Tag Archives: criticism

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 45” by Lao Tzu

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The greatest perfection seems imperfect,
And yet its use is inexhaustible.
The greatest fullness seems empty,
And yet its use is endless.

The greatest straightness looks like crookedness.
The greatest skill appears clumsy.
The greatest eloquence sounds like stammering.

Restlessness overcomes cold,
But calm overcomes heat.

The peaceful and serene
Is the Norm of the World.

Reading this passage made me think about how our impression of the world is based solely on our limited perception. We are in the midst of everything, and not far enough removed to see the big picture. What we see as chaos because we are so close, may really be harmonious from afar. Think of our planet as seen from space. It is beautiful and tranquil, until you get up close.

The Tao, therefore, is like the big picture. When we feel the stress of daily life, take a breath and imagine yourself removed, looking down on everything. This shift in perception will change how you interpret what his happening to you. Remember, “The peaceful and serene is the Norm of the World.”

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“Measure for Measure” by William Shakespeare – #MeToo

I had not read this play since college, and it bothered me back then. But reading it now, in light of the whole #MeToo movement, it was even more infuriating.

This play is a “comedy,” not because it is funny, but because it ends with marriage (as opposed to a tragedy, which ends in death). It is definitely considered one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, along with Merchant of Venice. It is a play that explores questions of justice, law, punishment, and mercy. But what is most problematic for me is the depiction of how women are sexually exploited by men in positions of power and authority.

Basically, what happens in the play is that the Duke of Vienna places all authority to enforce laws upon his Deputy, Angelo. Angelo is strict and supposedly steadfast, and the Duke claims he wants to test Angelo’s resolve. Angelo begins enforcing a long-ignored law sentencing people to death for having sex out of wedlock. His first example is Claudio, who has a virgin sister named Isabella. Isabella goes before Angelo to plead for her brother’s life, and Angelo basically tells her he will only spare her brother if she agrees to have sex with him.

And now I give my sensual race the rein:
Fit thy consent to my sharp appetite;
Lay by all nicety and prolixious blushes,
That banish what they sue for; redeem thy brother
By yielding up thy body to my will;
Or else he must not only die the death,
But thy unkindness shall his death draw out
To lingering sufferance. Answer me to-morrow,
Or, by the affection that now guides me most,
I’ll prove a tyrant to him. As for you,
Say what you can, my false o’erweighs your true.

(Act II, scene iv)

I won’t spoil the details of how everything plays itself out, but suffice to say that Isabella manages to save her brother and her virginity, with the aid of the disguised Duke. But that sets us up for what, in my opinion, is the most offensive part of this play—the very end.

Long story short, the Duke pardons people, measures out justice that seems to be tempered with mercy, and thereby reinstates order out of the chaos. But it is the Duke’s “pardoning” of Claudio that is the major issue.

If he be like your brother, for his sake
Is he pardon’d; and, for your lovely sake,
Give me your hand and say you will be mine.
He is my brother too: but fitter time for that.

(Act V, scene i)

Basically, the Duke is doing the same thing Angelo was doing, pardoning Claudio on the condition that Isabella giver herself to him. And while, yes, the implication here is that the Duke intends to marry her, it’s still not OK. He is still using his authority to get what he wants, taking advantage of a young woman, and even worse, not applying the scales of justice evenly to himself as to others (namely Angelo).

I don’t claim to know Shakespeare’s intent when he wrote this play. Maybe he was making a critique against the patriarchal hierarchy, or maybe he was claiming it is OK to take advantage of a woman as long as you are “responsible” and marry her. But the fact is, in the 21st century, this attitude towards women is offensive, to say the least.

In spite of the gender issues in this play, it is still worth reading for the exploration of law, justice, punishment, and mercy. As always, feel free to share your thoughts on the play. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading challenging stuff.

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“It is a beauteous evening, calm and free” by William Wordsworth: Worshipping the Divine in Nature

Caspar David Friedrich

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the Sea;
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

In this sonnet, Wordsworth expresses what amounts to a religious adoration of nature. He is on the beach at sunset, observing the sun as it sets into the sea. And while Wordsworth’s spiritual connection with nature is obvious by the words of worship that appear throughout the poem, there two lines which really emphasize how much he views nature as a manifestation of the divine.

In line 5 he writes: “The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the Sea.” What is telling about this line is that the word “heaven” is not capitalized, therefore asserting that heaven is not the abode of the divine. But “Sea” is capitalized. This emphasis on the earthly contrasted with the de-emphasis on heaven suggests that Wordsworth believes God resides within nature, and not in some unreachable heavenly abode. And in the next line, he takes the metaphor even further, referring to the Sea as “the mighty Being,” implying not only that nature is the residence of God, but that nature is, in fact, God incarnate.

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Thoughts on “The Sandman, Volume 9: The Kindly Ones” by Neil Gaiman

So I finished this book a couple days ago, and have been digesting it and trying to decide how I will approach writing about it without spoiling the ending (Note – do NOT read the introduction to this book unless you want to know how it ends). And also, how do I write about something that contains so many layers of complexity? After stepping away, then going back and reviewing my notes, I decided I will focus on the theme of responsibility, and how that is tied to an individual’s nature.

The first scene I want to examine is when Delirium visits Dream and tries to convince him to join her on a search for her lost dog. The Dream Lord tries to explain to her why he cannot leave the dream realm at the present time.

Delirium: So can you come with me? And look?

Dream: Sister, I have responsibilities. I cannot leave the Dreaming at this time.

Delirium: You use that word so much. Responsibilities. Don’t you ever think about what it means? I mean, what does it mean to you? In your head?

Dream: Well, I use it to refer to that area of existence over which I exert a certain amount of control and influence. In my case, the realm and action of dreaming.

Delirium: Hump. It’s more than that. The things we do make echoes. S’pose, f’rinstance, you stop on a street corner and admire a brilliant fork of lightning — ZAP! Well for ages after people and things will stop on that very same corner, and stare up at the sky. They wouldn’t even know what they were looking for. Some of them might see a ghost bolt of lightning in the street. Some of them might even be killed by it. Our existence deforms the universe. THAT’S responsibility.

This is profound. Not only do our individual actions affect the universe, no matter how small (think the butterfly effect), but our consciousness molds reality and existence on a cosmic level. Nothing we do, nothing we say, and nothing we think is trivial. Everything we do has consequence. Every individual is responsible for the direction that reality takes. Our thoughts and actions ripple across the universe, forming and “deforming” the very fabric of being. The fact that I am writing this, and the fact that you are reading these words, will have an impact on the unfolding of future events. We must, as sentient beings, never take anything for granted.

In the realm of Faerie, the Lady Nuala asks the trickster Puck why he is the way he is.

Nuala: Why do you take such joy in confusion, Robin Goodfellow?

Puck: Because I am true to my nature, Lady Nuala.

This echoes the words of Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.” Puck knows he is an incarnation of the trickster archetype, and it is his responsibility to accept his true nature. We are all responsible for acknowledging our nature and adhering to it. It is when we deviate from who we are, when we pretend to be something we are not, that we create disharmony in the universe. Honest self-evaluation is requisite for living a genuine life. Do not deny your essence—embrace it, as Puck does.

And this leads us to the final passage I want to share, in which Dream accepts his true responsibilities, understanding that he must make sacrifices in order to fulfill his responsibilities and embody his true nature.

Dream: Rules and responsibilities: these are the ties that bind us. We do what we do, because of who we are. If we did otherwise, we would not be ourselves. I will do what I have to do. And I will do what I must.

We are bound by our natures, by our responsibilities, and by our thoughts and actions. We are intrinsically tied to existence, and all we can do is do what we have to do. So once again, I will repeat the words of Shakespeare:

To thine own self be true.

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“Sonnet 34: Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day” by William Shakespeare

Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
And make me travel forth without my cloak,
To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way,
Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?
’Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break,
To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,
For no man well of such a salve can speak
That heals the wound and cures not the disgrace:
Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief;
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss:
The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence’s cross.
Ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds,
And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.

While this poem is one of the “fair youth” sonnets, and is about some sin committed against the speaker by a person that he loves, for me, it has a more universal meaning.

I interpret this poem as a reflection on expectations. As humans, we cannot help but project about our future, and have expectations based upon those projections, whether we expect good or bad things to happen. It is rare, though, that our expectations are met. We are either painfully disappointed, or pleasantly surprised. In this poem, the speaker has strong expectations, symbolized by the promise of “a beauteous day,” but then the clouds of reality and disillusion set in, blotting out his fantasy. It is a feeling I suspect we can all relate to. I know I certainly can. Expectations usually lead to disappointment. I try to avoid them as best I can.

Thanks for sharing in my musings, and have a blessed day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 44” by Lao Tzu

“Death and the Miser” by Hieronymus Bosch

As for your name and your body, which is the dearer?
As for your body and your wealth, which is the more to be prized?
As for gain and loss, which is the more painful?

Thus, an excessive love for anything will cost you dear in the end.
The storing up of too much goods will entail a heavy loss.

To know when you have enough is to be immune from disgrace.
To know when to stop is to be preserved from perils.
Only thus can you endure long.

Once again, Lau Tzu offers a pearl of wisdom that is important today. Our present culture is one that encourages constant striving for more, regardless of how much you have. Corporations must always show higher earnings and growth, and the measure of personal success is determined by the rate of increase in wealth.

The problem with this mentality, as Lau Tzu points out, is that it is not sustainable. Eventually, there will be suffering as a result of this paradigm, and we are beginning to see this suffering manifesting in the world around us. It is time for people to step back and realize when they have enough, and not be in constant competition with everyone around in an attempt to prove that they are somehow better at the “Game of Life” than the next person.

For myself, I have found that an attitude of gratitude helps me keep the urge for excess at bay. I have much to be grateful for in my life. And yes, there are things that would be nice to have, but I don’t have the burning desire to accumulate and accumulate.

Thanks for stopping by, and take a moment to reflect on all the great things in your life.

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“Meditation is Not What You Think” by Jon Kabat-Zinn

I picked this book up on a whim. I was at a Barnes & Noble café getting a coffee, and they were offering $5 off this book with any café purchase, so I could not pass it up. I had not read any Kabat-Zinn books, but had heard great things about him and was eager to read his work.

Overall, I really liked the book, a lot. It is the first in a four-book series, and was originally published as part of a larger book called Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. It seems like it is the appropriate length, and that it might have lost some of its impact if buried within a bigger tome.

In his introduction to the book, Jon eloquently expresses something that I have been feeling, that humanity is at a crossroads, or a threshold, and that the collective choices we make now will impact the course of humankind.

I don’t know about you, but for myself, it feels like we are at a critical juncture of life on this planet. It could go any number of different ways. It seems that the world is on fire and so are our hearts, inflamed with fear and uncertainty, lacking all conviction, and often filled with passionate but unwise intensity. How we manage to see ourselves and the world at this juncture will make a huge difference in the way things unfold. What emerges for us as individuals and as a society in future moments will be shaped in large measure by whether and how we make use of our innate and incomparable capacity for awareness in this moment. It will be shaped by what we choose to do to heal the underlying distress, dissatisfaction, and outright dis-ease of our lives and our times, even as we nourish and protect all that is good and beautiful and healthy in ourselves and in the world.

(p. xxiii)

While there is a wealth of insight and information in this short book, for me, there is one critical paragraph that, although long, really encapsulates everything that this book coveys: that collectively, we need to slow down, become more mindful of our thoughts and actions, and begin to shift the direction of humanity toward the kind of sane, sustainable, and supportive future that we so desperately need.

As the pace of our lives continues to accelerate, driven by a host of forces seemingly beyond our control, more and more of us are finding ourselves drawn to engage in meditation, in this radical act of being, this radical act of love, astonishing as it may seem given the materialistic “can do,” speed-obsessed, progress-obsessed, celebrity-and-other-people’s-lives-obsessed, social media-obsessed orientation of our culture. We are moving in the direction of meditative awareness for many reasons, not the least of which may be to maintain our individual and collective sanity, or recover our perspective and sense of meaning, or simply to deal with the outrageous stress and insecurity of this age. By stopping and intentionally falling awake to how things are in this moment, purposefully, without succumbing to our own reactions and judgments, and by working wisely with such occurrences with a healthy dose of self-compassion when we do succumb, and by our willingness to take up residency for a time in the present moment in spite of all our plans and activities aimed at getting somewhere else, completing a project or pursuing desired objects or goals, we discover that such an act is both immensely, discouragingly difficult yet utterly simple, profound, hugely possible after all, and restorative of mind and body, soul and spirit right in that moment.

(pp. 71 – 72)

Our paradigm is about to shift in a huge way, and I for one will do everything I can to attempt to make this shift a positive one, and that begins by changing myself. I have made a lot of conscious changes in my life over the past couple years, and continue to examine myself honestly to see where I can continue to grow and improve. Meditation and mindfulness practice have played an important role in these personal changes. I encourage you to pick up this book and begin to manifest changes in the world by changing yourself, if you have not already begun to do so. If you have already started on this path, I encourage you to continue. What we do today is important.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my musings.

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