First Day of Fall in a Druids Temple

 September 21, first day of fall, and my favorite time of the year!

It’s a glorious day in the bay area, bright sunshine, and 75 degrees.  What better time to escape outdoors.   So, I head up to my usual spot at the top of the hill with my book.  Hidden in then glen that I thought was a private area, I see a circle of cypress pillars.  Stoically, in the hot sun, they stand tall guarding, almost with anticipation, some sort of structure in the middle. No, it’s not an altar, nor a sculpture—a mere focal point made of stone.   A Druids temple?  Of course not, but it does look like it.  I know, it must be all those many medieval books I read…

I recall the Druids Temple in Yorkshire, near Harrogate, in the middle of the Dales, a place I used to live in eons ago.  I used to visit the temple at least two, three, times every fall.  The colors, the solitude, the peace, were like no other place on earth.

Masham, England

How serendipitous is this! First day of fall, and a Druids-like temple.  A day for sacrifice to appease the gods? No, no sacrifices here. No gods to appease.  Only an offering of gratitude:  gratitude for life, family, and good friends who are there for you no matter what.

A gold maple leaf pressed in my book for good luck!
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Cultural Optimism, Those who Have and Those who Have Not

We all know the value of optimism and having a positive outlook on life–God knows we hear and read about it often enough from physicians and psychologists.  A couple of weeks ago, I read yet another article on optimism and leadership, which I shared with some of my colleagues.  The premise of the article was that optimistic leaders make better leaders, which I thought validated what we already know about optimism.  However,  one of my colleagues raised the question that although there are benefits to being an optimistic leader, is it possible that optimism might be “culture bound?”  He further explained that while optimism is much more prevalent in the U.S. where everything seems to be more “upbeat,” this may not be the case in other places of the world.

The comment took me by surprise. Of course optimism is tied to positive outcomes, here in the United States, a place of abundance and options, but how about in places where options, affluence, and abundance are lacking?   Is it possible that optimism eludes those for whom life is a daily struggle?  How can one focus on possibilities, imagine the “what ifs” of life, or envision happy resolutions to life’s situations, when life’s basic needs are not met? Remember Maslow’s steps of self-actualization—food, shelter, etc?

Reflecting on books and history, as I typically do, I thought of the 19th century English novelists Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence, whose writings are anything but upbeat and optimistic. They lived in an era where it was ” the worst of times” for the common people and “the best of times” for the privileged few.  Both authors protested the inequities of the classes, and wrote about the struggles of ordinary people trying to  survive with limited resources, toiling over the land for sustenance, while enduring the constraints and prejudices of the English societal class structure.  Optimism is hard to come by in the works of Hardy and D.H. Lawrence.

Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure are a couple of my favorite novels, along with D.H. Lawrence’s Sons an-d Lovers, but my God, are they depressing!  Optimism, nowhere to be found! The reader is given a strong and, at times, an overwhelming dose of realism. On my last trip to England I visited Wessex, what the locals call Thomas Hardy country, and I was told that indeed Hardy’s novels accurately reflected the realism of the times: the daily struggle of coping with the restrictions of the society’s class system, farmers working the lands and being at the mercy of nature’s forces, and in general people having very little to look forward to, let alone foster any feelings of optimism.

To refresh my memory of Hardy’s work,  I decided to read The Return of the Native and, this time, I also read the preface and intro to the novel. No, I don’t normally read the preface, I just scan through it.   Ironically, the novel is structured much like a Greek tragedy. But unlike the deos ex machina, the machine god, who intervenes in Greek plays and brings the conflict to a successful resolution, Hardy’s novel has no such god, or intervention. (Lauren Walsh) His characters are left to their own resources to resolve conflict and reach a happy ending.

Hardy’s preface of the novel also includes John Keats’s fifth stanza of The Ode to Sorrow in Endymion.

 From the ode to Sorrow in Endymion

John Keats (1795–1821)

To sorrow

I bade good morrow

And thought to leaver her far away behind;

But cheerly, cheerly,

She loves me dearly;

She is so constant to me, and so kind:

I would deceive her,

And so leave her,

But ah! she is so constant, and so kind.

What makes his choice of poems particularly interesting, is that Keats was a romantic! Why did Hardy choose this poem and not one of his own? He, like the poet, appears to wallow in sorrow, yet there is a palpable feeling of acceptance and contentment of what is.   Optimism, hardly!

So, having spent some time reflecting on my colleague’s suggestion that perhaps optimism is culture bound, I would agree.  Our environment is a huge factor on how optimistic we are about life’s situations and outcomes.

What do you think?

Bikram, Embracing your Inner Yogi.

Many of us have tried yoga as a form of meditation and relaxation.  But, Bikram Yoga?  Well, that’s a whole different beast, or should I say “third eye” all together.   I say “third eye” because that’s what my yoga instructor calls the point of concentration and focus. I’m not  really sure where it is, nor where to look for it, so please don’t ask me to define it.  When I look in the mirror of the yoga studio, trying to perfect my pose and maintain my balance, I see, but in an abstract way, almost like not seeing.  And if this does not make sense, maybe that is the point: to remove oneself from the “sense” part of things and focus on nothing else except the pose.  Let the mind quiet down to nothingness except focusing on maintaining balance as a venue to meditation–healing body and soul, my instructor calls it.  Bikram is a hot (temperature hot) yoga.  The yoga studio is heated to 108 degrees before the class begins.

I was introduced to yoga by a colleague a few years ago, and while I prefer the more active/aerobic exercise, I cannot dismiss its benefits; one of them is building core strength.  That being said, I diligently stayed with it for a year, or so, and then dropped it.  Recently, at the encouragement of my sister–a Bikram lover– I began it again.  Of course I picked the hottest part of the summer to do this.  One hundred degrees outside, and 108 degrees in the yoga studio!  All through my sweat and tears, yes, tears, as perspiration runs into my eyes blinding me  and causing me to lose my balance, I’m trying to remind myself why I’m doing this.  It’s all I can do to stay in the room, and in the now, as I see new members in the class, of both genders, exiting the room ready to faint.

  A Brief history of Bikram

Bikram Choudhury (born 1946) is the founder of Bikram Yoga, a copyrighted series of 26 hatha yoga postures that are performed in a hot (105 degrees Fahrenheit or greater) environment. Bikram is a disciple of Bishnu Ghosh, brother of Paramahansa Yogananda, (author of Autobiography of a Yogi). The Bishnu Ghosh guru lineage has focused on translating Eastern philosophies and practices into a language that is more closely attuned to the Western mindset than can be found within their original traditional Indian contexts.

 While I promised myself that I will stay for the completion of my yoga course, I have also decided that, along with long hikes, swimming is what I truly enjoy.  Body and soul?  Yes, why not?  The coolness of the water and the quiet when I’m in it also heal the body and soul.  I love swimming, always have–pool, ocean, it doesn’t matter.  The only thing that does is that I’m swimming and enjoying every bit of it.  And as the summer comes to an end, I expect I will be seeing quite a lot of the pool.

 Happy Last Days of Summer!

Namaste!

The Rousing

What is it that makes great leaders, great?  Is it their charisma, combination of confidence and vision, optimism and realism, their humility, or their ability to touch the soul and  arouse the heart?

Last weekend I had the opportunity to see Shakespeare’s Henry V, performed by the San Francisco Shakespeare Company.  The play was outdoors–Shakespeare in the park–a fundraiser for at-risk children.  While I  read the play in  college, I had never seen it performed.  It was an impressive performance and the speech was a feast for the ears, as  the king was a feast for the eyes! Oh, yes, he was not Kenneth Branagh, but definitely close to that.

And talking about arousing the heart!  For an inexperienced king, King Harry certainly aroused the hearts of his troops.  No wonder The Saint Crispin’s Day speech  is considered one of the greatest speeches in history.  Harry appealed to the most fundamental  qualities of the human spirit:  a sense of honor, love for family and country, and of course courage.

One of the most famous speeches in history. A rousing speech given by Harry (King Henry V) to his men before the Battle of Agincourt.
Found here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lbYAZ6oLa4

Full Speech:

If we are mark’d to die, we are enow To do our country loss; and if to live, The fewer men, the greater share of honour. God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more. By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; It yearns me not if men my garments wear; Such outward things dwell not in my desires. But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive. No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England. God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour As one man more methinks would share from me For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more! Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host, That he which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him d… more

The Rousing brought to mind David Whyte’s A Heart Aroused. While Whyte focuses on the workplace, his premise is applicable to our everyday lives as well.  He supports that the best way to bring forth creativity and eliminate complacency in the workplace is to awaken fully the passion of our souls.   Good old Harry did this through his speech.

In poetry, I think Yeats says it best!

William Butler Yeats

“…An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium…”

W.B. Yeats

Houmoresque, not!

Wit is often equated with intelligence, cleverness, or humor.  While this may be true to a certain extent, sometimes it is anything but! Shakespeare, with his poetic brilliance, wrote:  “better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.”  (Twelfth Night)  Pondering the meaning of this quote,  I think Shakespeare was trying to say that it is better to keep quiet for fear of saying something foolish, rather than saying something that for sure would prove you foolish.

  “FOOL (aside) Wit, an ’t be thy will, put me into good fooling! Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft prove fools. And I, that am sure I lack thee, may pass for a wise man. For what says Quinapalus? ‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.”

We have all encountered examples of both foolish wit and witty fools, and depending on the wit and the circumstances, we have either retorted, or  have chosen to label the person as a fool and walk away. But, let’s take this witty humor a  step further and ask the question:  Is it really wit, or is it caustic humor?  How about those people who feel compelled to “one-up” others, and in the process hurt feelings and damage relationships?  Is this a sign of foolish wit, or caustic wit?  Oh, yes, they are quick to call  this kind of wit “just kidding” or “ just a quip.” But I would argue that this is nothing more than caustic humor, a way to insult a person under the guise of humor. Most likely, it is their way of being  sarcastic, or demonstrating that they can come up with a quick “got you” before you do. Either way, such so called wit, or quip, has the potential of hurting others’ feelings, and damaging relationships, whether personal or professional.

 Someone I know, whose humor can easily be described as caustic vs. witty, managed to hurt my feelings deeply with a foolishly “witty” comment.   While an apology was offered,   I couldn’t help questioning the sincerity of the gesture.  It is difficult to determine whether the apology is genuine or perfunctory, when such biting quips are consistently used.  So is it “better a witty fool, than a foolish wit?”  Of course!  But, when both the wit and the fool meet the criteria of foolishness, sarcasm, or even pedantry,  you can just walk away and hope for the best–that is if you can resist the urge to retort!

Memories

Memories

How accurately do we recall past experiences?  Do memories, and the emotions we attached to them, change with time, or is it only our perspective about particular experiences that changes?

In “A Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes, the dominant theme is the accuracy of our memories.  The main character’s recollection of a high school experience is very different from the actual experience.  His memory of the event is devoid of emotion, logically classified with a level of indifference, and accepted as part of life.  As he reflects on it, he is satisfied with the closure he assigned to it.  However, all this changes when he is confronted with the actual account of that experience.   The confrontation awakens a host of repressed emotions, and he begins to question the person he thought he was.

The Sense of an Ending

A thought- provoking book, poses the question:  are we really the people we think we are?  When it comes to painful experiences, how do we keep them in our minds, in our hearts?  Undoubtedly, many of us have memories of experiences that are too painful to recall accurately.  We alter them, dull their intensity with clinical precision, and store them away in our mind.  A form of self-preservation, perhaps this is our way of coming to terms with life’s painful situations, or even removing ourselves from complicity.  Sad, but possible!

On the other hand, there are those memories that remain indelible, unchangeable; they forever warm the heart and amplify the significance of life. The gentle memories of simple words from a great heart!

I have a memory of my dad whistling in the bathroom while having his morning shave.  My dad is no longer alive, but I treasure this memory!  I vividly remember standing at the    side of the bathroom door watching him shave, and wondering how he could whistle and shave at the same time. To this day, when I hear a man whistling a tune, I think of my dad.  Ah, yes, the memories of childhood!

What’s your heart-warming memory?

 

 

 

 

Dessert first?

I’m known to be a very structured person, almost compulsive in doing things in a very orderly manner.  My family and friends often tease me about it, but I can’t help it.  I was taught that things should be done in order, i.e., first work, then play, first dinner then dessert– I’m sure many of you know the routine.  When recently I was yet again the object of playful teasing about being so structured, I decided to dispel this perception by doing a few things in a out-of-order fashion, like ordering dessert first when out for a meal. My companions had a good laugh at this change, but I thought it was quite fitting with my goal: doing something out of character.  I also recalled a former colleague who, at our lunches out, would routinely order dessert first, but would eat it after her meal.  It made no sense to me, but she insisted it ensured her availability of her chosen dessert. In other words life is unpredictable, so have dessert first.  You never know what happens next.

To ensure that I continue to develop this trait of spontaneity, someone gave me the perfect reminder:  a spatula with a dessert picture on it!  Now, when friends ask me out for coffee at a moment’s notice, or catch a movie before I finish, or start, office work on the weekends, I think why not? Even if I have the strong urge to finish work first.  Still long ways to go, I’m sure, but it’s been enjoyable so far.