Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fly, envious Time

Fly, envious Time, till thou run out thy race,
Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,
Whose speed is but the heavy Plummets pace;
And glut thy self with what thy womb devours,
Which is no more than what is false and vain,
And merely mortal dross;
So little is our loss,
So little is thy gain.
For when as each thing bad thou hast entomb'd,
And last of all, thy greedy self consum'd,
Then long Eternity shall greet our bliss
With an individual kiss;
And Joy shall overtake us as a flood,
When every thing that is sincerely good
And perfectly divine,
With Truth, and Peace, and Love shall ever shine
About the supreme Throne
Of him, t'whose happy-making sight alone,
When once our heav'nly-guided soul shall climb,
Then all this Earthy grossness quit,
Attir'd with Stars, we shall for ever sit,
Triumphing over Death, and Chance, and thee O Time.
'On Time', by John Milton 1608-1674

This post is dedicated to my friend, David.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Habit - according to the Ancients

Once again I go through the exercise of compiling what the ancients had to say about a particular virtue or vice as compared with our more contemporary lights. And once again we can see that there is nothing new under the sun. Our emotions may have different hooks to hang their hats on today, but the emotions are still the same. Men have the same basic fears and desires today as they had thousands of years ago. That is why ancient texts often speak to us as though they were written yesterday.
In the following quotes we can see that habit held no secrets for the ancients. They knew its great power for good and for evil. We can also understand that each generation has to relearn the same wisdom of their forefathers, either through the school of hard knocks or the school of philosophy… if we learn it at all.

Habit had made the custom. Ovid

Nothing is stronger than habit. Ovid

Powerful indeed is the empire of habit. Syrus

Habit is stronger than nature. Quintus Curtius Rufus

Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts. Marcus Aurelius.

Pursuits become habits. Ovid

Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way. Aristotle

Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts. Aristotle

The moral virtues, then, are produced in us neither by nature nor against nature. Nature, indeed, prepares in us the ground for their reception, but their complete formation is the product of habit. Aristotle

Character is simply habit long continued. Plutarch

Good habits result from resisting temptation. Ancient proverb

Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity. Saint Augustine

Where evil habits are once settled, they are more easily broken than mended. Quintilian

Nothing is in reality either pleasant or unpleasant by nature; but all things become so through habit. Epictetus

Great is the power of habit. It teaches us to bear fatigue and to despise wounds and pain. Cicero

To things which you bear with impatience you should accustom yourself, and, by habit you will bear them well. Seneca

Men's natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them. Confucius

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Habit - the power of the Dark Side

As we saw in Habit – the way to character and Habit – using the Force habit is a power that we can either use consciously for our own benefit or ignore - in which case it may become a power with a darker nature, a power that can take our lives in directions we do not choose.

Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters. Nathaniel Emmons

Habit is the most imperious (think Darth Vader) of all masters. Goethe

Recently I took to eating a piece of chocolate with my morning coffee when at home on my days off. Then 2 pieces. Before I was aware of it, I was throwing a bar of chocolate in my shopping basket every week instead of once in a blue moon. In no time I had gained 5 pounds.

Habits are formed, not at one stroke, but gradually and insensibly; so that, unless vigilant care be employed, a great change may come over the character without our being conscious of any. Archbishop Richard Whately

And the worst thing is, eating a piece of chocolate having become a habit, it was no longer a treat. I no longer enjoyed it in the same way. And it was surprisingly boring to give the habit up. I give this simple case as an example but there are many others that I can think of, and I am sure you can too, with more far-reaching effects on our lives than a few extra inches of love handle.

Habits are at first cobwebs, then cables. Spanish Proverb

The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. Samuel Johnson

Bad habits are easier to abandon today than tomorrow. Yiddish Proverb

Habit and routine have an unbelievable power to waste and destroy. Henri de Lubac

Therefore, know the power of habit, its power for good and its power for evil. You can no longer say you did not know. Watch your actions, your daily routines, especially new ones. Consciously choose your habits and the end results that go with them. And may the Force be with you.

Habit is a man's sole comfort. We dislike doing without even unpleasant things to which we have become accustomed. Goethe

The habit of virtue cannot be formed in a closet. Habits are formed by acts of reason in a persevering struggle through temptation. Bernard Gilpin

To fall into a habit is to begin to cease to be. Miguel de Unamuno

Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state. William James

Beware of fixing habits in a child. Robert Hall

If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong. Charles F. Kettering

Habit is the nursery of errors. Victor Hugo

The second half of a man's life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half. Feodor Dostoevski

Centres, or centre-pieces of wood, are put by builders under an arch of stone while it is in the process of construction till the keystone is put in. Just such is the use Satan makes of pleasures to construct evil habits upon; the pleasure lasts till the habit is fully formed; but that done the habit may stand eternal. The pleasures are sent for firewood, and the hell begins in this life. Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The three phases of man

Whatever phase of man you find yourself in this Christmas, I wish you a very happy one. What are the three phases of man?

He believes in Santa Claus
He does not believe in Santa Claus
He is Santa Claus

When we are very small, the world is all to discover. Christmas wrapping paper is a thing of astonishing beauty that can keep us occupied for the better part of a day. Nothing is thoroughly known until we have tried to eat it. Our parents, those omniscient, all-powerful, god-like giants, tell us that Santa Claus has brought us gifts and they are under the Christmas tree. The world is full of magic, wonder, trust and unlimited possibilities.
As time goes by, the laboratory of life does its work. We first begin to doubt that such a fat man can get down the chimney. Then we doubt that there is a fat man at all. And then our parents let us in on the secret: it was only for fun. You enjoyed it, didn’t you? The world becomes a much smaller place, ruled by laws of nature and money. There is no magic, and the possibilities are limited.
Many years go by. Many things happen to us and we happen to many things. We know great happiness and great disappointment, love found and love lost, ambitious pride and deep despair. And then we wake up one morning and we are grateful for this life of ours, we believe in the magic that lies just beneath the surface of everything we see. We are awed by the beauty of the world and the unknowable principle that created it. We trust in its life-renewing love. It is a world of infinite possibilities again and we are its ultimate expression.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A 'Hoy' Award for Healing Philosophy

I was astonished to read in the comment of my previous post that Susan over at the worthy blog If you’re going through hell, keep going has co-founded a blog award called a Hoy and has awarded it to this blog among others. Here are some of her comments:

(Healing Philosophy) is run by a Canadian named Alex…The blog discusses Eastern and Western philosophy and every time I read it I am amazed by what he knows and how succinct his entries are. I always feel uplifted when I read this blog.

A big thank you to Susan for her kind words. It is very gratifying to know that my shared philosophy is helping others. For those of you linking from Susan’s blog, a very warm welcome.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Habit - using the Force

Use makes master. Practice makes perfect. The power of habit is what all training attempts to harness. What we do repeatedly, day in day out we not only do well, but we do it easily. Without thinking. This can be seen for example in military training. The goal of military training among other things is to make habitual the desired reaction in life-threatening, stressful situations. It is not easy to shoot someone. It goes against the grain, usually. But a recruit is so drilled throughout his training that when the time comes he shoots without a second thought. This is perhaps an extreme example of the power of habit.
I am reminded of a couple of stories in the Zen tradition. In ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’, Eugen Herrigel recounts how he had difficulty drawing a certain bow. The Master took the bow and drew it several times and gave it back to him. Herrigel then found the bow easier to draw. Some of the Master’s power seemed to have ‘rubbed off’ on the bow.
In another Zen story, a samurai with little experience of the sword was challenged to a duel. In a panic, he sought help from a sword master. The sword master, knowing there was little time for training, took the samurai to the place where the duel was to be fought the next day. He drew his sword and with a great roar, made a furious charge and slashing stroke at an imaginary opponent. He then told the samurai to stand in his footprints tomorrow and charge in the same way following his footprints in the sand and making the same stroke. The next day the samurai did as the sword master had said and struck his opponent down dead with one blow.
Such is the power of training, of habit: even someone else’s that is ‘lent’ to us.

Habit is ten times nature. Duke of Wellington

Habituation puts to sleep the eye of our judgment. Montaigne

If we look back upon the usual course of our feelings, we shall find that we are more influenced by the frequent recurrence of objects than by their weight and importance; and that habit has more force in forming our characters than our opinions have. The mind naturally takes its tone and complexion from what it habitually contemplates. Robert Hall

It's not what you do once in a while, it's what you do day in and day out that makes the difference. Jenny Craig

When we have practiced good actions awhile they become easy; when they are easy we take pleasure in them; when they please us we do them frequently; and then, by frequency of act they grow into habit. Tilloyson

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going. Jim Ryun

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Habit - the way to character

When I decided to create this blog, my goal was to share the philosophy that helped me get through bad times. I was and am only interested in ‘nuts and bolts’ philosophy, ‘practical’ philosophy, stuff that when you read it you say ‘Aha!’ or ‘That’s right! That is something I can use right now!’ I have no use for obtuse philosophical discussions on ‘the self’ and so on that you often find and associate with philosophy. I am in full agreement with the Buddha on this:

However many holy words you read,
However many you speak,
What good will they do you
If you do not act on upon them?

Holy words, good philosophy can lift our thoughts and inspire us to ‘change our mind’. This not only makes us feel better but in effect changes our destiny as we act in new ways:

Thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth in action; actions form habits; habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny. Tryon Edwards

To learn new habits is everything, for it is to reach the substance of life. Life is but a tissue of habits. Henri-Frederic Amel

As I researched what others have said about habit, I realised the significance and power, the very great significance and the very great power, that habit has over our lives.

Habit is stronger than nature. Quintus Curtius Rufus

Habit is second nature, or rather, ten times nature. William James

Habit is the deepest law of human nature. Thomas Carlyle

Habit is stronger than reason. George Santayana

Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters. Nathaniel Emmons

Habit is the most imperious of all masters. Goethe

Habit is necessary to give power. William Hazlitt

But we hardly ever consciously realise the power of habit, still less consciously use habit to our advantage. Not only can good habits be formed as a ‘by-product’ of being inspired, but we can consciously, knowingly choose to ingrain a good characteristic and hence a destiny through repeated acts, through choosing to adopt an appropriate habit:

Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts. Aristotle

Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting in a particular way. Aristotle

Acts of virtue ripen into habits; and the goodly and permanent result is the formation or establishment of a virtuous character. Thomas Chalmers

And when through ignorance or lack of awareness we do not choose our habits, when we let habits form willy-nilly, then we relinquish control of our characters and our lives to forces within and without more or less favourable to our cause:

In truth, the only difference between those who have failed and those who have succeeded lies in the difference of their habits. Good habits are the key to all success. Bad habits are the unlocked door to failure. Thus, the first law I will obey, which precedes all others, is - I will form good habits and become their slaves. Og Mandino

Man becomes a slave to his constantly repeated acts. What he at first chooses, at last compels. Orison Swett Marden

So, do we consciously choose to our habit so that it becomes our servant or do we unconsciously let our habit form as it will so that it becomes our master?

Habit, if wisely and skilfully formed, becomes truly a second nature; but unskilfully and unmethodically depicted, it will be as it were an ape of nature, which imitates nothing to the life, but only clumsily and awkwardly. Francis Bacon

Cultivate only the habits that you are willing should master you. Elbert Hubbard

A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit. Desiderius Erasmus

Habits are the daughters of action; but they nurse their mothers, and give birth to daughters after her image, more lovely and prosperous. Jeremy Taylor

When you choose a habit, you also choose the end (destiny) of that habit. Zig Ziglar
Photo by Magyar Balazs from Wikimedia: Aikido ‘four direction throw’ with standing attacker and seated defender

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

First we make our habits, and then ...

In sickness, my thoughts turn to health, mortality, and the desirability of certain changes in my lifestyle. I have noticed, and sickness thrusts the issue in one’s face, that as I get older I am more set in my ways, even if those ways are bad for me. Even though I am convinced of a change I have to make, I find it harder to make the first step.
I must remember William James’ phrase:

Sow a thought, reap an action,
Sow an action, reap a habit,
Sow a habit, reap a destiny.

I know that the key to change is in creating new habits to replace the lifestyle habits we wish to change. I find inspiration in these quotes:

We first make our habits, and then our habits make us. John Dryden

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle

Choose the life that is most useful, and habit will make it the most agreeable. Francis Bacon

We are what we think, as the Buddha and many others agree. So we must make sure that we think well. We must think high, positive, great thoughts. We must banish low thoughts, doubt, fear and discouragement. This is where philosophy can help us. But we must not spend our time only thinking great thoughts, we must put our thoughts into action. We must build good habits of action. And then the power of habit will work for us and not against us.

Weak is he who allows his thoughts to control his actions.
Strong is he who makes his actions control his thoughts. Confucius

Then our habits will make us what we thought of in the first place. Let us take the first step ...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ship's log - December 2008

December has started off by my being sick. Sick as a dog. How true it is that if we do not have health we have nothing. Things we take for granted, little things like, say, BREATHING suddenly become the only thing we really care about. Being able to sleep soundly, peacefully, suddenly becomes something eagerly desired.
With sickness comes an instant paradigm shift in our perception of priorities. From this different standpoint, I see clearly that, once I have my health and energy back, there are going to be a few changes around here. Oh dearie me yes.
Since my sickness came after all these posts on gratitude, the following quote came often to my mind and I took a great comfort in it. That in itself is a change for me.

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful. Buddha

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gratitude - according to the Ancients

As a child I remember rebelling when anyone would tell me ‘count your blessings’. As a young man I felt much the same when told to ‘be thankful for what you’ve got’. It seemed to me only to accentuate what I did not have. It seemed a cheap shot, an old tired catch-all put-down phrase. ‘Of course, it is the same old story. Truth usually is the same old story.’ said Margaret Thatcher. Behind the old tired phrases lies the truth, whether we are open to receiving it or not. ‘Count your blessings’ is a great wisdom, whether we choose to do it or not. ‘Being thankful for what you have’ is the attitude of a great and cultivated mind, whether we understand it or not.
Here is what the Ancients had to say about gratitude, probably to the rebellious unlistening youth of long long ago:

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful. Buddha

You have no cause for anything but gratitude and joy. Buddha

A noble person is mindful and thankful of the favours he receives from others. Buddha

Gratitude is the sign of noble souls. Aesop

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. Cicero

Nothing is more honourable than a grateful heart. Seneca

There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn, as in doing it. Seneca

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. Epictetus

Only a stomach that rarely feels hungry scorns common things. Horace

A grateful mind is a great mind which eventually attracts to itself great things. Plato

Take full account of what excellencies which you possess, and in gratitude remember how you would hanker after them, if you had them not. Marcus Aurelius

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:6

Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. Matthew 25:29

Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. Tao Te Ching

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gratitude - the fairest blossom

Since my first posts on gratitude, I have noticed many visits to the site by people searching for quotes or prayers about gratitude. This is no doubt linked to the Thanksgiving holiday, which was a wholly fortuitous coincidence with regard to my posts since I do not have any great notion of the public holidays or even, I am ashamed to say, of the religious holidays. My thoughts started turning to gratitude for a very different reason (read my post Gratitude – the forgotten virtue).
Be that as it may, I will perhaps make an exception for Thanksgiving in the future as a result of these posts on gratitude and my growing awareness of the essentiality of gratitude in the heart of him that would be happy. It seems to me now a very noble and worthy reason for a holiday. And another example of the wisdom of the old ways.
I wish all our American cousins a very happy Thanksgiving.

Gratitude is the memory of the heart. Jean-Baptiste Massieu

Gratitude is the moral memory of mankind. Georg Simmel

Gratitude is the least of the virtues, but ingratitude is the worst of vices. Thomas Fuller

Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past mercies. Charles E. Jefferson

Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy. Jacques Maritain

Gratitude is a fruit of great cultivation. You do not find it among gross people. Samuel Johnson

The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude. Nietzsche

The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you. John E. Southard

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. G.K.Chesterton

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink. G.K.Chesterton

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving. W.T. Purkiser

Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul. Henry Ward Beecher

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gratitude - the most complete prayer

Many if not all virtues are interrelated, the lines between them blurred. Aristotle believed that no virtue was found in isolation. I remember using the following quote in my post Humility - accepting suffering with joy:

The truly patient man does not examine who is testing him, whether it is his superior, his equal or his inferior, a good man or a bad man. But, treating all indiscriminately, he receives from God’s hand, gratefully, and as often as He likes, everything contrary that happens to him, and considers it a great benefit.
(‘Imitation de N.S. Jésus Christ’)

My point was that the humble man does not rebel against what is happening to him, as if it should not be happening to him because he is superior. He accepts it willingly. In the Tao Te Ching we read that the man who follows the Tao accepts, like water, the lowly places that no one else wants.
I later used the same quote in my post Patience – the greatest prayer. My point was then that the humble man is necessarily patient: not putting his own interests forward, not feeling unjustly dealt with, but accepting whatever comes his way with faith and philosophy.
And now I have quoted it again in this post on gratitude. For as you have read, our truly patient, humble man receives gratefully everything contrary that happens to him and counts it a great blessing. Humility, patience, gratitude. Who can say where one leaves off and the other begins?

A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves. Henry Ward Beecher

Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation. Brian Tracy

There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

The difficulties, hardships and trials of life, the obstacles… are positive blessings. They knit the muscles more firmly, and teach self-reliance. William Mathews

I remember how we saw that humility is the root of all good, the foundation of all virtues. If humility is the root, patience is the tree and gratitude the branches. We saw also in Humility - accepting suffering with joy how the Rabbi, in his gratitude for all that God gave him, could not understand why he should know something of suffering.

Remember that not to be happy is not to be grateful. Elizabeth Carter

In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy. Albert Clarke

Whenever we are appreciative, we are filled with a sense of well-being and swept up by the feeling of joy. M.J. Ryan

There is a calmness to a life lived in gratitude, a quiet joy. Ralph H. Blum

There is not a more pleasing exercise of the mind than gratitude. It is accompanied with such an inward satisfaction that the duty is sufficiently rewarded by the performance. Joseph Addison

Gratitude is our most direct line to God and the angels. If we take the time, no matter how crazy and troubled we feel, we can find something to be thankful for. The more we seek gratitude, the more reason the angels will give us for gratitude and joy to exist in our lives. Terry Lynn Taylor

To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven. Johannes A. Gaertner

A simple grateful thought toward Heaven is the most complete prayer. Gotthold Lessing

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was thank you that would suffice. Meister Eckhart

Gratitude is heaven itself. William Blake

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gratitude - everything is a miracle

If we stop for a moment and think about it (a strange thing to do, I know) everything around us is a gift. Our life is a gift, our body is a gift, the air we breathe is a very welcome gift from the universe…

In his book ‘Hara – the Vital Centre of Man’ Karlfried Graf Durkheim states:

Man, as a living being, is not rooted in himself. Rather he is nourished, sustained and held in order by Nature whose laws operate without his knowledge and assistance.

To paraphrase another source that escapes me*, we walk without knowing what it is that moves us; we stop without knowing what it is that stops us. We assimilate what we eat without knowing how we assimilate it. How can we presume to appropriate anything to ourselves?
It is folly and pride not to be awed by the miracle of life. But we so easily get caught up in the petty game of striving to get what we want that we forget to appreciate and enjoy what we do have. The game is only a game, and it is not even our own playing board.
But we can step back from the game and change our perspective and our attitude. Gratitude changes the rules of the game immediately. It becomes a delight to play instead of a struggle. And, best of all, we never seem to lose…

Gratefulness is the key to a happy life that we hold in our hands, because if we are not grateful, then no matter how much we have we will not be happy - because we will always want to have something else or something more. Brother David Steindl-Rast

If a fellow isn't thankful for what he's got, he isn't likely to be thankful for what he's going to get. Frank A. Clark

You cannot bring anything new into your life until you are grateful for what you have now. Dr. Michael Beckwith

Who does not thank for little will not thank for much. Estonian Proverb

If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily. Gerald Good

The unthankful heart... discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings! Henry Ward Beecher

The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings. Eric Hoffer

When a person doesn't have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude. Elie Wiesel

Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend... when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that's present - love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and personal pursuits that bring us pleasure - the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth. Sarah Ban Breathnac

Feeling grateful or appreciative of someone or something in your life actually attracts more of the things that you appreciate and value in your life. Christiane Northrup

You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you. Sarah Ban Breathnach

There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Albert Einstein

* 21 January 2009, I have found the reference: Chuang Tzu.
'Your destiny, your activity form an intergral part of the transformation of beings under the action of heaven and earth... You advance in life without knowing what pushes you, you stop without knowing what it is that stops you, you eat without knowing how you assimilate, the powerful but unknowable action of heaven and earth moving you in everything; and you claim to appropriate something to yourself?'

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gratitude - the forgotten virtue

Have you ever been puzzling over a problem and then come face to face with a sign that seemed to give you the answer? (See my post, A trip to the sea). The other day I was feeling vaguely irritated and I saw a T-shirt with the words ‘Control will be maintained for we will have order’. I smiled. Obviously the T-shirt’s message was tongue-in-cheek. But it made me realize I was lacking some order in my life. Then of course my eye caught another quote ‘Good order makes men bold, and confusion, cowards’ by Machiavelli. Perhaps it was a case of being receptive to change, a case of ‘when the pupil is ready the master appears’.
Last week, I happened to ask a colleague, who is always cheerful, where he thought the market was going. He surprised me by saying, with a smile, that wherever the market was going was alright with him because in any case he was a lot better off than most people in the world. He carried on in this vein, looking me straight in the eye with total sincerity and compassion and good cheer: we have a roof over our heads, we have a good job, we have money in the bank; we are really fortunate in this part of the world to have all that. We should count our blessings… be grateful… be happy. This reply was so unexpected that it almost seemed to me to come, not from my colleague, but from ‘upstairs’ via the medium of my colleague. Of course I agreed with him, a little half-heartedly, but the message had been delivered. I had mail. I had been told what was important and what was not.
Gratitude, along with humility, is a very unfashionable, almost forgotten virtue these days. And I am afraid to say that I must count myself among the forgetters. But it is one that we can't do without, as we shall see.
I did some research on what others have had to say on the subject and the importance of gratitude was further brought home to me. I will be posting a selection shortly. Here is one to meditate on for now. By the way, thank you Robert.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. Melodie Beattie


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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The ethical financial advisor

A stockbroker is someone who invests your money until there is nothing left.

So said Woody Allen, and there is many a true word spoken in jest. I don’t have a stockbroker. I can manage investing until there is nothing left quite well myself. And I am saving a heap in commissions. But to tell the truth, I would like to change my investment goals. So, on the look out for a financial advisor who is not afraid of the empathy gap, I read at Globeinvestor that Danielle Park had gotten her clients out of the market back in May before the crash. I did a search and found the site of her investment counsel firm, Venable Park. Here I found reports, predicting the credit crisis months in advance. Not only that but I found that Danielle has a blog, Juggling Dynamite where she posts almost daily comments, advice and pertinent links. And not only that, Danielle has written a book, which gives its name to the blog - Juggling Dynamite – which if you had read it in time would have warned you of the coming meltdown in the financial world and allowed you to protect your capital. After reading her blog and watching her interviews, I became convinced that Danielle is that rare breed: a totally ethical financial advisor. Ethical, but also smart. Smart, but also knowledgeable. Knowledgeable, but also decisive.
And Danielle knows all about the empathy gap. She tells of the sceptical reaction she got from her clients in 2007 and early 2008 when she tried to convince them that a financial tsunami was on the radar screen. I am sure they are all worshipping her conscientious prudence today.
Danielle’s firm manages clients with portfolios of one million dollars and more. I’m a few dollars short, but if you are like me, you can still profit from the million-dollar advice she gives in her book and at her firm’s website and the timely commentary in her blog, which is what I intend to do. Because Woody Allen also said:

Wealth is better than poverty if only for financial reasons.

Pass the word to your friends, get the message out. Danielle’s advice can help us get through this mess and avoid similar disasters in the future.

Monday, November 3, 2008

They said it couldn't be done

As I wrote in a recent post, we experience an empathy gap every time our actions go against the prevailing flow of our entourage or society. Keeping your cool in a situation where most people are losing theirs is an example. The reverse, seeing danger when most people are ‘keeping their cool’ or rather being blissfully ignorant is another. Think of Noah building the ark amidst the jeers of everyone in his community. Warren Buffet’s investment advice ‘Be fearful when others are greedy, be greedy when others are fearful’ is a clear example of living and prospering in the empathy gap.
For it is true to say that anyone who wishes to rise above the mass in any endeavour is going to have to become tolerably acquainted with the empathy gap. By definition, you don’t become exceptional by following the herd. By definition, wisdom is rare; if it were not rare we would not call it wisdom, we would call it ‘human nature’ or ‘common sense’.
So, when you have a sense that what everyone else is doing is not the way for you, honour it. Examine the truth, the motives behind this feeling, certainly, but be true to your own path, even (especially) if it is ‘a path less travelled’. You can have no regrets in doing this. God, the universe, the Tao will always ‘see you right’ if your path is based on a best-effort attempt at doing the right thing. And the gods always smile on the brave.
Even in small things our ‘nerve’ or convictions are constantly tested. For example, I once asked my son to help me move a plant that had graduated to small tree status. You must be kidding, he protested. You won’t be able to get it out; it will die from loss of roots etc. My son and I were experiencing a minor empathy gap. Needless to say, we got it out, we replanted it and it didn’t die. And I treated my son (again) to one of my ‘famous’ lines:

They said it couldn’t be done. They said he was a fool. They were wrong.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Ship's log - November 2008

The raging storm in the financial world and thereby in my personal financial world has preoccupied me lately. Rather than rising above such mundane, material considerations like a spiritual albatross, I have been plunging my head into every huge frothing wave and surfacing now and then in a sea of emotional turmoil. All of which has been very revealing, as you may imagine. I find that, having lacked the foresight to avoid the market crash, I have at least had the courage not to panic and sell. However, I have not had much patient fortitude while being courageous; I am ashamed to say that I have had many an angry feeling unworthy of the author of a blog on healing philosophy. Then again, as I have said in the past, the only reason I know something about philosophy is because I need it. Especially now.
Learning from mistakes is a large part of wisdom. Being prepared is another. I have promised myself not to make the same mistake of being unprepared for the next financial storm. But the major part of my preparation will continue to be improving my mind, and for this all storms are one.
If you would like to join me on this philosophical voyage, put your X on the line and join the ship’s crew below.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Empathy Gap

Being able to define an emotional problem, or any problem for that matter, is often a key step in our learning to overcome it or at least deal with it. Often we say ‘we can’t get our mind around it’, meaning we can’t define or understand it and therefore we can’t deal with it. For example, the saying ‘to understand all is to forgive all’ expresses our need to get our minds around a situation in order to solve it. When cavemen painted images of the wild beasts they encountered, they were as it were ‘getting their minds around it’ or them, which no doubt gave them confidence and courage, or in a word, power.
In today’s information world, words and phrases are our cavemen paintings. When we can reduce a complex problem or relationship to a pithy two-word phrase that immediately conveys the idea (for example ‘moral hazard’) it helps us to get our minds around it.
Today I came across an important one at Motley Fool. An article was exposing the wisdom of superinvestor Sir John Templeton who was famous for saying "The time of maximum pessimism is the best time to buy."

Back to Sir John and his sage advice about picking up people's quality "losers" during sharp sell-offs. Of course, keeping a cool head when the heat is on is easier said than done -- a phenomenon that behavioral economists call an "empathy gap."

From The Motley Fool. Read the full article here.

An empathy gap… We instantly know what it means in this context and we instantly recognize its applicability in other areas of our lives. Any time that we know what we should do but are influenced by what those around us are doing, we are experiencing an empathy gap. Living a frugal life in the midst of conspicuous consumption all around us is to experience the empathy gap. Being kind and courteous, being a gentleman when our entourage is far from gentlemanly is to live in the empathy gap. Doing the right thing, for example lending money wisely to homebuyers who qualify when other companies are raking in the money by lending to anyone, is to be strong in the face of the empathy gap.
Of course, we can only experience an empathy gap when we actually know what it is we should do. This is where philosophy can help us, the philosophy we have gained from our own experiences certainly but also the philosophy we can learn from others. There is a great power in this: their knowledge is like a limitless expanse of caveman wall paintings spread before us. The greatest minds past and present left them for us to gaze at. They got their minds around the great problems. All we have to do is to integrate and apply their philosophy in our own lives. And the more we know about philosophy, the easier it becomes for us to sail our own course, the true course, in spite of the empathy gap.
Now we have defined what an empathy gap is, we can be more aware of its danger.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On being a gentleman - the Western view

He would be the finer gentleman who leaves the world untainted with falsehood, or dissimulation, or wantonness, or conceit. Marcus Aurelius

A man can never be a true gentleman in manner until he is a true gentleman at heart. Charles Dickens

Propriety of manners and consideration for others are the two main characteristics of a gentleman. Disraeli

The flowering of civilization is the finished man, the man of sense, of grace, of accomplishment, of social power – the gentleman. Ralph Waldo Emerson

The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He not only can forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honour feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others. Robert E. Lee

The gentleman is a man of culture, a man of refinement, above all an honest man possessing that good taste which is the conscience of the mind, that conscience which is the good taste of the soul. James Russel Lowell

I am a gentleman of blood and breeding. Shakespeare

Men of courage, men of sense and men of letters are frequent; but a true gentleman is what one seldom sees. Sir Richard Steele

My experience has been that the time to test a true gentleman is to observe him when he is in contact with individuals of a race that is less fortunate than his own. Booker T. Washington

From ‘A Gentleman’s Code’ edited by Philip Chew Khen Hoe

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On being a gentleman - Mencius

The virtue of a just and benevolent man spreads faster than an order transmitted from posting station to posting station.

A gentleman has a sensitive heart which cannot bear to see suffering in others.

The feeling of compassion is the beginning of benevolence;
The feeling of shame and self-reproach, the beginning of righteousness;
The feeling of courtesy and modesty, the beginning of propriety;
The feeling of right and wrong, the beginning of wisdom.
These four beginnings are like the four limbs of man and to deny oneself any of these potentialities is to cripple oneself.

A man has to live with himself; so he should see to it that he is always good company.

A virtuous man cannot be led into excesses when wealthy and honoured, or be deflected from his purpose when poor and obscure. Nor can he be made to bow before threats of violence.

Do not wait until next year to put an end to anything that is wrong or unrighteous now.

If others do not respond to your love with love, look into your own heart;
If others fail to respond to your attempts to teach and lead them, look into your own wisdom;
If others do not return your courtesy, look into your own motives.
In all cases, examine yourself whenever you fail to achieve your purpose.

A man has to overcome all pettiness before he can achieve greatness. He must decide what he should not do, and then he is able to concentrate on what he should do.

Even when unexpected vexations come his way, a gentleman refuses to be perturbed by them.

In making friends with others, do not rely on the advantage of your age, rank or powerful connections. Friends are chosen for their virtue, nothing else.

There is goodness out of adversity. Exhaustion, hunger, hardship, poverty, bitterness and frustration will stimulate a man’s mind, toughen his character and make good his defects.

Rectify the mistakes in others by first rectifying them in yourself.

A bad year cannot starve one who has accumulated sufficient wealth; a wicked generation cannot confound one who has laid up a full store of virtue.

If a man build up the nobler part of his nature, then the baser part cannot overcome it.

A great man forever retains the heart of a child.

From 'A Gentleman's Code', edited by Philip Chew Kheng Hoe

Friday, October 10, 2008

Never run out of bullets

What is this violent, military maxim doing on a blog about healing philosophy, you ask? Bear with me and I shall tell you. It begins with this quote from an article at the Motley Fool, 8 October 2008 (read full article here):

A gaggle of global central bankers joined forces this morning, simultaneously cutting interest rates in a worldwide showing of economic force not seen since 9/11… in what amounts to a desperate attempt to get financial markets to stop hemorrhaging. Switzerland, Canada, Sweden, the Bank of England, and the European Central Bank all followed suit. Japan would have loved to join the party, but it's been on the rate-cut bandwagon for years. With its rate already at a dismal 0.5%, Japan ran out of bullets a long time ago.

This made me laugh. Although the subject is very serious, I loved Morgan Housel’s colourful analogy. A sense of humour is a great asset and ‘weapon’ when we are going through a bad patch. And it got me thinking. Those Japanese central bankers are not the only ones caught without any bullets at a time when they need them. If you are like me and wish you had prudently laid aside some cash going into this crisis, like Warren Buffet, so you could do some fire-sale shopping, then you know how it feels to have no bullets.
The concept could be applied to many aspects of our lives. If you are burning the candle at both ends in your career, to the detriment of your health and vitality, you are like John Wayne blazing away willy nilly with two machine guns. You will be out of bullets before long. Better to find some cover, stay cool and make those bullets count.
When we are going through hard times in other ways, we may feel as though we have no bullets left. That is when we can turn to philosophy and lift our minds. In this very blog you will find bullets and magazines lying around everywhere. You will find books and people and links to whole ammunition dumps full of bullets of all kinds. You need never run out of bullets again. Not like those poor Japanese central bankers.

Photo by Fernando Weberich

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Moral Awakening

The following is a snippet of an interview between Globe Investor Magazine’s Jason Chow and Ben Stein, dated 18 September 2008 (see the full interview here):

Chow: Financial stocks have gone down because of scandals and mismanagement in subprime lending. What needs to be done there?

Stein: We need more regulation. We need, in particular, rules for non-banks, the highly leveraged entities that raise money by securitizing instruments and loans. They are so large at this ­­point that they rival banks in size, and they’re virtually unregulated.
Also, what we really need—and I hate to say this because it sounds so naive—is a moral awakening on Wall Street. They need to know they’re not just there to make some quick money.

Chow: Are there any moral models to follow?

Stein: No. We have one supermodel, maybe, and that would be Warren Buffett, but even he’s a speculator.

Moral awakening. What a beautiful phrase that is, implying regret, enlightened realization, reform, redemption! Perhaps the time for a moral awakening has at last come. Perhaps it took a global earthquake of shattered confidence and a look into the abyss of financial apocalypse to bring us to this point. But perhaps this is the good that will come of the situation. There is always some good in every bad situation, always some opportunity in every crisis. The Chinese character for crisis is made up of two other characters: danger and opportunity.
As for Warren Buffet, I feel that Ben Stein is right in calling him a moral model, or rather supermodel. And I think he is wrong in taking away from that by calling Buffet a speculator. In my book, a man whose ‘favourite holding period is forever’ cannot be called a speculator. If he buys when others are selling and is fearful when others are greedy, that is not speculation, it looks more like leadership to me. His prudent foresight provided him and Berkshire Hathaway with 31B$ in cash on hand going into this crisis, which now allows him to lend a hand to poor billion-dollar internationals in need. His ideas, like his plan to partly privatize the toxic securities, are needed today.
Warren Buffet called this crisis 'an economic Pearl Harbour’. I think Buffet may well turn out to be ‘an economic Winston Churchill’.

See also : Moral Leadership and Integrity – the lesson of the swamp plant

P.S. From Globeinvestor today 10 October 2008 (read full article here):

Many investors have been looking for global leadership, but Mr. Bush is a lame duck ahead of the Nov. 4 presidential election…. One strategist said he feared a political vacuum with weak governments in Europe and North America. “It's not like we have a Franklin Roosevelt and a Churchill,” said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On being a gentleman - Confucius

Judging by the number of visits to my post On being a gentleman, there is a great thirst for knowledge on the subject of what it means to be one. And rightly so, since being a gentleman encompasses in one word the highest attainment of philosophy.
Here we are not interested in the men’s magazines’ idea of a gentleman: what the fashionable man is wearing, how to look like a gentleman without being one. (The rare times I have picked up one of these magazines I have been struck by the lack of moral awareness, the obsession with fashion and the latest gadgets, the low 'how to' advice on one-upmanship).
Here we are only concerned with the inner gentleman. Certainly a gentleman takes an interest in his appearance and manners in order not to offend or suffer disrespect. But he is infinitely more concerned with improving his character.
All cultures seem to have the concept of the gentleman, whether they call him in their language a great man, a holy man, a sage, or a wise man. I have one book of quotes on the Chinese view of the gentleman called ‘A Gentleman’s Code’, edited by Philip Chew Kheng Hoe. I give a selection of his quotes here, all attributed to Confucius. In another post I will give some by Mencius.

A great man feels no discomposure when others fail to appreciate his ability and integrity.

A gentleman is not concerned about others not knowing him. His great concern is his not knowing how to be an ideal gentleman.

A great man does not grieve that others do not know him; he grieves at his own lack of ability.

Be versed in ancient ideas and familiarise yourself with the new. Then may you become a worthy teacher of men.

It is moral cowardice to be faced with what is right and leave it undone.

A gentleman finds peace of mind in virtue and he covets it.

He who knows wisdom is not equal to him who loves it; and he who loves widom is not equal to him who finds delight in practising it.

A gentleman tries to banish from his bearing all traces of violence and arrogance, to remove from his actions all insincerity, to purge from his speech all vulgarity and impropriety.

If one has admirable gifts and yet is arrogant and mean, then all the rest of one’s qualities are not worth speaking of.

It is the way of the gentleman to prefer the concealment of his virtue while it daily becomes more illustrious, and it is the way of the base man to seek notoriety while he daily goes more and more to ruin.

A man is ailing if he makes no progress in virtue, learns nothing new, abandons no bad habits and corrects no mistakes.

What do you say of a person who is loved by all the good people in his neighbourhood and is hated by all the bad people in his neighbourhood?

Is not he a gentleman who repays injury with kindness and kindness with kindness?

A gentleman demands much of himself; a mean man demands much of others.

A gentleman is devoted to principles; he is not merely truthful.

In the service of his country, a gentleman places duty first and reward last.

It is bad to eat one’s fill all day long but do nothing to feed the mind.

The faults of a great man may be compared to the eclipses of the sun and moon which are seen by everyone. But when he reforms, all men gaze at him with respect.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Moral leadership

Watching (and experiencing) the upheaval in the financial world, I cannot but think that there will be more and more people in need of some healing philosophy in the coming weeks and months! At times like these, passions are high. Blame is attached. The people demand a reckoning. Here is a heartfelt and scathing attack on Wall Street managers from Bill Mann at my favourite financial site, The Motley Fool:

And we have folks in our midst who are capable of reading financial statements. Remember those big fat bonuses you got last year for turning toxic paper into AAA-rated inverse IO Strips which you dumped on some benighted bank somewhere (who really ought to have known better)? If your bonuses come within an order of magnitude of where they were last year, I'm pretty sure there will, in fact, be bloodthirsty mobs.

Read the full post here: Dear Wall Street

It is entirely normal to feel this way, it is human nature. And there must be change if we are to get out of this mess and avoid it in the future. But perhaps it is really ourselves we need to safeguard against. We need to safeguard against human nature. I realised this when I read an interview with Warren Buffet, the billionaire investor, the ‘Oracle of Omaha’:

In a subsequent interview with, Buffett said he wasn't interested in placing blame for the crisis.
"I don't worry too much about pointing fingers at the past," he said. "I operate on the theory that every saint has a past, every sinner has a future."
He said the problem boils down to widely held assumption during the housing boom that prices could only go up. And while the theory's flaws are all too apparent now, the misconception is understandable, said Buffett, pointing to previous asset bubbles going back centuries.
"There are not bad guys in that situation," said Buffett. "It's a condition of human nature."

I only recently paid much attention to the financial world and therefore only recently discovered Warren Buffet. But the more I read his interviews and his letters to shareholders, the more I am impressed with his moral leadership. This is all the more impressive considering his immense wealth and power. Perhaps he is the living proof that it pays to be a gentleman in the long run, he is a living ‘tree on the mountain’.

See also: Integrity – the lesson of the swamp plant and Moral hazard

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The power of the subconscious mind

Our subconscious mind has far-reaching powers beyond our limited understanding. It can remember everything that has ever happened to us even when we can’t. Through its connection to the universal ‘affiliate program’, our subconscious can access universal knowledge and memory. Under hypnosis people can speak foreign languages, play the piano or ‘become Napoleon’. The subconscious never sleeps. It controls all our bodily functions from the heartbeat to assimilation and healing. If once the subconscious believes something to be true, it sets about manifesting that reality in our lives. As the saying goes, ‘Be careful what you desire, because you just might get it’. Ford said

If you believe you can do a thing or if you believe you can’t, you are right.

Doctors are, or should be, very careful about uttering a ‘condemning word’ to a patient. There are many examples of patients doing well until believing themselves to have a fatal disease at which point they ‘accept the condemnation’ and quickly decline into death.
If you find all this hard to believe, I recommend you read ‘The Power of Your Subconscious Mind’ by Dr. Joseph Murphy. This book, first published in 1963, looks somewhat plain and drab when you pick it up. When I gave my son a copy he hardly gave it a glance. There is nothing to suggest you have in your hands a book that contains unlimited power. But that is what it is.
Dr. Murphy, like a modern-day Lao Tzu, knocks on all our doors to make us come out and see the light. Relationships, career, money, health, confidence, every aspect of life is dealt with and the effects of the correct or incorrect use of the subconscious are convincingly expounded. The basis of the truth of the subconscious can be found in all the world’s wisdom. For example, in the Bible we find:

Whosever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Mark 11:29

We all know or know of people who have accomplished great things because they believed in themselves. There was never any doubt in their mind (conscious and subconscious) as to the eventual outcome, and their subconscious made it manifest.
In his book about surviving the Nazi death camps, ‘Man’s search for meaning’, Victor Frankl tells us those inmates who survived were without exception those who ‘had a reason for living’ and never entertained the possibility that they might not live.

I hope I have said enough for you to discover this book for yourself. I will leave you with an affirmation from Dr. Murphy’s book that has the power to heal. It has a great calming, regenerating effect and I often fall asleep reciting it. Try it for yourself:

The perfection of God is now being expressed through me. The idea of perfect health is now filling my subconscious mind. The image God has of me is a perfect image and my subconscious mind recreates my body in perfect accordance with the perfect image held in the mind of God.

Ship's log - October 2008

We often take our health for granted until we lose it. My body has been complaining about that to me lately. So in my post on Health I offer a reminder that health should be our first priority. You will also find I have updated the sidebar text on Health with some very powerful quotes that I dug up. For example: ‘The groundwork of all happiness is health’ - Leigh Hunt.
I remember when I was going through a very bad patch many years ago, I devoted a lot of time to karate. I didn’t know it fully then, but this was an excellent thing to do under the circumstances. It was probably karate and exercise that got me through. Very often we neglect our health when facing other problems. So if you are going through a bad patch also, the first and best thing to do is to look at your health and vitality level and concentrate on bringing it up to par. It makes everything else easier to handle. By the way I have added a ‘Followers’ gadget just below this log (‘Ship’s crew’). So if you can ‘hand, reef and steer’, or want to learn, put your thumbprint on the dotted line and join the ship.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Overachiever's Prayer

The following prayer (given in part) comes from Carol Osborne’s book ‘How would Confucius ask for a raise?’ It contains the essence of a Taoist approach to success or more particularly, the correct attitude to adopt when faced with the frustration and disappointment that arises when, despite our overly-anxious, pushing, striving best efforts, we fail.
Read it and feel your boiling temperature immediately descend to a simmer. Rinse and repeat. I used this prayer often and it helped me a lot. In fact Carol’s book, a gift from a colleague, is one of the most useful books I know to help you understand the principles of Taoism and how you can apply them to your career and daily life.

The Overachievers Anonymous Prayer

Help me to give up pushing, demanding, and desiring specific rewards from my work.
I trust that however confused and convoluted it feels at the time, I am always being led to my greater purpose the fastest, most direct way possible.
If it seems long and difficult at times, it is because I am a beginner and there is so much more to learn…
When I am disappointed along the way, without anger, self-hatred, or judgment, I simply make whatever corrections I can. If I can’t find anything to correct, or
if I have reached the point where to give more will sacrifice my overall vitality and well-being, I have the patience to wait.
I ask you to help me love myself, wherever I am in the process, trusting that given who I am, where I’ve come from, and the circumstances I face, I am always doing my best…

Notice that here again (my italics) we find the proviso of not letting competing priorities get in the way of health. Health comes first, before success, before career, before everything. We must remember there is no fortitude like patience.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Health quotations

Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship. Buddha

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor worry about the future, nor anticipate troubles, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly. Buddha

The groundwork of all happiness is health. Leigh Hunt

Health is the vital principle of bliss, and exercise, of health. James Thomson

Take care of your body with steadfast fidelity. The soul must see through these eyes alone, and if they are dim, the whole world is clouded. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

The body is like a piano, and happiness is like music. It is needful to have the instrument in good order. Henry Ward Beecher

A feeble body weakens the mind. Jean Jacques Rousseau

Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos - the trees, the clouds, everything. Thich Nhat Hanh

To get rich never risk your health. For it is the truth that health is the wealth of wealth. Richard Baker

The greatest of follies is to sacrifice health for any other kind of happiness. Arthur Schopenhauer

Health is worth more than learning. Thomas Jefferson

Money may buy the husk of things, but not the kernel. It brings you food but not appetite, medicine but not health, acquaintances but not friends, servants but not faithfulness, days of joy but not peace or happiness. Henrik Ibsen

Health and good estate of body are above all gold. Ecclesiasticus XXX, 15

Gold that buys health can never be ill-spent. Thomas Dekker

As I see it every day you do one of two things: build health or produce disease in yourself. Adelle Davis

Confidence and hope do more good than physic. Galen

Health is not a condition of matter, but of mind. Mary Baker Eddy

A quiet mind cureth all. Robert Burton

After these two, Dr. Diet and Dr. Quiet, Dr. Merriman is requisite to preserve health. James Howell

He who sings frightens away his ills. Cervantes

Nature, time and patience are three great physicians. H.G. Bohn

To insure good health: eat lightly, breathe deeply, live moderately, cultivate cheerfulness, and maintain an interest in life. William Londen

Good health! Whenever you go out of doors, draw the chin in, carry the crown of your head high, and fill the lungs to the utmost; drink in sunshine; greet your friends with a smile, and put soul into every handclasp. Do not fear being misunderstood and never waste a minute thinking about your enemies. Elbert Hubbard

The higher your energy level, the more efficient your body. The more efficient your body, the better you feel and the more you will use your talent to produce outstanding results. Anthony Robbins

Vitality shows not only in the ability to persist, but in the ability to start over. Unknown

The sovereign invigorator of the body is exercise, and of all the exercises walking is the best. Thomas Jefferson

He knows little of himself or of the world, who does not think it sufficient happiness to be free from sorrow: therefore, give a wise man health, and he will give himself every other thing. Charles Caleb Colton

A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses. Hippocrates

Health and intellect are the two blessings of life. Menander

Your prayer must be for a sound mind in a sound body. Juvenal

One of the most sublime experiences we can ever have to wake up feeling healthy after we have been sick. Rabbi Harold Kushner

A hospital is no place to be sick. Samuel Goldwyn

From the bitterness of disease man learns the sweetness of health. Catalan Proverb

He who has health, has hope. And he who has hope, has everything. Arabian proverb

Cheerfulness is the very flower of health. Japanese proverb

By the time a man is 40 he is either his own doctor or a fool. Chinese proverb

Sickness comes on horseback but departs on foot. Dutch Proverb

A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book. Irish Proverb

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint. Mark Twain

In nothing do men approach so nearly to the Gods, as in giving health to men. Cicero

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Moral hazard

It is a sad day when recklessness is rewarded and prudence punished. The US government bailout of reckless financial institutions is a hard decision to take. The aim is to protect ordinary people from worse consequences if no action is taken. But it goes against the grain.

Perhaps the most pernicious part of this bailout, however, is the way it punishes the innocent to reward the guilty for taking on excess risks they couldn't handle. The moral hazard involved is outrageous. Successful financial institutions like Wells Fargo and US Bancorp, which didn't make all those bad loans, should've been able to start cleaning up by now. Instead, their reward for following prudent financial practices is to see new life breathed into their competition by governmental mandate.
On the flip side, failures like Washington Mutual now get what may amount to a "get out of bankruptcy free" card. As the credit-and-housing bubble formed, Washington Mutual and its excessive risks outperformed the more conservatively managed Wells Fargo in the 2001-2005 housing cycle.
Chuck Saletta, at Motley Fool

But there is no escaping karma. The people and hence the government will demand a reckoning. The bailed-out institutions will suffer in their reputation and hence in their business. The prudent institutions will stand out like the tree on the mountain, even more dignified and virtuous by contrast. And we shall all remember these dark days as a dawning of a new age, an age of heightened awareness of the importance of integrity.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Integrity - the lesson of the swamp plant

The playing out of the underlying truths to be found in the I Ching are everywhere to be seen. But today we are witnessing a playing out of global proportions. In the US and elsewhere, financial institutions, some of them hundreds of years old, are awash in red ink, either filing for bankruptcy, being bought, or shopping themselves around for infusions of cash from abroad. They succumbed to the lure of easy gains today, lending money to unqualified homebuyers and then packaging and trading ‘securities’ backed by these high-risk mortgages. Now it is karmic payback time as house prices fall, homebuyers default and those institutions find themselves holding worthless paper.

53. Chien/Development (Gradual Progress)

On the mountain, a tree:
The image of DEVELOPMENT.
Thus the superior man abides in dignity and virtue,
In order to improve the mores.

The tree on the mountain is visible from afar, and its development influences the landscape of the entire region. It does not shoot up like a swamp plant; its growth proceeds gradually.

(From the Wilhelm/Baynes edition of the I Ching)

The swamp plant may grow prodigiously in a short period of time. But there is no inherent strength in it, it is based on muddy ground, its only goal is to outgrow those around it. It is here today, gone tomorrow. The tree on the other hand grows slowly, much more slowly. It is based on firmer ground.

A tree on the mountain develops slowly, according to the law of its being and consequently stands firmly rooted…within is tranquillity, which guards against precipitate action, and without is penetration, which makes development and progress possible.

Relationships that are not built on a basis of right and wrong, of integrity, are on muddy ground and cannot endure. Relationships built on integrity are on firm ground and will grow strong. They will endure and ‘influence the entire landscape’ long after the swamp plants have rotted away in the mud.
Photo by Joakim Buchwald

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Songs from a world apart - Lévon Minassian (a review)

As soon as I heard the first song from this album, I immediately said to myself it is surely ‘that fellow’ (Djivan Gasparian) who plays the duduk (wild flute) so masterfully in the soundtrack of ‘Gladiator’. I have listened to this soundtrack literally hundreds of times, the powerful music of that living genius Hans Zimmer. I heard the same poignant notes of suffering and courage. I immediately bought the album with total confidence, unheard.
Well, in fact it was not Djivan Gasparian I heard but Lévon Minassian. But it is all the same, for I discovered that Minassian was a student of Gasparian, and I find that the student has become the master.
Words are inadequate for describing any music, since music has a direct electrical contact to the soul, whereas words are filtered and interpreted by the mind. Yet I will try to describe the indescribable.
Hearing each song for the first time, our bruised and blistered soul seems to recognise an old refrain and flows readily, willingly along with the music as if it has always known it. The music takes up its rightful place in our memory, as if this place were reserved for it.
Minassian plays with utter mastery, the duduk speaks with a voice as subtle and expressive as any violin, any human.
Armand Amar, the composer and arranger of these traditional Armenian folk songs, is to be highly praised. Often the voice of the duduk is placed in high relief on the background of a dark, ominous, ambient base but the often-expected digression into trendy ‘techno’ rhythms never comes. The music remains firmly rooted in the timeless and the authentic.
The music speaks of suffering certainly, but it is the beautiful suffering of the brave heart. As we listen effortlessly, feeling our suffering being expressed fully and beautifully, we find strength in the music as we realise that our suffering is not unique but is the suffering of our condition, the suffering of every man, past and present and future. We realise that it is simply ‘Suffering’. And suffering is not all bad: for what is suffering except a manifestation of love? Love lost, love that cannot be, love sought and not found, loved-ones missed? There can be no suffering without love.
This is all understood wordlessly through the music of this masterpiece, for it is nothing less. It is a sure, wide-open gateway to the Spirit, in the world apart.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Health - the only true wealth

This week I heard that a colleague at work was seriously ill. So ill that, if he survived, his life would be forever changed. This made me reflect. I remember reading in a health magazine a quote from the director of the Mayo Clinic. He said something along the lines that one should set goals and priorities in the various areas of one’s life – family, finances, career etc. - but that ‘one should not let competing priorities get in the way of health’. Let’s repeat that:

One should not let competing priorities get in the way of health.

And then after reading it, I promptly forgot about it (almost) and put my name down to work all the extra hours God sends, in order to give more priority to my financial goals. I admit this in order to include myself in the ranks of the guilty and to underline that I do understand that it is very hard to give priority to health. Our hopes and our desires drive us all the time. We find it hard to admit that we really don’t earn enough to live the life the advertisers say we deserve… so we work harder. We work harder, to buy things we don’t really want, with money we don’t really have, to impress people we don’t really know.
Health - we so often take it for granted until it deserts us. But without it we cannot accomplish much in the other areas of our life. And we cannot fully appreciate them if we don’t have our health. And in the extreme case, we can no longer accomplish or appreciate anything at all.

When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied. Herophilus

I have been working quite a lot lately, but even quite a lot is less than what I worked last year. I actually take a couple of days off now and then. My body told me to. My body talks to me a lot more these days. I must only have the intelligence to listen.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Blogger 3-column Minima template and Favicon

A little detour into form here: after looking around vainly for some time for help in adding a third column to this site, I finally struck gold in the least likely of places (isn’t that always the way?) The worthy food site Wandering Chopsticks had a post on the subject pointing me to The Beginning Blogger’s Guide. Here I found the only complete, easy-to-follow guide for converting to a Three column Minima layout that I felt I could trust. Still, I did test it out on a test blog first. But it worked perfectly. The result is this 3-column minima layout you see before you. (I did alter the widths of the columns in Julian’s code in order to keep the same widths for my post and original sidebar columns). I also followed Julian’s guide to How to add a favicon to your Blogger blog using Google Sites to host the favicon image. You can convert your own logo or image to a favicon or find ready-made favicons at So, a big thank you to Wandering Chopsticks and Julian at Beginner’s Blogging Guide and I hope you are encouraged to make these changes to your own blog.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Patience - for everything there is a season

For everything there is a season,
And a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

There are some terrible things among this list which there is unfortunately a time for, (killing, hating and war, for example). This is hard to understand. Perhaps the author is speaking of the inevitable, unfortunate cycles in the life of man in his ignorance, rather than espousing any wise ideal. Even so, some things are not mentioned that could have been. With this in mind, here is my list of what there is no time for:

There is no time for hate (here I had to disagree!), but always a time for forgiveness;
No time for anger, always a time for patience;
No time for pride, always a time for humility;
No time to despise, always a time to understand;
No time to throw stones, always a time to correct one’s own faults;
No time to ignore, always a time to listen;
No time to take, always a time to give;
No time to expect, always a time to be grateful;
No time to divide, always a time to unite;
No time to conquer, always a time to lead;
No time to cause fear, always a time to smile;
No time to worry, always a time to act;
No time to despair, always a time to hope;
No time to be afraid, always a time to help oneself.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Ship's log - September 2008

Well shipmates, we have left the familiar waters of my most memorable philosophical haunts. Whuch is not to say there will not be more as and when I think of them. We are far from land, and I have made some surprising discoveries in the anger and patience line, recently. Where before I would not hesitate to revolt and utter a pretty warm expletive over a nothing, now my conscience jerks me back to some of the posts I have written, to some of the striking quotations I have read:
If a small thing has the power to make you angry, does that not indicate something about your size? Sydney J. Harris
The casual reader must not get the impression that I am some kind of guru (my regular readers know I am not): the only reason I know something about this stuff is because I need it. I searched for it and I am sharing it with you, so you don’t have to. Welcome aboard.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Patience quotations

The greatest prayer is patience. Buddha

There is no evil like hatred, and no fortitude like patience. Shantideva

Humility is attentive patience. Simone Weil

The principal part of faith is patience. George MacDonald

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all. Friedrich Von Logau

Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience. George-Louis de Buffon

Genius is eternal patience. Michelangelo

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. Albert Einstein

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. Phaedrus

Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly will acquire the skill to do difficult things easily. Johann Friedrich Von Schiller

Patience is the companion of wisdom. Saint Augustine

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. Mary Sarton

Patience is also a form of action. Auguste Rodin

Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength. Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

Patience and Gentleness is Power. Leigh Hunt

With love and patience, nothing is impossible. Daisaku Ikeda

Patience can conquer destiny. Irish proverb

He that can have patience can have what he will. Benjamin Franklin

Everything comes gradually and at its appointed hour. Ovid

With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown. Chinese proverb

The two most powerful warriors are patience and time. Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

Patience and passage of time do more than strength and fury. Jean de la Fontaine

Patience comes to those who wait. Terry Ballard

How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees? William Shakespeare.

If you add a little to a little, and then do it again, soon that little shall be much. Hesiod

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them - every day begin the task anew. Saint Francis de Sales

Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind. Leonardo Da Vinci

One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life. Chinese Proverb

Who is the great man? He who is strongest in patience. He who patiently endures injury, and maintains a blameless life––he is a man indeed! H.P.Blavatsky

Experience has taught me this, that we undo ourselves by impatience. Misfortunes have their life and their limits, their sickness and their health. Michel de Montaigne

Our real blessings often appear to us in the shape of pains, losses and disappointments; but let us have patience and we soon shall see them in their proper figures. Joseph Addison

Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake. Victor Hugo

Have patience and endure; this unhappiness will one day be beneficial. Ovid

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Patience - lifting the cover

As we have seen in my previous post, we can easily become victims of our desires. Making our happiness conditional on the continual success of satisfying our desires or on the possession of outer, material things is a sure way to disappointment.

If you seek this or that, if you wish to be here or there, without any other object but to satisfy yourself, and to live more in accordance with your liking, you will never have rest, and you will never be free from worry, because in everything you will find something that injures you, and everywhere someone who impedes you.
(My translation from Imitation de N.-S. J.-C. Livre III, Ch. XXVII.)

Yet this is the way we mostly live. This is the ‘default mode of living’ unless we make a conscious effort to uplift our thoughts to higher planes. There is nothing wrong with wanting a better life and working towards it. Where we go wrong is neglecting inner goals in favour of fleeting, chimerical outer goals, whereas the only real happiness comes from within. This outer world is only a means to an end.

The visible world is like a cover thrown over the invisible world, not only to keep out the wet and dirt, but also to stop it being seen. Otherwise the game of hide-and-seek would be over too soon, and we’d have to find something else to do with eternity…
The visible outer world of form and appearance, the arena and stage upon which we collectively play out the human drama, is a metaphor for the invisible, inner realm… The purpose of ceremonial magic, including that practiced by official religions and other occult organizations, is to remind us to access the door to the invisible realm within…
(The Barefoot Doctor’s Guide to the Tao, Stephen Russel)

What has this to do with patience? Everything, in that it gives us a deeper perspective. We can see disappointments (or anything else for that matter) at one remove as it were. We can ‘lift up the corner of the cover’ and try to see the invisible meaning hiding under the visible disappointment. And that helps us to deal with the situation and not become a prey to impatience, or even, God forbid, anger. This is, in fact, the only right way to live.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Patience - non-desire

In today’s society, it is considered quite normal to work hard, to be ambitious, to be continually pushing towards our goals and dreams. As we discussed in my post Decrease, we are ‘hard-wired’ to expect that life will always improve, or at least our life. And in this context, we can easily slip into impatience when improvement is not forthcoming. Not to mention, God forbid, when we meet obstacles, setbacks, decrease or failure. How can we be patient in our modern way of life?
In the Tao Te Ching, we find an invaluable ally: non-desire.

We are victims of our desires; every concession to their demands, each satisfaction obtained is a defeat since, in the world of the senses, the objects of our desires are mere apparitions. This race toward illusions takes us far, always farther from the Tao. That is why ‘There is no greater error than to wish to satisfy one’s desires; there is no greater misery than not knowing how to be sufficient in oneself. There is no greater calamity than the desire to possess.’ (46)

Instead of pushing, striving, and desiring all the time, what would happen if we took our foot off the gas? What if we let go for a while? What if we were ‘attentively patient’?

The misfortune is that we encumber our lives with calculations, with expectations, where past and future, hopes and dreams, apprehensions and regrets, are mixed together in a perpetual confusion. By subordinating all our actions to the requirements of our personal desire, these parasites of the soul prevent us from having a simplistic vision of existence, because they leave no room for the unknown, i.e. for the Spirit.

(My translations from the Dervy edition of the ‘Tao Te King’).

Discover the Taoist principle of non-desire. Allow the Spirit to work its magic in your life a little. It is better at it than you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Patience - the greatest prayer

The greatest prayer is patience, said the Buddha. Not surprising since, as we have seen in my posts on anger, Shantideva tells us some striking things with regard to patience and the lack thereof:

Whatever wholesome deeds,
Such as venerating the Buddhas and (practicing) generosity,
That have been amassed over a thousand eons,
Will all be destroyed in one moment of anger.


There is no evil like hatred,
And no fortitude like patience.
Thus I should strive in various ways
To meditate on patience.

Therefore, to pray for patience if we have none, or fear we may run out, is the greatest prayer we can offer.
Just as I was taken aback to realise the all-importance of humility in philosophy, I was equally amazed to discover the abhorrence of anger and the ‘essentiality’ of patience. As we shall see, patience is a cure or at least a fortitude for many ills and sorrows, a protection against wrongs, the companion of wisdom, and the secret of genius. I knew patience was ‘a good thing’, a very fine virtue. But it occurs to me that patience is practically the entire goal of philosophy. I would have said humility also, but there is such a connection between humility and patience as to blur the edges between them. A humble person is necessarily patient because he does not put his interests before those of others. I found this confirmed in a quote from Simone Weil:

Humility is attentive patience.

And in my posts on humility I used the following quotation from the Dervy edition of the Tao Te Ching (page 156), which I do not scruple to give again here:

The truly patient man does not examine who is testing him, whether it is his superior, his equal or his inferior, a good man or a bad man. But, treating all indiscriminately, he receives from God’s hand, gratefully, and as often as He likes, everything contrary that happens to him, and considers it a great benefit.

The truly patient man is, I think, a man who has faith. Faith that everything is grist for the mill. Faith that God, the Tao, the universe will ‘see him right’ in the long run if he tries earnestly to do the right thing. Faith in himself and his ability to lift himself up and come through. The truly patient man has philosophy! What do you think?
Photo by Rodolfo Clix

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond