Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola. Mindfulness in Plain English. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2002.
Reason read: During these crazy times I need to remember to breath; to be still. Read for me, myself, and moi.
The title of this book does not lie. Gunaratana offers a how-to for insight mindfulness in a straight-forward and easy-to-understand language. This is not the deeply didactic philosophy of mindfulness, but rather a deep dive into South and Southeast Asian Buddhism. The first order of business is to dispel the misconceptions surrounding mindfulness and meditation. For example, there is no magic to this vipassana style medication. You won’t levitate. Instead, you become grounded in morality, concentration, and wisdom. Speaking of concentration, you learn the concept of shallow concentration which seems contrary to successful mindfulness. In other words, you won’t lose yourself in mindfulness. Instead, you will train your mind to concentrate on a mental object, the breath being more convenient and ever-present. I am reminded of one of my favorite Natalie Merchant lyric from ‘Not in This Life,’ “Lately I’ve been satisfied by simple things like breathing in and breathing out.” Despite the easy language and thin volume, Mindfulness is a treasure trove of information.
As an aside, I have to laugh when Gunaratana advised not to sit in any one position for more than twenty minutes. Please! I can’t sit comfortably in any position for more than five, maybe ten minutes tops.
Quotes I loved, “Life seems a perpetual struggle, an enormous effort against staggering odds” (p 9), “What we face every day is unpredictable” (p 53), “Distraction cannot be seen as distraction unless there is some central focus to be distracted from” ( 77), and “Somewhere in the process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy” (p 82). Amen.
Author fact: Gunaratana was ordained as a monk at the age of twelve. Twelve! I shudder to think what I was doing at the age of twelve.
Book trivia: I can tell this book helped many people. My copy was dog-eared and heavily underlined.
Nancy said: Pearl said there was useful information in Mindfulness in Plain English. She goes on to say “Gunaratana’s book is much less theoretical, vis-a-vis Buddhist philosophy and psychology…but more practical and systematic in its presentation of technique” (Book Lust p 255).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zen Buddhism and Meditation” (p 255).
I try not to think about white rabbits running around with time pieces muttering about being late. Whenever I do I am reminded this is being written three days behind schedule. Nevertheless, here are the books:
- Foundation by Isaac Asimov – in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
- Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown – this is a stretch…All Creatures Great and Small first aired as a television show in January and there is a creature in the title.
- The Good Times are Killing Me by Lynda Barry – in honor of Barry’s birth month.
- A Cold Blooded Business by Dana Stabenow – in honor of Alaska becoming a state in January.
- Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn – in honor of Australia’s National Day on January 26th.
- The Turk by Tom Standage in honor of Wolfgang Von Klempelen’s birth month.
- Freedom in Meditation by Patricia Carrington – in honor of January being National Yoga month.
- Sibley’s Guide to Bird Life and Behavior by David Allen Sibley – in honor of Adopt a Bird Month. I read that somewhere…
- To Lie with Lions by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
- Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman – to continue the series started in November in honor of National Writing Month (Fantasy).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim – I know what you are thinking. I am neither black nor a girl. I am a middle-aged white woman who barely remembers being a girl. I requested this book because I work in an extremely diverse environment and let’s face it, I want to be known as well-read, regardless of color.
- Sharp by Michelle Dean – my sister gave this to me as a Christmas gift. I wonder if she is trying to tell me something.
I don’t know where to begin with trying to explain October. From the beginning, I guess. It started with a trip home; a lovely week off with lots of reading accomplished. Then it was a New England Patriots football game followed by two Phish shows and a political rally for a state in which I do not live. If that wasn’t weird enough, I hung out with a person who could have raped or killed or loved me to death. Take your pick. Any one of those scenarios was more than possible. It was a truly bizarre month.
But, enough of that. Here are the books:
- Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. Quick but cute read.
- Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (AB/print). Sad.
- The Chronoliths by Robert C. Wilson. Interesting.
- Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (EB). Boring.
- Oxford Book of Oxford edited by Jan Morris (EB/print). Only slightly less boring than Bridge.
- Always a Distant Anchorage by Hal Roth. Really interesting.
- African Laughter by Doris Lessing. Okay.
- The Race of Scorpions by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print). Detailed.
- Finding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB). Cute but glad the series is over.
- We Inspire Me by Andrea Pippins. Cute.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Gardening Under Lights by Leslie F. Halleck. When I set up the reads for October I didn’t include this because it hadn’t arrived yet.
I should add that October was a really frustrating month for books. I never really liked anything I was reading.
So June went by lightning fast, as I expected. Had good shows with Imagine Dragons and Dead and Company. Spent quality time with family and friends. Ran next to nothing for miles. But, the books! Thanks to not running (still) and all the travel I was able to get a lot of reading done…
- Confessing a Murder by Nicholas Drayson (EB & print)
- Stories of Alice Adams by Alice Adams (EB & print)
- Afterlife by Paul Monette (EB & print)
- Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason (AB)
- Six Days of War by Michael Oren (print) – confessional: did not finish
- Cactus Eaters by Dan White (print)
- I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman (print)
- Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn (AB)
- Pearl Cove by Elizabeth Lowell (EB & print)
- Envoy From Mirror City by Janet Frame (EB & print)
- “Xingu” by Edith Wharton (EB)
- “Verlie I Say Unto You” by Alice Adams (EB)
- “Roses, Rhododendrons” by Alice Adams (EB)
- Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously YOU by Julie Foudy
Foudy, Julie. Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously YOU. Los Angeles: ESPNW, 2017.
Reason read: for a simple shot of encouragement.
I first learned of Foudy’s book while listening to the Dewey Decibel podcast from the American Library Association. Foudy was a guest on an episode last year. Yeah, yeah. I’m just now getting to it. But, Foudy’s book is inspirational (even if it’s meant for girls 40 years younger…sigh).
It’s all about finding your role in life as a leader. Not a cheerleader on the sidelines, but a leader starring in your own life. She uses her experiences as a Olympic soccer player to illustrate what it takes to win self confidence and drive. And illustrate, she does. The book is chock full of pretty pictures, beautiful photographs, colorful scribblings and whatnot. She interviews inspirational women like fellow teammate Mia Hamm, LeanIn.org’s founder Sheryl Sandberg, and even super-inspiring Afghan teenager Fahima Noori…just to name a few. She’ll even turn the mirror around and ask you to answer some thought-provoking questions about yourself to get the creative juices going. Yes, the language is geared towards teenage girls, like I said. The illustrations are colorful and childlike. But, but. But! The message is loud and clear. Anyone can become a leader. All you have to do is lose the fear. Sing outloud, be goofy and just go for it.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Mindfulness Meditation: Cultivating the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind. Read by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 1995
Reason read: Jon Kabat-Zinn was born in the month of June. Read in his honor.
Maybe this doesn’t come out when reading Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work. Maybe one needs to listen to his books on audio because before now I never realized Jon Kabat-Zinn is really funny. Everything he talks about in Mindfulness Meditation makes perfect sense but it’s laced with humor I hadn’t noticed before. The other benefit to listening to Mindfulness Meditation is being able to hear the bells he rings during the practice.
Mindfulness Meditation is all about playing attention to world around you in minute detail. His prime example is to focus on eating just one raisin but don’t just throw it into your mouth. Really look at it. Get all five senses involved in looking at it, feeling it, smelling it, and even putting it in your ear to hear it crackle (I kid you not). Finally, when you put it in your mouth to taste it you savor it slowly, again paying attention to how it feels while you chew. Kabat-Zinn goes beyond the raisin and explains that meditation is not about emptying your mind to alleviate stress. It’s all about focusing the mind to transform the way you think and deal with life.
So, time for some truth. I listened to this in the car on the way up to Maine. It is only two cds long so it took me no time at all.
Author fact: Maybe I have already mentioned this, but JKZ is associated with the University of Massachusetts.
Nancy said: Nancy includes Kabat-Zinn because “he advocates the techniques of Vipnassana meditation to help lower stress, reduce anxiety, and deal less frantically with the everyday world” (Book Lust p 110).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Help Yourself” (p 109).
June is going to go by lightning fast. For starters, there is a concert in Bangor, Maine that I cannot wait for! Then, a concert at home. After that, a week later, an art show reception for my talented sister’s work. Then, a vacation with my best friend (Maine for the third weekend in a row). I will have many opportunities to read. Hence, the huge list:
- Confessing a Murder by Nicholas Drayson – in honor of the first month of boating weather (EB & print).
- Stories of Alice Adams by Alice Adams – June is short story month (EB & print).
- Afterlife by Paul Monette – in honor of gay and lesbian pride month (EB & print).
- Jar City by Arnaldur Andridason – National Icelandic Day is in June (AB).
- Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Middle East by Michael B. Oren – the Six Day War started in June.
- Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind and Almost Found Myself by Dan White – June is national hiking month.
- I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman – in honor of Gallman’s birth month.
- Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn – in honor of Zinn’s birth month.
- Pearl Cove by Elizabeth Lowell – to continue the series started in April in honor of Lowell’s birth month.
- Envoy From Mirror City by Janet Frame – to finish the series started in April in honor of New Zealand’s Anzac Day.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go, There You Are: mindfulness and meditation in everyday life. Read by Jon Kabat-Zinn. California: Renaissance Media, 1994.
Reason read: Mindfulness around the holidays is good to have! I’m starting early.
If you are reading Wherever You Go just to say you have read Wherever You Go (like I am) this will take you no time at all. Sometimes a page is as short as a paragraph or just a couple of sentences. But, if you are looking for mindfulness it is best to read this book slowly. Let each section sink in and be sure to savor each line. It is a basic introduction to Buddhist meditation without of mumbo jumbo.
As an aside, I thought this went well to follow MindValley creator Vishen Lakhiani’s book Code of the Extraordinary Mind.
Lines I really like,
“best to meditate…” Whoops. Scratch that. No part of Wherever You Go may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever. No favorite quotes for this review.
Author fact: Kabat-Zinn is the founder and director or the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
Book trivia: this didn’t come with my copy of Wherever You Go, but Zinn mentions a series of mindfulness meditation practice tapes that are to be used in conjunction with the book.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Help Yourself” (p 110).
November was a stressful month. The injury that sidelined me for the last half marathon of the season continued to plague me & myself but I pushed through it – ran 70 miles for the month. I don’t think I have ever mentioned this here but…back on January I was a dumbass and agreed to a 1000k challenge. By November 1st I had 267k left to go. I’m now down to 151k. Almost 100 miles. But enough of that. It stresses me out to even think about it.
Here are the books finished for November:
- Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton. I thought of this as a short story because it’s less than 100 pages long.
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
- The City and the City by China Mieville (AB)
- Advise and Consent by Allen Drury – confessional: I knew that a fictional political book might bore the crap out of me but what I didn’t expect was outright disgust after the election. I couldn’t stomach the contents of Advise and Consent.
- Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright. (AB)
- Love Songs From a Shallow Grave by Colin Cotterill
- Toast to Tomorrow by Manning Coles
- Living Poor by Moritz Thomsen
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn (audio and print)
- Baby Doctor by Perri Klass
- The Fifties by David Halberstam
Postscript: it came in too late for me to mention here, but I DID get that Early Review book that I was pining for. I’ll review it next month.
Lakhiani, Vishen. The Code of the Extraordinary Mind: Ten Unconventional Laws to Redefine Your Life & Succeed on Your Own Terms. New York: Rodale, 2016.
Reason read: I learned about it from a running magazine, so you know I just had to read it.
From just the introduction Code of the Extraordinary Mind is intriguing. Lakhiani shares that he was born “…with a mind that loved learning how to hack life…” (p xvi). His book gives the reader permission to dare to question perception as well as reality. This may be considered a self-help book but I also consider it part memoir. Lakhiani shares a bit of himself through the book. He is not shy about unveiling past personal failures or triumphs. I found his methods of parenting enlightening, and even though I don’t have children I want others to apply his techniques! Is that rude of me to say? Seriously, when he asks his child what do you love about yourself or what are you grateful for, my heart melted.
Quotes that grabbed me: “It’s time to uninstall what isn’t working” (p 32) and “Our definition of what is normal is nothing more than what is programmed into us” (p 56). I would add to this last quote by saying I believe our definition of normal is also defined by commonality. If everyone had three heads the idea of just one would be foreign. You believe what you know.
My only pet peeve. I am not a fan of repetitiveness and I found Lakhiani mentioning MindValley (his company) too often. It began to sound like a sales pitch after awhile, especially when he promised “more information” on that site.
Author fact: Not only does Lakhiani have his own website, he actually has three. Look ’em up.
Book trivia: Lakhiani includes “napkin” drawings. Kinda cool.
Kondo, Marie. Spark Joy: an illustrated master class on the art of organizing and tidying up. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2016.
Reason: title caught my eye.
Confessional: the phrase “tidying up” seems fussy to me, maybe even a little inconsequential. Maybe I’m confusing it with the act of shuffling things around, tucking things away, the superficial appearance of making things neat.
Even though it is a cooking term, I apply “mis en place” to my everyday life. In a chef’s world it means having all the ingredients measured out and ready to be cooked/mixed for the meal. But, in my world it means everything in its place; a place for everything.
The key to taking this book seriously is the promise of joy. You are to believe that you will actually spark joy in your life and “change it forever” by being tidy. There are six fundamental rules of Tidying: 1) commit, 2) imagine a new lifestyle, 3) discard first, 4) tidy by location, 5) follow the right order to tidying. Sounds pretty simple, right?
At first I found Kondo’s direction to be a little hokey: I couldn’t see myself holding an item and testing the spiritual connection to that item. Thanking the item before letting it go. Understanding that “tidying is the art of confronting yourself” (p 15). Hmmm. Not sure how that would work. I have the ability to feel things for inanimate objects so this doesn’t sound like a good plan for me. Case in point, my sister and I tried to abandon a box of horribly dry, outlandishly green and red Christmas cookies in a parking lot. It was Christmas day, our first after the death of our father. Backing out of the parking spot we had to pause for an oncoming car. While waiting, we looked at the cookies and my sister mentioned how “lonely” they looked sitting there…alone… on the pavement. I immediately made her pull back into the spot just so I could collect those damn cookies. Here’s the really sick part. No one knew I kept them…for three years. I saved them because I pitied them. Not because they brought me joy.
Another thing I couldn’t see doing was discarding practical items just because I felt nothing for them. Who uses their fingernails to turn a screw just because the screwdriver didn’t inspire joy? Kondo tried. What about the items you WANT to bring joy but don’t? I have a shirt of my mother’s. It was one of her favorites. And yet, when I look at it, it’s just a shirt.
Anyway, back to Kondo. She writes in a voice that is friendly and encouraging; always urging her reader to keep going.
I have to ask, what is the difference between Kondo’s advice and the old adage, “love it or lose it?”
Author fact: Kondo wrote another book called the Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Book trivia: Spark Joy was translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano.
Spencer, Justin. One Life, One Legacy. Concord: One Life Publishing, 2014.
Never mind that this isn’t published by some big, well known publisher. In the grand scheme of things it probably wouldn’t have gotten very far in that world anyway.
I first came across Justin Spencer after watching him and his buddies put on a percussion act in Las Vegas. You got to “meet the drummers” after the show. Yes, please! It was one of those interactive gigs; something you would see on America’s Got Talent. In fact they were on that very show and as a performing act, they were good. All of them.
I bought Justin’s book because I thought a) he mentioned something about proceeds going to a charity fighting bullying or something like that and b) I really didn’t need another pair of souvenir drumsticks. One Life, One Legacy turned out to be a pretty cool purchase. It’s not overly flowery prose. Spencer won’t be winning any literary prizes anytime soon. It’s not overly long or complicated. You could read it in a day without a dictionary by your side. What it is is this: thought-provoking. Once I turned a blind eye to the typo or two (the first one being on page xvii) I was able to concentrate on sentences that stuck. Words like, “scorch the Earth” (p xxv) and “smell the honesty” (p 6) made me think about pursuits and endeavors. I can’t say that I followed Spencer’s advice to the letter or that I committed his meganodes to memory, but I certainly had as much fun reading his book as I did catching his Vegas show.
Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
Admission: I cannot hear Twyla Tharp’s name without thinking two things and they are one right after the other. First, my aunt’s best friend’s name is Twyla. I personally know no one else with such an interesting name. Two, who remembers the movie The Bird Cage with Robin Williams? Remember? There’s that fantastic scene with Robin dancing across the floor singing “Twyla! Twyla! Twyla!” Classic! Anyway, on to the review.
Twyla Tharp believes creativity is not something you are just born with. It shouldn’t be considered a gift. Instead, it is a craft to be honed. It should be cultivated and tended to just like a garden. There is a deliberate effort to creativity. While I didn’t participate in any of her exercises, her methods were clear.
Reason read: Okay, I will admit. Not even 30 days after swearing off non-Challenge books I pick up this one. But. But! But, full disclosure: I really didn’t read the whole thing.
Felstead, Christine. Yoga for Runners. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2014.
I loved this book so much I’m calling it my yoga bible. As a runner frequently plagued by injury, I was hopeful Felstead’s book would help me run with less pain. Notice I didn’t say “without pain.” This is not a miracle cure for those of us with hips and knees constantly out of alignment. But, having said all that, I took a long time to write the review for Yoga for Runners because I wanted to spend some time actually trying out the sequences more than once, especially the hour-long ones. Eager to get right to it, I had to rein myself in and actually read the chapters leading up to the sequences. Go figure. But, I’m glad I did. Each chapter builds upon the next, complete with photographs and testimonials. Each pose is broken down and thoroughly explained so that when you do (finally!) get to the sequences you have a better idea of what you are supposed to be doing (which is a good thing because holding the book open while trying to practice the entire sequence is nearly impossible. In fact, trying to read and move at the same time is the only drawback to Yoga for Runners. I ended up putting an 8-pound weight on the spine to keep the book open. I know, I know. Not good. I would have preferred a spiral bound book that lays flat when opened or, as someone else mentioned, a DVD to accompany the text.
But, back to the good stuff. The post-run sequence is easily my favorite go-to. It’s only 5-10 minutes long so there’s no excuse to skip it. My second favorite sequence is the maintenance routine. It’s over an hour long, but each pose is essential so your time is not wasted. The flow from pose to pose works well for all sequences. I know a runner who is a better yogi than runner. I would be curious to get her take on Yoga for Runners since she has been combining the two activities for years.
Reason read: this was sent to me as an Early Review selection, courtesy of LibraryThing.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York: Random House Audio, 2008.
Let’s start with the bad news. I listened to this on audio while driving to and from work. Not a good idea. When the cd would finish and start again at track one I wouldn’t notice for a few moments. I wouldn’t notice for two reasons. One, there was nothing in the way of a fictional plot to make me say, “hey, I’ve heard this before” and two, the book was so repetitious I wasn’t sure if the cd was starting over again or if Kabat-Zinn was just repeating himself again. The other reason why I shouldn’t have listened to this on cd is the fact I wasn’t paying full attention to his words. Pretty ironic since that’s what his whole premise is about, being mindful of everything you do. I couldn’t be 100% mindful of what I was listening to without giving some attention to the automobile I was operating. The good news is this – I learned something. I took away huge chunks of Kabat-Zinn’s lessons. There are two parts that really resonated with me: seeing your mind as an ocean. On the surface the waves are choppy, chaotic and stressful. But, if you drill down to your very essence you will find a calmness, a serenity that should be tapped into each and everyday. Kabat-Zinn’s parallel example is the ways in which we used to live by nature’s rhythm. Before electricity we rose with the sun and worked for as long as there was natural light. We slept when it was dark. Modern conveniences have pushed us out of those rhythms, allowing us to keep working long past dark. The second ah-ha moment was the connection to food. I never thought about the what, where, when, why, how, and with whom aspect of eating. The psychological attachments to what we eat, when we eat, why we eat, how we eat and with whom we eat is profound and I never thought about it that way before. It changes my relationship with food. All in all, despite the repetitive nature of the book I enjoyed Full Catastrophe Living. Next time I will read the book!
Reason Read: Jon Kabat-Zinn was born in June.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Help Yourself” (p 110).