s counterpart on the Alliance. Though he is her main enemy, and has certainly grown to hate her, she has no hatred for him. She views him only with mild exasperation, as if he were a wayward child. Which he arguably is, especially in comparison to Sylvanas.

Anduin, just on the cusp of adulthood, is naive, emotional, and a religious zealot. Though he has high-minded ideals, many of his decisions are poorly thought out, and Sylvanas bemoans the positions he puts her in. She misses his capable father, Varian. It speaks volumes that Sylvanas would rather face off against an opponent with a great chance of defeating than one who exposes his own weak spots. She chooses to take advantage of his weakness–her duty to the Horde demands it–but she would prefer a fair fight.

Though she wins the War of the Thorns, Sylvanas loses the debate on the beach. Sylvanas argues that the taking of Teldrassil will make Anduin “understand”. Her dying opponent tells her she is wrong. Sylvanas reconsiders her own position, then concedes defeat. Her campaign, for which so much blood has been shed, will fail to accomplish what she needs to accomplish. It takes a measure of grace and humility worthy of a Buddhist Empress to concede defeat to an enemy who is already at your mercy. Many commanders would have blocked out the criticism and charged ahead with their plan, resulting in disaster.

Sylvanas suppresses her ego and changes the plan to accomplish the mission.

What is the mission? What does she want King Anduin Wrynn to understand?

Nietzsche gets mistaken for a nihilist, but really is concerned with transcending nihilism. To create your own destiny and unlock the true beauty life has to offer, you must first plunge into the abyss of nihilism. It is a trying ordeal, in which you discard everything you know and confront the meaningless darkness of your own existence. Those who emerge from the abyss are on the path to becoming the “ubermensch” and a life of fulfillment and peace. Many never emerge, however, and wallow in nihilism forever.

I would advise anyone who wants to take the plunge to do so with the utmost care, so the journey does not break you. Sylvanas, unfortunately, does not have time to lead Anduin through the ordeal by hand. His naive zealotry is a threat to her Horde. She needs to make him understand that the established order is wrong, that he is not seeing the world accurately, that life is pain and hope fails and they must embrace these truths.

She needs him to understand that now.

Sylvanas thought taking Teldrassil would be enough. She was wrong. Instead of taking it, she lights it on fire, watches it burn to ash before her. Her expression is zen. She is at peace.

Sylvanas understands.

Will Anduin?

Real Talk 08/10/18: The Breaking Point

In which I reach the breaking point and pull a trigger I should have pulled a long time ago.

Doing Not-Doing

Before we get to what’s going on in my life, I want to talk about what I’ve been reading. The Tao Te Ching, a philosophical work by Taoist godfather Lao Tzu, has been on my to-read list for a very long time. After finishing the first half of Ray Dalio’s Principles, which is really two complete books plus an extended preface, I decided to mix it up and read a completely opposite kind of book.

Or so I thought.

Principles, an excellent guide for anyone who wants to do anything more effectively, is a practical instruction manual written by the CEO of a highly successful stock market investing firm. Dalio distills his vast knowledge of economics, science, and psychology into a set of basic ground rules for life and work, relying on logic and evidence each step of the way.

Nobody knows much about Lao Tzu, but the conventional wisdom is that he wrote his Tao in a cave somewhere in rural China a few thousand years ago. The Tao Te Ching is a collection of contradictory statements about the nature of reality, arranged in short verses which almost read as poems.

I’m only twelve verses in to the Tao, but so far, it’s similarity to Principles is striking. Both books are about living your life according to the most basic principles, which should be distilled by observing the world accurately rather than seeing what you want to see. Both are about learning behaviors that will serve you well in all possible situations, rather than reacting to events on a case-by-case basis.

I’ve talked about my love for oxymoron, dichotomies, and the contradictory nature of reality, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m loving the Tao Te Ching. I’m treating the book like a series of logic puzzles, meditating on each 50-word verse for anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. You could read the whole book in that time, but I don’t think you’d get much from it.

Each verse sparks some kind of revelation in me, even–especially–the verses that seem completely unintelligible at first glance. If you decide to give it a read, approach it with an open mind. The verses read like the kind of empty nonsense statements people post on Facebook to look enlightened, but the wisdom in this book is highly practical stuff that you can apply to your life. I’m sure I’ll talk more about it as I continue puzzling my way through it, but for now I want to mention a few of the lessons that have struck me most powerfully.

Disclaimer: I have no clue if any of my thoughts about this book are accurate. My understanding of Eastern philosophy in general is limited, so treat the following as an eight-year old trying to explain the themes of a Shakespeare play.

The core of the work seems to be the concept of wei wu wei, “doing not-doing”, which is very different than doing nothing. It’s similar to the “flow state” discussed in modern psychology: finding enlightenment by disappearing into your work, entering a state where your conscious mind ceases to exist and you blend seamlessly into whatever you are doing. As a writer, for example, my goal shouldn’t be to write a book or earn fame and fortune as a result. The aim is to write and to disappear into my writing, reaching a state where my books essentially write themselves and I am simply a vessel through which words pass. Okay, that sounds really abstract and out there, but psychologists agree you work most efficiently when you enter a flow state, so it is a practical technique.

Another concept I like is the emphasis on emptiness. The Tao, or Way, which is the subject of the whole work is referred to as infinite emptiness with limitless potential. Talking about the power of nothingness sounds like another abstract truism, but Lao Tzu demonstrates its truth very practically. The useful quality of a bowl is that it is empty; having nothing in it allows it to hold whatever we want. When we build a house, we are enclosing a certain amount of nothingness and claiming it as our own. We use wood and concrete and so on to build with, but can only live in empty space, so emptiness is the most important building material. If you yearn for a bigger house or apartment, you’re really longing for extra nothing to work with.

I just finished a verse today which really struck me. It talks about how sensation blinds the senses: for example you can’t see anything when blinded by color, you can’t hear anything when deafened by noise, and so on. At first, I thought it was about living in a more quiet, muted environment, so you could learn to pick up more subtle, nuanced sensations. A practical example is how fancy restaurants will serve bland Swiss cheese as an appetizer to reset your palette and allow you to taste nuanced flavors. Then the verse added the heart and mind as sensory organs, which perceive the stimuli of desire and thought. The idea that desires and thoughts are not things that we create but things we “see” or “feel” is fascinating to me, and really drives home the importance of mindfulness meditation.

Más Megas Por Favor

Since moving to Mexico nearly two years ago, I’ve rented a small room in a house shared by about a billion people. I’ve learned to love my room since then, but one issue has continued to bother me: poor internet. There are three internet lines into the house already, but they’re all a fair distance from my room, and all being used by multiple people already. I don’t know what speed the connections actually are, but seeing as none of my housemates have need of a powerful connection, I’m guessing they sprung for the cheaper plans. I have functional internet most of the time, but it’s slow and unreliable, as anyone who has watched me tried to record the Crossroad podcast knows.

I’ve lived with this under the assumption that I’ll be getting my own apartment at some point and should just live with it until then. Recently, though, I’ve rethought my plans and think I might stay in this little room for a few years longer. In that case, it might be worthwhile to install yet another line into this house, this time straight into my room (or as close as it can get, I don’t really know what the wiring situation is yet). I’ve been thinking about it for a bit but hadn’t decided if the expense was worth it.

Then, last Thursday, the internet was out completely. I still don’t know why, though it may have been weather related. In any case, we had to skip doing the podcast entirely last week, and that was the last straw.

I’ve ordered a new line to be installed tomorrow. If all goes well, I should have my very own 100 megabyte per second connection up and running by tomorrow night. That means a more reliable and higher quality podcast, but it also means I can look into streaming video games and other content without having to rely on my brother to do the streaming. In other words, there might be a lot more Desdenada content headed our way.

Twenty-Five Years Later

Last week, Venezia’s parents had their twenty-five year wedding anniversary. In Mexico, they celebrate that by basically doing the wedding ceremony over again, so I basically got the experience of being a groomsman at a wedding. The ceremony took place in beautiful Cuernavaca, City of the Eternal Spring, and marks the first time in my life I’ve worn a suit (I dropped out of high school before prom and don’t go to enough high-society events, apparently).

Venezia’s sister also came back from Paris for the event, and I got to meet her boyfriend. Venezia and I tend to communicate in Spanglish anyway, but we took it to a new level with Sprenchlish, using our incomplete grasp of French to make up for his incomplete grasp of Spanish or English. We also taught him to drink mezcal, although there was no worm salt handy, so he sadly missed out on the full experience.

The past two days were a nice breather after the hectic weekend previous. Now it’s time to look ahead to next weekend, though, which features both Venezia’s birthday and the two-year anniversary of when we first met–not to be confused with the two-year anniversary of when we started going out, which is on the same day exactly one month later. We’re still nailing down the birthday plans, but brunch and an escape room are definitely in the picture.

Meanwhile we’re working on getting our Hallowe’en costumes together. The plan is to go as Éponine and Marius from Les Misérables, which is a little tragic as far as couples’ costumes go, but should also be a lot of fun.

What are you going as this year?

Stained Glass Gazette 09/26/18: Places That Exist

Most weeks, the news goes like this: Trump did a thing, Trump didn’t do a thing, and these people reacted in this way to the things Trump did or didn’t do. Trump’s power is that the people who hate him care about him even more than the people who love him. This week puts that in stark relief.

Everyone I know is talking about one thing: the UN reacted in this way to the thing Trump did or didn’t do. The people who hate him are especially interested in this, and are doing exactly what Trump wants: forgetting the rest of the world exists and focusing exclusively on U.S. issues during what should be the one time when everyone realizes that things actually do happen in other places, too.

Let’s talk about some of those places.

Blockchain Supply Chains

This might be the most important story I’ve seen come out of the UN meeting, but it probably won’t be talked about too much. Like with most technological advances throughout history, people don’t understand blockchain very well and so they either fear or mock it. I admit I don’t know the details of how it works too well myself, but I don’t know how the computer I’m typing on right now works, either. Chances are you’re not scared of computers, and you won’t be scared of blockchain in ten to twenty years, either.

As with computers, I think it’s more practical to understand what blockchain does than how it does. It’s most famous for its use in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but it’s basically a decentralized and self-encrypting code. It creates itself using math, adding blocks to the ones already there. Anytime you use the blockchain, such as when you use Bitcoin, you store a copy of the entire blockchain code since the beginning. If you have a bitcoin wallet, you also have a record of every single transaction that’s ever been made using bitcoin. You could try to commit fraud with bitcoin by editing your record, but the code can check itself against the millions of other records and see that yours is wrong. Since everyone owns a full blockchain, nobody owns the blockchain itself, not even the people who created it.

To sum up, blockchain is a code that nobody owns and nobody can control or regulate. It’s theoretically impossible to hack it, decrypt it, or erase it. A government can make it illegal for their citizens to use cryptocurrencies, but it would be extraordinarily difficult to enforce the ban unless they totally banned the internet in their country as well–and even then people would probably find a way. In other words, a dictator could prohibit trade completely with another country, but would find it very difficult to stop the people from still trading with that country if they were making transactions using blockchain technology.

That was a lot of explaining. The key point is, the UN World Food Programme is experimenting with ways of using blockchain technology to provide humanitarian aid, and that’s exciting. Most recently, they’ve started using blockchain technology for supply chain management in Africa. Remember how I said it’s practically impossible to hack or erase the blockchain? This means every time supplies are sent out, everyone will have equal access to the record of what is supposed to be where and when. If someone tries to fudge the numbers, everyone will know about it. The refugees, the aid workers, and the authorities in charge will all have equal power to keep each other honest.

It may not be the most glamorous use for a groundbreaking technology, but this is barely scratching the surface of what blockchain is capable of. And if a few more supply shipments get through to the people who need them, I’m sure that will make all the difference in the world to the people on the ground.

This program builds off of an earlier initiative, which has been successfully teaching Syrian refugee women in Jordan to manage and control their personal data on a blockchain system.

Russian Altruism

Speaking of Syria, it looks like Russia is making moves to lock down its interests in the country. Russia wants a foothold in the Middle East, and has issued warnings to Western powers about meddling in its plans. The West obviously isn’t thrilled about it, but the reporting on the ground suggests that Syrians have been far happier with Russian intervention than anything Western powers have been able to achieve. France has also expressed support for a peace accord between Russia and Turkey to create a demilitarized buffer zone.

Beyond military intervention, Russia has been establishing deep trade roots with partners in Syria. They’re also helping rebuild infrastructure like roads and pipes that were destroyed by war in the country. While Russians are willing to do the work, they are asking the UN to help foot the bill.

This is a complicated and ongoing situation with many moving parts involved. My goal, as always, is to try and see through both sides. If you live in the West, like me, you’ll probably hear a lot about how all of this is part of a sinister Russian project to take advantage of Syria and increase their power on the world stage. I totally agree that the move is probably less purely altruistic than Russia would claim. On the other hand, Russia has done a lot more actual good in the region than any Western power would be willing to admit. Regardless of which country you live in, don’t forget that every leader is using rhetoric to get something they want.

Especially yours.

Whiter than White

I’ve never been to Sweden, but the less rational part of my brain totally buys into the fallacy that my Swedish ancestry gives me some kind of connection to the place. I like a lot of things about Swedish culture, but do sometimes wish I weren’t descended from literally the whitest people on the planet, especially when the other side of my family is German. Talk about white guilt.

You’d think that Swedish racists would feel pretty comfortable with their situation. There’s a non-zero chance that you could live your whole life there and never meet a person who isn’t paler than fresh-fallen snow. Not that I really want to put myself in the head space of a white supremacist, but the best I can figure is that they’re fired up by how close they are to what they want. An American Nazi knows in his heart that it would be impossible to make their country purely white. A Swedish Nazi, knowing they’re almost there already, might be inspired to continue the crusade or whatever.

Anyway, this is more of an abstract thought than something that’s actually happening. I’ve been seeing on the news that there’s no government in Sweden and a Nazi coalition is surging up to fill the vacuum of power. On the other hand, I’ve heard from people who live in Sweden that U.S. news outlets are radically exaggerating what’s going on there and there’s not really any crisis.

Even when you try to figure out what’s going on in the rest of the world, the United States does it’s best to thwart you.

Crossroads Conversations: Three Rules for Life

Biohacking!

The word conjures syringes, lab coats, and mad scientists doing sinister experiments on private islands beyond the reach of international law.

Not that those things aren’t awesome, but this week on the Crossroads podcast, Alaric talked about a simpler yet very powerful way to hack into your biology. You can alter your body chemistry with diet, sleep, and exercise.

That sounds like a cop-out. Aren’t we just wrapping canned health advice in a fancy label? We aren’t just being cute, though. Changing the way your body works by adopting certain habits is very much the same as hacking your body manually, and is usually more effective. For example, you can inject a compound into your body to produce a desired effect, such as heightened energy and wakefulness. The compound will decay and your body will go back to normal, or often suffer a withdrawal, causing you to suffer opposite effects before returning to normal.

On the other hand, you can train your body to create that compound naturally. To be fair, our bodies can’t create every compound, but you would be surprised at how many it can. For example, our bodies create cannabinoids when we eat certain foods, generating a buzz similar to when you smoke marijuana.

I’m not trying to dissuade you from looking into more advanced forms of biohacking. I for one am fascinated by the subject. The point is that there are very simple things you can do to achieve huge results, so it would be silly to jump to complicated methods for achieving very little before taking advantage of the low-hanging fruit.

With that, I present my three rules for life. I’m obsessed with self-improvement, but of everything I have learned, there are three decisions I believe will improve your life more than anything else. They are simple things anyone can do, but don’t mistake simple for easy.

Wake Up At 4:30 A.M. Each Morning

The actual time isn’t set in stone, but the majority of people will benefit by going to bed earlier and getting up earlier each day. The more time you move your sleep schedule back by, the greater the benefit. I settled on 4:30 as my goal time when I found out my two personal heroes, Amelia Boone and Jocko Willink, both set their alarms for that exact time. Maybe it’s arbitrary, but if two of the most productive people in the world do it, I’m not going to argue with it.

People talk about being morning people or night owls, and there’s probably something to that in terms of nurture. If you have already created a habit of doing productive stuff at night, that will overwrite your biology. That is, you definitely can be productive at night, but you’ve created a situation where your psychology and your body are working against each other.

Your physiological state changes throughout the day, so that no matter what habits you’ve set, your mind is primed to be most alert and analytical in the morning. The earlier you wake up, the more of the morning you are conscious for, so you spend more of your waking hours in a heightened mental state. At night, your physiology is trying to put you to sleep, even if you aren’t consciously aware of it–if you’ve already set the habit of working at night, you probably aren’t. You don’t feel sleepy, but that’s only because your brain is fighting to stay awake while your body fights to shut it down. This makes nighttime hours inherently inefficient, so you might as well sleep through them and get the benefit of a good night’s rest.

On that note, people need anywhere from six and a half to eight hours of sleep each night, depending on their physiology. If you are trying to get up at 4:30, like world-class performers do, you should be in bed by 10:00 by the latest, and the majority of people should be going to bed closer to 9:00.

Don’t Eat Carbs

I’ve been talking about the keto diet a lot lately, so I won’t rehash this one too much. The point is it’s more than just a diet choice. A lot of people use it to lose weight, and it can be effective for that, but the benefits of having a clear mind and consistent energy levels throughout the day are at least a powerful.

The keto diet is all-or-nothing, and is really more a lifestyle change than a diet. When you’re under your carb threshold, your body enters ketosis and you reap the benefits. If you eat more than 20 grams of carbs a day, more or less, you get none of the benefits. Eating 10 grams of carbs instead of 30 makes all the difference, but eating 30 grams instead of 200 makes no difference at all, at least in the context of entering ketosis.

That’s why I consider keto a form of biohacking, much like waking up earlier. When you maintain a no carb lifestyle, your body chemistry changes in a powerful way and functions at a different level all the time. With a more traditional diet, your body is still operating on the normal principle of storing fat and being lethargic, it’s just storing more or less fat depending on how much you eat.

Sleep is the same way. Waking up at 4:30 once in a while won’t change much. When you go to bed and wake up at consistent, early times each day, your circadian rhythms line up, and your brain starts to secrete chemicals that put you in an ideal productive state.

Exercise Every Day

I mentioned on the podcast once that I used to think I lived a sedentary lifestyle, because I didn’t realize most people consider walking an hour and a half carrying a heavy backpack each day to be exercise. Top performing athletes do preach the importance of rest days, but I think this gets misinterpreted. Having a rest day, for them, means making sure they don’t run five miles at least one or two days out of the week. It doesn’t mean you need to be a coach potato in order to recover.

Even if it’s just walking around the block, everyone should do some kind of movement every single day. If your at the point where walking around the block is heavy exercise for you, you might have to work up to this, but it should be the goal. More important than what you actually do, in my opinion, is the mental shift: exercise isn’t something you put on the to-do list and get out of the way. It’s a constant part of being alive. It’s a part that conflicts with the modern sedentary lifestyle, but a little can go a long way.

A lot of people subscribe to the mind-body-spirit concept. I certainly do. Even people who believe the mind, body, and spirit are all important, however, don’t seem to realize the parallels. The conventional wisdom is that your body is a resource that must be used sparingly. You can exercise a few times a week, but then you have to back off. To me, that’s the same as saying that because you solved a logic puzzle and meditated yesterday, you better refrain from thinking or feeling anything today. Sure, if you had a full day of difficult decision making and strenuous problem solving, the healthy thing to do would be to not exert your mind too much the next day. But do you need to refrain from talking to anybody for a day because the act of thinking up words might wreck your brain’s recovery?

If one of my rules had been to make sure you think or feel every day, you would have laughed. Why isn’t exercise every day equally obvious?

Real Talk 24/09/18: Coldblooded

I don’t take enough pictures of myself, so yes, the above photo is from the same night I went to see Les Miserables. No, that’s not an alien spacecraft in the background, just a local museum, because Mexico City is cool like that.

Tides of Vengeance

If you don’t play World of Warcraft, go ahead and skip this section. It’s just going to be me ranting about a thing I love.

I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for over a decade, and I’ve never had even close to as much fun as I have since the release of the recent expansion, Battle for Azeroth. Actually, it started before the expansion. Ever since the prepatch, I’ve been riding a wave of euphoria I was sure couldn’t last.

As amazing as the expansion has been so far, the new content patch they just announced, Tides of Vengeance, looks even better. They’re expanding the new systems I’m already loving like island expeditions and warfronts, and taking the story in directions I’m really excited about.

I guess there’s not much of a takeaway here other than I needed to vent my excitement. In any case, I consider video games art, and as an aspiring artist I find it extremely inspiring to consume art I love so much.

Which brings me to a counter intuitive thought. A lot of Warcraft players feel the opposite way about the game as I do right now. That’s nothing new. As a general rule, gamers don’t like things and like to complain about them. This isn’t me bashing you if you don’t like Warcraft, though. Instead, I have a recommendation.

Quit.

Yes, I’m more in love with this game than ever, and I don’t think it has ever been better. If you don’t feel the same, I’m sure your reasons are legitimate. You have every right to feel that way and to complain about it, but I believe it would be more productive for everyone involved for you to find a different work of art that you enjoy more.

We’re in an era now in which anyone with Wi-Fi has access to an embarrassment of riches when it comes to entertainment options. Unless you’re pathologically impossible to please, it’s basically guaranteed there’s something out there that you would love as much as I love Warcraft.

Whether it’s Warcraft or Star Wars or Game of Thrones or Rick and Morty, people seem to have a difficult time letting go of things they once loved even if they’ve come to hate them. Instead of finding something else that thrills and inspires them, they embark on a crusade to convince the creator of the art to change the art into something they love again. This seems unlikely to succeed, and if it did, would probably ruin the art for all the people who currently love it.

The thing that makes your soul sing is already out there. You don’t have to force something else to become it.

Downsizing the Tavern

When Alaric and I launched the Crossroads podcast, we were aiming for each episode to be about an hour. Being completely new to hosting a podcast, we underestimated our ability to come up with things to say and decided to make it easy on ourselves by coming up with a handful of topics. That way we only had to fill about ten minutes per topic. Instead, we had to force ourselves to stop talking after spending a full hour or more on each segment, resulting in a six hour podcast every week.

I still think it’s awesome we’re able to create that much content, but it’s hard to keep it up with out current schedules. The reality is, we spend at least as much time preparing for and putting out each episode as we do recording it, so we’ve each been putting over ten hours a week into something with no monetary reward. Not that the point is to make money, but we’re both more or less starving artists who should probably be focusing a little more on how we’re going to pay for groceries and clothing at this stage of our lives.

Going forward, at least for the foreseeable future, we’re scaling the show back to what we feel are the best segments. We’ll still kick each show off with our unconventional perspectives on current events. Then we’ll skip right to what is now the very end of the show, where we discuss whatever weird stuff is on our minds. This could be anything, but given who we are, will probably involve a lot of science, philosophy, and generally bizarre trains of thought.

While we’re putting the self-improvement, book club, and entertainment sections on hold for now, those are all still things I’m deeply passionate about. Leaving them off the show for now opens up the opportunity for me to talk about them more here on the blog. Speaking of this blog, I know I’ve been really inconsistent with my posts lately. Downsizing the podcast means I’ll have about six extra hours free a week, which should go a long way towards keeping this blog on track. So if you like the blog and didn’t listen to the podcast anyway, I guess this is just good news all around.

The Darkest Season

As of the 21st it’s officially autumn. I love the fall, for reasons that probably make me sound like a serial killer. Most people are celebrating the advent of pumpkin spice lattes and layered clothing. I’m celebrating the season of horror movies and grim weather.

I know I’m not the only one. There’s a whole goth subculture that starts celebrating Hallowe’en three months early. I’m about the farthest thing from a goth, though. In fact, I have about the happiest life I could ask for. I think that’s why I love horror, tragedy, and generally dark and sad stuff. With an abundance of happiness and triumph in my own life, I don’t need any of that in my fiction.

What’s strange is I would feel like I’m “missing” the dark and sad stuff from my life. Not that I wish bad stuff would happen to me–not at all. But for some reason, I crave entertainment that depicts the negative stuff that I’m not getting in real life.

Does anybody else get that? I’m genuinely curious. I know a lot of sad people who consume a lot of sad music and a lot of happy people who watch nothing but uplifting movies. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around that. The rare times when I do feel sad or uncertain, the last thing I want is to subject myself to entertainment that makes me feel more of that–in fact that’s the one time I crave happy feel-good stuff.

Maybe there’s two kinds of people when it comes to emotional entertainment. Like coldblooded and warmblooded animals. I’m coldblooded emotionally, which again makes me sound like a serial killer, but what I mean is that my emotional state reflects external stimulus. Since my mood is usually up, I seek to regulate it with entertainment that brings me down a bit. Other people are emotionally warmblooded. Their happiness or sadness is self-regulating. They’ll stay sad when exposed to happy stimulus or happy when exposed to sad stimulus. Just like a mammal in a cold environment has to burn resources to keep their internal temperature up, however, these people are drained by the act of regulating their emotions. A sad person is capable of maintaining their sadness in a happy environment, but feel more comfortable in a sad environment where they don’t have to burn emotional calories to maintain homeostasis.

Of course that doesn’t explain why my emotions can be brought down in a sad environment but naturally regulate back up to happiness afterward. This is a terrible theory.