Finding Inner Peace – The Path by a Harvard Professor

9781476777832_p0_v2_s192x300Would you enroll in a class with the daunting title Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory?  What if it promised to “change your life” ?  Harvard professor Michael Puett condenses his lectures in his book The Path, offering Chinese philosophy to live a better life.  Citing Confucius’s Analects, the Mencius, and the Daodejing, Puett suggests ways to apply the teachings to daily practice. 

Addressing universal themes – how to be a good person, how to create a good society, and how to have a satisfying life – Puett suggests the practice of exhaustingly researching and thinking about plans in order to decide (as I do), is precisely the wrong way to make important life decisions. The Chinese philosophers say this strategy makes it harder to remain open to other possibilities that don’t fit into that plan. 

So for those of us who like to dissect, analyze, and synthesize – what to do?  Puett offers a few suggestions:

  • Attend to small practices; they can change everything.  

Mencius, a late Confucian thinker taught that if you cultivate your better nature in small ways, you can become an extraordinary person with an incredible influence. So…hold that door for someone, smile at the early morning walker you pass as you jog by, take time to have a conversation with a good friend – not just texting.  

  • Instead of choosing between mind  (the rational) and heart (your gut) when you make a decision, go with both.

Become more open to experiences. Research shows our unconscious awareness of emotions around us are actually what drive the decisions we believe we are making with rationality. “One study showed viewers who were flashed a smile—even though it was shown too quickly for them to even realize they had seen it—perceived the things around them more positively.”  So, go ahead – smile at someone – even if you don’t feel like it. It will improve the other person’s day, and it might make you feel better too.

  • Try something new.

“We are what we do (Aristotle)”  and effort counts more than talent or aptitude. Puett suggests going outside your comfort zone, trying new possibilities will open up a whole new world for you – so what if you have to work a little harder to get there.

Sounds like common sense mixed with a little shmaltz – but then Confucius always seemed so to me.  Nevertheless, the idea to focus on the little things to make life better seems doable. A quick read – not as fast as a fortune cookie – but worth a look.

In the words of Disney’s Cinderella – “Have courage and be kind.”







House of Velvet and Glass

Do those who miraculously miss the boat that sinks, the plane that crashes, the train that goes off the rails, feel a sense of relief – or guilt? Have they changed their destiny – or was the outcome unavoidable? Katherine Howe examines the consequences and controls of fate in her historical novel The House of Velvet and Glass.

Using the sinking of the Titanic as her catalyst, Howe weaves historical fiction into the lives of the Allston family – those who sank with the ship and those left behind. Helen, and her daughter Eulah, died at sea on the Titanic en route back to Boston from a successful European campaign to find a husband for her daughter. Helen’s husband, a former seaman and now successful businessman, remained behind with Sibyl and her brother, Harley.

Following her mother’s interest in séances, Sibyl, the unmarried eldest child, visits a medium, hoping to contact her dead mother. She comes away with a mysterious scrying glass in a velvet box; under the influence of opiates, Sibyl can see events in the glass. As she looks for her mother and sister within the glass’ misty aura, she finds instead a future catastrophe.

As the chapters move back and forth, following each member of the family at different times and places, the focus of the story is a little hazy, and you may wonder where it is going.  Although the present is set at the aftermath of the Titanic, with Sibyl’s search for solace, the plot has more to offer than just another Titanic story.

Howe revisits the patriarch’s youthful adventures in Shanghai that foreshadow Sibyl’s talents and a surprise solution at the end to the mystery of their paranormal inclinations.  Helen’s and Eulah’s fateful voyage also become part of the action with descriptions of passengers and shipboard romance. Harley, the youngest and only son, recently expelled from his senior year at Harvard, brings Dovie, his ethereal lover into the plot as well as Benton, his professor and Sibyl’s love interest – both catalysts who help Sibyl realize her hidden talents.

Howe weaves traces of the supernatural into historical events – similar to how she used New England history in her first book, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. For Downton Abbey fans, the story echoes the nineteenth century era of  World War I with its fashion and emerging technological advances.

An ominous clock ticks away throughout the narrative, marking the lives of the characters, bringing them closer to the inevitable, and Howe poses some philosophical questions about chance, fate, and how choices can affect both.

A clever mix of mystery, romance, history, and the supernatural…if you enjoyed Howe’s first book, you will like this one too.  I did.