April 2014 Features

7 Books for Meditative Reading

In addition to familiar sacred texts, numerous books can be used for meditative reading. Here’s a list of 7 suggestions to consider:

 Stack of books

1) Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. This marvelous collection of meditations on life and love was inspired by the author’s experiences at a beach. Reading it while visiting a seashore is especially pleasurable, but it can be enjoyed anywhere.

2) Handbook for the Soul, edited by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shields. Thirty-two wisdom teachers contributed original writings to this anthology. It’s the kind of book that’s easy to dip into when you feel a need for inspiration.

3) Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. The process that Tara Brach refers to as “Radical Acceptance” has two parts: seeing clearly and compassion. Her extraordinary book includes a number of guided reflections and meditations.

4) Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. This book, which is geared primarily towards women, contains a meditation for each day of the year, from January 1st to December 31st. The six principles of Simple Abundance that form the foundation of this amazing book are gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy.

5) Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu, translated by Stephen Mitchell. Often referred to as The Book of the Way, this volume is made up of 81 very brief chapters that are packed with wisdom. The book has ancient origins, but its lessons on being and doing resonate today.

6) Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This is a great introduction to meditation for those new to it and a terrific refresher for those already familiar with it; Jon Kabat-Zinn discusses different forms of meditation, including sitting meditation and walking meditation. Reading passages from the book is a centering experience, in addition to being instructive.

7) Your True Home by Thich Nhat Hanh. This collection of 365 concise teachings was written by a renowned Zen master. Each teaching is a paragraph or two in length, and they cover diverse topics ranging from suffering to nirvana; some of the writings include instructions on various types of meditation practices.

Photo of the Month: Cloud Reflections

Clouds reflected in a peaceful lake invite us to pause for a moment of relaxation in our day.

  Walnut Creek Lake, Virginia, May 2012. (Photograph by Michael Riddle. )

Walnut Creek Lake, Virginia, May 2012. (Photograph by Michael Riddle.)

Book Review: Brainstorm

Brainstorm by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., does a good job of covering the territory indicated by its subtitle: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. This book helps the reader to understand how adolescents—defined as those between the ages of 12 and 24—think and behave. But there is a lot more to it, including instructions on meditation techniques and information about recent brain research.

One unusual aspect of Brainstorm is that Siegel intends for the book to be read by both adolescents and adults. So the tone of the book tends to be informal and there are even cartoons on various pages. In the course of this volume, he refers to experiences with his two adolescent kids and experiences from his own teenage years. Taken together, the informal tone, the cartoons and the personal stories make for a lively book.

Siegel discusses the upsides and downsides of four key features of adolescent brain growth: 1) novelty seeking, 2) social engagement, 3) increased emotional intensity (which can be seen in impulsivity) and 4) creative exploration. Surprisingly, he talks about how, if we feel stuck in a rut, we as adults can bring more vitality to our own lives by reviving these features in ourselves to some extent. Something else that is surprising is his discussion of “hyperrationality,” which has to do with thinking literally and not seeing the big picture. Contrary to popular belief, the risky behavior of adolescents is not just due to impulsivity; Siegel notes that adolescents tend to exhibit hyperrational thinking, which means that they place more emphasis on the potential benefits of an action than on the potential risks. Siegel states that “the positive bias of hyperrational thinking helps adolescents take on risks that they’ll need to embrace if they are to leave the nest and explore the world.”

Brainstorm provides quite a bit of information about the science of the brain, including results from recent research. Perhaps most importantly, the book makes it clear that there is evidence that the brain can continue to grow during our entire lifespans. Meditation and other practices can help us to integrate our brains (that is, to link together different parts of our brains). The book includes detailed instructions about meditation techniques that can be used to actually reshape our brains. With increased integration of our brains, we can handle challenges in our lives better, and in general, we can find more satisfaction in life. 

Quick Quiz

Here are three quick questions related to the content of the April 2014 issue of Blue River Monthly! Click the button below for the answers.

  1. Who wrote the book Simple Abundance?
    a) Anne Morrow Lindbergh
    b) Jane Austen
    c) Jane Fonda
    d) Sarah Ban Breathnach
  2. The book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, provides instructions on which topic?
    a) Meditation
    b) Negotiation
    c) Sailing
    d) Spelunking
  3. Which group does the book Brainstorm focus on?
    a) Brain surgeons
    b) Geniuses
    c) Teenagers
    d) Weather forecasters

Word of the Month: Authenticity

One of my favorite quotes about authenticity is from Sarah Ban Breathnach, who in the 1990s wrote a best seller called Simple Abundance: “The authentic self is the Soul made visible.” When you are being authentic, you are being true to your deepest self.

Of course, in order to have the possibility of being true to yourself, you have to know yourself. You need to know your values, talents and preferences. We can learn about ourselves in lots of different ways, including meditation, reading, writing in journals, conversation, watching movies, trying new activities and traveling. One of the tricky things about authenticity is that our values, talents and preferences can evolve over time. That type of evolution is part of our growth as individuals, but it can be disconcerting. Perhaps this helps to explain what happens in a “midlife crisis.” When you realize that choices you made decades ago no longer fit who you are today, it’s understandable that you might feel a sudden need to make major changes in your life.

A well-known quote about authenticity is from Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.” It sounds simple, but it can be very hard to follow that advice when we feel pushed and pulled in many directions by friends, relatives, bosses, co-workers, mass media and social media. If we know what our personal priorities are and we try to make choices consistent with them, we’re more likely to feel that we are making our way through life on an authentic path.

See April 2014 article

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