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.


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