Seeking Transcendence – a podcast bro’s spiritual journey

September 29, 2023

Bling bling!

Morena’s alarm starts beeping on the floor next to our bed.

She rolls over, hits the off button, and falls back asleep in 10 seconds. I’m awake, though.

Another day in sweaty, late-summer Barcelona.

I go to the bathroom and stand on the scale, get slightly annoyed by the number it flashes at me, then put on my shorts and a t-shirt and go to the kitchen for some water.

The workers out in our patio start up the circular saw right at sunrise. They’re re-doing one of the facades and a big part of that job involves cutting ceramic tile at the crack of dawn. Luckily the crack of dawn isn’t too early at this time of year.

A bit after eight, I’m out the door and jogging down the stairs of our building.

Recently on the Howth Peninsula in Dublin.

The first floor, as usual, smells like a cave full of wild bears.

That’s because of the hoarder who lives there. I don’t know what his deal is, but he stinks, and his flat stinks, and after his wife died, I started seeing him digging through the nearby dumpsters, using the handle of his cane to pick through the trash.

Turning right, and happy about the natural light and cool breeze, I walk to Stephy’s – the hippest place to be on weekdays at 8 AM. Stephy is from Wisconsin, and she runs a café just up the street from me.

I get my cold brew and sit on the bench outside, listening to the latest Tim Ferriss podcast: “Arthur C Brooks on How to be Happy, Reverse Bucket Lists, the Four False Idols, etc, etc.”

The usual 8 AM crowd is out on the street: there’s the big middle-aged guy in the puffy vest who works as at the nearby police station, the people starting their shift at Mercadona, Anna the butcher and her extended family opening the shop across the way.

Delivery vans stop on the corners, guys hurry around with handcarts and boxes.

Another day begins.

After a while Morena comes down to meet me, and we walk off to the tram stop. She gets on and leaves for work, I go back home to write emails, stopping briefly to buy chicken breasts from Anna the butcher.

Mainly what I’m doing these days is applying for a mortgage. Or (more accurately) applying for all the mortgages. This involves uploading a long series of documents to banking websites, fielding calls from brokers, and then hoping for the best. We’ve already been rejected for one mortgage, and the bank in question didn’t give any good reason. So all I can do is imagine it’s because we’re not Spanish, or because I don’t have a “real job” and Spaniards hate the self-employed.

The morning passes with me doing pointless bureaucracy, and intermittent fasting as well. Not eating does good things for my focus, most of the time. All the better to write these emails with.

Around 13:30 I change my clothes and walk out the door.

A few minutes before 14:00 I’m at the gym.

Rolling on the Jiu Jitsu Mats of Justice

Like all good podcast bros, I’ve started doing jiu-jitsu.

The other guys in the class all look like mercenaries in some action film – biceps, tattoos, beards, broad shoulders and abs like bricks. They’d all look absolutely fine jumping out of a chopper over the jungle somewhere, machine gun in hand and the stub of a cigar clenched in their teeth.

I’d maybe get a bit part in that movie as some confused hostage or comically incompetent army bureaucrat. I don’t exactly have the “hardened warrior” body type… yet.

At two on the dot the teacher strides onto the mat. We all line up and bow.

We do some painful and embarrassing crawling and rolling drills as a warm-up, then learn a few confusing exercises meant to teach us how throw each other on the ground. Then we roll. I’m with a big tattooed guy with a Catalan name: Jordi or some such.

“Level Zero” I tell him.

“Don’t worry,” he says. “We’ll go light.”

Famous last words.

I’m not really level zero. More like level zero point five at this point.

But before I know it, we’re on the floor, and Jordi’s trying to strangle me with the lapel of my kimono. I roll out of that one, so he tries to bend my arm backwards across his chest. I twist my arm out and suddenly he’s turning and sitting – his ass is on my face. I’m going to lose this fight, but goddamn it, I don’t want to lose with my nose up this guy’s asscrack.

I plant a foot and push down with all my strength, rolling him off me in a bridge pose. He scrambles onto my chest. His sweat smells like ammonia. Lying down like this, waiting for the 6 minute round to be over, is actually sort of relaxing – except for the guy trying to strangle me.

I try to breathe slowly, from my diaphragm. Maybe I’ll become a karma yogi. Dedicate my life to Krishna.

Our collection of Hindu idols and cacti at home.

Jordi’s trying to get me in an armlock when the timer goes off.

We’re done. And in the end, I didn’t even lose.

I roll with a couple more guys. I lose one, and win one, choking a guy in “guillotine” until he taps. It’s a good feeling, choking sweaty dudes on the mats of justice.

Sobriety and salad

Back at home, I have a healthy lunch: chicken salad with avocado, and greek yogurt for dessert. I figured I’d lose 20 pounds of body fat as soon as I stopped drinking, but actually I’m a bit heavier than I was. Part of it’s probably muscle, but not all of it. So now I’m sober and on a diet.

After lunch, I write to my accountant about my pending tax inspection, and to my lawyer about the next steps in the Spanish nationality process.

If younger Daniel had known how tedious being middle class can be sometimes, he might have just kept his job as an English teacher, and stayed broke.

Not that that would have been any better, really. But younger Daniel might disagree, if he could see me now at age 40, emailing bankers and bureaucrats all day long.

Banana bread for the big four oh.

Around five, I go out and get a final coffee, taking my Kindle along to read. Was this day a success? An abject failure? I can’t really tell. I choked a guy, wrote some emails, and ate a salad. Not great, and not bad. Not a day I’ll remember years from now, or probably even weeks from now.

A sense of the transcendent

Arthur C Brooks, on Tim Ferriss’ podcast, says that human beings need to feel “a sense of the transcendent”. And I agree.

Problem is, modern secular society doesn’t create many opportunities for that sort of thing. Growing up, my suburban parents never encouraged me to sit and cultivate a sense of awe at something greater than myself. Yours probably didn’t either.

Instead, they encouraged me to get good grades, so I could get into college, get a job, and get promoted. Get, get, get, get. We’re taught to focus on external things, as if that will “get” us anywhere.

Occasionally, in school, we’d have to do “community service”. But if I recall correctly, this wasn’t about serving the community in any meaningful sense. We did it because we were being graded on it, or because it’d look good on a college application.

At best, there were a few vague admonitions to “be a good person” – which, considering who they were coming from, I always found to be less than compelling.

Of course, there were plenty of religious people back on the ranch, but from what I gleaned as a teenager, they weren’t in it for the sense of the transcendant either.

To me, Evangelical Christianity just seemed like more rule-following, like a bunch of uninspiring people playing virtue games at dumb summer camps and Sunday gatherings.

But even as a teenager, I realized I had a need for transcendence.

It’s an itch I’ve been attempting to scratch, with limited success, for more than half my life.

My personal path to transcendence often involves nature, or meditation. I haven’t actually talked to any other hikers about the feeling you get up on a mountainside, though. Maybe it’s just me.

Meditation, on the other hand, has become much more mainstream in recent years, often described as “mindfulness”. Which isn’t probably going to get you to high levels of transcendence. But it’s all good. Everybody should meditate.

Anyway, as I predicted way back when I was a teenager, adulthood in a society dedicated to romantic consumerism isn’t much better than growing up in the desert, as far as cultivating a sense of awe goes.

Italy, probably, in the summer of 2012.

For one thing, because transcendence is hard, and doesn’t translate well into a 30-second TV spot. The marketers would have us believe that cultivating that feeling is simply a matter of getting a nice car, or choosing the correct breakfast cereal. But anybody who’s really paying attention (maybe 5% of people, I guess – or less) knows that’s not the case at all.

Those attachments: to stuff, or to success, or to pleasures of the senses, just keep you running on the hedonic treadmill, always wanting more. I’ve written about the hedonic treadmill before, and how it’s played out in my life. The article is called The Realm of Hungry Ghosts – and my warning is this: you might get everything you want, and end up even worse than you were before.

Of course, it’s better to get what you want and learn that lesson in the aftermath, so you can refocus your life on other, more satisfying pursuits.

Pursuits like choking sweaty Catalan guys, and eating chicken salads.

Anyway, that’s about all I’ve got for today.

Keep it transcendent out there.


Daniel AKA Mr Chorizo.

P.S. I was insufferably deep when I was younger. I actually remember this one girl dumping me in my early 20s – she gave me a whole speech about how “not everything is some big transcendental issue, and some people just want to enjoy their lives”. She actually used the word “transcendental” while dumping me. And I took it to heart, and tried to downplay that side of my personality for a couple of decades. Now that I’ve (largely) given up on hedonism, it’s come roaring back. Oh well. Live and learn.

P.P.S. Did you know you can donate to this blog / podcast? Why, yes you can. Check out this page for more about that. Thanks!

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. Loved your new piece about transcendentalism. Wasn’t aware of that side of you. I can relate to having the itch. Also letting you know I recently bought your Zen of Blogging book, as I left full-time work a few years ago to travel, and blogging about it interests me. Also, I recently spent a year in Spain teaching English (Madrid area). Jealous you’ve been there 20 years! Big fan of the Chorizo Chronicles. Keep em coming. Saludos, Steven

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