Author: shiroki

I have been a nihilist

I have a strange way of experiencing spirituality. I’ve never met someone who does quite what I do. I cycle through them. I fall into spiritualities and philosophies like falling into a pool. I’m inside it when I’m inside it. I used to say I liked trying on different perspectives like hats, in the same air as stepping inside someone’s shoes.

While I do, it’s a much deeper experience than that. It changes my very foundation each time. It is not like putting on a hat or stepping into a pair of shoes—it doesn’t come off on a whim. It colors everything.

I’ve been in a new cycle, and the last several months were experienced from a deep phase of nihilism. I didn’t realize it was nihilism, until I was reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” (which, I should mention, did nothing to convince me of any inherent meaning, given my state) and he mentioned it.

I was struck by relief. I am not alone! I thought. Others have suffered like me. Nietzsche, of course, how could I not connect my grayed internal state to him?

Nihilism can define several things, but often it’s the belief that life and existence is fundamentally meaningless. That’s existential nihilism.

I had, in a slow, time-driven waning, like the moon going to black, gone from a pseudo-theist to an atheistic existential nihilist. It wasn’t something that happened overnight. It was a gradual process, the same way going from an atheist to a theist (however broad my views of it were) had been a gradual process.

Life had been stripped of all meaning, and I suffered for it. I believe that humans are driven by meaning. We need a purpose, otherwise we flounder and feel unfulfilled on a deep level. We need meaning, vision, a mission. We have a lot of words for it, but often the most effective, most influential, and most contented and fulfilled of us are the ones who have it.

What is left for the nihilist, then? A full, tangible, inescapable recognition of the meaninglessness of all existence and, consequently, all action or purpose or mission or priniciples, makes it almost impossible to ascribe meaning where there is clearly none.

I’ve always recognized, regardless of where my spiritual beliefs lay on a given day, that those beliefs could be wrong. It gave me perspective, even as I experienced something fully.

So nihilism was (and is) a strange experience, where even considering that life might have meaning was as pointless an effort as considering the existence of unicorns that shit glitter. Yes, you can do it. Mull it over in your head, imagine what life would be like if you believed in it. But it doesn’t make the glitter-poo any more real (or the unicorn, though some might argue otherwise). You can’t trick yourself into believing it.

I had no perspective. There was no counterbalance to this belief. Nihilism erased any possibility of another state of the world.

It is different knowing a belief could be wrong and still having faith (for now that I’ve experienced faith, I think that that is most what faith is: belief in the face of doubt or when all evidence speaks otherwise). As an atheistic nihilist (you could be a theistic one, I suppose, since the existence of some source does not imply meaning), I was left knowing they were wrong and that continuing to believe in them, because they made me a better, healthier, more functional human being, was ultimately a meaningless endeavor, because everything was meaningless.

I derive meaning from my sense of spirituality. Spirituality doesn’t have to mean religion, although it can. One can be a spiritual atheist. I’ve been one.

So as my sense of spirituality moved more and more toward the nihilist, the foundation of deriving meaning from my spirituality crumbled, for nihilism itself asserts meaning is but delusion.

I suffered. I said that before, but it bears saying repeatedly, because I’ve only suffered like this so many times in my life and never quite in this way. I would have entertained thoughts of death, if death weren’t just as meaningless as life, and to cease living, as meaningless as continuing to live. In the past, my feelings of lacking meaning were accompanied by suicidal urges, a desire to end my life, because life was pointless. The classic lament.

This time was a true recognition that it mattered not at all whether I lived or died, so entertaining suicide was just a form of romanticizing death, ascribing a meaning to it and to the ending of my suffering that was just as deluded as any other.

The distress I experienced in this state is mind-boggling. I fell deeper into depression. I felt anxious, because I felt trapped. I felt lonely, because I saw that all these bees buzzing around me were outside my bubble of recognition and they did not suffer as I suffered, nor could they understand my suffering or the depth of it.

I was drowning, and no one could see it—and it didn’t matter that I was drowning, anyway, or that anyone should see it.

But even in the midst of meaninglessness, the desire for connection and understanding does not go away. It didn’t matter that I knew it didn’t matter. I could see it was only a folly of human genetics, but it didn’t stop me from experiencing it.

And that is why recognizing that I was a nihilist—that my perspective and the source of my suffering not only had a name, a well-known name, but that I was not alone in my recognition of meaninglessness and was, therefore, not alone in the suffering that such a recognition can cause.

People out there had and did see and feel this with me. I wasn’t the first human.

Of course, I knew I couldn’t possibly be the first human to experience it, but giving it a name and a recognized philosophy attached to authors with faces and lives changed things.

Something about this, ironically, gave my nihilism meaning. Suddenly, to be connected and un-alone gave it purpose.

I laughed at the irony, laughed that I was as weak as any human to the drives of our biologically-driven desires, and I embraced it, because it relieved my suffering and was the only thing that could. The thickness of my skepticism and borderline cynicism had been a barrier to empathizing with anyone who experienced any brand of meaning or spirituality or religion or philosophy. I’d always been good at respecting someone’s perspective, empathizing with it, but I’d lost that.

Perhaps it was my suffering that made my skepticism take on a cold tone, a consequence of feeling alone and misunderstood inside my all-too-clear bubble. Or perhaps it is just the way nihilism utterly erased any sense of counter-perspective, the idea that I could be wrong. It said, “I am right! This is all there is: nothing, no meaning. There is no question about it, and you live your life in delusion.”

But I am a better person with meaning in my life, however meaningless being a better person may be. So I clung to the strange, laughable meaning that the very word “nihilism” gave me. It was the first rung of the ladder out of the pit.

I’m still one or more feet into the pit, even though I’ve begun several spiritual practices, which are their own discussion, to pull myself back to the center that makes me functional (and happier). There are still times when I feel that nihilistic core rise up and bring a sort of brutal clarity to my state of being. It is, perhaps, the truest thing I’ve known. Or maybe in it’s totality and erasure of the ability to embody any other thought, it’s the least true. I’d like to think it’s wrong, but I’m not sure I believe that. There’s always been a piece of me that recognized it might be right—the piece that, no matter how filled with faith for whatever spirituality I entertained at a given time, nodded to the skeptic, to the piece inside that knows humans ascribe meaning to all sorts of things, but it doesn’t make those things have meaning outside what we’ve given it.

And now I’ve felt that core truth with a clarity that shed the world of all precepts and left me floundering in a hell unlike any I have experienced before.

I am grateful.

I am terrified.

I walk the world with cautious steps.

Convincing Myself I’m Not an Ass for Wanting to Get Ripped—The Barriers That Make Us Quit

A friend of mine was talking about exercise barriers this week.

I had a lot of barriers when I first started trying to create a consistent exercise habit. It took me a year of on-and-off success to get even CLOSE to consistency, and I’m STILL battling barriers to get to my ideal.

But this conversation brought up one barrier in particular that was both surprising and surprisingly hard to get past.

First, What Is a Barrier?

Barriers are things that keep you from achieving your goals:

  • Physical barriers are the presence or absence of something. So it might be the lid that keeps you from putting something away; or you might not have a hamper, so you toss your dirty clothes on the floor.
  • Then there are the barriers inside our heads—these beliefs or “scripts” sabotage us through our assumptions, emotions, thinking patterns, and mental frameworks.

Often these internal barriers—limiting beliefs, hidden beliefs, invisible scripts, whatever you want to call them—are the most difficult to see.

One that sabotaged me early on was this:

“We should be happy with our bodies, no matter what they look like, because all bodies are beautiful.”

Body Positivity vs. Aesthetic Fitness Goals

Why is that a barrier? It sounds positive.

But hidden behind that belief was this:

“All bodies are beautiful. If I focus on aesthetic results, then I’m not appreciating my body the way it is now. I’m judging myself and others based on my aesthetic ideal. Judging is bad.”

That is the real limiting belief.

I have a soft spot for body positivity. Probably because I have spent most of my life disliking mine.

Thus, I felt guilty—I’m supposed to be this super, body positive dude, right?

…Yet I’m trying to get ripped, so I can be “hotter?” 

I’m supposed to preach about how we should accept and love bodies of all shapes and sizes, right?

…Yet I’m trying to get a six-pack and guns, so I can rip my shirt off and flex, like a half-naked, really short Superman?

I felt like an asshole. That belief made me feel like my fitness goal was compromising my values—so I resisted working out, because I was burdened with guilt, which is rarely a productive emotion.

To get around this, I tried to exercise for other reasons:

  • Health benefits
  • Strength
  • Energy
  • Mobility
  • Endurance
  • Blahblahblah…

We know exercise has a lot benefits. We’ve heard it a million times.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter that these are great reasons to exercise. I just flat out didn’t care.

Being Honest & Getting Results

When you’re deciding on a goal, ask yourself: why do I want to do this?

Ask yourself that question enough times in a row, and you’ll end up eliminating a lot of goals. You’ll realize they’re based on things you don’t actually care about, so they’re doomed to failure–why would you put your all into eliminating your barriers, if you don’t even care about it?

You won’t. And that’s why it’s important to be brutally honest with yourself about what matters to you.

Just because we know something is good for us, doesn’t mean we’re going to do it. I like being stronger and having more energy, but I didn’t care enough about those things for them to feed an exercise habit.

I needed something that made me WANT to succeed. I needed something that would make me systematically attack my barriers, until I got there, no matter how long it took.

When I was honest with myself, the answer to WHY I wanted to create an exercise habit was NOT:

  • To become healthier
  • To have more energy
  • To be stronger
  • Blahblahblah…

Despite my guilt, it was still:

  • To look in the mirror and see bigger, more defined muscles.

That’s it. That is my goal for exercise. Pure aesthetic results. That is what makes me want to succeed at creating a fitness habit.

I could have kept feeling guilty about this, but I began to think about it the same way I think about mental self-improvement: you can be happy and accepting of where you are (and where others are, because you only have control over what you do), while also striving to become better.

Accepting where you are and where others are doesn’t have to get in the way of growth.

So instead of saying:

I should be motivated by xyz (health, strength, whatever).

(The word “should” rarely serves us.)

I started saying:

Who cares what I should feel, what do I actually feel? What makes me want to succeed at this?

What is the biggest REWARD for changing my behavior?

That happens to be looking in the mirror and seeing bigger, more defined muscles.

Once I realized the hidden belief about my aesthetic goals, I lost all that guilt. I became objectively focused on getting results (“What will make me succeed?”), and left the emotional component behind by being honest.

As a result, I started making a lot more progress.

Digging Into Mental Barriers

Kakashi says in the anime, Naruto (yes, this is an unapologetic anime nerd reference), “Look underneath the underneath.”

I have no idea what that underneath stuff means in the ninja world, but in the case of mental barriers and limiting beliefs, it means stop looking at what you tell yourself you believe, and start looking at what is actually dictating your actions, emotions, and thoughts.

When you discover what is REALLY dictating the things you do, you create an opportunity to take control.

When you take control, you can start to make real progress on the things that are important to you.

In my case, taking care of my body and feeling good about it are important to me. I want the aesthetic results AND all the extra benefits.

Focusing on the aesthetic results happens to make me want to succeed at that goal—so that’s what I focus on.

Try this:

Instead of focusing on all the things people tell us matter about exercising (or whatever your goal is), ask yourself what will make you WANT to succeed?

It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or more to create the habit (more on this later), what will make you keep trying for as long as it takes to get there?

If you keep failing, look at the beliefs ruling your actions and feelings—you might find something, like I did, that’s sabotaging you from the inside out.

Maybe something that makes you feel like an ass for wanting to be ripped.

Whatever it is, find it and crush it.

You deserve to get what you want, and success isn’t magic.