A Virtual Book Club - What are YOU reading?!

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Let Go of Being “Right”

“The need to be “right” is the result of trying to protect the image we want to project to the outside. We have to impose our way of thinking, not just onto other humans, but even ourselves.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz

Strange that we create a world for ourselves that seems so real that we’ll do anything to protect it.

“A good life looks like this.”

“A family works this way.”

“Relationships progress through these steps.”

The list goes on and on and everyone’s list is slightly different.

What if we didn’t set expectations for things? What if we simply allowed life to progress without constraints, without “should be” and “must”? It’s hard. Even when I know I’m protecting an image, when I’ve worked out a plan to deviate from the old path I had created for myself, sometimes I lose focus and revert to habits I have built over a lifetime, habits built over previous generations habits. It’s frustrating.

But it’s worth the effort. Every time I catch myself and keep going in my chosen direction, knowing that it is, in fact, chosen, I get stronger and more capable of passing that strength to others. I’m creating a light in the world for others to see by, instead of paving a road for them to follow.

Be Your Own Source of Happiness

“Then if happiness can only come from inside you and is the result of your love, you are responsible for your own happiness.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz

We cannot expect others to be the source of our happiness. We should be connecting with others to share the happiness each of us brings with us to the table, like big love potluck!

What if, now…stick with me here…, what if we all developed as whole individuals living together instead of incompletes looking for their missing pieces? What if we believed that everything we needed to survive was born right there inside us and what we were looking for all our lives was people to share it with?

Think of life as a potluck. Sure, I could make and eat my lasagna all by myself. I’d survive. But…what if I brought my lasagna to the party and shared it? And others did the same? Suddenly, I have more than I made myself. Now, I have a salad, some garlic bread, and nice glass of wine as well…and so does everyone else that brought something to the party.

That’s what you do when you live your own life, create your own happiness, joy, and satisfaction. You bring that happy person into all your relationships; share it with them and you both have more than you started with.

But what about that person that didn’t bring anything to the potluck? What do we do with him? We can feed him with our love, for a while. But it won’t work long-term. At some point, those that did bring something will begin to resent being fed off of.

Don’t be that person in life. Put in the work to build your own life, your own happiness, and THEN build relationships to share it.

Quotes from The Mastery of Love – Two

“We learn to pretend to be what we are not, and we practice trying to be someone else, just to be good enough…”

“Soon we forget who we really are, and we start to live our images.”

“The woman has an outer image that she tries to project to others, but when she is alone she has another image of herself.”

The Mastery of Love by Don Miquel Ruiz

Taking this quote out of context makes it sound so sinister, as if there is some evil forcing all of us to mold ourselves into something horrific, as if there is some force out there hell bent on changing us all so that we don’t achieve our greatness as humans. Maybe there is.

But to me, it’s just human nature. Somehow over the millennia, it was important for us to adapt to each other and stay in a homogenous group to survive and thrive, but things have changed. The world, technology, human needs, have all changed and so should we. Unfortunately, change takes a lot of time. Generations even.

My parents changed a little and so did theirs. I’m changing a bit more in the hopes that my children will take that torch and do more with it, or theirs will.

This generation has more time and resources to discover who they really are and who they want to be than every generation before. I plan on using it as best I can. I used to think I should have started earlier, I would have gotten so much more done, but these days…I’m starting to see that I did. I’ve always been evolving into who I was. We all are.

Awareness takes time, small steps are hard to see, and we all move at our own pace.

“The emotional body perceives emotions, but not through the eyes.”

“Children feel emotions and their reasoning mind doesn’t interpret or question them.”

The Master of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz

Have you ever asked a child, “What are you crying about?” Or “Why did you do that?” They rarely have a logical answer and I’ve heard parents (way too often) get angry and accuse the child of lying, hiding, or being ridiculous. If I could change one thing that adults do to children, it would be this.

Children are primal little beings. They simply feel things from the very start. They are attuned and primed to fear…everything. They are born helpless and they instinctually know this. As adults, we teach them that there are things they can count on, things they never need to question or fear: the first being that this large person nearby will help, sooth, and care for them. And then their brains begin growing and developing into the higher being that they are.

As we grow up, we learn to feel the primal emotion and instead of blindly following it, like an animal, we learn to use our logical minds to decide how to use that emotion to the best of our ability. In my opinion, this is what sets us apart from other animals. It is what religions call the spark of being human, the god within every one of us.

Fear is our first emotion and without a loving and kind adult to show us there is comfort in this scary world from the very start, we learn to dwell on that fear. And you know what Yoda says, right? “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. And hate leads to suffering.” I know, it’s corny, but it’s true. If we learn to face our fear, work through it, we tend to be less angry, and less angry leads straight on to less suffering in every single instance.

Does Change Have to be Violent?

Change… “will come to pass by violence and upheaval, by flame and by fury, for no change comes calmly over the world.”
“It will be so. We do not will it so.”
“Ignorance is king. Many would not profit by his abdication. Many enrich themselves by means of his dark monarchy. They are his Court, and in his name they defraud and govern, enrich themselves and perpetuate their power.”

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

In the story, I totally agree. A big change is coming and it’s yet to be seen whether or not it will be a good one; good in the “better for all of mankind” kind of way.

But I don’t think change must be violent. Big dramatic changes can disrupt everything, but small, steady, almost unnoticeable changes can be just as good and for more people. The Grand Canyon was slowly eroded into what it is today, or was it? Children are can be born and grow up without violence and pain. A tree grows from seed into a towering pine over hundreds of years.

But I like the small line in the middle most. “It WILL be so. We do not WILL it so.” Inevitability. He believes he’s stating a natural law. He doesn’t want violence, but violence will be the natural consequence of the changes that are coming to their world.

Is progress always violent? Growth spurts are inevitable, I suppose. The more we try to reign in the changes of technological advancement, the more problems we cause in the long run possibly; the old adage of ripping the bandage off quickly.

We Take What We Want

“Most of us take from books and articles that which we need, or want, leaving the rest, often including the author’s intentions, behind.”

From “Paul Goodman in Retrospect” by Joseph Epstein (1978)

We take what we want, that’s for sure. I’m guilty. Sometimes I don’t even know it until I’m quoting and explaining something from a book I read and the person I’m talking to tells me that it’s not what the author meant. We all have an agenda in our minds, our backgrounds, opinions, and personalities help us interpret what we see and read. If we know something about the author of the book, we have a better chance at interpreting what they meant, but usually we’re going into reading things one-sided.

Recently, I learned that George Orwell was a Socialist until his dying day and that Animal Farm was not condemning socialism at all (like I grew up believing) but remarking on how good socialism was hijacked by power hungry monsters.

I wonder how many things are misinterpreted or used to support one person’s argument when the whole text doesn’t support it. Scripture from various religions is often used that way. Statistics and research reports, as well.

I often worry that quotes I post from the books I read may be interpreted opposite of why I shared them in the first place. I can’t stand politics and sometimes I post things and think…is someone going to read this and use it to support some asinine law or tax?! Or what if they think I support something that I don’t? But that’s the thing about creating and putting your thoughts out into the world. Once it leaves your mind, it goes out into the world and starts a life of its own.

Translating Thoughts into Words

“For Man was a culture-bearer as well as a soul-bearer, but his cultures were not immortal and they could die with a race or an age, and then human reflections of meaning and human portrayals of truth receded, and truth and meaning raised, unseen, only in the objective logos of Nature and the ineffable Logos of God. Truth could be crucified; but soon, perhaps, a resurrection.”

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

ineffable: too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words

I only recently discovered this word and now here it is again! Thoughts don’t need words. We use words to translate our thoughts to others. Some thoughts are simply too complex for words. God can be described that way.

Let’s say that I have an idea, a complicated plan to create a machine to do something that you can’t conceive of needing. And you, well, you’re not that educated. Your vocabulary is limited because you’re just a simple farmer. It’s not that your stupid or unintelligent. It’s just that I have more experience with machines and all the words that go with them. (You can see my lack of an extensive vocabulary already, right? I know. I’m working on it.)

I explained this to my son this morning. “You mean like when you ask me what I’m doing and I just look at you because I do not EVEN have the time to explain…because…well…(sheepish look, is mom going to kill me)…it’s beyond you?” He has an honest way of talking that gets him in trouble sometimes. But he’s right, that’s exactly what I mean. It’s not an insult, it just is what it is.

Anywho…back to the quote…

This book is awesome. It’s effectively describing what has happened on earth several times over the millennia that humans have been on it. We build up a world, a culture, destroy it, live in the dark, and then resurrect it. I’m devouring this book and I’m hoping someone around here reads it too so we can talk about it!

Points of View

“”Vulgar” is the word intellectuals use when they mean “vile,” by which they actually mean in disagreement with their own views.”

From Commentary by Joseph Epstein (2010)

Vulgar: lacking sophistication or good taste; unrefined

Vile: morally despicable or abhorrent

I had to look those words up. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I may read a lot, but I’m definitely not a scholar but I’ve been trying to do a better job of actually understanding the meaning of a word, sentence, or paragraph, instead of just going with the feeling I get from reading into it. In the past, I would have thought “vulgar” and “vile” meant basically the same thing, but maybe had a different intensity of feeling. Obviously, from the definition of the words, that isn’t true.

Something can be vulgar but not vile. Blowing your nose at the table may be considered bad taste or ill mannered, but not morally wrong.

I snickered at this line in the essay because I saw in my mind’s eye, a snooty English professor type from an old melodrama, looking down his nose at a young backwoods auto-didactic attempting to discuss his political views. “A man like THAT can’t possibly have anything intelligent to add to OUR learned conversation!”

The thing about views, though, is that everyone’s view is slightly different. Even people on the same mountain top have a slightly different view because they all have different backgrounds that they brought up with them, different baggage from their childhood’s, different intellects and personalities. Not one of those “views” is morally superior to another, none can be “vile” or “vulgar.”

My conclusion: behavior can be described as vile or vulgar, not points of view.

What’s Your “News” Source?

“I guess I had this naïve notion that we had a very intelligent audience that didn’t need to be told how to think, how to vote, what to do,” Kolatch told the Times.

From New Leader Days: Can You Have a Political Magazine without Politics? By Joseph Epstein 2006

Where is THAT news source? I’d love to watch/read a source like that, one that gives information, “reports” on what’s happening and doesn’t project its feelings on it.

Why have things changed so much? Why does every news source assume passive consumption of other people’s thoughts on events is what their audience wants?

My husband likes to say, “If you think something should be run in a different/better way, then go open a business of your own.” In my case, my first response is, “I’m not a journalist or a businessperson. I just know what I want to read!” My second thought is, “I know that even if I was capable of creating, marketing, and running my own actual news outlet, it wouldn’t sell. There just isn’t a big enough market to sell to.”

The truth of the matter is that the largest audience isn’t “intelligent” and that isn’t a new thing. Most people in the world are simply trying to get through their day, pay the bills and take care of their families. They don’t have the time to read, study, and debate all that’s going on in the world. They just want to be able to trust that the guy on the news, or writing the article, is going to give them useful information and maybe a little entertainment as well.

I don’t know what the answer is. I just know that something is terribly different these days. I sit here wondering what happened, where are we headed? Very few of my friends and family members read anything other than some popular fiction. Most everyone I know gets their news from articles shared by friends on social media.

I’ve been trying some new things lately. I subscribed to the Wall Street Journal but ended up cancelling after a few months because I got tired of reading the same “news” every day. I wish they had a weekend only version! I live in a small town, so getting my local paper is out of the question…it’s just so badly written. I think I’ll look into the Register and Times again, but they are usually so biased one way or the other.

Magazines are a hopeful source and there are a lot to choose from. The only downside is that it feels slightly wasteful to have them pile up…maybe I can share them?

How about you? Where do you get your news? Is it important to you?

Unachievable Goal – Understanding the World

Unachievable goal? Maybe. But it is still the reason I read, write, question, and explore the world around me.

“I am a man committed to understanding the world and how it operates, all the while knowing that I haven’t much chance in succeeding in this endeavor. What I do know is that the world is too rich, too various, too multifaceted and many-layered for a fellow incapable of an hour’s sustained thought to hope to comprehend it.”

From “The Personal Essay: A Form of Discovery” by Joseph Epstein

Lately, though, I’ve felt more overwhelmed than usual. There’s just so much coming in from so many directions that I have no time to process and reflect. I find myself needing to take several steps back, limit my exposure to the world, and refocus. What is currently most important for me to focus my energy on? What/who needs my immediate attention? I’ll tell you right off the bat what’s not…any present moment’s crisis outside my home.

Yes, I know…pandemic…forest fires…election…my high school friend’s cat…my ex-co-worker’s girlfriend…my distant cousin’s dinner plans… I’m sure they are all important to someone, but I just can’t right now. I need to start smaller. I need to focus here at home.

Myself. My family. My home. That’s what comes first during “SHTF” times, most times actually. Like Mark Manson writes about, there are only so many fucks to give, only so much energy each person has to deal with what life throws at them.

I’m limiting my input to books and a small group of friends and family. Social media, other than posting my reading quotes daily, is gone. My output focus will reflect those inputs alone for the foreseeable future.

“It is unlikely that many of us will be famous, or even remembered. But not less important than the brilliant few that lead a nation or a literature to fresh achievements, are the unknown many whose patient efforts keep the world from running backward;…”

F.L. Lucas “The Value of Style” quoted in Joseph Epstein’s “Heavy Sentences”

And that quote is why I write here instead of simply in a notebook at my desk. It helps me keep my mind right, which helps me run my life in more peace, and in the long run, helps my family and closest friends run theirs. While I’m at the work, I might as well share my discoveries here. You never know whose hands it will land in.

Wary of Newcomers

“Encounters between strangers in the desert, while rare, were occasions of mutual suspicion, and marked by initial preparations on both sides for an incident that might prove either cordial or warlike.”

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

I giggled a bit when I read this and shared (read “bothered”) it with my sons. Set in the American Southwest 800 years after nuclear disaster, meetups in the desert haven’t changed much.

I exaggerate, of course, but people who voluntarily move out to the desert are generally looking for solitude. These days, because technology has made it more accessible, the desert is becoming more and more populated. To find real solitude, one must move farther out again.

Those who were among the first to set up small communities in the rural deserts are gone. Their succeeding generations that decided to stay and the next wave of peace seekers, are not wary of the newcomers and approach them carefully.

Why are you here? And can I tolerate your presence on the outskirts of my hermitage?

The stress is on the side of the newcomer as well. Will this stranger be one of those anti-social, “get of my property,” shotgun toting weirdos we hear of in old stories? Or will he be a friendly recluse, ready and willing to greet a stranger and talk about the weather for awhile over a cold beer on the porch?

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