Monthly Archives: December 2014

Meditations on Life

I have heard it said that life is a gift. I find this notion a little strange because if life is a gift, it is the only gift I know where there is no recipient at the time of the transaction. The “gift” creates the recipient. The “gift” is the recipient.

I have been told I should be grateful for life, this gift, even though I did not ask for it as far as I can tell.

I have been told that life is precious. I agree that life is miraculous, that a physical object can move and have consciousness and reproduce. But there are all these rules in life. There are things I am not allowed to do. I was given this life where (if I am to believe what my religion requires me to believe) I am in danger of being eternally damned to hell if I do the wrong thing. That cannot be true, can it? If it is true, what kind of gift is that? Perhaps it would have been better not to receive the gift in the first place. Did I at some point have the opportunity to refuse the gift? Not if I did not exist before the gift was given.

On the other hand, life is interesting. People seem to want to hold on to it and preserve it. It certainly has value and seems vastly preferable to non-existence. And there is beauty to life amidst the pain and hardship. Now that I have life I cannot imagine not having it or throwing it away. I suppose I am grateful for it.

Can life properly be termed a “gift” or is it something else? To create, to bring consciousness into being is not quite the same thing as a gift. It is akin to a gift perhaps. But it is not quite a gift.

People do not create other people, they beget them. Begetting is akin to creating but is not quite the same. Begetting is different from creating in that there is not complete control in the process. It is something set in motion but then it creates itself on its own. God the Son was begotten not made. Man, however, was created presumably with the full knowledge and control of God, at least in the creation process.

I have been told man was endowed by God with free will. If this is true, perhaps life is more akin to a science experiment than a gift. A scientist may have a vague sense of sympathy for his subjects, but a proper scientist keeps a healthy distance to maintain objectivity.

But I do not want life to be a science experiment. I want it to be a gift. I want there to be a loving God. I want there to be a loving God who created me to be the recipient of myself as only a loving God could do.

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Genesis Through the Lens of Shame Part IV

In chapter eleven we come to the Tower of Babel where all the people of the world speak one language and attempt to build a tower so tall that it reaches heaven. God becomes concerned that if they complete this project they will somehow threaten him. God’s solution is to make mankind speak all different kinds of languages thus making them confused and unable to work together. The project is subsequently abandoned.

I find this story similar to the story where Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge. In both stories God does not want man to get too close to God even though God made man in his own image and supposedly endowed him with free will. In a sense God is like the shame ego in Genesis. He is conflicted. On the one hand he creates man with seemingly genuine affection. On the other hand he sabotages man’s efforts to grow and becomes wildly angry and wrathful when man screws up. God seems to be afraid that man might become too powerful. This ancient story of the creation becoming more powerful than the creator is played out in 2001 A Space Odyssey where man’s tools, at first a bone used to break other bones and eventually a computer that controls life support on a spaceship threaten man’s existence.

This conflict can be explained in that Genesis is a compilation of several different sources written by different authors with different perspectives. As such it makes sense that God might appear to have different personalities in different stories. Although there are stories in Genesis where God appears conflicted with himself in the same story.

The Gnostic interpretation of God in Genesis is that he in fact is not God but rather the demiurge, a lesser being who created the world and trapped man within his creation. In the Gnostic world man is trying to wake up within this matrix, understand the true nature of his confinement and ultimately escape through the agency of this awareness. See gnosis.org for a fascinating treasure trove of information on the Gnostic tradition. I especially recommend the audio lectures by Bishop Stephan Hoeller.

In some ways God acts like an alcoholic father in Genesis. He lashes out unpredictably and then becomes apologetic (as with Noah). He never admits fault and man is expected to love him, indeed to worship him. And when man has a problem with this situation, man is to blame. It is no win situations such as these that give rise to the shame ego. In order to be right with God, man has to accept that he is wrong.

In truth, man is innocent. Man did not ask to be brought into this existence under these circumstances. It is curious that nakedness is considered shameful. We see this with Adam and Eve and again with Noah. It is also curious that free will is associated with shame. Nakedness (i.e., man’s true self hidden under his outward appearance) is shameful. Gaining knowledge is wrong. Reaching for the heavens is wrong. It could be argued that in the Book of Genesis God himself is shame.

 

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New Years Resolutions for Shame Based People

So you have decided to make a New Years Resolution and you feel ashamed for various reasons a good deal of the time. Here is what I recommend based upon my life experience dealing with shame issues.

First of all, do not make a New Years Resolution out of a sense of guilt. Only make New Years Resolutions for your own benefit. Of course, your shame ego will tell you this way of thinking is selfish and something to feel ashamed about. Remember that the shame ego is the same thing that will convince you that maintaining the resolution you made out of guilt is too difficult to keep up and then once you stop maintaining the resolution will then tell you that you are weak for giving it up. Of course this requires awareness of when your shame ego is sabotaging your efforts and looking for reasons to feel ashamed (but that is a topic for another blog post).

I recommend your resolution should either be to stop performing some self-destructive behavior or to take up a behavior that improves yourself. It should be something you are capable of doing with your whole heart. That is, it should be something you want to do. People with well-developed shame egos have a hard time knowing what they truly want because they have bonded to the message that what they want is wrong. A good way to tell if something is what you want is to pay attention to how it makes you feel. If it makes you feel good then it is (most likely) good and something you like doing. If it does not make you feel good then it is (most likely) not good and something you do not like doing. Be careful. Somethings feel good in the short-term but are destructive in the long-term, like addictions. Addictions are another trap of the shame ego. At first addictions seem like an escape from the shame ego’s constant criticism. That of course feels good. But eventually the addiction becomes self-destructive and gives the shame ego another reason to criticize you.

James Altucher recommends performing what he calls a “Daily Practice” where you perform activities daily that benefit four aspects of the self in order be happy. The four aspects are Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual. He claims (and I believe him) that you need to nurture these four aspects of the self to be happy. Quick examples: Physical – exercise (even just a little), Intellectual – read a book, Spiritual – meditate, pray, read something spiritual, Emotional – do something that makes you happy, avoid things that make you unhappy. Read the article I linked to above for good ideas about making a resolution that comes from your heart and not shame.

To maintain this resolution make it a habit. Take time out first thing in the morning to perform this resolution. Make it the first priority. Do it with your whole heart and not out of a sense of obligation. Good luck and Happy New Year.

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How I Wrote and Published My First eBook

In 2013 I read a book by James Altucher entitled Choose Yourself. I had been a regular reader of his articles and books and at the time I was going through a major life transition on all levels. I had lost my job and moved in with my parents in 2009. I was able to find part-time work but was not making enough to move out. I was desperately depressed, my marriage was on the rocks and my life seemed stuck. There were many things that helped me to ultimately turn my life around but one of them was James Altucher’s book. One of the things he talked about that really stuck with me was the idea that the 9 to 5 corporate cubicle jobs that disappeared in the recession of 2008 were not coming back and the ones that remained would probably disappear eventually as well. The only way to survive ultimately is to become an entrepreneur — to choose yourself.

Somewhere in his book he also mentioned that he was interested in what motivated internet trolls. Knowing a thing or two on the subject I sent him a long email explaining my experiences and what I thought were my motivations when I trolled. To my surprise he responded pretty quickly and asked if he could use what I wrote for an article. I agreed.

After his article was published (thinking along the entrepreneurial lines he espoused in his book) I asked if he was interested in collaborating on a book about trolling. Graciously he encouraged me to write what ultimately became the book I recently published entitled Shame and Internet Trolling. He told me to make it personal and embarrassing and said he would connect me with an editor when I finished.

For a year I woke up at 5:00am gathering old blog posts relevent to the subject and writing new ones all of which are available on this blog. I then consolidated and edited all this information into a first draft manuscript. When I started this project my marriage was failing and I worked from home out of my parents’ basement in Connecticut. By the time I finished my marriage was great and had moved to North Carolina. The process of writing the book was incredibly therapeutic for me.

I approached James and told him I was finished with the manuscript. He introduced me to a person named Zach Obront who works with people who publish ebooks. For about $2, 500 he offered to edit and help publish and market my work. I agreed thinking at the very least this would be a learning opportunity on the process. He then assigned an editor to read my manuscript. Based on the editor’s really helpful comments I spent another couple of months rewriting and editing. Having an editor read and comment on my writing was definitely a crucial part of the process. Finally I had a finished product.

Zach suggested I use 99 Designs to set up a competition to design the cover artwork. It cost around $250 and took a few weeks to fully play out. Using their service I set up a contest where artists submitted book covers which I rated and gave feedback to. Then there was a final round where the best contributors competed for the final design. In the end I selected a winner who received a cash prize.  Once the cover art was completed Zach suggested I use Bookbaby to digitally convert my manuscript into an e-book and then distribute it to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other outlets. This also cost about $300. I would definitely recommend both of these services.

Once the book was distributed Zach provided a list of blogs, podcasts and other media outlets I could approach to market my book as a guest writer. This, I found to be the least helpful part. Most of the outlets he mentioned specifically did not want their guest writers marketing their books and many of them were not really on point with the subject of my book. So if I had to do it over I would have skipped the marketing aspect and would have saved myself about $1000. Probably books on more marketable subjects would benefit more from the research Zach and his people provided.

So that’s my experience of writing and publishing my e-book. I am still in the marketing phase so I will probably have more to say on that subject as I figure out what I am doing.

 

 

 

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Thoughts on Advent and Christmas

Stores started putting up Christmas decorations after Halloween this year. I do not know one person who thinks this a good thing. Even the clerk in the Verizon store agreed with me. Everyone hates it and yet they do it anyway. And there is the sense that there is no way to put that genie back in the bottle. In my house I established a rule that no one can talk about Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Christmas looses its power after a while when it is stretched out to long. By the time the day actually rolls around I become resentful of Christmas under these circumstances. The four weeks of Advent seem to be a psychologically appropriate amount of time to prepare.

There is a sense of anticipation about Advent. There are four candles on the advent wreath. Every week a new one is lit. There are Advent calendars where every day a new ornament is placed or window opened. Advent is a count down. When I was young this sense of anticipation was exhilarating. I felt like something great was about to happen. Now that I am older the sense of anticipation is stressful. I want Christmas to be as magical for my children as it was for me when I was a child. I feel like the good thing might not actually turn out to be as good as I want it to. But when the good thing finally happens there is a sense of relief. It is disappointing that I cannot feel it the way I did when I was young.

Why are there so many TV shows and movies where the central theme is someone “saving” Christmas? It is the anticipation that leads to this sense that if the payoff does not happen then there will be disappointment, like when the kicker misses the game winning field goal in a football game. There is so much at stake. What exactly are they saving Christmas from?

I like the idea that Christmas is a light entering the world during the darkest time of year.

I love “It’s A Wonderful Life” but if I think about it too closely I think the message that George Bailey should be happy that he made other people happy by himself being miserable is a little suspect. I love the scene in “Miracle on 34th Street” where Santa speaks to the young girl in Dutch. He makes a connection. He is merciful.

I love “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. (See below for links to my blog posts on this story). Scrooge waited his whole life before he redeemed himself. I wonder if he felt cheated. Sometimes I feel like I have waited too long to redeem myself. I realize that sort of thinking comes from my shame ego but sometimes it scares me into believing it. This fear of never being redeemed is the darkness. It is the darkest day of the year of my life. Perhaps there is a way to find redemption through the light of Christmas. I am not sure how that would happen on a technical level. Maybe I do not need to know. Maybe I just need to be open to it and let it happen. It is a nice thought anyway.

 

 A Christmas Carol Part I

A Christmas Carol Part II

A Christmas Carol Part III

A Christmas Carol Part IV

A Christmas Carol Part V

A Christmas Carol Part VI

A Christmas Carol Part VII

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Shame and Internet Trolling

Check out my newly published eBook entitled Shame and Internet Trolling.

“Shame and Internet Trolling” is about my life journey through shame and how it led to me becoming an internet troll. The book is divided into three parts. In part one I discuss my life history up until I began trolling as it relates to my experience of shame. In part two I discuss my experience trolling, how it felt and the methods I employed. In part three I discuss the series of experiences that brought me out of shame and internet trolling.

 

SHAME AND INTERNET TROLLING 1562 x 2500 pixels

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Genesis Through the Lens of Shame Part III

After the story of Cain and Abel Genesis skips forward in time through the use of genealogies. As a reader, my shame ego looks over my shoulder when I reach the genealogies in Genesis. It makes me feels like I should read them. Another part of me (my true self) wants to skip over them. Logic weighs in on the side of skipping over them. Their value is as a reference. The information is there if needed but it is not necessary to read them absent a need to find the information. Not to mention the fact that they are boring to read. But when I skip past them my shame ego tells me I am cheating and not really reading the Bible. What happens is I skim over the genealogies not really absorbing the information but satisfying my shame ego’s desire that I mire myself in useless effort so that I feel like I have obeyed the rules while ultimately stagnate my growth.

After struggling with the genealogies, we arrive at the story of Noah and the Flood. God is frustrated with his creation he endowed with free will. It turns out mankind used this gift of free will and chose not be as God intended and so he decided to wipe them out.

And God seeing that the wickedness of men was great on the earth, and that all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil at all times, it repented him that he had made man on the earth. And being touched inwardly with sorrow of heart, he said: I will destroy man whom I have created, from the face of the earth from man even to beasts, from the creeping thing even to the fowls of the air for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace before the Lord. (Gen 6:5-8).

I suppose Noah found favor with the Lord because he followed the will of the Lord seemingly without questioning. He had no free will or was unwilling to exercise it. God then meticulously instructs Noah on how to build the ark and how to populate it. Noah does all that God tells him to do without question. After he builds and populates the ark God floods the world and wipes out his creation. After the water recedes Noah and the other survivors leave the ark Noah makes an offering to God. He is pleased and promises that he will never again destroy the world with a flood.

Later Noah plants grapes and makes wine. He then drinks the wine, becomes drunk and passes out, naked in his tent. His son Ham sees him naked and tells his two brothers Shem and Japheth who walk in the tent backwards so they do not see their father naked and cover him with a cloak. Noah then wakes and finds out that Ham had seen him naked. Curiously, Noah then curses Canaan, Ham’s son.

Noah carries the shame ego passed down from Adam and Cain all the way through the genealogy to Noah. Noah curses Cannan and not Ham or his brothers because shame is cowardly and attacks the weakest target. Shame robbed Noah of his free will and his true self. When Noah got drunk these walls broke down. He then felt embarrassment and rage and vented it on Cannan who presumably would then shame his son so that it could be continuously passed down through the genealogy after Noah. It is this same shame that had been passed down to me. It is the one that makes me feel bad for wanting to skip the genealogies in the Bible.

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Shame and Free Will

If my actions are motivated by shame then I am not exercising free will. I am acting out a prefabricated script that was passed down to be by those who imprinted their shame onto me. But it feels like I am using my own free will when I am acting motivated by shame. Or to put it a bit more accurately, it does not feel like I am acting out a script when my actions are motivated by shame.

Shame can be very subtle in this regard. Here are a few examples:

I am told to believe in the Bible because it is the word of God and was divinely inspired. How do I know this is true? I want to believe it but I really have no evidence to confirm it one way or the other. So I am left with a dilemma. Either I believe it on faith (because I have been told that is what good people do) or I remain skeptical. If I remain skeptical my shame will punish me for not having faith. But if I believe in the Bible my shame will also punish me for not being a modern, critical thinker.

I was brought up in a family that votes Democratic. There have been times over the years that I have flirted with conservative, Republican ideology. This was back before the invasion of Iraq. At the time my liberal, neo-hippie friends and my family tried to make me feel like a dumbass for siding with the conservatives. Very little of this was based on reasoned debate. It seemed to be all based on shame. Now I vote more along the Democrat lines but I still sometimes feel like I am made out to be a dumbass by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity and the people in my life who espouse that philosophy. Again, their tactics are loosely garbed in reason but their main point of persuasion is shame. Nowhere in the mix is what is true and false and best for the country. It is really all about shaming the other side. But when I pick a side I feel justified in my own beliefs and justified in shaming the other side.

I often feel awkward in social situations. When I am invited to a party my first inkling is to come up with an excuse not to go. Usually what happens is that I feel I should be social as the correct course of action. I go to the party and have a reasonably good time after a few drinks. Later in the night I feel glad I went and silly that I felt like I should not go in the first place. All this is shame. I don’t want to go to the party because I feel I will be judged. After I loosen up and feel okay talking to people I judge my pre-party self for being antisocial.

Where in the mix is what I really want? Where is my free will in any of these situations?

Shame is passed on from generation to generation. To the extent I act out the script I do so because my parents acted out the script on me. Their parents acted it out on them and so on down the line to the point where Adam took that bite of the apple, his eyes were opened and he felt ashamed. (See Gen 2:25 – 3:8). Interestingly it was free will (or so the Bible tells me so) that got us into this mess in the first place. If Adam had not chosen to eat the apple of his own free will then he would not have created the feeling of shame and it would not have then been passed down to me to rob me of my free will.

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Shame and Homeownership

When I graduated college a fraternity brother of mine bought a house.  He said it made more financial sense than renting.  At the time I had no financial means to buy a house but the thought sort of stuck with me. I envied him because he had the financial means to buy a house and I did not.

When my wife and I rented our first apartment in New Orleans the carpet bothered me.  I got the management to put in new carpeting and they raised my rent.  I did not have a vacuum so I bought a cheap one that did not work.  This stressed me out.  I rented steam machines from the grocery store but it never really did a good job.  We bought a couch to replace the futon. With each purchase motivated by shame I felt good at first but when they produced bad results I felt ashamed with my failures.

When we moved to Scranton I felt ashamed and annoyed to live with her father. I felt embarrassed that we were not living on our own as people of our age should be doing.

So we moved to an apartment.  We could not get the couch into the living room.  I felt frustrated that the couch was in the dining room and my wife did not put on the legs.  I felt ashamed when my parents came to visit because they would judge me as a failure.

When we moved to Philadelphia we lived in a high-rise.  I did not like that only bathroom was accessible by going through the bedroom.  When we had guests over I felt ashamed that they had to walk through our bedroom to get to the bathroom.

So we moved to another apartment with two bathrooms.

We were about to have a kid so we bought a row house.  At first it felt good.  Then I felt ashamed because our bathrooms were outdated so we had them redone but the workers ruined the carpet on the stairs going back and forth.  I could not get it clean and there was no room for guests so we bought a bigger house with a bigger mortgage at the height of the housing bubble.  My father helped me out with the down payment.  At first I felt good because I had a house that I was not ashamed of.  But then my wife lost her job  and I lost my job and we could no longer afford to send our kids to the private school they were attending.  Since the schools in our neighborhood were not that great we moved in with my parents where the schools were good.  We tried to sell our house but no one was buying.  So we rented it for four years.  When we finally sold it we sold it at a substantial loss.  I felt ashamed that I had lost all the money we put into that house.

The grass is always greener.  When I get to the other side it feels good for a time but then my shame ego convinces me that where I am is not good anymore. My shame ego will never be satisfied for long and will always try to convince me that what am doing and where I am living is wrong.

Sometimes I think that heaven (God’s House) is the ultimate version of the grass is always greener on the other side.

If the shame ego dies with the physical body then the grass will indeed be greener.

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Genesis Through the Lens of Shame Part II

In Chapter Four of Genesis Adam and Eve are now living outside of paradise but still in direct communication with God. In this location they beget their first children Cain and Abel. Cain seems to strongly carry the shame mindset. He is a farmer and his brother Abel is a shepherd. Both of them make offerings to God from the fruit of their respective labors. God shows respect or favor to Abel’s offering but not to Cain’s. The text is not clear about how God conveyed this information but Cain becomes angry and jealous of his brother as a result. In this context Cain’s anger and jealousy are shame based reactions because they arise from his assumption that God is disrespecting him by showing respect to his brother. He is living by comparison. It is this assumption, that favor to one means disfavor to another that is at the heart of the misery of the shame based experience.

God then asks Cain:

Why art thou angry? And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou do well shalt thou not receive? But if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? But the lust therof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it. (Gen 4:6-7).

This is interesting. My reading of this is that God is telling Cain not to live by comparison and that his favor of Abel’s offering has no reflection on Cain. Furthermore, God tells him that to live by comparison (i.e., with the shame mindset) is the gateway to sin. Of course sin can be interpreted as an offense to God, meaning, God has preferences and sin is simply something God does not like. I tend to look a sin as those actions which stop a person from growing and truly living a full life. Living with the shame mindset is absolutely something that I would classify as sin in this respect. It makes sense to me that God would not prefer this. Further, if I am to look at the character of God as being symbolic of man’s true self which becomes buried by shame I think this makes even more sense. Finally, God points out that Cain can master sin by not allowing himself to live with the shame mindset. I imagine a Buddhist might similarly interpret this passage.

Of course Cain does not understand what God is saying here (as a shame-based person would tend not to be able to do) and when God is not looking he takes Abel out into the field and kills him. This is another shame based reaction because Cain is really angry with God for not favoring his offering. Since he cannot lash out at God he lashes out at a weaker target. Then when God asks him where his brother is he responds sarcastically, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” This is all shame based. Shame cannot admit guilt, in extreme cases, not even to itself and it deflects with sarcasm.

God knows what Cain has done and banishes him from this original place of banishment.  Cain protests saying that now other people will kill him. It is unclear who these other people would be assuming the only people on earth at this point are Adam, Eve, Cain and his wife (where ever she came from). But God marks him as a warning to anyone who might try to kill him. Cain then moves east of Eden. It seems that every time man betrays himself with shame he moves further from God (i.e, his true self).

 

 

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