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That year I was 27

Today’s my 28th bday. As a writing exercise, I’m going to try to capture some reflections from the last year, expectations from the upcoming year, and recurring hypotheses from my stream of consciousness.

I have two intentions with this piece:

  • Create somewhat of a personal time capsule. Something I can look back at and reflect once again in the future.
  • Get feedback from friends and family. I believe some of the ideas will resonate with some and trigger disinclination with others. Either way, I’m open to hear counter arguments and having an interesting discussion around the topics.

The idea came up when I was suggested by a friend I look up to:

“If you’re ever in doubt, write down your expectations and revisit them within a predetermined time frame, e.g. 3 months.”

~ Mate with a beer froth moustache

The self proclamation as an atheist

Those who know me, know that I’m a spiritual person in a contemporary way. For a very long time I struggled finding rationality in abrahamic religions, or more specifically in Judaism.

I’m of Jewish heritage, meaning I belong to the Jewish ethno-religious group from both sides of my parents. In fact, for most of my life I saw that as a beautiful thing amidst the moves across continents and family relocations. Regardless of where we went, there seemed to always be a strong sense of affiliation with the local Jewish community.

The challenge was that I indeed saw the positive aspects of community, but started having trouble believing most of the presumed truths of the religion. For most of my life I couldn’t discern between being culturally and ethnically Jewish and believing in the religion.

The first word I learned to describe what I was feeling was agnostic. It seemed reasonable considering how little I knew and was to me a humble way of putting things into perspective. I mean, as mysterious and alluring as the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud may be, it seemed more sensible that our science had better models to describe our existence and the world we live in; despite all the caveats in science.

This process was catalyzed as I went on my ‘spiritual’ journey to India. I spent several weeks in Buddhist temples, learning about mediation and buddhist philosophy. What struck me there was that Buddhism had a very strong ethical foundation I could relate to, but at the same time clung too tightly to spooky and unscientific notions such as karma and rebirth.

Karma too, was a warm and fuzzy concept that I had liked to believe in more than understand. But once inspected under a critical magnifying glass, it was obvious that it implies some force of nature which makes sure that the world and our actions are in balance. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any strong evidence for such a force.

Meditation has and continues to have a positive impact on me. But the extra wrapping it came with in Buddhism was beyond what my rational mind could accept. So I made the most out of those experiences and viewed the rest with a healthy pinch of skepticism.

Things really changed for me after reading two very influential books:

  • Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris

The two books overlap in some of the themes they so elegantly cover, namely consciousness, the illusion of the self, individuality, and the question of free will. The reading experience was of zooming out on all the mundane details of daily lives to get perspective on something that is truly extraordinary. That is, our existence on this planet.

I’m only at the beginning of my journey as an atheist, yet I feel like I’ve found the path of reason and logic.

That being said, it’s not accepted so easily considering my cultural background as an Israeli Jew. This act may seem like stereotypical Jewish self-hatred. Living in Germany adds another layer on top. But in truth, it’s not that complicated. I am comfortable and proud of my identity and heritage. The path I found fits me ethically and I believe will yield a life of less unsatisfactoriness.

Running

Running has been a game changer for me. Besides all the physical health benefits associated with it, it is like an experimental playground for me. By that I mean that it’s a simulation for many of the pains and discomforts of our daily lives. You either recognise, withstand, and persevere or you seek comfort and give up. During a 1 hour run, I think every runner faces that choice at every point of the way. Enduring those moments is to me a spring of vitality.

That vitality translates to all walks of life. Intellectually it keeps my mind clear and professionally speaking, it helps manage through complex problems and all the noise obscuring the signal.

Running is extremely convenient. It requires very little equipment. Shoes and basic clothing. It’s easy to carry that when travelling. I can do it all year long. If it’s too cold in winter, I can run in the gym. That makes it solely up to me.

Last year, the day before my 27th birthday I challenged my self to run 10km. This year I took up a half marathon, my first race. It felt like conquering fear.

Dating & Romance

This is a topic I’m a little reluctant to get into. I’ve had the unfortunate luck of being cheated on. This is typically not one of those things I think anyone is prepared for. It confronted much of the moral ground I was standing on.

As I plowed though the varied emotions it triggered I saw two options. The first was to ride the wave, feed on it, scratch the itch until it bleeds. In fact, that was my automatic reaction to the situation. I was in Kyoto, Japan as this happened and in a moment of clarity after devouring a bowel of hot ramen, I recognized the impermanence of that relationship and everything in my life. But I was still angry at my ex. At the same time I had an intellectual understanding that I need to forgive and move on. It’s much easier writing about this now that I’m out of the aquarium. I eventually sought to forgive and cut it off as the only means to my recovery.

In hindsight, the clean cut combined with forgiveness was the the most effective course of action. To my surprise, each of my friends and loved ones had a different take on how to handle it.

It’s been a couple of months that I’m dating again. I still believe trust and honesty are the foundation of any healthy relationship. Honesty is practiced first with oneself and only then with others. Self honesty is not that easy, but it has liberating qualities.

Technical leadership

This year I was promoted to a infrastructure technical lead role. This has taken much of my focus in last couple of months. The role entails both leadership and technical expertise in a field that’s both interesting and ever changing. Since I’m relatively new to the technical field and as a lead, I found it very demanding trying to improve on both fronts.

There are moments when I came close to a burn out. Simply because the days are only so long, and I have other things in my life that need care. Be it life admin, friendships, and the different hobbies I dedicate time to. So I give my time to learn. My epiphany here is that I just have to learn as much as I can and let time do the rest. There are probably ways to hack this process and speed it up but I’m content with the progress I’m slowly making.

Moreover, I’m working with a bunch of very smart people who continuously give me the nudges much needed to stay on track. And during the moments that I feel under-qualified, I just let it be. I can only give it my best shot. The world is still going to continue revolving even if I make mistakes. The economy will be fine and no one will die of hunger. I take comfort in knowing that.

Ego

All of the topics I’ve shared are in play with ego. Defining ego is beyond me so I’ll share Ryan Holiday’s definition of ego:

“an unhealthy belief in your own importance.”

I probably won’t do this topic much justice, but the gist that is covered succinctly in Ego Is the Enemy is that the source of our problems is our own attitude, selfishness, and self-absorption. Many of these ideas trace back to the Stoic movement of Hellenistic Greece.

So how have these ideas affected me?

Well, it’s hard in practice. Because the virtues of self-awareness and humility often collide with our natural instincts and what modern culture promotes.

My hypothesis is that this is neurologically related to the illusion of the self.

Mindfulness has been a constructive tool in living an honest life free of self absorption. But I’m human and I still fall prey to my own ego.

I treat it very similar to mediation. Meditation is a practice. Surely one improves and reaps the rewards associated with it. But the reason it’s called a practice is because you continuously practice it even when the mind is sporadically lost.

The year ahead

It’s an exciting time to be alive. In many ways it’s scary. Global warming, inequality, and religious and political conflicts are consistently in the headlines of the news.

I ponder, are we placing too much importance on external factors?

Most of the time, I view the world as narrated by the incessant chatter of my mind. But I know our minds are malleable enough to seek truth and reason. That process of truth seeking can be truly enlightening. Not only by its results, but with the type of thinking processes that one develops along the way.

There’s great value in solving some of those problems. In my experience a cleaner lens, through which to look out is a imperative for any important work.

I’ll be continuing to live life as virtuously as I can with curiosity and love.