Friday, July 31, 2009

Duffy's 'Stepping Stone'

I recently heard snatches of a hauntingly beautiful song. It reminded me of Rose Royce’s ‘Wishing on a star’ from the seventies, a song that has powerful nostalgia for me. I found out it was Duffy’s ‘Stepping Stone’. I pulled up the video and the lyrics and saw and heard Duffy for the first time. What a voice, what a song, what lyrics! Many talents all come together in this performance to create a once in a lifetime moment. I defy you to experience this song and not be moved.

Monday, July 27, 2009

'Gladiator' and Acceptance according to the Ancients

Maximus! Maximus! Maximus! They call for you. The general who became a slave, the slave who became a gladiator, the gladiator who defied an emperor. A striking story.

Such are Commodus’ words to Maximus just before they fight in the dramatic ending of the award-winning classic Ridley Scott film ‘Gladiator’.
If you have seen the film, you will remember how Maximus escapes execution by the emperor Commodus to find his family dead. He is captured by slave traders and Proximo buys him to use him as a gladiator. At first Maximus refuses to fight: he refuses to take on the role that fate has cast him in. It is beneath him, it disgusts him and he will not cooperate. But Proximo (played by the late great Oliver Reed) knows men, and he gives them this speech before their first combat:

Some of you are thinking you won't fight... and some that you can't fight. They all say that until they're out there. Listen.
(‘Kill! Kill! Kill!’)
Thrust this into another man's flesh. They will applaud and love you for that. And you, you may begin to love them for that. Ultimately...we're all dead men. Sadly, we cannot choose how, but we can decide how we meet that end, in order that we are remembered... as men.

At that moment Maximus ceases to resist his fate and begins to embrace it. He will still need some further motivation later and Proximo gives it to him: win the crowd and you will one day stand in front of the emperor…
‘Gladiator’ is indeed a striking story of a good, brave man who receives some cruel hard blows at the hand of fate and how he bears them nobly. Accepting the worst, he becomes fate's instrument as he avenges his family and rids Rome of a tyrant.

I thought you might like these thoughts as an introduction to what the ancients had to say about acceptance, including of course Maximus’ friend and Commodus’ father, Marcus Aurelius.

Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart. Marcus Aurelius

Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live. Marcus Aurelius

Love only what befalls you and is spun for you by fate. Marcus Aurelius

Vex not thy spirit at the course of things; they heed not thy vexation. How ludicrous and outlandish is astonishment at anything that may happen in life. Marcus Aurelius

Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward. The Bible

Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Saint Francis of Assisi

Who except the gods can live without any pain? Aeschylus

There is no man in this world without some manner of tribulation or anguish, though he be king or pope. Thomas a Kempis

There is only one way to happiness, and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will. Epictetus

Ask not that events should happen as you will, but let your will be that events should happen as they do, and you shall have peace. Epictetus

He who cannot do what he wants must make do with what he can. Terence

What it is forbidden to be put right becomes lighter by acceptance. Horace

Better to accept whatever happens. Horace

To yield, I have learned, is to come back again. Lao-Tzu

Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate. Chuang-tzu

He who has calmly reconciled his life to fate ... can look fortune in the face. Boethius

Let a man accept his destiny. No pity and no tears. Euripedes

Let us train our minds to desire what the situation demands. Marcus Annaeus Seneca

The great soul surrenders itself to fate. Marcus Annaeus Seneca

What must be shall be; and that which is a necessity to him that struggles, is little more than choice to him that is willing. Marcus Annaeus Seneca

The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances. Aristotle

The beauty of the soul shines out when a man bears with composure one heavy mischance after another, not because he does not feel them, but because he is a man of high and heroic temper. Aristotle

Here is a rule to remember when anything tempts you to feel bitter: not ‘This is a misfortune’ but ‘To bear this worthily is good fortune.’ Marcus Aurelius

Image: promotional poster for 'Gladiator'

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Acceptance - the opposite of childish resistance

I came across this quote the other day, which reminds me of my grandmother’s saying ‘What cannot be cured, must be endured’ but rephrased in a more positive way:

What cannot be avoided, t'were childish weakness to lament or fear. Shakespeare/De Vere

Here we have acceptance in a nutshell: to be a man is to face the inevitable bravely without complaining that it should be otherwise. Shake-speare always has the knack of putting his finger on the crux of the matter, doesn’t he?
When we don’t face up to what can’t be avoided, we are in resistance mode. We are wasting energy bewailing our fate. We are hanging on to an idea of reality that doesn’t exist any more, if it ever did. We are not adapting to the situation at hand and we are not considering what the situation at hand demands of us. We are being childish instead of being men, or women. The feeling of a weight falling off your shoulders when you accept something is nothing more than the relaxing, the abandoning, of this effort of false resistance.
We saw the value of seeing clearly in Decrease and other posts about sincerity:

Decrease does not under all circumstances mean something bad. Increase and decrease come in their own time. What matters here is to understand the time and not to try to cover up poverty with empty pretence. If a time of scanty resources brings out an inner truth, one must not feel ashamed of simplicity. For simplicity is then the very thing needed to provide inner strength for further undertakings. I Ching

We tried complicated. We thought we had complicated covered. We were wrong. We got hurt. Now we have to face simple, even though we don’t want to. But the funny thing is that simple is what we need. Simple was staring us in the face all along but we didn’t want to see it. Now we have no choice but to face it - but its OK. Simple is how we move on from here. So let’s get over it. Let’s embrace it. Let’s accept it.

The survival of the fittest is the ageless law of nature, but the fittest are rarely the strong. The fittest are those endowed with the qualifications for adaptation, the ability to accept the inevitable and conform to the unavoidable, to harmonize with existing or changing conditions. Dave E. Smalley

A man shares his days with hunger, thirst, and cold, with the good times and the bad, and the first part of being a man is to understand that. Louis L’Amour

Attitude is your acceptance of the natural laws, or your rejection of the natural laws. Stuart Chase

A flower falls even though we love it. A weed grows even though we don't love it. Dogen

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. Francis Bacon

Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature's inexorable imperative. H. G. Wells

All that is necessary is to accept the impossible, do without the indispensable, and bear the intolerable. Kathleen Norris

The quickest way to change your attitude toward pain is to accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth. M. Scott Peck

Almost any event will put on a new face when received with cheerful acceptance. Henry S. Haskins

Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change. So suffering must become love. That is the mystery. Katherine Mansfield

Anything in life that we don't accept will simply make trouble for us until we make peace with it. Shakti Gawain

The resistance to the unpleasant situation is the root of suffering. Ram Dass

The chief pang of most trials is not so much the actual suffering itself as our own spirit of resistance to it. Jean Nicolas Grou

To oppose something is to maintain it. Ursula K. LeGuin

If you can't fight, and you can't flee, flow. Robert Eliot

Often the prudent, far from making their destinies, succumb to them. Voltaire

The mind which renounces, once and forever, a futile hope, has its compensations in ever-growing calm. George R. Gissing

Peace of mind is that mental condition in which you have accepted the worst. Lin Yutang

Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content. Helen Keller

Don't be sad, don't be angry, if life deceives you! Submit to your grief; your time for joy will come, believe me. Aleksandr Pushkin

The greatest evil which fortune can inflict on men is to endow them with small talents and great ambitions. Vauvenargues

The English know how to make the best of things. Their so-called muddling through is simply skill at dealing with the inevitable. Winston Churchill

Things past redress are now with me past care. Shakespeare/De Vere

I not only bow to the inevitable, I am fortified by it. Thornton Wilder

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Acceptance - the truest kinship with humanity

Reading the following quotes about acceptance, one can only wonder that it is not common knowledge, that we seem to have no current expressions about acceptance (apart from the put-down ‘get over it’.) My grandparents had the expression ‘what cannot be cured must be endured’. It seemed to my youthful self at the time to be a poor, tired, defeatist expression. Perhaps their grandparents had a few more expressions which they did not pass down, as I have not passed down their expression to my children.
Acceptance is not part of our vocabulary. But it is so important to a healthy attitude. Humility, gratitude, patience, sincerity, love, acceptance – how little we think of them on a daily basis, yet how impoverished our thoughts and actions are throughout the day that are not based in them. All of them are ‘companions of wisdom,’ their invisible power is always there, waiting to be tapped by us on demand, yet we rarely do.

The power of spiritual forces in the Universe – how active it is everywhere! Invisible to the eyes, and impalpable to the senses, it is inherent in all things, and nothing can escape its operation.

Nothing can escape its operation, especially not us, the only reasoning animals on the planet, with one foot on earth and one foot on heaven.

Reading these quotes I feel a kind of shame for my irritation with small things, my unreasonable, unaccepting anger with what life brings me, my ignorance of the necessity of acceptance, and my lack of grace in adapting to what is required of me by life. I am resolved to change my attitude. Thank God I decided to write this blog, I might never have discovered acceptance.

Acceptance is the truest kinship with humanity. G. K. Chesterton

Happiness can exist only in acceptance. Denis De Rougement

Happiness is a function of accepting what is. Werner Erhard

Listening is a form of accepting. Stella Terrill Mann

He is happy whose circumstances suit his temper; but he is more excellent who can suit his temper to any circumstances. David Hume

Contentment, and indeed usefulness, comes as the infallible result of great acceptances, great humilities-of not trying to conform to some dramatized version of ourselves. David Grayson

Happy the man who early learns the wide chasm that lies between his wishes and his powers. Johann von Goethe

Happiness comes from within a man, from some curious adjustment to life. Hugh Walpole

The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings. Okakura Kakuzo

Greatness of soul consists not so much in soaring high and in pressing forward, as in knowing how to adapt and limit oneself. Michel de Montaigne

We cannot conquer fate and necessity, yet we can yield to them in such a manner as to be greater than if we could. Walter Savage Landor

If one has to submit, it is wasteful not to do so with the best grace possible. Winston Churchill

There is no quality of human nature so nearly royal as the ability to yield gracefully. Charles Conrad

What you can't get out of, get into wholeheartedly. Mignon McLaughlin

If I could define enlightenment briefly I would say it is the quiet acceptance of what is. Wayne Dyer

Give love and unconditional acceptance to those you encounter, and notice what happens. Wayne Dyer

You must accept the truth from whatever source it comes. Moses Maimonides

Our entire life consists ultimately in accepting ourselves as we are. Jean Anouilh

A man must live in the world and make the best of it, such as it is. Michel de Montaigne

Trouble will come soon enough, and when he does come receive him as pleasantly as possible ... the more amiably you greet him, the sooner he will go away. Artemus Ward

I make the most of all that comes and the least of all that goes. Sara Teasdale

To succeed, it is necessary to accept the world as it is – and rise above it. Michael Korda

We win half the battle when we make up our minds to take the world as we find it, including the thorns. Orison Swett Marden

The most popular persons are those who take the world as it is, who find the least fault. Charles Dudley Warner

We must accept life for what it actually is -- a challenge to our quality without which we should never know of what stuff we are made, or grow to our full stature. Ida R. Wylie

Maturity is achieved when a person accepts life as full of tension. Joshua L. Liebman

You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give. Eleanor Roosevelt

It is almost more important how a person takes his fate than what it is. Wilhelm von Humboldt

God asks no man whether he will accept life. This is not the choice. You must take it. The only question is how. Henry Ward Beecher

You have to take it as it happens, but you should try to make it happen the way you want to take it. German proverb

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Acceptance - getting over it

As I was looking further into the virtue of acceptance, I discovered it was another great truth that nobody talks about, like humility, or gratitude. Acceptance has perhaps less of a bad reputation than humility, but only slightly. We are brainwashed by the consumer-driven society into believing it is our birthright to have it all, right now, all the time. Don’t accept mediocrity. Don’t settle for less. Don’t accept this, that or the other. But when we can’t afford to buy everything we are brainwashed into thinking we must have, or be everything they say we should be, we resist, we get mad, we wonder what is wrong with us. Acceptance, like humility or gratitude, is not part of our daily vocabulary, never mind reality. But there is nothing wrong with us:

Being unready and ill-equipped is what you have to expect in life. It is the universal predicament. It is your lot as a human being to lack what it takes. Circumstances are seldom right. You never have the capacities, the strength, the wisdom, the virtue you ought to have. You must always do with less than you need in a situation vastly different from what you would have chosen as appropriate for your special endowments. Charlton Ogburn

How true. Is there a better definition of the human condition?
I have made this connection with acceptance regarding my recent outburst of anger: the reason I get angry is because of a mistaken and unreasonable expectation that things should go my way, that this thing should not be happening to me, that this person should not do what they do. It sounds foolish to state something so obvious, but deep down, isn’t anger saying ‘I don’t accept?’

Apart from the extreme of anger, a lot of the general malaise we feel comes from not accepting ourselves as we are or the world as it is. Acceptance may only be the starting point for other realisations of what we need to change in our attitude or actions. But it certainly is the starting point.

Nobody has things just as he would like them. The thing to do is to make a success with what material I have. It is a sheer waste of time and soul-power to imagine what I would do if things were different. They are not different. Dr. Frank Crane

The happy and efficient people in this world are those who accept trouble as a normal detail of human life and resolve to capitalize it when it comes along. H. Bertram Lewis

It is a common observation that those who dwell continually upon their expectations are apt to become oblivious to the requirements of their actual situation. Charles Sanders Peirce

Make a virtue of necessity. Geoffrey Chaucer

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


My colleague Paul’s recent little speech to me about accepting my anger took me by surprise. I had told him how I had gone into the meeting determined to remain calm, determined to hold in those horses by the scruff of their manes. And the rolling chariot of anger had not only rolled but had become a rolling god-darn freight train of anger. I sat in his office with what must have been the guilty shaggy dog look. Paul is one of the few people who know me and who know I write this blog. So my inevitable lack of philosophical discipline is the subject of running jokes between us. Then I got the speech and I must say I felt a weight drop off my shoulders.
This is the power of philosophy. A different way of looking at something changes it.
What was the weight that dropped off my shoulders? That is what I have been trying to figure out. I think it had something to do with stopping beating myself up for being… myself.

‘The world is made up of all kinds of people. Some get angry, some keep their calm. Both have their uses. Both are always evolving. Your dissatisfaction with your angry reaction is noted and will be integrated into the next experience. Now move along, nothing to see here.’ Such was the feeling of the weight dropping off my shoulders.

Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune. William James

The first step toward change is acceptance. Once you accept yourself, you open the door to change. That's all you have to do. Change is not something you do, it's something you allow. Will Garcia

Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery. Joanne Kathleen Rowling

We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses. C. G. Jung

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. Nathaniel Branden

Acceptance does not necessarily mean ‘liking,’ ‘enjoying,’ or ‘condoning.’ I can accept what is – and be determined to evolve from there. It is not acceptance but denial that leaves me stuck. Nathaniel Branden

Acceptance is not submission; it is acknowledgement of the facts of a situation. Then deciding what you're going to do about it. Kathleen Casey Theisen

Acceptance of one's life has nothing to do with resignation; it does not mean running away from the struggle. On the contrary, it means accepting it as it comes, with all the handicaps of heredity, of suffering, of psychological complexes and injustices. Paul Tournier

Accept everything about yourself – I mean everything, you are you and that is the beginning and the end – no apologies, no regrets. Clark Moustakas

The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely. C. G. Jung

Acceptance makes any event put on a new face. Henry S. Haskins

One completely overcomes only what one assimilates. André Gide

Some people confuse acceptance with apathy, but there's all the difference in the world. Apathy fails to distinguish between what can and what cannot be helped; acceptance makes that distinction. Apathy paralyzes the will-to-action; acceptance frees it by relieving it of impossible burdens. Arthur Gordon

Friday, July 10, 2009

The rolling chariot of anger

In the ongoing war with anger, I have lost another battle. I went into a ‘discussion’ fully aware that anger was a real possibility, fully aware that a positive outcome would depend on whether I got angry or whether I maintained control, and I failed quite miserably. As the other person spoke, a sense of outrage welled up in me. The powerful, wild horses of the rolling chariot of anger tossed their heads and charged, while the supposed driver did nothing to stop them. In time, the expression of my point of view and my anger was carried out, (along with the expression of certain views that I would have preferred not to express), and my anger abated enough to end the interview on a more conciliatory note. The rolling chariot came to a halt, more by the exhaustion of the horses than the strength of the driver. The dubious arguments of my counterpart seemed to gain validation by the force and defensiveness of my angry reaction. How much better it would have been to invalidate his arguments by an immutably calm, open, generous, understanding.

The next day I told a colleague how I felt and he replied he was glad I had ‘lost it’ because it showed I was human. You get angry sometimes, its one of your little weaknesses, why not just accept it. Try to improve it, work on it, but accept it.

I knew that.

He who holds back rising anger like a rolling chariot, him I call a real driver; other people are but holding the reins. The Dhammapada

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Story of Stuff, with Annie Leonard

Today I discovered the following video ‘The Story of Stuff’ with Annie Leonard. Here you have the malaise and yes, the tragedy of our time in a simple yet powerful 21-minute media message. Since the 1950’s we have increasingly been brainwashed into accepting as normal a consumer-driven culture and since the 1950’s, strangely enough, personal happiness has been in decline. We live in a world where to live frugally and simply is to be a maverick and something of an eccentric. We spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.
I have a cellular phone that I bought about 5 years ago. I don’t use it much and it still looks like new. No one I know (or don’t know) still has one like it. Everyone else seems to have a new thin flip phone or Blackberry-type. I find myself thinking I should buy a new one. But only for a moment. I suppose I am becoming eccentric in my old age.
Watch the video, see through the brainwashing and get off the consumer merry-go-round.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ship's log - July 2009

The Story of Stuff video highlights the consumer-driven western culture of our time. Profit and consumerism are the driving forces of our society, rather than spiritual values, which is why everything is a mess. No wonder we are not happy. The housing bubble and credit crisis are the crowning ‘achievement’ of this mindless, shallow anti-philosophy. But at least they have now put the spotlight on something that lived in the shadows, half-perceived. Now we must face it. As Annie Leonard says, our consumer culture is not like gravity that we must just deal with. It is our own collective creation, and as such we can change it, and those changes are beginning. For one thing, I am here writing about it on a blog, and you are here reading about it. Two people more who won’t be deceived.

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