Book Review: “Lying” by Sam Harris

LyingbySamHarris

I’m starting 2014 lie-free.  That is, I’m committed to avoiding unnecessary stress created by the utterance of lies big and small.  That includes abstaining from telling seemingly harmless “white” lies.

This is a short (under 100 pages) and simple read appropriate for everyone, because most of us are plagued with the decision to lie or tell the truth in uncomfortable situations when they arise.

Do I tell my wife that I’ve cheated on her?  What do I say when my child asks me if Santa Claus is real?  Do I tell my mother who suffers from dementia that her husband died 15 years ago?  Do I answer truthfully when my overweight girl friend ask me if she looks fat in that dress?  Do I tell psychopaths the truth?  These are just a few of the questions Mr. Harris answers.

Lying has given me fresh insight into matters that I grapple with currently. It has reinforced a lot of what I already knew, which has helped strengthen and solidify my beliefs.  That, in turn, has made it easier for my actions to reflect my true values.  My internal conflict is slowly but surely extinguishing.  Telling the truth, hopefully with tact, is a crucial part of my happiness and personal well-being. Rarely is it prudent to lie.  Mr. Harris elaborates on this regarding abnormal situations.  My beliefs and the overall message of the book are in sync:  Lying, in general, has a greater chance of causing more harm than good.  Being honest creates healthier relationships with others by establishing and maintaining trust.  Sounds easy, right?  But how many of us can say that we are honest all the time?

Mr. Harris leaves us with these three questions to consider:

How would your relationships change if you resolved never to lie again?

What truths about yourself might suddenly come into view?

What kind of person would you become?

I purchased my book here:  http://www.amazon.com/Lying-Sam-Harris/dp/1940051002/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0

Book Review: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Omnivore'sDilemmaMichaelPollanBeyoncé
Michael Pollan Photo by Alia Malley, Beyoncé Photo owned by Beyoncé Knowles, http://www.beyonce.com

I would rather meet Michael Pollan than Beyoncé (and I really, really like Beyoncé!).  I’m a Clinical Nutritionist and a singer, and I happen to find Mr. Pollan a hell of a lot more fascinating.  I think in order to develop our singing, dancing, and other artistic capabilities we need to have a really strong and solid constitution.  My mantra is healthy body, healthy mind.  Living healthy can help us reach our highest potential.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a DENSE book.  When I say ‘dense’ I mean that it is chock-full of vital information.  You can’t read this book with half a mind.  You’ve got to be on your game – A clean, dry sponge ready to soak in the knowledge.  I had to prepare by having jasmine green tea before I picked it up.  At times it felt like I was reading a textbook and that’s OK, because I found the information to be so valuable.  I was determined to get through it.  I had several stretches where I let the cover collect a thin layer of dust, but it never left my bedside.  I have no shame in saying that it took me six months of on-again, off-again procrastination and force-fed reading to finish this sucker.  It reminded me a lot of being in school where sometimes the reading isn’t particularly fun or easy, but after it’s done I’ll be smarter (hopefully).

I initially thought that this book was going to promote a vegetarian diet, and explain why eating animals is unhealthy and bad.  Not at all.  In fact, I feel more comfortable eating meat now.  This quote in particular really impacted me.

“The farmer would point out to the vegan that even she has a “serious clash of interests” with other animals.  The grain that the vegan eats is harvested with a combine that shreds field mice, while the farmer’s tractor wheel crushes woodchucks in their burrows and his pesticides drop songbirds from the sky; after harvest whatever animals that would eat our crops we exterminate.  Killing animals is probably unavoidable no matter what we choose to eat.  If America was suddenly to adopt a strictly vegetarian diet, it isn’t at all clear that the total number of animals killed each year would necessarily decline, since to feed everyone animal pasture and rangeland would have to give way to more intensively cultivated row crops.  If our goal is to kill as few animals as possible people should probably try to eat the largest possible animal that can live on the least cultivated land:  grass-finished steaks for everyone.” p. 326

This book will raise your level of awareness.  It will get you thinking about your food differently because a lot of times in our culture, American culture, we eat our food mindlessly.  We eat while we’re driving our car.  We eat while we’re browsing the web.  We eat while we’re watching Ryan Gosling movies.  I’m not berating anyone for doing that.  I understand.  I’ve been there and I’m still there, but after reading this book I’ve definitely gained a new awareness of everything involved in the food that I choose to eat.  I feel like that’s super important.

“Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan

Here are more of my favorite quotes from the book to whet your appetite:

“We’ve come to think of “corn-fed” as some kind of old-fashioned virtue, which it may well be when you’re referring to Midwestern children, but feeding large quantities of corn to cows for the greater part of their lives is a practice neither particularly old nor virtuous…Yet this corn-fed meat is demonstrably less healthy for us, since it contains more saturated fat and less omega-3 fatty acids than the meat of animals fed grass.”  p. 75

“Three of every five Americans are overweight; one of every five is obese.” p. 102

“Researchers have found that people (and animals) presented with large portions will eat up to 30 percent more than they would otherwise.  Human appetite, it turns out, is surprisingly elastic, which makes excellent evolutionary sense:  It behooved our hunter-gatherer ancestors to feast whenever the opportunity presented itself, allowing them to build up reserves of fat against future famine.  Obesity researchers call this trait the “thrifty gene.”  And while the gene represents a useful adaptation in an environment of food scarcity and unpredictability, it’s a disaster in an environment of fast-food abundance, when the opportunity to feast presents itself 24/7.  Our bodies are storing reserves of fat against a famine that never comes.”  p. 106

“Perhaps the perfect meal is one that’s been fully paid for, that leaves no debt outstanding.  This is almost impossible ever to do, which is why I said there was nothing very realistic or applicable about this meal [a meal that consisted of only food that was foraged, hunted, and grown by the author and his friends].  But as a sometimes thing, as a kind of ritual, a meal that is eaten in full consciousness of what it took to make it is worth preparing every now and again, if only as a way to remind us of the true costs of the things we take for granted.” p. 410

Book Review: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

I had some time to play before my Reiki training began so I walked over to the local library.  I hit the jackpot because they were having a crazy, used book sale.  I was  given a large paper grocery bag and told that I could fill it up with as many books as it could hold.  The price?  $1.00.  I immediately thought that they must have a bunch of crappy books that they’re trying to get rid of, but to my surprise I found that they were practically giving away gems!  I found 3 copies of “Eat, Pray, Love” (one for my sister, one for my girl friend, and one for me); 2 Paulo Coelho books, “The Valkyries” and “The Devil and Miss Prym”, “The Tao of Pooh, a couple of astrology books, a book by Thich Naht Hanh, some books on Buddhism, “A Thousand Splendid Suns”; “Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior”, and “Tuesdays with Morrie.”

I remembered hearing about “Tuesdays with Morrie” from someone in my past (maybe more than once) because the title sounded so familiar.  I finished reading the book last night.  It took me 4 nights to read.  It’s an easy read and a relatively short story (192 pages) but the words are powerful.  There is so much meaning, so much love, so much talk about the things that really matter in life: Love, human connectedness, quality time spent with others, community, compassion for self and others, just to name a few..  I was captivated by Morrie’s magic; he’s truly present in the here and now moment, and is a great listener (a rare skill these days).  Books tend to find their way into my hands at exactly the right moment.  After reading about Morrie’s life and what things he placed importance on, I feel more strongly about my own values and beliefs, which are the same as his.  I don’t always feel my emotions completely and I don’t always open my heart fully, but I’m trying.  Everyday I try to open my heart more and more. I let myself be vulnerable at times; I allow myself to cry when I feel helpless; I connect to another human being on the deepest levels when I give them Reiki.  I’m a work in progress and I’ve seen positive results over the years, but I’ve still got a lot to do.  In my youth I was programmed to be and do differently than I am and do now, but I am on my chosen path and I am so happy that reading “Tuesdays with Morrie” was a part of it.

Here are my favorite quotes from the book…

“Love wins.  Love always wins.”

“The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves.  And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.”

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life.  They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important.  This is because they’re chasing the wrong things.  The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

“It’s horrible to watch my body slowly wilt away to nothing.  But it’s also wonderful because of all the time I get to say good-bye.”  He smiled.  “Not everyone is so lucky.”

“As our great poet Auden said, ‘Love each other or perish.'”

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

After I finished the book I was curious to see Morrie talk with his hands, hear his voice, and witness his smile.  I’m glad I did; his story solidified even stronger into my heart.  Here is the interview “Conversations with Morrie Schwartz, Lessons on Living” done by Ted Koppel, former anchor of Nightline.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3863455317235235085

Book Review: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

I’ve read a fair share of books so far and I have many more that sit patiently on my bookshelf awaiting their turn to be opened and exposed.  My books know that once I’ve committed to reading a particular book, they will have to prepare for an adventure of their own!  He or she will spend many nights with me in my bathtub soaking up the aroma of my bath salts and essential oils.  She’ll enjoy her time outside with me on my balcony soaking up the sun’s rays and possibly crisping her pages a little.  She’ll be held closely to my face as I read her in my warm, comfy bed and she’ll be set down from time to time so that I can drink my herbal tea and munch on a tasty treat.  She will have to accept that food stains are a real possibility and most likely she will get dropped into the toilet once – Never store your books on top of your toilet if you don’t want to take the risk.  I like to live dangerously.  Just kidding.  Once was enough to learn my lesson.

I have to review this book even though I finished reading it last year.  I would prefer to write about a book while the story is still fresh in my mind, but because it gives an honest delivery of unbelievable stories it has solidified into my mind and has had a permanent impact on my heart.

In November of last year, I met a close personal friend of Gregory David Roberts and it was fascinating to hear that a lot of the book is based on actual events and only a small portion of the book has been altered.  I was also excited to hear that the book is going to be made into a movie (date unknown).

So, ‎933 pages later I finished reading “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts.  I actually finished this book in August of 2011.  It took almost a whole summer to complete as I made plenty of time to play in the southern California sunshine.  I’m a very slow reader and I intentionally read every bit of text from cover to cover because that’s my personality.   It was an excellent read, but I have to say that I’m glad that it is over. I say this because there are many gruesome passages that go into the brutal details of life in prison, slum living, heroin addiction and overdose, the Bombay mafia, war, and so much more. There is also humour, joy,romance, and passion so you’re not constantly spiraling into an abyss of darkness.  It’s a really nice balance of good and evil.  It is a love story.  It can be emotionally taxing for a sensitive person, but I’m glad that I finished it.  What an adventure!

After reading this book I have looked at India with new eyes.  I am very interested in visiting many areas of the country someday soon.  I want to experience life in both the city and rural villages.  I’m now drinking a lot more hot chai, too.  So delicious.  It’s amazing how a book can change our perspective on certain things….if we let it.

My 2 favorite quotes from the book…

“The only kingdom that makes any man a king is the kingdom of his own soul.  The only power that has any real meaning is the power to better the world…” -Lin

“Lin, a man has to find a good woman, and when he finds her he has to win her love.  Then he has to earn her respect.  Then he has to cherish her trust.  And then he has to, like, go on doing that for as long as they live.  Until they both die.  That’s what it’s all about.  That’s the most important thing in the world.  That’s what a man is, yaar.  A man is truly a man when he wins the love of a good woman, earns her respect, and keeps her trust.  Until you can do that, you’re not a man.”  – Vikram

Take a moment and meet the author, Gregory David Roberts.  Enjoy.

Book Review: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Here are my 3 favorite passages from the book…

“He could long have remained with Kamaswami, acquiring money, squandering money, fattening his belly and allowing his soul to die of thirst, he could long have resided in this soft, well-upholstered hell, had this not occurred:  the moment of complete inconsolability and despair, that most extreme moment when he perched above the rushing water, ready to annihilate himself.  He had felt despair and deepest revulsion, and he had not succumbed; the bird, the fresh wellspring and voice was still alive within him; this made him feel joy, this is why he laughed, this is why beneath his gray hair his face was radiant.”

“It is good,” he thought, “oneself to sample everything one needs to know.  That worldly pleasure and riches are not good I already learned as a child.  For a long time I knew it, but I have experienced it only now.  And now I know it, know it not only by heart, but also with my heart, with my eyes, with my stomach.  Good for me, that I know it!”

“Love, o Govinda, seems to me the matter principal, foremost of all.  To see through the world, to explain it, to hold it in contempt, these may be matters for great thinkers.  But the one thing that concerns me is the ability to love the world, not to hold it in contempt, not to hate it and myself, to be able to regard it and myself and all beings with love and admiration and reverence.”

I enjoyed this book because the main character went down several different paths before attaining enlightenment.  He explored life as an ascetic learning how to think, wait, and fast.  He then pursued the art of love making followed by  indulging in wealth, gambling, and sex.  He finally learned how to love.

After reading this story I feel very strongly that every single one of us has the ability to find peace within.  No matter what your past involved, no matter where you are right now, we are nothing but infinite potential.

Book Review: Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh

The first book I ever read by Thich Nhat Hanh was called “Anger:  Wisdom for Cooling the Flames.”  I read it in September of 2010 when I stayed at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA for a week long retreat.  My time there consisted of practicing mindfulness through meditation, reading, and deep listening.  I was able to listen to my heart easily since I wasn’t bombarded with emails, Facebook, text messages, and phone calls.  These things are not permitted during retreat.  Most of my free time was spent connecting with others through face to face conversation, taking long hikes by myself, and lots of meditation:  walking meditation, eating meditation, sitting meditation.  This retreat happened at exactly the right moment, and I learned so much about myself in such a short amount of time.  I learned to truly love myself unconditionally, without any judgements.  I learned to be kind and forgiving to myself.  I tasted real compassion for others for the first time.  These are all virtues which must be practiced every single day, because like everything else in life – If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.  Really.  You can learn something really well and practice it phenomenally for awhile, but if you think that the learning and practice stops there – you’ve got another thing coming.  That “thing” is the return of old, familiar habits that are engrained into our minds.  Consistent maintenance is required when adopting a new way of thinking and being.

The entire book is a wealth of knowledge and valuable insight.  My favorite passages from the book are…

“Many of us begin a relationship with great love, very intense love.  So intense that we believe that, without our partner, we cannot survive.  Yet if we do not practice mindfulness, it takes only one or two years for our love to be transformed into hatred.  Then, in our partner’s presence we have the opposite feeling, we feel terrible.  It becomes impossible to live together anymore, so divorce is the only way.  Love has been transformed into hatred; our flower has become garbage.  But with the energy of mindfulness, you can look into the garbage and say, “I am not afraid.  I am capable of transforming the garbage back into love.”

“When someone does not know how to handle his own suffering, he allows it to spill all over the people around him.  When you suffer, you make people around you suffer.  That’s very natural.  This is why we have to learn how to handle our suffering, so we won’t spread it everywhere.”

“So in taking good care of yourself, you take good care of your beloved one.  Self-love is the foundation for your capacity to love the other person.  If you don’t take good care of yourself, if you are not happy, if you are not peaceful, you cannot make the other person happy.  You cannot help the other person; you cannot love.  Your capacity for loving another person depends entirely on your capacity for loving yourself, for taking care of yourself.”

“Touching suffering can help us nourish our compassion and be able to recognize happiness when it is there.  If we are not in contact with pain, we cannot know what real happiness is.  So touching suffering is our practice.  But each one of us has limits.  We cannot do more than we can do.”

“You have to be alone in order to fully appreciate the other person’s presence.  If you are always together, then you may begin to take him for granted, forgetting to enjoy his beauty and goodness.  Every now and then, take three or seven days off.  Take time away from him in order to be able to appreciate him more.  Although you are far away from him, he is more real to you, more substantial than when you are constantly together.  During the time you are apart, you will remember how important, how precious he is to you.”

“Everything must begin with you.”

“Yet you cannot force your insight on others.  You may force them to accept your idea, but then it is simply an idea, not a real insight.  Insight is not an idea.  The way to share your insight is to help create the conditions so that others can realize the same insight – through their own experience, not just believing what you say.  This takes skillfulness and patience.”

I get angry at times – more often than I would like to.  Instead of pushing that anger down deep inside of me, I am embracing it.  I am exploring it’s roots.  I sometimes let it out mindlessly.  I have years of pent up anger that are stuck inside of me.  I wasn’t able to release those feelings when I was younger.  Writing about my anger helps.  I’m starting to really understand where it comes from and now I’m doing my best to transform those negative feelings into compassion and understanding.

The Angry Truth

(A poem on anger written by Catherine S. Bradshaw)

You think you’ve seen anger?  You haven’t seen anger.

Infuriating rage pulsing and beating louder than my lion heart.  My blood begins to simmer ever increasing in temperature and depth of color.  Death red blood rises to an ever increasing heartbeat and the monster’s symphony has begun.

First I try to hurt you with black words dipped in tar.  I see that you are no longer effected by this, so it is time to reach down into the depths of my hell to find words and/or actions that will crush your heart, spirit and soul.  I spray and spit at you my venom and I succeed.  I wound you.  Deeply.  So deep that you are in a state of shock.

How could your angel, your baby, your soulmate crush you till your heart is broken into a million devastating pieces?

I do this because I know that I have the power to fix your broken love.  I do this because I want you to feel how betrayed and alone I am.  I do this because I am in an eternal pain and do not know a way out.

Your angel, your baby, your soulmate knows love like no other, but I’m still programmed to kill when you take your love away from me.

Please help me to change.

I don’t want to live this way.

“No mud, no lotus.” – Thich Nhat Hanh