25 January 2016

Some Words on Words by Norman Cousins

Whatever success The Saturday Review may have had was directly connected to its respect for the place of ideas and the arts in the life of the mind.  This emphasis takes on special significance in the light of the sleaziness that has infected the national culture in recent years.  There seems to be a fierce competition, especially in entertainment and publishing, to find ever-lower rungs on the ladder of taste. . . .

There is the curious notion that freedom is somehow synonymous with gutter jargon.  At one time people who worked in the arts would boast to one another about their ability to communicate ideas that attacked social injustice and brutality.  Now some of them seem to feel that they have struck a blow for humanity if only they can use enough four-letter words.

The debasement of language not only reflects but produces a retreat from civility.  The slightest disagreement has become an occasion for violent reactions.  Television has educated an entire generation of Americans to believe that the normal way of reacting to a slight is by punching someone in the face.

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Norman Cousins was a long-time editor of The Saturday Review.  These words probably were written in the 1980's.


18 January 2016

Busy for a Time

One of the interesting things that I've had to get used to in my life is the fact that I have extremely busy times now and then, interspersed with times that aren't really all that busy at all, when I have plenty of time to work on projects and to do fun and different things.  What I've had to learn is to take these busy times for what they are and roll with them, and not try to do all the things that I'd normally do while I'm busy.

This blog is a good example.  It has been "neglected" lately, for I've been extremely busy for the last six weeks or so.  First came the end of the semester in December, which meant lots of grading and such, and then came the winter break, when I was working on finishing a book that I'd been working on for years.  I have three book projects in the works, and I know that I have to set aside time to work on something exclusively if I want to actually finish it.  So during Christmas break, that was my goal--finish the book--and other things that I work on were put aside for a while.  Now that the new semester is starting, I'm busy once more preparing for two classes that I've never taught before, so other things are still put aside.

It's been a good lesson for me because it's helped me to learn a couple of important lessons.  First of all, taking time off from something doesn't ruin it and doesn't mean that it's not important to me. Sometimes we think that we can't put anything to the side or we'll lose it or ruin it--and that's definitely not the case. We can pick things up again later and we can leave them for good--life is about change and cycles, and we don't always have to do the same things.

Secondly, taking time off from something can be refreshing and rejuvenating, and we can find great inspiration in coming back to something that we love doing. That time off can be the best thing in the world for a project, for when we come back to it after doing something else, we often find that we see things differently now, and we're able to find new solutions and new methods of achieving our goals in the projects.

While I'm away from something like this blog, I feel a bit of guilt even, but being away from it helps me to realize that I shouldn't feel guilty because I know that I will get back to it, and that it will go on fine when I do return. Taking a break is not abandonment, and it's very important that we learn that distinction, both for ourselves and for other people we know so that we don't accuse them of abandoning something that they're simply taking a break from.

If something has got you tied up and stressed, perhaps it's time to look at the other things in your life to figure out just what you can take a break from so that you can free up time for whatever it is that has you busy. If it's your highest priority then you have to do it, of course--but you don't have to continue to do everything else that you've been doing. There's a reason why so many spiritual teachings value discernment in our lives: it helps us to keep a balance that helps us to maintain peace in our lives. Make your choices, and accept them for what they are, and work whole-heartedly on what you're doing so that you can do it as well as you can. You can always return!

08 January 2016

New Starts

We're already in our eighth day of this new year, so it may seem a bit late to talk about new starts, but I have to say that I'm not a big fan of using January 1 as a sort of excuse for starting something new or making important changes in our lives.  New Year's Day is a fascinating day that makes us think of new beginnings, but in my mind, so is every morning that dawns.

Each morning, we move from darkness to light, from night to day.  Of course, some days don't get all that light when there are storms to weather, and people far to the north and south don't see the exact same cycles that we see, but the principle is the same--each day begins something new.  It's not just the clock as the hands move past midnight, and it's not just the name of another day on the calendar. Every day that we live holds the potential for change in our lives, for new beginnings or even restarting something that we've started before and then put aside (or let fall to the side).

If I want to start something new today, I just need to start it.  I'll be much more able to do so if I sit down first and figure out just what comes first--many a great project has led nowhere because someone started somewhere that was impossible to accomplish without some other work having been done before. If I'm going to shovel snow, for example, I'd better dress appropriately before I ever pick up a shovel--if I dress too warmly or not warmly enough, there's a good chance that I'll abandon the job before it's done, or hurry through it and not do it well because I'm either too cold or sweating too much.

If I take the time to figure out the steps necessary to finish a job, then my new start today doesn't have to be completely overwhelming. If I want to write a novel, then my new start can be simply writing one page--and by the end of the year I'll have over 300 pages done.  Or it can be to write for an hour, as many pages as come out.  If I start out to write a page, I have a great chance of succeeding.  If I start out to write a novel, I have a great chance of being overwhelmed.

Do I want to lose some weight?  Then I need to make a series of decisions today that will help me to reach my goals down the road. No, I don't need that chocolate right now--too many calories. Yes, I will walk to work instead of driving, for it will burn off some extra calories.

I may not be able to clean the whole house today, but I can start with this half of the living room, and then finish the rest of the living room tomorrow, and then the spare room the day after.

New starts are just that--starts. Somehow we manage to convince ourselves that starts aren't enough, and we tell ourselves that we need to do something as quickly as possible, or we neglect to plan out the steps we need to take. Today is a new start for you--so what kind of new things will you bring to this day? The sun comes up just for you today, so take the hope and love that it sends you in the form of the light that keeps us alive and use it to start something that you'll absolutely love doing! Make sure you start with a plan, and then move on to the doing.