Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Category: Book Quote Commentary Page 1 of 23

DNF: “Did Not Finish” does Not Equal Failure

It’s my first DNF of the year, my friends! Yep, I’m a quitter! There are times in life when you just have to walk away from something. Let’s celebrate the wisdom of making choices and not wasting anymore time.

DNF - Mao - The Unknown Story
I’m a quitter!

I’ve spent almost 4 hours in “Mao – The Unknown Story” and, at the rate I’m going, I’ll be there for 20 more. I’m calling it quits right here. It’s not that it’s boring, it’s just…not useful, maybe.

The book reads as if Mao was a demon straight from birth. As if one could have known what his life path would lead to and maybe he should have been cut off from this earth before he did too much damage. There are no why’s in this book. There’s no ideology discussed, no reasons for the path he chose, just the description of a monster’s acts. I just don’t think that’s helpful.

Here’s the thing, there are legitimate reasons to think Communism is a bad idea…and there are reasons to believe it’s a great idea. Demonizing one side or another gets us nowhere. What we need are facts laid out so that we can see the past more clearly and create an informed worldview to work from in the future. But, then again, that assumes that most people want to do that. I’m feeling rather pessimistic this week. Maybe it’s the heat. I think most people aren’t interested in ruling themselves. They’d rather sit back and have someone tell them what they are supposed to think instead.

DNF for: reading this book has put me in a negative spin. I need to turn that around.

There are two positives that I got from this book! The first was that I didn’t realize that Communist China rose with Communist Russia. Same timeframe. Same leadership. They were “contemporaries” and now I need to find better books that give me more of that background. Maybe something that reads a tad less like propaganda and more like a less biased history. That will take some time to find, since Russia and China are charged histories from my American worldview.

I also added two books to my TBR list. “The Essential Marx” A collection of Marx writing, edited by Trotsky in the 30’s to show what he based his thinking on. And “The Portable Atheist.” Another collection of atheist and agnostic works through the ages. I’m not a Marxist or an Atheist, but it seems to be the way the world leans these days, so it’s best to know why, right?

I think “it’s making me sad for no reason” is a legitimate reason to DNF (did not finish) a book. If the book were giving me background on Communism, the ideology and culture of China, reasons for the revolution, or details about its connection with the Russian Revolution, I’d keep reading, even if it did make me sad. All it’s doing right now is listing atrocities and creating a monster to hate and fear. That’s never a good way to help thinking people make better decisions.

I only started this book a few days ago and posted about it at “Mao – The Unknown Story: New Read.”

Zen Habits and This How ’bout Heat, Man?!

Surprise! It’s hot! Damn hot! Can Zen Habits help me here?

Zen habits quote on a desert sunrise.

The heat stresses me out and no matter where I go, I can’t seem to escape summer temperatures. Yes, I know I live in the desert. That is what makes the heat tolerable. Because do you know what’s worse than heat? Humidity. By living here, I avoid that almost completely.

Yesterday, I started to panic. It was day two of a heat wave that is supposed to last a whole week. When it’s hot like this, I’m stuck indoors and there is nowhere to drive to get out of it. The mountains aren’t cool enough, the movies are closed during the day now. What else can I do?

And then something I’m reading came to mind.

Thich Nhat Hanh, simplified the rules in just a few words: “Smile, breathe and go slowly.” It doesn’t get any better than that.

I’m still reading “Returning to Silence” by Dainin Katagiri, but it’s getting a tad tedious. I want to scream, “Get to the point, man!” Everything is and isn’t at the same time. Everything is good and bad, wrong and right. I keep finding small bits floating around in that resonate with me, but it’s like fishing a piece of eggshell out of the egg you broke into the already hot frying pan. It scoots away as you reach for it, and the pan is hot, the egg is cooking, you’re running out of time.

But here’s one thing that captured my attention this morning.

“So I went to school to try to learn Buddhism and end my suffering, but the complete opposite happened. The teacher gave me many books on Buddhism to read, which I did. Finally, he gave me a book on the Buddhist philosophy of emptiness. It is a collection of many simple sentences, but if you read it, it is really strange and hard to understand. Finally I thought, “Why did I become a monk?” It made me suffer more.”

That’s exactly where I am with this book. He keeps saying, “Don’t try so hard.” “We’re already enlightened, we just need to realize it.” “Don’t use the practice to get somewhere.” It’s irritating.

Yesterday, as I was reading, I did find a few of those, “Yes! That makes sense!” pieces, but I kept thinking, “How can I remember and practice some of these ideas when I’m out in the world?” I tend to run high on anxiety and at full speed. I react more often than I respond and tend to get myself into trouble. Then I withdraw. Maybe I’m just not built to be in this world.

That makes no sense. What’s the point of being alive at all if all you do is sit at home and never experience the world around you?

Then I came across this article at Zen Habits called, “12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Monk” and it shifted my thinking.

Which brings me back to the heat. As I watered my plants and trees today, the early morning sun beating down on me (it was already 90), I started to grumble. It was 115 degrees yesterday and today’s weather report said it would a little hotter, peaking on Friday and Saturday. How was I going to survive?! Why do I live here?! Who lives like this?!

Yeah, I have been known to be a little dramatic. So?

Then I remembered Zen Habits, “Smile. Breathe. Slow down.”

I smiled. Yes, it’s hot. It’s always hot like this mid-June. It’s like the solstice has to announce that it has arrived. “Hello! I am the sun and I am here all damn day! Enjoy my brilliance!” It gets blazing hot for a week as a result. I smiled at the thought of the sun being so obnoxious.

Then I took a breath. The birds don’t seem to mind. They just continue. And there are lots of them. The plants survive. The rabbits, squirrels, and coyotes, too. I made sure the water dish near the bushes was full of cool water. I made a little oasis for them.

I slowed down. I moved my potted plants into the shade, so they only get morning sun, watered the trees nice and deep and was thankful for those big wide leaves. What if I change my thinking and wonder how hot it will get? Will we break a record at the house this year? Since we moved here, I’ve had an electronic thermometer in the yard. It keeps a record of highs and lows. The record high is 117 and it was made two Junes ago. Will we get to 118? Let’s find out.

Next week, the weather will cool again. The high 90’s are not bad at all when the humidity is so low. It usually hovers around 10%. I will go back to talking a long walk in the morning, just before the sun comes up. Besides, the changes are what make life interesting. The hot summer breaks into a cool fall and the cold winters warm into a beautiful spring. I stood there watching a dove on its nest wondering if we’ll get any rain later this summer.

Zen habits win! Nothing changed but my thinking, my realization that all is as it should be, as it always has been. Katagiri says that we are all buddha already, we are born “enlightened,” we just need to accept it. For a moment, I caught a glimpse of that and there was peace.

Lord Jim & This ‘Cancel’ Idea

Lord Jim book review

I really got into Lord Jim even though there were times when I wasn’t sure what was going on. Joseph Conrad tends to ramble, say things that seem to have no cause or effect, and then come back around to them. I liked it.

Poor Jim. He made a mistake when he was just a boy by our standards, and he felt guilty about it for the rest of his life, right up to the end. It made me think of a lot of news stories I’ve been seeing lately. This person went to a party and was a racist. That person did drugs. This one made sexist remarks. All accusations made about events at least twenty years in the past.

We all do things we regret, every single one of us, and not all of us dwell on it for the rest of our lives. I don’t think we are meant to. We learn from our mistakes (or not) and move on with our lives. Thanks to our new permanent and worldwide media, we can’t escape our past and our culture seems to lean into and celebrate that.

Now that I think about it, that’s not a new thing, is it? It’s just that we have more opportunities to record and bring up proof of the past. Throughout the ages, we’ve ostracized people for their past discrepancies: bad business deals, sexual infidelities, where people were born or to whom.

What good does it do? If I do something to offend someone when I’m twenty years old, does that mean I’m a terrible person and unfit for service when I’m forty? Jim thought so. He fell into a big mistake, following along with the people around him, and ended up being the only one that paid legally for it. Then socially, too. He was ruined, not only in society, but in his head and heart.

A friend believed he was a good man and helped him start a new life. It was good one. He did well, helped people, made a life for himself, but in the back of his mind was that fateful deed. He never forgave himself and ended up paying for it again and again until he died.

Is that what we want today for everyone? Is that what seems like justice, community, progressive thinking? I think what we’re doing is harmful to our society. We expect people to be perfect right from the start, never make a misstep, and to be clairvoyant enough to know what a misstep will look like in the future. All we’re going to get is a neurotic society, afraid to step out of line, afraid of the people around them, afraid to make any remark, create anything, or to let go even a little.

Jim’s story was a sad one, echoing now from 120 years in the past.

If you want to read more posts based on quotes from “Lord Jim”, you’ll find a list of them at the bottom of my first post, “Joseph Conrad is my Next Read: Lord Jim”

Peace in The Motion of the Waves

Peace in the motion of the waves.
Photo by Derek Story on Unsplash

Peace comes and goes, like the waves, I guess. Maybe I’m just watching for stories in the clouds, but it seems that things just come together in impossible ways if you just sit back and wait a bit.

This photo is in honor of my youngest son, whose wave is building up again. May he ride it well, accept the break, and rise again with tide.

So may we all.

“At the first bend he lost sight of the sea with its labouring waves for ever rising, sinking, and vanishing to rise again – the very image of struggling mankind – and faced the immovable forests rooted deep in the soil, soaring towards the sunshine, everlasting in the shadowy might of their tradition, like life itself.”

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Did you find peace in that quote the way I did?

We think mankind is always moving forward, but in reality, over the thousands of years our kind has been on this planet, we rise, sink, vanish, over and over again. Individuals, families, clans, and civilizations, nations all have come and gone, only to build up and rise again. The next time I see the waves, I’ll think of that.

There’s no need to lose our minds over the state of society. We do what we can to enjoy the time we have here, to leave our space a little bit nicer than how we found it, if we can. And then we’re gone.

The only thing that continues is life itself, that immovable forest. People talk about humans destroying the earth, but really, we can only destroy the environment to the extent that we finally go extinct. And if humans are gone, the earth remains, life goes on as it always has since the beginning of time.

No one person’s life is that important in the grand scheme of things. It reminds me where to put my own focus. The place any of us can make the biggest impact is right at home. It starts with our relationship with ourselves, moves into that of our family and friends, and into our co-workers (or in my case, those people I see at the grocery store, or you).

If we all spent our days making our immediate surroundings more pleasant, wouldn’t the whole world be a bit more pleasant? What if we stopped fighting the crashing of our waves on the shore and enjoyed the ride, found peace in the cycle? Life will go on no matter what you choose to do.

If you want to read more posts based on quotes from “Lord Jim”, you’ll find a list of them at the bottom of my first post, “Joseph Conrad is my Next Read: Lord Jim”

Listen Like You Mean It: Final Thoughts

Listen Like You Mean It book cover

Listen Like You Mean it by Ximena Vengoechea was a strange journey. It started strong for me, started to peter out, and then picked up again at the end. The author used her experience in business, as a researcher for apps, to explain how to better listen in conversation. It makes sense. Her job was to listen to people’s first thoughts, experiences, and usage needs of an app to make it work better for them and for the company.

I suck at wrapping up what I think of a whole book. Bottom line of this one was that I liked it. I got some good bits from it. And I hope I can practice some of the things I learned in it. That’s the key. Most of it was the stuff you always hear about how to be a better listener, but if you don’t practice new ways consciously and often, you’ll only fall back into your old routines and habits.

How does one practice better conversation techniques? Especially now.

One thing I noted to myself in the margins of this book was that much of these listening skills could really be used in self-discovery and self-talk as well. How we talk to and listen to ourselves is how we look at the world around us. Can I make some useful reminders to practice these techniques on myself at home? If I can master a few of them, make them a habit when alone, maybe I can use them more readily the next time I’m out to lunch with a friend?

Halfway into the book, I started to get frustrated. Some of it seems too technical and businesslike. Maybe these would be great for someone that was around a lot of people all the time, at work or school. I don’t feel like they apply to my lifestyle. I read but glossed over much of those chapters and kept reading instead of giving up and not finishing.

I’m glad I did because the chapters on difficult discussions and resting and recharging between conversations were especially inspiring.

“We can express ourselves with humility, admitting what we do and do not know, and with curiosity, staying open to how others may receive us in conversation. We can practice patience, become aware of when our body language is telling us we are closing ourselves off, and quiet our minds when our thoughts and fears get in the way of being honest. We can make the necessary space to be ourselves, just as we do for our partners.”

Listen Like You Mean It

See? Conversation is a give and take thing. We are all in need of that intimate connection with another human or two. The first step, like everything we wish to achieve, it ours to make.

Was the book worth reading? Yes, and it would be even more so if you happen to be in a situation where you work or live closely with a lot of other people.

Pop back to my post “Listen Like You Mean It” – Another New Read, to start at the beginning of my journey and find other posts about this book.

My Confession And A Break

Confession time: I am naturally…kind of an asshole. I talk to much, tend to focus on my own feelings, have little empathy for others, joke too much, and tend to be a bit abrasive. I’ve been trying to hide it my whole life and it is exhausting, especially these days. I write here about books and family and love and light and peace…because I’m trying to learn a new trick.

The Stoics and Buddhism is really helping, so I’ll be staying on that path for a while.

There are many days where I just want to be my natural, smart-ass, kind of a jerk, self, but I’m afraid. I also very much crave the company of other humans and, for some reason, no one tolerates an asshole. And, if you think about it, they are necessary. You’d die without one, so maybe we should be a little nicer to them.

If I were braver and had a thicker skin, I’d start a social media campaign.

“Everyone needs an asshole.
Be kind to the ones in your life.
They need love too!”

That being said, my family is here to visit this week, so I won’t be posting until next week so that I can fully focus and enjoy their company.

Does Our Conscience or Comrades Guide Our Actions?

Is it our internal conscience or external comrades that goad us in one direction or another? Our moral compass or our constant associates? Our upbringing or our society?

“I am willing to believe each of us has a guardian angel, if you fellows will concede to me that each of us has a familiar devil as well.”

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
Donald's conscience guiding him.
Photo from IMDb

Remember this one? Donald Duck with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.

I’ve always considered it a representation of our conscience, the impulse to do good or evil, to consider ourselves or others, Jiminy Cricket imploring us to do what’s right. Yeah, I watched a lot of cartoons and movies growing up. But could it be more?

In this story, I believe Marlowe is asking us to consider the company we keep and how it could influence our actions. Humans are greatly influenced by the people that surround them. We are driven to fit in and belong. No matter what our personal feelings are, if we’re surrounded by evil, we all tend to succumb to the “When in Rome…” idea.

There are so many sayings that put forward this idea. They keep popping up in my head! Didn’t your mom ask you, “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you?” Of course, you would! That’s what humans do.

We have evolved to live in groups. It’s safer and far more productive than living alone. We band together in families, clans, communities, states, and nations. We share resources. We emotionally bond with others. We are stronger in groups. Even a Bible verse comes to mind, “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12

Maybe we should consider the company that we keep. And, when considering the guilt of another, that person’s company as well. Sometimes we fall into the wrong crowd. Sometimes we get swept along with the current. And sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to just to stay alive.

This is the first of my posts on this book. If you want to read more, you’ll find a list of posts at the bottom of my first post, “Joseph Conrad is my Next Read: Lord Jim”

Connection and the use of Rituals

I had one of those “ah-ha” moments while reading “Returning to Silence” this morning. These two ideas on connection are going to change my way of thinking and my life, forever. The first was, “There is only us.” And the other was about the significance of ritual.

A small side note first, I’ve been listening to the podcast, “Secular Buddhism with Noah Rasheta” the past couple of weeks and it is helping me put Dainin Katagiri’s words into context. The book was recommended as a classic introduction to Buddhism, but I’m finding it a little too spiritual and “out there” to understand on its own. I’m constantly looking up what words mean because he uses Buddhist practices as given information. That’s not a bad thing. I’m learning a lot. It’s just a tad tedious in addition to the flowery and repetitive style he uses.

The positive is that it slows me down and gives me the chance to think about what is written and fish out what I need to know.

What does, “There is only us.” mean?

“We tend to define enlightenment as an experience that creates a difference between us and others.”

Returning to silence by dainin katagiri

Human connection is everywhere in this world. Have you ever seen rock climbers? I live near Joshua Tree National Park, one of the meccas of the rock-climbing world. I’m not a climber myself. I’ve always been a bit of klutz, tripping over my own feet or twisting my ankle on a pebble in the path. It’s best if I keep close to the ground. But I enjoy watching them from below.

A group of climbers are connected to the rocks and each other by rope. A lead climber gets up first, creates a new, or connects to an existing, pick point and latches on. The other climbers follow. The climbers above and below you can help you find a handhold you can’t see from your vantage point, encourage you to keep going, and limit your fall if you miss a step or lose your grip on the rocks. And at the top, the accomplishment is sweeter when you have someone to celebrate with.

The whole world is this way if we can see it. There is no me and you. There is not us and them. There is just the world, and we are all connected to each other. We can help or hinder each other by our actions, but we cannot disengage from the whole.

What is the significance of connection through ritual?

Ritual is everything we do. We have morning and evening rituals: making coffee, brushing our teeth, journaling, reading, meditation, waking up, driving to work. Weekly rituals of cleaning our house, taking care of our things. Monthly rituals of lunch dates with friends or a night out with a loved one. We know the rituals related to holidays, graduations, weddings, births and deaths.

Human connection through the magic of coffee.
Photo by Ben Weber on Unsplash

What is the significance though? Each ritual, if we bring our conscious thought to it, can ground us in the here and now, the magic of the moment we are in. Even making a cup of coffee in the morning can be made a ritual, from the most complicated (grinding beans, boiling water, and pouring it yourself) to the simplest (picking it up at the drive-thru on your way to work). When we bring our conscious thought to it, we ground ourselves. This is this time of day. This makes my heart happy. This is something I share with millions of people that are also doing this, or the human connection of the millions of people that brought this delicious bean juice to me to today.

By the way, there are so many gorgeous pictures of coffee on Unsplash, an infinite variety of styles and how and … just beautiful, like coffee itself. I chose this one because it reminded me of the magic of coffee and the ritual it can be.

Every ritual reminds us of our connection with this world, the other climbers ahead and behind us, the rock beneath us, the sky above us, the creators of the equipment, the experience of those that have gone before, the excitement of those we bring along and teach, and those that stand on the ground and wonder at our achievement.

It makes me think of that feeling of disconnect that comes over me often these days. Do have a country? A culture? A family? Am a part of something bigger than myself? Buddhism has reminded me that yes, I am. I can’t escape it. I can only notice it and accept it.

It doesn’t matter if I subscribe to the religion or not, every holiday my country celebrates connects me to the people that live here if I consciously choose to acknowledge that in positive way.

Every time I walk into a Target for cleaning supplies, order something from Amazon to be delivered, or buy one of those glorious chicken avocado burritos at El Pollo Loco, I can choose to be reminded of my connection to the culture I grew up in.

And my family? We’ve had a rough go of it the past ten years or so. But recently I realized, as I began a sewing project, how connected I am to my grandmothers, mom, aunt, and cousins. We all have our sewing rooms. We all create with fabric in some way. Quilts, bags, toys, and clothes, we all have our specialties.

My aunt and I have grown apart over the years. That has been my fault. As I started a sewing project this past weekend, I thought of her and sent her a picture of it. I opened a door and my heart felt grounded again. I did this unconsciously, before reading about rituals and connection in a Buddhist context.

Now I see how I can personally create these connections and why I need to continue to do so. It takes no law, no social media campaign, no reciprocation, no feedback, to start. All it takes is my own conscious thought. Human connection is the reality of this world. I only need to acknowledge the rituals that bring that connection to my consciousness.

I’m really enjoying reading “Returning to Silence.” If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on this book, go back to my post “New Read: Returning to Silence” to start from the beginning. Other posts are linked at the bottom of that one.

Classic Crime Drama: Prayer for the Dead

Remember that book I started a few days ago, Prayer for the Dead? It turned out to be a classic crime drama that I couldn’t put down.

A Crime Drama Classic

I wasn’t all that impressed with the first chapters, but as I read on, I started to see its charm. And then it got creepier…and then there I was, yelling at the book, “No! What the hell?” and “Don’t go in there!”

My son came in the room right as I started the last twenty pages, and I was forced to tell him that whatever he had to say at this time would have to wait. I held the book aloft, my thumb in the crack just pages from the end, and pleadingly looked at him. “Just a few more minutes? I can’t stop now.”

He shook his head at me, “Nothing changes around here. Well, except my room.” He laughed and walked into the kitchen to make more coffee. It’s a running joke right now that I took over his room the moment he left for University. In my defense, I warned him what I was planning, and he was all for it when he left.

But that, my dears, is another post. What I’m here to talk about is the draft…no, wait…the book I just finished!

I’d say, “I love it when a plan comes together,” but there was no plan. I’d never heard of the book or the author. I only picked up because the cover and title were appealing. Yes, I judged a book by its cover! And I was not disappointed.

The shy and quiet serial killer with a reason behind his madness, the retired special agent with a checkered past, the bumbling local cops and police chief. All the strings coming together at the end. Perfect.

If you like crime drama tv shows, you’ll love this book. Classic characters and a great story. Go find it at Thriftbooks.com!

True Nature, Driving, and New Podcasts

As you have probably heard, I love listening to podcasts while I drive and yesterday, I tried out a couple new ones to share with you. One got me a little closer to that idea of the true nature of things that “Returning to Silence” was getting at.

Understanding the true nature of things while I'm driving.
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

What’s Essential hosted by Greg McKeown

I picked this one because I loved his book “Essentialism” and plan on reading it again. I’m not sure if the podcast will add more to my understanding than the book does, but it was worth a listen.

The Daily Stoic

I’m a big fan of Stoic philosophy and have been studying it passively for years. As a highly emotional and reactive personality, it has helped me learn better ways of dealing with the world. Most days I wish I were better at it, but I’ve come to accept my progress for what it is. I’m doing the best I can with what I have. I am making headway, no matter how slowly.

I added this one to my repertoire because my sons started listening to it. Side note: there is nothing in this world as awesome as your kids picking up and getting into something you’ve been interested in for years.

This podcast is short and to the point, just a little something to think on as you start or end your day.

And then there is this one, the one I really want to talk to you about.

Secular Buddhism with Noah Rasheta

I’ve been leaning more towards Buddhist teaching for some time now, not for its spiritual aspects (although that’s pretty interesting), but more for its teaching about human nature. I’ve found guidance and support by reading and trying to understand this teaching.

Listening to this podcast is an extension of that effort and I liked it to much that it will stay in my rotation for a while. It added to the thinking I’m learning in the book “Returning to Silence.”

Speaking of that book, I had some gems to share from it today!

“People usually depend, consciously or unconsciously, on the conceptualizations of the world.”

Funny thing…that’s exactly what the second episode of Secular Buddhism (#150 Buddha Nature) I listened to was about!

He told the story of his Buddha rock, a stone he had painted at a monastery and kept in his house and then in his yard. The rock was supposed to remind him of the Buddha Nature, the weight that keeps us grounded, maybe an anchor. Moral of the story was that it was the nature of the rock and his connection to it, not the painting on it, that was supposed to be the reminder.

We all do this to everything around us, every day. Everything we see and experience in this world, we label and categorize. This person is fat. That person is rude. That tree is tall. That thing hurts me. But those labels are not the true nature of those things. When we can see past the descriptions and labels, we can begin to see the reality, the connections, and more.

It reminds me of, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The true nature of what we see and experience isn’t what we label it with.

If you want to read more of my posts about “Returning to Silence,” go back to my first post on it called, New Read: Returning to Silence. You’ll find a list of posts at the bottom of the page.

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