Saturday, November 30, 2013

To Hunger for Revenge

The Count of Monte Cristo, my favorite movie. :)
A friend of mine (who is also a counselor) once told me that "humans, crave revenge. To us, it's almost a sensual, pleasurable thing. A movie or a book is not satisfying to us unless the villain 'gets what he deserves.'"

I've pondered what he said for a while now. I believe it's true. Some of the coolest movies are the movies in which the villain receives the most poetic/dramatic death (right now, I'm picturing the final fight from the movie Gladiator—that guy had it coming!).

Without question or dispute, my favorite movie is The Count of Monte Cristo (I'm sorry, but the movie sooo much better than the book. Believe me, I read the UNABRIDGED version. I know what I'm talking about!!).

I was watching the movie today as I finished remodeling our living room. In it, Edmund Dantes spends almost sixteen years plotting revenge against the people that betrayed him.

As his hunger for revenge ravenously consumes him, he loses his sense of the sweetness of life and nearly loses the woman he loves.

To hunger for revenge revenge is to be filled with poison. When we hate another human being we personify the very things we say we hate in others. On top of that, the cycle of revenge will never end until someone forgives. Truly, the philosophy of "an eye for an eye" really does make the whole world blind.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoy this quote from James Allen: "Whatever others may say of you, whatever they may do to you, do not return hatred with hatred. Hatred is so small and poor, so blind and wretched. Love is so great and rich, so far-seeing and blissful."

Friday, November 29, 2013

Transforming Depression Into a Blessing

In his book, The Road Less Travelled, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck explained how even our heaviest burdens (including mental illness) can become our greatest blessings. All we need to do is accept our condition and undertake the necessary steps to heal ourselves.
… these painful, and unwanted symptoms of mental illness, are manifestations of grace, the products of a ‘powerful force originating outside of consciousness which nurtures our spiritual growth.’ As is common with grace, most reject this gift and do not heed the message. They do this in a variety of ways, all of which represent an attempt to avoid the responsibility for their illness. Usually, in many subtle ways, they will blame the world outside them – uncaring relatives, false friends, greedy corporations, a sick society, and even fate – for their condition. Only those few, who accept responsibility for their symptoms, heed the message of their unconscious and accept its grace. 
The relationship between grace and mental illness is beautifully embodied in the great Greek myth of Orestes and the Furies. Orestes was the grandson of Atreus, a man who had viciously attempted to prove himself more powerful than the gods. Because of his crime against them, the gods punished Atreus by placing a curse upon all his descendants. As part of the enactment of this curse upon the House of Atreus, Orestes’ mother, Clytemnestra, murdered his father and her husband, Agamemnon. This crime in turn brought down the curse upon Orestes’ head, because by the Greek code of honour, the son was obliged above all else, to slay his father’s murderer. Yet the greatest sin a Greek could commit was the sin of matricide. Orestes agonised over his dilemma. Finally, he did what he seemingly had to do and killed his mother. For this sin, the gods then punished Orestes by visiting upon him the Furies, three ghastly harpies who could be seen and heard only by him and who tormented him night and day with their cackling criticism and frightening appearance. 
Pursued wherever he went by the Furies, Orestes wandered about the land seeking to atone for his crime. After many years of lonely reflection and self-abrogation, Orestes requested the gods to relieve him of the curse on the House of Atreus, stating his belief that he had succeeded in atoning for the murder of his mother. The gods held a trial. Speaking in Orestes’ defence, Apollo argued that he had engineered the whole situation that had placed Orestes in the position in which he had no choice but to kill his mother, and therefore Orestes really could not be held responsible. At this point Orestes jumped up and contradicted his own defender, stating, “It was I, not Apollo, that murdered my mother!” The gods were amazed. Never before had a member of the House of Atreus assumed such total responsibility for himself and not blamed the gods. Eventually, the gods decided the trial in Orestes’ favour, and transformed the Furies into the Euminides, loving spirits who through their wise counsel enabled Orestes to obtain continuing good fortune. 
The meaning of this myth is not obscure. The Euminides are also referred to as ‘the bearers of grace’. The hallucinatory Furies represent the private hell of mental illness. However, Orestes did not blame his family, nor the gods or fate, as he well might have. Instead, he accepted his condition as one of his own making and undertook the effort to heal it, and through this healing process of his own effort, the very things that had caused him agony became the things that brought him wisdom.
As someone who struggles with depression, I am keenly aware of how difficult it has been to "accept [my] condition as one of [my] own making" and undertake the effort of healing.

But I can also attest to a marvelous, inexplicable source of power that has come to me as a result of accepting full responsibility for my condition. The day I stopped running away from pain and blaming other things for my problems is the same day I was given strength to face my demons.

In consonance with these sentiments, I want to share one of my favorite quotes by Robert Louis Stevenson: "You cannot run away from a weakness; you must some time fight it out or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?"

Thursday, November 28, 2013

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation

George Washington
The followingThanksgiving proclamation was made by President George Washington on Oct. 3, 1789. What are your thoughts about it? Are we keeping or missing the true intent of Thanksgiving?

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and

Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness":

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, AD 1789, —George Washington

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What If God Was One of Us?

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about a short story by Leo Tolstoy. It's called "Where Love is, There God is Also." It's one of my favorites. I'd summarize it for you, but perhaps it would be better if I just let you watch it?

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What Causes Depression?

As someone who suffers from depression, I was intrigued by M. Scott Peck's description of depression in The Road Less Traveled. According to him, depression is sometimes what we experience as we are giving up our "old self."
“Since mentally healthy human beings must grow, and since giving up or loss of the old self is an integral part of the process of mental and spiritual growth, depression is a normal and basically healthy phenomenon. It becomes abnormal or unhealthy only when something interferes with the giving-up process, with the result that the depression is prolonged and cannot be resolved by completion of the process.” (Wisdom from The Road Less Traveled, 2001).
I just read that today, but I can see where it makes sense. Part of growing up means letting go of the old and accepting the new. The times when I have been the most depressed have been the times when I have tried to hold on to the past—but the past cannot be held. As a result of my inability to recapture what is lost, I become depressed.

Fascinating, fascinating thought.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What Is Love, Love?

Baby don't hurt me. Don't hurt me. No more.

A good friend of mine recently recommended that I read "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. So I started listening to it today while at work (my job facilitates my addiction to audiobooks). I gotta admit, it's a pretty amazing book.

While I could certainly talk about a number of things he mentions, I really enjoyed some of his comments on love. Here are a few of my favorite quotations:
“Love is the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth... Love is as love does. Love is an act of will -- namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” 
“Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truely loves does so because of a decision to love. This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present. ...Conversely, it is not only possible but necessary for a loving person to avoid acting on feelings of love.” 
“Love is the free exercise of choice. Two people love each other only when they are quite capable of living without each other but choose to live with each other.”

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Simple Way to Influence Others (Without Controlling Them)

The Wind and The Sun
Today, I heard this wonderful little tale from Aesop's Fables. It's a short story that teaches a profound principle.
THE NORTH WIND and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes.  The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do.  The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth.  The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.  
The moral of the story? Persuasion is better than force.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Overwhelmed by Mercy in The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoyevsky—the original hipster.
Today, after two years of starting and stopping, I finally finished what has to be the most dreadfully boring, insanity-inducing, mind-numbingly painful audio recording of The Brothers Karamazov—ever created.

Having a deep appreciation for all things Dostoevsky, I purchased this Satan-inspired recording, hoping to finally read and understand this classic.

Shortly after I started listening to it, I realized that I had made a horrible, unalterable mistake. Had this unabridged audio recording persisted for another hour, I am certain that I would have skewered my eardrums with a nail. Alas, compared to the narrator's voice, a nail would have been a sweet mercy.

Be that as it may, I did manage to glean a few good things from Dostoyevsky's Magnum Opus. One of my favorite parts comes from Fetyukovich, Dmitri's lawyer.

In defense of the accused Dmitri, Fetyukovich asks the jury to acquit Dmitri, even if they think he's guilty. His reasoning made me think about how we are all, in a sense, guilty and accused. In one way or another, we are all in desperate need of mercy and love. Imagine yourself in Dmitri's position, as someone who is being judged by others. Imagine if those people responded like this:
"There are souls that in their narrowness blame the whole world. But overwhelm such a soul with mercy, give it love, and it will curse what it has done, for there are so many germs of good in it. The soul will expand and behold how merciful God is, and how beautiful and just people are. He will be horrified, he will be overwhelmed with repentance and the countless debt he must henceforth repay."
That quote made me feel a little more forgiving towards my sadistic narrator.

...just a little, mind you.

The Brothers Karamazov
Book XII - A Judicial Error, Chapter 13 - An Adulterer of Thought.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Charles Dickens and The Power of Encouragement

Charles Dickens
I've always been impressed by the power of encouragement—by using our words to inspire someone to believe in themselves.

About a year ago, while driving from San Francisco to Utah, I finished listening to How to Win Friends and Influence People. In that book, Dale Carnegie shares this touching story:
"In the early nineteenth century, a young man in London aspired to be a writer. But everything seemed to be against him. He had never been able to attend school more than four years. His father had been flung in jail because he couldn't pay his debts, and this young man often knew the pangs of hunger. Finally, he got a job pasting labels on bottles of blacking in a rat-infested warehouse, and he slept at night in a dismal attic room with two other boys - guttersnipes from the slums of London. He had so little confidence in his ability to write that he sneaked out and mailed his first manuscript in the dead of night so nobody would laugh at him. Story after story was refused. Finally the great day came when one was accepted. True, he wasn't paid a shilling for it, but one editor had praised him. One editor had given him recognition. He was so thrilled that he wandered aimlessly around the streets with tears rolling down his cheeks. 
"The praise, the recognition, that he received through getting one story in print, changed his whole life, for if it hadn't been for that encouragement, he might have spent his entire life working in rat-infested factories. You may have heard of that boy. His name was Charles Dickens."  
Think of how many millions of people have been inspired by Charles Dickens....but also think about the one person who inspired Charles Dickens.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Beautiful Love Quote by Charles Dickens

A painting of my wife, created by Howard Lyon www.HowardLyon.com
My favorite quote on love comes from Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. I shared it with my wife shortly before we were married.
"You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read...You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since - on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made, are not more real, or more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Welcome to The Alaskan Muse!

Hello! Hello! And welcome to The Alaskan Muse (moose, muse, get it?): a blog of my literal, literary adventures. Oh, don't give me that face! C'mon, it'll be fun!

Here I will be posting daily selections from literary classics coupled with my insights (because you can totally put those two side-by-side, right?).

So check back every day, I promise it'll be epic. See, here's an epic picture of me standing in Alaska and staring off into the distance. What more epic proof could you ask for?

Epic Alaska!