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Embracing Complexity

Trying to Stay Centered in a Complicated World

Updated: 2018-03-06T04:50:42.184-05:00


A Spiritual Approach to Difficult Times


Realizing that I have not written in this blog for years, I have recently considered closing it completely, but today I suddenly realized it is exactly the space I need now to work out my spiritual response to these difficult times.  And perhaps my ruminations will be helpful to others.In what sense do I find these times difficult?  I know that I am not alone in my concerns.  I worry about global climate change.  I worry about growing economic inequality and the injustice and unrest it brings.  I worry about all of the wars, terrorism, and violence in our world.  I worry about what is happening politically in the U.S., and how political strife has also created deep social divisions.  Like many, I was shocked both by the Brexit vote, and the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, and wonder what all of this will mean for our global future.I cannot write about all of this at once, but here is a starting point: today I read this Quaker blogger's struggle with finding that of God in Donald Trump.  I read it sympathetically, understanding the struggle.  I too have wondered what it means to search for and try to respond to that of God in him.The early Quakers realized that not everyone lives true to that of God within them.  They fully faced the dark side of human nature and believed a spiritual transformation was required before people could begin to live true to that of God within them.  But they also audaciously believed that humans could reach a kind of perfection.  Most Quakers I know today are quick to regard such views as old-fashioned.  If they don't already know this history, they are somewhat shocked at these views.  If they do know this history, they are quick to "apologize" for these views and note how most Quakers do not think this way any more.Here I can admit I kind of like the early Quaker view of human nature.  If you reject those views, then you start with a more optimistic view of human nature than the early Quakers had, probably a post-Enlightenment philosophy view.  And yet you hesitate to believe that humans could possibly reach any kind of perfection -- this just seems way too arrogant and hence dangerous.  So you are left with a lukewarm theory of human nature:  humans are not that bad, but also cannot get much better, really.For some reason, I like that the early Quakers saw clearly how awful humans can be and took that seriously.  While most people quote the "walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone" passage from Fox's letters (as does the author of the blog post linked above), in another letter Fox actually says, "and be a terror and a dread, answering that of God in everyone" (emphasis added; I'll try to find which letter that was).  When people are not themselves living true to that of God within them, answering that of God within them might not look pretty.  It might be a challenging and even terrifying experience for everyone concerned!  Fox was of course not advocating violence -- he was acknowledging that spiritual power can be terrifying in certain manifestations, especially when someone is living against God but someone else confronts them on this.And I also like that the early Quakers believed that humans could reach a certain perfection, because I think it is a very worthwhile question to consider how a perfect person might respond to various life challenges.  Maybe Jesus Christ was the only perfect human; maybe this kind of perfection was only possible in him and will not be possible in anyone else -- but even if so, the ideal of divinity expressing itself perfectly through human form is instructive and inspiring to us if we take it seriously and strive as best as we can to manifest perfect divine love through our own lives. All of this now gives rise to this question:  how would Jesus respond to Trump?I cannot answer that version of the question.But how might a spiritually perfected person respond to him?  How might it be possible [...]

Simplicity in a Complex World


Our lives are complex, and some of that complexity is not something we can change -- it is built in to the complex way we have collectively organized society.  And we actually value some of the complexity in our lives: having lots of friends and relatives, lots of interests, and even lots of responsibilities can enrich our lives.  

But if we get so overly busy and burdened by all that we have to do, and begin to lose touch with God, then it may be time to reflect anew on simplicity.  

One day in Meeting for Worship, a definition for simplicity emerged for me:  if all that you are doing in life is connected by an underlying unity that is grounded in God's love, then you have found true simplicity, no matter how complex your life may appear.  

This understanding of simplicity has become a touchstone for me.  When something new asks to be let in to my life, I consider whether I can draw a clear straight line between this new opportunity and that underlying unity that defines my vocation.  If the answer is "yes," then I can say "yes" to this opportunity if I feel so led.  But if the only way I can connect the new opportunity to that underlying unity is through a complex bending line that connects first with other responsibilities (especially those responsibilities that tend to weigh down my spirit) before only eventually reaching the underlying unity, then I can, and perhaps even must, let it go.

I'm Back - I Think!


Wow, it has been a long time since I've written here!  I'm sorry!  Sometimes the patterns of life just change.

But I have missed writing here, and lately have been thinking I need to resume.

I had a very good sabbatical last year.  Coming back to full-time teaching has, of course, been busy, but not as traumatic as I had feared.  I do love teaching.  But I continue to wish that I had more time for writing.  I am better now at keeping the writing going even during the academic year.

I continue to be undepressed.  In fact, I'm back to being downright happy.

At the same time, I remain gravely concerned about the state of the world, and I am always wondering what I can do that might make a positive difference.

I continue to play music, cycling among my various flutes, focusing on one more than the others when a particular performance draws near.  In addition, I have been doing shape note singing as well.

I got a stress fracture this winter, and that slowed down my exercising, but, thankfully, it seems to have healed just in time for the return of spring!  Well, maybe spring.  There is snow in today's forecast!

I have ideas for more substantial postings, but I did want to start first with these brief updates.

Work and Power


As my sabbatical draws to a close, and I face the highly complex busyness of a new school year, I think about the relationship between work and power.  Already requests for my time and attention are starting to roll in.  I remind myself that this means I have power.

Remembering from my days of studying physics that these terms have precise scientific meanings within physics, I thought I would look them up again.

In physics, "energy" is the ability to do "work."  And "work" itself is the amount of energy transferred by a "force" acting through a distance.  (And "force," you will recall, is "mass" times "acceleration.")  "Power" is "work" divided by time. 

So, the more work you can do in a given time, the more power you wield?

We are taught to believe that people love and crave power, and that having lots of power is good.

But its goodness really depends on what you do with it.

If you do not have enough power to get your needs met, you are clearly at a severe disadvantage.  I do not begrudge those who crave power because they are not able to get their needs met.  They have good reason to desire power.

Nor do I begrudge those who use their power for good.

Why do I wince at the power, so to speak, that is thrust upon me by all of the demands on my time and attention?  Should I not be pleased to be so valued and entrusted?

To some extent I am, and I take my responsibility here seriously, and try to put my efforts to good use.  I think the problem here is that the things I am asked to do do not always line up with what I most want to do.  Too much power in one respect can mask crucial disempowerment in other aspects of one's life.  That, I think, is my problem.  

My work responsibilities have steadily increased over time, without any of the old responsibilities being relieved.  I think this is true for many (most? all?) working people today.

I cannot help but think of the plight of the Israelites living in slavery in Egypt, when they asked Moses to help them.  When Moses approached the Pharaoh to discuss their concerns and unhappiness, the Pharaoh's first response was to order a doubling of their workload -- in the vain hope that they would now be too busy to think about their plight or organize for change.  The Pharaoh was wrong that this would subdue the people. I don't think that what we are seeing in today's world is as conscious or deliberate, but it is troubling just the same.

Unprogrammed Quakerism and Music: Complementary Spiritual Disciplines


My Quaker Meeting is an unprogrammed one, and so there is no music in Meeting for Worship unless someone is moved to sing (which seldom happens in our Meeting).  Interestingly enough, almost all of the members and attenders of our Meeting are actively involved in music, and we enthusiastically attend each others’ concerts.  The music we share as a group happens exactly once per year:  we gather early one First Day before Christmas, with instruments and voices, to sing and play Advent and Christmas music for about an hour before then adjourning for our regular Meeting for Worship.Avid readers of this blog will recall that I myself am serious about music.  I play modern flute, baroque flute, Irish flute, piccolo, recorders, and the occasional crumhorn, and have played with an early music group (medieval, renaissance, and baroque music) and currently play with a community orchestra and participate in two local traditional music regular jam sessions.  I sometimes also join a community concert band, and appear regularly as a soloist for events at the university where I teach.  More recently, I have gotten into Shape Note Singing, and our group also occasionally performs (even though Shape Note Singing groups are not really meant to perform.  The tradition started as singing schools and evolved to become a tradition of participatory community music-making).So, do I wish I were part of a church where music featured regularly in worship?  Surprisingly, no.  Music for me is an important part of my spiritual discipline, and I love that my Quaker friends understand this and can relate to this, loving and performing music themselves.  But I treasure the silence and the occasional brief messages of unprogrammed worship.  I see my musical life and Quaker life as complementary.I am glad that we do not live in the time that Quakers frowned on music, and yet, at the same time, I do understand their reservations.  One has to take great care about one’s relationship to music.  My own musical life is very challenging, and spiritual dangers lurk on all sides.  I am normally a quiet and shy person who prefers to stay in the background, and so performing is highly stressful to me.  So, why do I do it?  Despite my shyness, I love music so much and feel a strong pull to share it.  And, yet, I feel I never quite do it justice.  I long to reach a level where I consistently feel centered while performing, effectively sharing the transcendent beauty of music which I am convinced can give people glimpses of God’s glory.  I have caught fleeting glimpses of this, yes, even in my own performing, but only fleeting glimpses.  I have found more sustained views in attending the performances of truly excellent performers.  But, let me tell you, it is a LOT harder than it looks!  The masters make it look easy, and it does become easy when you are centered and are in the flow, but, first of all, what it takes to attain the level of mastery where that becomes a possibility takes a lot of time, patience, and effort, and, secondly, even that is no guarantee that you can attain that state under pressure of performance.So, my aspirations, as you can see, are quite high -- perhaps even grandiose, and most certainly flirting on the edges of pride (which you may recall is an especially egregious sin!).  And yet, I sincerely ask, what is the point of aspiring to any less?  Music at its best is holy and sacred.  If your primary motivation is something other than honoring that potential, you miss the whole point, and, worse, risk defiling something that is supposed to be sacred.  So, you have to aspire to showing a glimpse of God.  You have to long for that most of all.But we are mere humans, mere mortals.  Do we have any real hope of ever being able to fully get out of the way enough to let God’s love fully shin[...]

Why Health Care Should Not be the Responsibility of Employers


Today, the public radio program “On Point” featured a discussion about an emerging trend:  employers starting to penalize employees who do not take better care of their health.  Some employers are requiring employees to fill out detailed questionnaires about their health and lifestyles, and employees who do not do so are charged fines.  Others also require employees to commit to behavior changes to enhance their health, or else they suffer penalties as well. 

First, the disclaimers:  it is not that the employer sees the private information about employees’ health -- that information is protected and private.  And, apparently employers are fully within their rights to require such things and charge penalties if they are not fulfilled.  And, finally, not all employers are doing this sort of thing (yet).

But here was my thought:  we have a system where our employers work us harder and harder, and now are also entitled to dictate how we spend our personal time and how we share our private health information, and if we refuse to comply, or if our health begins to break down under all of the increasing stress we are under, our employers can fine us!

One person interviewed did point out that the free market does not care about fairness -- it only cares about efficiency.

Here is what efficiency really means:  work your employers as hard as you can.  But, alas, they sometimes break down under the strain of increased demands!  Economic response:  pressure them to take care of themselves so that you can work them even harder, and if they break down, recoup your losses by charging extra fines!

Will it come to the point where people will start to say, “I can no longer afford to work.  The fines I have to pay exceed my income.  It is more economically advantageous for me not to have a job”?

This is one good reason why it is not a good idea to have our employers be responsible for providing health care.  The market does not care about us as people: it only cares about getting the most economic benefit from us for as little cost as possible.

Et tu, Facebook?


Another follow-up to recent postings:  I am getting tired of Facebook.  Now, I can already see you yawning, because lots of people say this and threaten to leave Facebook and then don’t, etc., etc., etc.  But the boring thing that most people say when they discuss this is, “I’m tired of seeing the trivia of others’ lives!  I don’t care what you had for breakfast!”

My reason for getting tired of Facebook is just the opposite.  I don't see enough of people posting authentically about their lives!  I love my friends, and enjoyed, once upon a time, gaining real glimpses into their actual experiences.

But now, two things have happened.  One is that too many people have been hypnotized into chanting that refrain, that they don't want to hear the "boring" details of their friends' lives. And the second is that too many people have thereby gotten the message that that's not what you are supposed to be doing, and thus have been intimidated and no longer will say anything real, original, or authentic.  Instead, most people have become programmed to do little more than share memes.  Instead of writing their own thoughts, people more and more just “share” the other things they see on Facebook.

Now, these memes can be clever, even thought-provoking.  Of course some are controversial and get our blood boiling.  Many are sensational.  Many are charmingly cute.  For a while, I watched my news feed with avid interest, dazzled by it all, wondering who creates these and how they get them going.  I tried to post my own original clever postings and hoped they would at least circulate among my friends, but they never garnered even one "share," and only small handfuls of “likes.”  I had slightly better success if I “shared” already existing memes -- at least people seemed to see these -- a few more people, anyway.

Gradually it has dawned on me that Facebook is not really about us and our friends; it’s not really about our sharing what’s happening in our lives.  It’s a meme replication system.  I’m overstating things a bit:  there is some real and good sharing (just enough that it kept me coming back).  But I’m now noticing that my experience lately is watching more and more of my friends fall into well-worn patterns of opinion that someone else seems to have carved into sharp and cutting oppositional shapes.

So much on Facebook is now quite painful.  Because I have a diverse array of friends representing a wide spread of the political spectrum, I cannot read my news feed without finding that some of my friends have posted mean, angry memes dissing people like me.  And sometimes my so-called friends attack me viciously for things I have said, even though I did not think that what I was saying was offensive, as such -- maybe debatable, maybe naively optimistic, maybe even wrong (I am always open to being proved wrong), but not offensive.  Yet, I am attacked instead of debated.  For a while I tried to engage in ways that I hoped would turn it into respectful dialogue across differences of points of view, seeking common ground, resolution, or the emergence of new patterns of thought that synthesize the best insights from diverse perspectives.  But most of the time, people seem rigidly entrenched in their views and do not engage in genuine dialogue, but instead resort to fallacious reasoning.  It gets frustrating and discouraging.

So I have decided I need a break.  I’m not deactivating my account, but I think I will refrain from looking at Facebook for a week, and just see what effect that has on my life.

Businesses and the Hard Decisions They Have to Make


As a follow-up to my previous post, some may wonder:  well, don’t businesses have to make hard decisions in order to survive and take care of their bottom line?

We’ve all been brainwashed into thinking like that, nowadays.  We have all been manipulated into complicity with that attitude.  The power of that way of thinking is that it is partially true:  businesses do have to make enough money to survive; sometimes doing so requires unfortunate sacrifices.

But, in this world in which the rich are getting amazingly, incomprehensibly rich while the poor are getting poorer, the problem is not that there is not enough money.  We see desperation growing around us, and assume that everyone is struggling more and more, that something has changed, making money increasingly scarce.  But it is not increasingly scarce for everyone.  Yes, something has changed:  money is increasingly scarce for most of us, but not because it has mysteriously disappeared.  It’s still there.  But where?  It is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the very wealthy.  And it does not trickle down.  The mechanisms of our economy have become ones that suck the money up, instead.

I recently read an interesting book about how this change has happened.  The book is Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, by Chrystia Freeland (Penguin Press, 2012).  Very illuminating!

The Demise of Useful Google Products


Happy Spring!There’s been a lot on my mind, lately.  I’ll start with what is most recent: I just learned that Google Reader is shutting down.  This, of course, is not the end of the world.  Lots of people have far more serious problems.  Indeed, I myself have other more serious problems than this!But even this problem is more serious than it initially seems, and that is what I feel like writing about at the moment.  Google’s getting rid of Reader follows their getting rid of many innovative, useful, and promising products they have created, such as Notebook, iGoogle, Desktop, Sidewiki, and even Wave.  I especially valued Notebook.  There are other notebook apps out there, but none were so intuitively user-friendly and elegantly integrated with web research as Google Notebook was.  I also saw tremendous promise in Google Wave, but was frustrated that they restricted the early users and then had the audacity to eliminate it due to “lack of interest”!  Its potential could not be realized without making it easy for lots of users to try it!  They should have integrated it right away with Gmail.  What was brilliant about it was that a “wave” (an e-mail conversation) could function as a jointly edited document.  Anyone who has been frustrated by long e-mail chains where information keeps changing (such as a group planning an event by e-mail) can see the value of Wave:  you can keep editing the Wave to reflect the most up-to-date information (without losing the “history” of the conversation: the history just hides out of the way unless needed for reference).  So you no longer have a long confusing and branching e-mail trail: you have a single dynamic document keeping the most relevant and up-to-date information front and center.But, Notebook, Wave, and soon Reader are no more.One of the articles I read about why this is so noted that times need to change, and what is new and emerging to replace apps like Reader is apparently something so advanced that instead of providing us with what we want to read, it suggests to us what we should want to read!The gist of that article and others I read seems to me to be this:  The web is evolving in a way that cares less about us and our autonomy, and is more about exploiting and controlling us.  The big players are not really interested in providing services that we find useful:  they want to mine our information and use it to manipulate us into seeing what they want us to see, and buying what they want us to buy.  They do it so cleverly (based somewhat on what we are observed to be interested in) that they hope we won’t notice or care -- or, better yet, that we will be pleased and happy to turn over the major decision-making to them, because they do it so well.  The result is that the programs that respect and respond to our autonomy are gradually disappearing, and are being replaced by apps that more and more control what we see.While overtly Google justifies its eliminations of products in terms of numbers of users not being high enough -- or, note the difference here:  growth in new users not being high enough (but there still is growth!) -- I think that language is carefully crafted to suggest that they care about what their users want, but hides the true significance of their decision.  I suspect that it’s not about the number of users at all.  It’s that the use of something like Reader does not fulfill their purposes of exploiting and manipulating us.  When we use Reader, we, well, read!  More specifically, we read what we are interested in reading, and what we have consciously chosen to read.  What is problematic for Google is what we are not doing:  we are not clicking on ads and buying stuff.  So, not only is t[...]

Labor Day


Lately, I have been thinking about how there are two basic ways to make money.  One is by working.  The other is by investing.

Working is the more obvious way to make money.  Not all work makes money, of course.  But we tend to assume that peole who have money get it largely by working for it.

Investment, however, is a strange case:  if you have extra money you do not immediately need, you can invest it, and by investing it, potentially get even more money without having to actually work for it yourself.  Even more amazingly, this extra money you do not have to work for is taxed at a lower rate than the money you actually work for.  This means that if you already have more money than you really need, you can use it -- instead of your working -- to make even more money.  The money is still produced by work, but it is other people's work.  Because you are taxed at a lower rate by not working for it yourself, you can then make more money faster this way than if you just worked for it.

The very wealthy have such huge amounts of money that these amounts are almost inconceivable to the rest of us.  I think money just means something very different to them than to those in the middle and lower classes.  For the middle and lower classes, money is largely about survival and a little about access to meaningful opportunities and experiences.  For the very wealthy, I think it other meanings are at play as well, although I am not sure I know what those are, but I think they have something to do with security, status, influence, and maybe also protecting themselves from having to see what poverty and desperation look like.  And I also have come to think that money that goes to the rich does not trickle back down:  those huge amounts rotate slowly in some upper stratosphere largely inaccessible to the rest of us.  The super-rich pay each other, and largely do not touch the economy of the middle and lower classes, except to draw more money away from them and into their own pockets.  After all, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer -- obviously it is a "sucking up" economy instead of a "trickle down" system.  If "trickle down" economics worked, the disparity between the rich and the poor would not be growing.

A famous wealthy person about a year ago invested $5 billion in the Bank of America.  Suppose you manage to save $50,000 per year (unthinkable for most Americans).  It would take you 100,000 years to save up enough to do the same!  Even if you could save $500,000 per year, it would still take 10,000 years.  Or, if you could save $5 million per year, it would still take 1000 years.  Even Old Testament Biblical figures did not live that long!

So, my question on Labor Day is why we have created a system that allows some people to benefit enormously from other people's labor, while those who actually labor struggle just to survive?

The Value of Loneliness


Before I get to the intended topic of this post, I wanted to share a couple of new observations as the semester starts without me while I am on sabbatical:On the first day of classes, I came out of the faculty carrel section into the main library, and was enormously surprised to see several students already hard at work at their studies!  They were reading their brand-new textbooks (at least new to them -- some were used copies), well equipped with notepads, post-it notes, and multiple pens, pencils, and highlighters.  I loved their dedication, self-discipline, and enthusiasm!  I hoped they were feeling that special joy I had felt as a student, that thrill of the first plunge into a new subject of study, eager to discover the insights it would bring!Today I finally finished my annual report for last year.  While it is a very good idea to do this right away when the previous year ends, the Dean's office always promises to get us our course evaluations "as soon as possible" so that they can inform our reflections, and so we wait.  Besides, the deadline is not until September 1.  September 1 approaches, and usually by then we are hard at work getting a new semester going.  Meanwhile, there is still no sign of our course evaluations.  Sometime after September 1, we get another note from the Dean apologizing for this but insisting that we still should have submitted our reports by September 1, and at any rate, we should do so as soon as possible now, really!  And so we finally do, once we are in that golden period between starting the semester and receiving the first batch of Big Grading.  (And often, the course evaluations finally do reach us by then.)I decided to just go ahead and get mine in on time, to completely reach closure about last year and feel I could enter into sabbatical with nothing more hanging over me.  And it turned out to be good to do this.  First of all, it helped me to see just how much I accomplished last year, and how much I have accomplished in my thirteen years at this university:  I've taught twenty distinct courses, fourteen of which were new to my university; I played a key role in starting a Peace Studies program here, and last year also played a key role in starting a Mediation Center on campus.  (I also noticed that I have participated in over 70 musical performances, about 44 of them on campus.  Although this is not really part of my CV, I do maintain a separate music CV and so I did compile this information, for myself, as I combed through my calendars looking at all of my activities.)But what I have not accomplished is getting very much of my writing published, although I have in fact written a lot.  And so the second benefit of doing my annual report was to use it as an opportunity to clarify my writing and publishing goals for my sabbatical.I realize I am blowing my own horn a bit by listing some of my accomplishments, but it is an attempted antidote to the ominous threat of loneliness, self-deprecation, and depression building like storm clouds on the horizon of my soul.  Splendid Opportunity opens up for me, and, keenly aware though I am of how rare and precious this opportunity is, it is distressingly easy for the demons of Self-Doubt to come rushing in to undermine one's great plans for oneself!  Even though I have accomplished what I have accomplished, I can become dangerously down on myself for all that I have NOT done.And so, as I transition to Sabbatical Proper, I need to cultivate the self-discipline to remember I am worthy (that is, I must not indulge in self-fulfilling fantasies of personal worthlessness), and to give myself full authority to set a clear plan for myself and believe that it is poss[...]

On Experiencing the Same Old Place in a Wholly New Way


Last week was New Faculty Orientation, and yesterday the first-year students moved in and they are now going through New Student Orientation.  Meanwhile, the remaining students are starting to return as well.  It is very strange watching things start up without me!  I was surprisingly blue about this last week, but now I am starting to enjoy it:  both the sense of freedom I have, and the new way I am perceiving things.

What is the new way I am perceiving things?  Not distracted by having to prepare for classes myself, I look at the new students and the campus with new eyes.  I feel I can relax and see more.  I do not feel as guarded, because I do not have to play a judgmental role this year.  I feel able to open my heart more fully to the love I feel, and I am really glad about this!  The one part of academic life I do not like is that judgmental role I am forced to take, and so that is the main part of my normal work that I am most glad to be relieved of this year.

And so, for example, I see the new first-year students in a new way.  This year I am not thinking, "Will that person be in my class?  If so, what will that person be like in class?"  I like all of my students, but the power dynamic of the classroom inevitably strains some relationships in ways that those relationships might  not be strained without that dynamic.  And so, realizing that none of these first-year students will be in any of my classes this year, since I am not teaching any classes, I look at them from a different perspective.  Sure I will have some of them in classes in the future, but not yet -- not in this first year of theirs, when it is all so new to them.  So in an uncomplicated way, I can just enjoy their excitement as they start.  I pass by in the periphery of their new lives here.  They do not know who I am and barely notice me.  But I smile at them, wishing them well, hoping for each that they find their way without too much trauma.

I am also more open to the physical beauty of the campus and the surrounding area, as I think about how it looks from the eyes of the new students and their parents.  And I am struck by the warmth of everyone here as they greet the newcomers with such obvious joy and excitement at the start of the new year.

Some people have been puzzled that I am taking a full-year sabbatical without having made arrangements to be away for the year.  Last week I started to wonder if maybe I should have left; it is too strange and hard to watch things start without me, and too tempting to be drawn into things that I should ignore!  But today I begin to see the wisdom of my decision.  I need to see this campus from a different perspective, and learn to relate to it in a new way.  There is something important about this, and I sense that it is going to have a more profound effect on me (and maybe then the campus too when I "return") than I originally thought.

Turning Over the Reins and Getting Enough Sleep


My second sabbatical begins.  This time, I am taking a full-year sabbatical.  (Last time, I just took one semester.)

Initially, I thought sabbatical began with the end of the previous school year.  But now, as I watch my campus begin to stir back to life in preparation for the start of a new academic year, I realize that the summer is the summer -- its own special season -- and it is only really now that my sabbatical, proper, begins.  It is only now that my life noticably changes -- that I find myself not doing things that normally I would be doing now, like finalizing syllabi, and participating in start-of-the-year events.  It is only now that it truly registers with my colleagues that I am not "with them" as they transition from summer into the start of a new semester.  They tease me with a pretended pretend-jealousy that I know is actually real, because I have felt it myself!  Real, but not malicious.  I am genuinely happy for my colleagues on sabbatical, and I know they are happy for me, but at the same time, they do wish they could be on sabbatical too.

Through the summer I have been working on my writing projects, but also relaxing more than usual, and playing lots of music.  I play with a community orchestra, and we have had a series of outdoor concerts, the most recent of which was last night.  We played as the sun set behind us.  This is the first concert of the season where it got dark enough before the end of the concert that we needed little lights on our music stands.  We turned them on for the last couple of pieces that we played.  It was also the first concert where it cooled off enough through the evening that my flute needed a little extra attention after long rests to coax it back into playing.  On the really hot days, the instruments stay warmed up and are immediately responsive!  We have two more concerts and a recording session before our season concludes.

This week I have had a series of meetings with colleagues to make sure that things will run smoothly during the year in my absence.  I am actually being replaced by one-and-a-half people, believe it or not.  One person is filling in for my philosophy teaching, and another person is devoting half of her work time to teaching my peace courses and coordinating our peace studies program.  Today I had my official meeting with that person to hand over information about our peace studies program, and so I finally feel free to immerse myself fully in my sabbatical now.

What is amazing to me is that since I have let myself slow down a bit and catch up with myself this summer, I feel well-rested and better organized again.

One of the most remarkable discoveries I have made is what a difference it makes to get enough sleep!  I have let myself sleep as long as I need to each morning.  It is not until now that I have grasped how sleep-deprived I must have been.  It is a revelation to me that you can awaken feeling well-rested, and have lots of energy throughout the day.  I highly recommend getting enough sleep!  It can make a profound difference to your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being!

More on Students and God


Looking back, I see that nearly every year that I have taught "Modern Philosophy," I have written about students' struggles with how much the modern philosophers (1600s-1700s) talk about God.  Here is one example of a previous posting on this.This year we kept having a certain debate in class.  A few students got annoyed with philosophers who, in their view, evoked God to explain what cannot be explained.  They wrote this off as a cheap trick, a cop out, with no intellectual merit.I argued against this point every time it came up, and in every way I could think of.  I pointed out that the philosophers constructed arguments for their views.  We examined these arguments in depth.  I then asked the students, "if you disagree with the conclusion, then can you point out where the argument goes wrong?"  Sometimes we found that the arguments were deductively valid.  "So, if you disagree with the conclusion, since there is nothing wrong with the philosopher's reasoning, it must be that you disagree with one or more premises.  Which one(s)?"Other times, when we discussed the great explanatory power of the concept of God as grounding the orderliness of the universe, again, the "cop out" complaint would emerge, and so I would ask the offended student, "can you explain this any better?"  They would vaguely say, "well, science answers these questions now!"  When I pressed them to say more, they would claim, "I am not a scientist, and so I do not know -- but I am sure science can explain all of this now!"Then I would give them my best account of science's answers, and they would be amazed and impressed at how much I knew (I specialized in philosophy of science).  We talked about cosmogeny, Newton's laws, relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and the theory of evolution.  But then I would ask, "Do these scientific theories really provide fully satisfactory answers to our deeper questions?"A central question we kept coming back to concerned the emerging view of this time period of "matter."  Many students now take for granted that physical materialism can explain everything.  But it cannot explain life, or consciousness.  The Modern philosophers realized that, and puzzled over it.  Many alternative theories were formed:  that all matter is infused with life and consciousness; that there is some mysterious connection between matter and spirit; or that matter is not even real.  But those views ended up fading from Western thought in favor of a theory of matter understood as itself dead and inert.  Thus arose the philosophical problem of how life and consciousness can emerge from something that does not in itself contain these properties.  "Why not give priority instead to conscious life as the most real 'substance' in the universe?" I would ask the class.  "There is a certain elegant simplicity to that approach!  It renders those other questions moot.  And, is this not a more honest approach?  If we look honestly at our lives, don't we care more about thoughts, ideas, consciousness, than about material objects in and of themselves?""But that is anthropomorphizing!" my students would protest."So, out of humility, we give ontological priority to a conception of matter as lifeless and inert -- we infuse it with the power to purposelessly, thoughtlessly, even accidentally, create life and consciousness and purpose?  And this has somehow worked well for us?!  We regard this view as rationally superior to giving life, consciousness, love, purpose, and goodness, ontological priority?  It is more rational to regard the latter as wo[...]

Happy May!


Another semester is drawing to a close.  I just submitted final grades, and am in that strange state of being that one is in just after submitting grades.  It is a mixture of intense anxiety and looming enormous relief.  The anxiety is because you know this matters very much to the students, and you hope you were fair, and you worry that some will be upset and will write angry or painful notes.  The looming enormous relief wants to break through, but for a while that anxiety is pretty intense.

But I am especially happy to be finished now, because I am on sabbatical next year!  And, in fact, I am in my library carrel right now, about to resume work on one of my writing projects!

Meanwhile, this heron family has been keeping me company through all of the end of semester busyness.



A couple of weeks ago, I suddenly realized that I am not depressed anymore.It was an amazing realization.  I had been living with a chronic moderate-to-low level of depression for so long that, within it, I had lost a sense of what an undepressed life feels like.But on this particular day, I was walking home after a busy day at work that ended with a long and intense meeting.  I was tired, in that way that people are tired after a long and intense day, but happy."Wait, happy?!" I asked myself.  "How can it be that I am happy?"Then I noticed that there had been this sense of happiness at the background of my life that had been gradually increasing in strength over the past weeks or months.  And I remembered that this is how my life used to be.  There was a time in my life when my friends called me "Mellow Happiness."  With a jolt of surprise, I realized that this meant that I was no longer depressed!Another way of describing the difference:  I no longer felt the sense that I was constantly swimming through mud.  Ordinary things were no longer extraordinarily difficult.  And a lot of things were actually becoming fun again.  My sense of enjoyment was coming alive again.I am not sure exactly how this has happened.  I was in counseling with an excellent therapist for a time, and that certainly was helpful.  When he retired last spring, I did not feel ready for the loss of that support.  Even though I had been making great progress and was feeling a gradual sense of dealing better with my life, once he retired I felt I relapsed a bit for a time, but at least that relapse was understandable.  I was in mourning.  But I was also committed to proving how helpful he had been by taking to heart all I had learned and seeing if I could fly solo now.As I started the academic year, I adopted two mantras.  One was "unfailing love."  The other was "solid gold."  Both indicated that I was resolved to live up to a way of being in the world where, in all my relationships with everyone, I would be noble and gracious, respectful and caring, no matter how I felt about how others treated me.  I knew the year was going to bring situations in which I would be taking bold but controversial stands, and I knew from past experience that this kind of leadership leaves you often feeling exposed and alone.  You may sense that there are those who support you, but what is most visible is the push-back.  You have to stand strong, and I was committed to maintaining the highest standards of respect towards those who disagreed with me or opposed me.That day that I left the meeting happy was a day when I felt a strong sense that my efforts really were making a difference:  small but real.  We need to matter in each other's lives.  And maintaining respect in the face of difference and even opposition is a particularly strong version of "mattering."  If that struggle is held with integrity, something new can be born that is even better than what either party individually wanted.  It is a creative opportunity.And we humans love connecting and creating.  These are two of the most fulfilling experiences of our lives.  In depression, you feel profoundly disconnected and discouraged, and too much discouragement dries up creativity.  Looking for connection, and finding ways to nurture creativity, can be helpful in coming back out of depression.  I know that this is easy to say but hard to do.  "This I know experimentally."  But what else is there to do but try?  For a long time you may not see/feel the r[...]

Perfect Ministry


Yesterday in Meeting for Worship, someone spoke and gave perfect ministry.

He spoke of his own journey with spoken ministry.  He said that he finds himself speaking a lot in Meeting when he worships with inmates at a nearby prison.  He feels that they find some spoken ministry helpful.  Usually in life, he said, he finds he wants to stay in the background, trusting others to step forward into more visible roles.  But this experience in the prison ministry, of feeling responsible for ministering to others, has brought out something in his soul -- he speaks out more in life in general, and in our Meeting, and he has been writing and having his writings published.  "I know that preparing heart and mind does not mean that we should specifically plan to speak in Meeting, or plan not to speak.  But we can get into habits of silence in Meeting," he said, in conclusion, grateful that he had pushed himself out of his own comfort zone and has come into a new way of experiencing Meeting, and ministry, and life.

This message really spoke to my condition.

I felt called out and criticized myself, but felt joyful about that rather than ashamed.  I thought, "that message was for me, and he is right -- I have stepped back in life, I have fallen silent, and this silence has now turned into a bad habit.  I need to push myself, even at risk of potentially getting it wrong sometimes.  I have ideas, but my not acting on them is not virtuous humility -- it is a habit of fear."

What amazed me was how joyful and released I felt.

Often, criticism makes me feel bad.  I can get beyond feeling bad and still perceive the value of justly-earned criticism.  But I paused to reflect on why I didn't at all feel bad this time.  In part, it was the gentle, humble spirit of this Friend's ministry.  He spoke out of his own personal experience, from such authenticity that it presented a message of value to all of us.  He never once suggested that he was criticizing any of us.  In fact, I am sure he was not.  He was simply sharing a realization so powerful and liberating for himself that he he felt moved to share it.  He was not at all presuming to know what God wanted from any of us.  I think he genuinely likes all of us and appreciates exactly what we each give, never asking for anything other than what we already offer, but always accepting what we offer as gift.

So, his own humility kept the message pure and clear and easier to accept than if it had been laced with specific criticism toward any of us.  But the other part of why I received it so well was because it did speak a positive truth, not a negative one.  The way I heard it was not about how I had failed, but what I have yet to do.  It was a gentle invitation to step more fully into saying "yes" to life, to engaging life more directly, more "experimentally."

I call this Friend's ministry perfect because I think it genuinely reflected something important about God's love.  When God pushes us, it is never that God wants us to feel bad for the ways we fall short.  God wants us to live freely and creatively.  God's deepest hope for us is that we willingly respond to God's call, accepting the unutterable joy that this brings.



Sorry that it has been a while since I've posted. Since it has been a while, I thought I would share a few updates.WorkThe past academic year went pretty well.  I did manage to keep the research momentum going quite well in the spring, and feel glad about that.  I then presented on my current paper in a conference in June, and am trying to finish writing the paper this summer.Not being chair of my department has made a huge difference in my work life.  I still feel my administrative duties are a bit too heavy (coordinating our Peace Studies program), but way has not opened for me to let this go.  I am still discerning what exactly my role should be.MusicMy musical life has really picked up.  I did a lot of performing during the academic year, and now this summer too.  This summer I am part of a recorder group, a concert band, and an orchestra, with performances scheduled for all three groups.  After the recorder concert and the band concert, things will lighten up.  I had committed to those before the orchestra opportunity appeared.  But now that I am in this orchestra, I think I might drop my participation in the concert band. Being relatively inexperienced in orchestral matters, I handed over first flute part to the other flute player (who used to play regularly in another local orchestra).  The second flute part was nice, and relatively easy, giving me a chance to work further on performance nerves. Just when I was congratulating myself for not letting pride overcome common sense, making my life more stressful than it needs to be (I am at last learning!), I found out that the first flute player cannot make one of our concerts, and the conductor wants me to play first flute for that one.Then I realized that this meant that (a) I have to learn both parts, and (b) I have to perform first flute in a concert without any opportunity for rehearsal on this part first!So, instead of taking the "easy" way out, it turns out that my choice led me into a much more challenging and stressful situation than if I had just accepted first flute to begin with!  If I had, I would only have had to learn one part, and would have had ample rehearsal time before performing.This is what my life is like.  Even when I try to be good and actually make things easier for myself, this sort of thing happens!It may sound like I am complaining, and maybe I am, a little, but I am also laughing (ruefully, though).  Although I was initially stressed about this, I have come to accept the challenge and will make the best of it.It helps that I've been reading the book, Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, and one of the points he makes is that those who are regarded as "talented" are those who continually challenge themselves beyond their comfort zones. I have been thinking a lot about this in my own life.  People have told me that I need to be easier on myself, and I know they are partially right.  But I have also suspected that there is something important to the ways I challenge myself.  I didn't want to let go of this completely.  So what I have been trying to do is find the right balance: enough challenge to keep me learning and striving and seeking, but without overwhelming myself.GardeningI heard something on the radio about the dangers of giant hogweed, and saw something similar in my own garden -- a huge weed I had let go because it was kind of interesting and very scary.  Closer inspection revealed that it was cow parsnip (a relative of giant hogweed).  Both can cause burns upon contact, t[...]

Memorial Day 2011


In 2006, 2007, and 2008, I posted some numbers for Memorial Day, and wish today to continue in that tradition.Number killed on 9/11: 2996. Wikipedia breaks this number down as follows:"There were 2,996 fatalities, excluding the 19 hijackers and 2,977 victims.  The victims were distributed as follows:  246 on the four planes (from which there were no survivors), 2,606 in New York City in the towers and on the ground, and 125 at the Pentagon. All the deaths in the attacks were civilians except for 55 military personnel killed in the attack on the Pentagon. More than 90 countries lost citizens in the attacks on the World Trade Center." (Source: of U.S. military killed as a result of U.S. military activities since 9/11: 6049 1595 U.S. military killed in Afghanistan4454 U.S. military killed in War on IraqSource: Deaths The previous source estimates 1,455,590 Iraqi deaths due to the U.S. War on Iraq.A different source counts 101,081-110,405 Iraqi civilian deaths since the U.S. War on Iraq began.(These figures are critiqued by many as being low estimates. See the Iraqi body count webpage, linked below.)Source: you find figures that you believe are more accurate than the ones here, please let me know in "comments," and please cite your sources.Some additional context:Wars apparently are becoming more and more deadly for civilians. Of the deaths caused by each of the following wars, here are the percentages of those deaths being civilian deaths:World War I: 14%World War II: 67%Wars of the 1980's: 75%Wars of the 1990's: 90% book those statistics are from is: WAR AND PUBLIC HEALTH, edited by Barry S. Levy and Victor Sidel, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.)War on Iraq (based on above numbers using the lower Iraqi Body Count numbers): 96% are civilian deaths.  (Using the higher estimate, it is over 99%) -- (c) 2005-2013 by Contemplative Scholar[...]

A New Movement I Would Like to See


I find it hard to listen to the news these days, because I get so upset at so much that seems to be unraveling.  I cannot believe some of the things that some of our political leaders are trying to do these days.

But I realize that the context is that people are getting desperate as governmental budget crises loom, at both the national level and for many of the states.  When there is a budget crisis, there are two possible responses:  cut expenses, or raise revenues.  Doing both would have a bigger effect than doing just one.  But for some reason, most politicians seem dead set against raising revenues, because that means raising taxes.

All of this happens at a time when the gap between the rich and the poor has been growing.  A blogger I follow has posted about this on his blog, and he included a graph that visually shows the growing gap.

This got me to thinking:  it may not really be that there's less money, as such.  It's just that over time it has become distributed in a way that fewer people have it.  And those few have a lot.

Wouldn't it be great if the super-rich started a movement advocating higher taxes for themselves?  If they started saying that, by virtue of controlling so much money, they have a greater responsibility to attend to the public good?

And, in truth, I wouldn't mind paying higher taxes, myself.  But my own income is such that that would not have a very big impact.

Here are some more illuminating graphs:  this graph shows federal tax rates historically.  And this one too is remarkable:  tax revenues recently have been declining!

And finally, what are our major expenses at the federal level?  Wars.



I came across the book Focus by Leo Babauta, and decided to assign it to all of my students this semester (as supplementary reading) to help them think through their relationship to technology, and also their approach to their own lives and work.  Every now and then I open up some time for us to talk about this.  My students' reactions (not surprisingly) are mixed.  For some, these ideas are a welcome revelation.  Others resist tremendously.

Babauta discusses how our technological connectedness can be addictive.  He also points out how the addictive effects can distract us from focusing our energies well on the projects that may be the most meaningful to us.  Creative work requires times of solitude and sustained deep attention.  He is not against technology.  He is just aware of how technology can take over our lives and start to control us, and his book is largely about how we can regain control of our technology.

A lot of what he discusses about how to simplify and focus are principles I have been discovering and implementing in my own life, and so I appreciate the book for the support it offers as well as the new ideas I have been trying.  He advocates single-tasking instead of multi-tasking, and enjoying each moment.  "Practice stillness, and the stillness becomes a canvas upon which you can paint the masterpiece of your life."

More on Burnout


As I prepare for the start of a new semester, I have mixed feelings. I do love teaching and have some new ideas that I am excited about. But I also feel a sense of trepidation, in large part because I feel increasingly intolerant of being too busy.

Last semester, as I felt myself starting to worry about burnout again, I had a new insight about burnout.

I think that one of the causes of burnout is when we put extraordinary effort into achieving what is merely ordinary.

Now, the merely ordinary is a fine accomplishment--I’m not denying that. If our lives are spent achieving the ordinary things that contribute meaningfully to the functioning of the world, that is a life well-lived. We can derive a great sense of satisfaction from such work.

But when we continually push ourselves beyond the limits of personal health and well-being to do so (which we are doing when we are chronically “too busy”), our lives are out of balance. We suffer; those around us suffer--the cost exceeds the benefit.

There are times when it is noble and heroic to put forth great effort. Those times are times of crisis, and responding to crises is extraordinary. Those times, then, are times of putting forth extraordinary effort to accomplish something extraordinary. The cost is proportional to the benefit, and so, while tired and depleted after it is all over, we still are likely to feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that aids in our healing and recovery.

But those times are rare, intense, and relatively brief.

When extraordinary effort becomes a way of life, the norm instead of the exception, that’s a problem. It is not really a sustainable way of life. You work too hard without time for recovery and renewal. And while you are accomplishing something, your accomplishments are not extraordinary enough to result in either social appreciation or a sense of satisfaction proportional to your effort.

If you are a humble and modest type of person, you may say, "I don't work hard in order to gain appreciation from others, anyway," and that's commendable, but this is not a question of the purity of your motivations, but rather almost a physics question related to the law of conservation of energy. We cannot keep putting out energy without renewing our energy as well. And so if our efforts are extraordinary, our ordinary methods of taking care of ourselves will no longer be enough to keep us going. Net result: burnout.



I was recently in a conversation with someone about the problems of the world. Even though we both care very much about the problems of the world, and were looking for real solutions, the conversation did not connect. I tried to stay focused on the problems themselves, but the person I was talking with kept attacking me. I kept trying to find common ground, but the person I was talking with kept trying to exaggerate every difference into good vs. evil, with my position being characterized as representing the "evil" side. It was only later, when I had a chance to reflect on the conversation, that I fully grasped that this was the dynamic that made the conversation so frustrating.Once I realized this, I was genuinely puzzled. First of all, why blame me for all the problems of the world? I am nobody. I have no real power. Secondly, I care about solving problems. I devote my life to teaching and writing about philosophy and peace, and, on the side, I try to create beautiful music to uplift people's souls. Why blame someone who is trying to live in a good way? Even if I am not very successful at addressing problems or even uplifting people's spirits, the worst that one can say about me is that I try in a pathetic sort of way and fall well short of my idealistic vision. But I don't do any damage. Rather than being a grave source of danger in the world, in truth I'm pretty harmless.So, why was this person attacking me?I realized that this person was highly influenced by much of today's media, especially certain well-known talk-show personalities. Their style is exactly this: to draw sharp enemy lines and attack. Fellow Americans who disagree with them are characterized as dangerous, even evil. I have trouble grasping what they think is gained by such an approach.When the shootings of January 8 transpired, I, like the rest of the country, was horrified. But in the days that followed, I was glad to see that part of the response was to question the tone of political discourse in our country today. I welcomed the calls to civility, even though I knew it was unrealistic to think that things would change that easily.What I would like to do to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is reflect on some of what I have heard in the ensuing discussions of civility and violence.In particular, there are two strange objections to the call to civility that I have heard a lot that I wish to respond to. A third point I wish to respond to has to do with gun laws. While this third point seems to shift from questions concerning verbal violence to questions related to physical violence, it is still a point about communication, and represents a strategy that stifles conversation instead of facilitating it.Three Strange Objections to the Call to Engage More Productively in DebatesObjection 1. Criticizing language use is a threat to the right of free speech.My response: No, criticizing uncivil language is to question why people wish to use the right to free speech in this way. It is to ask: what is the aim of hateful speech, and does it accomplish that aim?If the aim is cathartic venting, then maybe it accomplishes this aim, but probably only temporarily.Isn't the deeper aim some kind of real improvement? Isn't it that we want to solve real problems in the world? If so, then it is highly questionable that hateful language ever actually accomplishes improvement. Instead, it draws and reinforces enemy lines, which tends to exacerbate (rather t[...]

On Workaholism


I came across some articles on workaholism, and read them, in part because I am sometimes accused of being a workaholic. I am not sure that I am a workaholic, though. I think that there is a difference between a positive way of having a strong relationship with one's work, and a negative way of having a strong relationship with one's work. The articles I have read seem to support such a distinction, to some extent, and yet still lean heavily on the side of being suspicious of those who work long hours.

If I am honest with myself, I must confess that my own relationship to my work is mixed. On the positive side, I like my work and am devoted to fulfilling its ideals. I try to do a good job, not for problematic reasons (wanting praise, esteem, power, or money), but because I care about the actual effects on other people: I want people to learn, and through their learning, become happier and better people in the world.

On the negative side, I realize that I do have pathological tendencies that I must constantly be on guard against, especially a tendency to feel I have to prove my worthiness as a human being by doing good work. That's there, but while I do have to struggle against it, it's not the sole motivation for work. I also have to make a living, but that is not my sole reason for doing this work, either. Related, I have deep-rooted fears of letting people down. So my work can get a bit fear-driven if I am not careful to watch this as well.

But, I try hard to keep the good reasons in focus, and front and center in my daily consciousness.

I tend to regard workaholism as a compulsion-driven addiction. If I were primarily driven by esteem or financial considerations, or fear, I would confess to being a workaholic.

But because I do have positive reasons for devoting myself to my work, and try to prevent the more problematic reasons from controlling me, am I right to conclude that I am not really a workaholic?

How do you define the term?

Happy New Year!


A somewhat belated Happy New Year to all of my readers! (At least it is still January!)

My last posting was about my research plan to write at least 200 words a day. Unfortunately, I was not able to keep that up through the fall, not so much because I was too busy, but because I floundered a bit in finding a good schedule of times each day to work on my writing. Then my schedule sort of settled, but time for writing remained unresolved. Can I learn from that experience and do better this coming semester? We shall see!

Three additional factors inhibited my efforts last semester: (1) I had more students than usual (larger classes); (2) I had someone working on a translation project for me, and so every time I did have time for research, I found myself proofreading versions of the translation, and (3) my music schedule unexpectedly became very busy.

What makes me more optimistic about the spring is that: (1) I'll have smaller classes again.

And (2): the good news about the translation project is that it's pretty much finished now, and so I've been working this January break on following up on the research I intended to do with this document now translated. I'm hoping that the enthusiasm and momentum I have generated will carry me through to a productive writing schedule through the upcoming spring semester.

Regarding (3), I do have performances again in the spring, but I think not as many. I really love music and am glad that I have had so many opportunities to perform again. Just when I was starting to worry that maybe it is taking too much time, I came across this interesting article noting that a large percentage of "geniuses" have serious artistic hobbies.

What is encouraging about that article is its suggestion that having a serious hobby can be good for your main work, because making connections across different areas of interest enhances creativity. I already realized that having two main strong interests makes me happy and makes my life feel better balanced. But the thought that the two strong interests might be mutually benefiting each other removes all lingering traces of guilt about how much time I do put in to my music.

Yet, if I face the full complexity of my life honestly, is it really just two main interests? That is, is it:
  1. My intellectual work
  2. My music
Or, is it:
  1. Philosophy
  2. Peace Studies
  3. Music
  1. Writing
  2. Teaching
  3. Administration
  4. Music
Or even:
  1. Writing philosophy
  2. Teaching philosophy
  3. Writing peace studies
  4. Teaching peace studies
  5. Administration of peace studies program
  6. Music
The last one expresses best why I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the complexity of my life.

Right now, in January, my life feels ideal, because it is simplified to:
  1. Writing (philosophy)
  2. Music
This, for me, is the perfect life.

What is your perfect life?