Tag Archives: non-fiction

Cultivating Discomfort

From An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor:

“…I stopped the poetry reading earlier than I had planned, but at the break I had them all go outside and read at least one poem to a tree. I could not have asked someone to do something like that when I was thirty years old, but at fifty-six, I am willing to take more risks. Some of the students looked at me as if they were deciding whether it was too late to transfer to another class, but…after the break I had some converts.

“‘I read those poems before I got here,’ one of them said, ‘and they were okay. Poetry’s just not my thing. But when I read one of them to the tree like you said, it sounded different to me. It was like the words had an inside and an outside and I had only read the outside. Reading them to the tree, I heard the inside. The words were so beautiful I almost cried.’

“‘I felt completely stupid,’ another one said, ‘standing there in the quadrangle reading to a tree, but after a couple of lines I realized that the tree was really liking it. I am going to try reading to a bird next.’

“After the testimonials were over we all agreed that we would not speak to the other graduate students about this experience, at least not until happy hour. My point is how often we are embarrassed to do and say the things that really affect us. Perhaps this is because we cannot defend ourselves while they are happening. Or perhaps we have a corporate agreement that we will not embarrass one another, even if it means never going very deeply into the things that matter the most to us.”

The Interplay of Contemplation and Creativity

What I’m reading right now:

 

 

Summarized in the phrase “pray and work,” “The Rule of St. Benedict” provides the inspiration for Christine Valters Paintner’s newest exploration of the mutually nourishing relationship between contemplative practices and creative expression. Artists of all stripes and stations in life—poets or painters, potters or photographers—will discover how traditions of Benedictine, Celtic, and desert spirituality can offer new sources of inspiration for their work. Through this twelve-week course, themes like “Sacred Tools and Sacred Space,” “Creative Solitude and Community,” and “Nature as a Source of Revelation and Inspiration” are enriched by Paintner’s perceptive discussion and enhanced by insightful quotations from well-known artists and writers. Each week offers suggestions for grounding both the creative and the spiritual life through three basic practices: walking, lectio divina, and journaling. In sync with Paintner’s vibrant Internet presence, The Artist’s Rule is supplemented with online resources, including guided meditation podcasts, video lessons, and discussions.

Buy this book

Practicing Reverence

“The easiest practice of reverence I know is simply to sit down somewhere outside, preferably near a body of water, and pay attention for at least twenty minutes. It is not necessary to take on the whole world at first. Just take the three square feet of earth on which you are sitting, paying close attention to everything that lives within that small estate. You might even decide not to kill anything for twenty minutes, including the saltmarsh mosquito that lands on your arm. Just blow her away and ask her please to go find someone else to eat.

With any luck, you will soon begin to see the souls in pebbles, ants, small mounds of moss, and the acorn on its way to becoming an oak tree. You may feel some tenderness for the struggling mayfly the ants are carrying away. If you can see the water, you may take time to wonder where it comes from and where it is going. You may even feel the beating of your own heart, that miracle of ingenuity that does its work with no thought or instruction from you. You did not make your heart any more than you made a tree. You are a guest here. You have been given a free pass to this modest domain and everything in it…”

—-Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World.

Three Ways to Deal with the Hard Stuff

This is going to be short. It has to be. Thanks to an unexpected case of tendinitis–though is there ever a case that is expected?–in my left shoulder, I’m typing it with my non-dominant hand as I wait for the Ibuprofen to kick in.

And my blog reboot had been going so well!

Luckily, I did some serious spiritual work during my disappearance from social media. Let’s see if any of that meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude practice took root. Right now, I’m calling upon the sage advice of Eckhart Tolle, whose books I’ve read and re-read this past year. As he sees it, there are three sane ways to deal with hard breaks:

  1. Change the situation.
  2. Leave the situation.
  3. Surrender to the situation.

My tendinitis IS. I can’t change it. I also can’t walk away from it. I can only accept that this is what’s happening to me NOW. Well…Tolle admits that there is a fourth way to deal with hard breaks–suffer. But why bother? This injury has caused enough inconvenience and physical discomfort, must I add anger, resentment, impatience? Must I wound myself far more deeply and painfully than the stab in my shoulder?

No.

Not saying it will be easy. I can’t drive like this. I have a disabled mother who requires a lot of physical assistance, and a stepfather who will need transportation to/from a medical procedure in about three weeks. He’s counting on me to provide it. So this is scary.

But I can feel the fear, the frustration, acknowledge it, and then let it go.

So even if my shoulder is injured, I am just fine.

All the rest? It will work out the way it works out, and probably a lot more smoothly without me getting hysterical.

Want to know more about how to thrive no matter your circumstances? Start here:

Why You Should Read What You Love

Seems it’s best to read what you genuinely enjoy rather than what you think you should read, or what you’d like to be “seen” reading. Here’s happiness expert Gretchen Rubin’s take on the matter:

“I wanted to make more time to read–more books, with more enjoyment. To do so, I gave myself permission to read at whim. Samuel Johnson observed, ‘If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.’ Science backs this up. When researchers tried to figure out what helped third-and-fourth-graders remember what they read, they found that the students’ interest in a passage was far more important than the “readability” of the passage–thirty times more important.”

So when not compelled by work or school or promises to your author sister-in-law, READ WHAT YOU ENJOY.

And if you want to read more from Gretchen Rubin, I suggest starting with The Happiness Project.

PUT AWAY THE RAZOR by Carolee Kassman

*Author provided a copy in return for a fair and honest review

If you find yourself facing a hard, dangerous journey, it pays to get the advice from someone who’s traveled the same road and lived to tell the tale.

Put Away the Razor. Surviving Suicidal Thoughts and Beating Back Depression One Day at a Time

Put Away the Razor. Surviving Suicidal Thoughts and Beating Back Depression One Day at a Time

Suicidal Depression is about as hard as it comes life-wise. PUT AWAY THE RAZOR begins with some scary statistics–there are over 1 million suicide attempts in the U.S. each year, and more than 105 people commit suicide each day. When all you can see ahead of you is a dark, yawning abyss and instead of stepping away from the edge, you are drawn to those depths, you need guidance from a soul who knows exactly what you’re going through. Carolee Kassman struggled with her first suicidal thoughts in the 6th grade and knows from experience how–day by terrifying day–it IS possible to turn from death and toward life.

PUT AWAY THE RAZOR is a short, practical, purpose-driven book. That purpose is to help dangerously suicidal people stay alive–even for just another twenty-four hours. It offers a four-step plan to strengthen and support the suicidal/depressed person and provide a way back from the edge if things do go wrong. Central to Kassman’s plan is a transformation in thinking–the ability to counter destructive thoughts with positive ones. What do you live for? Who do you impact in your life? What’s the silver lining in the current troubling situation?

Using unvarnished examples from her own experience, Kassman encourages depressed people to acknowledge how they’re feeling rather than trying to deny or minimize sadness. This kind of honesty can help a person identify the particular triggers that send them into a downward spiral. If you know your triggers you can handle situations that arise before they get out of control. For example, if exhaustion is a trigger, find a way to rest, even if it means admitting to others that you’re not coping as well as everyone thinks. This leads to another tool in Kassman’s survival kit: gathering a support team, lifeguards who can come to your rescue at those times you are going under.

Even with its call to ask for needed help and build support, PUT AWAY THE RAZOR isn’t about considering yourself a victim or waiting around to be rescued. It’s about taking control. Pointing out the strong link between mental illness diagnoses and suicidal behavior, Kassman urges those who live with these illnesses to take a proactive stance toward their own health. They need to learn what works for them and what doesn’t, so that they can ask for and receive treatment that drills deeper than mere symptom control and truly addresses the root causes of their illness.

Personally, I consider Kassman’s most valuable insight to be the simplest: that a person doesn’t have to solve “depression” or “anxiety” or any other huge issue to stay alive. All you have to do is live TODAY. If you have TODAY, you can begin to deal with the other stuff a bit at a time, by making use of Counter Thoughts, emotional honesty, your personal lifeguards, and taking control of your larger health/emotional issues.

With its combination of straight talk and believe-me-I’ve-been-there compassion Carolee Kassman’s PUT AWAY THE RAZOR is a powerful resource for those who feel they have no one to turn to and nothing to live for.

LIVING WELL, SPENDING LESS

Financial blogger Ruth Soukup offers advice for getting the most out of life without going broke.

Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life

Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life

I was surprised at the depth of this book. There’s more here than tips on how to get stuff cheap or cut your grocery bill, though that kind of information is included. But the author also shares her own personal demons–clinical depression bad enough to lead to hospitalization, compulsive overspending. She makes clear the link between emotional conflict and overbuying, clutter and excessive spending, and offers a good discussion on the philosophy behind moderation.

On the practical side, there are plenty of questions and exercises to help readers define The Good Life as it relates to their own lives. Soukup shows how to take steps toward gaining control of your wants, so that you meet your needs and build a solid money management style. The tone throughout is conversational and approachable. There’s a definite Christian slant, but it doesn’t cross the line into preachy and it doesn’t diminish the book’s value to those with a more secular view of the world.

A useful book about the meaning of money and the power it exerts.

LOVE THE HOME YOU HAVE by Melissa Michaels

Lifestyle blogger Melissa Michaels explores what home means to each of us and how we can find pleasure and comfort in even the most imperfect living spaces.

Love the Home You Have

Love the Home You Have

The organization of this book is a bit scattered. Overall there’s a nice exploration of how our expectations and the need to impress others can undermine our happiness at home. The author writes from a definite Christian perspective, but it doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of less religious readers. The 31-day challenge provides an opportunity to explore and deepen your relationship to your living spaces.

Personally, I found too much focus on interior design tips. The book is at its best when it discusses the meaning behind “home” and how to re-frame your view of where you live and make the most of what you have.

Review: IF YOU WERE ME AND LIVED IN CHINA

A short, beautifully illustrated introduction to China for young readers.

If You Were Me and Lived in...China: A Child's Introduction to Culture Around the World

If You Were Me and Lived in…China: A Child’s Introduction to Culture Around the World

This book attempt to give children a brief, flavorful introduction to the geography and culture of china. Each two-page section takes on a specific aspect of the nation…geography, history, food…and included boxed text and a lavish illustration. The text presents Chinese terms along with a bracketed phonetic pronunciation. By the end of the book, the reader has a nice handful of useful Chinese vocabulary words and phrases.

I did find the text a bit cramped and the text boxes dark, especially in contrast to the light, bright and generously proportioned illustrations. illustrations. I read the book on a new tablet with back lighting and I had to almost squint to make out some of the text. Part of the issue is likely the black font is enclosed in a burnt orange text box. A paler color would’ve worked better. And taking the font up even one or two points would have made a big difference.

Overall a fun and informative book.

Finding Your Natural Audience

A review of Intentional Practice & the Art of Finding Natural Audience ( a framework for artists and professionals) by Marc Zegans.

Intentional Practice & The Art of Finding Natural Audience: A Framework for Artists and Professionals (Intentional Practice in the Arts and the Professions)

Buy this book on Amazon

Artists and professionals don’t have to choose between their integrity and making a living.

In this article, Marc Zegans offers a thoughtful approach to facing market realities while maintaining artistic/professional ideals. Since it is relatively short, I can’t go into as much depth as I normally might or readers could be tempted to take the summary in place of the article. That would be a shame. Zegans sets out a clever program for using one’s core beliefs to both create their best work and reach those who will be most receptive to that work.

Zegans process of intense practice manages to meld intuition with practical method. The bridge between art and audience is a series of diagnostic questions that keep the artist in tune with the message/intention his art conveys and aware of those who share the intention and are therefore the “natural” audience for that message in the form of a book, painting, or music CD. Further, readers learn how even their natural audience is made up of distinct types of individuals. Zegans calls them champions, collectors, and visitors. Understanding the differences between these “fans” helps the artist further hone and direct her message.

I will say that the language Zegans employs is a bit more formal and academic than some artists might be used to. Artists and professionals are so used to getting marketing tips in bite-sized, bullet-pointed blog posts and newsletter features where they can scan the sentences in bold type and glean the major points in a minute or two. This article requires close reading and focused attention. Further, putting the advice it offers into practice is an ongoing process. So, it’s good that the article is short–since you’ll likely have to come back to it multiple times as you fine tune your audience-finding efforts.

A somewhat demanding but valuable primer for artists and professionals preparing to face the marketplace.