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March 2011

Post image for What I Discovered When I Went Vegan for 30 Days

Author’s note: As some readers have rightfully pointed out, “going vegan” is not just a matter of diet. This post, and the experiment it describes, pertains only to animal use as it relates to food.

This is the second experiment in two months that has made a dramatic difference in how I live and how I feel on a day-to-day basis. Last time I stripped my life of unnecessary and unused possessions, and this time I stripped it of animal foods.

I ate 100% vegan for 30 days, primarily to see what effects it had on my health and my self-discipline when it comes to eating. I found I took to it very easily, and my body felt like it had been waiting for me to make this change for a long time.

What I discovered

It wasn’t hard.

I listed my seven main reasons for never considering veganism before, and the main one is that I thought it would be too hard. I’m not sure what I thought would be hard about it: craving foods I couldn’t eat, finding something interesting to eat, having to read labels… none of it presented any real difficulty. Once I found how well my body fared without cheese and meat it really didn’t appeal anymore.

The hard part was finding stuff to eat in social situations. Most restaurants will offer the token veggie meal and not put much thought into it. Usually is just one of their other dishes, with tofu or veggies replacing the meat. It wouldn’t take much effort to add one inspired vegan dish to a menu. Not enough of a market for it yet I guess.

There is a great support network of restaurant reviews and forums set up to make this part of it easier for fellow vegans. That was a particularly cool part of this experiment — discovering that there’s a super-helpful vegan subculture out there making life easier for others.

I ended up expanding the palette of foods I ate, rather than restricting it.

The thought of removing several broad categories of foods from the picture made me expect to feel restricted to a few familiar dishes, and I’d already been feeling a bit of a lack of variety.

The opposite happened. I ended up experimenting with new recipes a lot more and eating foods I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. I learned quite a few new recipes and my culinary life is more vivid and interesting than ever. Food is more exciting to me now, and I honestly expected it would have to become a less gratifying part of my life.

I did spend more time cooking, trying a few new recipes a week. I love cooking so I didn’t worry too much about trimming my cooking time but I definitely could streamline it pretty easily if I had to.

I felt awesome physically, and right away.

Within a few days, I began to feel unusually light and alert. Everything seemed to require less effort and I had very little mental resistance to the prospect of doing things. Simple tasks like getting out of a chair or clearing up my dishes seemed to lose some vague character of annoyingness I didn’t realize they used to have.

Psyching myself up to exercise was much easier. There was no heaviness after I ate, no recovery period. My morning grogginess went away much quicker. There was no 3 o’clock wall. I didn’t get tired until bedtime. Read More

Post image for Your Questions, Answered

The Ides of March, again. Super bad day for Julius Caesar, but it was the day Raptitude was born.

My baby is two.

And how it’s grown. I’ve been spending more and more time responding to reader email, and I’ve had to cut down the length and depth of my responses. Often I answer the same questions over and over, so I figured it might as well post a list of frequently (and not-so-frequently) asked questions for curious readers.

In my first month of blogging a group of my fellow newbie bloggers got together to each post a “7 things you didn’t know about me” type of post. I ducked out of it and said I’d do it later. I guess this is that post, plus accrued interest. This is a long one, but it’s definitely the skimmable kind if you have to catch your bus or something.

Some of these questions are reprinted almost verbatim from reader emails, others are paraphrased because they get asked a lot in some form or another.

Somebody asked me what Raptitude is about and I wasn’t really sure how to answer. What would you say it’s about?

I don’t really have a snappy way of describing what it’s about. How about “Street-level skills and insights for contending with the human condition.” That’s not quite right either but it’s close enough for now.

It’s really about evolution, though I don’t always frame it like that because some people don’t like that word. At the moment, humans are just getting used to civilization, and we’re really not very good at it. Therefore the conventional wisdom about how we should live our lives is either old-fashioned and rife with pitfalls (try to dominate others, win the rat race, sign on with an organized religion) or too vague to be useful (try to be a nice person, try to be true to yourself, be one with the universe). I try to provide insights and techniques that are specific, unconventional and actionable.

We’re just now getting a taste of some of the higher qualities of human beings: forgiveness, nonduality, self-examination, compassion, and love — and we’re beginning to figure ways to mitigate and transcend the worst ones: reactivity, violence, self-loathing and attachment. We’re growing up as a species because individuals are making big changes in how they live, and that’s what I write about. There, that’s it.

Are you a Buddhist?

No. But Buddhism is a major influence in my life and my writing. It’s the only religion I know of that hasn’t completely lost touch with what it’s supposed to be: a set of personal practices for transcending the human condition. The other religions are hung up on ego tripping about being pure or worthy or favored, about possessing the truth, about being on the right team, about me, me, me. They’re lost in the pitfalls they’re supposed to help people overcome.

Buddhism hasn’t been immune to this kind of distortion, but it’s maintained its practical value and its identity as a methodology for personal transformation, rather than a partisan, self-gratifying institution. It’s a very systematic, unassuming approach to being a better human and its concepts are quite clear and consistent with each other.

I use Buddhist concepts and practices in my writing and in my life but I don’t formally practice the Eightfold Path, which I reckon is what makes a person a card-carrying Buddhist. I will take up the path one day in the near future as an extended experiment (probably for a year as opposed to my typical 30 days) but it’s not quite time for it.

Do you accept guest articles?

No. There have been three guest articles in Raptitude’s two years, and they’ve all been by invite. Two were from my friend Josh Hanagarne, the author of worldsstrongestlibrarian.com, and one was from my friend Lisis Blackston, formerly of questforbalance.com. Read More

Post image for Why Your Fears Won’t Come True

Fear doesn’t work the way we think it does. I’ll teach you something cool about fear that you can start putting to use right away.

When something scares you, you usually just have an aversion to the notion of that thing. Just the thought of making certain phone calls, confronting certain people, or making certain commitments makes the butterflies bubble up.

This is the point where we usually back down, and distract ourselves from the thought of it by checking email or doing some cleaning or organizing that suddenly seems important.

Quitting my last job to go traveling was something I was afraid of for a long time before I did it. It was a very small company, my boss had been good to me, and I knew it was going to be a blow that came out of nowhere. The thought of it made me nervous, and I decided to put it off till the next day, ten or twelve times.

Most fears keep us at arm’s length like that: we back down at just the idea of doing something nerve-wracking. The fear has done its job — to keep us from going there — and so we don’t look any closer at what it is we’re really afraid of about that idea.

If you do look closely at almost any fear, it’s always a specific moment you’re fearing. A moment with awful feelings in it — awkwardness, pain, shame, guilt, horror, angst. Life unfolds only in moments, so what else could the problem be except some of the moments that you might run into?

Ultimately that’s all you are ever fearing: moments that you believe will force you to experience feelings you really don’t want to experience. If you really break it down there’s nothing else that drives us but the appeal of feelings we want to experience and the fear of feelings we don’t want to experience.

Whatever the feeling is, it’s a feeling you’ve already experienced at some point in your life. You couldn’t be afraid of it if you hadn’t.

The longer we live, the more nasty experiences we have, and the more fears we carry around. But we forget that it’s really acute experiences we’re trying to avoid, and instead we let entire categories of actions and notions get dismissed from our lives, because they represent those experiences.

The cat who was afraid of grass for all the wrong reasons

We had a cat who was afraid of the front lawn. She would creep up to it, sniff it a bit, then tear across it like she was being chased. I watched her do this a few times before learning that my Dad had once turned on the sprinkler hose while she was lying beside it. After that, to her the lawn was a bad place, because it represented the threat of a terrible experience she didn’t want to have again.

She got over it, probably after accidentally having a few good experiences around the lawn. Animals are probably better at forgetting this stuff. Humans cling to fears because our thinking is so hopelessly lost in symbols and categories. We hold onto this idea that we can fence off the painful areas of life if we’re careful enough. Read More

Post image for The World is Quietly Asking You to Get Your Shit Together

The police officer sat in his ghost car for a few moments before getting out, letting me wonder why he stopped me. I knew I wasn’t speeding, and that made me worried.

This was yesterday.

Over the last 48 hours I’ve been pummeled with what I can only take to be clear messages to get my shit together in certain areas of my life. I’m not sure I’m a believer that these kinds of jarring events are signs from above, but maybe it doesn’t matter — it makes sense to treat them like they are.

Turns out my license and auto insurance expired three weeks ago. A cop in an unmarked car spotted my outdated tag and pulled me over. He gave me two pink forms entitled “You have been charged with an offense”, saying that I have to appear before a magistrate in a few months to receive my fines.

As I was staring at the forms, sighing over however many hundreds of dollars they will ultimately cost me, he said, “Always better to find out this way.”

I’ve never let my insurance lapse before, though I have come close. I always get a reminder in the mail at the end of the year from Public Insurance, and I guess I had come to count on that letter to make sure I remembered to fulfill this extremely important responsibility. Of mine.

When I checked my “Automobile” file at home, it turns out I had received it in December, but I mistook it for an informational letter about minor changes to the insurance price structure, even though it clearly said “RENEWAL NOTICE” at the top, and IT’S TIME TO VISIT YOUR INSURANCE AGENT somewhere in the middle. So I never acted on it, just filed it for reference.

I only got pulled over because I was in the middle of trying to make up for another stupid oversight on my part. I was hurrying home at lunch to try to track down my landlady, because it happened to be the last possible day to renew my lease. If I didn’t have my form filled out and handed in by today, I could lose my apartment. They gave me the form in mid-December. Interestingly it was dated the same day as the insurance renewal notice. Read More

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