Archive for the ‘Spiritual’ Category.

Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg

Salzberg’s Lovingkindness is one of the most insipirational books I’ve ever read.  I’ve lent it to several people through the years and have read it three times myself.  It’s currently on loan with a waiting list. But Faith didn’t do nearly as much for me.  I had a hard time finding enough interest to finish it, though I eventually slogged through.  It’s written in her same, accessible style and is rife with examples from her own life.  It just didn’t resonate with me.

Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul by Tony Hendra

Father Joe is a sweet recounting of the author’s life, particularly as it touched a priest he met in early adolescence.  Tony Hendra, inspired by Father Joe, thought he had a calling to the priesthood but before he took vows, he detoured.  Despite going on to live a worldly life, he kept in touch with the man who had shaped his teen years.  Father Joe was his only touchstone with his former faith.  Eventually, with Father Joe’s help, Hendra finds his way back to a relationship with God.

Hendra, being a professional writer, has a smooth delivery and the message is warm.  Father Joe is lovingly rendered.  At times, the prose is overly florid but the genuine emotion behind the excessive adjectives comes through.

Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg

I think this is my third time through Lovingkindness and I get more out of it each time.  If only I could live up to these ideals!  I think each read-through drives the concepts in a little deeper.  I wish everyone could read (and really hear) this book.

Happiness Makeover by M. J. Ryan

I liked The Happiness Makeover: How to Teach Yourself to Be Happy and Enjoy Every Day so much that I bought a copy for my boyfriend. You could call it Buddhism-lite. Without mentioning Buddhism except in passing, it communicates many of the fundamental tenets that can lead to a more peaceful, contented life. The chapters are very short, perfect for reading at bedtime or a quick pick-me-up on a bad day. The writing style is informal and friendly. This one’s a keeper.

Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn

There’s a reason my reading blog has been so thin lately: school. In January I started a part-time Massage Therapy program. It’s twelve hours of class a week plus practice (called logs), other homework, and studying. So I’m reading. I’m just not reading for fun. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not enjoying what I’m reading. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, one of the manuals for our Personal Potential class, is the sort of book I’d read anyway.

The school’s nickname for Personal Potential is PERP, but I like to call it Breathing 101. It’s a class designed to help us handle the challenges of balancing work and school now and the challenges of being a massage therapist later. It covers things like meditation, mindfulness, health, stress reduction, boundaries, transference, self-esteem, emotional intelligence and, yes, breathing. Most of us who took the class agree that it should be a required course for admission into the human race.

Full Catastrophe Living is based on a stress reduction clinic the author teaches at a hospital. The clinic sounds a lot like PERP. It’s a several month-long program that teaches mindfulness and meditation to help people cope with pain, anxiety and stress. It’s a great program but a very thick book. I don’t know if it’s possible to get as much out of the book as you’d get from a clinic like the author’s or a class like PERP, but this is a book I’ll happily lend out to anyone who doesn’t have the opportunity I had to learn how to breathe in a group.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia engendered a lot of debate over on Amazon. I saw the book recommended somewhere, thought it sounded cool, read the negative reviews, decided I agreed with them (book unread), and didn’t buy it. Later a friend said she’d just finished reading it and offered to loan it to me. Well, free is different from buying, so why not.

The book is about a year spent living in three foreign countries–Italy, India, and Indonesia (Bali, specifically). The author’s intention in making this journey is to heal her broken heart and broken spirit and generally rediscover herself and her place in the cosmos. The criticisms on Amazon were threefold: that her distress over her current situation was disproportionately large, that her spiritual awakening was shallow and unbelievable, and that the whole seemingly spontaneous journey was pre-planned.

The author starts the book having come through an ugly divorce followed by a rocky rebound relationship. Is that the worst that’s ever happened to anyone? No. Does it suck? Yes. How many of us haven’t been there, felt that, and felt pretty miserable at the time? Besides which, it doesn’t really matter whether our misery is caused by something as equally horrific as the next person’s misery. It only matters that it’s our misery. I thought she did a great job of making her misery clear to the reader. I understood why she wanted to get away and start fresh.

Because the tone of the book is earnestly light-hearted and because the author makes some stunning breakthroughs, especially during the middle part of the book, it’s tempting to call her shallow and her spiritual awakening trivial. But her experiences really resonated with me. I also am not the deepest, most spiritual person on earth. But I also have found how quickly the soul can blossom given even minor attention. And she gave her soul a heck of a lot of attention during her four months spent on an ashram. You’d have to be pretty shallow to spend hours a day meditating for four months and not walk away changed. I’m happy for her that she experienced moments of connecting with God. I don’t discount them.

The fact that she wrote the book proposal and got an advance before she even started her journey does make the whole thing seem preposterously pre-planned. How do you propose to have a spiritual awakening? Is it not then automatically phony? The idea certainly raised my ire. But once I started reading, I relaxed. She’s upfront about the fact that the journey was planned. Obviously you don’t leave your country for a year without planning (and funding) the trip. She didn’t plan to connect to God; she planned to spend four months in an ashram in India. She didn’t plan to fall in love; she planned to spend four months learning to lead a balanced life in Bali. She did plan to learn Italian but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone.

In short (yeah, this is long), I liked the book. I liked it a lot. I liked that spirituality doesn’t come easily to her and that she admits it. It was easier for me to relate to someone who struggles in some of the ways I do. I say give the book a chance. I’m glad I did.

Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg

Lovingkindness is a buddhist book focused on dealing with other people. It offers wisdom and meditation exercises on forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and sympathetic joy. The goal is to feel more connected to others and more open and tolerent in your daily life. The writing was straightforward and the lessons were useful. The book was practical and not overly spiritual in terms of karma or reincarnation.

Lovingkindness is an excellent philosophy to practice and I hope to practice it more regularly thanks to this book.

How to Practice : The Way to a Meaningful Life by Dalai Lama

If How to Practice was the first I’d learned about Buddhism, I wouldn’t be so interested in Buddhism. This is a mystical, clubby book. By mystical, I mean that it emphasizes karma and other other-worldly concepts more than day-to-day better living of a normal life. By clubby, I mean that it uses a lot of buzz words: Noble Truth and Buddha Body and I-don’t-know-what-all because I don’t care. Giving an idea a snazzy sounding name doesn’t make it more true or valuable and if all you tell me about the idea is its snazzy name, then you’ve told me nothing.

I’m sure the Dalai Lama is a swell guy who’s fully enlightened (whatever that means) but he can’t communicate worth a damn.

Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das

I got a lot out of Awakening the Buddha Within, despite the fact that it kept rubbing me the wrong way. When I read the book on world religions that I enjoyed so much, I got the idea that Buddhism was a rather non-spiritual religion, not really a religion at all but a way of living your current life. In fact, I remember that book saying that Buddha said he didn’t know if there was another world but he knew that there was a present world, so why not make the most of it.

Maybe I imagined all that.

Anyway, Awakening the Buddha Within is pretty heavy on mysticism and spirituality. The concepts of karma and rebirth are used to explain “why” you ought to be good. (I could have sworn karma and rebirth were Hinduism.) And to me that makes Buddhism no different than any other religion. I dislike the concept that we can only behave under threat of punishment. I believe it’s perfectly possible to do the right thing because it’s the right thing and to improve yourself for the here and now of it. Considering that Buddhism is all “here and now” I don’t know why Lama Surya Das leaned so heavily on an imaginary “after”.

Then there’s meditation. He did explain some good non-voodoo reasons to meditate, such as that meditation teaches you to focus your mind and to be here/now. On the other hand, he threw in a lot of voodoo too, including chanting and some hogwash about being more enlightened if you do some number of cycles of some number of meditations. It’s all ridiculous ritual, which isn’t what I was interested in. There was also a fair amount of worshiping of Buddha and other “enlightened ones”. Pretty sure Buddha was anti-worship, especially with regards to himself.

I understand that Buddhism has evolved since Buddha’s days and also that it has branched out through the years into different schools. Lama Surya Das even does a good job of explaining why it’s important for Buddhism to adapt to its environment. But I sure wish I could find a book that stuck to the original plan. No religion, no ritual, no worship, no threats, just how to be the best that I can be here and now.

Despite what I consider to be the flaws of this book, it has a lot of value.

The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions by Huston Smith

The World’s Religions was an amazing read. I was looking for a book that would explain the major religions from a historical point of view and summarize their beliefs. What I got was both less and more. This isn’t a book crammed with facts, like how many Hindus there are in the world or where you’ll find the biggest Buddha, but it’s an amazing book. It tells you about the beliefs on which the religions where founded and grown and it does this in such a way that you realize they’re all really nice religions. They were all founded on excellent principles and, if followed ideally, would probably result in excellent people.

The book also tells you about the ways in which these religions have been corrupted since they were first founded. Some of them have become almost the antithesis of what their creators intended.

This isn’t a new book but it’s been around so long for a reason. I strongly recommend it as an introduction to the big religions and also as a source of inspiration. You’ll find yourself wishing that the original versions were still in practice.