Memento Mori : Negative Visualization Practice

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff

Here’s another non-firearm related post on this firearms blog. I’ve been going through some hard times and this stuff is on my mind. I’m writing it out to share what has worked for me, and I’m hoping if you work through this post, you might come out more joyful.

This post is the result of watching my social media feeds, and constantly being in awe at the lack of perspective that I see people have regarding what real problems are. My ‘real problems’ scale is pretty well adjusted, and it’s one of the gifts that having cancer gave me at an early age. I understand pretty well what real problems are, and day to day life struggles don’t trouble me too much.

That lesson is irrelevant to you unless I can help you put your things in perspective to calibrate your ‘real problems’ scale without giving you a life-threatening disease or injury. I’m going to attempt that with this post.

I’m hoping this post will help you understand a few things for yourself:

  1. Things aren’t that bad
  2. It can always get worse (but it’s currently not)
  3. Create a distilled understanding of what makes you, you.

We throw around terms like ‘first world problems’ when we talk about our Wi-Fi dropping while we’re watching a movie or Starbucks being closed when we’re looking for a cappuccino. The issue I see is that people generally have so few real issues, that they confuse their day to day hiccups as real problems, and don’t realize how well things are actually going (even when some things are going a bit bad). So let’s work a two step process and we can calibrate ourselves.

Distilling down your identity

This is a useful thought experiment that Dr. William Aprill discussed with me when I was beating myself up while I was having trouble walking and using my hands from Chemo-induced neuropathy. I was feeling sorry for myself because I was sure I wouldn’t be able to shoot guns again and certainly wouldn’t return to being athletic by any definition of the word. He asked me to figure out what, “makes Mark, Mark.” So I did what he suggested and thought through what, at minimum, I am. What would I have to lose before I would no longer identify as Mark. Here’s how that thought experiment looked.

Am I still me if I lose…:

  • my 500 lb deadlift?
  • my successful career?
  • a flush bank account and investments?
  • my ability to train in combat sports?
  • my family?
  • my ability to stand up for more than 30 minutes before I hurt too much?
  • my ability to consistently remember where I left my keys?
  • my ability to breath without mechanical assistance?
  • my functioning organs?
  • my ability to remember my families faces/names?

You get the idea. I ultimately identified my line in the sand. Your homework is to think through a list of things you generally self-identify with, and pick out the line past which you will no longer be yourself. This is not easy, and might be uncomfortable. Spend a minute to do that now.

You now have the lowest rung in your ladder defined. You have looked past the walls your ego puts up to define yourself and dug down to what you actually are. What makes you, you. If you’re going through some trouble in life, as long as you haven’t been pushed past that line, you still have your identity. You can still be you.

Negative Visualization

The second part of this post will take a page from the Stoics. The technique is called Negative Visualization. It’s the practice of spending a small block of time imagining scenarios where you undergo profound loss of things you value most. The goal is to put yourself in your nightmare scenario for a short time (3-10 minutes), then when your meditation time is over you may realize that everything in our lives is ‘on loan’ and worth cherishing. Even the mundane things. It will brighten your heart. It will also teach you that things could definitely get worse, but they aren’t at the moment. That’s another thing to celebrate.

If things are currently going rough for you, spend your mediation time thinking about how it could be worse. You’ll find you can always imagine a way to make it worse, and you’ll be thankful that it’s not that bad yet. Our constant adaptation to our circumstances can trick us. This exercise will force perspective in a powerful way.

Here’s some examples:

  • Loss of a job
  • Loss of a house
  • Loss of a child
  • Major health crisis
  • Major health crisis of a loved one
  • Loss of bodily function
  • Breakup of a family
  • Your own death

The only thing you have absolute control over is how you think about your circumstances. Everything else includes an element of chance outside of your control, and letting that ruin your mood is wasted energy. This is, of course, easier said than done. It’s a constant process of course correction.

Everything, up to and including our ability to breath, is a fleeting magical gift from infinity. If something is taken from you, be thankful that you had the opportunity to enjoy it. We’re going to be OK.

Thanks,

Mark

If you find value in my ramblings, please subscribe, share, and shop through our amazon affiliate link.

AAR: Citizen’s Defense Research: Armed Parent/Guardian

Happy 2018 Everyone! Sorry for the long absence. I've been concentrating on family and haven't felt the itch to write. I'll be back this year with more. For today, we have GuG's first guest post. The author's name is Jaycel Adkins and he is a small business owner in North Florida. Writer at READY AT HAND on Facebook. Find him on instagram as @stoic.ninja. He's an avid reader, Stoic, Jiu Jitsu practitioner, shooter, and deep thinker. I'm very fortunate to be able to post this review. I really like his take on the AAR as more than a cataloging of topics. I hope you like it too.

PROLOGUE

Even in this age, there still exist videos that stain one’s soul.

The video is in black and white. There is no sound. The angle looks down at the front of a restaurant. The camera bears witness to a 2 year old boy sweeping the sidewalk. A couple passes him. Then a darkly dressed man approaches.

The attack is sudden and violent. A soccer kick to the child’s face. The child falls. The darkly dressed man stomps on the child’s head 13 times. He picks up the child’s dropped broomstick.

Another man, on a scooter passes by on the sidewalk. And keeps going.

The darkly dressed man strikes the child with the broomstick 10 times.The darkly dressed man then picks up the dust pan, turning it’s edge toward the child. He raises it.

Another man, walks past on the sidewalk. And keeps going.

The darkly dressed man brings the edge of the pan down upon the child 8 times.

Another man followed by a group of people emerge from the restaurant and confront the darkly dressed man.

He casually turns and walks down the street, before the group gives chase.

The child remains on the ground…

 

BLOCK I: SEMINAR

“Appropriate actions are measured on the whole by our social relationships.” – Epictetus, Handbook 30

The above scene is from a series of videos shown during the first block of instruction in the course, “The Contextual Handgun: Armed Parent/Guardian” taught by John Johnson and Melody Lauer of Citizens Defense Research. This course is their answer to the question:

“What if my children are with me when I get into a shooting?”

The course begins with a four hour seminar via lecture. Powerpoint slides labeled:

CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING,

DEFINE THE PROBLEM,

REACTIONS v. RESPONSES,

TYPES OF ATTACKS ON CHILDREN,

ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM,

GEAR,

MINDSET,

PRIORITIES v. TASKS,

PERCEPTION v. REALITY,

KNOW THE LAW, ETC.

are presented and explained in depth by both John and Melody.

And there are the videos.

The conclusion that one arrives at during the course of the Seminar is that the problems an average parent/guardian faces in a violent encounter are many, complicated, and unique enough that they must be trained for rather than merely reacted to. How do criminals, intent on committing a crime against you, view your children? Video examples shown during the seminar show a level of cruel indifference. How much does a child’s presence affect the parent/guardian’s attention, mobility, tactical options, gear, training? A lot.

What are the particular types of attacks that are focused on children? What techniques and strategies can you deploy preemptively and during an attack, in order to increase the odds of your loved ones and you surviving? What risks to them are you prepared to accept?

The context the seminar portion lays out, leads to the next two blocks of the course. First, a baseline of skill with a handgun. Second, followed by a day to provide strategies and techniques that students can employ to protect their loved ones caught in a violent encounter with you.

BLOCK II: FUNDAMENTAL CONCEALED PISTOL SKILLS

“And yet a bull doesn’t become a bull all at once, any more than a man acquires nobility of mind all at once; no, he must undergo hard winter training, and so make himself ready, rather than hurl himself without proper thought into what is inappropriate for him.” – Epictetus, Discourses I.2.32

The fundamental tool that the course focuses on to solve encounters that have gotten to the point of life and death in the presence of our loved ones, is the handgun. Block II is spent on how to successfully draw a handgun from concealment and put rounds accurately and swiftly on target.

Anyone who has taken a handgun course from a good instructor is familiar with what is covered in this block of the coursework. Draw, presentation, sight alignment and picture, trigger press, strong/weak hand, shooting at various distances, and safely holstering the handgun.

Building on the seminar portion of Block I, what is immediately apparent is the close focus on fast and accurate firing of rounds from a concealed holster. Particularly doing so one handed. The natural reason being that your non-firing hand will likely be occupied managing your loved one.

As a relatively new shooter, shooting one handed under the stress of a timer, at A-zone sized targets was a revelation. And not an encouraging one. Shots were missed. Instruction was provided by both John and Melody throughout the courses of fire.

Fitting with the purpose of the course, the Block II final course of fire is the FBI Qualification. Fortunately, as a result of both John and Melody’s tutelage, I was able to shoot a passing score.

BLOCK III: TACTICS AND TECHNIQUES FOR ARMED PARENTS

“With regard to everything that happens to you, remember to look inside yourself and see what capacity you have to enable you to deal with it.” – Epictetus, Handbook 10.

Day two, Block III, is spent on learning a series of tactics and techniques to engage in a gunfight around loved ones and be successful. John and Melody present a series of problems and then demonstrate and coach a series of solutions to overcome them. Problems that are covered include:

Problem 1: Over penetration of rounds. Problem 2: One handed draws from concealment with a young child in your arms. Problem 3: Controlling movement of loved ones while drawing to fire. Problem 4: Abduction dilemma, criminal has possession of your child in hand. Problem 5: Efficacy of Central Nervous System shot. Problem 6: How good of a shot are you, really? At what distances? How quickly? Problem 7: Shooting on the Move, counter-intuitively away from your loved one. Problem 8: Drawing on an already drawn gun.

I will speak briefly about one of the problems. If you seek more in depth knowledge, I recommend that you take the coursework.

Block III began with a ballistic gel test to demonstrate how far certain ammo can penetrate. The importance of this goes to the problem of a natural desire to shield our loved ones with our bodies when they are in danger from an attacker. What one realizes, to great dismay, is the likelihood that rounds that penetrate us, could likely go through us and strike those we love. Our bodies are a chimera for cover.

Another problem is how to control our loved one’s movements to prevent them from stepping in front of our muzzle during a lethal force encounter that can suddenly present itself. Melody Lauer demonstrates one leverage technique as a solution:

The course ends with the TAP/G Qual, which consents of shooting the FBI Qual while dealing with a loved one in hand. I was able to pass the Qual, barely.

The focus on accurate and timely fire is complicated by the shooter having to manage their love one. What you quickly are made aware of is the line seperating when you can to when you cannot make those hits reliably. In an actual life and death event, that line can bring untold tragedy if you are on the wrong side of it.

This was the most valuable lesson on the 2nd day for myself. Knowing, at this moment, what I am capable of and what I am not: in terms of shooting skill.

EPILOGUE

“The following assertion of the philosophers may perhaps seem paradoxical to some people, but let us examine nonetheless, as best as we can, whether it is true that ‘we ought to combine caution with confidence in all that we do.’” – Epictetus, Discourses II.1.1

10:30pm.

Manchester Arena, United Kingdom.

A concert by Ariana Grande has just finished.

10:33pm.

A suicide bomber detonates himself in the foyer.

In the maelstrom that followed, a homeless man by the name of Stephen Jones helped survivors.

When interviewed by ITV News about his actions after the bombing, he replied:

“It had to be done, you had to help, if I didn’t help, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, walking away and leaving kids like that.”


I am a bachelor. I have no children. I am an only child raised by a widowed single mother.

I find the phrase ‘sheepdog’ to be pretentious at best.

But I like to think I would not be a victim of a ‘bystander effect.’ Namely doing nothing when help is needed; waiting for others to act; sherking the impulse to do the right thing because of fear or even worse: social embarrassment.

What are the ‘appropriate actions’ for my ‘social relationships,’ often to strangers? What level of ‘hard winter training’ is needed to build the ‘capacities’ to successfully win a life and death encounter? How does one ‘combine caution with confidence in all that we do’ so that we can live with the decisions made in a violent instant, for all the years that come after?

Why did I take this course?

Ultimately, to have the skill to do what my personal ethics demand of me.

What did I learn from this course?

The bold line separating my skills from my ethics.

And ultimately, where to go from here.

2018 Training Schedule

  • Establishing a Dominance Paradigm with Tom Givens, William Aprill, and Craig Douglas
  • Edge Weapon Overview with Craig Douglas of SHIVWORKS
  • Pistol Shooting Solutions with Gabe White

Further Reading

Author with his scored target.



If you find value in my ramblings, please subscribe, share, and shop through our amazon affiliate link.

If It Is Important, Do It Everyday

“If it is important, do it every day, if it isn’t, don’t do it at all.”

-Olympic Gold Medalist Dan Gable

This year my primary goal is to work on my discipline. The way I’ve chosen to practice discipline is to pick several tasks that I will do EVERY DAY, whether I feel like it or not. I’ve dabbled in daily habitual practices, but I never would sweat it much if I missed a day or ten. This year is different.

Technology To Keep Me On Track

To help keep me on track, I’m using a simple service called NAGBOT. It texts you a reminder every day at a chosen time and asks if you’ve done whatever your daily goal is. It uses humorous responses depending on your answers. I have mine set to remind me of my tasks at 7pm, so there’s still enough time to do everything in case I forgot.

I’m getting used to having a robot nag me into doing work.

What Am I Doing Everyday?

I’ve chosen four tasks:

  1. Keep A Journal of daily events and martial arts training notes.
  2. Do 100 pushups every day.
  3. Do Dry-Fire practice every day.
  4. Actively practice Stoicism every day.
Why Journal?

I did a lengthy post on this recently. Check it and see if you think it’s worth doing.

Click to be routed to a nice 2017 Journal to start your record keeping journey.

Why 100 pushups?

My sport is Jiu Jitsu, which I train three times a week. It involves a lot of pulling muscles and flexibility. I’m still technically recovering from a stem cell transplant, so I have limited energy and recovery power. So I chose to do a daily ‘pushing’ exercise to compliment the ‘pulling’ that Jiu Jitsu gets me. Here’s Coach Dan John talking about the fundamental human movements. So far this year I’ve done 2,500 pushups. They add up quickly. 36,500, here I come!

Stoicism and Dry-Fire go together like peas and carrots… or something…
Why Dry-fire?

Dry-fire, while boring to some, is a great way to maintain and improve aspects of your shooting for an extremely low cost (read: free). I also find it meditative. Here’s The Tactical Professor explaining how to avoid “Grabastic Gunclicking”. I subscribe to his method of concise limited duration dry-fire, then I get on with my life. It is (in theory) never more than 24 hours since I’ve seen a sight picture and pressed a trigger. There is no downside to that in my eyes from a defensive shooting perspective. It’s about how recently, not how much you last practiced.

The Dry-Fire range is hidden behind a painting. There is a brick fireplace behind this wall. Set it up, practice, and put it away.
Why Daily Stoicism?

Ever since I read A Guide To The Good Life (link to my book review here), Stoicism has been on my mind almost daily. I have lacked the discipline and guidance to have meaningful study though. One of the key aspects to practicing is daily reflection. Luckily, a book exists that helps provide a short daily quote from a Stoic’s writing and paragraph to reflect on. I don’t know enough about Stoicism to prosthelytize, but I know it resonates with me fundamentally, so I’ll study it daily. The book is The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living.

Completing these four tasks every day is something that has become very important to me. I know there will be days when I don’t feel like completing those tasks. It is in those moments that I force myself to that real growth happens.

Discipline equals freedom.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you’re doing to develop  your discipline.

Mark

If you find value in my posts, please consider subscribing and sharing. And please do your Amazon shopping through our affiliate link.

Book Review: A Guide To The Good Life (Practical Stoic Philosophy)

This is a book review of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.

Let me start by saying that I am a blank slate when it comes to philosophy. When I was a younger man in my twenties studying engineering, philosophy always seemed like a strange thing to pursue as a hobby or education path. Philosophy was the joke major for people who couldn’t do physics and math. As I’ve added another decade of life and experienced times of helplessness, rage, sadness, joy, and ‘life’ in general, I’ve changed my thoughts on philosophy’s utility.

The need for a frame-work of living, interpreting, and perceiving the world was something that I had always simply invented as needed. I often fell short. I am analytical, so faith-based systems have been a hard sell. Based on recommendations from friends and inspired by the cool quotes I read from famous Stoics, I purchased this book shortly after my disease recurrence in 2014.

If you don’t want to read further, my conclusion is that this book is worth your time and is easy to digest. It is an introduction to Stoicism, and contains practical guidelines to applying it to modern life.

The first few chapters simply give an overview of the history of Stoicism, the major cultures and players involved in its development, as well as its philosophical lineage. That’s all well and good, but I like actionable information. So instead of running down the book’s contents, I’ll list several passages that resonated strongly with me. If they make sense to you as well, then you might enjoy this book.

Excerpts

“we should periodically pause to reflect on the fact that we will not live forever and therefore that this day could be our last…[which will] make us appreciate how wonderful it is that we are alive and have the opportunity to fill this day with activity”

This is called ‘negative visualization’ and revolves around contemplating, but not dwelling on, bad things or the loss of things we hold dear. This serves to weaken the blows of bad news when we get it, and allows us to cherish the things we already have by stepping back to consider how it would feel if we suddenly lost them. It’s a way to keep from taking things for granted.

“Trichotomy of control:

  • Things over which we have complete control (such as goals we set for ourselves)
  • Things over which we have NO CONTROL AT ALL
  • Things over which we have SOME but not complete control”

The next concept of use is the Dichotomy of Control (Which the author breaks into a trichotomy). It’s simply the understanding and acceptance that some things are simply outside of our control. As someone dealing with a major illness, you can imagine why this one is important for me to learn and embrace. Worrying about things that we have no control over is futile and a waste of energy.

“be very careful about the goals he sets for himself. In particular, he will be careful to set internal rather than external goals…his goal in playing…will not be to win a match…but to play to the best of his ability”

It is about the process and self-improvement, NOT about winning the game.

“We refuse to compare our situation with alternative, preferable situations in which we might have found or might now find ourselves. By doing this, the Stoics think, we will make our current situation, whatever it may be, more tolerable”

Fatalism. Things that have happened or are happening are beyond our control, as it was fate. Accept that. You can’t be anywhere but where you are right now.

“We should periodically cause ourselves to experience discomfort that would could easily have avoided…We harden ourselves against misfortunes that might befall us in the future.”

Self Denial. Anyone who has ever studied Jiu Jitsu or any other combat sports understands the value in this idea. Same goes with intense exercise, or even not turning your A/C on for a week in the height of summer. Putting yourself willingly into a crucible to be tested, though it’s not required of you. Shut down facebook for a month. Go a few days without eating. Sleep in your car. Doing something uncomfortable makes the comfortable thing special again.

“What ailment of yours have you cured today? What failing have you resisted? Where can you show improvement?”

Meditation. Reflect on your successes and failures in your personal philosophy regularly and adjust course as needed.

In Summary

Those are the basic ideas behind Stoicism as outlined in the book. I feel that the author simplifies them and explains them in a way that makes sense to a modern person. He also addresses the counterpoints and holes in the philosophy. I appreciate that. The remaining half of the book contains advice on social relations, grief, anger, personal values, becoming a modern stoic, and a good bit more.

I realize this isn’t a standard ‘gun blog’ post. But ultimately we are all humans on the same ball of dirt and will have similar struggles and questions. If you’ve ever felt lost for a way to navigate this life, and if you want a place to start looking, this is a good book. I don’t expect that I can implement all of the Stoic beliefs, but I know I can work on some of them.

Mark

If you find value in my ramblings, please subscribe, share, and shop through our amazon affiliate link.