Aug 29, 2013

Am I a Body or a Mind?

At the moment I'm experiencing a really satisfying and upbeat period in my life. I have a pretty clear idea about why I feel so good.

I am physically active and engage in some kind of group and individual sports on a daily basis, including table tennis, indoor rock climbing, ultimate frisbee, a brief set of high-intensity exercises, and frequent backpacking trips. As opposed to an individual fitness regimen, I do these activities with or around other people and can't wait for the next session. The social benefits and camaraderie are substantial and increasing as time goes on. I am in great shape, but it's really my body's functionality and health that I'm developing, not just my external physique. The better shape my body is in, the more I feel like using it whenever I have the chance. I look for opportunities to immerse myself in ice-cold mountain streams, something that would have made me cringe two years ago. I enjoy climbing over obstacles and hanging on tree branches. Not long ago, I went canyoning with a group of 10 people. The physical challenges and bonding made for a powerful experience, and I had that rare feeling: this is what we were made to do.

I have finally put in the critical mass of effort to turn cooking for myself into a stable, nearly automatic habit. For the most part, I know what to eat and why. The food I eat tends to be highly nutritious, and I rarely let myself get very hungry like I have been prone to do in the past. I am taking a supplement that is delivering some of the vitamins and nutrients I was low in, and my vitamin D levels are approaching optimal values. I can tell my stress hormones are down and my serotonin and confidence are way up. From the different blood tests I've taken in the past two years, it is safe to assume my vitamin and mineral levels are up and my endocrine system is in a lot better shape (I won't be able to test them for another few months). My levels of alertness are much better; my body feels rested and I no longer fret so much about getting enough sleep.

My mind is clear and sharp, and I once more feel like tackling hard work requiring extended focus and concentration. I love being able to fully concentrate on projects and skill acquisition once again. I feel like I'm finally moving forward in life rather than trying to catch up to where I once was. I've managed to finally set up a great living situation that I expect to maintain long-term. Crucially, instead of having Internet at home, I have 2 places within a 6 minute walk that I regularly visit for online work. One is a hostel with wi-fi that has allowed me to use their wi-fi for a reasonable by-the-hour price. Naturally, I'm writing this post at home where I can fully concentrate on my thoughts without distraction.

I went through some hard times in the past 3 years, including the end of a relationship, adjusting to life in a new country with a new culture and language and no friends, loneliness and loss of motivation, depressed immune function and frequent illness, passing out and narrowly escaping death from carbon monoxide poisoning, changing residence multiple times, living with transient foreigners while trying to establish myself long-term in a new country, banking on a big new project and seeing it fail completely before ever really starting, facing imminent financial problems, and waffling over important decisions. That is the period I came out of this summer.

There are other good things currently going on besides what I've mentioned, but I really feel the main story is about my body and the improvements in my physical life. I was reflecting about this today when I realized that back when I first began studying socionics deeply, I was in a very different state of mind. Whereas now I am very focused on my body, back then at age 23-26 I identified intensely with my mind. What was most important to my self-identity were functions and preferences embedded in my brain and discerning how they expressed themselves and interacted with those of other people.

Now I am firmly in a stage where I identify with my body. All those powers of observation and discernment that were once focused on mental functions and interaction patterns are now directed at physiology. I now study and internalize information about neurotransmitters, hormones, nutrients, and physical processes just like I once mulled over socionics. Well, maybe not quite as much.

When I let on to people the degree to which I've studied my own physical functioning, I find that some are turned off and think there's something unnatural or counterproductive about thinking so much about these things. This reminds me of people's reactions to socionics. People imagine themselves doing what I'm doing and thinking what I'm thinking and sense that it would throw things off balance in their lives. But I'm different from them and it's perfectly okay for me. Self-study for me is like watching a good movie for someone else. I derive great satisfaction and insight from my deep study and self-tracking practice and increasingly have that feeling of possessing a kind of secret esoteric weapon that I had during the period I was most focused on socionics.

I love knowing that I possess accurate, objective knowledge about the different components of my life and how I feel. I love being able to know that this month is objectively better than the previous one and in what ways, and that I have not felt this good this long for well over two years. And I know which areas contribute most to this feeling and which areas are deficient and can be corrected to further improve my life.

For now at least, I am definitely a body. I look forward to continuing to develop its potential and optimize for health and happiness.

Aug 9, 2013

Living Well — Catalog of Sources

I've realized recently that my study of psychology (including socionics), physiology, nutrition, etc. is all based on an interest in living well. By "living well" I am talking not about standard of living or material success, but achieving as high a degree of happiness and contentment as is possible.

Different facets of good living have interested me at different times. Perhaps due to upbringing, my interest in mental and interpersonal aspects initially far outstripped my awareness of influences from the body and nutrition. Now these last two have become very important, and I am slowly becoming something of an expert on them and have had a fair bit of success implementing my knowledge of them in my day-to-day life.

Here is a kind of catalog of good and very good books I have read recently that may be of interest to readers. Following each book I assign it a category in parenthesis and give a very short summary. I heartily recommend all these books.

Rick's "Living Well" Catalog

(last update Aug. 9, 2013)

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (psychology, lifestyle) — proven contributors to happiness according to scientific research, plus some philosophy

The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions (general psychology) — the seven basic emotional systems, their origins and operations

The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal (lifestyle) — what to do to get your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual engines running properly

The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It (general psychology) — facts and studies that illuminate how our minds work and how we are able to concentrate and focus our will

The Highly Sensitive Person (psychology) — people who are prone to overarousal, the challenges they face, and the individualistic lifestyles they lead

The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! (skill acquisition) — the principles and practice of skill acquisition with a number of practical examples

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman (physiology) — developing our bodies' potential through wise nutrition, training, and technique, supported by abundant research and self-experimentation

Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (nutrition) — study of traditional societies, their overall health, and what they ate