Champurrado Flavored Coffee

One of my favorite Mexican seasonal foods growing up during the holidays growing up was champurradoa variation of hot chocolate with a thick consistency. While tasty, it’s consistency gives it a very heavy feel for a beverage and more along the lines of a small meal (think bowl of oatmeal). That, and the preparation process is a little involved, meaning it either has to be the holiday season or you really have a strong craving enough to push you to make some yourself if you’re drinking it.
Luckily for me, I’ve found a quick an easy substitute that as a bonus entails my true favorite drink: coffee.
Don Francisco's Cinnamon Hazelnut Coffee
You buy a can of Don Francisco’s Cinnamon Hazelnut flavored coffee, brew a pot, and pair it with a hazelnut creamer until it turns a camel brown color. In it’s own ways, it’s better than the real thing.

Sufferer's Guilt: The Suffering of Others Does Not Negate Your Own

(Yesterday, I lapsed in the daily update goal I’ve set for the month. Nothing came to mind by way of a topic to write around. More accurately, a handful did, but I couldn’t find a structure with which to work it in as a progression of the last two. As I put my mind to thinking of one for today, one came to mind – one that, refreshingly, does not center around myself as the primary subject.)
After the last post I wrote about managing the lingering constant pain that things leave behind even after you’ve worked through them, the nature of suffering, and the need for self-compassion, the story of a dinner I hosted a few weeks back for my friend David, a serviceman in the Navy that had just returned stateside. We planned dinner for Friday at the beginning of the week, and as it ran its course, the event took on a social nature. What was meant to be a private personal get together became a group gathering. Immediately after getting home from work, I set to cooking a party-sized batch of fried potato tacos and sides of beans and rice to go with it. The night was a success and a very good time, and as it wound down to its end, it found only the guest of honor, myself, and two other very close long-time friends still standing.
As we enjoyed chill house beats into the early hours of the morning and basked in each others’ company, the conversation took one of those unexpected turns towards the serious. I’d been doing some pre-emptive cleaning inside so as to not have to deal with it in the morning. When I joined the rest of the group out in the balcony, I walked into the conversation as David was throwing out some sort of hypothetical thought experiment, I don’t recall what it actually was, that had to deal with the afterlife and the promise of paradise. He was pushing for Christian heaven with a veracity that felt almost missionary. We indulged, and with the other 3/4 of the participants being in the agnostic/secular humanist camp, had a very intoxicated philosophical discusssion (that probably wasn’t as intellectual as we all felt it to be in the moment).
After awhile, we called him out on his zeal and asked why he was so ardent about paradise-in-the-skies heaven. “I just want everyone to be happy” he answered as he entered the beginning stages of crying. Now, my friend David, he’s one of those one-in-a-million kind of good guys. Always quick to help out a total stranger, and generous to a fault. It’s something that you admire while at the same time feel frustration at his refusal to give much weight to how his good will often results in the neglect of his own best interests. Again, at this point we were into the early hours of the AM and were properly filled up on libations, so the three of us bore down on him with that “brutally honest tough love” and exectued it with a pack-like finesse. Or, in an unfluffed way of saying it: we ganged up on him pretty hard. I want to say that it we overdid it and were way harsher than we needed to be, but in retrospect, it was one of those times where the situation really did call for it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have broken past that whole wanting-everyone-in-the-world-to-be-happy layer of misdirection and gotten to what was unconsciouslly really talking about.
David had been given up for adoption as a very young child, and though he had the fortune of, as I’ve been told to believe, meeting and having a good ongoing relationship with his biological mother over the recent years as an adult. Unbeknowst to us, which looking back is embarassing to admit I wasn’t on-point and keenly already aware of, that dinner took place right after the one year mark of the passing of his beloved adoptive mother.
Now, here’s where I can’t help interrupt the narrative with myself. I’ve been writing about my whole emotional-depravation stoic attitude ever since I first took it up. Though I’ve been left, as recently recapped, completely bereft of self-compassion and feeling, it hasn’t made me a completely caring asshole. In fact, falling into that black hole and pulling myself back out of it has made exponentially more compassionate for others than I used to be. Sure, I can’t empathize to that insane degree I used to be capable of, but I’ve also been down that depression spiral that I never would have thought could happen to me. And not only can I logically not be the only one, there’s plenty of posts and status updates on the web to back me up on this.
The three of us shifted over into supportive-caring-theraputic friend mode, and seemingly pulled off making him feel better about his mother’s passing. For a couple minutes at least, right before another unexpected left turn happened and we had him back to broken down and crying. This time, because he didn’t like himself — because he had to have been born defective in some way, enough to the point to where he didn’t want to be kept and was given up for adoption. While we three were once again able to collectively (and supportively) address why he shouldn’t carry the weight of his biological mother’s choice all those years ago on his own shoulders, the part that I did almost all of the speaking on was over the idea of not liking himself as result. If I’d had a tape recording of that moment, I’d be a transcription job and some supplemental writing & editing away from having a good few good weeks worth of content taken care of.
I drew on all my years of self-loathing and depression over similar-if-not-the-same thoughts he was throwing out, and didn’t stop talking until I felt sure that he was in a better place on that matter than he was before I started word vomitting all over him. I’ve been down that path, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone; I would become that overbearing supportive person I could have used to keep me from falling myself to keep anyone from having to go through that. Especially on him — David is too good for that. He’s the kind of person this world needs more of.
The night ended on a good note, and he messaged me with thanks the next day; that it’d been a very helpful and needed healing experience. Now that the story’s told, I’ll circle back to what it was that made me choose this to be my next entry and the meaning behind the post title.
Throughout the talk earlier in the night, David kept circling back to feeling so silly for feeling so sad when there’s so much greater suffering in the world. What gave him the right to feel sad about mourning his mother after all the time they had together when people across the world are going through such far worse tragedies. Very much like I was able to opine profusely on the matter of him “not liking [him]self”, so to was I able to do so on the idea that other people’s suffering would trivialize and invalidate his own.
As I spouted on about how objectivaly illogical and unnecesarily cruel to himself that notion was, all I had in the back in my mind is how often I’ve said the very same thing to myself. And I quote:

“Considering all the greater adversities that other people are facing and conquering every passing day, this tireless determination to tell the story of my own makes me feel that I must either be really in love with myself or addicted to dwelling in my past misery.”

As much as I’ve flip-flopped back and forth on the matter myself, addressing it with the pure objective clarity that comes with weighing in on someone else’s problems permanently locked me onto one side of the argument — in the end, fuck what everyone else’s problems are, you’re not stuck having to live everyone else’s lives. You’re a person and human being, born with the right to not have to be perfect, and with that comes hardship, sadness, pain, and sorrow. The fact that other people do, for whatever different reasons they may be, does not deny you the right to your own.

Pain Management

I recently started going through the archives of Back to Work from the very first episode and jotting down key takeaways and general notes from my listening sessions. In episode 3, there was a line that strongly stood out to me:

It is possible to feel pain without suffering.

Beginning to letting go of imperviousness and practicing true strength and resilience has been a little difficult. As Merlin and Dan discussed in the show, we associate suffering with pain when in reality they are separate, albeit closely related. Having to endure pain, whether physical, mental, or emotional, can create a state of suffering but doesn’t need to. The poignancy of the statement was impactful itself, but became even moreso when my brain synthesized it with one of my mentally bookmarked posts from my reads on Zen Habits. Leo Babauta wrote suffering to be a miasma that “causes you to be unhappy, to be stressed, to procrastinate, to be distracted, to be angry with people, to be dissatisfied with your life, to be overweight and unhealthy, to not exercise or eat healthy, and much more.”
Prior to that moment, I would have described myself as suffering-free after all the time I spending all that time wrestling with myself over the fairly recent past and no longer dealing with that old familiar internal turmoil. Yet those subtler manifestations of suffering have still been something I’ve been constantly having to stave off. Melancholy and misery no longer pervade my day-to-day life, but the suffering apparently still does.
Leo also writes that the antidote for those forms of suffering is to practice self compassion — which is the complete opposite form of self-motivation that I’ve been utilizing. My internal monologue is less self-compassionate and far more critical and berating. Shutting down and letting go left me coaching myself like a drill sergeant. It’s sufficient, but also an incomplete and far from ideal solution.
The pains of the past are something that I’ve accepted is something I’ll never be rid of, at least not until the technology in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind becomes a real thing. No one can ever be completely free of the most unpleasant parts of their past — memory is a double-edged sword like that sometimes. The thing that we are capable of moving past is the suffering those pains can induce. The full emotional shut-down of the past few years hasn’t been eliminated my own suffering entirely…and now that allowing feelings has become an option again, that self-compassion one of should one of first ones to get closely reacquainted with.

Strength

After acknowledging the truthful weakness of my nature a while back, I turned my attention towards getting myself to the point where I could see myself in the same light others do. Despite the lamenting self-critical tone of the majority of my writing (and by extension, the majority of my thinking), that’s not the persona I wear in day to day life. I follow that “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy and try to project that version of myself I really see myself as. Admittedly, the best I can muster is a cheap knockoff, but it’s sufficient. Still, after almost three decades of carrying the self-perception of a helpless incapable victim of circumstance, it was time to really start putting some realization behind that idealized self.
It all began with taking up the running habit. Over the months that I’ve been burning off pounds, building stamina, and gradually getting my body to match that idealized image I have of it “at goal”, it’s become easier to make enact similar changes mentally. The more I see my physicality reflecting the person I see myself as, the more natural my persona has become. At this point after all those pounds and miles, I no longer see myself as that depressed trainwreck simply pretending at being some better person I could never actually be.
But the transition from weakness to strength took a prolonged detour in a state of imperviousness. In some of my favorite television writing in the 6th season of Bones, they dropped a bit of dialogue that really resonated with me, with the lead character discussing the difference between being strong and impervious. In short, being strong is being able to withstand and thrive; being impervious is simply being detached and not allowing anything through.
As evidenced by most of the updates I’ve written in the past, I used to be in a really bad mental-emotional state. As much as I tried to accept my past and move on, I couldn’t stop living in it. It was easier to escape to the memories of what used to be (even with all the pain that came with it) than to face the prospect of having to keep moving forward in life and figuring out the person those experiences left me as. However, after indulging in that masochistic form of escapism for so long, I grew weary of feeling that way. Unable to sever the ties with the past, I got desperate and instead severed the ties with my emotions. It wouldn’t be possible to feel so depressed and perpetually downtrodden if I just didn’t feel at all.
Right around that time, an episode of one of the podcasts I regularly listen to mentioned a quote from to lyrics to the Dead Kennedy’s Your Emotions. “Your emotions make you a monster”.
That became my personal mantra, and in my efforts to rid myself of the melancholy, I also sacrificed my capacity to genuinely feel good things too. My readings on Greek Stoicism philosophy facilitated that process with its emphasis on objective reduction; feelings became nothing more than the waste material of the biochemical interactions going on in my brain that led to unhelpful perception more often than not. I shut that shit down hard.
In the recent months, I’ve been slowly allowing — no, retraining — myself to feel again. At first, I was extremely hesitant, worried that my old nature would come rushing back out and overwhelm me. Worried that I was still a weak fraud, and that all this time I’d spent on my so called personal development had been spent in vain.
I’m happy to say I was wrong about that.

Custom NaNoWriMo

Already, we’re three days into November. Thanks to internet culture, there are two events that run the entirety of the month every year. The first is Movember, where participants stop shaving and grow the biggest mustache they can over the calendar month. I don’t even try to partake, and likely never will — my Asian genes make it virtually impossible to grow anything on my face that wouldn’t be deemed a cute yet laughable attempt. There are teenagers out there that could outdo me on that front. The other is National Novel Writing Month, or as it’s known colloquially, NaNoWriMo. The premise here is pretty self-explanatory: write and “ship” a novel within the 30 days of the month.
Every year, I tell myself that I’d like to participate as a way to stretch and build (what I deem) my underdeveloped story telling and writing skills. The thing is, with all the daily responsibilities of life and my workouts, I’m hard pressed to think of any ideas for a story and the time to sit down, type them out, and refine them into a narrative. It sounds like a cop out, and admittedly is one to a certain extent. Yet on the other hand, being able to realistically assess your capabilities — and in turn, prevent yourself from coming down hard on yourself later for failing to meet lofty expectations — is a key part of productivity. Having failed to do any pre-planning this year and already being three days down, I’ve got no expectations of drafting and finishing a novel for this year’s NaNoWriMo. As a compromise, I’ve decided that I will try, but my main goal won’t be to complete a novel. My writing focus this year will be to make sure that I write a journal entry and a blog entry every day.

Weakness

A concept that I’ve noticed myself repeatedly thinking on with directness and clarity is that of “weakness”. Over the past months, it’s been something that I’ve been doing an extensive amount of thinking on and repeatedly procrastinating on drafting an entry on. After so much time continually shooting it off into the future, I’m well overdue to roll up my sleeves and give it my best shot.
When I first started really focusing my thoughts on the topic at hand, that first thing that came to mind was that familiar aggressive self-criticism: despite all the circumstances that caused it, the bottom line is that I simply wasn’t strong enough to not end up in a depressive spiral for an entire decade. To constantly see inspirational articles of people in the world conquering far greater adversities and thriving, finding myself with this very unflattering self-deprecating (and very public) writing log as the proof of the live I’ve led up until this point has been a source of both personal embarassment and resentment.
In turn, I found myself wrestling with the guilt of failing to recapture the strength that I once had. I recalled the memories of that time in my life where I knew happiness, and remembered feeling invincible in both character and mind. Yet, the more I reflected on these memories, the more I came to realize that I was recalling half-truths. Those times in the past when I was boisterous, opinionated, and outspoken…they were limited to the times I was around my family. I was free to be as arrogantly brave as I wanted to, because I had a nuclear arsenal on standby. If things ever were to go south, I had the assurance that the parents and siblings I looked up to would be there to back me up. The reality that I conveniently glossed over was that when I was physically separated from them, I turned into a docile sycophantic people pleaser.
If I jog the timeline all the way back to early childhood, I was completely soft, physically and emotionally. I had an extremely low pain threshold, and the sight of my own blood coming from even the smallest wound would send me into hysterics. As much as I was bold and outspoken, it was a confidence afforded to me by the comforting assurance that there were always people that I belonged to and would support me; my perceived strength back then was something borrowed, not innate. At my core, my nature was that of a pissant weakling.
A couple years ago, in one of those random conversations that take an unexpected turn towards a deep honesty I found myself having with my best friend, I remember him telling me that I was strong — the strongest person he knew. I recall feeling a brief esteem boost hearing that coming from him, right before being hit by an overwhelming wave of sadness at how untrue I felt that to be. Sure, I’ve exhibited resilience and resourcefulness that I never would have thought I had in me over the past few years, but the price I paid to do so is what destroyed me inside and sent me down that depressive spiral. I had to accept the loss of the life and identity I’d grown up with. I was forced to let go of all the people and relationships I was supposed to be able to rely on. Coerced into having to accept that the unconditional love of family and unwavering loyalty of friends was something that wasn’t real, or at the very least something the universe was determined to prove to me I wasn’t worthy of.
Revisiting those thoughts with my present frame of mind this year, I’ve finally flipped that perception. After all that time in isolation, going through those cognitive behavioral loops and rewriting the same old blog entries, I finally found the will to accept my reality and embrace the change into this new person I’ve been driving myself towards becoming. Before, it was out of a necessity that I resented, now it’s out of unbridled desire. Once upon a time, I was weak, and I knew it. I was insecure and utterly dependent on others for my sense of self and happiness. Now, the memories of my personal past, even up to just a few years ago, feel like the recollection of a previous lifetime. If I re-read my old updates, it’s almost as if I’m reading something written by a complete stranger.
During a recent play-through of Kingdom Hearts II a while back, there was a line of dialogue in a cutscene that stood out to me:
awakenthroughweakness
And so though it may have taken me far longer than it should have, through the copious amounts of weakness I once owned, I’ve carved out an awakened something new inside myself — its antithesis, an infallible reserve of mental-emotional fortitude and strength.

Return to Form

At this point, it’s been well over a month since the last time I posted an update. In the time since, I’ve meant to buckle down and post an entry many times, but I’ve been in a weird place this past month. It was not unlike those old behavioral loops I used to be prone to, only without the nagging rumination and general mental “funk” of times past. After all the insane amounts of running I did in August & September and all the social activity in my off-time during those months, I simply burned out. I lost touch with my drive, my thumos, and stopped working out regualrly and abandoned my self studies, opting for escapism instead and losing myself in video games and Netflix.
Throughout that time, I kept telling myself to pull it together and get “back to work”, but I didn’t. Couldn’t. I completely lost interest in myself and my projects. I kept trying to think of all the things I had running about in my head that I wanted to get out and commit to text, but was unable to muster up the intent to get it done.
Now, in what feels like a literal blink of an eye, I find myself at the start of a new month. I finally it together enough to write out one of my “life snapshot” entries in my offline journal, and seeing my current reality reflected back at me hard coded in words has jarred me back to my senses. There’s still so much to do, and time, as always, continues to tick away.

No-Measurement Monday Check In

It’s Monday morning, and I’ve instructed myself to crank out a quick update before heading into work to get the week started. Looking at the blog archives, I see that it’s already been two weeks since the last time I posted something. Typically, Mondays are the days where i’m supposed to crank out a weekly measurement/stat/photo update on the progress with the weight loss efforts, but the thing is…I really hate doing it. As much as I’d like to be the type of person that’s really into physiological quantification, rigorously tracking activity and nutritional intake and steadily heading towards peak physical fitness, the reality that’s become very evident over my past updates is that I’m not. Even with all the tools I’ve collected over time, from analog tools like tape measures and body fat calipers to smart phone apps and wifi connected smart scales, there’s no out-the-box solution to fully automate that capture. At some point, it still requires sitting down in front of a text editor and compiling all that information. Like most people that aren’t professional athletes/body builders, it’s not exactly my favorite thing to do, especially since body changes, even when implementing a better diet and copious amounts of physical activity, is still a gradual process that fails to deliver on the instant-gratification level modern life has made us accustomed to.
Much like I wrote at the beginning of the month, I’m still back in the high 190/low 200 lb range that I spiked up to at the end of August. For the majority of this month, I’ve been avoiding even stepping on the scale — knowing that the number it’s going to read out lacks context and doesn’t account for the trade off in fat to muscle that my increased running and body weight training has been causing, it feels pointless to take a measurement that I know is inherently inaccurate. I tell myself that I should at least fall back to the tape measure & photographs, but those are tedious and time-consuming to take as well. Yet, despite the lack of activity with written updates, activity in real life has stayed steady. I’m still steadily moving ahead with that pursuit of personal purpose and power I most recently wrote about. I’m looking at 10 miles a day for the rest of the month if I’m going to meet the 200 mile goal again for this month (which I fully intend to), and have been upping my game with the non-cardio workouts; over the past week and half, I’ve been spending a lot of time with a new friend who’s a professional yoga instructor, and he’s both forced and inspired me to raise the bar for myself. In addition to the body weight routines and 7-minute workouts I’ve been doing, I’ve also (finally) started actively targeting abdominal/arm muscles and general flexbility with the aim of being able to pull of advanced yoga poses and handstands like he can.

Even 90°+ degree weather won't stop me
Even 90°+ degree weather won’t stop me

More noteworthy than any set of measurements and photographs I could post is the feedback I’ve been getting in direct conversations with people, having recently started making a change from my ascetic & hermetic ways of the past few years. Though I regularly allow RunKeeper to cross-post my activity logs to my social media accounts, outside of the occasional Facebook Like and Twitter Favorite, I don’t usually see much by way of commentary. Yet, in “catching up” with old friends & acquaintances conversationally, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see it routinely being brought up by the other party.
Kyle convo
Greg running conversation
It’s validating to hear that my desired intent, to inspire even just one person on even the smallest level, is taking place out with these updates, even if I’m not immediately made aware of it.

Personal Purpose: It's About Power

Over the past weeks, I’ve been myopically focused on my running and fitness. That race to [two hundred miles][1] before the end of the month of August consumed as much time as it did energy, and in the past week of recovery and return to my training, I’ve been mentally organizing all of the non-fitness related things I’ve been meaning to write on, and at the top of the list landed a recent meditation I had on the purpose of this blog.
As I’ve acknowledged many times before, I’m painfully aware of what a terrible web presence I’ve built over the past few years. I’ve reduced myself to a repeated string of unsympathetic lamentations, an addict of melancholy rumination, mentally-emotionally damaged goods unable to regain control of his own mind and thoughts. I’ve still been wrestling with the idea of unpublishing and deleting it all, but I always ultimately conclude that I can’t just give up — after all that time spent trapped in that lesser place and invested in attempts to write about it all, to suddenly and conveniently sweep it under the rug would be very disingenuous.
But where before when I took to writing about weight loss and battling depression I mainly did so to help myself make sense of it all and to earnestly self-express (even just in some largely unexplored corner of the WordPress space), as stated on the about page, now my the purpose for my efforts on both fronts stems from something else: now, it’s about power.
I re-read my writings from 2014, and they’re largely focused on trying to wrap up the loose strings in my mind and mustering up the courage to take that new self I tore myself out of my old life from to find out into the world and subject it to trial. The ones throughout this year have been of a self-coaching tone, motivations to seek out and embrace more intense challgenges for myself — physically, mentally, and emotionally. When my inner monologue starts dictating to my hands now, it feels more self-confident than it probably ever has. Though there’s still so much left to go on my journey of personal development, I believe that I’ve learned and made enough progress to speak on things with at least some degree of authority on account of personal experience. As if I’ve finally qualified myself as someone who actually has something worth saying.
Throughout the majority of my life, I’ve known myself as weak. Emotionally dependent on others, physically weak and soft (and drastically overweight/out of shape), socially inept and cowardly sycophantic. Every time I felt myself strong and capable, it felt like a borrowed power, not my own but a result of the synergy with whoever I had in my life at the time. Treading through the depths of depression and conquering a borderline personality disorder, abandoning my personal relationships and living in perpetual isolation in search of life without external influence — all of that effort has brought me to this current present, a place of strength and an unshakable holistic grasp & understanding of myself…an a renewed sense of purpose. The polar opposite of the person I was just a few years ago.
I don’t physically train for health or the vanity of appearance. I do it to prepare myself for martial arts training and high-level outdoor activities. I keep writing about myself not to be known or understood, nor the hope that my experiences might be of help to others other there, but rather the firm belief that they can.

The August 200: A Month of Workouts in Review

August was a very active and noteworthy month for me. As I detailed in a DayOne journal entry I shared on the 31st, I walked/hiked/ran a cumulative 200 miles throughout the month, most of them running, an average of 6 per day without any daily lapses in physical activity. It wasn’t until the last week and a half that I realized how close I was to 200 mile mark, and really started pushing myself, bumping my daily range from 3-5 miles up to 8-10 miles. That, and the arm &and core training I started trying to take up, really put the beat down on my body — but it was well worth it, for it’s a lot stronger than it used to be.

August 2015 Weight Trend
August 2015 Weight Trend

In regard to weight, I burned off about 10 lbs, and apparently put them right back on. At the start of the second half of August, I was weighing in at the low 190’s — 191.7 lbs was the lowest I saw register on the scale during my weigh-ins. As I started aggressively chasing that 200 mile goal, running longer distances in spite of chronic lower back & leg muscle soreness and starting bodyweight/dumbbell workouts, my weight started to trend upward again. At the end of the month, I was back to weighing in between 197-199 lbs. Still being mostly unfamiliar with the degrees to which muscle growth affects weight, it felt like I hadn’t done enough working out to explain so many pounds gained. I pulled out the tape measure and took my usual targetted measures, and didn’t find myself changing input values much from the last time I took them.

Yet, despite what the scale and the tape measure imply, those pounds have got to be mostly from muscle. My legs, from the glute down, have an improved tone that I didn’t have last month. Even though I still have a relatively high concentration of abdominal fat, the paunch is smaller than it’s ever been. And where it used to muffin-top out in all directions, now it only hangs (slightly) from the front; the “love handle” flabs have significantly reduced.
Torso Shot, Side View
When I take a glances in the mirror these days, I can see the beginnings of musculature poking through the body fat I’ve still got left. If I poke my fingers in towards my abs from the front, they travel through far less fat before hitting the muscle wall. Despite the lack of a massive shift in quantitative inch and pound measurements, I feel much more compact and hardier than I did just one month prior, and the improvements in my physical form & awareness (and pant fits!) show it’s been a vast improvement.
Yesterday I took the day off from all physical activity and took in calories indiscriminately. Today, I’m going to focus on easing myself back into activity with walking & yoga; tomorrow, it’s back to regular training. Let’s see if I can make September a 225-250 mile month.