Monday, July 14, 2014

July 2014 Books

WIld: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Published: 2012
Rating: 5
Author's web site

I listened to the audiobook and loved it so much, I purchased the book.

In essence, it is a memoir of a young woman's grief journey after the sudden death of her health-concious mother who died at forty-five from late-stage lung cancer. Cheryl was only 22 and the loss was devastating.

I am reminded once again of the catharsis that occurs when one reads of the suffering of others.  It brings your own pain to light which is paradoxically both painful and beneficial.

Written from the depths of her soul, Strayed is brutally honest and authentic with her thoughts, feelings and emotions, both funny and sad, making a raw and emotional read interspersed with humor.

I listened to a good chuck while on a business trip from Washington DC to Norfolk, VA and found myself chuckling as well as moved to tears.

On her quest to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl met various people whose interactions impacted her in some way.  One particular woman, Lou had picked her up hitchhiking.  She had a picture of her little boy, Luke, hanging from her rearview mirror.  He had died five years ago, at eight years old, after after being hit by a truck while riding his bike.  He held on for a week before succumbing to his injuries.

Lou told Cheryl that "after that happened, I died too.  Inside.  I look the same but I'm not the same in here.  I mean, life goes on and all that crap, but Luke dying took it out of me.  I try not to act like it, but it did.  It took the Lou out of Lou and I ain't getting it back."

I can relate.

Bringing Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell #2) by Hilary Mantel
Published: 2012
Rating: 4
2012 Man Booker Award

After reading Wolf Hall, I downloaded the ibook so as to continue the saga of Thomas Cromell's life in Henry VIII's court.

I found this to be a quick read, being familiar with Mantel's writing style and with all the characters surrounding Henry and his queen, Anne Boleyn.

As I reflect on the book now, it seems apropos to sum up all the drama and deaths depicted as "bad karma begets bad karma."

Anne is unable to produce a male heir for Henry and as her stature and worth decreases, she becomes more out of control in speech, manner and behavior causing Henry to bemoan his marriage and fix his gaze on a courtier whose personality is the complete opposite of the queen: young pious Jane Seymour.

No surprise, Henry turns to his "magician" Thomas Cromwell to get him out of the marriage so he can marry Jane.

This involves turning hearsay into fact resulting in the deaths of the queen, her brother and several other unfortunate souls.

There are several quotes about death that ring true:
Death is your prince, you are not his patron; when you think he is engaged elsewhere, he will batter down your door, walk in and wipe his boots on you. 
Between one beat of the heart and the next it is done. She knows nothing. She is in eternity. 

Inferno by Dan Brown (borrowed e-book)
Published: 2013
Rating: 4
Author's web site

The need to take a break from recent forays into memoir and historical fiction coincided with a timely article in the Washington Post (Apps for Reading Could be Your Netflix of Books) and a long weekend trip to Vermont over July 4th.

The article said an easy way to borrow from your public library was by using the Overdrive app which I had not heard of before.

In no time, I was connected to my local library, borrowed the e-book and was hooked.  I read on both my iPad while at the condo in Vermont and on my iPhone while on the way home (had to be connected to the Internet).

A very quick engrossing read as a typical Dan Brown scavenger-hunt, thriller/mystery with the familiar Robert Langdon in the center of a whirlwind of intrigue set in both Florence and Venice, Italy.

I have never been to Italy nor have read Dante's The Divine Comedy but after reading this book, I would like to do both.

The Trouble with Poetry by Billy Collins
Published: 2007
Rating: 5
Ted Talk video of him sharing his poems put to animation.


Taken from the inner flap of this wonderful collection:
"Playfulness, spare elegance, and wit epitomize the poetry of Billy Collins.  With his distinct voice and accessible language, America's two-term Poet Laureate had opened the door to poetry for countless people for whom it might otherwise have remained closed.  Like the book's title, Collins's poems are filled with mischief, humor, and irony….and is a window through which we see our lives as if for the first time."
I have a poetry journal which houses my favorite poems, my own fledgling creations and my notes about the art of writing poetry.   The title poem is one of several from this collection that I copied into my book. 

The Trouble With Poetry
by Billy Collins

The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night - 
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky - 

the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives 
when we have compared everything in the world 
to everything else in the world,

and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.

Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.

But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write more poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.

And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.

And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters,
I thought to myself
as a cold wave swirled around my feet
and the lighthouse moved its megaphone over the sea,
which is an image I stole directly
from Lawrence Ferlinghetti - 
to be perfectly honest for a moment - 

the bicycling poet of San Francisco
whose little amusement park of a book
I carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

June 2014 Books

I'm taking a break from the spiritually-focused books over the past few months and have yearned for good literary fiction.

Yin, Yang, Yogini: A Woman's Quest for Balance, Strength and Inner Peace by Kathryn E. Livingston
Published: 2014
Rating: 2.5

I found this book at the local library and could not resist as I have recently added daily yoga/meditation to my self-care habits - along with getting a good night's sleep, eating well and teaching spinning classes 3 times per week.

It is a memoir of a middle-aged writer who lost her mom two weeks after 9/11.  She is married to a musician and has three boys.  Her writing style is open, honest and engaging but the chronology is difficult to follow.  I think she takes two yoga classes a week and chronicles life via the classes.

I am listening to another memoir of a woman who lost her mother (Wild by Cheryl Strayed) and it is interesting to compare and contrast.  Wild is much better on so many fronts.

I am reticent to write this negative review but it does make me understand what I look for in a well-written memoir: depth, emotional connection, understanding of why someone acts the way they do, their decision-making process, etc.  Sadly, Livingston did not deliver.

  • not very deep 
  • I was hoping for more regarding how she handled the grief of her mother's passing
  • she is an extremely anxious mother - we learn it stems from having anxious parents but why was she so anxious?
  • she looked to yoga as a way to handle anxiety versus medication.  As one who sees the value of medication for mental illnesses, I found her comments to be stigmatizing. 
  • why her obsession with the headstand/handstand poses?
  • she is extremely anxious yet very social (seems incongruent)
  • does she exaggerate her phobias in this memoir?   Seems like if she really did have these issues, she would be incapacitated and stuck. 
  • for someone who has gone through a major loss, she seems very superficial.
  • whininess regarding boys leaving home for college was annoying
  • even when diagnosed with breast cancer, I did not feel any connection to her words.  It did not feel like she was writing from a deep, emotional place.
At the end of the day, she claims that yoga has transformed her into an awakened soul.  She is a firm believer in the healing powers of meditation regarding her breast cancer, lucky in just needing a lumpectomy and radiation, not chemo or mastectomy.  She is a more calm and centered being having found strength, balance, peace, self-awareness and self-love through yoga. 

This I can relate to. 

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: 2002
2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Rating: 4

First line is a doozy:   I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

The third paragraph of the first chapter starts with: But now, at the age of forty-one, I feel another birth coming on.

So this is a literary fictional memoir (could this be a new genre?) of a man who works for the U.S. State Department, is unmarried, changes countries of residence every three years and who finds relationships and intimacy difficult and complicated.

As the protagonist and narrator, Cal is believable.  He does not hold back.  His aim to to tell his story by tracing the gene mutation which produces hermaphrodites (herself/himself) two generations - back to his grandparent's ill-fated marriage.

It is also a story of love: falling madly in love, guilty love, what unrequited love will cause one to do, the fear of love, the evaporation of love.  There are intensely romantic, erotic and intimate scenes (think clarinet against a body).

It is a "coming of age" story - a time that is difficult for most people but even more complicated for Calliope.

It is tragedy - reminding me of the Greek tragedies from Sophocles or Euripides.

All in all, it is about the human condition, as all great literary fiction portrays:  birth, death and re-birth, love - consummated or not and the consequences of each, coming of age (innocence, ignorance, questioning, acceptance), intersex and its own complications (shame, stigma, isolation, victimization) and sexual discovery.

There are metaphysical elements that Eugenides employes which are absolutely believable.

As the narrator, Cal is very aware of the reader and at various times, speaks directly to us.

I have read his first published book, Virgin Suicides which was so-so.   I would recommend Middlesex.

What really mattered in life, what gave it weight, was death.
My mother used to say that the umbilical cord attaching her to her children had never been completely cut.  As soon as Dr. Philobosiam had severed the cord of flesh, another, spiritual connection had grown in its place….all this came in a kind of singing along the invisible cord, a singing such as whales do, crying out to one another in the deep.

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell #1) by Hilary Mantel
Published: 2009
2009 Man Booker Award
Rating: 4

I have started and stopped this book at least three times and decided one and for all that I would finish and see what all the hullaballoo was all about (winning of Man Booker award).

Somewhat familiar with Henry VIII's interesting life (from Philippa Gregory's historical fictions), I found Mantel's book slow going.  It took a while to get accustomed to her use of "he" instead of "I" as the protagonist and narrator Thomas Cromwell, a man who rose to become King Henry's behind-the-scenes, right hand man and therefore very influential in his court.

The pace and my interest picked up towards the end so despite thinking half-way through that I would NOT read the 2nd book in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, I have in fact, downloaded the ibook and am fascinated to see what other royals he, Cromwell,  manages to manipulate in his ultra smooth manner.

Some favorite quotes are at the end of the book:

Thomas Cromwell's MO.  I wonder if Mantel wrote this early on as part of Cromwell's character sketch and had it posted next to her computer while writing.
It is weak to be anecdotal. It is wise to conceal the past even if there is nothing to conceal. A man's power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the un-guessed at expression of his face.  It is the absence of facts that frightens people; the gap you open, into which they pout their fears, fantasies, desires.
He ponders the dead - of which he knows many and has been the cause of many:
It's the living that turn and chase the dead.  The long bones and souls are tumbled from their shrouds, and words like stones thrust into their rattling mouths; we edit their writings, we re-write their lives.

Friday, May 30, 2014

May 2014 Books

I've come to a recent epiphany: my "Grief To Reading Journey" chronicled on this blog can be more accurately described as "Grief to Reading to Spiritual Journey."

Because of my recent readings, I see the value of connection to the soul and now practice yoga/meditation on a daily basis.  And have come to a second epiphany: the books I've chosen to read (or not read) over the past five years since Josh's death are attributed to my soul's subtle guidance.  Not only that, but I see clearly the ones that are heavily dog-eared, underlined and written in the margins with such words as - wow!, so true!, I feel this too! -  are the ones that connected with my soul.  The author's soul to my soul.

I think this is why I've been drawn and helped by survivor of suicide books - written from an authentic place of deep emotion; by literary fiction - for an author to illuminate the nuances of the human condition, they must be writing from the place deep within, and now by spiritual books (not religious) - definitely written from the soul.

Power of the Soul: Inside Wisdom for an Outside World by John Holland
Published: 2007
Rating: 3.5
Author's Web site

I bought this book while at Kripalu last month.  At the time of publication, the author had been a psychic medium for 17 years.  In the introduction, he notes that in recent years there has been "an explosion go interest in spirituality, psychic phenomena, mediumship, metaphysics and self help" which he attributes to a newfound awareness that the physical world does not have the answers we seek.  "It's as if our soul is calling and reaching out to us."

He wrote this book to help people be "more in tune with their soul and tap into their own intuition."

The chapter headings give an idea of the content:
  1. Understanding the Soul
  2. Acknowledging the Source
  3. The Unfoldment of Your Soul Senses
  4. The Power of Love
  5. The Healer Within
  6. Breaking Free: Turning the Past into a Bridge for the Future
  7. Journey of the Soul
  8. Soul Living
Key points - all consistent with other books I've read:
  • Soul exists 
  • Death is only physical - the Soul does not die
  • Can access my Soul and souls on the Other Side by meditation
  • Reincarnation is the process that "helps the progression, evolution and advancement of our souls."
  • Suggests keeping a journal to record the Soul's journey and dreams (I have started this)
  • Includes several meditation exercises
He mentions "chakras" or energy centers in the body. I would like to learn more about this.  He suggests going on a "soul" retreat.  I've heard good things about Yogaville in Charlottesville, VA - not that far from the DC area.

Other books:
  • Born Knowing: A Medium's Journey - Accepting and Embracing My Spiritual Gifts 
  • Psychic Navigator: Harnessing Your Inner Guidance.

Warrior Pose: How Yoga (Literally) Saved My Life by Brad Willis aka Bhava Ram
Published: 2013
Rating 5


This is a remarkable memoir of a man's journey from ego to soul by way of yoga and meditation.  It is a story of transformation - from a man who was in chronic pain due to a broken back and on death's doorstep with Stage IV throat cancer, permanently disabled, addicted to pain medication and alcohol, not expected to live past 12 months to a man pain-free, fully healed and in remission - a medical miracle.  

His remarkable journey at 50 years old began with a simple biofeedback session (basically meditation) which had such a profound impact that he began reading everything he could about the topic, listened to meditation tapes, added simple yoga poses, practiced religiously and fanatically, incorporated nature into his practice, became a vegetarian then a vegan undergoing a total mind, body, soul transformation within two years. 

He co-founded the Deep Yoga School for Healing Arts in San Diego, CA.

Favorite quotes:

Energy follows intention (Chopra says this too)
Your thoughts determine your actions.
Your actions create your habits.
Your habits form your character.
Your character determines your destiny.
I find this to be true:
When the student is ready,
the teacher will appear.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth (#2 in Divergent trilogy)
Published: 2012
Rating: 3

Divergent book - interesting characters and world which makes up for the writing quality.

Divergent movie - excellent

Insurgent book - same as above so am looking forward to the movie. 

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer
Published: 2007
Rating: 5

The introduction begins with Shakespeare's famous quote in Hamlet: "This above all: to thine own self be true."

The author then asks a simple yet profound question - "to which "self" are we to be true? Is it the one that shows up when we're in a bad mood, or the one that is present when we feel humbled by our mistakes?"

He then promises a journey to discover the "self" - not via knowledge but by experience.   
The chapters of this book are nothing but mirrors for seeing your "self" from different angles.  And though the journey we are about to embark on is an inner one, it will draw upon every aspect of your life.  The only requirement asked of you is the willingness to honestly look at yourself in the most natural, intuitive manner.  Remember, if we are seeking the root of "self," what we are actually seeing is you. 
It is a short book (only 181 pages) but could take me weeks to digest.  The Table of Contents reveals the journey:

Part 1 - Awakening Consciousness
  1. The Voice Inside Your Head
  2. Your Inner Roommate
  3. Who are you?
  4. The Lucid Self
Part 2 - Experiencing Energy
  1. Infinite Energy
  2. The Secrets of the Spiritual Heart
  3. Transcending the Tendency to Close
Part 3 - Freeing Yourself
  1. Let Go Now or Fall
  2. Removing Your Inner Thorn
  3. Stealing Freedom for Your Soul
  4. Pain, the Price of Freedom
Part 4 - Going Beyond
  1. Taking Down the Walls
  2. Far, Far Beyond
  3. Letting Go of False Solidity
Part 5 - Living Life
  1. The Path of Unconditional Happiness
  2. The Spiritual Path of Nonresistance
  3. Contemplating Death
  4. The Secret of the Middle Way
  5. The Loving Eyes of God

Kripalu Yoga: A Guide to Practice On and Off the Mat by Richard Faulds and senior teachers of Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health
Published: 2005
Rating: 5

In the past my relationship with yoga was off and on - much more off than on.  

I did not get the following:
  • when teachers would say the practice of yoga is the "unity of mind, body and soul."
  • the time and energy spent on breathing. 
  • chanting OM at the end of class was uncomfortable. 
  • what did "Namaste" mean again?
  •  that yoga is a "moving meditation" - huh?
But as I've mentioned at the start of this post, I feel my reading journey has morphed into a spiritual journey and surprisingly enough, yoga and meditation are very integral parts.

So now, I practice yoga/meditation every day - either by myself or in a class.  I am understanding more - through my actual experience, by reading this book and from excellent teachers.  

My heart is wide open and I recall the quote from Warrior Pose above: "When the student is ready, the teacher will come."

Here are the chapters (about half the book) under the part called Psychological and Spiritual Growth.
  1. Deepening Your Practice
  2. Prana, the Life Force
  3. Pathways of Energy
  4. Purifying Body and Mind
  5. Experiences and Awakenings
  6. Building Character
  7. Opening the Heart
  8. Riding the Wave of Sensation
  9. Clearing the Mind
  10. Witness Consciousness
  11. Meditation-in-Motion
  12. A Living Relationship with Spirit
My daughter found yoga has helped with her emotional and mental health - I get it now.  

Life After Life: The 25th Anniversary of the Classic Bestseller by Raymond A. Moody, Jr., MD
Originally published: 1975 then 2000
Rating: 5
Author web site

Selected quotes in the preface:
"Twenty-five years ago Raymond Moody's Life After Life created a worldwide change in our understanding of death…Dr. Moody inspired a first generation of researchers dedicated to a scientific understanding of human consciousness and death, researchers who have in turn created a new science of near-death studies….It is fascinating to realize that Dr. Moody, a psychiatrist from Georgia; Dr. Whinnery, a flight surgeon for the Air Force; and I, a pediatrician from Seattle, each working independently, reached the same conclusions about near-death experiences."
I found this book to be very easy to read - there are no confusing medical terms or philosophical meanderings which one needs to read several times in order to understand.

After interviewing 50 people first hand who have had a near death experience, Dr. Moody gives over a dozen common elements.

  1. Ineffability - inexpressible. Our language limits the description of the experience.
  2. Hearing they were pronounced dead
  3. Feeling of peace and quiet
  4. Noise such as buzzing, loud ringing, bells, majestic sounds
  5. Dark tunnel - the sensation of being pulled through
  6. Out of body - able to float above and look at their physical body.  Some felt like "pure consciousness" or "energy".  
  7. As a spirit out of the body, was inaudible, invisible, weightless, timeless, could see anywhere, whole (undamaged) and thoughts transferred instantaneously. 
  8. Meeting others "spirits" to help with transition to Other Side.  Spiritual helpers or guardian angels.
  9. Being of Light - very bright light with personality.  Love and acceptance, no condemnation.  Perfect understanding and instant awareness.  Identified based on the person's religious background.
  10. The Review - panoramic view of life; extraordinarily rapid, instantaneous remembrance.  Incredibly vivid and real along with all emotions felt at the time.  Whole point of life is to 1) love one another and 2) acquire knowledge
  11. The Border or Limit - can see between the two worlds.
  12. Coming back - those who saw and felt the Light did not want to return.
  13. Absolutely no doubt about experience - it was real, not a dream.  Felt stigma so did not readily share. 
  14. New views on death - is a "transition from one state to another, or an entry into a higher state of consciousness or being."  Disavow the reward/punishment model (ie. heaven and hell).
He shares about parallel experiences of death in "ancient and/or highly esoteric writings from the literature of several very diverse civilizations, cultures, and eras" such as the Bible, Plato's writings in Phaedo, Gorgias and The Republics, the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the writings of Swedish psychic, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).  

Moody also addresses his perceived reader critics and skeptics by a Q&A, the first one being: Are you just making all this up?

Other books that I may want to read:
  • The Light Beyond (1989)
  • Reunions: Visionary Encounters with Departed Loved Ones (1994)
  • Life After Loss: Conquering Grief and Finding Hope (2002)
  • Glimpses of Eternity (2010)
  • Reflections on Life After Life (2011)
  • Paranormal: My Life in Pursuit of the Afterlife (2013)
According to his web site, Dr. Moody and Dr. Eban Alexander, author of Proof of Heaven have connected in a DVD called Conversations Beyond Proof of Heaven. 

Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul by Deepak Chopra
Published: 2002
Rating: 4

I listened to this audiobook read by Chopra and bought the book while at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in April.  What I realize about myself is that for me to really take in a book like this, I need to read, underline and ponder within the pages of my journal which I have yet to do.

Chopra organizes the book into two main parts listed in the title, and five breakthroughs in each.

Reinventing Your Body

  1. Your Physical Body is a Fiction
  2. Your Real Body is Energy
  3. Awareness had Magic
  4. You Can Improve Your Genes
  5. Time Isn't Your Enemy
Resurrecting Your Soul
  1. There's An Easier Way to Live
  2. Love Awakens the Soul
  3. Be as Boundless as Your Soul
  4. The Fruit of Surrender is Grace
  5. The Universe Revolves Through You
Conclusion:  "Who Made Me?"

Chopra has written so many books - my structured, analytical, ordered self would like to read all of them from the start - but there are just too many!  

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson
Published: 2006
Rating: 4

I bought this book at my all-time favorite bookstore (Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT) while on a ski vacation in February because my daughter recommended the movie.  I like to read the book first.  

After one start and stop (I just couldn't get into it), I picked it up again while lounging by our pool and couldn't put it down. This just goes to show that the reader in me can be very fickle at times.  I've learned to just go with it.   

If one wants to know what it takes to become a Navy SEAL, read this!  Luttrell recounts the inexplicably tough training and hardship, especially during the aptly named Hell Week that turns an already tough soldier into a "mess with me at your own peril", very scary SEAL.

He is the lone survivor of a mission gone very bad and makes the case against ROE (Rules of Engagement) which are handed down by Washington bureaucrats instead of being left to the professional military and the liberal (anti-war) media.

I will definitely watch the move. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

March and April 2014 Books

April 2014 will mark a significant milestone in my grief to reading journey.  I am just coming to realize this has been a spiritual journey all along. 

My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read and Shop
Edited by Ronald Rice
Published: 2102
Rating: 4

I bought this book at my favorite bookstore, Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT and was not surprised to see it make the list.   Why do I love it so much?  I found my answer to be similar to the short essays in this quick and engaging read. 

When I walk into Northshire, it feels like a book lover has opened their home and invited you in to browse, read and talk books. Buying is secondary.  That said, I have never left empty handed or disappointed in a purchase.  Occupying a prominent and central location in town, it overlooks the other shops.  It has great space - lots of nooks and crannies with well-placed comfy chairs.The sad thing for me (but probably good for my bank account) is that I do not live in VT, just visit for vacations.  

Libraries, on the other hand, feel institutional with their rows of dewey decimal labeled bookcases and books.  Large stores like Barnes & Noble feel materialistic and capitalistic - all it wants to do is to make as much money as possible. 

The stated goal of one of the bookstores, The Talking Leaves in Buffalo, NY is the reason I read. 

They want to offer books that "open us up to new worlds, or illuminate more clearly our own; they stretch and deepen our vision and our comprehension of the universe and its creatures, cultures and ways." 

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
Published: 1994
Rating: 4

My daughter downloaded the audio book for us to listen to while driving to NYC earlier this month.  Neither of us had read any of Chopra's books but felt we should in advance of meeting him, for Lauren had been invited to talk about her work as Executive Director for the Josh Anderson Foundation on his One World program

I've since bought and re-read this short thought-provoking book.  A synopsis of the seven laws reveals more a philosophy of life with practical ways to experience each law.  

1)  Law of Pure Potentiality - or said another way, how to access the soul.  Chopra advocates the practice of silence, meditation and communion with nature.

2)  Law of Giving - simple but easy to forget:  freely give and freely receive.

3)  Law of Karma or Cause and Effect - reminds me of this saying: "you reap what you sow".  Because every action has a consequence, we should be consciously aware of every choice before acting and every reaction to outside stimuli by tuning into the heart.  He says it will never lead us astray…our hearts know best.

4) Law of Least Effort - Nature is full of examples: "grass doesn't try to grow, it just grows.  Fish don't try to swim, they just swim.  Flowers don't try to bloom, they bloom.  Birds don't try to fly, they just fly."  Components are acceptance (accept this moment as it is now), responsibility (have a creative response to the moment as it is now) and defenselessness (refrain from holding onto my point of view, in other words, be open). 

5)  Law of Intention and Desire -  this reminds me of the verse in Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

6)  Law of Detachment - goes hand in hand with above.   This is for the controlling part of self.  One must give up attachment to outcomes by welcoming and trusting the uncertain journey.  "I will participate in everything with detached involvement."

7)  Law of "Dharma" or Purpose in Life - asks the following questions: "What is my unique talent?  How can I help?  How can I serve?"

Life After Death: The Burden of Proof by Deepak Chopra
Published: 2006
Rating: 4

A very thought-provoking book which will take time to absorb, ponder and process.   Understanding the soul and connecting with it has become a starting point for me. 

The following descriptions from the book feels true: 

"The soul is the most real aspect of the self and is:
  • Constant
  • Never loses sight of you
  • Connected to every other soul
  • Shares God's omniscience
  • Untouched by change
  • Lives beyond time and space
The soul is disguised when:
  • You are too tired or stressed
  • You are pulled outside yourself
  • Your attention is dominated by externals
  • You let others think for you
  • You act out of compulsion
  • You are influenced by fear and anxiety
  • You struggle and suffer
The soul is revealed when:
  • You feel centered
  • Your mind is clear
  • You have the sensation that time has stopped
  • You suddenly feel free of boundaries
  • You are keenly self-aware
  • You sense the truth
  • You feel supremely loved or absolutely safe"
I like this quote very much:
There is a still, small point that watches all, witnesses all.  Be with that stillness whenever you can.  Notice it instead of sliding past it…..Find the I am inside yourself, and it will expand to fill you.  When that happens, you are safe.  Your being will be the same as your soul.
On Life After Death by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Published: 1991
Rating: 4

Kubler-Ross is best known for her seminal book, On Death and Dying, which I own but have yet to read.

Within these pages are 3 short essays taken from lectures Kubler-Ross gave in the late 70's - early 80's.  By this time, she had spent many years with terminally ill patients, many of them children.  She also studied hundreds of NDE (near death experience) cases and reports of her own out-of-body experience induced in a laboratory setting.

She emphatically states that death is not the end but rather a "transition to a higher state of consciousness where you continue to perceive, to understand, to laugh and to be able to grow."

We must, she argues, move from "an age of science and technology and materialism to a new age of genuine and authentic spirituality" which she defines as an "awareness that there is something far greater than we are, something that created this universe, created life, and that we are an authentic, important, significant part of it, and can contribute to its evolution."

She also advocates silence and meditation as a way to access the soul or "facet of divinity".
Learn to get in touch, in silence, within yourself.  Get in touch with your own inner self and learn not to be afraid.
On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler
Published: 2005
Rating: 4

Kubler-Ross spent her professional life as a psychiatrist studying death and dying not knowing that her own would be prolonged and painful - nine years of partial paralysis due to numerous strokes.  It was during this time that she co-wrote this and another: Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living with David Kessler.

Five years into my grief journey, I found this book helpful in validating my own experience.  I have spent much time in the first four stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and only just recently, acceptance.  It is a long, convoluted road with many ups and downs, ins and outs.

I would recommend to anyone who has suffered a devastating loss.

Audiobook: FDR By Jean Edward Smith
Published: 2007
Rating: 4

The public library system in Fairfax County, VA (where I live) has an impressive selection of audiobooks.   I had ordered this tome (636 pages with 153 pages of notes and 34 page bibliography) last summer from Amazon but had never started, so when I saw the audiobook in the winter, I checked it out.  Four renewals and as many months later, I finished listening and found every chapter interesting (albeit the one about the 3rd presidential campaign).

From my reading of WWII, I have come to believe that both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Spencer Churchill became President of the US and Prime Minister of England, to quote the Bible, "for such a time as this."

What would've happened if either man was not in power during World War II?   Would England have signed an appeasement agreement with Hitler and Fascist Germany?  Would the US have been able to successfully move from a post-depression economy to a country that became the "arsenal of democracy", supplying the Allied forces with men, war machinery and ammunition?  Then surfaced from this horrible war alongside Russia as a world superpower?

Born into wealth and a privileged life known only to a few select New York society families, FDR became the champion of the urban and rural common man.  Politics was a game of high stakes and no one played it any better than he.  He took care of his friends and remembered his enemies.  His buoyant, optimistic demeanor gave courage and strength during the dark days of the Depression and in the war that spanned the globe.  He forged a strong relationship with the media.  He educated the country on domestic and foreign policies in clear everyday language via his intimate fireside radio chats and so changed how the Office of the President communicated with his primary constituents, the average US citizen.

For the most part, he knew the right thing to say or do at exactly the right time.   The initial epigraph taken from Mario Cuomo's 1984 keynote address to Democratic National Convention says it all:
"He lifted himself from his wheelchair to lift this nation from its knees." 

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Published: 2011
Rating: 3.5
Author's blog

My niece, a middle schooler, told me about this YA (young adult) series when we were together over the Christmas break.  Then my daughter saw the movie and said I would like it but suggested that I read the book first.

This quick-reading novel set in dystopic Chicago, reminds me of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.

Both authors feature a female protagonist; in Roth's world, she is Tris, aka Beatrice Prior.  There is a male love interest as well - Four, aka Tobias Eaton.

It is a coming of age story in a difficult time and covers the gamut of the human condition:  power, choice, cruelty, bravery, competition, love, jealousy, loyalty, hatred, sacrifice, manipulation, secrets, honor, trust etc.

I saw the movie this weekend and really liked it.  So am now reading Insurgent. 

Bridges to Heaven: True Stories of Loved Ones on the Other Side by Sue Frederick
Published: 2013
Rating: 4

A couple of weeks ago, I accompanied my daughter to a Yoga in Schools symposium at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in western Massachusetts.   Their store is stocked with all things yoga and my favorite section in any shop: books!

It was there that I found this book and on my return, read it in one day.  The author's own journey as an Intuitive Coach began in grief with the passing of her 34 year old husband from colon cancer and later, her best friend from childhood.   She devotes her book to them with these poignant words:  "To Paul and Crissie, whose early deaths brought me to my knees in despair - and then kept me there in awe."

I am not sure how I would've responded to this book in the early months or years following Josh's death.  My gut says "not too well" because of the sheer weight of negative emotions: grief, guilt, anger and remorse.  Those very feelings, says Frederick are hinderances to knowing our loved ones are still with us.

I plan to write more on Josh's blog.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

I plan to deviate from my normal monthly blog posts by focusing on poetry for the rest of March and all of April.  A couple of days ago, without any thought of doing this or that April is National Poetry Month,  I ordered severals books by Billy Collins.  A U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001 - 2003 and for NY State from 2004 - 2006, his poetry is witty, whimsical, thought-provoking and most important to me as a novice poetry reader: accessible.  Case in point - read below.

By Billy Collins
in Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry
An anthology of contemporary poems selected by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem 
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it. 

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Feb 2014 Books

The Coldest War: A Memoir of Korea by James Brady
Published: 1990
Rating: 4

Having read his fictional account of the Korean War, Marines of Autumn, I wanted to read his memoir.

Ironically, Brady joined the Marines to avoid the draft. But in June 1950, newly commissioned in the Marine Corps Reserves as a second lieutenant with plans to serve his time attending weekly meetings and summer training, the Korean War started and his reserve class was mobilized.

He served in Korea from November 1951 to the summer of 1952, first as a rifle platoon leader in Dog Company, Second Battalion, 7th Marines then as Executive Officer of Dog Company, then as the Battalion Intelligence Office.

Memorable quotes:
Because it began along an artificial frontier dividing a single nation effectively into Soviet and American zones, a deal cut in part to lure the Russians into attacking the Japanese in 1945, Korea might be thought of as the last campaign of World War II; because of the vague way it ended in 1953, as the opening battle for Vietnam (1). 
You never really mastered war, never got on top of it.  It was always too big, there was too much to it ever to finish the job (109). 
When you weren't fighting, the war was pretty good (111). 
If you have never been to war, you cannot realize that some of it - not all, of course - is such sheer, boyish fun.  You lived outdoors, you were physically active, you shared the boisterous camaraderie of other young men, you shed fat and put on sinew and muscle.  Except for those nagging, minor hurts, you were clear-eyed and generally healthy, and your body responded, instantly and instinctively, whenever called upon (114). 
The stars were far off, too.  And in a strange way, very close.  Overhead they shone, my lone companions, frosted diamonds incredibly near in the black night, incredibly far their fire.  Cold, the night was always cold, and that had frightened me too, reaching for me through the scientifically blended layers of cloth, as if the cold were already within, dangerous cold.  How could you ever get warm if the cold were inside you?  Even the snow at first was sinister, the snow I had always loved, lying in a warm bed with the blinds open so I could watch it drift slowly down through the yellow cone of the lamppost light.  The snow at home was warm, friendly.  This snow had seemed hostile and different (123).

Other books by Brady to read:
  • Winning of War: A Novel of the North China Marines (2002)
  • The Marine: A Novel of War from Guadalcanal to Korea (2003)
  • Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Marine Legend John Basilone (2009)

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Published: 2013
Rating: 4.5

After a few unsuccessful attempts, it finally took 2 hours of straight reading while noting Ursula's modes of death to clarify the novel's unique structure. 

Dog-earred and underlined with numerous quotes in my journal, I plan to write a post on Josh's blog with additional thoughts. 

A few select quotes below:

On Ursula's birth - from her point of view:
An icy rush of air, freezing slipstream on the newly exposed skin.  She is, with no warning, outside the inside and the familiar wet, tropical world has suddenly evaporated.  Exposed to the elements.  A prawn peeled, a nut shelled.
On Ursula's birth - from her mother's point of view:
Big dewdrop pearls of sweat on her skin, a horse nearing the end of a hard race.
On Ursula's vague memories of prior lives:
Her memories seemed like a cascade of echoes. 
The past was a jumble in her mind, not the straight line that it was for Pamela. 
Words and phrases echoed themselves, strangers seemed like old acquaintances.

Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives by Brian Weiss, MD
Published: 1988
Rating: 3.5
Author web site

My daughter received this book from a friend and thought I would be interested.

It is the 3rd book I've read by skeptical non-believing physician/scientists whose experiences have caused a complete and radical paradigm shift in their understanding of the physical vs. spiritual world, the afterlife and even reincarnation.

The other two are Proof of Heaven by Eban Alexander, MD and My Son and the Afterlife by Elisa Medhus, MD.   Not only have all three become ardent believers, but feel called to share with others through books, web sites, workshops and interviews.

Essentially, this is an account of Dr. Weiss's work with a young woman plagued with phobias that were severely affecting her daily life.  After conventional therapy did not relieve her symptoms, he used hypnosis to help her access childhood memories…..except she began relaying a life back in 1863 BC!  More lives followed and in subsequent sessions after re-living a death, she entered what he calls an "in-between state" or "space between lives".

Her voice becomes rich and husky and the words are profound, universal and resonate with truth and beauty.  In one such state, she told him facts of his deceased father and son and how each of them died - details she could not have known.  His response:
I saw in awed silence as my numbed mind tried to sort things out.  The room felt icy cold….She was revealing truths.  And what about my father and son?  In a sense, they were still alive; they never really died.  They were talking to me, years after their burials, and proving it by providing specific, very secret information….Beneath my chill, I felt a great love stirring, a strong feeling of oneness and connection with the heavens and the earth….My life would never be the same again.  A hand had reached down and irreversibly altered the course of my life.
Through this past-life therapy, this young woman was totally healed.

In the afterword, Weiss sums up what he has learned in the 20 years since the book was published, after successfully using past-life therapy with several thousand patients to overcome phobias, grief, pain and psychosomatic illnesses.
To paraphrase the mystic Teilhard de Chardin:  "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience."  Our bodies are temporary.  We are souls.  We are immortal; we are eternal.  We never die; we merely transform to a heightened state of consciousness, no longer needing a physical body.  We are always loved.  We are never alone, and we can never be harmed, not at this level.
We have lessons to learn in this school called Earth.  We need to comprehend completely the concepts of compassion, love, non-violence, non-judgement, non-prejudice, patience, generosity and charity, and hope.  We need to recognize the deceptions and traps of ego and how to transcend them.  We must become aware of the interconnectedness of all living beings, that energy connects us all, and that there is no death, only life.
This sound very similar to the lessons from Proof of Heaven.  

So another small book that leaves much to ponder.   I've tried to process in my journal and ended up with several pages of thoughts and questions - fodder for a future post on Josh's blog.