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.