Monday, October 19, 2020

The Pocket Stoic John Sellars

Ages ago, I read stoic philosopher Epictetus’ wonderful book, in a very modern translation, which is given a variety of titles.  Discourses. The Book of LifeThe Art of Living.  And in the original Greek:  Enchiridion.  The teachings may be the foundation for the Serenity Prayer; at least that is what I have heard but I don’t know if this is true.

Recently, I wanted to learn more about the Stoics and came upon John Sellars’ Pocket Stoic.  This short book gives a solid overview of stoicism, specifically through the teachings of Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius. The three philosophers agree on the basic tenets of stoicism: 

  •  Accept that you do not have control over everything.
  • We are all going to die and we should live accordingly, making the best decisions we can given the knowledge we have.
  • There is no pure good/bad but we label circumstances through our judgments.

We are currently going through a time of great upheaval, and most everything is beyond our control.  Some people are committed to wearing masks during the pandemic while others see it as an infringement on their personal freedom.  And the United States is deeply divided along political lines, each side declaring the other wrong/bad.  And every day a group of brave people confront the wildfires that are burning in California and Colorado.

My mind was meditating on death even before I picked up this book.  The impermanence of everything.  How our lifestyle and how we live from day to day can be changed overnight.  In January, we had plans to travel more, to try new restaurants, and to save up for some luxuries that we have long put on hold.  Then the pandemic hit our shores and we sent into self-isolation.  At first it felt like it would only be a few weeks, maybe a couple of months, and then the numbers of new cases continued to rise. 

My point is that right now it feels like death is imminent. This is neither a good thing or a bad thing.  It simply is.  And in this moment, I can choose the path of the stoic—to accept the way things are—or I can sink into despair, because we are all still waiting on a vaccine.  Thanks to the stoic philosophy, I am choosing the former path:  acceptance. 

If you have ever been curious about stoicism, I highly recommend this book.  There are other longer books that may leave you feeling overwhelmed, but this slender book serves as a sort of introduction to stoicism, Stoicism 101, if you will.  When you are finished, you may choose to read another book about stoicism or read the stoics themselves.  I would start with Epictetus as his writings are the most approachable.  From there either Seneca or Marcus Aurelius.  There are also books recently published by contemporary stoics such as Ryan Holiday, William B Irvine, Jacob Martin, Laurence Becker, and others.  This book is an excellent place to start.


Monday, June 22, 2020

Reiki Healing Handbook by Nathalie Jaspar & Alena Goldstein

After reading Penolope Quest’s wonderful book Self-Healing With Reiki, I wanted to read another book on Reiki and stumbled upon Reiki Healing Handbook:  How to Activate Energy Healing with Chakras, Symbols, and Hand Positions by Nathalie Jaspar & Alena Goldstein.  I was interested especially because this book focuses on the chakras specifically and I wondered if there are unique hand positions or symbols associated with each of the chakras.  Mind you, some of the traditional Reiki hand positions focus on the individual major chakras.  (There are many more than the ones focused on in this and most books.)

This book has two parts, with part one focusing on the fundamentals of Reiki:  a history of Reiki, key terms, hand positions, complementary healing tools, etc.  The second part focuses on the “seven” chakras from root to crown. Many books on Reiki cover the fundamentals so I won’t spend a lot of time on this although I will say that the book is easy to read and I quickly read through these chapters.  I will point out that some Reiki practitioners do not think that the symbols should be shared outside of actual Reiki training and this book does include the symbols.  The final chapter in part one focuses on complementary healing tools including:  crystals, essential oils, music, etc. 

Part two goes through the seven primary chakras. Each includes a short section on the following:

·       Common Ailments (physical and emotional)

·       Hand Positions

·       Symbols and Mantras (with more than one option)

There is a lot of good information here and is where this book really took off for me.  I was surprised (disappointed) that the mantras for each of the chakras did not include the traditional chakra seed sounds.  I would recommend any Reiki practitioner consider using the seed sound along with the names of the Reiki symbols.  I was also surprised that there was no recommendations for how to use the “complementary tools” for each of the chakras.  For instance, yoga is listed as a complementary tool and in the yoga tradition, certain asanas (yoga poses) are known to open specific chakras.  So there were details missing from the book for which I was looking. 

That said, I like the book.  It’s easy to read and full of useful information.  It may not be as in depth as some books are but the section that focuses on the chakras is very good.  If you are relatively new to Reiki, I would say adding this book to your personal library couldn’t hurt.   

Monday, May 25, 2020

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

I confess that I chose this book because of its size.  Yep.  Almost as superficial as choosing a book by its cover.  But in my trying to make room in my life for different things, a big book was a logical choice.  And so I read A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth.

Don’t let the size of this book deter you from reading it because it’s just a wonderful, expansive book that touches on everything from marriage to family, from politics to social issues, and all of this centered around four families:  the Mehras, Kapoors, Khans, and Matterjis.  At first, the novel reminded me of Jane Austen meets Bollywood when Lata Mehra’s family decides it is time to find her a husband.  Then the novel grew beyond the simple match-making story to much more, expansive in the way that India itself is. 

This novel also reminded me of Herman Wouk’s World War II novels (Winds of War, War and Remembrance) as it merges the political with the personal.  And this is not surprising because Seth’s novel takes place in the early 1950s which, in India, was a turbulent time.  Gandhi had been assassinated and Nehru was in power as the nation strove to a more modern nation. 

Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that there are a lot of characters in the novel, I found that I cared about all of them.  Even if I did not particularly like one character, I wanted to follow each character’s story. Yes, my attention was focused on Lata and her immediate family, but I still wanted to know what would happen next for Maan and Pran Kapoor, Saeeda Bai, and so many others.  Young or old, I came to care about each and every one of them. 

I found myself laughing aloud at times.  I also fought back tears.  This book spans so much.  I cannot praise it enough.  I’m glad I invested the time to read this book.  By the way, I would recommend buying it as an ebook or in the two volume set because my paperback version weighs more than two pounds and there were times I had to put the book down not because I was done reading but because my arms grew tired. 

Is there a long book you recommend to others?  Maybe I’ll add it to my TBR list.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Creative Journal Writing by Stephanie Dowrick

I’ve been journaling for as long as I can remember, sometime publicly but almost always privately.  I also journal in a variety of ways including using journaling prompts and exercises.  As a result, I’ve accumulated a lot of filled blank books—everything from pretty bound notebooks to simple composition books.  For Christmas this year I added a few books on journaling to my wishlist. 

It isn’t easy to impress me with a book on journaling.  Yet Stephanie Dowrick has done just that with Creative Journal Writing: The Art and Heart of Reflection.  I am so impressed with this book that I will very likely add it to my list of books I would recommend to anyone interested in journaling.  (For other books I always recommend, see my list below.)

Dowrick manages to squeeze a lot of content in very short chapters, including samples from other people’s journals, testimonials, etc. But the meat of this book can be found in the numerous writing exercises sprinkled throughout the book.  In fact, there are so many exercises that the author includes a much-needed index at the back of the book listing all of them.  As if that weren’t enough, there is a list of over 100 journal writing prompts as well. 

And this is why I recommend this book.  The theoretical and practical advice is present but not overwhelming.  Add to that enough exercises to fill out at least a year of daily journaling practices (assuming some will inspire you for more than one day) and you have a great resource for any journal writer whether you’re brand new to the practice or have been doing it for over 4 decades, like yours truly.

Books on Journaling I Recommend:
Journal to the Self by Kathleen Adams
              Excellent resource for journaling exercises and practical advice.
The New Diary by Tristine Rainier
              Includes a variety of journaling practices with a lot of inspiration.
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
              Inspiration for journaling as a meditation practice.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Reiki Magic Guide to Self-Attunement by Brett Bevell

As a part of our decluttering our lives, I have decided to read through as many of the books I own that I have left unread as possible.  To that end, I pulled several books with the intention of reading them or, if I simply cannot finish a book for whatever reason, I will give it away to the public library so they can sell it at their next book sale. (And, yes, I have come across books I have donated when going to the book sale.  It’s a weird déjà vu moment where I am almost tempted to buy the book back again but resist the urge.) 

Which is how I finally got around to reading Brett Bevell’s The Reiki Magic Guide to Self-Attunement.  I had the pleasure of sitting in on a group talk about energy healing with my mother.  At the end, he did a short Reiki session sending Reiki to everyone in the room.  My mother felt nothing;  I, on the other hand, felt something.  I knew Bevell had published a few books so I chose this one in an eeny-meeny-miny-moe manner. 

This is an interesting book about which I have mixed feelings.  Per the author, you can give yourself a self-attunement meaning you do not have to spend a lot of money to go to a Reiki Master who will teach you the history of Reiki, the hand positions, etc.  Instead, it is all within the pages of this book.  Including the symbols.

This is where the book becomes a bit controversial because many (maybe even most) Reiki teachers consider the symbols to be, if not sacred, at least secret.  Until you yourself have been attuned to a Level 2, you would not learn the symbols.  Same for Level 3.  Many books get around this by talking about the symbols without showing them, using initials for the names of each.  (e.g. CKR, SHK, etc.)

And this is where my mixed feelings come in.  Somewhere along the way I was talking with a yoga teacher who happened to also have some shamanic healing experience.  I mentioned the Reiki symbols and he said that they are useful initially but are unnecessary over time.  As you become more practiced in the use of Reiki, the “crutch” of the symbols becomes superfluous and it is enough to simply chant their names to yourself. 

So there are a variety of views about whether or not one should share the symbols with those who are not attuned.  That said, I can’t see how one would do a self-attunement without the symbols being shared.  Which brings us to another controversy because there is debate within the Reiki community about whether or not someone can be self-attuned.  There’s even debate as to whether or not someone can be attuned from a distance. 

By now you might be wondering, with all the controversies, how could I not have mixed feelings, all things considered.  Yes, I have mixed feelings but not because the symbols are shared or because I don’t think someone can be self-attuned.  To put it bluntly—I don’t know.  I don’t know if the symbols should be kept sacrosanct.  After all, if they have no power unless one is attuned what does it matter?  And I don’t know if self-attunement is possible because I haven’t tried it.  (Not even after reading this book.)  I know that the mind can play tricks on us and if we want to believe something has happened we are inclined towards belief.  And I don’t necessarily know if that makes self-attunement valid or invalid.  I simply do not know.

What I do know is that this slender book has me thinking about Reiki again and I am curious to explore other people’s reviews to see if they tried to do any of the self-attunements mentioned in the book and whether or not they had any success.  Would I recommend this book?  Perhaps.  But only to someone who was really interested in Reiki or already attuned.  I still prefer The Japanese Art of Reiki by Bronwen and Frans Stiene.  They also have an audio, Reiki Meditation for Self-Healing from Sounds True. 

If you have read this book, have you tried the attunements?  What as your experience?  I am curious and would love to know.

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