Ted Cleaver

Greed and Spirituality

I detest the spiritual bitterness that comes with greed. I also detest fascists.

Man Eating Trees, AgfaPhoto GmbHGreed, as per definition, is not a matter of wanting nice things. We all want nice things, rightfully so, because they are nice. Greed however is wanting not because you want a thing, but because you want. Infinitely. The need to always have more, with a total disregard of what you have and how that is part of your self.

Spirituality is the journey into your self. Name it what you will, but with recent trends it is safe to say spirituality is about nourishing happiness within yourself. One might argue that happiness depends on recognizing that we are all connected, having realistic expectations, being optimistic and enjoying a sense of being useful in your community.

Now, how do these two intersect? They don’t. That’s the problem. Spiritual fulfillment, meaning the pursuit of internal happiness, does not require greed. It detests it.

I am not saying less is more all the time. Less may be more when we consider how much stuff we want in our living rooms, or how many words we use to say: “I love you, unconditionally.” These fundamentals are surprisingly simple. Equally simple is the fact that we all want to get ahead. In life, in our careers, our relationships, contributions to society, our social standing, and of course our bank accounts.

But here is the problem. Greed. Our bank accounts are a means to an end. As long as they are, we are good. If they become an end in themself, we become this: An entity that functions in order to accumulate more. Always. More. It is never enough. This is bad because reasons. The entity might become so obsessed with the more-aspect of things, that it forgets to enjoy things for what they have to offer.

I detest greed because it results in complete abdication of recognizing, that, at the end of the day:

  • We are all brothers and sisters,
  • Understanding that it won’t ever be possible to always have more than anyone else,
  • There is no optimism in a worldview that dictates ruthless competition,
  • The utility of greed is contingent upon a society where greed is kept in check (Adam Smith).

I detest greed because always wanting more makes you forget what you have. It is debilitating, deletes harmony and rejects appreciation of nature. Greed is spiritual bitterness. Spirituality is the antidote.

A Balanced Life

Every individual has the innate desire to express his or her individualism. This is a constant dialogue between uniqueness and conformity. We want to be individuals, and yet we need to be part of a group.

Conformity is easy. Copy fashion trends, follow and discuss relevant news, watch the right movies, and there you have it. To varying degrees, we adopt and internalize the rules and cultural taste associated with the group(s) we belong to or wish to be part of. We achieve conformity through consumption of cultural artifacts. Be it the way we drape our scarfs or our opinions on the world’s most recent crisis, reproduced from the news we consume; all these are expressions of an already existing external culture. So does picking and choosing of already existing culture, according to our personal preferences, make us individual?

Hajo de Reijger

Uniqueness is hard. To be unique you have to create. Every individual has the drive to create something unique, but there is a challenge here. Especially in light of the explosion of information around us, and easy access to it, it is hard to create something unique. Plus it requires time, time which we generally don’t have. For every piece of information that we consume, how much news do we make? For every movie that we watch, how many times do we share our personal stories with others? For every book that we read, how many birthday cards do we write? For every song that we listen to, how often do we beat our own rhythm?

Picture a balanced life as a life where for every second we stare at a screen, we should enjoy a second in nature or in good company. For every tidbit of celebrity gossip we are tricked into picking up, we sit down with our neighbors and talk about our families over a home-cooked dinner. Picture a balanced life as one where we aim to reduce the excessive intake, adoption and reproduction of external culture, and try to focus more on our own – and each other’s – uniqueness and creative force.

Picture a balanced life as one where bumping into a stranger does not end in small talk about the weather and recent news items, but opens the door to an inspiring conversation about individual passions and personal stories.

I like to write. Next time I see someone in a park with a sketchbook, I’ll sit down next to them and ask them to show me what they’re drawing.

Nature is love, love is nature

When at peace, we are connected with something greater. When at war, we are connected with something primitive. When serotonin motivates, we feel empathy. When cortisol rules, we are commanded by fight or flight. Do not fight. Do not run. Make peace with yourself and connect with us as if we are one.


One with nature, one with love

Thank you.

Libertarian Paternalism

Governments should stay out of people’s lives with their rules and regulations. Manipulating people is the responsibility of corporations and the media.

K.O.-ing mosquitos

Buzz buzz splat. Damn you, bloodsuckers. Don’t stick me, and don’t disturb my sleep. We, the human race that is, hate you. But you are elusive and sometimes resilient.

Swatting mosquitos is a violent act that expresses with unmistakable clarity who we accept in our sphere and who or what we can do without. Do not bug me, I will strike you down with a clap, kitchen towel, or a zapper.

Using the second item, it occasionally happens that the offender is out for the count, but comes back at you. I K.O.-ed several mosquitos, did not finish them off, and was surprised to watch an apparently groggy stinger swerve through the air. Easy pickings from there, and trust me, judgement was passed and executed swiftly.

Moral of the story: you have to commend these tiny creatures for their fighting spirit. Going round two against a foe that is in every way superior demands respect. Maybe I will let the next lecherous culprit live in case it survives my initial assault. Doubt it though.

Falling in Love

Living a loving life is the word. Love has many beautiful forms, each of which enrich our lives. One of the most exciting and refreshing feelings is to fall in love. It happened to me last summer while rolling sushi with this little mermaid I had met two days earlier. We hit it off from the moment we met.

I’d Pick More DaisiesJ.L. Borges D. Herold

She was sitting on a bridge that leads into the city centre. I was on my way to have biological burgers with my posse from work, an appointment I had perfect reason to be late for. Her radiant smile sparked my interest. I wanted her. There was enough attraction for me to ravage Goldilocks’ curls right then and there, but I figured self-control is sexy. So I leave with nothing but the names of her and her friend. Two days later we share our first kiss, while waiting for the train that would take our bento and us to an idyllic little park. The sensation of falling for someone is so vibrantly expressed through our sense of touch. Whether it’s holding hands or exchanging passionate kisses, there is a subtle desire that grows until it envelops you completely. Sweet temptation, flirtatious gesture, affectionate embrace, exhilarating interaction, and playful persuasion, seduction is you. Entice me, engage me; let me take you by the hand, trust me, let me love you. Being in love is a continuous surge of pleasure that transforms the way you look at the world.

“Love is a serious addiction.” – H. Fisher

Pioneering brain research offers rational explanations for the sensation. Phenylethylamine causes love-drunkenness, noradrenalin and cortisol trigger excitement, and dopamine and endorphins reward you with euphoria. We are equipped with the biological equivalent of highly potent love potions. There is a lot to be said about their supply and effects, what’s important here is that our neurochemistry allows for passion without long-term commitment. Helen Fisher conducted MRI scans, charting brain activity of people who were madly in love. One of the most surprising findings is that the immediate desire, the urge, to be with the person you fell for does not stem from your emotional core – the (meso)limbic system. Instead, the must-have-you craving is neurologically analogous to a cocaine rush. The burning desire to be with your lover naturally grows more powerful. This addiction is fuelled by the hormonal concoctions your very own love bazar peddles, quite ironically to the point of obsession in case of rejection. Finishing up on neuroscience, oxytocin is the hormone responsible for long-term commitment and monogamy. It may be an evolutionary failsafe, as it comes to dominate once the other invigorating effects have worn off.

“Love is a perfectly normal improbability.” – N. Luhman

Luhman believes that true love comes down to fulfilling each other’s expectations. This arrangement is by far less profound for lovers. Nonetheless falling in love is exactly that, improbable and yet normal. It is normal because we are social animals, but it is improbable because the likelihood of meeting someone who transcends our preferences and desires is quite small. If the magical improbability does occur it should be cherished and treasured. Last summer, I discovered the Holstee Manifesto and was getting more and more adept at Bikram (hot yoga), while my love ninja shared her fascination for contemporary interpretations of Zen teachings with me. Connecting on a spiritual level provided fertile ground for fully appreciating all our experiences. Dreaming under the clear blue sky, partying in clubs, feasting on Asian fusion cooking, learning from each other, going deep between the sheets, and laughing it up, every moment was one in augmented awareness. One of the best parts of being in love is discovering improbable similarities in the little things. For instance, this girl might be the only person I know who used to fill her cup until it nearly spilled over, something I always do with delicious drinks.

“Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas.” – B. Pascale

Our adventure was intense and uplifting but ended rather quickly. My friends called her gorgeous and pressed me for answers. They wanted to know what had gone wrong, why I no longer spoke of her. The truth is that both of us are wise enough to follow our hearts, and both our hearts stopped beating for each other. Emotions can be elusive, that is what makes them exciting. Rationality on the other hand demands a sensible explanation. Moreover, when exiting a relationship the brain’s negotiator shows increased activity, weighing pro’s and con’s of the person you are dismissing. Con’s by definition will reflect negatively on a very special experience. The arrangement between emotion and reason is functional; it does wonders for protecting your ego. There is one fundamental problem though. Blaise Pascale coined it. We all know it. Rationality can never ever explain, let alone reflect, the thrill of falling in love. Theoretical and empirical insights approximate the truth, but the experience itself is on an entirely different level. Whether our hearts tell us to keep holding on while our minds signal the red flag, or our emotions subside while all expectation points towards a shared future, the heart is the only authority in love matters. Trust it. There is no need to detract from a little bit of bliss. Because if the only legitimate decision is made from deep within all other reasons fall by the wayside. For me, nothing had gone wrong past summer. Everything went exactly the way it should. From intense crush to beautiful memory, bypassing the hangover, our affair was pure win.

Poetry may have been a better choice to reflect how I feel about this subject.
This romance was quite unique because of the parallels in how we felt at what point.
Of course this is a bit of idealization, when telling each other it was over there was a whole lot of less bliss for a week or two. The End.


Reality is socially constructed. What we consider to be a drug depends entirely on the context. In Germany, a drug is a substance with addictive and malignant properties; in English, a drug may very well be a remedy for a condition. Next to differences across languages, the social setting determines the meaning. Discuss possible treatments for androgenic ailments with your physician and the word “drug” means one thing, talk about an extreme night out with a bunch of hippies and the signifier signifies something else, by a mile. As a fan of constructivism, I offer some interesting facts – modus operandi: smug.

More than smug actually, since I will demonstrate to you how our understanding of drugs is completely irrational. Completely. The simple question, what is a drug and what is not, is not that simple. To begin the discussion, a professional distinction is made between pharmaceutical and recreational drugs. The lines are however consistently blurred. Medicinal marihuana and novocaine are examples of drugs that are perceived to function in one domain, but are regularly used in the other. There is considerable merit in the distinction, nonetheless it is flawed and unsatisfactory. From a theoretical perspective it may be summed up as the difference between substances that alleviate a problematic condition and substances that are used to alter a given state for fun/addiction, not out of necessity.

In real life this distinction does not hold. The above-mentioned examples are obvious ones. It becomes more problematic, and nasty, when you examine pharmaceuticals that have addictive properties and/or significantly alter brain chemistry. Sedatives come to mind, use of prescription sleeping pills by far exceeds the scope of professional supervision. The addictive potential of benzodiazepine is a call for serious concern the second it does not target a problem, but becomes part of a problematic pattern. This process is just one that blurs the distinction between pharmaceutical and recreational. Perhaps even more alarming is the trial and error approach of psychiatry in general, or even more so the aggregate power of the pharmaceuticals industry, representative of capitalism and not Hippocrates’ oath. What we sell as medicine and what we designate as substance abuse hardly offers clarity.

Another approach may be judging the severity of a given effect. When effect is the measure, our perception is largely based on societal norms. These are informed by governmental policy. Drug classification has strong roots in the 60ies. The rules that were established then influence the way we perceive drugs to a great extent. In pharmaceutical and in recreational drug use there are substances that should obviously be subject to more control than others. Then, the question should arise how to measure effect. In an independent study, aired on the BBC, several British scientists developed a method to evaluate the effects of drugs. They defined three criteria. The first is the actual effect on your system, the second is addictive property, and the third criterion is societal cost. This system generated provocative results, to put it mildly. Alcohol and tobacco scored higher in their ranking than six traditional hard drugs.

Reality is socially constructed. We are socialized into viewing your daily cup of coffee as the norm, binge drinking as a side effect of youth, and smoking is now counter culture. The reality is bleak. Coffee is the drug of choice for swaths of men and women desperate to boost their productivity. It is a highly addictive nerve toxin that actually triggers drowsiness when the required dosage is not administered. Next to that, there is a range of other negative, as well as positive, effects. Moving on to alcohol, drinking is a hugely underestimated cause for concern. Binge drinking causes serious (long-term) brain damage. The obtainability of ethanol-induced highs is a matter of economics. Alcohol is a drug, and the readiness with which we consume it is a direct reflection of the efforts alcohol selling companies make to market their poison. I do drink, however the fact that alcohol would be rated as a hard drug if invented today has woken me up. Finally, there is tobacco. Smoking is responsible for 400,000 deaths annually in the US (more than all deaths combined from hard drug abuse) and roughly 50% of hospitalizations in the UK. The societal cost of smoking is, and remains, detrimental.

The way we see drugs does not reflect the reality of the drugs, far from it. Looking into the subject, it is shocking to see that scientists rate common drugs as nicotine and ethanol as more harmful than several hard drugs. Whether pharmaceutical or recreational, the test for how to rate a drug should be in terms of their effect. Do this objectively, and the socially constructed status quo of what is okay and what is not will be shaken to its core.


A German critic likened 300 to an hour and a half long Manowar video clip. Manowar is metal band that fetishizes metal weapons, male physique, and glistening sweat. It’s a good comparison, in essence 300 was all about testosterone; the political undertone is factually incorrect. While some people may – as they are free to – draw moral lessons from this type of flick, to me it is nothing more than entertaining pulp. Spartacus falls in the same category.

I am not even watching the show (yet), but friends of mine subscribed to its primal call. Someone once said that the success of a show or movie in this genre is determined by the balance between sex and violence. Both are supplied plentiful. Men are mostly half-naked, women wear incredibly seductive robes, every punch line involves a reproductive organ (or one that is mistaken as such), and I believe there is some fooling around. The violence aspect is necessary for the plot, Spartacus was of course a slave turned gladiator who eventually leads a rebellion. What I’m interested in is how the actors, more like any actor in this genre, convincingly swing sword and shield around. Those things are heavy, gladiators had to be strong.

Thankfully we have Youtube. Several fitness enthusiasts demonstrate the Spartacus workout for anyone interested. This workout is the exact workout that the actors did in order to get ripped enough to pass for a gladiator. It doesn’t consist of heavy lifting; it is more of a hyper-intense circuit training. Apparently strength is not everything for those brave men who fight with swords in arenas, core fitness and agility are at least equally important. I will do the workout today for the first time and expect to be perfectly beat.

Pulp has its benefits. For one, it can be entertaining. Moreover, the stimulus it provides to your most primal instincts can easily be transformed into a positive result.


You should step out of your comfort zone every day and try something new every day. Living by that creed is a recipe for frustrated expectations, trying to do so as often as possible on the other hand is quite rewarding. Today the good people of Cedo Nulli organized a free Lacrosse workshop and of course I had to join.

Archer Sterling, the womanizing secret agent extraordinaire, demonstrated his Lacrosse prowess when he became the king of a group a Malaysian pirates. To be honest, if it wasn’t for Archer, the invitation for the workshop might have slipped my attention. But following in the tracks of the alpha who puts James Bond and Johnny Bravo to shame is an honour and a privilege. To put it in Sterling vernacular, Lacrosse day was bound to be awesome.

And it was. The game is even more of a challenge than I had hoped for. To begin with, learning how to properly catch and throw the ball with your Lacrosse stick requires technique and proficient hand-eye coordination. After a couple of tries my partner and I got pretty decent at it, enough to pass the ball back and forth without missing too many. You can catapult a ball 20 to 30 metres easily. Having acquired some basic skills, it was time for the next episode: Lacrosse gear!

The team sport with a bit of a rich white kid reputation is surprisingly physical. Full-on tackles to the upper body, including shoulders, are allowed. Head, neck, back, and legs are off limits. You can tackle with either your own body weight or by flinging your stick at your victim. The most common injuries, we were told, are sprained ankles and fractured ribs. Not to worry though, injuries are rare. Protective gear that makes you feel, yes, awesome, reduces the impact of blows. You get a helmet, gloves, shoulder and elbow protectors, and armour for your torso.

The game itself is quite intense. You run a lot, throw passes, try to keep an overview of the field, and ideally score. My team won 2-1 today. The sweet taste of victory. I’ll definitely be back for at least one more round of Lacross fun. The sport has serious addictive potential; however so do dancing, running, fitness, yoga, kickboxing, and cooking good food. How to allocate your time with so many choices? A luxury problem, as the Dutch would say.

Dealing with Death

One of the few certainties you have in life is that you will die. So will your loved ones. My mother passed away on the 1st of March 2003. It so happens that on that exact day of this year, friends of mine celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their crew in a club 3 minutes from the hospital my mother died in 9 years ago. This year, after no less than 9 years, was the first time I could fully live up to the promise I made to her.

She was hospitalized and comatose for a month. It is absolutely horrific how much technology is required for life support. The sheer amount of tubes and syringes going into her body, regulating her respiratory system, her cardiovascular system, and her gastrointestinal system, to name the most important ones, traumatized me. It was impossible to visit her and remain clear-headed, every trip to the intensive care ward was accompanied by cognitive dissonance. In the first three weeks visiting hours were limited to the usual schedule. After the doctors told us that there was no more hope, we were allowed to visit her daily for the remaining 7 days. Then, in the final moments, I was devastated by the unmistakable and irreversible flat line sound of her heart monitor. Seconds later her hand turned cold. These are the types of things nothing can prepare you for. You’ve heard the flat line sound before in hospital shows or movies, but if it signals the end of the life of someone you love unconditionally, it is the most shattering experience imaginable.

We had stayed with her that last night. I read one of her favourite books, Le Petit Prince by St. Exupéry, out loud. Ever since it has become a tradition of mine to read the book, or at least parts of it, once a year. My mom had good taste in literature, so this is just another blessing I received from her. One of the most memorable quotes in the book comes from the fox: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” What the Little Prince’s unusual friend understood is that love is the essential connection. A focus on the superficial detracts from the quality of your relations. My mother had wished for one thing, she wanted for us to remember her with our hearts. That is easier said than done. The intense emotional pain, the resulting trauma, the difficulty of accepting the fact that she chose death as a way out, and the utter unfairness of time not stopping, the world not stopping to spin, made matters difficult.

Our society is obsessed with youth to the point that it negates death. A bold statement, one that is vividly reflected in the ease with which we talk about plastic surgery and botox, while explaining the indescribable pain losing a loved one causes creates social discomfort. I am most likely not representative of the average person, if such a thing exists, but in hindsight I have come to the conclusion that our society is ill equipped to deal with death. After my mother died, three influences helped me immensely to move forward. Neither came from the institutional support network. The first was a letter I received from my friend Tommy, whom I wrote about earlier in his capacity as a gifted musician. He told me how incredibly unfair it is for death to rip people out of our lives, but no matter how vile the grim reaper is, he has no power over the love and memories we hold in our hearts. This is so true and comforting, to this day I repeat the phrase to friends who have lost someone as well, and to this day I am thankful for these empathic and insightful words.

The third influence is a book from a psychologist I bought rather recently. It goes well with the Holstee Manifesto’s line that all emotions are beautiful. See, this psychologist lost his son in a car accident. Experiencing grief himself for the first time in his life, he realized that the treatment he had been offering his patients was grossly inadequate. Deeply ingrained in the field of psychology is the assumption that the psyche and emotions are manageable. Techniques for dealing with grief make this assumption rather transparent with the introduction of step programs. Thinking about it, the theoretical underpinning for a 7-, 8-, or 12-step program is evidently linear. Pass one stage and advance to the next. Even if the possibility of relapsing is accounted for, the teleological foundation of such programs is reminiscent of the fallacious adage “time heals all wounds”. Time does not heal anything, healing requires a conscious effort and appropriate techniques. It is not only the trajectory of such programs that fails to treat grief realistically. The analytical approach to neatly partition grief into distinct phases almost begs the question whether any empirical research has been carried out to inform the ivory tower. The truth is however that unless you have felt agony, despair, anguish, sorrow, hopelessness, disbelief, and frustration to the point that it physically immobilizes you, you cannot understand it. Said psychologist understood the depths of emotional pain after losing his son and developed a new approach. Instead of attempting to regulate his emotions, he let them run freely, actively fuelling them by inviting memories of his dead son. In a society obsessed with positivity, this may sound like a form of masochism. It is not. It is accepting reality, dealing with it, and thereby processing emotions, relieving trauma, and alleviating emotional blockades.

The second influence is as much constructive as it provides much needed balance. Buddhism has a way of dealing with death that by far surpasses Western religions. It is not my intention to rant, although I must admit that with spite I once asked a Catholic priest if my mother would go to hell. The Catholic Church displays the same measure of compassion for suicides as it does for homosexuals: they are considered moral evils. Of course he evaded the question, perhaps sensing that I was more than willing to challenge the inept dogma of his faith. However, what I learned from Buddhism is that difficult situations sometimes require simple solutions. The eye-opener came from a lecture of the Dalai Lama who posed a simple question accompanied by some simple facts. In line with Buddhist teachings, when a person dies it is their karma to die. Hence, they die. Since death is not escapable and we all die, would it not be wiser to accept the situation fully and act accordingly? An important aspect of the Buddhist take on death is the concept of desire. I object to the idea that all desires should be abandoned, however relinquishing the desire to keep someone alive who is dying makes perfect sense. Instead of wishing for the life of a loved one to continue when it is impossible – oh the many subtle ways in which this desire stealthily manifests itself – one should wholeheartedly wish for the loved one to die well. I believe my mother died well. We had the opportunity to say goodbye, a gesture powerful enough to transcend diazepam-induced coma.

Combining these three influences has proven fruitful. I cherish the love and memories in my heart, accept that karma is inescapable and respect death, and I allow all emotions to flow freely. In the end, the pain caused by losing someone is an expression of how much and intensely we love that person. My mother was loved by all who had the opportunity to meet her. She was popular with our friends because of her humour, openness, hospitality, and generosity. She knew what was important in life. Of all the useless advice I received from various sources, hers rings forever true. She always encouraged my brothers and me to follow our hearts, go for it, and chase our dreams. In my case that meant writing, dancing, and finding a French girlfriend. Well, I am certain she would have adored most of the girls I have been with, whether they were French (they weren’t) or not. One of the coolest things my mother ever did was to join in with my breakdance training, just like I helped her train for her marathon. She learned the six-step when she was in her late forties.

It so happens that on the 1st of March 2012 I spent the best part of the day very close to the hospital where she died. It so happens that on this day one of my best friends, more like a brother actually, and I entered a battle for old times sake. We used to train together for hours on end and she supported us all the time, mostly by ensuring we always had space to practice. This day and this night were the first 1st of March that I felt no pain. There was nothing but gratitude and fulfilment. The anniversary was a celebration of life and everything that makes life worth living for.

As personal as this account is, I hope it does not come across as the story of an ego. My intention is to share experiences in way that provokes thought and tackles a notoriously uncomfortable subject. Timethief’s blog post on how Eastern philosophy, from Buddhism to Ikebana, helped her deal with her mother’s death gave me the final nudge to dedicate a post to this subject. With utmost sincerity, I hope my experiences and insights will help someone in the future. It helped me, when I had the opportunity to say farewell to my uncle three days before he died. If eyes are windows to the soul, I saw his soul radiate pure light. All it took to witness this miracle was to say: “Thank you for everything. I don’t know where you are going, but I love you and I wish you a pleasant journey.”