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

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