Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Review: The Mastery of Love

Disclaimer – I doubt I ever would have chosen to read this book without a recommendation from someone else. It was lent to me by a co-worker, and I read it, in part, out of respect for her.

The author: Miguel Ruiz once went to medical school and became a surgeon. Later in life after a traumatic accident he forsook it all to learn the healer’s ways and become an “Eagle-Knight” in the Nagual tradition. He has since studied the “Toltec” people and written about their teachings. He has written a few books now, the most successful being “The Four Agreements.”

The book: I hated the first 3 chapters. The first chapter described the wisdom he had obtained from the Toltec people. He then goes on to tell a “Toltec story” that somehow I already heard in Sunday School as a kid. It made me think – this guy is a hack. He picked some obscure historical group that no one really knows a lot about, and he invented stories about them to sound like it was ancient and mystic…when really the stories were made up by him or taken from other sources. He then proceeds to tell us a real truth:

“To master a relationship is therefore about action. It is not about concepts or attaining knowledge. It is about action. Of course, to have action, we need to have some knowledge or at least a little more awareness of the way humans operate.”

He kind of summed up his book right there. It’s not about knowledge, it’s about action. So stop reading this book and get moving…but of course he wants us to actually keep reading and to buy his book or he wouldn’t make any money or convince anyone to come to his seminars, courses, etc…In cases you hadn’t guessed, at this point I was becoming quite the cynic.

He then discussed mental illness and described it thus:

“We call it schizophrenia, paranoia, psychosis, but these diseases are created when the reasoning mind is so frightened and the wounds so painful, that it becomes better to break contact with the outside world.”

I have to admit there may be some truth in his statement, but it is far too simplistic. He makes it sound as though we make a conscious decision when life is too painful to create our own reality. It’s like people’s minds decide to go crazy, and I’ve seen that it is not so.

He then explains all the things humans naturally understand. Things like right and wrong, fair and unfair, love and hate.

“Each of us creates a personal dream for our own self, but the humans before us created a big outside dream, the dream of the human society. The outside Dream, or the Dream of the Planet, is the collective Dream of billions of dreamers. The Big Dream includes all the rules of society, its laws, its religions, its different cultures and ways to be.”

At this point I realized that he is either an Atheist, or believes in an unformed God that is simply the spirit of life within each of us. He does not believe there is any right or wrong…it is all perception. To me it slapped our Founding Fathers in the face - “We hold these truths to be self evident.” Don Miguel Ruiz would argue that they are only self-evident because we are all in the same dream, they are self-evident because we have convinced ourselves they are true.

"There is no one to blame for this disease; it is not good or bad or right or wrong, it is simply the normal pathology of the disease. No one is guilty for being abusive."

He keeps expounding on this idea that nothing we ever do is bad or wrong, it’s part of humanities disease.

At this point I was about to abandon the book for good because he was just making me mad…then he made some good points.

He gave the parable of the Magical Kitchen. It basically says – Imagine you have a magic kitchen that makes anything and everything you want, whenever you want it. Someone comes to your door and offers you a pizza, but you have to work for him the rest of the day. Of course you would say no, you can have that pizza or better for free, so why get it from someone else who expects something in return? Then imagine you haven’t eaten for days. You have no money and no food, and someone makes you the same offer. You may accept. Each day you are offered pizza if you will do what he says for the rest of the day. Soon you become dependent on the Pizza, you have to keep working for it. You fear the Pizza giver might leave one day, or not return…then you’d starve to death. You become possessive, desperate, and willing to do anything to keep the Pizza giver coming.
This is how we are with Happiness and Love. When we love others completely and absolutely, we are completely full of happiness. No one can offer us more happiness or love…we already have all we need, and we can share with everyone else…forever! We will never run out. But when we feel like we have no love, no happiness, and someone offers us a sliver, we jump at it. We take whatever we can get, no matter the price. We enter into terrible relationships simply because we have no love for others, no love for ourselves, and we need someone else to give it to us. As he states:

“Happiness never comes from outside of us.”

“If happiness can only come from inside of you and is the result of your love; you are responsible for your happiness.”

“When we love, we don’t have expectations, we do it because we want to, and if other people do it or not, it’s because they want to or not and it’s nothing personal.”

“The only way to master love is to practice love. You don’t need to justify your love, you don’t need to explain your love; you just need to practice your love.”

This is when I started to like the book. He was writing truth, and it was truth people need.

The next quotes about relationships and finding “the right one” were quite poignant.

“I can tell you that the right woman for you is the one you love just the way she is, the woman you don’t have the need to change at all…you are lucky if you find the right woman for you, and at the same time you are the right man for her.”

“You know the kind of man or woman that you want? The one that makes your heart sing, the one is aligned with the way you are, the one who loves you just as you are. Why set yourself up for something else? Why not get what you want? Why pretend to make someone fit what she is not?”

“When you buy something you don’t need, it ends up in the garbage. It’s the same in a relationship.”

“If you cannot love your partner the way she is, someone else can love her just as she is. Don’t waste your time, and don’t waste your partner’s time. This is respect.”

“You take care of your half of the relationship. The other half is not your problem.”

Then he made a quote that made me perturbed again.

“We learn to pretend to be what we are not”

We often practice to become something we are not. We want to be an athlete, or a scholar, or religious, or a good dresser. I do see people being false when they are trying to go against their beliefs, who they really are. But I see nothing wrong with learning new things and becoming things we weren’t before. Guess what, I’m a lot of things I wasn’t when I was a child…because I practiced. For example. My sister told me once she needed to stop acting like she was Hispanic, because she’s not. She was dating a guy from Columbia at the time. Well now they are married, and she is working diligently to learn Spanish. She will never be “Hispanic” by blood, but she can learn their language and appreciate their culture, food, and customs. This is not pretending to be something you are not. It is learning, expanding your horizons. So he has a point, but it shouldn’t be portrayed as an entirely negative thing.

"There’s no problem with being gorgeous. If you walk through a crowd of people and they tell you “Oh, you are beautiful.” You can say “Thank you, I know,” and keep going. It doesn’t make any difference to you. But it will make a difference if you don’t believe that you are beautiful and someone tells you that. Then you are going to say “Am I really?” This opinion can impress you, and, of course, that makes you easy prey."

Beauty and perception are one and the same. It can control us, or be our greatest asset.

"You will forgive them not because they deserve to be forgiven, but because you don’t want to suffer and hurt yourself every time you remember what they did to you.

Forgiveness is not for the offender, it is for the offended.

"You have a limit to the amount of abuse you will accept, but no one in the whole world abuses you more than you abuse yourself. The limit of your self abuse is the limit you will tolerate from other people. If someone abuses you more than you abuse yourself, you will walk away, you run, you escape."

This one made me think for a very long time – is that how we determine what abuse we’ll take…how bad we think we are???

"Whatever is not true will not survive skepticism, but the truth will always survive skepticism."

Unfortunately this one was wrong. Like Harry S. Truman said: “You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.”

Monday, August 9, 2010

Book Review: The Basic Works of Cicero

I read this book as a sort of homage to John Adams. John Adams loved Cicero, and almost always had one of his books with him. He read Cicero so much that his son also started reading his writings. Later in life John Quincy Adams said:

“To live without having a Cicero and a Tacitus at hand seems to me as if it was aprivation of one of my limbs.”

Cicero was a lawyer by training, a philosopher by theory, a statesman by profession, a republican by heart. He refused to take part in any system or portion of government that threatened the republic. At one point he discovered a plot to overthrow the republic (and assassinate him) by a man named Catiline. He proceeded to give four speeches which drove Catiline and his conspirators from the city. Cicero later had them all executed without trial. He spent many years in exile for executing men without a trial, and spent much of that time writing. Here are quotes I have gleaned from his writing, with my thoughts and impressions on a few.

Quotations from Cicero

The most criminal injustice is that of the hypocrite who hides an act of treachery under the cloak of virtue.

It is always bad when we find out someone has been treacherous; or done something evil and destructive. It is so much worse when they covered it up by making it seem like they did it to be virtuous.

If we harm one man in order to be liberal to another we are quite as unjust as if we were to appropriate our neighbor's goods. Many men, however, especially if they are ambitious of honor and glory, lavish on one the spoils of another, expecting to obtain credit as benefactors, if only they enrich their friends by fair means or by foul. Such conduct is absolutely opposed to duty.

This is basically how I view much of politics today. Those who govern don’t create or earn the wealth they distribute. They tax one group and give it to another, then claim “look how many people I’ve helped, or fed, or housed.” They did nothing. It wasn’t their money. They took from one and gave it to another. It’s worse when they give the money to their friends only, or give it to a group to keep their elected position, or to shore up support.

When good men of like character are joined in friendship, there we find the noblest and the strongest union.

I think this is why John Adams and Thomas Jefferson reformed their friendship after a decade of silence. They were good men of like character working toward something great. And that union could be hindered, but not broken.

Whatever we undertake, the most thorough preparation is necessary.

Like the Boy Scouts say “Be Prepared.” I have found that most great events, speeches, shows, concerts, presentations, meetings, reunions, lectures, interviews etc…Spent 95% of the time in planning and preparation, and 5% in the actual event.

There are actually men who through fear of unpopularity will not dare express their opinions, however excellent.

I think this is the effect of political pundits and minority groups. People are afraid to express their opinions. Whatever they say, someone won’t like it. Someone will be intolerant of it, feel slighted or threatened by it…and there will be a pundit to give them a national voice. The excellent opinion will be overrun be negative media, and the author of the idea will be left in ruin.

There is nothing more deplorable than the passion for popularity and the struggle for office.

Just watch an election cycle. I lived in Iowa during the 2008 election cycle….and all I can say is WOW. I have never seen so much excess and waste. I was especially impressed when a candidate was asked to speak for 1 hour about his health care plan…so he told us how much he hated the last president of the opposing party for 1½ hours.

It is above all in the height of our success that we should consult our friends and bow to their authority. At such a season too it is well to beware of the flatterer and close our ears to his seductive words. We are all so well pleased with ourselves that we accept praise as our due; hence the countless blunders of men who, puffed up with vanity, fall a prey to the greatest delusions and bring upon themselves contempt and ridicule.

There are plenty of people who will tell you what you want to hear once your rich and powerful…listen to the people whose opinion mattered back when you were poor and unknown.

It would be inconsistent to master fear but be mastered by desire, to conquer hardship but be conquered by pleasure.

The distinctive faculty of man is his eager desire to investigate truth. Thus, when free from pressing duties and cares, we are eager to see or hear, or learn something new, and we think our happiness incomplete unless we study the mysteries and the marvels of the universe.

What is true, simple and pure is most in harmony with human nature.

A well constituted character will bow to no authority but that of a master or a just and legitimate ruler who aims at the public good.

Honour I say, though praised by no one, is praiseworthy in itself.

It is chiefly for the purpose of satisfying some desire that men commit an injury; and the commonest motive is the love of money.

In neglecting the duty of defending others, men are influenced by various motives. They are reluctant to make enemies: they grudge the trouble and expense; they are deterred by indifference, indolence, and apathy ; or they are so fettered by their own pursuits and occupations as to abandon those whom it is their duty to protect.

We should carefully weigh the merits of those whom we intend to benefit. Let us look to the character of the recipient, his disposition toward us…

For men are most eager to serve one from whom they expect the greatest reward even though he needs no help.

Physicians, generals, and orators, however proficient in the rules of their art, achieve no great success unless they unite theory with practice.

Fortitude has two characteristics. The first is indifference to outward circumstances. It is founded on the conviction that nothing is worthy of the admiration, the desire, or the effort of man except what is honourable and decorous and that he must surrender neither to his fellow-men, to passion, nor to fortune. The second, the natural outcome of this moral temperament, is the ability to perform actions which are not only great and useful, but arduous, laborious, and fraught with danger to life and all that makes life worth living.

That moral dignity, which we find in a noble and lofty spirit, depends, it is true, on force of mind, not on bodily strength; yet we must so train and school the body that it may obey our judgment and reason.

The government of a country resembles the charge of a minor. It must be conducted for the advantage of the governed, not the governors.

Above all, when we inflict punishment, let us put away anger; he who approaches the task in an angry spirit will never observe the happy mean between excess and defect.

When fortune smiles and everything is going to our heart’s desire, it is our duty to abstain from pride, disdain and arrogance.

As bodily beauty attracts the eye by the symmetry of the limbs and charms us by the graceful harmony of all the parts, so the decorum which shines in our conduct engages the esteem of society by the order, consistency and restraint which it imposes on all our words and deeds.

The soul is swayed by two forces; the one is appetite, called by the Greeks Horme, which hurries us this way and that, the other Reason, which teaches us what to do and what to avoid. It follows that reason must command and appetite obey.

Even in a jest there should be some spark of virtue. Jests are of two kinds: some are low, wanton, wicked obscene; others elegant, polished, graceful.

PLATO - “Knowledge without justice is to be accounted cunning rather than wisdom, and even intrepidity, if prompted by personal ambition, and not by public spirit, does not deserve the name of fortitude : audacity is its name"

Monday, August 2, 2010

Book Review: The Scarlet Letter

By no means, am I a literary scholar…and reading this book reinforced that. I didn’t enjoy reading it. I found it to be boring. It goes on and on about useless details and unimportant narratives (this coming from a guy who loves long-winded Les Miserables)

With that said – there are valuable lessons and intriguing ideas within its pages, if you can take the time to find them. Once I stopped to think about the topics, I had some wonderful insights, and thought it was a pretty good story. But that’s only after I stopped reading it and took time to reflect.

I am coming to find that sometimes that’s what “classic literature” means. There are some great things to be learned, but you have to have the tenacity to get through the boring parts in order to find them. Only those with determination will be granted the reward. Well, in this case, I don’t yet know if the reward was worth the effort, but here are some thoughts.

I do appreciate the fact that the book points out the seriousness of adultery. Our culture today is so flippant and non-chalant about morals, that it is refreshing to see a story which treats it with gravity.

Here are a few quotes and I my insights concerning them:

“There are few things,—whether in the outward world, or, to a certain depth, in the invisible sphere of thought,—few things hidden from the man, who devotes himself earnestly and unreservedly to the solution of a mystery.”

I find this to be very true. When someone dedicates themselves to discovering the answer to a mystery, it is nearly impossible to stop its discovery. In this case, it was to the destruction and ruin of the husband, who could never forgive or forget.

“The spot never grew callous; it seemed, on the contrary, to grow more sensitive with daily torture.”

Time does not erase sin. Sometimes we can stop thinking about it as often, or justify it, but time alone does not heal the wound. There needs to be something more.

“Trusting no man as his friend, he could not recognize his enemy when the latter actually appeared.”

If we don’t have friends, how will we know our enemies? We must know good to recognize evil. It’s like knowing something is counterfeit. The way to know something is a counterfeit is not to study it, but to study the original. If we study the truth, the lies stand out. If we make true friendships, we recognize the false ones.

“They shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of men; because, thenceforward, no good can be achieved by them; no evil of the past be redeemed by better service. So, to their own unutterable torment, they go about among their fellow-creatures, looking pure as new-fallen snow; while their hearts are all speckled and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid themselves.”

Are any of our leaders perfect? Are any of them as good as we hope them to be? I would guess there are very few. Everyone has made mistakes. Everyone is ashamed. Does it mean they can never do good again? I don’t think so. I don’t think errors should be made public knowledge, but neither to I think its fine to hide them away like they didn’t happen. They should be dealt with - apologies made, restitution made, forgiveness granted, and second chances afforded.

“I your pastor, whom you so reverence and trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie!”

The better we get, the worse we realize we were, and the worse we feel for our prior sins and errors.

“She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.”

Sometimes we don’t know how much the sin has changed us and weighed us down, until we are free of it. Only once we are free do we see the degree of our captivity.

“No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”

“In our nature, however, there is a provision, alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it.”

"A bodily disease, which we look upon as whole and entire within itself, may, after all, be but a symptom of some ailment in the spiritual part."

“To say the truth, there was much need of professional assistance, not merely for Hester herself, but still more urgently for the child; who, drawing its sustenance from the maternal bosom, seemed to have drank in with it all the turmoil, the anguish, and despair, which pervaded the mother's system. It now writhed in convulsions of pain, and was a forcible type, in its little frame, of the moral agony which Hester Prynne had borne throughout the day.”