Ides of March

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men–
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason.

(from William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, spoken by Marc Antony)

 

On this day, March 15th, in 44 BC, Emperor for Life Julius Caesar was assassinated on the senate floor of Rome as he prepared to speak to the political body collected before him. He endured 23 stab wounds by as many members of the senate, many of whom he considered friends and allies. Historically this date, commemorated first by the Romans, is considered the defining marker between Rome as a republic and Rome as the world empire the following generations would witness. Above is the imagined eulogy his true compatriot, general Marc Antony, would have delivered at Caesar’s funeral a few days hence. It is this stirring speech, delivered in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar as commentary on events that had occurred over 16 centuries earlier, that forever solidified the Ides of March as a date to ponder man’s inhumanity to man, as well as to reflect on pride, ambition, loyalty, and betrayal – among individuals and in government.

It is fitting that the March Ides occurs in the middle of the Lent season and in anticipation of the renewal of spring. It was Caesar who commissioned most of the changes that are part of our modern calendar. In his day, March was considered the new year; Caesar had already decreed that 46 BC would see March as the third month of the year on the Julian calendar, which is virtually the same calendar we still use today. Thus, the current year cycle is now a few months underway by the time march winds blow and final snows fall. The ides simply denoted the middle of the month; it is the fact of Caesar’s murder and the historical consequence that have lent the word ‘ides’ the ominous tone it still carries today.

At the time of Caesar’s assassination, spirituality consisted of keen observance and homage paid to the mythological gods like Jupiter and Mars, who were thought to rule mortals and influence fate through judgment, benevolence, or displeasure with human conduct both individual and societal. Oracles, omens, and assorted prognosticators were employed and influential in personal and government affairs. In fact, it was a seer in ancient Rome who warned Caesar to beware the ides of March of 44 BC.

Christianity and Catholicism would appear within a century after Caesar’s death. The Lent season, recognized by both religions, marks the six weeks before Easter – when Christ rises from the dead. Lent is a time for prayer and penance; it is a time for shedding bad habits and coming closer to the best within ourselves in preparation for a brand new season of piety and devotion to higher purposes. During Lent, most practicing Catholics give up something that is causing harm to themselves or others; many Christian denominations encourage followers to fast, cease smoking, and engage in prayer and various soul cleansing rituals, as well. For Caesar’s contemporaries, the new year – and the ides of any month – commenced with a sacrifice to Jupiter, the Roman’s supreme deity. Following the ritual, a time of celebration and feasting was observed, much like the modern feasts of Easter Sunday and the lighthearted rituals of egg hunting and spring baskets of candy for children. The Ides of March is not so different in modern society than it was in Caesar’s day. The Roman pagans, upon the death of Caesar, then also had a real life martyr to remember and study as they prepared for a season of renewal.

For a time before Caesar’s death, there had been a civil war between Caesar and Pompey, the prevailing leader of Rome. Caesar had routed Pompey in this war, both militarily and popularly. Caesar’s army had continued to march victoriously through the Gallic Wars, conquering more and more territory for Rome, even bridging the English Channel to invade Britain. Caesar simultaneously conducted a war with Pompey for the love of the people; he passed many laws that slowly diluted the power of the establishment – the rich and titled – and inflated the seats in the senate to further leech power from Pompey’s old guard. Most importantly to the populace, he allowed everyone to obtain Roman citizenship and share in the fruits of the rich, expansive empire and kept his people fed through alliances with or defeat of territories with rich food supplies like Egypt and Spain. He also sought to centralize the Roman government with less oversight on municipal concerns like methods of taxation. The calendar was also a very important populist strategy as it coincided with the seasons, which gave more order to a constant food supply.

Marc Antony’s eulogy in Julius Caesar was delivered to a large gathering of constituents and citizens of Rome. These countrymen, previously big supporters of Caesar, had been manipulated by the old guard of the Senate – through ‘media’ channels like graffiti, town criers called ‘praecos’ who broadcast news in the forum, and posted proclamations – to believe that Caesar no longer had their best interests at heart. Romans were told that Caesar had become arrogant and power hungry and had sacrificed their interests to his own. The audacious act of honorable senate members actually murdering Caesar themselves in the senate house further punctuated the need for swift and violent action the Senate had been trying to incite in the Roman mob.

Antony’s speech speaks to the disinformation fed to Roman citizens in a rhetorical triumph of emotion and logic. Antony begins by using his own stature as decorated everyman soldier of Rome being as one with the Roman people gathered: “Friends, Romans, countryman”; then, after reminding the crowd of his credibility with them as their defender, he asks them to listen to him. He starts his undermining of Brutus, the most publicly admired of the old guard, by questioning Brutus’ attacks on Caesar’s character. Antony then asks questions to make the Romans think not only about what they know about Brutus’ own character and reliability but, more importantly, about the efficacy of the actual facts or opinions they have been told. He uses several examples of Caesar’s public behavior to make his case: Caesar’s campaigns which kept Romans fed and safe, his refusal to be king, and his social programs that benefited every citizen. Antony concludes with sorrow that Romans have been so misguided by the Senate and asks if they have all lost their powers of distinction and reason. This is the lesson for everyone at the idea of March: what do we really know about the people and government we trust, where did we get that information, and to what purpose?

After Caesar’s death, Rome was favored with an excellent emperor in Augustus, the appointed heir of Caesar, certainly, but also a leader in his own right. He crushed the nepotism that had plagued Caesar’s tenure, eased the stranglehold of the old guard in the senate, and transferred more independence to the citizenry of Rome. He continued the social programs, territory gains, arts, and sciences begun by Caesar and led Rome to a golden age of relative peace. When Augustus died, his successors slowly but surely led Rome to its ultimate downfall through tyranny and greed. However, the lessons of the Roman empire, Caesar, Augustus, and the story of Brutus’ betrayal have endured to this day. What became of Brutus and Cassius and the other murderers of Caesar? Both Brutus and Cassius ended up suicides within a short time. After Caesar died, over 300 conspirators were hunted down exposed, and executed.

The Ides of March has an ominous feeling to it because we are reminded, through one of the first well known political assassinations in world history, that evil sometimes triumphs. But, in addition to mourning for Caesar, it is a good reminder that what happens in the world is everyone’s responsibility: we must think for ourselves. Justice will ultimately be served. It is easier to find men who willingly volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience. – Julius Caesar

Forgiveness

Susann Hayden explores the idea that forgiveness may imply a lack of understanding that all things in life are working to bring us to a higher purpose, a concept featured in motivational coach Jackie Woodside’s article, “Forgiveness: A New Paradigm, A New Possibility for Transcendent Living”

For a while now, the concept of forgiveness has troubled me.

A few years ago, I was building my way up a happy career ladder when I decided to take a risk on an entrepreneurial opportunity in a new industry. Looking back, I wanted to tell myself that I should have waited to build more solid foundations financially and mentally before taking on such a huge risk to my freedom and standing in the world. Certainly, after five years when the business had sucked hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings and earnings down its sinkhole, and my once fun and synergistic partnership resembled more of a grim, let’s-just-get-through-this kind of ordeal, I worried I had been rash and unwise. While transitioning out of that initial mess took another year – where my partner and I had to part with our homes, our business equipment, and our operation – I developed a bitterness, cynicism, and rage that surprised me. I found it really difficult to let go of this one. I found it impossible to forgive.

In some dark moments, I blamed my partner and he blamed me. With time, we gained enough perspective to honor having come a long way together on a ridiculously tortured path; we resigned ourselves to the conclusion that it just wasn’t far enough given all the other unknowns and pressures of our industry. But, at least we finally felt able to move forward. We were having trouble doing it together, though; we were in danger of losing each other after everything else. That’s what made me decide to solve the forgiveness problem, once and for all.

In the book Forgiveness: Heart-Healing Stories for the Stubborn & Hard Headed, a chapter written by Jackie Woodside, a professional speaker and motivational coach, resonated with me. The chapter didn’t so much illustrate a story, but more a transformation in thinking about the concept of forgiveness. In “Forgiveness: A New Paradigm, A New Possibility for Transcendent Living”, Woodside asserts that she takes issue with the idea of forgiveness as it implies a lack of understanding that all things in life are working to bring us to a higher purpose. At the very least, they are all necessary to shape us into the person we become, which is the total package we must embrace, since it is the reality of ourselves that needs acceptance and love – not a person that wronged us or who we have wronged.

Forgiving can perpetuate a sense of victim consciousness rather than a consciousness of acceptance of the spiritual tenant that all things are working together for [the] highest good. Yes, all things, even those things that we have determined to be inappropriate or hurtful. We hear all the time that the quality of our life depends not on what happens to us, but on what we make of what happens to us…. Your experience of life has less to do with what happens TO YOU and more about what happens WITHIN YOU. -Jackie Woodside

Thinking more about where I have been trapped with the idea of forgiveness is the constant need to ask “Why” something is happening. As an objective critical thinker, ahem, I can always see where I or someone else did something wrong. It’s a horribly unjust and unkind occupation to criticize a partner or friend who is with you in a mystifying situation. How many times in life are we relieved or helped up by someone we caused to fall down beside us? Additionally, seeking some imagined exemplar of behavior in ourselves as we navigate a completely foreign experience is futile and soul crushing. How far will we ever get if we constantly look to shore up our own and others’ weaknesses to the point of self-annihilation and total isolation? How will we ever find the courage to try something enlightening? How can we find the tenacity to appreciate the greater good of every experience?

Criticizing fellow travelers in a leaky lifeboat is simply a waste of time and effort, and it shows bad form. Even if they punched holes in the raft with a very big pair of scissors, you are still sitting in it with them. It’s their boat. They didn’t kidnap you. They didn’t hold a gun to your head. They said, “How about we take a little trip and see what happens? I think we can make it to the other side and have a fabulous picnic.” If you didn’t check the picnic basket, check the boat for leaks, check your companions for sharp objects, then haven’t you, by proxy, agreed that you are reasonably sure they can sail you to shore? And, aren’t you entrusting them to do their best to get you there? There is no lesson in a hindsight view of what dreadful leaders people can be when in the middle of shark infested waters. That is, I am sure, the opposite of grace under pressure, good sportsmanship, or good personal skills. It’s the Bill Clinton exercise of personal responsibility: the willfully obtuse justification. And it is an excellent way to miss the next good ship lollipop. Focusing on forgiveness is choosing to live in the past. It is a fear of the reality of something that has already happened; it is an insidious form of denial.

When I feel the need to “forgive” someone else, I am missing the opportunity to figure out the lesson I need to learn. Yes, I have whined through some of these last years, “I don’t want to learn any more lessons. I want to be comfortable and dumb.” Other times, I have tortured myself with the thought that I must have done some seriously bad stuff in my life to get this kind of karma punch, over and over again. But, when I look at the title of the aforementioned book again, Forgiveness… for the Stubborn & Hard Headed, I think I may just see the message. After all, isn’t being hard headed just a way of holding on to being right instead of being fully engaged in…being? And, underlying that, isn’t stubbornness really just the base fear of letting go of an outdated prism of experience that keeps us imprisoned inside an illusion of security? Does any of that have to do with my partner, anyone, or anything else?

Adapt or die. It is one of my favorite phrases. And, yet, there I sat, feeling despondent and reading books about forgiving someone else for his shortcomings. Et tu, Brute?

Exchanging forgiveness for empowerment reconnects us to the self-assurance of childhood. As a kid, I would wake up to the start of a long summer day with only myself to amuse and the whole neighborhood to prospect. I would leap out of bed and head out to explore, create, and entertain myself. I had a huge mental list of all the places and activities I could enjoy and a free floating plan of where to start; I was also open to whatever found me along the way. The ultimate design was discovery and engagement. Sometimes, I shared these days with accomplices. Other times, I spent the whole afternoon just lying in the grass with my arm flung across the neck of my best friend: a tremendous, solid black German Shepherd named Chief. As an adult, relearning to approach dreams with a beginner’s mind, working and adapting my own plan, and learning to master every part of the boat by myself while listening hard for my own counsel – is ultimately, the course I am plotting. If I am lucky enough to have a partner who wants to come along, I have to alter my course to be a shared one – with value for all. Maybe that’s what “Take no prisoners” should mean.

An appropriate level of discomfort is the sweet spot. When did the racing pulse and queasy feeling of trying something new and possibly – probably – inviting redirection become so loathsome? Where would Ben Franklin be if he was puffing disdain for the kite maker? Why would it bother anyone for Einstein to assert that perhaps none of his theories may be true since they were all built on other theories? In a society where corporate media discourages erstwhile soul searchers with Faustian whispers to pop a prescription pill, smoke a cigarette, eat a Twinkie – ad nauseam – as a salve for every boo-boo moment, I have to believe that gaining confidence and self-satisfaction facing overwhelming hurdles is more desirable than looking outward to someone or something else to blame or make it better. It’s gratifying to have support through tough moments from people who love us and want the best for us. But, ultimately, we go through those evolutionary changes inside ourselves – alone. For myself, the way forward turned out to be a renewed willingness to embrace vulnerability, change, and a novice eye. If I needed to ‘forgive’ anyone, it was myself.

In 1875, Victorian poet William Ernest Henley wrote a short, inspiring poem called “Invictus”, though many people wrongly subscribe it to Nelson Mandela…or Morgan Freeman. The last lines sum up the personal responsibility and majesty encapsulating such: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Forget about forgiveness. Grab the wheel and discover new worlds.

My Emerald Year

Susann Hayden kicks off a brand new blog with a light-hearted free association of her 2016 horoscope.

According to astrologer Susan Miller, this is my emerald year. An emerald year is rare and fortuitous – the best year that can happen. It is when Jupiter, planet of gifts and luck, enters your Zodiac sun sign and stays 12 months. It happens every 12 years and sets the stage for the next 12 years, since it takes that length of time for Jupiter to orbit the sun. Fantastic luck, happy coincidence, being in the right place at the right time, and getting profound help from like souls, are all hallmarks of an Emerald Year. One of the loveliest aspects of Jupiter is that there are no penalties with his visit. Unlike the dreary taskmaster Saturn, planet of hard lessons and forgotten karma, Jupiter’s benevolence and gifts are free of charge. You just have to be open to receiving and building on them in the best way you can. Jupiter’s cycle is the time, as well, for your true love to come into your life. Jupiter’s goal is to make you happy, so it is important to dream big during his visit; you must seize the chance to visualize, take steps, and realize the life you want to create during these years. Jupiter’s visits are so rare, that I, as a Virgo, would have to live to the ripe age of 96 to get all eight of them in my sun sign this centennial.

After a decade of big events and transitions, I have been really excited to find out about this year that started last August and will continue to September of 2016. I thought I better make the most of it. So, after a little free association and research about emeralds, I discovered the following.

Emerald, the Gemstone

Emeralds are fascinating and rare. They are distinguished by their flaws; scientists can tell where individual emeralds originated and how they evolved by the different types of irregularities in color and clarity they show. According to a wonderful website on gems called Crystal Vaults, emeralds are part of the Beryl group of gems, which are colorless until they react with other elements; in the case of emeralds, those reactive elements are vanadium and chromium. Interestingly, those elements were originally very far apart from each other on earth. So, imagine the thousands of years and violent landscape change and natural evolution that had to occur on the planet for these two elements to move close enough together to beryl to form emeralds and you get an idea of their sort of mystical place in the gemstone family and their believed power and esteem. Emeralds have been around since ancient times: Incas, Aztecs, Egyptian pharaohs, and Indian maharajahs all revered, mined, and wore emeralds. Now, these gems are found primarily in Africa and South America and excavated routinely and professionally. Leonardo DiCaprio will never have to make a movie about exploited Africans killing each other for emeralds; no De Beers type corporation has ever designed a worldwide advertising campaign to assert that any woman who doesn’t get an emerald from her fiance is not really loved or valuable.

Emeralds according to Astrology and Religion

In astrology, emeralds promote understanding and intellect and empowers the wearer spiritually. Emerald wearers are led to “a peaceful and triumphant life adorned with the flowers of delight.” Writers benefit from wearing them, as do most types of artists. The emerald is entrusted with keeping a relationship strong and everlasting when given to a lover by her beloved, then worn around the waist. Great health, prosperity, and success for Virgo – my specific sun sign – along with a happy and respectful long life come from wearing emeralds. In fact, only Geminis and Virgos should wear emeralds – on the pinky finger of the right hand… on Wednesdays only…and, optimally, at sunrise. For early Christians, the stones became symbolic of the resurrection – a rebirth into a fresh, new life.  Wearing emeralds is thought to improve eyesight and removes the blindfold from the scales of justice, so she can see more than facts. The emerald is intuitive. Possessors must never give away an emerald or it will bring great misfortune to them; Virgos have a problem giving too much. As do I.

Emerald Green, the color

Green is the calmest of colors. Emerald green is considered one of the most beautiful colors. Though we all learned early in school that green was not a primary color and that blue and yellow combine to make green, it turns out that was only true for painting and printing colors. “In the RGB color model, used on TV and in computer screens, [green] is one of the additive primary colors, along with red and blue, which are mixed in different combinations to create all other colors.” One could argue that green is more modern a color than that lightweight, upstart hue: yellow.

Still, green is everything old and new again. The word green comes from the same German root word as ‘grow’ and ‘grass’; the Latin root viridis gives us words like ‘verdant’ and ‘haricots verts’ (green beans, en francais.) Chlorophyll is what makes everything flora in nature look green; when oceans look green, it’s because the blue rays from the sun’s spectrum are absorbed and an abundance of green plant life or run-off sediment from nearby rivers in the seawater makes the wavelengths appear more green than blue. Either way, the color green in nature is a direct result of the sun’s light, whether by instigating a process like photosynthesis or by providing light rays that add color to our world.

Mona Lisa wore green, which symbolized she was not of the nobility; leprechauns wore green to distinguish themselves from the French aristocracy. When clothing more clearly represented social status, green was worn by the upper middle class: bankers, merchants, and the gentry. In Eastern culture the color green has very positive connotations, primarily indicating fertility. In the West, it is associated with nature, youth (or inexperience), spring, envy, and sickness. It is also thought of as a safety color: green lights, green cards. It is the color of the modern environmental movement as it represents a naturalness and sustainability. Political groups and products are often marketed as being ‘green’ or environmentally friendly.

Green is the most important color in Islam and is represented on almost all Islamic country flags; Muslims believe green represents the lush vegetation of Paradise. It is also associated with Ireland from the Gaelic period. (Gaelic people were once French!) I like France, so this must be my Emerald Year connection. I have cultivated a lush garden – my Paradise – and have exalted being on the ocean since childhood, so there is much potential synergy with the color green for me this year.

Seattle & Wichita are both Emerald Cities

I live in Seattle. Seattle is spectacularly green; that’s true. Even the blackest thumb can grow anything here, which is a testament to the large number of bad weed growers. But, the people are not unique or spectacular in any way that I have found. If green is the most serene color, then perhaps Washingtonians have become immune to it. The state is known for the Seahawks, serial killers, and suicides, and the motto seems to be, “For Me and Mine and Give Me Yours”. But, I digress – there is no connection here for exploration of My Emerald Year except to try and bloom where I am planted so I can leave the state and never have to return.

Wichita is also known as the Emerald City. I have never been to Wichita, but it is in Kansas. It is not the capitol of the state – that would be Topeka – which means a good place to dig potatoes; who would trade that gem for a name like the Emerald City? I also recall that Glen Campbell sang about a county lineman in Wichita who is still on the line and wants me for all time. Clearly, my true love this year could be some sort of utility worker. Ultimately, though, the tie-in here is that Kansas is the setting for Frank Baum’s books on The Wizard of Oz.

Oz, the quintessential Emerald City

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published on my birth month and day, September 1st, in 1900. In it, a farm girl named Dorothy is conked on the head during a tornado and dreams of a great adventure to a magical land where she gets fabulous sparkly shoes, meets fascinating new friends who really seem to get her, and where she spends her entire odyssey trying to return home, to dig potatoes maybe. Oz – The Emerald City she must locate to find a great wizard with the powers to get her back to the farm – turns out to be a surreal destination clouded in an allusion of emerald color and where she and her friends find out from the great and powerful wizard (who is also only an illusion of smoke and mirrors) that they each had the power to be, do, or have what they wanted inside themselves all along: a brain, a heart, a home, the nerve. If anything, the Wizard provides a paradigm shift that allows for acknowledgement, enlightenment, and self-confidence. Oh, I hope that is what my emerald year brings.

Upon reflection, it seems that my Emerald Year is set to be quite wondrous and wanderous. The gemstone facts provide clues that I should be happy for my flaws; unique imperfections represent a long, full life in constant evolution. I am proud of the long journey and tectonic shifts that formed me; I will trust in my own wisdom more and realize that the divine and beautiful really does come from within. My true love gave me a sapphire for our wedding this past August; I have also gleaned that it is imperative to receive a big emerald from him as soon as possible…

All of the number 12s in the first paragraph alert me to the cycles I am completing and the new one beginning this year. I am blessed to be building a brand new life from the ashes of my last; hopefully, my books are as best-selling as the New Testament. It is also clear I must be careful not to give away all of my earnings this time. New genres of  writing will be my ‘primary’ color of income. I don’t need to start with outdated past learnings – blue and yellow – to create.

And, like Mona Lisa, whether I become famous or infamous, I will never pretend to be something I am not; I will be natural. Most of all, unlike Dorothy, I will be open to new adventures, people, and places; I will refrain from pulling back the curtain too fast on some of the magic that comes my way. Home is where the heart is, after all; I will stay present in my life, wherever it takes me, every moment this year. And, if I really work hard and look for the opportunities that Jupiter brings my way, maybe I can spend another Christmas in Paris. Viva la Jupiter!