REVIEW: Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The Complete Edition

Jonathan Livingston SeagullJonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Third time reading this book. First time in 20 years. First time reading the Complete Edition (including rediscovered Part Four).  The photography included in this edition really adds to the beauty and contemplation of the story: it is worth buying the printed book for the pictures alone.

This book never gets old. It just gets more useful and I understand it better. When I first read in college, it seemed like a weird fantasy story about a bird. My young self was a bit of an outcast. I very much wanted to have the tenacity to dig deep into a passion everyone else thought was useless and prove them all wrong. So I did that (computers). This is probably why Seagull is on every college reading list and rightfully so.

Then re-reading it in my 30s after leaving the Catholic church and recently returning, the religious undertones popped out. Especially in (new) part four where the true meaning of the initial quest has been lost in the bureaucracy of the belief system built around it (sound familiar Catholics?) This is a classic Hero’s Journey as described by Joseph Campbell. Hero is passionate, gets cast out of society, becomes enlightened around his passion, comes back to teach the TRUTH, is initially scorned, then accepted, then revered, then co-opted for other purposes and the TRUTH is lost. That is also the story of the Catholic Church in many ways.

Reading it again in my 50s after settling down a bit, the later parts of the story resonated. The desire to share your life wisdom with love and kindness. The frustration with success leading to misinterpretation and co-opting of original intent. But still the desire to give back to the next generation. The hope that an open mind willing to learn still existed.

Some favorite quotes:

“Who is more responsible than a gull who finds and follows a meaning, a higher purpose in life?  For a thousand years we have scrabbled after fish heads, but now we have a reason to life – to learn, to discover, to be free!  Give me one chance, let me show you what I have found.”  Jonathan  “The Brotherhood is Broken”  said the other birds and they turned their backs on him.

“His one sorrow was not solitude, it was that other gulls refused to believe the glory of flight that awaited them; they refused to open their eyes and see.”

He spoke of very simple things – that it is right for a gull to fly, that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form.  The only true law is that which leads to freedom, there is no other.  The only difference, the very only one, is that they have begun to understand what they really are and have begun to practice it.

A long silence.  “Well, this kind of flying has always been here to be learned by anybody who wanted to discover it; that’s got nothing to do with time.”

“Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself i he’d just spend a little time practicing?  Why should that be so hard?”

“To begin with,” he said heavily, “You’ve got to understand that the seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull, and your whole body, from wingtip to wingtip, is nothing more than your thought itself.”

They were honored, and worse – revered, but they were no longer heard, and the birds who practiced flying were fewer and fewer.

Anthony Seagull didn’t have answers, but he knew that he would gratefully, gladly lay down his life to follow any bird who could demonstrate what he was talking about, show him just a few answers in life that worked, that brought excellence and joy into everyday living.  Until he found that bird, life would remain gray and bleak, illogical, without purpose; every seagull would remain a coincidental collection of blood and feathers pointed toward oblivion.

My suggestion: Read this every 10 years. You will learn something new each time.

View all my reviews

Review: The Valkyries: Paulo Coelho

The ValkyriesThe Valkyries by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have been reading quite a few [author:Paulo Coelho|566] lately. Recently reviewed The Pilgrimage and The Alchemist. The Valkyries was a recently given to me by a friend who said it helped her through a messy divorce. While I am not going through a divorce, when she mentioned something about leather clad motorcycle lesbians and a desert spiritual ritual, I started right in.

Unfortunately for me the Valkyries fell flat. Third best of the three I have read. Skewered on the pitard of too much angel, ritual, “Tradition” talk and not enough context or engaging story narrative. While at times Coelho wants us to believe the story actually happened (mentioning in the epilogue that a letter from a reader verifying the existence of a shrine in the desert is filed with Brazil’s national library as proof of something), I became completely lost and uninterested in his search for his “Angel” and some kind of “Tradition” which remains unexplained. Half allegory and half biography, The Valkyries fails at both. After reading it I don’t know what the characters were looking for, I don’t know what they found and I don’t care. The story confused me and didn’t engage me.

As with all Coelho books, there are glimpses of insight worth underlining. Unfortunately these are few, far between and deeply hidden in The Valkyries. Here are a few of my favorites:

“In order to live in the present, you have to control your second mind. And look at the horizon.”

“Don’t fight your thoughts. They are stronger than you are. If you want to rid yourself of them, accept them. Think about what they want you to think about until they grow tired.” (standard meditation stuff, but well told)

“Let’s suppose that paradise is here. And every person on earth is here in the plaza. Each of them has their own path for arriving here. That’s why people talk to their angels. Because only angels know the best path. It does no good to seek advice about it from others.”

“I’m saying that everything is a ritual. Just as a mass is a great ritual, composed of various parts, the everyday experience of any person is, also. The name of that ritual is ROUTINE. When the ritual becomes consolidated, the person becomes a slave.”

“You need yet another miracle. And you will always need yet another. You will never be satisfied, and you will never understand that the kingdom of heaven cannot be conquered by force.”

“Each would always be fascinated by the other – so long as each remained exactly what the other imagined.” Imagination is better than reality for most people.

After the confusion, I sat back and tried to figure out what my friend gleaned from the book that helped in her divorce. Going back through my notes in the book, I found these notes around the “ritual” Paulo did in the desert cave with one of the Valkyries.

“There was a pact,” valhalla said, “What was it?”
“I promised I would abandon my dreams.” “I promised that I would never grow again. I thought that I could no longer trust myself.”

I have found it to be true that our lives are in large part governed by sacred promises we made to ourselves long ago that we may not be aware of today. Those promises were made to deal with a condition back then, but may not serve us today. Awareness of those pacts and contemplation of their use going forward in our lives is a critical skill I believe everyone should learn and perform about every 5 years. I recently did just that. While this skill and recognition is valuable, it is so far buried here in the story I missed it the first time. This piece is what my friend learned from. I am afraid most people will miss it.

After being completely underwhelmed by the narrative, the Epilogue turned out to be the best part. Coelho says clearly what his story did a terrible job of doing.

“We can share our experiences – as I have tried to share mine in this book but there is no formula for growth. God has generously made His wisdom and His love available to us, and it is easy, very easy, to find them. We, at this moment in history, must develop our own powers. We must believe that the universe doesn’t end at the wall of our room. We must accept the signs, and follow our hearts and our dreams.”

My recommendation: Skip the book, read the Epilogue and you will understand everything.

View all my reviews

Try This: Morning Pages 

Have-Good-Handwriting-Step-14

Morning Pages is a tool promoted by Julie Cameron in her Artist Way book as a daily practice for anyone interested in creativity, not just writers.  This guy also describes the practice very well.  Basically first thing in the morning, right after waking up, before you get going with the day, while you are still in that in-between mind state, write for 15 minutes in stream of consciousness style.  Just whatever comes out.  Cameron recommends using pen and paper in a journal.  I did the hand journal for about a month and a half, then moved the practice over at 750words.com since I can do it on my smart phone in bed and get some interesting analytics (data nerd alert).  I am going back to pen and paper to slow it down again and get away from the distractions inherent in working on a screen.

I have been doing Morning Pages for about three months now.   Concrete results from doing morning pages:
1. I produce 3x the writing as before. Basically I believe doing the 15 minutes of work right in the morning in the alpha brain wave stage sets up a creative foundation for the day. I find later when I sit down to write a blog post or something else it comes easier and more clear. Even if the topics are completely different.

2. Greater understanding of the dream world in relation to the real world. Since mp are done in that waking up phase while your dreams are still somewhat present, I have noticed that more of my dreams are making it onto the pages. That brings their content into the conscious. Without mp the dreams were forgotten. There was no mechanism to connect the two worlds. There is a lot of understanding going on in the dream world. Good to get it up to the surface.

3. I have built confidence overall. Basically it is about 15 minute job each day. I can find 15 minutes. If I can find 15 minutes for mp i can find 15 minutes for something else.

4.  More creativity in general. Even if you are not a writer, or trying to write, mp is a creative exercise.  Often times, solutions to issues reveal themselves in morning pages spontaneously.  A motorcycle maintenance solution popped in the other day.  As did a stream of good names for a new web site.  And a landscaping solution.  Creative solutions in diverse areas of my life, nothing to do with writing.

5. More clarity to the day:  Doing a brain dump first thing in the morning is kind of like a clean sweep.  You can get all the monkey mind thoughts and inner critic out on the page and start new.

Other Observations:

Long Hand VS on a device:  I did both.  Started out long hand, three pages in a note book.  It was hard to use my hands that way after such a long time on the keyboard.  It felt very slow and I had the desire to want to use some of the writing later, or do analytics on it.  So after awhile I moved the practice to 750Words.com.  Very good interface, good device support, challenges to keep you on task, merit badges, and some interesting analytics.  While I gained the ability to write on more devices, to share the work, and the analytics my nerd desired, I lost some of the soul of the exercise.  Writing long hand is slower and that is good.  You have to actually slow down your brain to your hand speed. You also don’t have a web browser or other apps there to quickly engage with in diversions that come up during the writing. When I write long hand with the phone and computer off, I begin and end the exercise without distractions 99% of the time within 20 minutes.  750words has a handy analytic of start, stop times and words written over time.  Using 750words I have completed the words in less than 20 minutes less than 40 percent of the time.    Due to the ease of indulging distractions on a device, my productivity goes way down.

What to write about.  Some people structure their writing.  Two pages on this, one on that, etc.  I have done it with and without structure. What I find is that without structure many times the stream can get stuck and I end up filling up space with mumbo jumbo words.  That is especially true on 750words where the word count at the bottom of the screen is menacing you the whole time.  If you are sitting there staring at the page, just start writing about staring at the page.  And why the exercise is so hard.  Then write your to-do list.  If you run out of inner critic stuff, or lingering to-do items, start writing about what you are going to do today,.  Meetings, people, events, etc.  If I get stalled (rarely), I just ask “Today would be so awesome if….” and start again.  Never fails.

There are many twists on how to do Morning Pages.  Here is exactly how I do it.

I get up (without an alarm so it is a natural time to awake), take a cold shower, dress, make a cup of coffee, then sit down at a desk to write morning pages.  I write morning pages at a desk because writing by hand in my lap gets uncomfortable after 10 minutes.  I write before meditating as I have found the clearing out of MP helps deepen the meditation.  I write the pages longhand (not on computer anymore see above) in a notebook that I put aside and never open again.  I try to make my only distraction picking up the coffee cup or stretching my fingers.

RECOMMENDATION:  Do every day for 30 days.  Contemplate the effect on your life.  Continue if positive.  Overall, Morning Pages has earned a place in my morning routine due to the clear benefits I have noticed in my life.  It is the second best ROI on 20 minutes I have during the day (#1 being meditation).

SCIENCE:  Normally on Try This exercises, I reference any science I can find behind the exercise.  I can’t find any scientific studies on MP.  But there are hundreds of positive reviews and testimonials on-line.  While I have a proclivity for evidence based solutions, when the evidence is my own experience, I honor that.

Review: The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Much ink has been spilt over Coelho and The Alchemist. Here is some more (e-ink).

Having heard Coelho recently with Krista Tippett ON Being, I was motivated to re-read The Alchemist. The first time I read it was shortly after everyone else read it. Just after Bill Clinton was photographed with the book. That is the first and last time I ever took a cue from Bill Clinton. I wonder if he gave it to Hillary? She should probably read it now. And Bill should re-read it. But I digress.

After a 23 year hiatus, the re-read fell a bit short. My first read was in my late 20’s in Italy as a single guy working for Microsoft. I was searching for something and hungry for guideposts. The Alchemist spoke to me on many levels. At that time, it did help me move in the right direction. Re-reading it today at 52 with three children, an ex wife and multiple careers behind me the context was a bit off. When I read the story around the same time as “the boy” it was motivating and engaging. Today it seems a bit naive and idealistic.

Yet I still rate it 5 stars. Not every book has to connect with me the same way every time. This is truly one of the top ten books anyone under 30 must read. In a weird way I might also put it on the list for those over 50 who are looking for an “act three” in life to also read. For at the core it is a story about moving on, about taking a risk, about having faith, about re-discovering what you know but lost. Despite setbacks it is never too late to regain faith. Go ahead, you won’t be disappointed.

View all my reviews

Review: The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho

The PilgrimageThe Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

 

A couple weeks ago I had a long car trip so I caught up on pod casts. One of the backlog was the Paulo Coelho interview with Krista Tippett for On Being. I read The Alchemist years ago and rehearing the story and Coelho’ deep spirituality I decided to read some of his other books. I had also been considering walking the Camino de Santiago and wanted to read more about The Way.

Unfortunately, I was thoroughly disappointed in The Pilgrimage. Ok, it was his first book, written very late in life. But there is nothing special about the book. No great insights, no great narrative, lots of weird magical plot lines without much context. It is unclear how much of the story is supposed to be allegory (as he perfected in The Alchemist) and how much is memoir. I found the story unengaging and plodding. I only finished it to write this review, not because the story was enjoyable or interesting. If you are you read The Alchemist and are looking for more of the same, go forward in his works, not back to The Pilgrimage. Give the Pilgrimage a pass.

There are a few tidbits of appealing philosophy tucked into the book, but they are surrounded by ramblings and magical sword searching so as to be almost unrecognizable. For example,

” Changing the way you do routine things allows a new person to grow inside you.”

“We kill our dreams because we are afraid to fight the good fight.”

“The first symptom in the process of killing our dreams is the lack of time. The second symptom of the death of our dreams lies in our certainties. …the third symptom of the passing of our dreams is peace.”

“All of us seek eros, and then when eros wants to turn itself into philos, we think that love is worthless. We don’t see that it is philos that leads us to the highest form of love, agape.”

I also found the exercises Petrus gives Paulo during the trip to be useful. I have tried them all. While not as spiritually transformative as daily meditation, they are interesting diversions. Try them.

Try This: 10 minutes of REAL conversation

This exercise is a combination of active listening and free flow creativity that has popped up in a couple of quite diverse events recently, including the Search Inside Yourself newsletter, a mediation retreat and a Catholic mens group.  Every time I do this exercise I learn something new and grow the relationship with the other person.

Grab a friend, lover, acquaintance, or even a random stranger (I did this once at a coffee shop and it was an AMAZING thing), and take 10 minutes to do the following:

Be in a place where you can hear each other clearly and there will not be interruptions and you will not be self-conscious.  Flip a coin to see who starts.  Set a timer for three minutes.  Each person 3 minutes to talk, while the other listens mindfully without comment.  The initial talking should be done stream of consciousness style – without editing or overthinking.  Talk about anything, the weather, what you are doing in the day, how stupid the exercise is, the silly looking person across the room, whatever, the key is to just keep talking non-stop for 3 minutes.  As you speak, simply notice what emotions arise, what you say and how you say it.  The key is to listen mindfully without interrupting and to share without self-critique or editing.  After both have spoken, spend the last 3 minutes in normal conversation together debriefing and reflecting on the exercise.

When I have done this, it is amazing how long talking for three minutes feels like.  It is also interesting to note all the feelings that come up while trying to fill 3 minutes.  When listening, I find myself striving to jump in and encourage someone having a hard time filling the time, or wanting to comment on something. It takes focused effort to allow the speaker to speak.  When speaking and having someone paying full attention for 3 minutes, it is an amazing gift.  Likely those 3 minutes are the most time during that day that you will be consciously aware you have another beings FULL AND UNDIVIDED ATTENTION.  That is an amazing blessing and reminds me to give that level of attention to others more often.

 

DGC Glossary: Gainfully Unemployed

Gainful unemployment has gotten a bad rap as basically lazy freeloaders leaching off society who can’t risk losing benefits by getting a real job.

I am trying to rehabilitate gainful unemployment.  Or take “gainful employment” down a notch.  Often “gainful employment” involves slavish dedication to someone else’s goals in exchange for money that maybe some day you can make enough of to finally pursue your own path.  Employment implies working for “The Man”.  Usually all the money gets consumed maintaining the support systems around earning the money and the hamster wheel spins ever faster.  Regardless of income level.  Stepping off or being kicked off the hamster wheel often elicits a truly Orwellian desire to get back on.  Western society teaches us that “gainful employment” fundamental to everything it means to be alive.  I have a problem with that thesis.

What if unemployment was simply not working for The Man.  What if rather than demonizing the unemployed as lazy freeloaders, we encouraged them to take the time to examine their path and find work that more authentically fit their true selves?  Recently I have been running into more people who are getting it right.  After reading The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami, about the revered path of a wandering mendicant in India, I was struck by the stark contrast in how the unemployed are treated.  In India or Tibet, a buy on the street begging might just be an enlightened guru.  In America that thought wouldn’t even cross anyone’s mind.  The Puritan’s sure did a number on us our collective consciousness when they implanted “hard work” = “good person”, “no work” = “sinner, devil” into our collective consciousness.  What if more people took time pause and consider their path? What if we encouraged it?  Contemplation of your path is the “gainful” part.  If more people were living in alignment with their strengths and authentic selves, wouldn’t we all be better off?  Sometimes that takes a couple tries, and a couple pivots and pauses.

For the last three years I have considered myself “gainfully unemployed”.  I have not had a boss, nor have I been the boss of anyone.  While not on a 9-5 schedule, I have pursued many projects and activities to help myself and others.  I have spent quite a bit of time contemplating the path, the goals, the type and form of goals, exploring various diversions, and connecting with many people and places.  I have invested time and money into many projects across the spectrum.  This blog is part of this contemplation path.  While I don’ t know what the exact destination is, there is alot of activity.  Sometimes it is better to journey than to arrive.

So “gainfully unemployed” is actively taking time to contemplate and explore the path in life on your own terms.  Something I highly recommend for at least a year for everyone who can.

Glossary: Non-energetic joy

The kind of joy that exists without a proximate cause.  Joy experienced just by being in the world without anything specific happening.  Often achieved during meditation.  Like the sun that is always shining above the clouds, this kind of joy is always there to be accessed.  A benefit of meditation is recognizing that this kind of thing exists and can be tapped into at any time.  This is the only kind of sustainable joy.  Happiness over the long term is only possible through this kind of joy.

This is my own wording of non-energetic joy as described in Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within by the Jolly good fellow from Google.  The original Pali word is Sukha which the most Buddhists translate somewhat differently.  And should never by confused with Suka, the Slavic insult that means “shut up bitch”.

Some quotes from Tan re: the two kinds of joy:  “Our lack of joy is certainly not for lack of ways to gratify our egos and senses.  However, the joy that comes from these sources is inherently problematic since it depends on external factors out of our control.”  “By contrast, joy that comes from within – from a peaceful mind as a result of taking a few breaths, joy from being kind toward others (which involves other people but does not depend on them), joy from our own generosity, joy from doing the right thing – all this joy is ours to have, independent of circumstances.”  Yea I want more of that one please.

The opposite is energetic joy which in Pali is Piti.  Joy that requires a cause.  Like someone saying they love you. Or receiving an award. Or buying something you have wanted for a long time.  In my experience you can’t string together a happiness with alot of instances of Piti.  Although I have certainly tried mightily.

I find both these concepts very useful.  You can’t really find joy or happiness without understand the different forms.  The effortless forms, the forms that are achieved by letting go and waking up are the sustainable, always available forms.  All others are short lived and dead ends.

Try this: Trade your expectations for appreciation.

Want a formula for instant wealth?

Trade your expectations for appreciation.

Your entire life will change in that instant.  In my experience, lack of appreciation is the only thing that will make you truly poor.  I personally define “wealth” as “having enough.”  When you have enough of anything, you are wealthy in that thing.  Only you can decide when you have “enough.”  Unfortunately many of us let others (society, family, friends, work) decide what “enough” is.

I know what you are thinking.  Webster defines “wealth” as “a large amount of money and possessions.”  Yes, but further on it says “abundant supply”.  Now that leaves room for judgement of what “abundant” is as well as supply of what?  When your life has an abundant supply of expectations, goals, precursors to fulfillment, it is VERY hard to feel wealthy.  You never admit to yourself that you have “enough.”

Appreciation on the other hand works exactly the opposite way.  When you have an “abundant supply” of appreciation, it is VERY hard to NOT feel wealthy.  You see the value in everything you have and do not pine after more.  You have “enough.”

So try it for a day.  Whenever you find yourself feeling the pull of expectations, stop and replace it with appreciation.  For example, you see a guy in a Ferrari and the expectation that you want one too grabs your brain.  Stop, look around your own car.  Is it better than the car you had 10 years ago?  Appreciate it.  Thank the car you have for being there for you.  Bam!  You are wealthy.

You cannot change the world, but you can change how you react to it.

Try This: Your Character Strengths Revealed!