Note to Self…

Note to Self…

If there were ever a time when I needed a dose of my own medicine, it’s now.
The lyrics below are from an unreleased track entitled No Excuses.

No excuses, push through it
Only efforts, just do it
No excuses, push through it
Only efforts, just do it

Take action, then take some more
Success doesn’t just happen so what are you waiting for?
Stop procrastinatin’, or should I say
Practicing the art of always keeping up with yesterday

It’s best to stay committed to the task at hand
Otherwise you’ll struggle trying to start the job up back again
So don’t let time decay
You’ll either find an excuse or you’ll find a way

F*ck a weak goal, let the heat flow
Get passionate, attacking it, in achieve mode speak slow
But think fast and act quick, and if you push your limits
I promise you will accomplish all of your goals envisioned

Never lower your targets
Always increase your action, always continue marchin’
Go all the way, you’ve got to commit if you wanna be great
In it to win it committed to get it whatever it takes

No excuses

From Fearful Times to Thoughtful Rhymes

From Fearful Times to Thoughtful Rhymes

My passion for poetry, creating music, and pursuing truth before comfort has compelled me to write many free-thinking songs, but I wasn’t always so skeptical.

At age 22 I still slept with the lights on. The dreadful terror of coming home at night was always justified by the ominous Amityville- style flashing lights in my room’s window. I couldn’t count the number of times I found a dead body hanging in the closet, or how often I’d awaken at night to see Jesus standing at the foot of my bed. The fear never failed.

Of course I didn’t actually see any of these things. They were just vivid thoughts constantly playing out in my head — the product of ignorance, a hyperactive imagination, Hollywood, and a mild Catholic upbringing. Although the visions were false, they felt real.

I was raised loosely Catholic, which provided fertile soil for irrational thinking, but I was plagued more by superstition than religion. The degree to which fear and superstition governed my life was unimaginable, and at times quite ridiculous. For example, as a skateboarder I was constantly prone to injury, so before doing a trick I’d knock on wood (conveniently my skateboard). It wasn’t long before my incessant knocking became painful, so I decided that simply tapping my thumb and pointer finger together three times would suffice. A half-hour passed before the absurdity of my actions became clear and I quit.

Although I fell prey to silly superstitions, I credit family and the film industry for the bulk of my sleepless nights. My Catholic aunts would tell childhood ghost stories and anecdotes of evil demons. They weren’t funny, they were frightening, and only served to perpetuate my fearful thinking. Movies like Poltergeist and The Exorcist seem laughable now, but back then they produced a fear that had me sweating mercilessly under the covers, gripping my blanket like a shield. Thinking back, how could a one- eighth inch thick piece of cotton stop something intent on hurting me?

Terrified and confined to a four by seven-foot padded cell that I affectionately called “my bed,” every floor creak was some imagined evil getting one step closer. The anticipation sent beads of sweat leaping off my cheeks like sailors jumping ship. Then, right before it consumed me, my eyes would open and it was morning. And so went the next decade plus.

As a child and teen this behavior was debilitating, but as a young adult male it was also shameful. When I’d leave the house at night I’d wait until the last second to turn off the lights, dashing for the front door before “something” got me. I must have looked like a dog running from the shadow of its tail.

While everyone else grew out of childhood fears, I just grew tired of them. Nearly two decades passed before the fatigue did me in. I became so exhausted by fear that I didn’t have the strength to react anymore. That was the moment everything changed.

My liberation started with a single question: what exactly IS this thing I’m afraid of? From there I began to investigate, which opened up a won- derful world of discovery!

I examined the historical basis for popular superstitions and definitions for things like God, ghosts, demons, and spirits. The deeper I dug, the more questions I uncovered. “A ghost is the spirit of a dead person.” OK, but what’s a spirit? “A spirit is the soul of a human.” And what’s that exactly? The questions kept emerging.

As my research continued I noticed inconsistencies and contradictions. For example: a ghost can walk through walls but then pick up a plate? A soul can see without eyes? God created everything but needs no creator? The unconvincing answers may have satisfied the biased skeptic, but I wanted to know what IS — not what felt right or sounded good.

That’s not to say I was completely devoid of silly thoughts. Bad habits do die hard. I recall thinking things like, “How can God not exist? Look how many movies and books have been made about him. All of these people can’t be wrong!” Of course they can. But at that time I was unaware of the ad populum fallacy, that no amount of popularity proves something true.

My superstitious thinking was very resistant. What really helped me break through was the support and camaraderie of secular/atheist groups. I could safely and openly express myself around like-minded individuals. I was always learning new information and ways of thinking from others more experienced and intelligent than me. I also discovered many great books, such as The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan.

Sagan’s book had a profound affect on me. I learned two incredibly powerful facts. First, a rational fear of the dark is advantageous. It keeps me from wandering out at night just like it kept our ancestors from leaving the village and becoming dinner. Second, the wild and often sinister images I saw in walls, reflections, and shadows at night weren’t actually real, but just my brain trying to make sense of otherwise meaningless information.

During most of my journey to freethought I was on a musical hiatus. In late 2012 I got the itch again, realizing with much alacrity that I could use music to liberate others from the same shackles of fearful thinking that I had worn. My first skeptically-based song, God Is Wh?t, was based on a debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig.

While fear subsided — inspiration ignited! I created songs that drew upon my favorite authors, pulling from the influential works of Sagan (The Dragon In My Garage featured at: https://youtu.be/cYDxYwHGK9I), Sean Carroll (The Afterlife Party featured at https://youtu.be/w0D0iZ7fG7A), and Thomas Paine (Omni-Absurd featured at https://youtu.be/-xCzvhXZVGk).

There are numerous ways in which I can help people through music. With vibrant storytelling and a splash of dry wit, I can inspire hope, encourage critical thinking, and motivate others to form their own opinions based on reason and skeptical inquiry.

In retrospect, I faced many of my fears simply by defining them. Every day I see the rewards of going outside of my comfort zone. It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t easy.

It was an arduous process of asking questions, investigating answers, and forming conclusions based on rational thinking. This process is ongoing by the way.

While it takes little effort to plant the seed of fear and even less work to watch it grow (i.e., overtake your garden), the seed of freethought is two-fold: you must diligently nurture it daily while constantly plucking the weeds of fear that attack it. You truly reap what you sow.

I no longer sleep with the lights on. In fact, when I occasionally feel afraid I’ll usually remove my blanket and outstretch my foot as if to symbolically say, “Go ahead, take it.”

I’ve learned many lessons on my amazing and educational journey. The most important for me has been that the shadow of fear fades once you shine the light of reason on it.

Originally published by The Freethought Society. See full issue here.

Feeling Friday On Tuesday

Feeling Friday On Tuesday 

Several months back I saw a meme a friend posted on Instagram that said, “Nothing fucks up your Friday like realizing that it’s only Tuesday.”

I immediately thought, “Are you kidding me?!” For starters, Friday isn’t real. It’s a human construct. You won’t find it laying under a rock in nature. Second, whatever emotional states you experience on Friday you can access ANY day of the week!

Why then do so many of us fall prey to this social narrative? I believe it comes down to this:
1. It’s just not socially acceptable. Try going into work on Tuesday smiling or doing a little dance (as I do) and see if you don’t get berated and asked, “What are you so happy about? Did somebody get laid?”
2. Because we want to avoid criticism, we don’t give ourselves permission to feel Friday On Tuesday.

As it stands it’s just not part of our current social narrative that you can be happy by virtue of declaration or of your own will. Mainstream media has us believing that happiness comes from external sources like movies, clothes, drugs, food, sports, or beauty products. Or external factors like getting a college degree, meeting your soul mate, or achieving a certain result. We are constantly looking for an outside solution to an inside problem.

I was sharing all of this with a friend one day when she replied, “Yeah but on Friday I know that I get to sleep in, go out if I want, and see my family”.  This may be true but so what? It’s just a fact that she has to work 9 to 5 Monday through Friday (assuming she wants to pay her mortgage and feed her family). Her feelings about which day it is DOESN’T change reality.

Her feelings DO change how she feels inside however. And this is key to feeling Friday On Tuesday. See, our emotional state basically comes down to this formula:

Observation + Beliefs About Observation = Internal Feelings

For example, she observes it’s Tuesday. She believes Tuesday sucks. Therefore she feels unhappy. Alternatively, she observes it’s Friday. She believes Friday’s sweet. Therefore she feels happy.

But what’s really changed? I mean she works BOTH days! The difference lies in her beliefs about what she observes. This is why it’s so crucial to pay attention to how you’re filling in the formula.

Most of us would rather not go to work 5 days a week to fulfill someone else’s vision, but that doesn’t mean we have to feel crappy for 4 days just to be happy on one. As Jim Rohn said, “It’s simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.”

Being happy starts by you giving yourself permission. It’s not waiting for you in the future. It’s not the result of your next material possession. Once you allow yourself to be happy for the sake of experiencing positive emotions (trust me they feel really good), Friday just becomes the icing on the cake!

To see my unlisted video about this topic visit www.youtube.com/buckbowen.

Buck, Are You There?

Buck, Are You There?

Yes, I’m here! What started as a monthly blog turned into a none-thly blog :(

But that’s OK. I got many ideas in the works. It’s just right now I’m caught up in Stephen Covey’s 3rd Habit: Putting First Things First.

Brian Tracy also has a wonderful concept in his book No Excuses called “Eating Dinner Before Dessert.” It’s definitely worth checking out.
Read a brief summary here!

Until next time… Think Responsibly!

Can Bad Habits Help You?

Using Bad Habits to Your Benefit

“Doing more of what you should instead of less of what you shouldn’t,” is what I call the current approach I take to overcoming bad habits; I’ll refer to it as MSLS for short.

Note: this is basic Psych 101 stuff and not meant to be medical advice. Take everything I say with a grain of wheat. If you have serious issues or addictions, see a doctor.
Now to the fun stuff!

This will seem counterintuitive, but the basic idea is that you can continue your bad habit! However, you must do a counter habit MORE.

This approach is for people who tirelessly negotiate with themselves and lose, people who feel they’ve tried everything.

Examples:

People who start a fitness program:
They skip the gym and resolve to hit it twice as hard tomorrow, but they don’t.

People who start diets:
They cheat on their diet and promise to eat twice as healthy the next day, but it doesn’t happen.

People who promise to quit something negative:
They sneak “just a little” and it cascades into something worse than before they started.

Eventually, the guilt and disappointment produced by these behaviors take its toll and they give up. 

MSLS is about micro steps. Its purpose is to build tiny bits of momentum through reference experience so that bigger issues can be tackled with confidence.

Here are a few aspects to consider:

Understand: Suppression Creates Obsession

The moment you declare something forbidden it becomes desirable. The more you suppress thoughts about your bad habit, the more important it appears. Have you ever tried to NOT think about something and then found yourself thinking about it?

With this approach you don’t declare the bad habit off-limits, therefore, it doesn’t become even more desirable.

Key point: Restriction is counterproductive.

Focus: Identify with the Positive Habit

This approach is oriented around promotion, not prevention. Your focus is on doing the good habit, not quitting the bad one.

Instead of thinking, “I can’t have junk food,” which immediately makes it desirable; think, “I can have all the healthy food I’d like!”

It is extremely important that you begin to identify yourself with the positive habit. You must, “conceive before you can achieve.”

Key point: How you view yourself influences your behavior, so see yourself as a “healthy eater.”

Action: Good First, Bad Later

Your every thought, choice, and action will either reinforce a bad habit or a good one.

With MSLS you can do as much of the bad habit you want, as long as you do the good habit more often. There’s one caveat however: you must do the good habit first! Even if it’s only a fraction. This is paramount!

For example, if your goal is to quit drinking alcohol drink more water, before you drink alcohol FIRST consume a glass of water. At minimum you should take a DRINK of water (fraction of the good) before drinking the alcohol.

Another example, you have to read 10 pages for homework due tomorrow, but you feel a strong desire to check your social media. Most people will say, “I’ll just check real quick then get to reading.” But an hour passes and they’re still scrolling through posts. Guilt and disappointment set in. Game over!

How would the MSLS approach work in this situation?

Optimally, you read the 10 pages first, then check your social media. But you could also just read one page, or even just one paragraph! The point is that you reinforce the good habit first. Many times you’ll start out doing just a fraction of the “work” and then keep going because you’re already there!

Start conditioning yourself to put in the “work” before receiving the “reward.” Before long you’ll find that those micro steps have become leaps in progress.

Key point: You rid yourself of a bad habit eventually by replacing it with a good one.

 

3 Quick Tips for More Time and Energy

Be More Productive by Avoiding These Three Pitfalls

Ever wonder where your time and energy went? Me too.
But the more important question is: “Where is your time and energy going?”

When striving towards real goals, it’s critical that you look for ways to make better use of your time and energy. Below are 3 simple tips that have helped me stay more focused and productive.

1) Stop Arguing
Whether you’re debating or yelling thru the walls; when you stop arguing you’ll have more time and energy. Of course there are things worth discussing, but you must choose your battles wisely. Understand that you don’t actually have to respond to the petty things people say about you. And most of the time what they say is just a reflection of themselves anyway.

The next time someone criticizes you or something you care about, simply respond with, “Cool.”
Sound simple? It is. Even statements such as, “homosexuality is a sin” or “the Holocaust never happened” need nothing more than, “OK.” You may even want to try the classic, “Cool story bro. Tell me more.”

Many people take things personal, get their emotions involved, then react with anger. When you get bent out of shape your energy is zapped. I know because I used to be this way. In fact, I was so bad that when nobody was around I’d have mock arguments in my head.

Think about it like this: you are a car and your goal is your destination.
Most arguments are wasteful detours.

2) Stop Helping Others
If you see someone on the floor bleeding, leave them. They’ll only hold you back!
OK so I’m clearly being sarcastic, but many people think this is what I mean by, “stop helping others.” That’s absurd. When it comes to helping others, ask yourself, “Why am I helping this person?”

Are you helping someone so as to avoid handling your own issue? If so, what’s ONE action you could take right now to resolve it? The longer you wait, the more guilty you’ll feel, thus wasting more time and energy.

Is the person you’re trying to help even willing to help themselves? If not, move on immediately!
It’s tempting to want to help someone when you know they could benefit from small changes.
But if that person won’t help themselves, you’re just wasting more time and energy.

Sometimes people are drowning and don’t actually want to be saved.
If you continually try to pull them up, you might find that eventually they pull you down.
[cue last breath]

3) Stop Complaining
Complaining is like a rocking chair; it’ll give you something to do for a while but it won’t get you anywhere. ¹ I think the biggest reason people complain is that they like the attention they get from bitching.²

It’s healthy to vent sometimes, but if you find yourself telling the same sob story every time a new set of ears show up, you’re doing double the harm.
Now you’re wasting your time and theirs! And here’s a finer point: don’t fool yourself into believing you’re just getting a “fresh perspective” on your situation.
You’re not. You’re prolonging taking the necessary steps to overcome what’s troubling you.

So, right now, write down TWO things you can do to fix your issue, then take action!
I’ll even help you with your first one: stop complaining.

 

1. Adapted from Van Wilder: Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.
2. Zig Ziglar – It’s All About Attitude (http://youtu.be/fzMCGoWwB8k) Accessed 02/26/15

Question Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

Question Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

Of the many things that keep me awake during the day, the misuse of the phrase, “begs the question” is probably in my top 39. Clearly it doesn’t demand immediate attention, but it’s worth addressing.

Begging the Question, also called assuming the answer, is a logical fallacy. It’s a circular argument that assumes proof without providing any evidence other than the claim itself. For example, we must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime.1 OR: We know a god exists because we can see the perfect order of creation, an order which demonstrates supernatural intelligence in its design.2

“To raise the question” or “to beg that the question be asked” are two ways in which Begging the Question is misused. For example, “He kept hinting at how rare his vehicle is, which begs the question, what kind of car does he drive?”

So many people misuse the phrase “begs the question” that it raises the question: why do they misuse it? Perhaps because they don’t know any better. But some probably do it because they think the phrase makes them sound “smarter.” It doesn’t.

Some may retort by saying that language and meaning change over time. While I admit this is certainly the case with many words, I agree entirely with Grammar Girl who states: There are plenty of phrases writers can use when they mean “makes me wonder” or “raises the question.” There’s no hole in the English language that needs to be filled, so there’s no reason to use begs the question improperly.3

 

References:
1. Sagan, Carl, and Ann Druyan. The Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Random House, 1996. p. 213.
2. http://www.skepdic.com/begging.html (accessed October 13, 2014)
3. http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/begs-the-question (accessed October 13, 2014)
4. http://begthequestion.info/

Was the US founded to be a Christian nation?

Was the U$A Founded to Be a Christian Nation?

The long answer is nope. The short answer is no. I’ve watched numerous debates on this worn out topic and so much time is wasted on quoting the Founding Fathers, referencing the Declaration of Independence (DOI), and reciting the Treaty of Tripoli. None of these contain the answer.

Both sides quote the Founding Fathers, as if it mattered… it doesn’t. Whatever their personal opinions, they were careful to set them aside to create a government that could respect everybody’s right to believe as they choose.

The DOI, our “birth certificate” as some say, isn’t the law of the land or a governing document. And any words such as God, Creator, or Supreme Being are inclusive — none of them denote “Jesus.”

And let’s not forget The Treaty of Tripoli. Sure, it was signed by Adams and ratified by congress, so what? Many Christians consider it anomalous or fraudulent and have long-winded rationalizations. Here’s the line worth citing: “…as [the US Government] has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Muslims.” This is unarguably the statement of a secular government, not a religious one.

To find the answer to whether the US was “founded” as a Christian nation; we have to look at the “founding” document — the US Constitution.

Firstly, the words God, Creator, Jesus, Christ, and Christianity appear nowhere in the Constitution. If the goal of our Founding Fathers was to establish a Christian nation, it’s odd that none of these words were mentioned.

Secondly, many claim the US was founded on Christian principles, such as the Ten Commandments. But if you’ve ever read the Constitution and the Ten Commandments you’ll notice they have little in common.

For example, “You shall have no other gods before me” contrasted with “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” On one hand we have, no other gods/religion. And on the other, worship whichever god you want. Another example, “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vane” vs. “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” Again, on one hand it’s speech prohibited, on the other, speech permitted.

Our Founding Fathers were intelligent products of the enlightenment. Had they wanted to establish the US as a Christian nation, it would have been embarrassingly simple. Just look at the beginning of Ireland’s constitution:

In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity…We, the people of Éire, Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ…

If all of this seems too simple, it’s because it is. The US Constitution has little in common with Christian principles and makes no reference to the supernatural. If you’re still not convinced, just ask yourself, “If I had absolutely no idea, no conception of Christianity, and I were to read the US Constitution, would I determine that it was founded to be a Christian nation?”

Not in the least.

Originally published in The Rational Alternative, a monthly newsletter by Atheists United.
Click here for the March 2014 newsletter in PDF format.

Applying the label ‘atheist’ – or any label – just seems pointless

Applying the Label ‘Atheist’ – Or Any Label – Just Seems Pointless

Originally featured as a guest column in the Orange County Registerhttp://goo.gl/WizvpX

It almost never occurs to me that I’m an “atheist.”

There are so many things I have no good reason to believe in – unicorns, leprechauns, geocentrism – to which I don’t wear a label, so I’m not sure why a lack of belief in God(s) should be any different.

To illustrate, I don’t play or watch sports, which may surprise some, yet I’m not labeled a non-sportist. I’m also not inundated with emotionally charged personal statements such as, “Without a sports team to root for, how do you ever get through your day?” Or, “If I didn’t have the Lakers, my life would be meaningless.”

When someone discovers that I don’t believe in God, his god in particular, I’m usually asked a series of questions. Here’s a short list with simple answers:

Well, what do you believe in, then? I believe in family, friends and doing good, for goodness sake.
How do you get up in the morning? My alarm clock, usually.
How do you have energy to get through your day? I eat food.
From where do you get your hope? Through creating art, reading literature and helping others accomplish their goals.
What do you believe happens to you after you die? The same thing that happened to me before I was born.

When I look around, I see a natural world. If something good, bad or odd happens, I search for a natural explanation. If I can’t find one, I withhold judgment. I want to have as many true beliefs and as few false beliefs as possible.

“I do not believe in God(s)” is the provisional conclusion I reached after examining the current evidence for God(s) and found it insufficient to warrant my belief.

Atheism really is just a single view on a single topic. That said, it’s frustrating to hear believers, as well as some atheists, give atheism ascriptions that cannot be logically derived from it.

Atheism doesn’t offer me a worldview, a philosophy or an ethical/moral guide (I derive those from secular humanism). It also doesn’t give me injunctions to stone homosexuals, kill others for worshipping the wrong god or tell me how to sell my daughter into slavery.

If there’s one thing I’d like non-atheists to understand, it’s the difference between a good belief and a good behavior. The latter makes you a good person; the former does not.

– Buck Bowen is a Long Beach entertainer and an organizer for the Long Beach Atheists meet-up.