I was surprised to stumble upon this guide to Australia for American servicemen during World War Two. I was looking at slang from the Royal Military CI was surprised to stumble upon this guide to Australia for American servicemen during World War Two. I was looking at slang from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Australia's army officer training institute apparently modelled on the USA's Westpoint, or at least according to this book! ...more
There will be no more academic snobbishness from here on in. Reading this book, it hit me like a thunderbolt, bringing back a bunch of lessons from eaThere will be no more academic snobbishness from here on in. Reading this book, it hit me like a thunderbolt, bringing back a bunch of lessons from earlier readings and confirming so many life experiences. I've noticed the difference already with some simple techniques that make life so much better. Is it the book, the techniques, the confirmation of naturally acquired skills? I don't know. But here is my attempt to explain.
I am at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in early 1993. The ropes test. 6 metres up and down then up and down again in patrol order (rifle and webbing). Not my greatest strength and I am on "sluggers" or remedial physical training until I pass. I am talking with a colleague about it, that last "bite" on the rope that we struggle to make. We decide that we should just do it. Take that last bite. The body won't let us down. Wrong. And the blisters are worse than the thump on the ground from 6 metres up. No shame though, I gutted it out.
That night, I dream about the ropes. While everyone else is eating dinner tomorrow night, I (along with the other sluggers), will get another crack at the tests we haven't passed. All night I toss and turn and I am up the rope and then down and then up again and then down and it all flows. The dream repeats, repeats, repeats, repeats... zzzzzz.
The next day I pass and I never fail the ropes test again. It was a purely mental issue from an earlier experience with the rope obstacle on an obstacle course and an arsehole I have since cursed and forgiven and now whatever. I was just a boy. A feeling of cowardice and not good enough and immorality in that sense of the bayonet as a moral weapon and I was immoral. So much conservative crap that did more for that arsehole's ego than my motivation. Life experiences have proven the opposite and I have learnt to be much kinder to myself.
Recent experiences with Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) have revealed a bunch of parts of me that I wasn't aware of. I have learnt to recognise the various parts of me, the good, the bad, the evil, the off with the daisies naive kid, the arsehole dirty fighter, the whole shebang. They are all part of me and they won't go away. But my imagination has been fired up to see the Council of Me, the various parts that run riot if the conscious me doesn't acknowledge them and keep them under control.
It all sounds hokey. I felt this recently when I decided that I needed to find my inner compass. I found the website Wanderlust and an exercise by Melissa Colleret to do just that. It felt hokey, but I came up with three of my core values that echo past exercises I have done. Love, Freedom, and Learning: Dilectio Libertas et Doctrina.
I realised that I have been manifesting my entire life. Be an army officer; be a theologian; be a politician (oh no, not for me! Well saved!); be a political scientist; live the life of the mind; live in the country but work in Canberra (my favourite city in Australia); live in a federation house (and other things too personal to mention). I remember after graduating from Duntroon how it struck me: Now what? It makes me think of a quote attributed to the actor, Lily Tomlin: I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realise I should have been more specific. I've been trying to practice Stoicism for the last four years, and along with every other endeavour of my idealism, I have trashed my ideals. My enthusiasm for Stoicism has not been able to overcome its shortcomings. Are we really to resign ourselves to our circumstances? Imagine if I'd done that when I was stuck in a job that was so bad, I contemplated the main problem concerning philosophy, a la Albert Camus.
Often, when teaching leadership classes, I get to re-live my shortcomings. For example, James Clawson's work separates the "what do I want to be" from the "how do I want to feel" (the Internal Life's Dream - LDint - versus the External Life's Dream - LDext - otherwise known as "Resonance").
I have found my calling and I am living in accordance with my inner compass (even when I felt I wasn't). Nothing hokey about any of that.
But the Stoics don't feel too much. And, like Buddhists, they focus on managing their perceptions or impressions. And here is the common ground I have found with Goddard's ideas:
Imagination is God and God is imagination.
And finally I arrive at Rita Faith's book. It isn't hokey. Neville Goddard was an inspiration to Wayne Dyer. So you don't like Hay House? Well Dyer's PhD supervisor was Abraham Maslow. You know, the first theory you learnt at uni and the theory you tried to fit into all your first year essays because it was the only one that made sense? Yeah, him.
As I finished reading Faith's work on Goddard, I was half way through Jack Kerouac's Wake Up, a biography of the Buddha. I've been thinking a lot about Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. (I am still trying to work out whether Hesse was writing about Buddha or a parallel to Buddha. I suppose it doesn't matter.)
The Britannica entry on Herman Hesse's Siddhartha reads as follows:
Despairing of finding fulfillment, he goes to the river and learns to simply listen. He discovers within himself a spirit of love and learns to accept human separateness... As Siddhartha grows older, a fundamental truth gradually becomes apparent both to him and to us: there is no single path to self-growth, no one formula for how to live life. Hesse challenges our ideas of what it means to lead a spiritual life, to strive after and to achieve meaningful self-growth through blind adherence to a religion, philosophy, or indeed any system of belief.
There was my connection. The aptly named Rita Faith tells me that Goddard says I have to die to my former state of mind. I have to imagine not how I will achieve what I want to achieve, but how I will feel (there's that Clawson again) when I have achieved it.
The Law of Attraction and other New Thought self-help books go back to the 19th century. The latest iteration by Rhonda Byrne, The Secret, has some major issues. For starters, Wayne Dyer wanted nothing to do with it. Second, Neville Goddard didn't think it was a secret at all and he taught for some forty years never charging for his lectures, only asking for a contribution to his travelling expenses.
And more recently, Mark Manson has called "bullshit" on The Secret. And then it takes an interesting turn:
Call me crazy, but I believe that changing and improving your life requires destroying a part of yourself and replacing it with a newer, better part of yourself. It is therefore, by definition, a painful process full of resistance and anxiety. You can’t grow muscle without challenging it with greater weight. You can’t build emotional resilience without forging through hardship and loss. And you can’t build a better mind without challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.
Call me crazy, but isn't that what Goddard said? Isn't that what Rita Faith says, too? You have to actually DIE to your former self, not think it positively away with other positive delusionals!
Here is the key takeaway from Faith's short book. We can manage our impressions (or perceptions). For the Stoics, events are facts neither good nor bad, only our reaction to our impressions of these events is good or bad. To the Buddhists, as far as my reading takes me, our impressions of the world are the cause of our suffering. What if there was another way? And what if it wasn't a secret?
The Stoics leave out the how of managing our impressions. I still use Stoic philosophy, but as Seneca would have said, if Epicurus tells me something good I should use it. Rita Faith is telling me something good and I'm using it.
For all the times I have dwelt upon negative thoughts, becoming jaded at being overworked or overworking myself out of some sort of fear or self-doubt, or been afraid to be happy about something in case I jinx it, I can finally call bullshit.
There is no single way, religion, or philosophy. Human separateness (from Hesse), and individualism as a reaction to my senses (from Kerouac), versus re-programming my senses, or dying to my former state of mind, has provided me with a way to use my imagination to control my inner world. The Stoics tell me to do this, but they don't tell me how.
It's not the kind of delusional positive thinking that I abhor. It's like the law of attraction but it is also more like the experiences I have had when all of my mind and energies were focused and brought to bear on some purpose. And it can be done with memories, too. The idea of revision is to go back and reimagine the past. Not the events per se but the feelings.
It struck me that during one of my EMDR sessions, I recall an event as a kid in Western Sydney. I am in a fight with another kid. The mother of the kid I am fighting and her friend are standing by, telling the other kid how best to hurt me.
I had mostly forgotten about the experience, but I remember a moment of clarity that makes me laugh. The mother's friend had mini-fox terriers. I looked at them and thought "wow they are cool dogs!" I have two of my own mini-foxies now! And so the memory is revised. No longer crapping on about a crappy situation, but grateful for my mutts and the revised memory.
And every day I think about how I will feel when I accomplish the things I aim to accomplish. Not how I will accomplish them. And much like giving myself time to think really works, giving myself time to feel works remarkably well, too. I am delighted that this book fills some gaps in my knowledge. Or, in the words of my sister:
Learning is cyclic, not linear. There are never any gaps, just the right timing and prior knowledge to build upon.
And all this from a 46-page page quick-read at AUD$3.99 via Kindle!...more
It's sad that it's taken me this long to read another book. But it's clear there's light at the end of the tunnel, and reading this book has been insp
It's sad that it's taken me this long to read another book. But it's clear there's light at the end of the tunnel, and reading this book has been inspirational. I've been working with the author of this book for the last few weeks looking at how to get all of my "parts" to work together, instead of having a free run, an experience that hasn't worked at all before.
Some four years of working on Stoic philosophy has been useful but there have been parts that don't work for me. I suspect that Stoicism's physics, stemming from Heraclitus, has an element of sadness in its resignation to fate. Epicureanism, on the other hand, with its focus on happiness, stems from Democritus' physics. Philosophical adversaries, to be sure, but even Seneca would accept the lessons of his rivals if the lessons are useful.
Journalling is my major vehicle for practising Stoicism. I wrote about the approach I have used in the past here. While reinforcing the foundational principle of Stoicism, best captured in the first page of Epictetus' Enchiridion, I also created a chronicle of evidence that continually "stacked up" with a clear message: I wasn't happy. Even though I was much calmer and more at peace with the world, I wasn't happy. The end result was a major crisis that disrupted my otherwise disciplined journalling ritual.
I don't regret my experience of journalling and practising Stoicism over the last four years, but after the first three years it became a struggle. Only recently have I been able to get back into my journalling practice, but it is substantially different from my previous practice.
Now, I am learning to incorporate other aspects of Eastern philosophy and religion, especially Buddhism, and more recently, Classical Indian Philosophy in the form of the Yoga and Siva Sutras.
After a trip to Brunei in May last year the idea of the Chakras opened up a whole new world of healing, especially for my body which has long been neglected over the last twenty years while I pursued study and an academic career. Turning to Stoicism was the first step in a much broader awakening to life outside of the mind.
The therapy I have been having with Richard has been useful in recognising the different parts of me that act and react on my behalf. A key part of the technique, known as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), has been enlightening and brought to light a number of issues I have buried for many years.
The approach is similar to Napoleon Hill's concept of the Cabinet of Invisible Counselors, except that the counselors are different parts of me, rather than other individuals. I am hopeful that the approach will help me develop a better sense of self and to become better at establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries.
I stumbled upon Reclaiming your Inner Harmony: A Practical Guide while checking out Richard's website. I found the book easy to read and quite practical. The basic approach is that, to achieve inner harmony, one must balance the mind, body, feelings, and gut instinct. Disharmony is caused by one of these parts dominating the others.
For me, gut instinct is something I have buried for a long time. I think that Stoicism, which is clearly a form of ancient psychotherapy, is much easier to subscribe to for a soldier-turned-scholar. But it doesn't make any connection to the body. In fact, it tends to dissociate the body from the mind, in that it is not something that one can control. This makes sense in terms of illness or injury, but it seems to ignore the fact that my mind exists because of my body. I must admit to a feeling of dissociation which has only recently begun to retreat.
I found this short book useful despite my first attempt at using the tools leading to my gut instinct going for an off-leash run. Like the EMDR therapy, the point is to enable all parts of oneself to "check in".
Much like Stoic philosophy (and religions, but that's another story), it takes practice to reinforce the habit, through use of the chain method, if you will. And that is where my journalling has found a new purpose.
My journey, which began with my mind before finding practical application in the form of Stoic philosophy, neglected the feelings, body, and gut instinct that I have rediscovered. It has given me a perspective that I think I initially buried, inappropriately in hindsight, and then suppressed further with Stoicism.
The last time I felt the connection with my body was in training before going to Duntroon. I was practising Tai Chi at the time. Like Seneca, I can choose to use whatever works for me rather than trying to be a purist in everything I do. Given the obvious health and wellbeing benefits, it makes sense.
And while many things and people have assisted me on this latest stage of my journey, this book has given me a logical framework for connecting with my different parts while also guiding me to develop my own, unadulterated, sense of self.
I am a fan of Ryan Holiday's work. I tell my students in my leadership and politics classes, "Be like Ryan". Read, write, think about your future. DevI am a fan of Ryan Holiday's work. I tell my students in my leadership and politics classes, "Be like Ryan". Read, write, think about your future. Develop a philosophy - rules to live by. Establish your purpose - what a colleague calls one's ikigai.
Ryan Holiday reads books. He is well-read. He writes books. He lives on the land. He is doing in his early thirties what I am still not quite able to do in my fifties. But that's not the point.
As Theodore Roosevelt warned, "comparison is the thief of joy". I know all about my own circumstances, not somebody else's. Better to judge myself by my own principles and standards.
I have read many self-improvement books and I take something away from each one I have read. But I am also conscious of the marketing behind such works. I recall accompanying one of my in-laws to an event. It turned out to be Amway. I bought Dale Carnegie's famous book but I was wary of every time a colleague asked me, "I'd like to talk to you about a business opportunity".
I found myself becoming a little wary of Holiday's approach to this book about one third of the way through. I felt it was formulaic and repeating old ground from his earlier works. But I have been following his work from the early days of the simple Reading List email newsletter, so I acknowledged my concerns and pushed on.
I think it is the way the book builds. The end of each chapter gives a few short sentences of encouragement. I was experiencing the elevation at the end of each chapter much like one does when reading Carnegie. Frowning often while reading, it wasn't until the last few pages that my faith in Holiday was restored.
In "Act Bravely", one of the final chapters, Holiday discusses Albert Camus' The Fall. I am nodding in agreement and I thought, "I know this story, I've read most of Camus". I had to check my blog and there it was, "La Chute".
It struck me again that Holiday is really well-read. My faith restored, I went back and examined what had been going on for me.
To cut a long story short, I suffer from self-doubt in the way of Steven Pressfield. It can be crippling. Writing this right now is part of my preparation to write something else that I wish would just go away. But it won't and I have a job to do.
Holiday discusses the idea of stillness in the context of looking after oneself. I noted that many of the tips and tricks he mentions for maintaining stillness in one's life, I have used since I can remember.
Albert Camus struck me the same way when he discussed suicide. (I am not advocating suicide but I went through the philosophical exercise as the Stoics do without realising it had been done by others. This is a major reason to read according to Harold Bloom and Italo Calvino.) Ryan Holiday introduced me to the Stoics and they had the same view of suicide as a legitimate philosophical option.
Reading Stillness is the Key revealed to me the extent of my self-doubt. Not only about myself and my academic work, but also about the processes I use and how I defend my inner citadel from nonsense, how I do things like writing this blog post as a hobby and how I might prioritise doing so on this long weekend holiday instead of doing other work that is always there and can take up all my time when I let it.
And there it is - Ryan Holiday has done it again. All writing follows a formula, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is formulaic. Indeed, Aristotle's formula was original once!
On the way to Berlin, Dresden, and Hann. Münden. Vonnegut, a second generation American of German descent seemed to be a good choice for the flight. IOn the way to Berlin, Dresden, and Hann. Münden. Vonnegut, a second generation American of German descent seemed to be a good choice for the flight. I usually find it easy to knack over a Penguin paperback on a long-haul flight, but not this time. I've been struggling to read deeply since a major life event early last year has shifted the focus of my spare time.
I purchased a Penguin Vonnegut at the airport for some light reading but didn't manage to finish until some months later. I found Vonnegut's work to be interesting but a little far-fetched - it smacked of a Woody Allen style of science fiction (see the trailer for "The Sleeper") that was somehow banal yet allegorical in a mildly interesting way.
Much of the social commentary was lost on me. I suppose for a conservative reader of the early 1960s the foot-touching free love may have been a bit out there, but for me it was all old hat. I had the feeling of the 'thirteen days' and the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
Usually I am a fan of history but Vonnegut is rather economical with his contextual elements - an Animal Farm kind of focus on the sociological order rather than the 'iceberg' cerebral development approach. It was interesting today that I listened to a podcast on Jack London's literary style.
This sent me on a quest to look back at some of my previous readings of several of London's works. One thing I found was that I have been critical of London's racism (poignant in the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests beginning in the US and now happening in solidarity but focused on Indigenous deaths in custody here in Australia).
But I was also pleased to note that I had picked up on the problem (Jack London's To Build a Fire): The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. That's how I felt about Vonnegut's work. Until the meaning of the title came to my attention. The cat's cradle.
It's a child's illusion. It requires one's imagination. One flick of the hands and the cradle is gone. It doesn't exist.
I am usually way off but occasionally, like with Jack London, I am on the mark.
I found in Cat's Cradle the Stoic technique of the "bird's eye view". Once we view the world from above, we realise two things.
First, the insignificance of our petty existence. The arguments of today, the idiot tailgating me on the Hume highway last night, flashing his lights and sounding his horn. All nothing. I remember noting too, with flying, that once you are above the clouds it is always a perfect day, It is all a matter of perspective.
Second, we are all in this together. I am currently reading Ryan Holiday's Stillness is the Key. He mentions Edgar Mitchell's famous words upon viewing the world from space: You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, 'Look at that, you son of a bitch.’ It is interesting that just this week, Mitchell's words have resurfaced in what has been called the world's first political protest in near space, but targeted at Donald Trump.
In the above musings, and almost two months after I finished reading Cat's Cradle, I realised Vonnegut's genius. It is all an illusion. There are hands, there is string, there is imagination. The cat's cradle is made up of reality and intangibles. Neither works without the other.
Fake news, The Guardian versus The Australian and all of the left versus right is more of the same nonsense. It is not imagination, it is not creative, it is dogmatic, divisive, and dodgy. Yet the people believe.
This is what I get from Vonnegut. It is not the illusion, but that we make sense out of the world through our "bounded rationality" combined with our sense of imagination. Not fake or make-believe, but creative and expressive and from the depths of our intellect.
Regrettably, Kurt Vonnegut reminds us that without imagination (the creative as opposed to the conspiratorial kind), we are doomed to an inevitable end. Like London's "everyman" in To Build a Fire, we are not reflecting on our mortality in the face of nature, but rather imagining ourselves to be something more significant and smacking of hubris. For London: The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances.
But London, too, was a fan of eugenics. Vonnegut was subtler, less egotistical, more realistic. If I had to sum up Cat's Cradle, I would say that London had too much imagination, whereas Vonnegut is the Goldilocks' little bear version of "just right".
P.S. It's a shame that The Three Bears was originally written by Robert Southey and not the Grimm Brothers to fit my German theme. And the original Goldilocks was an old woman and the three bears were bachelors. But you can use your imagination! I visited the Grimm Brothers Museum in Kassel, Germany, on 3rd December 2019....more
It's hard not to enjoy Bukowski's writing. Like with Hemingway and others, why we find it fascinating to read about the shenanigans of people who struIt's hard not to enjoy Bukowski's writing. Like with Hemingway and others, why we find it fascinating to read about the shenanigans of people who struggle to write is beyond me. Is it because secretly anyone who reads wishes they could write? Is this part of Robert M. Hutchins' Great Conversation? I don't know.
Yet while some would suggest that Bukowski is the world's greatest misogynist, he doesn't depict anyone else in this novel any worse than he does himself. His mention of ending it all early in the novel hints at the level of self-deprecation that just didn't seem to come through in my reading of Post Office.
In this novel, I feel Bukowski's sense of dereliction of duty but from a sensitive soul who is otherwise intelligent. The constant references to Debussy and Mahler indicate someone who is far more than the alcoholic bum Bukowski portrays in this novel.
Yet it is believable (I am cutting out my adverbs as I write - Bukowski reminds me of a combination of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, hence my hesitation to add "entirely" - he's either believable or he isn't). The protagonist moves from job to job, surrounded by others who share his sense of despair at the world - a world they are part of yet cannot belong to without giving up their sense of identity.
I identify with Bukowski for this reason. Not so much the "beer-sodden" bum who wanders about aimlessly. But the soul who cannot ever belong but is stuck in present company that somehow can turn off their own bullshit meter sufficiently (damn those adverbs!) to carve out an existence of what is essentially living for somebody else.
I find Bukowski's characters admirable because they give up hope without giving up their freedom. Although Henry Chinaski is made to feel as if he doesn't belong because he is excluded from the World War II draft, he still lives as the intelligent loner who doesn't fit in but is stuck anyway.
But the struggle is admirable. Struggle is what we were put on this earth to do. We either struggle against what we do not want, or we struggle for a better life. Henry Chinaski is a drunken no-hoper bum but he gives me hope - hope that I can live as I choose and not how others choose for me. And that is why I enjoy Bukowski's work....more