October 26th, 2014

Life without regrets

“Live as if there is no tomorrow!”

Bullshit.

Like many platitudes, this one certainly sounds enthusiastic and inspirational. But it has no practical application. If there were no tomorrow, people would be spending what money they have today, desperately trying to fit as many pleasant experiences in what few hours we had left. We’d have no regard for consequences or the state of the world around us because hey, it’ll all be gone tomorrow anyway, right?

In reality, tomorrow does come, rent will be due, and you have to be at work on time. Telling people to live as if there is no tomorrow is like teasing a draft horse for not breaking its bonds and racing off into the great wild outdoors. Our existence is not free of consequence, and no sane person would live their life as if it were.

“Live each day as if it were your last.”

Closer, but still no cigar. At least by now we’re already admitting that the world around us and the people in it will still exist tomorrow. That means murder is off the table. Still, if we knew for certain that our lives would end by tomorrow, we’d be spending all our money partying late into the night. In reality, the alarm clock is going to go off at 6 o’clock tomorrow and you’ll hate yourself if you stay up too late.

Rephrase it like this: “Live so that if today is your last day, you’ll have no regrets.” Unfortunately, that probably won’t fit on a T-shirt.

I like this phrase better because it’s close enough to our daily reality to actually be of some use in shaping our lives. It acknowledges the fact that daily live isn’t going to stop and wait for you. Instead, this phrase invites a thought experiment. Imagine yourself at the end of today, finding out by whatever means that, unbeknownst to you, today has been the last day of your life. Imagine yourself sitting on your bed after hearing this news and reflecting on your life. What do you regret doing? What do you regret not doing?

Now it’s very easy to say that you regret not hopping in a plane for Tahiti this morning. But that’s not the point. This morning you had no idea that today would be your last day, so there is no way you would have done something that extreme. The point is to look back at your life as it has been up to this point, not to compare it to a Hollywood movie. Your life has come to here. Is this the place where you wanted to end up?  How much of your life has become this way by your choices? What might have been, if you had made different choices?

In my experience from having reflected on my life throughout the years, what I most often regret is wasted time. Time spent idly watching TV when I could have gotten more enjoyment and satisfaction by doing something creative with my time. Like writing a blogpost, pursuing new interests, gaining new knowledge and skills.

I gain important insights from reflecting like this. I learn where to direct my time and energy so that I can gain the most happiness in my life. I’m going to get up tomorrow and go to work. If tomorrow turns out to be my last day, I won’t regret that I went to work. I’ll regret it if I went to work I didn’t enjoy doing. I’ll regret not having fought more often to make my own dreams a reality. I’ll regret spending the evening watching re-runs rather than writing something interesting or building something useful.

I don’t care about fame or legacy. But I do care whether I leave behind a world that has become even marginally better by my having been here. If there are handful of people out there who can do their work easier because of some program I wrote, or people who smiled more often because they came across some content I shared with them, then indeed I have no regrets.

I regret nothing!

October 12th, 2014

What’s the worst that could happen?

Although admittedly I have lived a pretty sheltered and blessed life, I have faced some setbacks just as everybody has. I have been fortunate enough to have found some effective ways of dealing with such things. Thanks to this, I have a very robust mental health which I’m quite proud of. I want to share some of the strategies I use, in the hope that they may be of use to others. Because I would love nothing better than for all people to be happy and content. I think that any person being unhappy or depressed is simply a terrible waste if it can be avoided.

So lately I’ve been having some problems with work. This has been weighing on my mind, to the point that even during my off-time I couldn’t relax. I kept running simulations in my head of conversations I might have with my supervisors to discuss these problems: what I’d say, what they’d say. I care about what they think of me: this company is run by kind people, and they’ve been very flexible in meeting some of my earlier concerns. I worried that I’d seem ungrateful by bringing these things up, even to the point of imagining doomsday scenarios where I’d be fired in anger and never find another job again.

Ridiculous, I know, even as I’m thinking it. But simply telling your mind to stop such thoughts never does anything. I tried a number of other mental tricks I’ve picked up through the years: a deep breath, distracting myself with something else, trying to think of nothing at all, trying to work it all out rationally and then set it aside. It was no use. The problem, among other things, was that I was trying to go about my normal routine while I was doing all this thinking (browsing tumblr in this case). Once I noticed that all this worrying was giving me an upset stomach, I stopped what I was doing. I’ve not encountered a problem yet that can’t be solved or at the very least made tolerable by meditation.

An important thing when trying to use meditation is these circumstances is to not keep trying the same tricks you’ve been trying before, and not to let the worrying thoughts run around your head in circles as they always tend to do. You have to make a clean break from your thoughts. It sometimes takes me several tries over the course of an hour, and in one or two cases I’ve even failed completely to break with the soundtrack  playing on repeat in my head. But I keep trying again, until in the end I manage to get free of them.

This is the crucial stage. When you’ve finally managed to clear your head (I literally feel like space has opened up inside my skull), you may be tempted to enjoy the peace of silence and not do anything else. But that won’t resolve your problems, and after just a few hours back in your daily routine that peace will be gone. No, now is the time to find an answer to your problems, something convincing that will help you keep those same worries at bay if they ever come back.

Personally, I’m a very spiritual person, and on many occasions I have found my answer in faith. But not so this time: this time the answer turned out to be more psychological (which fortunately means it applies to agnostics and atheist as well, bless them :). This time I applied another strategy that has helped me before when I worry about what the future may bring. I imagine how things will turn out for me if my worst fears come to be realised. And then I try to see beyond the immediate shock that comes with such a doom scenario, and see all the beautiful things that will still be true, even if the worst should happen.

What if things turn ugly at work, and I end up leaving while in dispute with my employer. What if this affects my future job prospects, so that I can’t find the kind of work anymore that I’m used to? In that case, I’m going to have to find a different sort of career, which means new experiences and interesting new ways of thinking. And regardless of whether I will ever find a good job where I can comfortably stay, the sun will still shine, won’t it? Summer is still going to follow spring, the green leaves and strong grass are still going to come out, aren’t they? And books! Glorious books! They’ll still be there, whatever else happens, and I’m always going to have at least some time in which to read them. So I’m still going to witness beautiful, incredible, inspirational stories. I can still paint, still play the piano, still go for long walks. My family will still be there, and all the wonderful people that inhabit this world. I can still learn new things, new philosophies, new languages. I can improve myself and enrich my own world, even if I don’t have a penny to my name.

It’s one thing to read such things or to think about them, but you really have to feel them, to experience them, to believe in them. Once I managed this, the weight I didn’t even know was wearing on my soul fell away. I laughed in relieve. And once again, as many times before, I realised what a fool I had been for worrying, for letting those thoughts fester for hours when with a little effort I could have come to this place where the world is filled with promise and the grey clouds have drifted away. Gods help me if I ever forget this very simple truth. But fortunately I know how to effectively deal with persistent worries and now, so do you.

May peace and happiness be with you always.

Redge

August 7th, 2014

Soylent: how to make your own

For my final post on my new Soylent experiment I thought I’d give you a little glimpse of how I make a batch of Soylent. The whole process takes maybe five minutes, and makes for three square meals.

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I sometimes add some chocolate, strawberries or other stuff to add some flavour, but that’s optional.

So I’ve been on Soylent for over three weeks now. I think it’s safe to say I won’t be going back to only regular food any time soon. I eat Soylent for breakfast and lunch on most days, and dinner when I don’t want to bother with preparing anything. Grocery shopping has become completely optional, which saves money but more importantly is far more convenient. Also I hardly ever need to wash any dishes anymore. I feel fit and I have more regular and pleasant trips to the toilet than I’ve had in years. I have learned to put my Soylent lunch in the fridge when I get to work in the morning, or else by noon it’ll have spoiled. Other than that I haven’t had any drawbacks to speak off. In conclusion I’m all set to stay on Soylent for years to come.

July 27th, 2014

A Walk in the Park

Methought I walked in a dream
in the park, on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Each man and woman content
in their own world, a story of a lifetime fleetingly glanced,
side by side, a library of books read only by a few.

Yet peace shines through the covers and needs no words.
Enough to walk or rest here, together yet alone,
lifes touching without connecting
as we share a dream outside of time
of a lazy Sunday afternoon that never ended.

July 23rd, 2014

Soylent: days seven and eight

Days seven and eight of my Soylent experience.

Not much to tell about my one week anniversary. More colleagues were interested in the subject, although none of them dared a taste. They looked at soylent.me and some other sites, and tentatively agreed that it might be convenient, but just too weird for their tastes.

On day eight I had another day off work. I finished my last Soylent for breakfast, then headed out to buy some utensils to make it even easier to prepare more. I bought a plastic container to hold the whey protein powder, a funnel so I can fill up a normal bottle with Soylent if I want, and a new pitcher (so far I’ve been storing my Soylent in the fridge in my blender jar). The plastic container turned out to work well, so I’ll pick up more of them to hold the other powders.

Once I’d brought my haul home, I mixed up a fresh batch for lunch. So far I’d been using raspberry-flavoured whey protein powder, but this time I also threw in a sample of peanut-chocolate flavour that I got free with my purchase. Turns out the peanut-chocolate flavour is far stronger, and very tasty. I’ll order that flavour for my next protein powder shipment, but that’ll be a while yet: I still have over 4 kilos of the stuff left, which should last me well into august.

I took my lunch with me in my trusty flask and once again spent most of my day outdoors. The book of the day was Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine. I found it very interesting, but it’s written to disprove popular science about neurological differences between genders, which I didn’t put much faith in to begin with. Still, I was surprised at the research showing how deeply ingrained our conceptions of gender are in our minds. The peanut-chocolate Soylent was tasty at first, but quickly faded into the background. All in all a very fulfilling day.

July 23rd, 2014

Soylent: days five and six

Days five and six of my Soylent experience.

Over the weekend I tried out my new recipe, but it didn’t work very well. I’m guessing that 1900kcal is just too low: I felt slow and weak. So for dinner, I cooked myself a nice tikka masala. It was especially tasty and satisfying after a few days of only Soylent. Now that I’ve tested out living on Soylent alone, I figure from now on I’ll go back to regular dinners whenever I have time to cook properly. And I’ve adjusted my recipe to 2100kcal, the same as the original.

Other than that, it’s been a pretty miserable weekend all-round. The weather is hot, I got sunburn, I could hardly sleep and the house is stifling yet marginally cooler than outside. I’m looking forward to returning to our air-conditioned office come Monday.

July 23rd, 2014

Soylent: day four

Day four of my Soylent experience.

I had to rush to the toilet this morning. I guess the pizza experiment is officially a failure. Maybe I’ll try something a little easier next time, like a nice salad.

Anyway, the recipe I’d been using, tasty and complete v3, got updated to “Complete Food v4“. It drops the hemp protein in favor of pea protein. Great! Here I got all enthusiastic and bought 5 kilos of hemp protein, even though the recipe only calls for 40 grams a day. So that should last me — let me do the math — 125 days. I guess I’ll be sticking with the old recipe for a while longer…

Actually, I’d already made a personal copy of the old recipe and I spent much of last night working on it. I tried shifting the energy intake from mostly carbohydrates to mostly protein and fats. For one thing, I already take in a lot of sugar in my drinks during the day — though I can of course compensate for this simply by putting in a litte less maltodextrin than the recipe actually calls for. For another, some of the research I read on low-protein diets seems plausible.

That’s right! I actually did some research. I created a personal nutrient profile of about 1900 kcal per day from 30% carbs, 30% protein and 40% fat. I tried going for 40% protein, but more of the protein powder combined with the vitamin pill creates a small overdose of folate. Not Earth-shattering, and the jury is still out on the effects of high folate intake, but if I’m putting together a daily diet I might as well try to make it as good as I can.

After that I took some of the interesting new stuff from v4 like flaxseed and also added skimmed milk (fortunately I’m not lactose-intolerant). I figured, from a biological perspective, that milk has to contain some beneficial stuff that may not be tracked yet in the Soylent nutrient list. But getting all this stuff balanced out was a real chore, let me tell you.

I have to say that the Soylent DIY section works like a charm. There’s a few minor usability issues here and there, but for the most part it’s very easy to pull together existing data both on which nutrients you need, and how much of those nutrients each ingredient provides.

So now I have a new recipe. I call this new concoction Powerthirst. If Soylent isn’t afraid to name itself after some horribly bad movie, than I can do the same. I haven’t tried it out yet though: I need to get the new ingredients first.

So for today, I poured myself breakfast and lunch from the chocolate batch I made a couple of days ago. I also drank more water and found that it did wonders. I read last night that some Soylent users forget to hydrate properly since we’re sipping liquid food the whole time. Up to now I’d been feeling a little queasy after the bike trip to work, but not today.

Friday is fish day at the office: somebody takes orders for fried fish and somebody else goes to collect it. I always order the fish fries — which is considered a kid food but what do I care? It’s pretty devoid of nutrients other than fat as well, but that didn’t stop me from ordering it again.

That left me pretty full, and I didn’t finish the whole portion of Soylent I’d brought with me. I did pour one of my colleagues a cup — he’d gotten curious after reading some of the previous entries of this series. He seemed pleasantly surprised. He said he clearly tasted the chocolate, and really not much flavour beside that.

When everybody got ready to leave for the weekend, I noticed there was still a small stack of bananas left. They were still fine now, but they’d probably be tossed out come monday. Since nobody wanted them, I took them home with me and promptly made a banana-Soylent batch for tomorrow.

July 23rd, 2014

Soylent: day three

Day three of my Soylent experience.

It’s starting to get easier to put away half a litre of goo without taking nearly an hour to do it. I started the morning with the first portion of another strawberry batch that I’d mixed the day before, then took the second portion with me to work. I got some mild interest from colleagues.

As it happens, it was my turn to set the lunch table, which is pretty ironic since I don’t sit at it myself any more. My partner in this task had heard of Soylent and was interested in my experiences. I told him how it didn’t taste particularly bad or delicious to me, and how I’d spend less than half an hour so far on all my food this week. He was interested to learn that I mixed my own Soylent: he’d heard that Soylent could be ordered but not that it’s only available in the US for now. I asked whether he’d be interested in some samples from my own batches, and he was.

Coming home from work, I decided on impulse to buy myself a pizza, just to show to myself that I could still deal with regular food as well. But the experience was almost bizarre. Only a week ago, the prospect of a pizza all to myself would have been very enticing to me. Now, it didn’t really hold any attraction. I didn’t dislike the idea, but I seemed to hold it in the no higher regard than stopping on the way to pick up a magazine.

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Things got even stranger when I came home. I had to pre-heat the oven, and wait for it to warm up before putting in the pizza. After a mere three days, this now felt like a useless waste of time. I’m (slightly) hungry, and I could have been sipping my dinner half an hour ago!

When the pizza was finally done, the experience of eating it was more of the same: no dislike, but it wasn’t really doing much for me either. Once I was done, I felt stuffed and heavy. Not an unexpected result from eating a whole pizza by myself, but my recent experience provided me with a new frame of reference that made this whole pizza thing seem… clumsy.

July 23rd, 2014

Soylent: days one and two

Days one and two of my Soylent experience.

I can’t say I was particularly delighted about the taste of my first batch. Must be the hemp protein — it has a very strong flavour. Not that it was disgusting, but it took a while to get it all down. I did think to myself that if this was going to keep up, this was going to be a very short-lived experiment.

Then when I was coming home from work an idea occurred to me. I was mixing up the Soylent, wasn’t I? Then if the taste didn’t agree with me, it was up to me to change it. So I swung by the supermarket for a block of extra-dark hazelnut chocolate and a pound of strawberries. One of these was bound to work.

I’d already prepare my second batch along with the first, and had kept it in the blender jar in the fridge. This turned out to be particularly fortuitous: all I had to do is slice some strawberries in two, drop them in, and re-blend the concoction. It turned out wonderful: this new batch was far from bad — I might even go so far as to call it tasty, though certainly not delicious.

I was still having some trouble with the portion sizes. I had to figure out for myself how much water to add, and I went for 700 ml based on a comment on the recipe I’d been using. Along with over a pound of various powders that left me with a good one-and-a-half litre of Soylent, or half a litre per portion. And even then it was pretty thick stuff. It didn’t take me nearly as long to work through it as my first batch, but each portion still took over half an hour of sipping.

Fortunately this was my day off, so I could afford to take as much time as I wanted. After a leisurely start of the day, sipping Soylent while watching cartoons, I decided to set off on a walk. I took my lunch, a half-litre bidon of Soylent, and an interesting book with me. The weather was fine if a bit hot, so I sat myself down under some trees, sipping, reading, relaxing for hours.

I didn’t think of this as “eating” — it was a new kind of experience. A care-free atmosphere that came from not having to worry at all about what I’ve eaten, what I’m eating, or what I’m going to eat. Focussing in stead on what I’m experiencing, and what I want to experience later. Now I understand what Rob Rhinehart was getting at with “Free your body”.

Today was a light and easy day, without a care in the world.

July 23rd, 2014

Soylent: it’s a convenience, not a regimen

I liked the idea of Soylent as soon as I read about it. A powder that, when added to water and some oils, becomes a nutritionally complete meal that’ll last you a whole day? Sign me up!

soylentNow don’t get me wrong. I don’t dislike food. In fact I love food, and I love to cook. Maybe it’s not even the food so much as the different flavours that you can combine to your heart’s desire. I’ve even been known to post entire photosets to Facebook showing the process of raw ingredients turning into a delicious stew (my speciality).

Back when I was in college I often had some free time during the day, which left me more than enough time and energy for my culinary experiments. But once I started working nine to five that changed quickly. Especially in recent months I’ve been cooking for myself less and less, and have lived on ready-made meals more and more frequently. They were good meals, and tasty — I made sure of that. But the amount of thought that goes into organizing a nutritionally balanced, environmentally responsible and yet tasty diet was, to me at least, more effort than it was worth.

And that was just dinner, the most involved meal of the day. Here in the Netherlands our breakfast and lunch consist overwhelmingly of just one staple item: self-made sandwiches. Now here’s the problem: I don’t like the taste of bread — I never have. On my days off I could try to at least go for the more luxurious offerings: croissants, bagels, nuts-and-fruits buns. But even that wasn’t working. And during working days I was working my way slowly through simple sandwiches alongside my colleagues. It just wasn’t working for me.

It’s not all or nothing

By the time I learned about Soylent there had already been some reviews. Invariably, a journalist would describe how he tried to eat nothing but Soylent for a month but missed the taste and, most of all, the experience of eating regular food too much to make it through. Of course, once they strayed a little bit from the diet they prescribed themselves they felt they’d ‘failed’ and had to give up. From this they’d conclude that Soylent is an interesting idea in theory that just doesn’t work in practice.

I’m pretty sure these guys don’t get it. For one thing, these reviewers would usually describe how much they enjoyed regular food. Now, I might not be the expert here, but to me it doesn’t sound like a very good plan to force yourself into a diet that replaced all regular food when it’s exactly that kind of food that you like so much. Besides, people who deeply enjoy food aren’t exactly Soylent’s target audience, now are they?

But more than that, I think these reviewers are missing the point. Soylent is not a way to ban all regular food for those who “hate food”. It’s not another special diet such as we see pop up every year, especially around beach season. Soylent isn’t only for people who have no taste, or dislike the social experiences that accompany regular food.

Soylent. is. a. convenience.

Soylent replaces those meals that you were never going to put any effort into anyway, and then steps out of the way when it’s not needed. Want to go out to lunch with your business partner? Go ahead! Walking by a fancy restaurant and feel like checking it out? Nothing is stopping you. Coming home after a long day at the office with no energy to do more than heat up a frozen dinner? Soylent is here for you! Get the pitcher out, pour yourself a glass, no waiting, no effort, and no guilt over eating the nutritional equivalent of cardboard.

Once you’ve prepared a batch (good for three square meals), it goes in the fridge overnight. It will keep just fine if you leave it in there for another day or two. So replace the meals you don’t want to bother with, and spend your energy on those you do. This is the easy life that Soylent offers, or at least that is how I see it.

I’ve waited a while to see whether I could get my hands on the finished product but it’ll probably be some time before Soylent is available outside of the US. Not to worry: here’s DIY Soylent, to the rescue. My fellow countrymen have already developed great recipes using locally available ingredients. All that was left for me to do was to order it all up, mix my first batch and it’d be goodbye to hated bread, hello to Soylent breakfast, lunch and possibly dinner for me. Which is exactly what I did.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll detail my experiences and link the posts here. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve already been living care-free on my own Soylent mix for a couple of days, and I have yet to find any reason to quit anytime soon. I’ve even been tweaking the recipe, slowly making it my own. I’m looking forward to seeing where this road will lead, but I don’t expect any dramatic changes to my life. After all, it’s just food…

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