My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Where are you and where are you going?
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#052 12/23/2013 20/50/50 Trade-Off Revisted: The PVO

Post by My_Brain_Gets_Itchy »

#052 12/23/2013 20/50/50 Trade-Off Revisted: The PVO

Apologies for being away from my journal and out of touch.

My seasonal energy and mood in the winter is a classic hibernation mindset. Much more so this winter than most, because of my cancelled trip.

It's been reclusive and internal. Nothing on the exterior stimulates me at the moment. I've been trying really hard not to fight or deny these energies by seeking stimulation, but rather accept them for what they are:

Very anti-social and low stimulation. Recessive rather than expansive.

I've been capitalizing on this by doing the things in my life that have a difficult time competing with the highly stimulative and external things in my life that occur in the summer.

So, I built shelving and reorganized my small 3.5 foot by 7 foot storage locker, something that I have been meaning to do for the longest time, but always lost out to the more sexier to-do list things.

The storage locker previous to the reorg would take about 15 minutes, and heavy lifting and shifting of unorganized things, to pull out the thing I was looking for. Now, it takes just a few minutes to find something I need, and no heavy lifting.

The inner geek in me screams with joy at the added efficiency and multiplied effects of time added in my life in the future. :ugeek:

This small 3.5by7 foot storage can now fit all my personal effects, should I choose to vacate my <300 sq foot co-op as furnished, if I travel.

Even though my retirement plans have a budget for travel accommodation and expenses, I have been toying with the idea of apartment swapping. This would give me the freedom to expand my travel options and experiences. Random get aways, for a weekend, a week or a month, with even less overhead or planning. Just expanding my options and choices, even if not exercised, feels like an expansion of freedom. My possessions for the most part, are minimal and nothing I really value if they were to be gone.

Only in the winter, do these energies arise.

What has jolted me into writing a new journal entry is resolution today of something I wrote about over half a year ago, the 20/50/50 trade off.

Purchase Vacation Option

Today my request for a Purchase Vacation Option was processed. Here are the details.

As outlined in my previous post, my original thought was to request to work 4 days a week instead of 5 in 2014. This would reduce my work and pay 20%, but increase the amount of days NOT working a week by 50%, and would tip the balance of NOT working to ~ 50% for the annual year (183-182).

After thinking about this, researching, and dialoging with my boss over the past 6 months, I have opted for something that my company already offers, which is called "Purchase Vacation Option".

The Purchase vacation option allows an employee to "buy" up to your regularly allowed vacation days.

I get 21 vacation days, so I am allowed to buy up to 20 more.
With the PVO, I get a total of 41 days, or 8 weeks.

Add in 11 statuatory holidays, and the compromise of numbers would look like this:

156 days NOT working a year (43%)
209 day working a year (57%)

Or 7% off the 20/50/50 plan.

I chose to go the route of the PVO rather than the 20/50/50 for five main reasons:

1. Work process and procedure: The PVO is already a formal established procedure/form in place for employees. There is no red tape, it's a cookie cutter type thing for HR. The 20/50/50 tradeoff would have been about creating another exception case.

2. It's enough for the time being: 41 holidays, or 8 weeks is more than enough time i need at the momment to exercise the things that I want to do, to test out my early retirement. I was a contractor/consultant for over 10 years previous to my current fulltime job, but even then, I never went a few weeks without a gig. I've been a cubicle drone for 15 years, and during that time never had more than 4 weeks of vacation, so all things being relative, 8 weeks is like the ocean.

3. Original plan stays in tact: I still plan on pulling the plug at the end of 2015, but now, I will being doing the PVO, or 8 weeks of holidays for the next two years, subject to more tweaking or revisions. When I had first started, my plan was to retire end of 2016 without any time off from now till then. So I am grateful that the plan keeps on giving me more than I orginally intended.

4. I generally like my job: I've never mentioned this before, as I've only complained about the drudgery of being a cubicle drone. But for the most part, dare I say, I somewhat like my job. I have a great boss, benefits and working conditions. Politics are at a minimal. I stopped the promotion ladder before I got beyond my skill set/compotency or what I liked doing (translation, I am overqualified for my position). I recently finished reading Gladwell's David and Goliath, and I'd have to say that my position does feel like being somewhat of a big fish in a small pond. I have much more gratitude in my lot in life than I did before, and I realize how fortunate I am and the abundance of riches I have. I make a six figure salary and with passive income that keeps growing. I am grateful for my lot in life, but more money doesn't give me more happiness. Having said all this, and having this awareness, it does not deter me to want to quit and retire. What I realize now more than ever is that any job where the purpose is to benefit some large corporation in the name of capitalistic profit, will never be satisfying for me, no matter what skills or learning I achieve. I'd much rather have greater purpose and meaning in work, something I believe in and something that makes a difference, even in that means working for free/volunteering. I hope to expand on this in the future.

5. It's another first step: It's difficult to walk away from money. It's even more difficult to walk away from money that doesn't require 'a lot' of effort. I know I sound incredibly spoiled, but my job isn't very difficult, or too stressful.

Walking away and knowing when enough is enough in terms of money is a lesson I am learning. More money, is not my purpose. What I want to do, and what I want in life, doesn't require crazy amounts of funds, just crazy amounts of time.

On a side note, another lesson I am learning is the dis-incentive of earning more and getting taxed more for it. The last few years of the retirement plan before you pull the plug are not tax advantageous. The combination of passive and earned income especially when your investments are are in real estate rather than a dividend portfolio makes it very difficult to avoid obscene taxes.

If I don't write again for some time ( who knows!;) ), I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by rube »

Hi MBGI, thanks for the update. The PVO sounds like a great idea, well done.
Don't let us wait that long for the next next update!

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by leeholsen »

i think a lot of people would second your #4.

we may make good money or have a job that may be comfortable(my word) but come to the realization we're not going to contribute enough to affect change in a company, product or customers and would like to do something more satisfying even for free.

the good news is by going ere, you've got a chance to do that. most people never escape the costs of having more stuff than they need and get too old before they can do that.

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by sshawnn »

I always like reading your journal and how you dissect your options.

Working less is the best move I have made!

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by spoonman »

Good to hear from you again MBGI!

"what I want in life, doesn't require crazy amounts of funds, just crazy amounts of time." Very well said. The thing that's gonna make it easier to walk away from money for me is the fact that my dividend income will keep increasing on its own at a rate of at least 8% each year. We will start with a low income, but it will steadily increase as the years go by. A year of working will translate to two or three years of organic dividend income growth, so I staying in the cubicle for another year will not be worth it.

Merry Christmas to you! I look forward to future journal entries.

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by My_Brain_Gets_Itchy »

@rube: Thanks rube! Hope you had an awesome time in Toronto, sounds like the meetup was a great time. Hope to catch you the next time around.

@leeholsen: yes, would definitely agree.

@sshawnn: Thanks for keeping in touch @sshawn. Great to hear your PT is going well and good on you for making/creating that decision. Sounds like your life is more balanced even more than it was before.

@spoonman: Thanks @spoonman! It's great to hear your encouragement and positivity. Think about where we both were a year ago, doesn't it seem like a lifetime? Anyhow, it's great to hear you kicking butt (ie. your div portfolio and your downsize move) on your march to retirement and travel.

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#053 01/20/2014 Vipassana Retreat

Post by My_Brain_Gets_Itchy »

#053 01/20/2014 Vipassana Retreat

At the end of January I will be attending a Vipassana meditation retreat.

My thanks to another forum member for suggesting it to me. He is much more knowledgeable and experienced with meditation than I am. Over the past while, he has answered quite a few of my questions and shared with me his experiences and perspectives to which I am grateful. Although I would say I live now a somewhat inherently meditative life (I have transitioned from a hedonistic to stoic to now an 'unintentionally' ascetic life), for the most part I am a giant meditation noob.

My 'formal' meditation experience is comprised of reading about a half dozen books on meditation ('Mindfulness in Plain English' was the first), taking a 4 week course at a temple in Toronto, and doing a meditation retreat at Kopan in Kathmandu. I suppose also being raised Christian (ie prayer, etc) also qualifies somewhat as meditation experience as well.

I had applied for the retreat back in November 2013, before I was scheduled to depart for my trip for Vietnam. I wanted something to build on top of my Vietnam solo trip when I came back. Something that seemed like a logical stepping stone that would have built on top of my experiences in Vietnam, and hopefully take me further along my path. But as the story goes, Vietnam never happened, as mother nature had other plans for me.

I like to set tangible and concrete future actions as a way of giving myself a commitment, structure and self-discipline. As paradoxical as it may sound, I have found that the heightened state of anticipation, focus and purpose that comes with a specific target or destination, nurtures serendipity in my life. I've somewhat alluded to this point in the past, and I'd like to write more about this perhaps in the future, but it is too much of a tangent for this post. However my biggest evidence of this paradox in my life is the bountiful riches of unexpected and unintended experiences and lessons I have learned from the path to early retirement.

I wouldn't have found Vipassana.

The Challenges of Vipassana

Vipassana retreats seem extremely difficult. I've read the criticisms of its almost cult like tactics. For that reason, I fear I may be like many others, and drop out within the first few days.

I believe that Vipassana is not more coercive or cult like than basic training in the military. Both of them entail boot camp like discipline and external control to mental and physical training in order to penetrate a deeper state of mental and physical human condition and strength. And while a cult ultimately aims to control you, IMHO, Vipassana is more or less teaching you to control yourself.

Personally, I do not have the self-discipline to force myself to wake up 4am every day for 11+ days, and spend the day meditating for 8+ hours on my own and observing noble silence. But I am hoping, I do have the discipline to be able to under the instruction and external control of others.


I have been trying to build some immunity to the things that may stand in my way of not getting what I am looking for from the retreat.

What I hope for in the retreat is to not 'complete it' like some mental marathon, but to hopefully reap the benefits of what such an experience can mean to me. I hope to gain greater understanding and perspectives of myself and the world around me (among other things). So uh yeah, I am looking for some enlightenment.

When I try and analyze what I think what will be my personal biggest obstacles or risk factors in not reaping these benefits, it is in order of difficulty, the distractions caused by:

1. Physical Pain and discomfort(ie cross legged sitting for 8+ hours a day in 1 hour intervals, external control)

2. Fatigue (waking at 4am every morning)

3. Hunger (not having a full dinner)

What I have read in reviews is that pain and 'lack of stimulation/inability to cope with silence' are probably tied for #1 as the biggest obstacles.

I am thinking that lack of stimulation won't be too much of an issue for me, as my winter hibernation has slowed and simplified my life dramatically. But I could be wrong.

To 'train' for the retreat and try and lessen or overcome some of these obstacles, over the last few months, I have been sitting cross legged for durations of 30 minutes and 1 hour every few days. I have also steadily set my alarm clock earlier and earlier from 6:15am (normal wake up time) to 4am, and going to bed closer to the 9pm sleep time of the retreat. Hopefully by doing this the 'jet lag' would be one less obstacle I will have to overcome.

I have been changing my eating to mirror more closely the eating that will occur at the retreat (veg meals, no dinner). I have been eating relatively medicinally, rather than pleasurably over the last month or so, so I hope food desires and cravings will be minimal.

The Case for Vipassana in my life

Vipassana is free. (Donation based). They have centers all around the world. The retreat is 12 days, 11 nights. The centre I am going to is an hour outside of Toronto. The ramifications if I find this experience beneficial to me will be quite large in my life, as it can be integrated into my travel plans quite seamlessly. Even with a donation, it would make travel more affordable. It would also perhaps alter the "100 days of solitude" plan. Vipassana concentrates the objectives of the 100 days of solitude into 12 days. While I'd still like to travel for a period of 100 days (to appease the nomad in myself), I am uncertain if it would have to be so strict in its solitude nature if it is combined with Vipassana.

Additionally, the retreat can be done without any travel at all.

Other stuff

Again, apologies for being out of touch. During the period leading up to this retreat in combination with the seasonal mental winter hibernation, all my energies have been wrapped up with connecting with myself rather than with others. This has been both a positive and a negative. (I have found the road to going so inward to be a potentially dangerous one.)

I have reflected on my 2013 and 2014 and hopefully when I feel more outwardly I will post about these thoughts and plans.

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by spoonman »

This is AWESOME!!!

I've been reading a book about the secular benefits of Buddhism and learned about Vipassana. While I was reading about it, at some point I asked myself: "I wonder if MBGI has heard of Vipassana?" And voila! Here you are posting about it =).

I will most definitely get into meditation in the near future. I will have to take serious baby steps before even attempting to sit cross-legged for more than 5 minutes. I have rather weak knees that are prone to aches. I wonder if there's some way to meditate without being cross-legged.

Good to see you back!

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by CLE »

@Spoonman - I have recently started to meditate a well. The literature I have read says you may sit on the edge of a chair with your feet on the floor with knees at 90 degrees if you have too much pain in the traditional sitting position.

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by My_Brain_Gets_Itchy »

@spoonman: nice to hear from you as always. In the coming years, I am sure we will be chatting over a coffee somewhere in south-east asia.. ;)

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#054 01/28/2014 Musings on my practice of Stoicism

Post by My_Brain_Gets_Itchy »

#054 01/28/2014 Musings on my practice of Stoicism

I leave for my Vipassana retreat tomorrow, I can't sleep.

I had the last few days off work, and during that time I have been trying to prepare myself mentally, physically and spiritually. I've been meditating, and I've forced myself to do near 'nothing' over the last few days, clearing most of the daily regular stimulating things, with the exception of reading. I've also tried to ween myself off coffee but to no avail, I have a splitting headache.

I've been re-reading books on Stoicism to focus myself, and it's helped a lot.

Reading the teachings of the stoics has helped to crystalize some thoughts in my head as to what sort of answers I am seeking, and what has been ailing me for the last few months.

Everyone's motivation for early retirement is different.

Over the past while my realization has been that retirement for me is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

So the question arose, what then is the end purpose in this for me?

The answer was most clear in terms of what the end purpose is not. The end purpose for me is not for the purpose of a life of greater leisure and comfort. It is not to live an 'easier' life. If I became physically, mentally, or spiritually less resilient, if I became lazier, weaker or became lesser of a man, than early retirement has become a vehicle in which to satisfy my hedonism, leisure and comfort.

With this realization, my life moved unintentionally towards ascetism.

I then began to think that if I accept that :

-my early retirement is only a means to an end
-my end game of early retirement is not greater comfort, leisure or hedonism
-I value and follow the teachings of stoicism

Then the conclusion for me is:

What follows early retirement should be a greater personal achievement than the retirement itself, given that retirement was only a means to an end.

As far as my understanding of stoicism, reaching your potential is of primary purpose in life, among other things.

And this is where I stand now. At the cusp of a transition.

Part of the difficulty now, is exposing myself to the part of the ice berg in my life that lies beneath the ocean.

It is much more easier to compromise, dilute and not face the discomfort of pushing forward. It's really really easy to lie to one's ego as well.

I look back to the easy pleasures of life (the frivolity of alcohol, the participation in social media, etc) and wonder if I am depriving myself.

I wonder if there is a difference between a goal and a desire. Isn't the goal of buddhist enlightenment and stoic self potential and living well both states of desire?

I wonder if I have the strength to resist cheese cake long enough to fully appreciate the flavour of fruit..

I wonder why that even though I have achieved somethat that I have always wanted, that my mind feels more unsettled then when before this ever started ...

I wonder if perhaps all these thoughts are simply triggered by winter, not getting enough endorphins, and if so, whether this is a good or bad thing..

I wonder about Love..

I wonder if they will serve coffee at this retreat..

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by spoonman »

"I wonder if I have the strength to resist cheese cake long enough to fully appreciate the flavour of fruit.."

I had to chuckle when I read that!

Best of luck! Looking forward to hearing how it all went.

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#055 02/24/2014 My Lessons from Vipassana

Post by My_Brain_Gets_Itchy »

#055 02/24/2014 My Lessons from Vipassana

This post talks about my experiences and lessons learned from my Vipassana Meditation retreat of which I completed a few weeks back.

Life will always be an every flowing process of change and discovery, but I can thankfully say that the retreat has provided me with a great deal of insight, clarity and awareness (enlightenment is actually too strong a word) into my life and my early retirement transition for the momment. I am very grateful for the experience, as well as the role it has played in my life now, and what it will in the future.

Mental Boot Camp

Vipassana is difficult. Over the course of 10 days (12 including your arrival and departure days) it is the mental equivalent of what military boot camp 'may' do to the physical. It is intense, and there is an attrition especially from those who don't understanding what they are getting themselves into.

You do have an option of sitting in a chair or getting a back rest if cross legged sitting becomes too much to bare, however, it seems this option is more or less only for Western based locations, and most retreats in Asia frown upon this as an improper procedure. Because I do hope to go to centres around the world associated with my travel, I did manage stick with it, and do the entire retreat sitting cross legged.

In modern terms, I would describe the Vipassana experience as a surgical attempt at neuroplasticity. At the root level, it begins the process of attempting to reconfigure foundational mental processes. The main instruments being systemic DE-sensitization to pain/gross sensations, and systemic sensitization to fine grain/subtle sensations. On a high level by doing this, it gives you a heightened sense of awareness such that you can break patterns of thoughts and behaviour that you never even realized control you.

No labotomies, no drugs, no fancy technologies. Just you vs yourself.

What was quite profound to me was this technique which originated 2500 years ago by Gotama Buddha, understood all these things that we today give all these modern day fancy names to (ie. neuroplasticity, systemic desensitization/sensitization) as if they were just discovered.

As with any exercise in habit breaking and creation (ie mostly associated to thought processes), you are only as good as how often you follow up/practice the new connections. One Vipassana retreat/experience can have a varying effect, depending on the the individual, similar to how one boot camp can have a varying effect on the individual. And you should also not expect to change life long thought processes over night.

Over Intellectualization vs Experience

A lot of lessons learned in my life are not necessarily brand new revelations, but rather manifestations or deeper understanding of previous thoughts or ideas via experience (either confirming or disconfirming).

Thoughts I only acknowledged or intellectualized on the surface level in the past before (which gives me a false sense of understanding), becoming internalized and injested by actual experience.

Internal thoughts only sometimes translate to external words, but even more rarely translate to execution and action.

TL;DR: Action speaks louder than words.

For example, it is easy to intellectualize the gratitude of being the 1 percent of 1 percent who in the world population lives in a democratic western country, is healthy, and is financially independent. It is a satistical anomolly. But it is another thing to really actionable demonstrate this gratitude. It is very difficult.

Also, It is one thing to profess being a Christian by a devotional proclamation, screaming to the world one is a Christian, but another to live by those values, by the example of Jesus.

My Biggest Lesson from the Retreat

My biggest lesson and take away from my Vipassana experience is this:

Living a ego-centric self centered life will bear fruit to an ego centric self centered life.

In reflecting, contemplating, prototyping and testing my post retirement life over the past while, pretty much all thought process and experience was the continuation, magnification and glorification of the I/Me/Mine.

My dreams.
My goals.
My wishes.
My desires.
My time.
My Power.

FI was becoming a process of converting myself from a Planet to a Sun. Selfie World becomes Selfie Sun.

Things will revolve around me, rather than the later.

Individualism vs Collectivism

The rugged individualist values that bore fruit to my FI, were only growing stronger in FI.

I have reconciled that these individualist values that got me to where I am today are a good thing and can still be nutured.

I needed to help myself before I can help others, is the rationalization.

However, if I get to a state where I help myself to a point of abundant surplus and time and money and give myself an adjustment period of leisure and enjoyment ...

How much more can I really 'help' myself to the point where it is not ego centric or self-centered?

And that is the heart of my biggest lesson of where I stand now.

In any healthy process of self actualization and reaching one's potential, and central to most major religions and philosophies, the consensus is that a life well lived is a process of ego deflation, not ego inflation.

It is the direction of becoming more moon than sun.

While I previously had the rationalization/excuse of self help before, I no longer have this excuse.

Nuturing the human qualities of compassion, generosity and charity for the betterment of others rather than self, should be a central motivation for a life well lived. (oddly enough by doing this, it comes back to inevitably better oneself anyway ;P).


Most of my volunteering plans in my post retirement life (which I shared with a few forum members here) was piece meal at best. It was more about what the opportunities could do for me, rather than what I could do for others. Although it was part of the plan, it was only a small token piece, not central to purpose or meaning.

This has now changed, and I hope it sticks.

I aim to make volunteering, the central piece of my purpose and meaning. I aim to do this without financial compensation and I hope that my intentions will be limited in it's self serving-ness.

Effectively it will mean that I have retired in order so that I can give back.

It's still a process, and at this point the internal thoughts, have been translated to external words, with some fruits of external actions.

But this intention is all still very young and volatile, as I am now only just beginning.

I do believe that whatever I give in labour and time commitments, I feel will be multiplied in various serendipidous ways both to myself and to others.

The second biggest lesson..

One of the central themes that I have been exploring and writing about in my journal the last few months has been the concept of solitude, as well as finding recharge for my seamingly broken introvert battery.

By day 4 of the 12 days of the retreat not only was my introvert battery fully recharged, it was overflowing to the point of bouncing off the walls. The last time I felt like that was during the pure solo portion of my trip to Kathmandu.

So during days 3,4 and 5 of the retreat, instead of earnestly trying to medidate and practice the annapanna and vipassana techniques, I allowed myself to embrace my recharged brain and entertain the flow of ideas and insprirations.

What I mean by an overflowing recharged battery, is just an enormous amount of energy and clarity, such that the process of internal thought, to external words, to action felt like one. That mentally, I break free from the barriers of distractions that usually limit or hold me back into my comfort zone.

Dreaming and reality become the same thing.

I finally learned the precise ingredients of solitude that recharges me. Most of the ingredients came out in the 100 days of solitude, but that exercise for the purpose of recharge are much too inefficient and tainted by a few other motivations. For the purpose of Introvert Recharging, it was bloatware.

The ingredients for me are actually extremely simple and are predicated on the concept of temporarily shedding the entirety of your external self/identity (ie. the role you play in society, your automatic behaviours, your usual distractions, I suppose a form of ego death?) in order to fully engage your internal state and thought.

Everything is as manual as possible. It's a process of shedding all that covers you mentally, and exposing the nakedness of your thoughts and internal mind. It's getting an arial view of your life, from 1000 feet up.

What I did wrong in the last while was that a lot of my explorations in solitude were tainted. The solitude was diluted by the day to day, and the motivations were more about escaping or creating a pain free environment.

Hypothetically, if one moves to California to escape the north-eastern winters because they believe it is a solution to ones happiness, than the momment it snows or the weather is off, one is easily disturbed or negative.

Similarly, with me and solitude, the momment my solitude was interrupted, I felt negative. I realized that through my efforts at personal empowerment via solitude, I was becoming a curmedgeon and less resilient, which was the exact opposite of the intended effect..

As well, by slowing removing piece by piece all things that did not fit into the solitude agenda, a lot of good was also removed.

Solitude will still have a huge place in my empowerment and well being going forward, however I learned now that it best serve on a plate of concentrated temporal form rather than a daily diet.

Oh, I also learned that although I tremendously respect it and was in a way prototyping for it, a hermit life is not for me. I enjoy too much meeting and engaging with people. That became painfully obvious when on day 0 and the last day of the retreat it, I felt invigorated socializing across the diversity of segregated men (who for the most part were in a unguarded ego state, which made conversation very genuine) who took the effort to attend or serve the retreat. One of men took the initiative to create an email list which was combined with the womens, to create a distribution.

Striking the Iron while it's hot..

To capitalize on the clarity of thought and energy of my recharged battery and Vipassana retreat, the very momment I got back, I put into action and commitment all the ideas and inspirations that that flowed out during that day 3-5 period, before I could change my mind, or I reverted to past thought patterns and behaviours.

I also began to rebalance my social life(in person stuff, rather than online), so that on a day to day basis it's no longer dominated by the purpose of a retreative (that's not a word but you now what I mean) solitude.

And lastly I committed to my medicinal concentrated solitude doses for the rest of the year.

I will most definitely NOT be drinking again (a few weeks away from almost a year of zero alcohol) or engaging in social media. I actually can't believe I was pining on this before I left.

Pieces of the puzzle

I will try and post all the commitments and actions I have made for 2014 in a future post.

While I continue to love the personal narrative form of writing (something I never did or knew existed before beyond a book-keeping type of personal journal), truth be told as FI/ERE becomes more and more a means to an end in my life rather than the defining pinnacle of my life and identity, writing here in my journal has become more difficult, as my life becomes dominated by other things. Perhaps it's just temporary, or perhaps it is a signal.

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by Ego »

I've been looking forward to this recap for a while. Thank you for taking the time to write out your experiences. Each morning when I sat (for five minutes ;)) the first thing that immediately popped into my head was wondering how you did...

Vipassana has been on my bucket list for a while now. But I have been hesitant because, well, I'm not sure I can actually do it, physically sitting for so long. There is no way I could do crosslegged. I need to work up to it. And psychologically. Let's just say I did not choose my username lightly.

When I read your writing I feel like I am eavesdropping on your thoughts. Takes courage to write like that. I know I'm not the only one who appreciates it.

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by spoonman »

Thank you for the thorough report of your Vipassana experiences. I get the feeling that you have attained a tremendous level of self-understanding. That's very inspirational. I hope to introduce mindfulness into my life one of these days, I just have to settle on a format (I don't think I can do a 10 day retreat right now, maybe 3 day).

I second Ego's appreciation of your writing. You writing easily resonates with me.

I (selfishly) hope you stick around in these forums, your insights can be of great help to a lot of us.

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by zarathustra »

I will echo previous comments that I also would not want to lose you. I, too, was looking forward to hearing about your retreat.

I have also been thinking a lot about solitude and my introvert/hermit tendencies. The last two months I have been living with a friend, so it is the first time in a long time I've had a roommate, and boy has it been hard! I get annoyed easily whenever my train of thought or engagement is broken by him. I find myself constantly thinking "Ugh! I just want to be alone!" It has been disappointing/shocking. I am weak.

I often quote that great Bjork line: "I thrive best hermit-style", but I always know that is a partial lie. In the last few years, living in the bay area, I've retreated further and further into myself. Most of the time I will say that it has been a good thing; that I have learned to embrace my introversion instead of fight it, that I've become more authentic. However, this completely ignores the strongest, most beautiful part of myself, which is my love for other people . . . what I call "getting to know the real in people". Since I was a teenager, I found that I was able to get people to open up and be authentic with me, and found that there is so much beauty in that and I am addicted to it. I used to say this was my reason for living: get to know "The real" in the most amount of people as possible.

Well, I found it near-impossible to engage with people I met here on that level and I think I got so frustrated and depressed about it . . . I was getting more and more empty and resentful . . . I didn't want to want that connection anymore.

I think I've spent these last few years trying to remove that dependency. WHAT?!! NOT want to find beauty in people? Not want to connect with others? It hasn't made me stronger, it has made me less-resilient.

It has de-centered me.

Though I had already been thinking along these lines, now it is clear I need to spend time figuring out how to not only surround myself with more people that can be authentic, but how to require that of myself as well as require it of how I choose to spend my time (including jobs).

I love solitude too. LOVE it. But there are many Zarathustras, truths, and potentialities that cannot be developed or experienced in solitude.

There are freedoms you can only experience with others.

Perhaps this is a round-about way of saying that you shouldn't stop writing and/or leave the forum because even if your chief purpose has shifted, here you can engage with authentic people that you can relate to on a meaningful level who are also going through similar journeys.

You're awesome.

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Joined: Fri Mar 02, 2012 5:29 pm

Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by My_Brain_Gets_Itchy »

@spoonman: As always, thank you so much for your continued encouragement. It is tremendous to see the path that you and your significant other are heading

@ego: Of all the forum members, with you curiosity, inquisitiveness and respect of the nature of the mind, I think you more than any others, would have zero problems with the retreat.

@zarathurstra: When you are in your aged years of grey, I think you will reflect back at your Econovan Years, give yourself a mental pat on the back and say to yourself "@zarathustra, you were one fearless woman. ". Which is just a long winded way of me saying, I think you are living a life well lived.

I thought I'd write something such that people will regret encouraging me to continue journalling. ;P

I present to you, the longest journal entry in ERE history (btw, the previous record holder being me...I think?).
Last edited by My_Brain_Gets_Itchy on Thu May 08, 2014 1:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Posts: 267
Joined: Fri Mar 02, 2012 5:29 pm

Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by My_Brain_Gets_Itchy »

#056 05/08/2014 One Drink

May 5,2014, I celebrated 1 year of no alcohol. Not a drop for a year.

May 6,2014, the day after one year of no drinking, I had one drink.

This is the story of that one drink.


There is an ascetic quality to living life without drinking. A sober and naked perspective. Life is not airbrushed or sedated.

I found it difficult, but natural and pure. My metabolism, both mentally and physically, became incredible efficient.

Alcohol is to my mind and spirit, what junk food is to the stomach. A few nibbles of satisfaction has a way of tainting the flavor of all other things in life. That is my view now, but it wasn't always that way.

Throughout my 20s and 30s, most of my social life centered around a social drinking culture that is typical in a big urban cities. Chances are if you are socially active, single and living in a big city, you are drinking on a very regular basis. Most of my friends and X-gfs during that period, were born more or less from a social drinking culture.

I don't necessarily regret that. I did have some great memories and experiences from those times.

But the reality is that it is hard to recall any 'joyful' occassions in my life during that period, that alcohol didn't play a role.

It was also pushing me towards an extroverted idealogy, creating more and more imbalance.

The blessing in disguise is that living that lifestyle and value system, enjoying aspects of it and then coming out in more or less one piece, I feel I now have a deeper perspective and greater appreciation for equanimity.

Addition by subtraction

The ironic thing about the "accumulation" phase of (my) FI, is that it was a period of "contraction".

It was analogous to a recessionary period that follows a boom cylce in a market. The boom cycle of the market as an analogy to life, represents the consumerist lifestyle/ideal of growth.

The accumulation phase of my FI was both a market and life correction. One of perhaps a 1/2 dozen transitions in my life as each previous life boom cycle would run it’s course when fundamentals got out of whack. Mostly as a function of the aging process.

Bursting that bubble, both economic and spiritual, and rebuilding a life based now on certain philosophical fundamentals (stoicism, minimalism, kaizen, vipassana,etc) begins a new cycle of growth, after the recessionary purge.

Change is constant.

From what I understand of a market recession, there is a lag between most indicators and the actual market. You can't tell for sure when or if it starts, and you only really know when it’s over retrospectively, well into when expansion begins again.

So too I find is the case in life and transitions. There is a lag between the conscious and the unconscious. And it takes a while (if ever) for the two to align.

After a 2 to 3 year period of recession in my life, marked by contraction and correction, aka my accumulation phase, life is now beginning to expand.


When I got back from my Vipassana retreat, I made commitments to several things.

During the 10 days of silence and meditation, several obssessive inspirations, near self-epiphanies, kept on reoccuring.

Answers and Solutions, next steps in my FI life, in preparation of early retirement.

They were all commitments of risk outside my comfort zone to help start rebuilding and expanding on a new meaningful foundation for my FI life.

Some of these things I have been contemplating with indecision and anxiety for quite some time, and others were new ideas.

Either way, too often in life I know what is good for me, but I rarely act on it because of the unwillingness to disturb the status quo or comfort zone.

I do what I like, not what I need.

But ideas, inspirations and revelations are useless unless acted upon.

The recharge and clarity derived from the retreat ignited a powerful conviction to act. Most of the time, this conviction is dormant, or at the very least, as fickle as a pull string on an old lawn mower.

What was very surreal to me was how all these new commitments, and all my seemingly random journal posts began to feel like they all came together in a synergist and symbiotic way. That all these things, fit together as pieces to a larger puzzle.

In a nutshell, that larger puzzle is the marriage of polar individualism with polar collectivism and the combination of solitude/introversion with community/extroversion, so that both modes feed off each other.

To be able to pull that string on my lawn mower at anytime, and be able to mow grass at a thousand miles an hour.

Here is a summary of the commitments and actions that I have made since my last post.

1. Solo Kayak Portaging (ie. Chris McCandless/Walden-Thoreau Light)

In a previous journal post (#031 06/06/2013- Solituding: FI Newbie and the Canoe Portage), I mentioned a desire to do a solo kayak portage in further exploration and engagement with solitude.

It is what I call the "Chris McCandless/Walden Light" experience. A concentrated period of intense solitude and near ego death, such that it provides great clarity, creativity, purpose and conviction that I bring back as fuel in engaging in collectivism, community, volunteerism and more extroverted environments.

IE. A super charge.

For this purpose, the night I got back from Vipassana, I bought an inflatable kayak.

This one here.

Throughout the month, I had bought a laundry list of all necessary accessories (bear cannister, folding saw, paddles, pfds, dromedary, etc) that I didn't already have. I got a real good dopmine rush from spending on all these gidgets and gadgets, I must admit.

Total costs for all my gear was $1500 (I got a discount on my kayak since it was used). This is approximately the same cost as an overseas flight.

Never mind that it was still winter and I couldn't use any of this stuff yet. I convinced myself I needed to buy all this stuff while the cement of conviction was still wet. I knew that if I spend all this money, that when the cement hardened when the weather became right, I would have to do it regardless, because of the money spent.

And now, the weather is right.

Next week will be my first solo portage for 3 nights and 4 days. I am using some of my holidays from my purchase vacation option to leave on a weekday, so I beat the hordes in the cottage commuting crowd for the May two four long weekend. I will be returning from back-country into the city the day most people will be arriving.

I have also booked and paid for my more ambitious 7 day solo portage in June.

The destination will be Massassauga Provincial Park, which is about a 2.5 hour drive away from Toronto. (Backcountry fees run about $10/day).

My previous indecision and hesitation with doing the solo kayak portage was the whole rental process of the boat. On my first canoe portage, I didn't enjoy the whole rental process at all. There was a lot of overhead (stopping of at the outfitter, strapping the boat to the roof of the car, driving with what amounts to a gigantic wind drag sail on top of your car, etc) and it was cumbersome. It was enough of a convenient excuse for me not to not want to do it.

However, with the purchase of the inflatable kayak, I have no more excuses. The boat and gear stores very easily in my <300 studio and fits in my car trunk like a couple bags of groceries. The boat itself is only ~30 lbs.

Toronto is also one of the most paddle friendly urban cities in North America. When I am not working any more, the idea of paddling around either in the city or the backcountry with very little cost or overhead, nurturing solitude and nature, was an investment I was willing to make, despite my total noob paddling status.

I have also spent the last few months learning/testing how to dehydrate food via a normal oven rather than having to buy a food dehydrator. I found the Mountain House MRE’s way too expensive if you are packing food for an extended period.

Through trial, error and practice, I found the best/easiest DIY dehydrated meals for me to be stir fried rice, stir fried quinoa, macaroni pasta, and sheppards pie. Ground beef and quinoa being the most accomodable protein sources.

Although I don’t like having to leave the oven on for extended periods to dehydrate food, my utility fees are flat fee, so I don’t pay a premium for the energy I use to dehydrate my food.

I have also done a ton of research about bears.

Since I bought the boat, I have taken it out on the Humber River just a few minutes drive from my apartment. In addition to my solo portages, I plan on doing a paddle down the Humber across Lake Ontario to the Toronto Islands and to the beach.

2. American Sign Language (ASL) Course

When I got back from my retreat, I registered for an intro level American Sign Language Course with the Canadian Hearing Society. The course costs $270, and last ten weeks. I am now 4 weeks into the course.

I reason I decided to take ASL is that through wearing ear plugs way too often, sometimes at inappropriate times and with reckless abandonment I developed a curiosity about how deaf people live.

Especially in light of my right wing, radical,militant introversion empowerment, in addition to my periods of solitude, and 10 days of silence in Vipassana, exploring ASL just seemed like a logical next step.

I don't think learning sign language will have any monetary value for me in the future, and that’s totally fine. It plays no part of contributing to my FI bottom line. It's something which I think will benefit me in abstract and intangible ways that I have yet to totally figure out.

Studying and learning how deaf people communicate, is simply fascinating. "Sentence" structure is different and signs are contextual to the body and the face. It is like playing advanced charades.

As an introvert my mind explodes with the social engagement of sign language. I feel like an autistic child whose like bulb is turned on by some tuned in channel of activity or environment. Something clicks.

Signing is one on one directed communication. There is a deep sense of intimacy with two people signing, at times it looks and feels like a communicative slow dance.

Signing and reading signing forces you to use a part of your brain that for the most part is usually not engaged. It is not like learning a new language, but an entirely different paradigm of communicating.

I have so far learned the alphabet, colours, names, numbers, 5Ws, schooling, among other things. My class size is small, just under 10 people, which again, suits my social engagement. There is no talking allowed in our class, and we we continually partner up and practice in class with the lessons we learned.

On a social level, it's different and rewarding to be around people who are also interested in learning ASL.

3. Volunteering One- Serving Vipassana and Monthly Sits

When I got back from the retreat, I recognized more clearly that my decisions, philosophies and lifestyle effectively forfeit membership into the broader consumeristic/materialistic society.

I am not part of the majority.

I should not fight this or demean this by sitting on the side lines throwing stones at society. I should accept this. I am the one that chooses not to assimilate.

Stop wasting energy fighting the super Borg.

Exactly who is seeing the world through tainted glasses? Me or the rest of society? An arguement can be made for either side.

What I do know, is that my focus now is to engage with people that inspire me, or not be around people at all.

Through my period of contraction, I went through long periods of solitude, social anonymity and isolation such that I no longer require social company as some type of accessory or validation to life. Social community and company has to be built upon something meaningful, intimate or purposeful.

This may sound so very hoity-toity... but I don't care.

I seek to surround myself with people who value or aspire to some sense of self-lessness and awareness, passion, generosity or compassion (as mentioned in my previous post). I am hoping that this may happen in combination with my volunteer efforts.

I am in the process of attempting to reconstruct my social life anew on the foundation of volunteerism. I may or may not succeed.

Being that I have a weakness for the symbolic representation of certain numbers, I figured I would use the default amount of days/hours I have traditionally been given for vacation, ie 21 days or 157.5 hours, as a bench mark minimum for days committed to volunteering in a year.

It is really like flipping the equation of work life balance.

Currently, in conventional work life, I work year round with 21 days of paid vacation.

In retirement, I will work 21 days of unpaid volunteering, with the rest of the year of the more or less in 'vacation'.

The 21 days in terms of monetary salary value work out to be in the neighbourhood of $13,000. $13,000 is also more than enough to cover my base hierarchy needs (shelter, food).

But instead of donating this money, I am donating time. Which I see as more value, as I have mentioned a few times before.

My hope is that I will become more generous and self-less with my time and of myself. I hope to substantially increase this minimum bench mark amount.

But as it stands right now, I am forecasted to surpass this bench mark which was meant for my retirement life, right now , while still maintaining my full time job (with 8 weeks of vacation).

I chose volunteer roles that are temporal and annual in nature. Commitments that are cyclical with definite time periods, and not year round.

My first effort has been with the Vipassana/meditation community.

The entire Vipassana infrastructure, all the centres across the world, are completely run by volunteers, and is completely free. While they do accept donations, they have the softest sell I ever came across. I was not used to how soft the sell was. A comparable privatized zen meditation retreat would run you at a minimum around $1000.

For Vipassana, you are not allowed to donate or volunteer/serve unless you complete the 10 day course. Even if you decide to leave after only five days, they will not accept your money.

If you do complete the course, after spending 12 days (10 nights) at their centre with room and board, when it was all over, they don't pressure the students to donate. Only if you want to. Not even an external guilt trip. The guilt comes from within.

This made me want to donate and volunteer even more. The soft sell worked on me. There was tremendous integrity to it all.

I have been attending and serving the monthly 1 day sits in the city, and I plan to serve the course later in the year when the registration period opens for the retreat time period I want. When you serve/volunteer, you have free room and board. Your job is to cook, clean and general do whatever it is they ask of you. You are also expected to attend three daily group sits, but you are allowed to talk with other servers/volunteers and do not have to adhere to the strict silence that the students do.

What is nice is two of the other mediators I met during from my retreat also attend the sit with me, and one of the women and I car pool together.

4. Volunteering Two - Co-op Board Volunteering

When I got back from my retreat, the very same night I emailed the board of my co-op and told them I would like to volunteer. I have since then put in about 30+ hours of work helping them out on a near weekly basis. All of the current board in my building are all seniors. They now more or less have full disclosure about the details on my most of my life and we sometimes get into some very meaningful conversations.

5. Volunteering Three - Hotdocs Film Festival

And finally, the story behind the one drink.

When I got back from my retreat, I registered for the Hotdocs Documentary Film Festival as a volunteer.

Newbie once again.

The festival ran from April 24-May 4,2014 and apparently it is the largest documentary film festival in North America.

Amongst all these items of risk and action that I have mentioned in this journal entry, volunteering for this festival gave me the greatest anxiety. (So far, that is. I am sure night time alone in the backcountry will be terrifying.)

It's been about 20 years since I did any type of work serving the general public. In my teens and 20s, I worked as a front desk clerk at the YMCA, bars, McDs, nightclubs and restaurants, among other things, to fund my university education.

At any time, at any of these jobs, one had to be able to absorb the punch of the "customer is always right", even when they were wrong. And you had to do so with a smile. It was front line low level work: pion status and ego deflating.

In many ways at that time, it was age appropriate in terms of societal definitions and norms. My ego was still young, and I was where I was: on the low end of the societal totem pole of the labour force. My identity was stripped down to a uniform, and I was part of a front line annoymous collective that served the public.

In the case of Hotdocs, the uniform was a bright green neon tshirt, with large cap letters on the back spelling


Until Hotdocs, the me of today (20 years after the last time I wore a uniform) had the bubble safety of a "status " and a cubicle.

-I've graduated.
-I'm not on the front line, I'm in the war room.
-I'm too important to be exposed to the punches..
-I'm FI and my sh*t don't stink
_I am above it all

Or that is what the illusion of my ego tells me.

That was the genesis of my anxiety. Volunteering doing low level customer work, for free, at a much later age, with a much stronger sense of pride, ego and identity.

Wearing a uniform again.

As a cattle of first time Hot doc volunteers, we had to first attend an orientation. It filled a theatre seating near 700 people.

The demographic was mostly younger students, and older seniors.

The first blessing of my Hotdocs experience was that I felt a strong sense of kinship with both.

With the younger 20 somethings, bright eyed and bushy tailed, I related to their struggle. Their desperateness in kickstarting a job, career or identiity, where they are forced into environments of doing unpaid internships. I saw within them my past.

With the older seniors, the civic generation, I related to their desire to contribute, connect and engage. To find greater meaning and purpose. Volunteering at the festival for them in many ways, was a highlight. It was gravity. I saw within them my present, but moreso my future.

There were very very few others like me, somewhere in between these two age groups, which in many ways, was blessing number two, I could easily engage on both sides of the demographic.

The next hoop we had to jump was our training session, held at the largest multiplex in downtown Toronto. Already, some had dropped out. They trained us how to rip and scan tickets, usher, and generally how to handle customers.

With that not soon after, I had my first shift.

My anxieties melted away pretty quickly as soon as my shift started. My favourite part of the whole Hotdocs volunteering experience was conversing with the other volunteers during the downtime while the movies were screening. Everyone had a completely different life story that brought them there, and everyone was more or less willing to share. Most everyone I met was flying solo as well, while very few were volunteering with the security blanket of a friend.

For each 5 hour shift we worked, we got 2 free movie vouchers. We had to work a minimum of 4 shifts. The vouchers are also good throughout the year at the main theatre that supports Hotdocs, the Bloor Cinema.

I was able to sit in and watch a few of the movies on my shifts.

On the closing weekend, I redeemed 4 of my movie vouchers and hit different documentaries across different theatres in Toronto:

My favourite was:

Alfred and Jakobine, Trailer here story here

The story was tragic, sad, beautiful, and thought provoking all at the same time. There was a lot to relate to and contemplate, and it was a message to me in many ways on the path that I may or may not be going.

The other documentaries I saw were Super Duper Alice Cooper which was awesome, and See No Evil and The Songs of Rice

I chose to watch all these movies solo. And I am glad I did. There is something very empowering to be able to goto a movie by yourself, especially an evening weekend performance, and not give a sh*t.

So...given that I was in that I don't give a sh*t empowering mood already...

On May 6, the day after my 1 year of no alcohol anniversary, I flew solo to the approximately 500+ people attending the Hotdocs volunteer and staff party.

I already "wore a uniform", kamikazee soloed to movies Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I was on a roll.

The coincidence of what seemed to be a total manufactured event perfect for serendipity was not lost on me.

Since I was on a roll, and I didn't really give I sh*t I also felt that this could act as fertilizer to a serendipitous situation...

So I decided to have a drink at the party.

But only one....

And that is the story of One Drink.

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Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by Dragline »

And a most excellent story indeed. Thank you for sharing it. And writing in short paragraphs with space in between.

This is just such a fantastic description of an aspirational idea/goal, I'm going to steal it: "To be able to pull that string on my lawn mower at anytime, and be able to mow grass at a thousand miles an hour." The quintessential answer to the question "What are you trying to achieve?"

Now I might tell a slightly different tale, which would probably have to be entitled "The Story of ONLY One Drink". But I won't muck up your journal space. ;-)

Posts: 267
Joined: Fri Mar 02, 2012 5:29 pm

Re: My_Brain_Gets_Itchy's Journal

Post by My_Brain_Gets_Itchy »

@dragline: Thank you.

I've always admired the breadth of your knowledge and your always timely humourous youtube rebuttals.

Please do feel free to muck away, I'm always interested in hearing other peoples tales and stories.

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