Gathering Ourselves

  • Books on My Shelf 2013

Welcome back to SunnyRoomStudio.  This week, from my shelf, I selected two books that compliment each other.

One is specific to the writing and creative process, but still touches on many aspects of life in a meditative journal; the other, generally more global in approach, also focuses on specifics you’ll recognize.

Both of them emphasize the intense spiritual walk we are all experiencing, knowingly or unknowingly, as mortals.  Even as external forms shift and sway, come and go, our internal evolution is markedly the same.

Too often, however, the world is caught up in “form,” instead of looking for the underlying patterns that are nearly identical.

Fortunately, once you begin to see the real depth of your life experience, slowly moving away from surface assumptions and superficial understandings, the patterns become more obvious.

  • Everything Is the Way: Ordinary Mind Zen by Elihu Genmyo Smith
  • A Walk Between Heaven and Earth: A Personal Journal on Writing and the Creative Process by B. Nina Holzer

If you were to consider these book titles, for example, from a surface-based perspective, you might not see any similarity or connection.  But dig a little deeper …

If “everything is the way,” writing and creativity are also “the way.”

Smith writes: “If we allow the conditions of body-mind, of others, or of the world, to determine our life, then we are driven by conditions and circumstances and trapped by them.  Our practice life is not to create some place where we can avoid those things; doing that is another daydream. Our practice, our life, is being in midst of the circumstances and functioning according to cirumstances.” (Shambhala, 2012)

  • Later, he adds: Your life is this intimacy opportunity to manifest who you are in the midst of the conditions arising and passing.

Still, the tendency is to perceive life in reverse fashion, somehow convincing ourselves that the proper life agenda is to create just the right conditions — ones that will allow us to manifest a personalized sense of self in the ways we think are beneficial, without problems, and definitely, soothing to the ego.

But external conditions are largely beyond our control; and they will never be as desired, as sought, as expected — not for long anyway.  So, indeed, “everything is the way.”

Everything is our teacher, in other words.  And everything is actually beyond mind-made labels and cause-effect perception.  Writing and the creative process are also wonderful teachers, according to B. Nina Holzer.

In her book, A Walk Between Heaven and Earth, she writes: “Talking to paper is talking to the divine.  Paper is infinitely patient.  Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe.  It is a huge language, but each of us tracks his or her particular understanding of it.”

I actually read Holzer’s book in ’94, the year it was published (Crown), back when I was “deciding” to become a writer.  And, now, nearly 20 years later, it seems I have been on a walk between heaven and earth in a multitude of ways.  So returning to this book now (to share it here in SunnyRoomStudio) seemed like a small slice of destiny in my midst.  A gift.

  • What we are drawn to in life very often persists.  Though disguised at times, or even buried under external conditions that press and prod us, the outline of our internal world eventually surfaces once more.  Coming about in unexpected ways, leaving us with a sense of awe.  As Hozer writes:

“The process of gathering ourselves is a mysterious one.  Sometimes we are not sure how it has come about.  One morning we rub our eyes and the baskets are full, and we are not sure how it happened.  I open my journal and find that I have already been in that place in the woods.  My own words of wisdom are on the page, and I didn’t even know about it.”

For many people in many parts of the world this is the season of Christmas.  We give gifts; we celebrate life.  But mostly, we make an attempt to step beyond self.  To see the world from a broader perspective.  To do something for someone else.  So even as we attempt to understand and “gather ourselves,” we try to extend our energies outwardly to experience something beyond the demands and drama of the personal ego.  However you do this, whatever your beliefs, in the end, we are all learning how to dance within the current of existence … no matter its form or time frame.

As I close out the 4th year of blog posts in SunnyRoomStudio, I hope you continue to discover the “self within,” because it is much more than popular definitions of good and bad, life and death.

It is complete; it is timeless; it is heaven and earth. ~ dh

Thanks for visiting SunnyRoomStudio: a creative, sunny space for kindred spirits.

Looking for book suggestions? 

 I maintain an informal list here in SRS.  See top menu or click here.

 See you again Friday, January 3rd, when I’ll share another book from my shelf.  Also, in January, I’ve invited a couple of Studio Guests to share a favorite book from their shelves.  So stay tuned!

I hope you are also digging into your book collection.  Dusting a few of those books off.  Opening to any page to read a passage or a chapter you loved but have forgotten.

 A book is just a book until you read it for the second time.

  faviconBlog by SunnyRoomStudio: all rights reserved.

Reading Gilead

  • Books on My Shelf 2013

Welcome back to SunnyRoomStudio.  This week, from my shelf, I selected Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, I enjoyed this novel–found it unforgettable–for many reasons.

Published in 2004 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Robinson’s book offers a profound look at what it means to leave behind a meaningful message for someone you love (for a young son) when you know your own death is imminent.

Thus, this is not the kind of book one rushes through … rather the wise reader savors it, absorbing each page ever so slowly.

Gilead was published 24 years after Robinson’s first novel.  Her protagonist is the minister, John Ames, and when he finds out his health is seriously declining, he begins a letter to his son: in fact, most of the book is the actual letter he is writing.

His letter is thoughtful, deliberate, and clearly conveys his misgivings about death.  Yet, Ames also captures the undeniable eloquence of life.

“Though I must say all this has given me a new glimpse of the ongoingness of the world.  We fly as forgotten as a dream, certainly leaving the forgetful world behind us to trample and mar and misplace everything we have ever cared for.  That is just the way of it, and it is remarkable.”

John Ames also has a special appreciation for the prairie, noting: “I love the prairie!  So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word good so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.”

  • I also loved this novel because it’s impossible not to empathize with the characters.  All of them moving through life just like we all do: wondering, worrying, exploring, and doing the best we can to accept the impermanence of life.

The book ends like this: “I’ll pray that you grow up a brave man in a brave country.  I will pray you find a way to be useful.”  Then, after a space, “I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep.”

  • If you were writing a letter like this what kind of advice would you include?  If you’re not sure, read Gilead.  It’s quite wonderful.  ~ dh

Thanks for visiting SunnyRoomStudio: a creative, sunny space for kindred spirits.

Looking for book suggestions? 

 I maintain an informal list here in SRS.  See top menu or click here.

 See you again Friday, December 20th, as I continue to share the books on my shelf.

I hope you are also digging into the books on your shelves.  Dusting them off.  Opening to page “whatever.”
Sit down, read your favorite chapter.  Read the first page, the last page.

 Journal about your discoveries.  A book is just a book until you read it for the second time.

 Enjoy the journey. ~ dh

  faviconBlog by SunnyRoomStudio: all rights reserved.

Enriched & Grateful

  • Books on My Shelf 2013

Welcome back to SunnyRoomStudio.  This week, from my shelf, I selected two books to share with you.  To say my life has been enriched by these books is an understatement.  Both authors have offered the gift of self-awareness, and I can’t think of anything more useful, profound, or comforting.

  • Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser(co-founder and senior adviser of Omega Institute, the largest adult education center in the United States focusing on health, wellness, spirituality and creativity)
  • In this book Lesser focuses on the primary choice we all face in times of challenge: Will we be broken down and defeated, or broken open and transformed?  Her book was published in 2004, and I discovered it in 2009.

I tend to discover books when I’m somehow “ready” for the message they contain.  So when I feel drawn to a book such as this, I read it with an open mind, instead of letting the conditioned mind (which we all suffer from) react or analyze.  That’s not the point of books like this.  The point is to go beyond what our minds are always telling us; the point is to tap into a higher dimension that isn’t worried about agreeing or disagreeing.

  • Could anything, i.e., the need to constantly react via yes or no, be more tedious, really?  Spiritual maturity isn’t an intellectual achievement.  It isn’t about being “right” and it certainly isn’t about the false pride, fear, and confusion that produces this kind of self-destructive perspective: I’ve got it all figured out; don’t bother me world.    

I especially liked this quote from Lesser’s book: “But had I never stumbled down the mountain of my ideals, had my ego not been humbled by loss, and my heart not broken open by pain, I would not have discovered the secret treasure that lies waiting for each one of us at the bottom of our most difficult times.”

She also points out that we are all “bozos on the bus.”  The bus called Earth.

“Imagine how freeing it would be to take a more compassionate and comedic view of the human condition — not as a way to deny our defects but as a way to welcome them as part of the standard human operating system.”

  • Living in the Light: Follow Your Inner Guidance to Create a New Life and a New World by Shakti Gawain

First published in 1986, I recently read the 25th year anniversary edition.  Quite simply, Gawain is a teacher of consciousness in that she helps people access (and trust) their intuitive inner wisdom.

What could be more important?

In this book Gawain writes about the need to integrate spirit and form (bodily form).  “It’s important to recognize that our form has its own wisdom and the spirit can learn from the form just as the reverse is true.  After all, we chose to come to this plane of existence in order to experience being human.”  She also points out: “Your inner guidance will always move you in the direction of greater balance and integration between form and spirit.”

While “truth” is always just beyond our mortal reach, books like this help us understand that searching for “it” is actually meaningless.  Truth comes in layers, some conscious, some unconscious, and exists on many different levels of reality.

Micro v. macro.  Personal v. global.  Today v.  decades ago.  And so on.

Yet, the world bickers endlessly over “truth” without true self-awareness — and without an appreciation for its inherent limitations.  As Thoreau put it: It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.

  • It will never be possible by pure reason to arrive at some absolute truth.  ~Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy
  • There is no truth.  There is only perception.  ~Gustave Flaubert

  Thanks for visiting SunnyRoomStudio: a creative, sunny space for kindred spirits.
Looking for book suggestions? 

 I maintain an informal list here in SRS.  See top menu or click here.

 See you again Friday, December 13th, as I continue to share the books on my shelf.

I hope you are also digging into the books on your shelves.  Dusting them off.  Opening to page “whatever.”
Sit down, read your favorite chapter.  Read the first page, the last page.

 Journal about your discoveries.  A book is just a book until you read it for the second time.

 Enjoy the journey. ~ dh

  faviconBlog by SunnyRoomStudio: all rights reserved.

Four Books

  • Books on My Shelf 2013

Welcome back to SunnyRoomStudio.  This week, from my shelf, I selected four books to share with you.

I stay alert, whether it be online, in a bookstore, sharing ideas with friends, pleasure reading or doing research for writing projects, or studying spiritual masters, to books that jump out at me … often for less-than-obvious reasons.  But I trust my intuition.  There is some reason I should read this bookSome reason to make sure it is on my shelf.  And definitely some reason to remain open to its message.

It’s uncanny, too, the ways in which a book becomes important as the days unfold.  I’m especially fond of books that provide an opportunity to learn and reflect.  Learning is the one thing we all benefit from.  It’s a process that connects the world in so many ways, people of all ages from infants to men and women in their 90s.

  • Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.  ~Henry Ford
  • When the student is ready, the master appears.  ~Buddhist Proverb

And I believe it was Buddha who said “the darkest night is ignorance.”  He also believed that ignorance was at the root of our suffering.

Long story short, here are four books that offer incredible opportunities to learn and to grow.  Not as ultimate sources of truth … truth is always relative, always fleeting, always just beyond our mortal reach … but as works of art that share something of value.  Something that will allow your life vision to evolve and expand.  Dare yourself to go there … let your imagination experience something new.  Remember, you are only old when you have stopped learning.

If I were a teacher, I would ask my students to read these four books with an eye for discovering how they intersect — not on an intellectual level so much, as on a personal and spiritual level.    

  • Book One — Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright 

Published in 2000, Wright’s book is one of the best books I have ever read.  Insights abound.  Thoughtful questions abound.  If you’ve ever wondered about human destiny (and who hasn’t?), this is a powerful look at an extremely far-reaching topic.  History, science, religion, and spirituality merge in wonderfully creative ways in a mere 334 pages.  “Maybe history,” he writes, “is, as various thinkers have suggested, not so much the product of divinity as the realization of divinity–assuming our species is up to the challenge, that is.”

  • Book Two — Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behaviorby David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D.

Published in 1995, Hawkins takes on the evolution of human consciousness.  He began work in psychiatry in 1952, but relinquished his New York practice for a life of research and spiritual teaching.  Hawkins passed away in 2012, but his work continues to make a profound impact on those who discover his material.  “In fact, this is a holographic universe.  Each point of view reflects a position that’s defined by the viewer’s unique level of consciousness.”

  • Book Three — Understanding Our Mindby Thich Nhat Hanh

Published in 1996, Hanh (Buddhist Zen master, poet, scholar) is the author of more than 100 books.  He lives at Plum Village, his meditation center in France.  “Nirvana means stability, freedom, and the cessation of the cycle of suffering.  Enlightenment does not come from outside; it is not something we are given, even by a Buddha.  The seed of enlightenment is already within our consciousness.  This is our Buddha nature–the inherent quality of enlightened mind that we all possess, and which needs only to be nurtured.”

  • Book Four — A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Lifeby Jack Kornfield.

Published in 1993, Kornfield takes spiritual concepts and applies them to the issues of daily life.  A timeless piece of work, read this book slowly: absorb the details, let yourself grow into these ideas if you aren’t already there.  “An integrated sense of spirituality understands that if we are to bring light or wisdom or compassion into the world, we must first begin with ourselves.  The universal truths of spiritual life can come alive only in each particular and personal circumstance.”  This is also a powerful sentence: “In this way, our awakening is a very personal matter that also affects all other creatures on earth.”

If you are resistant to personal growth, books can help you push beyond —
allowing you to see yourself and the world anew.  ~ dh

 Thanks for visiting SunnyRoomStudio: a creative, sunny space for kindred spirits.
Looking for book suggestions? 

 I maintain an informal list here in SRS.  See top menu or click here.

 See you again Friday, December 6th, as I continue to share the books on my shelf.

I hope you are also digging into the books on your shelves.  Dusting them off.  Opening to page “whatever.”
Sit down, read your favorite chapter.  Read the first page, the last page.

 Journal about your discoveries.  A book is just a book until you read it for the second time.

 Enjoy the journey. ~ dh

  faviconBlog by SunnyRoomStudio: all rights reserved.

John Gunther

  • Books on My Shelf 2013

Welcome back to SunnyRoomStudio.  This week, from my shelf, I selected Death Be Not Proud by journalist and father, John Gunther.  This famous memoir, considered to be a classic, covers the illness and death of his teenage son.  First published in 1949, Gunther writes: “My grief, I find, is not desolation or rebellion at universal law or deity. I find grief to be much simpler and sadder… All the things he loved tear at my heart because he is no longer here on earth to enjoy them. All the things he loved!”  

Johnny Gunther, Gunther’s son, dies of a devastating brain tumor.  Bad enough, of course, but the son also has an unusually high I.Q.  This seems to increase everyone’s suffering — why would someone so young, so bright, have to die?  Of course, “death” doesn’t pick and choose, only selecting those with a low or limited I.Q., but grief is anything but rational.

I remember reading the book in college.  Assigned reading.  I thought the book was filled with courage — with love, and definitely, with the reality of our brief mortal experience.  But, back then, I read the book with the comfortable distance of someone who was still in college, life stretching out before me in a pleasant, naive kind of way … life and death issues were real, of course, but only as an intellectual understanding. An agonizing experience for parents and son, Gunther’s memoir covers a two-year period, from ’45 to ’47.

  • In short, if you’ve read Death Be Not Proud, you know this is a book you don’t forget.

After losing my son, I found myself looking for the book again.  I now had much more than an “intellectual understanding” of profound loss.  The difference was enormous, life-changing, and often difficult to put into words.

In the foreword, Gunther writes: “Johnny was as sinless as a sunset.”  But he also mentions that he doesn’t want his foreword to be a “Bright-Sayings-of-the-Children essay or the kind of eulogy that any fond and bereaved parent may be forgiven for trying to put on paper.  What I am trying to tell, however fumblingly and inadequately, is the story of a gallant fight for life, against the most hopeless odds, that should convey a relevance, a message, a lesson perhaps, to anybody who has ever faced ill health.”

  • I would go a step further.  There are life lessons in this book for anyone and everyone.

At the close of the book, we hear from Frances Gunther, Johnny’s mother.  She begins like this: Death always brings one suddenly face to face with life.  Nothing, not even the birth of one’s child, brings one so close to life as his death.

With incredible wisdom Frances writes that she wishes they had loved Johnny more when he was alive.

But Johnny’s mother has already gone well beyond her personal world, as she explains the depth of her wish.

“To me, it means loving life more, being more aware of life, of one’s fellow human beings, of the earth.”

  • Grief and loss do have a way of expanding our vision … we begin to see more clearly how everyone and everything is connected.

Frances adds this, as she continues to explain: “It means obliterating, in a curious but real way, the ideas of evil and hate and the enemy, and transmuting them, with the alchemy of suffering, into ideas of clarity and charity.  It means caring more and more about other people, at home and abroad, all over the earth.  It means caring more about God.”

She closes with this: “I hope we can love Johnny more and more till we too die, and leave behind us, as he did, the love of love, the love of life.”

  • What a generous, enlightened perspective.  Read the book.  Read it again. ~dh
  • Interesting discussion thread in comments: Why does a memoir become a classic?

Thanks for visiting SunnyRoomStudio: a creative, sunny space for kindred spirits.
Looking for book suggestions? 

 I maintain an informal list here in SRS.  See top menu or click here.

 See you again Sunday, December 1st, as our 3-month review of books on my shelf continues.

I hope you are also digging into the books on your shelves.  Dusting them off.  Opening to page “whatever.”
Sit down, read your favorite chapter.  Read the first page, the last page.

 Journal about your discoveries.  A book is just a book until you read it for the second time.

 Enjoy the journey. ~ dh

  faviconBlog by SunnyRoomStudio: all rights reserved.