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

Tag: peace

Can Tyranny Bring Peace in the Long Run? A Book Review

Some believe that tyranny is the only way to control the darker side of humanity, the long game that will bring peace. “Yes, I killed millions and destroyed worlds, but it had to be done…for the good of the many.” You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, right? How many times must we hear this?!

Tyranny to peace? Songmaster

“Songmaster” took me about half the book to get into and then it suddenly came flooding in on my heart. Like Ender’s Game, the premise is a complicated one for me to stay with. It just hurts too much and, in my opinion, is just…wrong? Or is it? Is there ever a reason to systematically torture young children in the hopes of weeding out the one that will save us all? Does tyranny of the relatively few make the galaxy a better place in the long run?

At first the story is crazy. A whole planet devoted to developing beautiful singers to entertain a chosen few. They are worshipped like beautiful works of art. But these are human beings. Each of them is taken to the “school” as a toddler and taught in a way that gives them no choice in the matter. Of course, there are some that cannot be taught, but they are pretty much useless in the world and end up serving the school in some capacity for the rest of their lives.

But if we put all that real world stuff aside for a moment, it makes a great story. It’s “the chosen one” theme, right? Like Anakin Skywalker or The Golden Child.

The book got exciting for me when it went in a direction I wasn’t expecting. The political strategy was interesting. Characters were playing the long game, which never works in real life, especially when we’re talking about governing a galaxy. Of course, there’s some crazy violence throughout. The “you have to be a crazy murdering tyrant to bring peace to the galaxy” kind of violence. Darth Vadar thought so too.

As usual, what really got me in the feels was the relationship stuff. The connections between characters, the questioning of moral standards. Homosexuality is not acceptable and acted on violently in this society, but homosexuals are shown in a light love and connection. It broke my heart.

Child molestation comes up and is not condoned or put in a positive light. I felt that was very well done. The school gives a young singer to a master and the child is expected to sing as a beloved slave until they are fifteen years old when they return to the school. The music is beautiful and said to inspire love and passion, bring peace, so you can only imagine the implications.

One of my favorite lines was, “Ansset, your love was never slight. You gave without bar, and received without caution, and just because it brought pain doesn’t mean that it is gone.” Pain comes along with love because the only way to love and be loved is to be vulnerable. We cannot build a tight fortress around our hearts and minds and expect to feel anything.

That’s what the singers are taught to do. The build a high wall of control around their own feelings and cut everyone out. I’m not sure how that makes them better singers, or how it makes their songs change people. Somehow, they are able to use their songs as interpreters of the heart, without opening their own. It doesn’t make sense to me.

There was a much larger story, the one about bringing a real peace to the galaxy, not one controlled by violence and fear through tyranny, but it’s one I’m can barely see the outlines of. I’d have to read it all again and bounce it off someone else that read it to get more. The love story is what caught my attention, and I know that love story mirrors what was happening politically and spiritually, I just can’t quite put my finger on it.

Here’s where I feel like I’m lacking when I read. I’ll write this and then put the book down, keep the basic feeling of the story, letting the details and the broader connection fade in my memory. Once again, I’m left wishing there was someone else that had read this recently and wanted to talk about it.

If you’d like to read my first post about this book, go back to “Songmaster by Orson Scott Card: New Read”

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”

Attachment Thoughts from “Returning to Silence”

“Returning to Silence” is giving me some new thoughts on the idea of attachment, but it’s coming at a high cost. I’m not sure if it’s the ideas or the writing that is making this so complicated. It could be both.

“Everything through which we try to satisfy our desires becomes a toy.”

Returning to silence by dainin katagiri

Even meditation. It becomes a toy when we expect to get something from it, instead of … what? I’m not sure. What’s the point of meditation if we don’t get anything from it?

I’m being honest. A lot of this doesn’t make much sense to me. There’s a glimmer of meaning in it, but I sure would like to hear someone explain it in terms or analogies that I can relate to. It feels a lot like reading the Old Testament in the Bible.  

I am starting to get the idea of attachment in new ways though. When we thirst for pleasure, to stay alive or known, or for power and prosperity, we become attached to this world. And, it says here that we can’t NOT have that thirst. It can’t be extinguished, only acknowledged, and used for good purposes.

I’m not sure what that really means either. What’s a “good” purpose? He used the example of planting a tree because it is pretty and because it will shade people in the future. That is thirsting for pleasure (beauty) and to remain known (the tree will remind people of you when you’re gone). But you can acknowledge that thirst and mitigate it by not becoming attached to the outcome. If the tree dies for some reason, or is removed in the future, you should not throw a fit about it, just accept it.

Here’s another bit of something priceless that I found this morning:

“We don’t know when life will fade away. We should remember this.”

RETURNING TO SILENCE BY DAININ KATAGIRI

We are all marching toward the grave. It is our purpose on this planet to be born, to live, and to die. Every one of us, without exception. And we can’t know when that day will come. It is coming though, closer every day. We fade with every passing moment.

Attachment ideas. Flowers fade.

And that doesn’t mean fill your every waking moment with bullshit. It means be aware of the experience of life. A flower grows, buds, blooms, fades, and dies. That’s all it does. The only difference between the flower and us is sentience. A flower has no attachment to its life here. We are aware of what tomorrow brings, but we can use those big brains, not to set that information aside and ignore it, but to accept it as part of existence and keep living.

Go back to my first post about this book, New Read: Returning to Silence. You’ll find more links at the bottom of that post to other thoughts inspired by the book.

Can This Cardinal Rule of Politics Apply To Any Discussion?

What exactly is a “cardinal rule” anyway?

It’s a fundamental rule that acts as hinge to other interactions. Breaking a cardinal rule is something that can make a big mess of things, end discussions and relationships, and burn bridges.

“International politics is indeed a little like the mad tea party where Alice had to learn that you can mean what you say without saying it, as well as say what you mean without meaning it. The cardinal rule is this: Never reason from labels.”

The Philosophy of Peace by John Somerville

I read this and was floored, mostly because I’ve come to that conclusion myself and here it is again, in a 70-year-old book. This book was about politics, so the cardinal rule was related to that, but the rule applies everywhere and in every sphere.

What does it mean to “reason from labels?” I’m considering a scene where I’ve done this very thing…

I’m sitting in the grassy shade beneath a tree at the local park with my young “school age” children. They’re up on the monkey bars, swinging from the feet and hands, doing the crazy things young boys do. Another mom is in the park doing the same thing. It’s noon on a Tuesday during the public-school year, so I assume she’s probably like me, a homeschooler.

I approach and ask if she’d like company. She’d love it, she says. Being at home with kids all day, it’s nice to talk with another adult, especially another homeschooler. We can skip the usually why, how, and what about socialization questions.

We sit in the shade, sipping our iced tea, sharing stories about the kids. Her stories are filled with getting the kids to events, meeting with teachers, and testing. She has a been having trouble getting the kids to sit and stay focused on their assignments. One isn’t going to pass a class. And the other is below grade level. She asks how I deal with these things and I’m at a loss for words. I have no problems like these.

In my mind, I’m beginning to grumble. “This is not homeschooling!” is my main concern. I feel like she’s used the wrong label. I’ve bought a product and begun to use it, yet the contents of the package are not what’s on the label. What am I supposed to do with this?!

We’re at an impasse, unable to honestly communicate.

She could say the same about me. I used the label “homeschooler” and describe an entirely different (and probably shocking) life with my children. We have no teachers, curriculum, or tests. There is no grade-level, no assignments to complete. We simply read books together and go places. We read, talk, listen, and experience the world around us. That is our “school.”

When you put labels on people, you assume what’s inside based on your preconceived definition, instead of discovering the specific person you are talking to. I can create a profile and put a slew of labels on myself, and when you read it, you’ll think you know the kind of person I am. But you’d be wrong.

Time and time again, I’ve found a label for something I do or feel, discover a group with that label, and jump in. “These are my people!” I think, only to find that the people inside that label aren’t at all like me. “I must be a freak. I belong to no group at all.”

We do the same to others every time we label them and put them in groups. “You’re not a real (insert label here), because you don’t do this like me!” Then we all isolate each other.

What if we stopped? What if there were no other labels than your name? And when we talked to each other, we simply listened to the other person describe their feelings and experiences, their reasoning and the way they live, and we accept it as valid and correct for them?

What if we had conversations with people without labeling them or ourselves? Instead of thinking, “That person is a (label) and I’m not (label), so I can use none of that information.” We can instead think, “This person has an interesting way of living or thinking, maybe some of it will work in my life.” We may actually get somewhere, adopt some new and exciting behaviors, and make new connections in ways we didn’t know possible.

Labeling is the same as name calling. It pushes everyone not exactly like you outside of your circle. It make everything “us vs them” and ends any productive discussion.

I posted about The Philosophy of Peace by John Somerville when I started reading it. Click that link to read the post! I also found a great article about the ideology of peace and war called “Peace, War, and Philosophy” at Encyclopedia.com It was a nice summary of some ideas and led me, once again, down a rabbit warren of new things to read.


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Is the Purpose of Life the Pursuit of Happiness?

Pursuit of happiness quote from the book on a desert background.

“The purpose of our existence is to seek happiness.”

The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.

Ahh…the old “pursuit of happiness” thing!

One thing I noticed here and in other works is that they never say that the purpose is to BE happy but to SEEK happiness. If I’m unhappy that doesn’t mean I’ve failed to fulfill my purpose in life, it merely means I need to keep working.

Where words came from is fascinating to me, so the first thing I did was look up the word “happy.” Word Origin of Happy says the word happy originally meant “lucky” or “wise.” How clever is that? What if I spent my life looking for luck and wisdom? Seems like a good use of time, a decent existence, doesn’t it?

I think that’s exactly what I do, and why I’m a generally happy person. Some may disagree with that statement. They may say, “Michelle, you complain a lot and you tend to throw temper tantrums and get unreasonably angry about silly things. You’re not happy.” But I beg to differ. Ask those that live with me or are around me often. I’ll admit that I am an emotional creature. I wear my heart out on my sleeve and tend to get it bruised up, but I also tend to forgive and forget…mostly.

Happiness has eluded me in the past, and recently it’s felt like an annoying little butterfly just out of my reach. I stalk it in the shadows, pounce down on it, pull my hands up thinking I’ve caught it, only to find…nothing. But I keep looking. I open another book, find another friend, or start another conversation. I’m never disappointed for long. I thank my squirrel brain for that.

What kind of a person is it nicer to be around? What kind of a person is more likely to do something nice for others, work hard at something, and share with the world around them? A happy person or an unhappy person?

I think it’s the happy person, the lucky and wise person. That’s why it makes sense to me to make the pursuit of happiness my life’s goal. So far, I feel like I’m doing nice job of it.

It may look like I have the world from your perspective, but I don’t have everything I want. No one does. Things have not always gone the way I wanted them to. I’ve been sorely disappointed and let down. I’ve made terrible mistakes that have cost me some relationships as well as money and some freedom. The pursuit of happiness, the seeking of that which may make you happy, isn’t about getting what you want, or what you think you want, but accepting what is.

And happiness doesn’t always mean pleasure seeking. Things that are pleasurable don’t always lead to happiness. Wisdom is learning to navigate through those traps. It may bring me great pleasure to spend all my money on books, but I’ll be unhappy when my husband can’t pay the mortgage. It may bring me great pleasure to punch that guy right in the nose, but I’ll be unhappy when I’m in jail for assault.

No, BEING happy isn’t the goal. It can’t be. But SEEKING happiness? That’s attainable!


You can find The Art of Happiness at Thriftbooks. If you read it, let me know what you think!

I posted about this book when I started reading it back in December, New Read: The Art of Happiness

If you’re interested in my monthly reading newsletter, where I describe all my juicy immediate afterthoughts of the books I read, along with various other hilarious tidbits, subscribe by signing up for it on my Autobibliography page!

Discovering Small Spaces

There are spaces built into our lives, small stretches of time between tasks where we used to take a breath and think. I started to re-discover these spaces this past month when I deleted Facebook and then Instagram from my phone.

If you’ve been reading my posts, you probably know that I’ve had a long-term love/hate relationship with social media. I’ve thought about it a lot and I’ve written about it a lot. Honestly though, I have a love/hate relationship with just about everything. How much I love it or hate it depends on my mood of the day (or hour), but in the long run there is little that I truly abhor.

Ultimately, I love the concept. I love being able to stay connected through the internet with friends and family. I love being able to share pictures, books, and articles I find interesting with whoever wants to listen. No more losing addresses or phone numbers. No more having to print and send pictures of the kids. No more photocopies of articles tacked to the bulletin board.

But there are downsides, that’s for sure. We all know them well.

With all the hubbub in the world, I found myself needed to put a little more distance between my home and the online world, so I decided to take the apps off my phone so that I couldn’t just unconsciously scroll. I didn’t leave the platforms, I just limited when I could interact with them. That’s when I discovered the spaces.

Once the apps weren’t at my fingertips, I found myself daydreaming more often. And it’s so nice. As I finished my coffee, caught my breath after a walk, waited for the dryer to finish; whenever I had a moment, I sat there thinking instead, staring out the window, or doodling on a piece of paper. I found a few epiphanies to write about. And I relaxed.

Over the course of a few weeks, I realized that, with the apps right there in my hand, I had been filling those quiet spaces with other people’s thoughts and I was losing mine.

I’ll admit, I have considered leaving social media completely, but I just can’t seem to justify it. I can’t think of a convenient way to stay in touch over long distances. I want to be there so that my people can find me, so I stay.

I now have two social media accounts, Facebook and Instagram. On Facebook, I get on the computer and share a few things each morning. Depending on my mood and my availability, I chat with a friend or jump over to a friend’s page and see what’s up. You, my sweet reader, can “follow” me there if you like. I post many things publicly.

Instagram is different. You can only post to your page from the app. I can still follow interesting pages and comment from my computer, but I can’t post my own. I tried having the app on my phone and self-limiting my time there so that I could post, but I kept inadvertently filling in my spaces, so it had to go, at least until I can develop a stronger habit of not scrolling.

My social media use has evolved once again.

And The Stars To Guide Me

wil-stewart-QYFTkPFqzv4-unsplash

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

“However much we may admire the orator’s occasional bursts of eloquence, the noblest written words are commonly far behind or above the fleeting spoken language as the firmament with its stars is behind the clouds. There are the stars, and they who can may read them. The astronomers forever comment on and observe them. They are not exhalations like our daily colloquies and vaporous breath. What is called eloquence in the forum is commonly found to be rhetoric in the study. The orator yields to the inspiration of the transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him; but the writer, whose more equable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator, speaks to the intellect and heart of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him.”
From Walden by Henry David Thoreau

This. Wow. This morning, sitting there with my book, distracted like a squirrel by anything that moves or makes a sound, I read this.

I wasn’t enjoying Walden very much until this chapter, Reading. And then I almost cried. He spoke to my soul with this chapter, from 100 years in the past. And that’s exactly what he was trying to say.

How can we relate old written words to our current tech-filled, fast paced life? Read this book and you’ll know. He writes of the telegraph, the train, newspapers, and city life as we would of social media, world travel, mainstream media news, and city life. Ha! And his point still stands.

Do we really have that much to do? Are we overwhelming ourselves and forgetting what it’s like to be human? Are we so filled with “business” that we lose site of the real point of our lives?

This morning, I got up from my reading to make breakfast as I usually do and thought, I should go back to eating better. I haven’t been feeling as healthy as I should the past few weeks and I know it’s mainly because I’ve been skipping a good breakfast and starting my days with coffee and toast or cereal. I walked into the kitchen, opened the fridge, and looked at the vegetables, eggs, cheese, that I had bought the day before.

“I don’t have time to cut up veggies and then make eggs.”

I don’t have time? Why? Because I have so many pressing responsibilities? Because I have to be at work? Because I have babies to feed and love? No. I don’t have time because I want to get back to the distraction of scrolling through social media feeds. I’ve lost track of my priorities.

I’m not condemning social media, fun, or friendships. I’m not saying sell all your possessions, quit your job and live off the land. I’m saying make time for what you really want. And to do that we have to start with knowing exactly what it is we want.

For me, that means deliberately setting everything else aside for a while and going back to basics, maybe even spending some serious time in solitude, to reflect and refocus. When I’m quiet and undisturbed from the outside, my mind begins to settle down and the real thinking begins.

I need to go back to my stars and stop looking at the clouds for direction.

Change or Stay Miserable, Your Choice

I keep finding this over and over again; in books, on TV, in articles and social media posts.

“If you want things to be different, you’re going to have to change things. You’ll have to do some work.”

Over the years, conversations with friends have spun around the same subject. Over coffee I hear a friend talk about how frustrating her situation is. Over lunch I hear another friend complain about his life. On the internet, friend after friend posting about how they feel stuck.

Translation: “How do I keep doing the same thing, not make any effort or take any chances, and get better results?” The answer, of course, is that you can’t. You will need to change. You’ll either have to change what you’re doing, change how you think about something, or change where you are. You cannot remain the same, put no effort into growth, and become more than you were yesterday.

The whole thing reminds me of that commercial for the yellow pages. “If I advertised in the yellow pages, people might come to my amusement park.” We might look at our situation and think we want to change it but do nothing instead. We don’t take responsibility, the right to change things. Instead we wallow in our life and complain how complicated it is and how unhappy we are. Maybe because it’s easier or less scary than changing.

I’m not saying I have everything under control, no one ever does, but I have learned to be a lot happier over the last twenty years. I’d also say the last five years have been my biggest and fastest growing years, and I don’t mean my waist size, although I really should work on that. I’ve had some major ah-ha moments that have really changed how I see things and how I react to things.

It all started with meditation. I’d been mocking it for years when people had suggested it. I laughed out loud when my doctor suggested it to help me while I transitioned off of anti-anxiety medication. I’m not sure how long I heard the suggestion but at one point, about five years ago, I saw an ad for CALM for seventh time in a row that morning and decided to give their free trial a chance. It changed me. Something about the way they described practice just clicked for me. I’ve been keeping a morning meditation practice ever since. I do hope to spend more consistent time in practice, but I do what I can for now.

You’re going to laugh but almost all “self-help” books are great for me. I try to read a few every year. Books like “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “Boundaries” were great, as well as “Depression is a Choice” and “I Don’t Have to Make Everything Better.”

Right now, I’m reading “Warrior Goddess Training.” There’s so much there I already know but it helps me immensely to read these affirming words again and see how much I’ve already internalized and how much I still need to keep consciously working.

This morning there was a bit in the book that took hold of me and I can’t stop thinking about it. It was about the difference between “linear” and “cyclical” living. Linear living would be thinking that if you work through life just right, you’ll get great results, you’ll always be happy, and everything will go well. But we all know that isn’t true. You can make all the “right” decisions and still find yourself dealing with a crisis you don’t think you can handle.

Cyclical living is understanding and accepting that good times come and go through no fault of your own. Some days we’re happy and that’s great, but some days we’re depressed or angry and that’s ok too. It will all pass by and cycle around. Life and death, happiness and sadness, night and day, it’s all part of the cycle. We’ll be young. We’ll grow old. We’ll have kids and care for them. They’ll care for us. Love it all.

I want to create a reminder for myself that “This too shall pass.” Remembering that will help me to love the good times because they are short and the bad times for the same reason. I haven’t made my life better by making the “right” choices, feeding my kids the right food, or training my husband to do what I think is best. I’ve made my life happier by changing my outlook and seeing where I can effectively do something and where I can be lovingly accepting of the situation as it is.

Words to Live by: “Take Care of Yourself”

There was the cutest video on Facebook the other day. It was of a little girl, maybe three or four years old, working on her car seat buckle. The dad asked if he could help and she just politely and firmly says “You take care of youself.” And then she goes back to work on it, “Thank you.”

“Worry About Yourself”

I’ve watched it at least three times, showing it to my son once as well. Her little voice is so sweet and confident. I was struck by the profoundness of it as well. In her own little way, she summed up a philosophy we should do well to adopt, “You take care of yourself.”

Most of the time we are all more worried about taking care of others whether they want our help or not. What if we waited until they asked for help? What if we let people alone to struggle, projecting an air of peaceful helpfulness nearby until they reached out? How many more people would learn from their struggles and take care of themselves better and with more confidence?

And what if we did take care of ourselves first? I hear about “self-care” online several times a day, but what does it really mean? We need to know ourselves to do that, don’t we?

It seems to be one of those circular problems, to get one we need to master the other, to get that we need to master something else. As an adult, I think starting with ourselves is logical. To help anyone else, we have to be secure in our own person, have our own shit sorted out.

I’m not sure exactly how anyone does that, but I know that it helped me to start with meditating on awareness every morning. Ick, “awareness,” I know. Cliché lately, yes, but it’s true. I started on being aware of myself, my likes and dislikes, my feelings and triggers. I journaled. I started asking why I did things, why I felt certain ways. That has snowballed into some amazing, life changing ways of doing things. I started to just let a lot of things go, dealing with only the most important things, and then most of the ugliness in my life started to sort itself out. It’s been a good five years or so, and it keeps getting better.

I wrote this on my old blog a few years ago and found it today while I was scrolling through old posts. I thought it was relevant to my current thoughts.

Real, lasting peace begins with your own mind and body, extends to those in your home, neighborhood, and town, and then moves out into the world.

Until everyone finds that peace in their inner sphere of influence, there is no hope of that peace finding its way into the wider world.

Pray and meditate on how you can increase the peace of your own home before you worry about what other people are doing.

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