More Excerpts

Still in no particular order, we present you with a second page of excerpts from
some of the books that have meant so much to us. . . .

the first page of excerpts

The River of Feelings--an excerpt
Thich Nhat Hanh

Our feelings play a very important part in directing all of our thoughts and actions.  In us, there is a river of feelings, in which every drop of water is a different feeling, and each feeling relies on all the others for its existence.  To observe it, we just sit on the bank of the river and identify each feeling as it surfaces, flows by, and disappears.

There are three sorts of feelings--pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral.  When we have an unpleasant feeling, we may want to chase it away.  But it is more effective to return to our conscious breathing and just observe it, identifying it silently to ourselves:  "Breathing in, I know there is an unpleasant feeling in me.  Breathing out, I know there is an unpleasant feeling in me."  Calling a feeling by its name, such as "anger," "sorrow," "joy," or "happiness," helps us identify it clearly and recognize it more deeply.

We can use our breathing to be in contact with out feelings and accept them.  If our breathing is light and calm--a natural result of conscious breathing--our mind and body will slowly become light, calm, and clear, and our feelings also.  Mindful observation is based on the principle of "non-duality":  our feeling is not separate from us or caused merely by something outside us; our feeling is us, and for the moment we are that feeling.  We are neither drowned in nor terrorized by the feeling, nor do we reject it. Our attitude of not clinging to or rejecting our feelings is the attitude of letting go, an important part of meditation practice.

If we face our unpleasant feelings with care, affection, and nonviolence, we can transform them into the kind of energy that is healthy and has the capacity to nourish us.  By the work of mindful observation, our unpleasant feelings can illuminate so much for us, offering us insight and understanding into ourselves and society.

Lucidly and beautifully written, Peace Is Every Step contains commentaries and meditations, personal anecdotes and stories from Buddhist Nhat Hanh's experiences as a peace activist, teacher, and community leader. It begins where the reader already is (kitchen, office, driving a car, walking in a park) and shows how deep meditative presence is available now. Nhat Hanh shows how to be aware of relationships with others and of the world around us, its beauty and also its pollution and injustices. Through deceptively simple practices, Peace Is Every Step encourages the reader to work for peace in the world as he or she continues to work on sustaining inner peace by turning the "mindless" into the mindful. Peace Is Every Step is a useful, and necessary, addition to any Buddhist studies or self-help reference shelf.


On Giving
Kent Nerburn

Giving is a miracle that can transform the heaviest of hearts.  Two people, who moments before lived in separate worlds of private concerns, suddenly meet each other over a simple act of sharing.  The world expands, a moment of goodness is created, and something new comes into being where before there was nothing.

To often we are blind to this everyday miracle.  We build our lives around accumulation--of money, of possessions, of status--as a way of protecting ourselves and our families from the vagaries of the world.  Without thinking, we begin to see giving as an economic exchange--a subtracting of something from who and what we are--and we weigh it on the scales of self-interest.

But true giving is not an economic exchange, it is a generative act.  It does not subtract from what we have; it multiplies the effect we can have in the world.

Many people tend to think of giving only in terms of grand gestures.  They miss the simple openings of the heart that can be practiced anywhere with almost anyone.

We can say hello to someone everybody ignores.  We can offer to help a neighbor.  We can buy a bouquet of flowers and take it to a nursing home, or spend an extra minute talking to someone who needs our time.

We can take ten dollars out of our pocket and give it to someone on the street.  No praise, no hushed tones of holy generosity.  Just give, smile, and walk away.

If you perform these simple acts, little by little you will start to understand the miracle of giving.  You will begin to see the unprotected human heart and the honest smiles of human happiness.  You will start to feel what is common among us, not what separates and differentiates us.

Before long you will discover that you have the power to create joy and happiness by your simplest gestures of caring and compassion.  You will see that you have the power to unlock the goodness in other people's hearts by sharing the goodness in yours.

And, most of all, you will find the other givers.   No matter where you live or where you travel, whether you speak their language or know their names, you will know them by their small acts, and they will recognize you by yours.  You will become part of the community of humanity that trusts and shares and dares to reveal the softness of its heart.

Once you become a giver you will never be alone.

Simple Truths.  Kent Nerburn
A very nice, simple collection of thoughts and reflections on many of the aspects of our daily lives that most of us take for granted--possessions, giving, love, money, travel, and many others.  Very readable and thought-provoking, and well worth a read.

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Giving and Receiving
An excerpt:

Our abilities to give and receive are at the core of our capacity to create and experience true prosperity.

We each receive certain gifts when we come into this life.  These gifts take the form of our special talents, interests, and attributes, as well as our universal human characteristics, such as our ability to love and care for one another.

When we do our best to live our truth and express ourselves as authentically as possible, sharing ourselves as we are genuinely moved to, we naturally give our gifts to others and to the world.

In return, we may receive acknowledgement, appreciation, validation, nurturing, love, and in certain circumstances, money or other material rewards.  Receiving in these ways allows us to replenish the life force we have "spent," which in turn enables us to continue giving.

So receiving and giving are opposite energies that are inextricably linked together in the natural flow of life, like inhaling and exhaling.  If one aspect of that cycle doesn't function, the entire cycle ceases to function and the life force cannot move freely.  If you can't inhale, you will soon have nothing to exhale, and before long, your body will be unable to continue living.

This might seem fairly simple and obvious, yet we have enormous confusion in this area.  Many of us have difficulty with giving, receiving, or both.

In my observation, the more common problem is the inability to truly receive.  There are a number of reasons why receiving is difficult for so many of us.  Certainly, one factor is cultural conditioning.  Giving is generally viewed as honorable and praiseworthy.  Receiving, or taking, seems perilously close to selfishness, which has a lot of negative connotations for most of us.

Creating True Prosperity.   Shakti Gawain
An interesting look at the concept of prosperity in our lives, and what the term truly means to each of us.  Shakti's perspective is that prosperity is available to all of us, as long as we're willing to shift our perspectives and change our ideas about what prosperity means.  Money, power, inner strength--she examines the different aspects of our inner and outer wealth.


Gratitude (an excerpt)
Sarah Ban Breathnach

There is a wonderful Hasidic parable about the power of gratitude to change the course of our destiny in a heartbeat, the speed, I imagine, it takes for a "thank you" to reach Heaven's ears.

Once times were tough.  Two men--both poor farmers--were walking down a country lane and met their Rabbi.  "How is it for you?" the Rabbie asked the first man.  "Lousy," he grumbled, bemoaning his lot and lack.  "Terrible, hard, awful.  Not worth getting out of bed for.  Life is lousy."

Now, God was eavesdropping on this conversation.  "Lousy?" the Almighty thought.  "You think your life is lousy now, you ungrateful lout?  I'll show you what lousy is."

Then, the Rabbi turned to the second man.  "And you, my friend?"

"Ah, Rabbi--life is good.  God is so gracious, so generous.  Each morning when I awaken, I'm so grateful for another day, for I know, rain or shine, it will unfold in wonder and blessings too bountiful to count.  Life is so good."

God smiled as the second man's thanksgiving soared upwards until it became one with the harmony of the heavenly hosts.  Then the Almighty roared with delighted laughter.  "Good?  You think your life is good now?  I'll show you what good is!"

Gratitude is the most passionate transformative force in the cosmos.  When we offer thanks to God or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection, reconnection.  Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life (is it abundant or is it lacking?) and the world (is it friendly or is it hostile?).  Once we accept that abundance and lack are parallel realities and that each day we choose--consciously or unconsciously--which world we will inhabit, a deep inner shift in our reality occurs.  We discover the sacred in the ordinary and we realize that every day is literally a gift.  How we conduct our daily round, how we celebrate it, cherish it, and consecrate it is how we express our thankfulness to the Giver of all good.

Gratitude holds us together even as we're falling apart.  Ironically, gratitude's most powerful mysteries are often revealed when we are struggling in the midst of personal turmoil.  When we stumble in the darkness, rage in anger, hurl faith across the room, abandon all hope.  While we cry ourselves to sleep, gratitude waits patiently to console and reassure us; there is a landscape larger than the one we can see.

So that everyone can experience the transformational rewards of being grateful, Ban Breathnach designed a day-by-day journal for counting one's blessing. Years of disciplined gratitude have taught Ban Breathnach that "if you give thanks for five gifts every day, in two months you may not look at your life in the same way as you might now." Ideally, the journal writer will feel less discontent and "complicated need" and instead feel more awareness of simple abundance. The journal itself is highly inviting--bordered with simple country colors of cream, corn yellow, and dried sage. But even more inviting are the inspirational quotes sprinkled throughout, such as Henry Van Dyke's message: "Gratitude is twofold--love coming to visit us and love running out to greet a welcome guest."



Gratitude:  Why and for What?
Bernie Siegel

When I go out jogging in the morning, I sometimes notice how much weather influences people's response to life and to one another.  When it is gray and rainy, many people look unhappy.  When the sun is out and the temperature and humidity are comfortable, people are smiling and calling out to one another, "Hello, isn't it a lovely day."  For me, a lovely day is any day I wake up.  If I'm awake, I'm grateful to be alive and to have another day to experience life.

I speak as a realist, not an optimist.  I know that the longer I live, the more problems I will have.  So what is there to be grateful for?  I am grateful every day for the opportunity to have more problems, to learn how to live with them and rejoice in them.  That is enough, but there is more to be thankful for.  Every day is another opportunity to love and interact with God's creation, and on some days to be a cocreator.



Prescriptions for Living
Bernie S. Siegel

A nice look at life from a formerly anal-retentive doctor who shaved his head, changed his name from "Dr. Siegel" to Bernie, and actually started caring for his patients. He learned more from the change than they did.

The weather or the events of the day do not determine whether I am grateful for my life on that day.  Every time I jog through the world, I am awed by what I find.  On a winter morning, when it seems too cold and slippery for safe jogging or bicycling, I can still go out and experience the glory of sunlight turning icy branches into strings of sparkling diamonds. . . .

If your gratitude depends on what life gives you or what other people do for you or to you, you will be disappointed more often than you are grateful.  But you can learn to feel grateful by rethinking your attitude towards life.  First, remember that contentment lies in giving.  If you know that giving is better than receiving, then you can feel grateful for what you are able to give others.  This does not mean you ignore your own needs.  You will decide what to give and how to give it, and then at the end of the day you will be grateful for having had the chance to give in your own way.  Remember, we all have something to give, and our ability to give is not related to our finances or physical strength.

Second, be grateful simply for being alive.  When you are grateful for life, pure and simple, your life becomes one you can be grateful for.  That may strike you as circular or even backward logic, but your attitude really does have an effect on how things work out.  When you can't change your life and other way, you can still change your attitude.  When you do, your life changes.  You find more chances to love, and you will be surprised to se how much more love is returned to you.


You May Not Know What Really Matters
Elaine St. James

According to a recent Time/CNN poll, close to 65 percent of us spend much of our so-called leisure time doing things we'd rather not do.  That is a staggering statistic, especially when you consider the incredible number of options that are available to us today.

I think there are two reasons a lot of us aren't doing the things we really want to do.  First of all, many of us don't know what those things are.

When I think back to my hectic lifestyle, I have to admit that one of the reasons I allowed my life to continue to be so complicated is that I hadn't slowed down enough in recent years to figure out what I wanted to do, not only in terms of my work life, but in terms of a lot of my personal choices.

I knew the basic things:  I knew my husband, and family, and special friends were important.  I knew that for me, spending time in nature was important.  I knew maintaining my health with exercise and an appropriate diet were important.

But there were other areas, such as my life's work and many social and leisure activities, I just sort of drifted along with because it was easier than taking the time to come up with alternatives.

For any number of reasons we lose sight of what we want to do.  Perhaps we weren't encouraged as children to make our own decisions.

Or maybe we have easygoing, compliant personalities and have gone along with what other people have wanted to do, or have wanted us to do, for so long that we've forgotten what's important to us.

Or perhaps we never allowed ourselves to believe that doing the things we enjoy is even a possibility for us.

If you've spent a lot of years not knowing what you really want to do, either in terms of your career or in terms of your personal, social, civic, or family life, it can seem like an impossible task to stop what you've been doing--or at least slow down for a bit--and figure it out.  It often seems easier to keep on doing things we don't want to do.

Secondly, what we want to do can often be difficult to do.

For example, if your deep, dark, hidden desire is to write the great American novel, it would seemingly require a major disruption in your life to arrange things so you could even get started on it.  Often it's easier to continue doing things you almost want to do, or don't mind doing.

So our lives get frittered away by a social engagement here, a luncheon there, an evening of television here, or the habit of working evenings or weekends or both on projects that we don't have all that much interest in.  And the things we really want to do, in our heart of hearts, get put on the back burner.

One of the things simplifying your life will do is free up time for you to figure out what really matters to you, and then enable you to arrange your time so you can do it.

Living the Simple Life. Elaine St. James
100 simple principles for simplifying life, a process that can create for you many benefits, such as more free time, less stress, fewer constant tasks, and many other life-improving results.


Just Listen
Rachel Naomi Remen

I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen.  Just listen.  Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.  And especially if it's given from the heart.  When people are talking, there's no need to do anything but receive them.  Just take them in.  Listen to what they're saying.  Care about it.  Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it.  Most of us don't value ourselves or our love enough to know this.  It has taken me a long time to believe in the power of simply saying, "I'm so sorry," when someone is in pain.  And meaning it.

One of my patients told me that when she tried to tell her story people often interrupted her to tell her that they once had something just like that happen to them.  Subtly her pain became a story about themselves.  Eventually she stopped talking to most people.   It was just too lonely.  We connect through listening.  When we interrupt what someone is saying to let them know that we understand, we move the focus of attention to ourselves.  When we listen, they know we care.  Many people with cancer talk about the relief of having someone just listen.

I have even learned to respond to someone crying by just listening.  In the old days I used to reach for the tissues, until I realized that passing a person a tissue may be just another way to shut them down, to take them out of their experience of sadness and grief.  Now I just listen.  When they have cried all they need to cry, they find me there with them.

This simple thing has not been that easy to learn.  it certainly went against everything I had been taught since I was very young.  I thought people listened only because they were too timid to speak or did not know the answer.  A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well intentioned words.

A wonderful book of short vignettes by Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom is an exploration of the meanings of life and living.  Through her experiences as a medical doctor, Remen has learned much about living and dying, and the meaning of both.  Highly recommended for anyone who wants a dose of humanity and a positive perspective on life and the people of this world we live in.

Think of What You Have (an excerpt)
Richard Carlson

In over a dozen years as a stress consultant, one of the most pervasive and destructive mental tendencies I've seen is that of focusing on what we want instead of what we have.  It doesn't seem to make any difference how much we have; we just keep expanding our list of desires, which guarantees we will remain dissatisfied.  The mind-set that says "I'll be happy when this desire is fulfilled" is the same mind-set that will repeat itself once that desire is met.

A friend of ours closed escrow on his new home on a Sunday.  The very next time we saw him he was talking about his next house that was going to be even bigger!  He isn't alone.  Most of us do the very same thing.  We want this or that.  If we don't get what we want we keep thinking about all that we don't have--and we remain dissatisfied.  If we do get what we want, we simply re-create the same thinking in our new circumstances.  So, despite getting what we want, we still remain unhappy.  Happiness can't be found when we are yearning for new desires.

Luckily, there is a way to be happy.  It involves changing the emphasis of our thinking from what we want to what we have.  Rather than wishing your spouse were different, try thinking about her wonderful qualities.  Instead of complaining about your salary, be grateful that you have a job.  Rather than wishing you were able to take a vacation to Hawaii, think of how much fun you have had close to home.  The list of possibilities is endless!

Each time you notice yourself falling into the "I wish life were different" trap, back off and start over.  Take a breath and remember all that you have to be grateful for.  When you focus not on what you want, but on what you have, you end up getting more of what you want anyway.  If you focus on the good qualities of your spouse, she'll be more loving.  If you are grateful for your job rather than complaining about it, you'll do a better job, be more productive, and probably end up getting a raise anyway.  If you focus on ways to enjoy yourself around home rather than than waiting to enjoy yourself in Hawaii, you'll end up having more fun.  If you ever do get to Hawaii, you'll be in the habit of enjoying yourself.  And, if by some chance you don't, you'll have a great life anyway.

Make a note to yourself to start thinking more about what you have than what you want.  If you do, your life will start appearing much better than before.  For perhaps the first time in your life, you'll know what it means to feel satisfied.

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. . .and it's all small stuff. Richard Carlson
A nice little series of lessons on perspective--we all sweat a lot of stuff that really doesn't deserve so much attention. Many practical suggestions here.  Be careful, though, as this promises to get as annoying as the Chicken Soup books--now there's Don't Sweat the Small Stuff at Work, and more.  When will these people stop milking markets?
An Excerpt:

Well, it takes all kinds to make a mess.

The West is full of Tiggers--restless seekers of instant gratification, larger-than-life overachievers.  The West idolizes them because they're Bouncy and Exciting.  Maybe even a bit too exciting.  And they're becoming more exciting all the time.  It seems that it's no longer adequate to be a True Individual, or even a Hero; now one needs to be some sort of Superman, living an overinflated life punctuated (in true Tigger fashion) with exclamation marks.  Faster than a speeding bullet!  More powerful than a locomotive!  Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!  This is the age of Supereverything--Superstar, Superathlete, Supercoach, Superpolitician, even Superbusinessman:  Faster than a speeding ticket!  More powerful than a profit motive!  Able to lease tall buildings in a single day!

Tiggers are not necessarily what they seem, however.  While they may appear to be self-propelled, they are in reality jerked this way and that by whatever appealing object or sensation catches their attention.  And while Tiggers may appear energetic to the extreme, their love of ceaseless action and sensation is actually a form of spiritual laziness.  Tiggers are not in control of their lives, as is clearly shown by their behavior.



In The Te of Piglet, a good deal of Taoist wisdom is revealed through the character and actions of A. A. Milne's Piglet. Piglet herein demonstrates a very important principle of Taoism: The Te-a Chinese word meaning Virtue-of the Small.

Unfortunately, it is quite easy to be an impatient, inconsiderate, scatterbrained Tigger in a society that admires, encourages, and rewards impulsive behavior.  Advertisements tell us to buy whatever-it-is and Spoil ourselves.  An appropriate word, spoil.  We deserve it, they say.  (Maybe we do, but we'd like to think we're better than that.)  Store layouts are carefully designed to encourage impulse buying.  Movies, television shows, and magazines promote impulsive behavior of the most questionable kind, in the most flash-it-in-their-faces manner.  Practically everything from hairstyles to lifestyles is endorsed as some sort of drug to be taken Now for Instant Relief.  If you have this model of automobile, this style of clothing, this shape of girlfriend, or this sort of romantic entanglement, you will be happy.  You will be loved.  You will be Somebody.  Those who can't have such things are doomed to frustration.  Those who can have them are doomed to the inevitable disappointment.  As Oscar Wilde put it, "In the world there are only two tragedies.  One is not getting what one wants and the other is getting it."  We are reminded of the old Persian curse:  "May your every desire be immediately fulfilled."

In chapter twelve of the Tao Te Ching, Lao-tse described what's wrong with Tigger's sensationalistic approach to life:

The five colors blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavors deaden the tongue.
Racing and hunting madden the mind.