The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer

artofstillness.jpgIyer approaches stillness from a Buddhist perspective. “And it’s only by going nowhere- by sitting still or letting my mind relax- that I find that the thoughts that come to me unbidden are far fresher and more imaginative than the ones I consciously seek out.” pg 62.

It’s not a world that most people are accustomed to experiencing, a space of being rather than an active doing. But, as Iyer so succinctly illustrates, it’s a realm that our fast-paced and technology addicted world desperately needs.

To venture into this emptiness is a restful and required experience for the health of the mind as much as inspired action is necessary for the experience of a fulfilling life.

I think that our culture has forgotten the power of stillness and the beauty of balancing our male and female energies. This book is an excellent reminder to appreciate both.

For those folks out there who haven’t heard Pico Iyer’s TED talk on this topic, I would recommend that you watch it first, then read this.

I read this and then I listened to the talk. Almost all 18 minutes of it were taken verbatim from The Art of Stillness. So, you’ll enjoy it more, I believe, if you do the opposite of what I did.

My big takeaway from this was the idea of air travel as “a retreat in the sky” pg 56. I dislike flying to the point where I tend to reach my destination exhausted and ready to return home the moment I land.

I think if I could successfully adopt the process that Iyer describes of treating the flight as a “meditative retreat” that I could change my experience of air travel from a nightmare into a restful pause.

There are many large ideas like that contained within this small book.

For the right person at the right time, The Art of Stillness could change her life. As Iyer says, The Art of Stillness doesn’t contain any “new” ideas but they are powerful and much needed ones.

Readers who are short on time, but big on stress may really love this book.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. FTC guidelines: check!

Thanks for reading!

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When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner

When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner

badthingshappenWhen Bad Things Happen to Good People is Rabbi Harold Kushner’s examination of life, why things happen and the role of God in all of it.

Kushner wrote the book because his son was born with progeria, a disease where his body aged much faster than it should, and he died young. It shook Kushner to his core. “Tragedies like this were supposed to happen to selfish, dishonest people whom I, as a rabbi, would then try to comfort by assuring them of God’s forgiving love. How could it be happening to me, to my son, if what I believed about the world was true?” pg 3.

Kushner methodically picks apart traditional explanations for why tragedy strikes. When he’s through, none of them hold water.

“I would find it easier to believe that I experience tragedy and suffering in order to ‘repair’ that which is faulty in my personality if there were some clear connection between the fault and the punishment. A parent who disciplines a child for doing something wrong, but never tells him what he is being punished for, is hardly a model of responsible parenthood. Yet, those who explain suffering as God’s way of teaching us to change are at a loss to specify just what it is about us we are supposed to change.” pg 23.

It’s no secret that earlier this year, I changed jobs – from a reference librarian to a writer in a newsroom. I picked up this book because I was going through a spiritual crisis of sorts.

It’s not that I’m overly-religious, but I am spiritual. I believe in things we can’t see or explain. I believe in the goodness of people and the universe.

In my job, every day, I read and hear about terrible things that happen for no reason at all. Sometimes, I write about families who lost a child to a rare disease or I read a story about someone dying in a car or motorcycle accident, and I think, “Why do things like this happen?”

I just didn’t see how a universe that was inherently good, as I believed, could have things like this happen, all the time, every day.

Kushner says, don’t look for God or goodness in the bad things, look for the good in the response or what comes after. “For me, the earthquake is not an ‘act of God.’ The act of God is the courage of people to rebuild their lives after the earthquake and the rush of others to help them in whatever way they can.”pg 60

In the final analysis, the question why bad things happen to good people translates itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it has happened.” pg 147

That was a philosophy that I needed.

I now try to look for the good in the response to tragedy and, wouldn’t you know, I find it. Every day, there’s someone who’s kind or generous or brave. The goodness was always there. I just had to change where and how I was looking for it.

Thanks for reading!

Secrets of Meditation: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace and Personal Transformation by davidji

Secrets of Meditation: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace and Personal Transformation by davidji

secretsofmeditationSecrets of Meditation is one of the clearest and beginner friendly meditation manuals that I’ve ever read.

Davidji breaks practices down not only into type and step-by-step instructions with examples, but also by lineage and development over time and place.

Davidji provides enough background on himself to establish his bona fides but not so much as to overpower the instruction with meaningless chatter about himself.

He intersperses the text with helpful advice, additional authors to explore, and a myriad of ways to connect with him online for some meditation freebies.

Though it’s clear that he’s immersed himself in Eastern culture and practices (having traveled extensively in the East and studied under various gurus), Davidji hasn’t adopted an insider’s way of talking about meditation.

Sometimes, and maybe this is just me, it feels like meditation instructors go so far out into the “oneness” that they never come back fully into the real world. That’s not Davidji at all. I loved this text mainly because of how he could keep one foot “over there” and the other firmly planted “back here”.

Admittedly, my daily meditation practice has lately fallen somewhat on my priority list. This book makes me want to head back to the mat.

If you enjoyed Secrets of Meditation, you may want to read 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works which is not so much meditation instruction as a memoir from someone beginning meditation. I recommend it a lot because Dan Harris seemed so relatable to me.

And also, Seeking Heaven. Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon who had a near death experience turned it into guided meditations. I think they’re easy enough for beginners to use.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works  by Dan Harris

10 happierDan Harris had problems, like all of us, but unlike all of us, he was beginning to experience some of the messier symptoms of his dysfunctional inner world in front of millions of people.

He sought help and jumped into the meditation world with both feet. I think its why most people find their way into spiritual practices- something isn’t working quite right in their life and they need to change from the inside out. So, they look for a process of inner change and run smack into meditation.

However, Dan isn’t drinking the kool-aid of the new age movement. He questions every practice for its practical benefits and searches for scientific experimentation to back up those benefits.

In essence, he brings the investigative skills that he applies to his job as a news anchor to the practice of meditation and it’s a delight to read.

I loved this. Dan had the same initial reaction to Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra that I did. One of them seems too mellow to be real and the other seems to market himself too well to be that spiritual.

Over time, I’ve come to love both of those authors/gurus for their wisdom, but they are both just out of this world. Harris isn’t afraid to point that out.

In conclusion, I’d recommend 10% Happier to anyone who wants to become 10% happier- isn’t that all of us?

Also, anyone who has read Eckhart Tolle or Deepak Chopra may also enjoy this, if only for the surprisingly accurate descriptions of their foibles. Anyone who wants to try meditation but feels like they don’t have time, couldn’t do it if they tried, or doesn’t know where to start may find some inspiration from this book.

And, finally, anyone who is fed up with the hippie-dippie-trippie feeling that most spiritual memoirs give them, will find a kindred soul in Dan Harris.

Thanks for reading!

I’ll Put 3 Chips on God, Just in Case There is One by Preeti Gupta

I’ll Put 3 Chips on God, Just in Case There is One by Preeti Gupta

i'llput3chipsongodI’ll Put 3 Chips on God, Just in Case There is One reads like what you would get if you crossed Bridget Jones’ Diary with an episode of Seinfeld and added a dash of New Age spiritual musings.

Preeti, in a conversational way, discusses everything from karma to palm reading.

I liked that she didn’t talk down to the reader or apologize for her thoughts. She just puts it out there and lets everybody come to their own conclusions.

My favorite part of this book was when Preeti goes to the astrologist twice to see if he would give her the same natal chart on both visits. She lets some years pass so that she won’t be recognized by her face and compares the results. They don’t match.

Preeti celebrates the fact that the charts were completely different because it backs up her theory that folks who are in the spiritual business only for money are hucksters.

But, at the same time, she doesn’t dismiss astrology as utter nonsense and leaves the door open for more learning on the subject.

It’s refreshing to find an author who is that willing to entertain different traditions even in the face of a fraudulent experience. She freely admits that she doesn’t know the ultimate truth and I think everyone can resonate with that idea… because, who does, really? Not me.

If you enjoyed I’ll Put 3 Chips on God, I’d recommend reading Life’s Operating Manual: With the Fear and Truth Dialogues(Tom Shadyac’s thoughts on life and spirituality) or Tipping Sacred Cows: The Uplifting Story of Spilt Milk and Finding Your Own Spiritual Path in a Hectic World (in the same conversational type of style as this book and with irreverent humor, Betsy Chasse talks about her journey through the New Age Movement).

I received a free digital copy of this book from the author.

I apologize that I took so long to review it. I sometimes get lost in my own to-read pile. Thank you, Preeti, for sending it to me.

And, thank you, for reading!

Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams by J.M. DeBord

Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams by J.M. DeBord

dreamsDeBord starts his book about dreams with the idea that dream interpretation used to be the job of a wise man or woman in the community. Dreams were an integral part of living a fully conscious and realized life.

Now, dream interpretation experts charge for their services and not everyone has access to their skills.

This clever little book opens the doors of dream interpretation so that average people can again know the meaning of their dreams. It doesn’t stop there- J.M. DeBord also provides suggestions for integrating the dreams into your daily life.

Finally, in Dreams 1-2-3, DeBord empowers readers by reminding us that no matter how expert the dream interpreter, the final meaning for any dream really rests in the hands of the dreamer herself. Only she can feel the “ringing of truth” in the interpretation.

This is by far the best book that I have ever read on dream symbolism. DeBord doesn’t provide lists of animals/colors/scenarios and their most common meanings. He ties whatever shows up in the dream to the rest of its contents and the dreamer’s own internal and external world.

In this way, each dream can be understood and applied in as unique a way as the dream itself.

My one critique of Dreams 1-2-3 is that DeBord made the process seem so simple. I’d read the dream example and think, I have absolutely no clue what that one means, and then DeBord would go on to provide a crystal clear interpretation.

See how simple it is?… he seems to say. Perhaps not.

DeBord may have a gift for it, honed by practice, and he doesn’t realize that what he is doing is rather amazing. I suppose he gives me a goal to strive towards.

I have had a few dreams since completing this book and, with DeBord’s method, have been able to wring some meaning from what I otherwise would have assumed to be nonsense. Dreams 1-2-3 has already changed my life. Read it if you want to change yours too.

Thanks for reading!

Across Time And Death: A Mother’s Search For Her Past Life Children by Jenny Cockell

Across Time And Death: A Mother’s Search For Her Past Life Children by Jenny Cockell

acrosstimeJenny Cockell retained memories of a former life. In these memories, she died young and left children behind. Across Time and Death documents her acceptance of the memories and her search to find her previous family.

In childhood, my dreams were swamped by memories of Mary’s death. … All this, however, seemed inconsequential beside my fear for the children I was leaving behind.” pg 1.

In the religion of my childhood, reincarnation was neither taught nor accepted. But, as I’ve read different books, I’ve come to believe that it’s true.

I was so curious about it, in fact, that I participated in a past-life regression therapy session. The recording of it is mildly interesting, but mainly traumatic. I saw abuse, a lifetime of servitude and then a death that was penniless and alone in the dark.

The therapist can be heard on the recording, murmuring niceties about being “safe and secure.” There was a lot of, “let it go into the light” and “breathe in and out, slowly.”

Still, I walked out of that session and haven’t gone to another one since. I most likely never will.

If we do indeed live again and again, perhaps there’s a reason that we retain no memory of it. That’s my two cents. Back to Across Time and Death.

As a child, Jenny understood her past life memories more clearly than when she was an adult. “I had no cause to doubt that these memories were real. I assumed that memories of this kind were normal, and I expected everyone else to have them too.”pg 12.

Culture has such power to shape our worldview. Isn’t it true that part of the process for choosing the next Dalai Lama is that the candidate has to recognize the previous Lama’s belongings?

Jenny’s experience with regression through hypnosis seemed to echo mine. “Hypnosis is a strange experience even without the element of regression. All sorts of memories which have been hidden deep within the subconscious and cannot ordinarily be reached can be brought to the surface. This is double edged – both a wonderful and a disturbing experience at the same time.” pg 34. Yes.

When Jenny is finally able to overcome all of her doubts and fears, she then has to consider what the, now grown, children are going to think of her. “I needed to ask for help because I was beginning to panic. I wondered if I had any right to disturb Mary’s children or, conversely, if I had the right to keep my story from them.” pg 107. Which is a legitimate concern.

I’d recommend this book for people who are on the fence or just curious about reincarnation. If your mind is completely made up one way or another, I don’t know that Jenny’s testimony will mean as much to you.

Thanks for reading!