Recently, I enjoyed an email exchange with my friend and fellow spirituality blogger Evan Griffith, a person who thinks deeply and is deeply . . . alive. Just the kind of person I like having around, in other words. I needed some advice about when to say “yes” and when to say “maybe later.” Here is what he generously offered.
Mollie: I am having a hard time deciding which opportunities are yeses and which are nos. Some are a clear yes or no, while others are just things that come up and either sound good or don’t.
First question: Do I only do the things I have a clear yes or no about? Pray about everything and be ruthless about waiting for a clear yes before moving forward?
Evan: You get to the pithy heart of things, man.
My inclination is to tell you to only engage in the clear yeses.
I say this partly because of what I know of your life, and partly because you need to keep creating books, putting work out there. Only say yes to powerful projects that keenly interest you–and keep diving deep into your self challenges, sharing them with all of us.
Mollie: Second question: If I do decide to only go with the clear yeses, how do I locate new opportunities? Do I seek them out or do I just wait and let them come if they come? I have always thought it was a recipe for mediocrity and small-mindedness to not search and explore; it really, really limits what you are able to do with your life to just the things that, for example, a suburban mom runs across. There’s a whole world of stuff to do, and sometimes I have a nagging suspicion that I’m not doing as much as I could. On the other hand, I have a friend who is never seeking out the next big thing and she is very, very happy and very Zen. Desire is bad, remember? Buddhism? Byron Katie also says she never plans anything, really. She makes day-by-day plans and if they happen, great, and if they don’t, then that’s fine, too.
Evan: My take is that 1) you stay ready to seize new opportunities that you search out, while also 2) not expending a great deal of energy to do so.
Here’s how that might look: You challenge yourself to take on a project that expands you, one that is fully within your personal mission but also stretches your boundaries a bit. In this way you are continuing to create your life’s work–AND at the same time making connections beyond your immediate community. This allows you to reach out and Zen it, too. You can reach out as much or as little as each week allows.
P.S.: I’m in the camp who believes desire is good–that it’s only negative when you attach too strongly to any one particular path. Abraham Hicks/law of attraction ideas are to me a contemporary restating of the Tao– finding the path of least effort to what is most meaningful. This way you get to have desires and soul surf your way there–or to an approximation of there–or even somewhere you didn’t know was there until your soul surfing toward the original there took you there . . .
Mollie: Extra credit question: What about when I felt something was a clear yes, but then it didn’t turn out well at all? Was I wrong?
I often wonder about that, too. There are times when my clear yes worked out swimmingly, and there have been yes pathways taken that seemed to bear no fruit–or worse, sucked!
I don’t have an answer. Except in the sense of kaizen: continuous small changes or improvements toward a goal. In my understanding of kaizen, every undertaking leads you to greater understanding of what works and what doesn’t, what’s right for you and what isn’t. This clarity leads you to better experiments, better improvements, other small changes that can be made toward your ultimate goal.
I would add that enjoying this process like a scientist, where no answer is good or bad but simply an enlightening answer that allows for further inquiry, is the ultimate spiritual mode of living.
We should acknowledge some other predispositions. We’re sticklers on fact. Nonfiction means much more than accuracy, but it begins with not making things up. If it happened on Tuesday, that’s when it happened, even if Thursday would make for a tidier story. (And in our experience, at least, Tuesday usually turns out to make for a more interesting story.) This is not to confuse facts with the truth, a subject we will deal with. We also believe in the
To write is to talk to strangers. You want them to trust you. You might well begin by trusting them—by imagining for the reader an intelligence at least equal to the intelligence you imagine for yourself. No doubt you know some things that the reader does not know (why else presume to write?), but it helps to grant that the reader has knowledge
Good writing creates a dialogue between writer and reader, with the imagined reader at moments questioning, criticizing, and sometimes, you hope, assenting. What you “know” isn’t something you can pull from a shelf and deliver. What you know in prose is often what you discover in the course of writing it, as in the best of conversations with a friend—as if you and the reader do the discovering together. Writers are told that they must “grab” or “hook” or “capture” the reader. But think about these metaphors. Their theme is violence and compulsion. They suggest the relationship you might want to have with a criminal, not a reader. Montaigne writes: “I do not want a man to use his strength to get my attention.” Beginnings are an exercise in limits. You can’t make the reader love you in the first sentence or paragraph, but you can lose the reader right away. You don’t expect the doctor to cure you at once, but the doctor can surely alienate you at once, with brusqueness or bravado or indifference or confusion. There is a lot to be said for the quiet beginning. The most memorable first line in American literature is “Call me Ishmael.”
The “mystery and surprise” can be genuine, shared
I tend to worry now when a story is easily summarized and in summary sounds interesting or, even worse, exciting. This may be superstition, but I believe there is one sure dictum about judging one’s material, a cocktail party rule so to speak: it isn’t always a bad sign when a potential story doesn’t talk well.
It is a misleading truism that drama comes from conflict. Conflict in stories is generally understood as an external contest between good guys and bad guys. But to say that Hamlet depicts the conflict between a prince and usurper king is (obviously) to oversimplify that rich, mysterious drama, indeed to misunderstand it completely. The most important conflict often happens within a character, or within the narrator. The story begins with an inscrutable character and ends with a person the author and reader understand better than before, a series of events that yields, however quietly, a dramatic truth. One might call this kind of story a narrative of revelation.
Revelation, someone’s learning something, is what transforms event into story. Without revelation, a story of high excitement leaves us asking, “Is that all?”
For a story to have a chance to live, it is essential only that there be something important at stake, a problem that confronts the characters or confronts the reader in trying to understand them. The unfolding of the problem and its resolution are the real payoff. A car chase is not required.
In Virginia Woolf’s “Street Haunting,” for example, the nominal subject is the writer’s errand in the early evening, a stroll to a stationer’s store in search of a pencil. The stroll becomes the occasion for thought about the nature of solitude, and about the consolidation of self in the home versus the dissolution of self in the city. The small experience keeps ramifying into something else. She remembers standing on the doorstep of the stationer’s and thinks, “It is always an adventure to enter a new room, for the lives and characters of its owners have distilled their atmosphere into it, and directly we enter it we taste some new wave of emotion.”
All the genres blur, but none is blurrier than the essay,
The line between essay and memoir is particularly porous.
Although many are simplistic, all rules of writing share a worthy goal: clear and vigorous prose. Most writers want to achieve that. And most want to achieve something more, the distinction that is called a style. It’s an elusive goal, but the surest way to approach it is by avoiding the many styles that offer themselves to you. The world brims over with temptations for the writer, modish words, unexamined phrases, borrowed tones, and the habits of thought they all represent. The creation of a style often begins with a negative achievement. Only by rejecting what comes too easily can you clear a space for yourself.
That’s the real problem with these sentences filled with nouns as adjectives—not that they violate a grammatical rule, but that they violate normal rhythms of speech. Good readers and good writers use both eyes and ears. And for a reader who hears the words, the shorter sentence actually takes longer to register. It is hard to hear, and thus the reader resists it. Sometimes longer is shorter. The habit of compression,
Breeziness has become for many the literary mode of first resort, a ready-to-wear means to seeming fresh and authentic. The style is catchy, and catching, like any other fashion. Writers should be cautious with this or any other stylized jauntiness—especially young writers, to whom the tone tends to come easily. The colloquial writer seeks intimacy, but the discerning reader, resisting that friendly hand on the shoulder, that winning grin, is apt to back away.
The initial dependent clause is a dubious construction under the best of circumstances. A sentence built on it is usually weaker than a straightforward declarative sentence. A devoted husband, he bought her a diamond
Yet it is undeniable that good writing must have a human sound. Maybe that is the more modest word to keep in mind: sound. You try to attune yourself to the sound of your own writing. If you can’t imagine yourself saying something aloud, then you probably shouldn’t write it. That is not the same as saying, “Write the way you talk.” If we all did that, civilization would be in even worse shape than it is. This is closer: Write the way you talk on your best day. Write the way you would like to talk. Sometimes it will happen, in the middle
A writer who wants to write and to be published successfully has to try to cultivate a certain doubleness of being. When you are writing, you have to think of yourself as a writer and not as a commodity. But when your book is published, it becomes a product. Over the years publishers and agents have become increasingly sophisticated at promoting books, and to let pride keep you from cooperating in their efforts would be churlish and self-destructive.
Every book has to be in part its own reward. In happy moments one realizes that the best work is done when one’s eye is simply on the work, not on its consequences, or on oneself. It is something done for its own sake. It is, in Lewis Hyde’s term, a gift.
dispiriting place. David Foster Wallace was admired by many of his fellow writers, and though his own highest ambitions may have been reserved for his fiction, some admired him as much for the witty, compulsively intelligent prose of his essays and reportage. At the New York memorial service for him, the novelist Zadie Smith quoted him as having said, “… the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose: the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love, instead of the part that just wants to be loved.” 8
I remember in college reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Last Tycoon and studying a note that he left in the manuscript: “Rewrite from mood. Has become stilted with rewriting. Don’t look—rewrite from mood.” I reread those lines so often, trying to understand them, that they stuck in my memory.
I was twenty-seven and he was only thirty-two, but I recognized him as a member of an older generation, an older generation, that is, of Americans who went to college before the Vietnam War and the matriculation of the baby boomers, whom Todd once described as “a generation of twits.” He liked things that seemed to me old-fashioned, such as farms and, at least hypothetically, farming. He liked old buildings, bucolic landscapes, antiques, and realistic fiction. And it seemed as if a lot of what he liked he liked in opposition to what he didn’t like, and I learned more about the things he didn’t like, many of which were things I did like, such as exercise for its own sake, unrealistic fiction, sunny climates, and cats. He was calm on the surface, and the surface was what he let most people see; whereas I tended to share my thoughts and especially complaints. For about five
A timepasser is one possible means of “making some things big and other things little”—perhaps the most important phrase in our private lexicon. A timepasser can be a means of creating pleasing proportionality,
Things out of place or proportion give rise to a “bump,” a term that I never liked to decipher in the margin of a page, back when Todd still wrote his comments. “A bump is worse than it sounds, isn’t it?” I asked him once. “Yes,” he said. “It’s not just something you drive over. It means these things in a story aren’t connected, they aren’t meshing, they don’t meet. And so it gets you worried about the logic of the structure of the story.”
“Taking the spin off” can be the solution not only to a melodramatic sentence, but to a problem of tone that infects a whole manuscript. A phrase like “someone went mad for blood” has, among its other demerits, a bossy quality. Taking the spin off can be translated roughly as: Don’t try to tell the reader how to feel.
“You have to manage this” means something nearly opposite. Opposite also from the old saw “Show, don’t tell,” of which my college teacher Robert Fitzgerald once said, “It’s a good rule, and it’s meant to be broken.”
To manage something can mean slowing down an important scene to make it bigger than the things that are supposed to be little, and to do that you might try to find one moment in a story that can stand for many others. Or management might require a generalization, a summarizing statement that doesn’t seem didactic. Todd calls this sort of statement “a brilliance,” as in, “We need a brilliance here.” He has supplied me with several over the years, phrases that I transposed a little or even used verbatim. In reference to the life of inmates in a nursing home in my book Old Friends, for instance: “The problem with visitors is they have to be thanked for coming and forgiven for going away.”
Todd told me he didn’t think editors should make up sentences for writers. “I’ve done it, but I don’t like to do it,” he said. “But there are lines I’ve taken from you shamelessly. Ones you gave me in conversation.” “Well, conversation is one thing.” “What’s the difference?” “I don’t know,” he said. “Something mystical.”
It was clear from the start that he was going to be a writer. Successful or not, who can ever tell? But a writer. Over the years people have sometimes asked me what it “takes” to be a writer. When I answer this I start sounding like a basketball coach speaking of “desire.” But, really, the answer is that it seems to take an inability to imagine yourself doing anything else—because anything else is so much easier. It would have been impossible to discourage Kidder, and heartless to try.
Like most other subjects, science is best learned through conversation. Experiments are great, too, but they’re not always necessary. If like me you have little kids who can’t yet handle close proximity to anything magnetic, explosive or filled with water, choose a few scientific concepts to talk about per day, and send the older kid to a fun science class. (Video demonstrations are great, too.)
Highly Recommended Science Texts
Any good, up-to-date science encyclopedia Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding by Bernard J. Nebel Free online video series by the Khan Academy Wikipedia
Essential Science Projects
Treasure collecting from nature Growing plants Building science-related structures and models with mixed media Building science-related structures and models with Lego (such as solar system models, lifelike animal and vehicle replicas, etc.) Block building Train set building Playing with magnets Breaking open and identifying rocks Building circuits Taking nighttime walks Watching astronomical events (like a lunar eclipse, shooting stars or the Aurora Borealis) Using a telescope and a microscope Choosing many other science projects from science books
History isn’t hard. It’s just stories. Lots of stories. And remembering dates and names is important, too. One of the main reasons I made my history timelines is that when you’ve committed certain important dates to memory, they anchor you to new information you gain throughout your life.
Don’t be afraid of dates. Dates are awesome.
Highly Recommended History Texts
Any good, up-to-date history encyclopedia The Story of the World (four-part series) by Susan Wise Bauer The free online video series by the Khan Academy Wikipedia
Essential Classic Historical Texts
The Holy Bible The Koran The Analects, Confucius (551–479 BC) Tao Te Ching, Lao Tze (c. 6th century BC) The Art of War, Sun Tzu (late sixth century BC) Selected writings of Plato (c. 428–347 BC) Rhetoric, Aristotle (384–322 BC) De Republica and other writings, Cicero (106–43 BC) Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans, Plutarch (c. 46–120) Enchiridion, Epictetus (c. 55–135) The Confessions, Saint Augustine (354–430) The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius (c. 480–524) Selected writings of Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Aquinas The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis (c. 1380–1471) In Praise of Folly, Erasmus (1466–1536) Novum Organum, Frances Bacon (1561–1626) The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes (1596–1650) Discourse on Method, Rene Descartes (1596–1650) Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke (1632–1704) The Second Treatise of Government, John Locke (1632–1704) The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) Rights of Man, Thomas Paine (1737–1809) Common Sense, Thomas Paine (1737–1809)* The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745–1797) Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Thomas de Quincey (1785–1859)* Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Sojourner Truth (1797–1883)* Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896)* Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897)* Walden, Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)* Other works by Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895)* The Souls of Black Folks, W. E. B. DuBois (1868–1963) Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938)* The Jungle, Upton Sinclair The Constitution of the United States The Gettysburg Address The Magna Carta The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank (1929-1945)* Go Ask Alice, Anonymous* The Story of My Life, Helen Keller (1880–1968)* Roots, Alex Haley* In Cold Blood, Truman Capote* Autobiography of Malcom X, Malcom X* Mythology, Edith Hamilton* Black Boy, Richard Wright (1908–1960)* Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin (1920–1980)*
Optional Advanced Classic Historical Texts
Selected writings of Buddha (c. 500–300 BC) Selected writings of Herodotus (c. 484–425 BC) Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle (384–322 BC) Wars of the Jews, Josephus (37–100) Annals, Tacitus (c. 56–117) The Early History of Rome, Livy (c. 64 BC–AD 17) The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius (c. 69–after 122) The Campaigns of Alexander, Arrian (c. 89–after 160) On the Nature of Things, Lucretius (c. 99–55 BC) Meditations, Marcus Aurelius (121–180) The City of God, St. Augustine (354–430) The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis (c. 1380–1471) The Education of a Christian Prince, Erasmus (1466–1536) Commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther (1483–1546) The Freedom of a Christian, Martin Luther (1483–1546) Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin (1509–1564) Selected writings of John Knox (c. 1513–1572) The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)* Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross (1542–1591) The Defense of Poesy, Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586) The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Samuel Pepys (1633–1703) Wonders of the Invisible World, Cotton Mather (1663–1728) An Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope (1688–1744) An Essay on Man, Alexander Pope (1688–1744) The Way to Wealth, Ben Franklin (1706-1790) The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) The Journal of John Woolman, John Woolman (1720–1772) The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith (1723–1790) A Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) On American Taxation, Edmund Burke (1729–1797) Life of Johnson, James Boswell (1740–1795) Memoir, Correspondence and Misc., Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804) The Memoirs of Victor Hugo, Victor Hugo (1802–1885) Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) On Liberty, John Stuart Mill (1806–1873)* A Child’s History of England, Charles Dickens (1812–1870) For Self-Examination, Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx (1818–1883) The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams (1838–1918) Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Frederich Nietzsche (1844–1900) Beyond Good and Evil, Frederich Nietzsche (1844–1900) An Autobiography, Annie Besant (1847–1933) Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) The Ego and the Id, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler Notes on Nursing, Florence Nightingale The Ecclesiastical History, Adam Bede The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
Spirituality feels complicated: cultural, nuanced. And it is. I understand that. But the basic tenets of the major world religions are actually fairly straightforward, and it is these that I seek to present here. Please note that this treatment is highly simplified and does not represent all adherents of the given faith. Other religions with over one million adherents that aren’t discussed here include Falun Gong (a 20th-century Chinese religion similar to Buddhism that incorporates meditation and qigong exercises), Sikhism (a 15th-century Indian religion that follows the teaching of Sikh gurus and rejects religious certainty), Korean shamanism, Caodaism, Bahá’í Faith (a nineteenth-century Middle Eastern religion that seeks to unify all world religions), Tenriism, Jainism, Cheondoism, and Hoahaoism.
Christianity Knowledge Checklist
Rank: Number one. Christianity is the world’s most populous religion.
Holy book(s): The Bible. The Catholic Christian version of the Bible includes additional sections, and Mormons have an additional holy book called The Book of Mormon.
Concept of God: There is one all-knowing, all-loving, everywhere-present, all-powerful, gender-neutral God, who created the universe.
Notion of life after death: Salvation–that is, eternal life in a place of bliss called Heaven–comes to those who profess faith in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins. Others go to Hell after death.
Other basic tenets: Humans are sinful and in need of redemption. Jesus Christ, the sinless son of God, came to Earth to preach faith in Him and to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sin of the world. In addition to faith, Christians should practice love, charity, self-sacrifice, humility, morality, prayer, Bible reading, sexual abstinence prior to marriage and monogomy thereafter, and other good works.
Origins: Christianity began with the life of Jesus Christ, who lived in the first century AD in the Middle East. His followers spread the faith widely over the following several centuries. From these early Christians, Catholicism developed, which appointed a Pope as its leader. Then Orthodoxy and Protestantism split off from Catholicism, in that order. Protestants divided into many different sects, including Methodist, Anglican and Lutheran Christianity. Later, Mormonism split off from Protestant Christianity with even greater changes.
Islam Knowledge Checklist
Rank: Number two
Holy book(s): The Quran, which is the verbatim word of God revealed to the prophet Muhammad, plus the sunnah, the other teachings of Muhammad, and the hadith, the record of Muhammad’s life.
Concept of God: There is one God, with Muhammad as the messenger of God. God is merciful and all-powerful.
Notion of life after death: Muslims go to a blissful Heaven, and non-Muslims go to a place of eternal punishment.
Other basic tenets: Islam is the final expression of a faith that pre-existed and was partially revealed through Adam, Abraham, and Jesus. Therefore, it is considered an Abrahamic faith like Judaism and Christianity. Muslims must practice the five pillars of the faith, which include (1) recitation of the creed, (2) daily prayers, (3) almsgiving, (4) fasting during Ramadan and (5) making a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. They also must follow sharia law, which is more specific and lengthy and includes guidelines on clothing, relationships, finances and more. Most Muslims belong to either the Sunni or the Shia sect, with the major original difference between them being who they considered the proper leader of their faith after the death of Muhammad. Muslims also believe in angels.
Origins: Islam was started in the early seventh century in Mecca by the Prophet Muhammad. It spread in Europe through war and coercion, and in Africa through trading relationships.
Hinduism Knowledge Checklist
Rank: Number three
Origins: Hinduism is a fusion of various ancient Indian cultural ideas and tradition, with no single founder. It began to take its current form between 500 B.C. and AD 300. It is widely practiced in India and parts of Southeast Asia.
Holy book(s): Hindu texts are many and varied. They are not considered absolutely true. They are divided into two categories: the Shruti and the Smriti. The Shruti are the oldest traditions and include the four Vedas. The Upanishads are the parts of the Vedas that discuss meditation and philosophy and are the foundation of Hinduism. Of the Smritis, the Hindu epics, especially the Bhagavad Gita, and the Puranas are most important.
Concept of God: Varies by tradition. Some traditions teach the existence of multiple deities (dualism) while others teach of a single supreme being that is reflected in all other beings (the divine in all/non-dualism). Hindu gods are depicted in art and stories. Various incarnations of the same god are called avatars.
Notion of life after death: Reincarnation, called samsara. Hindus desire liberation from samsara through moksha (enlightenment).
Other basic tenets: Dharma (the path of rightness) is considered the foremost goal of a human being. It includes religious duties and moral virtues, but it is also equated with the eternal, unchanging truth. According to Hinduism, achieving dharma allows people to be in harmony with their true nature and with the world. Other Hindu goals are artha, properly pursued economic prosperity; kama, aesthetic pleasure; and moksha, liberation from suffering (enlightenment). Hindus also believe in karma. Hindu monks are called sanyāsī, sādhu, or swāmi. Religious rituals are observed mostly at home and are not mandatory. They include yoga, chanting, meditation and more. Hindus recognize four social classes: the Brahmins (teachers and priests); the Kshatriyas (warriors and kings); the Vaishyas (farmers and merchants); and the Shudras (servants and laborers). They believe in non-violence, respect for all life and vegetarianism.
Buddhism Knowledge Checklist
Rank: Number four
Origins: Buddhism was founded between 500 and 400 B.C. in India by Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha, who as a wealthy but unhappy young man who became enlightened while sitting underneath a Bodhi tree. Buddhism is prominent throughout Asia.
Holy book(s): Numerous and highly varied. Some are based on the words of the Buddha, like the sutras, while others were created by ancient Buddhist schools, like the tantras.
Concept of God: There is no creator God or supreme being in the universe.
Notion of life after death: Reincarnation. This cycle of death and rebirth, which is affected by one’s karma, can be escaped through nirvana (enlightenment).
Other basic tenets: Meditation, mindfulness, nonattachment, compassion, lovingkindness and virtue; taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the way) and the Sangha (teachers and fellow travelers); the Four Noble Truths; and the Noble Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are: suffering is universal; suffering is caused by desire and attachment; suffering can end; this happens through the Noble Eightfold Path (right understanding, right thinking, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration). There are two main schools of Buddhist thoughts: the Theravada and the Mahayana. They differ in their recommended approach to nirvana and more.
Confucianism Knowledge Checklist
Origins: Confucianism was founded by Confucius, a government worker-turned-philosopher who lived around the time of Buddha (551-479 B.C.) in China. Confucius taught his philosophy to his subordinates at work before quitting to travel and teach only. His teachings became the state philosophy during the Han Dynasty in China, which liked Confucius’ emphasis on strong central government and respect for authority.
Holy book(s): The Analects of Confucius
Concept of God: None. Confucianism is sometimes considered a religion and sometimes considered a philosophy.
Notion of life after death: None.
Other basic tenets: Kindness; manners; rituals; morals; respect of elders and family; moderation.
Taoism Knowledge Checklist
Origins: Taoism (sometimes called Daoism) began with the writing of the Tao Te Ching, likely by the teacher Laozi around 500 B.C. (This is close to the time of Buddha and Confucius.) The Tao Te Ching was influenced by an ancient divination text, the I Ching (Yi Ching), which as the oldest Chinese classic text was compiled around 800 B.C. Like Confucianism, Taoism became prominent during the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-AD 220). It might have developed as a reaction to that more authoritarian philosophy.
Holy book(s): The Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, the Daozang/Treasury of Tao, and the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu). The Daozang is a collection of over 1500 texts written up to the Ming dynasty, and is considered the Taoist canon. The Zhuangzi is an important, beautiful, lighthearted description of the ideal sage written by Master Zhuang (Zhuangzi) (c. 369-301 B.C.).
Concept of God: Various gods exist but none are supreme, and all are subject to the Tao. (Most Taoist gods are borrowed from other cultures.)
Notion of life after death: Unclear. The soul is eternal, but there is a regular afterlife and an enhanced one.
Other basic tenets: Taoists are naturalists. They believe in the interconnectedness of all things; acceptance of contradiction or paradox, called Yin and Yang (concepts originated in the I Ching); and the pursuit of harmony through virtue. They also believe in fortune telling, honoring deceased spirits, and more.
Shinto Knowledge Checklist
Origins: Shinto is the traditional religion of Japan. It is a collection of animistic folk mythologies. Practices were first codified around 700 B.C.
Holy book(s): The Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, written in the 8th century.
Concept of God: There are many gods, spirits and essences, all with unique roles and purposes.
Notion of life after death:
Other basic tenets: Shinto emphasizes the importance of performing rituals for the purpose of connecting with the past.
Judaism Knowledge Checklist
Origins: Abraham, a man who lived in the Middle East, had a son, Isaac, who had a son, Jacob, who was the father of twelve sons, who founded the twelve tribes of Israel. These tribes, who lived around 1200 B.C., later became known as Jews, or the Jewish people. Later, Christianity and Islam developed from Judaism. Jews have been persecuted throughout history and repeatedly forced to leave their nation, Israel, yet they have largely maintained their ethnic and cultural identity. About 43% of Jews reside in Israel and another 43% reside in the United States and Canada.
Concept of God: Orthodox Jews believe in one all-knowing, all-loving, everywhere-present, all-powerful, gender-neutral God, who created the universe. Other Jews believe that belief in God is a matter of personal choice.
Notion of life after death: Unclear and controversial.
Holy book(s): The Torah, which is part of the Hebrew Bible, and additional oral tradition found in later texts like the Midrash and the Talmud. Texts are open to interpretation by rabbis and is a highly scholarly and intellectual endeavor.
Basic tenets: Jews, particularly Orthodox Jews, practice a complex, laborious array of rituals dating to the time of Abraham. They believe that by doing so, they are keeping the Covenant (the law of God given to the Jews by which they earn God’s favor). Among these practices: not working on Sundays; not eating pork or shellfish (eating kosher foods only); and celebration of Jewish holidays. Conservative and Reform Jews take a more lenient approach to Jewish law.
Alternative Spirituality Knowledge Checklist
Origins: Alternative spirituality includes Buddhist Modernism, some new religious movements (NRMs), spiritual-but-not-religious ideas, New Thought spirituality and New Age spirituality. It primarily refers to belief systems that originated during the twentieth century. Alternative spirituality evolves rapidly as new spiritual teachers, channels and authors become known. It is largely influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism.
Holy book(s): None. Modern spiritual thinkers read modern spiritual-but-not-religious authors like Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and Esther Hicks, plus Buddhist authors like Pema Chodron, Ram Daas and more.
Concept of God: God is the one, unified something that makes up everything in the Universe. As such, God is part of everything, including each person. God is sometimes called the creator, the force, the all-that-is or simply the universe. God is good and loving.
Notion of life after death: Reincarnation, another afterlife including the experience of oneness with the Divine, or unknown. There is no Hell, but there is no one clear and correct path to a happy afterlife.
Other basic tenets: Sin does not exist. Though people often judge poorly or act out of fear, they are naturally and fundamentally good. Onesself is one’s only spiritual authority. Meditation and mindfulness are helpful. So are various healing modalities, such as Reiki. Discovering one’s highest self is a priority, as is practicing love and non-judgment. Truth is often relative and experiential and may be discovered through the law of attraction; divination/clairvoyance/mediums; angels, spirits and ghosts; near-death experiences; deathbed revelations; intuition; and more. Enlightenment or something akin to enlightenment is the goal of many modern spiritualists.
After Rachel and Matthew had their first child, they had a couple of fights. Well, okay, more than a couple—they fought for over three years. They fought about schedules. They fought about bad habits. They fought about feeling unloved.
even fought about the lawn mower.
besides actually having their child, it was the best thing that
Chronicling their greatest hits, from the Great Birth Control Debate to the Divorce Joke Showdown, Fights You’ll Have After Having a Baby is a post-partem story with hope. It offers true stories from the field, nitty-gritty advice and, most important, a nuanced understanding of what it takes to be married with children.
The first time I read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, I thought it was total crap. Okay, maybe “total crap” is an exaggeration. But definitely impossible, impractical and, worst of all, unpleasant. Not thinking about the future? Just paying attention to the Now? Sounds like the fast track to loserhood.
As a person struggling with depression and using any non-substance-based strategy I could think of to manage it, the advice sounded particularly terrible. I could do without past obsession pretty well–never have been much of a grudge-holder. But I needed–depended on–obsessing about my future. The future is when I would have everything I wanted: kids, a house, a great career. My plans for things to come and my determination to work hard towards them were pretty much what I lived for.
Stop thinking about the future? Stop thinking at all? Won’t that take away my hope, my reason for living?
The second time I read The Power of Now, I understood the concept a bit better. Oh, I don’t have to stop thinking entirely. I can think without being neurotic, and with long breaks. That actually sounds pretty cool.
Maybe I’ll try that someday. First, I have stuff to get done.
The third time I read The Power of Now, I finally had a breakthrough. The book taught me how to meditate, and how to absolutely love meditating. And now, it’s one of my very favorite books.
That’s another story, though. For today, we focus on this whole fascinating not-thinking thing, particularly whether or not it can help with depression.
Some people call it no-mind meditation, and I don’t think I’m the only one who’s ever cursed Eckhart Tolle or another teacher for telling her to try it. Being completely “present,” without plans or goals, as Tolle calls it, doesn’t come naturally to us human-types. In fact, it goes against pretty much our entire biology.
We think. We assess. We assume. We make decisions. Sometimes all in less than a single second. It’s one of our strengths and one of our weaknesses. But apparently, we can learn to overcome it.
But do we want to? And if so, how much thinking is the right amount, especially when you’re trying to overcome depression?
There’s no one right answer, but here’s my experience.
Achieving or attempting to achieve the so-called “no-mind” state helps us greatly. It makes us happier. It definitely eliminates depression. The problem: oh my goodness, it takes a lot of time. Unless you’re committed to Buddhist-like meditation sessions on a daily basis, your results may be very slow to come.
I love meditation. I definitely like to take breaks from thought, and when I have obsessive or anxious mind patterns, I realize it’s time to chill a bit. I clear my head by repeating a calming mantra, doing The Work or doing a “brain dump” on paper, and these techniques usually work pretty well.
But soon after that, I’m back to thinking.
And I’m okay with that.
Don’t get me wrong: on a bad day, I could use a lot more of this no-mind stuff. But on a good day, a lot of my thinking isn’t so terrible. It’s not the anxiety-producing stuff we all know is unhealthy. It’s just thinking–just plain old planning, reading, writing and working. Sometimes I even manage pleasant, pointless pondering. Today, for instance, I found myself lost in contemplation about the economics of private dentistry practice. Important? Not really. Interesting? Just a bit. Stressful? Well, not to me. On a good day, a lot of my thinking is like that. It’s not particularly harmful, or particularly anything.
It’s just thinking.
Of course, I also do the did-I-say-something-wrong what-does-she-think-of-me-now type stuff. But when I catch it, I’m often able to refocus pretty well.
One fine day, I’d love to experience the state of no-thought Tolle talks about. But I don’t plan to meditate for thirty years to get there.
Summary and highlights from The Power of Now:
In The Power of Now, enlightened spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle discusses his method for increasing spiritual awareness and inner peace, namely through maintaining a state of continuous meditation.
His teaching, briefly: You are not your mind. Your life is not the past or the future, as those states exist only in the mind. You and your life are what is right now. When you learn how to hold your mind in the present moment on a continual basis, enlightenment will occur. (And if you learn to do this part or much of the time, you’ll at least have a lot more peace and joy.)
There are many portals leading to the Source. They include:
The eternal Now (this is the main portal);
Cessation of thinking;
Surrender (“the letting go of mental-emotional resistance to what is”);
Being “in touch with the energy field of the inner body”;
Disidentifying with the mind;
Silence and empty space. (“You cannot think and be aware of space—or silence, for that matter.”)
It’s not necessary to use all these portals, just one.
Note that love isn’t a portal. It’s what’s inside the portal.
On the body portal:
Tolle suggests we make a practice of continuously keeping part of our attention focused on the body and the energy that makes up the body. “Body awareness keeps you present. It anchors you in Now.” Keep part of your attention on “the inner energy field of your body. To feel the body from within, so to speak.”
“The body can become a point of access into the realm of Being.”
“The body that you can see and touch cannot take you into Being. But that visible and tangible body is only an outer shell, or rather a limited and distorted perception of a deeper reality. In your natural state of connectedness with Being, this deeper reality can be felt every moment as the invisible inner body, the animating presence within you. So to “inhabit the body” is to feel the body from within, to feel the life inside the body and thereby come to know that you are beyond the outer form.”
“If you saw an angel and mistook it for a stone statue, all you would have to do is adjust your vision and look more closely at the ‘stone statue,’ not start looking somewhere else. You would then find that there never was a stone statue.” But there was an angel in its place. The statue is only a vague representation of what truly there, but it does in fact point the way.
How to meditate using the body portal:
“In your everyday life, you can practice this by taking any routine activity that normally is only a means to an end and giving it your fullest attention, so that it becomes an end in itself. For example, every time you walk up and down the stairs in your house or place of work, pay close attention to every step, every movement, even your breathing. Be totally present. Or when you wash your hands, pay attention to all the sense perceptions associated with the activity: the sound and feel of the water, the movement of your hands, the scent of the soap, and so on. Or when you get into your car, after you close the door, pause for a few seconds and observe the flow of your breath. Become aware of a silent but powerful sense of presence. There is one certain criterion by which you can measure your success in this practice: the degree of peace that you feel within.”
“To become conscious of Being, you need to reclaim consciousness from the mind. This is one of the most essential tasks on your spiritual journey. It will free vast amounts of consciousness that previously had been trapped in useless and compulsive thinking. A very effective way of doing this is simply to take the focus of your attention away from thinking and direct it into the body, where Being can be felt in the first instance as the invisible energy field that gives life to what you perceive as the physical body.”
“Direct your attention into the body. Feel it from within. Is it alive? Is there life in your hands, arms, legs, and feet — in your abdomen, your chest? Can you feel the subtle energy field that pervades the entire body and gives vibrant life to every organ and every cell? Can you feel it simultaneously in all parts of the body as a single field of energy? Keep focusing on the feeling of your inner body for a few moments. Do not start to think about it. Feel it. The more attention you give it, the clearer and stronger this feeling will become. It will feel as if every cell is becoming more alive, and if you have a strong visual sense, you may get an image of your body becoming luminous. Although such an image can help you temporarily, pay more attention to the feeling than to any image that may arise.”
The feeling of your inner body is formless, limitless, and unfathomable. You can always go into it more deeply.
Please open your eyes now, but keep some attention in the inner energy field of the body even as you look around the room. The inner body lies at the threshold between your form identity and your essence identity, your true nature. Never lose touch with it.
Other ideas of note:
On emotional pain: “Focus attention on the feeling inside of you . . . the pain-body. Accept that is there. Don’t think about it—don’t let the feeling turn into thinking. Don’t judge or analyze. Don’t make an idiot of yourself out of it.”
On identity/ ego: “The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and educational [accomplishments], appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal family history, belief systems, and a political, nationalistic, racial, religious, or other collective identification. None of that is you.”
“The ego’s needs are endless. It feels [continually] threatened . . . lives in a constant state of fear, want. Once you know how the basic dysfunction operates, there is no need to explore all its countless, manifestations, no need to make it into a complex personal problem.”
On defensiveness: “Watch out for any kind of defensiveness within yourself. What are you defending? An illusory identity, an image in your mind, a fictitious entity.”
On the mind: “The mind in itself is not dysfunctional. It is a wonderful tool. Dysfunction sets in when you . . . mistake it for who you are. It then becomes the egoic mind and takes over your whole life.”
On removing the identification with mind: “Time and mind are inseparable. Remove time from the mind and it stops.” Therefore, remain in the Now and you will remain separate from ego.
On meditation: “The moment you realize you are not present, you are present.” . . . “Whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it.”
“Try a little experiment. Close your eyes and say to yourself, ‘I wonder what my next thought is going to be.’ Then wait for it alertly. You’ll notice it takes a long time to have a thought. As long as you are in a state of intense presence, you are free of thought.
On illness: There is no illness in the Now. The belief in illness, the label and the past and& future of it, is what “keeps the condition in place, empowers it, gives it a continuity in time.” Only time makes it real.
Become transparent to things you don’t like. Let them flow through you. Don’t react.
“Make the Now the primary focus of your life. Whereas before you dwelt in time and paid brief visits to the Now, have your dwelling place in the Now and pay brief visits to past and future when required to deal with the practical aspects of your life situation.”
“Accept — then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.”
“Whenever you are able to observe your mind, you are no longer trapped in it. Another factor has come in, something that is not of the mind: the witnessing presence.”
“The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is.
To learn more about The Power of Now and Eckhart Tolle, see:
I love homeschooling. I really do. And I think my kids are good with it, too. Here, just what it sounds like: a brief description of the process that seems to be working for us thus far.
K-12 Homeschooling Process Overview
What We Learn
I recommend you decide on a core set of facts, skills and textbooks that you develop from various sources of your choice. You can do this on an annual basis, or, if you’re a planner like me, you can outline through to your projected endpoint. Once you have your curriculum, divide your efforts into two parts: core curriculum studies and elective studies. Elective studies are, of course, pretty much anything. I call this part of our homeschooling day “unschooling,” because it is entirely child-led.
Here is a more specific description of what we learn in our home.
We study the following subjects: history; science; literature; writing; mathematics; art, film and music; religion and spirituality; morality, relationships, health and life management; physical education; Mandarin; Spanish; philosophy and logic; psychology and sociology; and more as time and interest dictates.
We rotate between history and science, choosing one as our core subject for the school year. During history years, we study our core curriculum history books, lesson by lesson, in their entirety. During science years, we study our core curriculum science books, lesson by lesson, in their entirety. Every year we also choose several other secondary subjects to focus on. We learn various other skills and lessons and read other books as time and interest allow.
When We Learn
In my family, homeschooling works backwards: heavy reading and conversation in bed at night with the lights turned off and the little ones bored to sleep, independent projects in the afternoon and social and physical stuff first thing in the morning. Coincidentally (or not), this order roughly reflects my educational priorities for my kids (and myself), and is exactly the opposite of traditional public education.
How We Learn
When planning for homeschooling, the question of how to learn is both the most complicated one and the least important. I recommend that you default to the old-fashioned reading, writing, arithmetic and lecture M.O., noting that your lectures will normally take the form of every day conversation. As you are able, seek out high quality podcasts, worksheets, YouTube videos, games, TV shows and other activities to supplement your efforts. The range of choices is enormous, and they’re all effective. But sometimes it’s easiest to just choose a few concepts a day and just … talk about them.
Here’s a brief outline of how we learn in our home.
Each week, we: listen to music, read together, read independently, engage in various hobbies and self-directed projects, engage in physical activity, attend play dates, have quiet time, practice life skills, practice character building and relationship skill building through coaching, attend at least one class outside the home, go on family outings and more.
We strictly limit the use worksheets, calculators, TV and video games and the Internet.
We learn our core and secondary subjects primarily through reading and discussion.
We incorporate reading and writing practice into our core subject lessons.
While reading primary sources, we ask the following questions:
What does the piece say? What is the historical context of the piece? Who was the author (profession, social standing, age, etc.) of the piece? What is the genre of the piece? What does the author have to gain or lose from others accepting or rejecting his ideas? What events led to the writing of the piece? What events resulted from the writing of the piece
We also use some of the following methods to learn the material:
Supplemental reading Outlining Discussion Memorization Time line making Map making Doing science experiments Coloring, drawing and painting Teaching another student Creating and playing games Learning songs Watching documentaries and other films Additional in-depth projects like book making, writing argumentative essays, model making, building, traveling, creating subject taxonomies and more.
How We Record Our Learning
For me, record keeping is a huge deal. It keeps me on track and gives me a feeling of accomplishment. I highly recommend a robust but efficient system, whatever it may be, so you don’t waste time on old material and so your kids have handy evidence of everything they’ve done.
Here’s what I do for my kids (and myself, too) to keep track of our reading and other accomplishments.
I keep a thorough and meticulous record of all students’ homeschooling activities in a single spreadsheet. The spreadsheet includes a list of books each student read or heard and a list of each student’s learning experiences and accomplishments.
I keep detailed checklists of everything we’re learning on our office walls. As a student demonstrates understanding of one of the items, I mark their initials and their grade level next to it. My plan is to have everything on all our checklists initialed at least three times per child throughout their homeschooling career.
I scan and save each student’s selected writings, artwork and more in a homeschooling scrapbook file.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to recall the approximate date for the beginning of the universe, or the invention of fire, or the first known appearance of Homo sapiens on the spot but could not. Knowing a few key dates is hugely important to your understanding of the world. It provides a framework that you can build on as needed.
FYI, prehistory is history that took place prior to the invention of writing. After that, everything is part of recorded history. Also note that all dates listed here are approximate and many of them merely indicate the earliest known evidence of the events they describe. Finally, recall that the Stone Age is comprised of the Paleolithic (big-game hunting) Era, the Mesolithic (transitional hunter-gatherer) Era, and the Neolithic (farming) Era, though the dates of these eras vary by location since they’re based on the acquisition of related technologies. The Stone Age is followed by the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, though these terms are only useful regarding the ancient Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Egyptian peoples. Among other advantages, bronze technology allowed for better weaponry, and lighter, cheaper iron technology allowed for more widespread use of weaponry.
Basic Prehistory Timeline
The Beginning of Time
14 billion B.C.: The Big Bang occurred. Matter exploded, cooled, and expanded.
4.5 billion B.C.: Earth formed.
4.4 billion B.C.: The oceans formed.
4 billion B.C.: The first microorganisms evolved.
3.8 to 3.5 billion B.C.: The last universal common ancestor (LUCA)–the most recent living organism that survived to evolve into all current life on the planet–existed.
8 to 6 million B.C.: The first great apes (hominids) evolved.
The Stone Age: The Paleolithic Era
2.5 million B.C.: Homo habilis, the first human species, evolved in East Africa from an unknown, extinct great ape. Habilis was the first to use stone tools and had a larger brain than his ancestors.
1.8 to 1.5 million B.C.:Homo erectus evolved, then migrated out of Africa to Asia.
1.6 to 1 million B.C.:Homo erectus started using fire for cooking. Half a million years later, these early humans began hunting with spears, building shelters and creating more complex tribal communities.
230,000 B.C.: The Neanderthals evolved and migrated across Asia and Europe..
200,000 B.C.:Homo sapiens evolved in Africa and migrated across Asia and Europe.
150,000 B.C.: Humans developed the ability to speak.
50,000 to 12,000 B.C.: Human culture developed rapidly. Humans began performing ritual burials and making clothing, artworks, jewelry, advanced tools, boats, ovens, pottery, harpoons, saws, woven baskets, woven nets and woven baby carriers. Also during this time, the Neanderthals mated with Homo sapiens, then went extinct. They were replaced by the Cro-Magnons, who also mated with Homo sapiens. From them the modern Homo sapiens inherited larger brains.
40,000 B.C.: Early modern humans appeared. They settled Australia, then North America.
The Stone Age: The Mesolithic and Neolithic Eras
13,000 B.C.: People in Mesopotamia (the Fertile Crescent) started raising animals.
10,000 B.C.: People in Mesopotamia started cultivating crops and forming small towns. They created religious sites, grew grain (particularly barley and wheat) and other crops, smelted copper, developed a simple writing system built irrigation channels and invented the wheel (only used for pottery, though, at this time).
10,000 B.C.: Caucasians settled Europe.
5,000 B.C.: The Sumerians built a collection of individual city-states in Mesopotamia on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, creating the world’s first true civilization. It had ziggurats (pyramid-like centers of worship), scribes and accountants.
3200–2600 B.C.: Writing was developed in Sumer (cuneiform) and Egypt (hieroglyphs), triggering the beginning of recorded history.
When it comes to English literature, getting a great list of books is a big chunk of the battle. Reading them, of course, is another. Literary analysis comes later, and is also vital, so be sure to read that School in a Book section, too.
Note that some of the books listed below aren’t English books; I’d love to create a world literature list someday but haven’t yet, so I folded these in.
Works I particularly recommend reading in their entirety have an asterisk after them.
Introductory Classic Fiction
Pilgrims Progress, John Bunyan (1628-1688)* Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)* The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving (1783-1859)* Rip van Winkle, Washington Irving (1783-1859)* Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1797–1851)*
The complete poetry of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)* A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (1812–1870)* Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne (1828–1905)* A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne (1828–1905)* From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne (1828–1905)* 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne (1828–1905)*
Other novels by Jules Verne (1828–1905) Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)* Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (1832–1898)* Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll (1832–1898)* The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain (1835–1910)* Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (1835-1910)* Pudd’nhead Wilson, Mark Twain (1835-1910) Green Mansions, William Henry Hudson (1841-1922)* Dracula, Bram Stoker (1847–1912)* The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924)*
Other novels by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)* Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894)* Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) Peter Pan, James Barrie (1860-1937) The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry (1862–1910)
The Anne of Green Gables series, Lucy Maud Montgomery (1865-1947) Captains Courageous, Rudyard Kipling (1865- 1936) The Scarlet Pimpernell, Emma Orczy (1865–1947) The Time Machine, H.G. Wells (1866–1946)* The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells (1866–1946)*
The novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)
The poetry of Walter de la Mare (1873-1956) The Complete Father Brown Stories, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)*
The poetry of Robert Frost (1874-1963)* The Call of the Wild, Jack London (1876-1916)* White Fang, Jack London (1876-1916)* The Sea-Wolf, Jack London (1876-1916) To Build a Fire and Other Stories, Jack London (1876-1916)* The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg, Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) You Know Me Al, Ring Lardner (1885–1933) Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie (1890–1976)* Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie (1890–1976)*
Other novels by Agatha Christie (1890–1976)* The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973)* The Yearling, Marjorie Rawlings (1896–1953)* Our Town, Thornton Wilder (1897–1975)*
The Chronicles of Narnia series, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)* Out of the Silent Planet and the rest of the Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)* The Once and Future King, T. H. White (1899-1985)* The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900–1944) Summer of the Monkeys, Wilson Rawls (1913–1984)* Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls (1913–1984)* Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Beverly Cleary (1916–)*
Other books by Beverly Cleary (1916–)* You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You, John Ciardi (1916-1986) A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007)*
Other books by Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007)
Various books by Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Twelve Angry Men, Reginald Rose (1920-2002)* Black Beauty, Anna Sewell (1920-2002)* To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1926-)* The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson (1927–2013)* The Bears’ House and other books by Marilyn Sachs (1927–)* Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes (1927–2014)* I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, Hannah Green (1932–)* Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Patterson (1932–) Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Patterson (1932–)* Summer of My German Soldier, Bette Greene (1934–) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey (1935–2001)* Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller (1944-)* The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton (1948-)* Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (1951–)* Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (1816–1855)* Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte (1818–1848)* The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas (1802–1870) The Scarlett Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864)* The House of Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864)* The Blithedale Romance, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) The Three Musketeers, Alexander Dumas (1802–1870) The Swiss Family Robinson, Johann David Wyss (1743–1818)* Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Howard Pyle (1853–1911)* The Man Who Was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936) The Ball and the Cross, G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936) Daylight and Nightmare, G.K. Chesterton (1874–1936) Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)* Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)* Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (1900–1949)* Lost Horizon, James Hilton (1900–1954)* The Lord of the Flies, William Golding (1911–1993)*
The complete works of J. D. Salinger (1919–2010)* Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (1920–2012)* Dune, Frank Herbert (1920–1986)*
The complete works of Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007)* A Separate Peace, John Knowles (1926–2001)* My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potak (1929–2002)* The Chosen, Chaim Potak (1929–2002) The Promise, Chaim Potak (1929–2002) The Princess Bride, William Goldman (1931–)* Rabbit, Run, John Updike (1932–2009)* Rabbit Revisited, John Updike (1932–2009)* The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath (1932–1963)* A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines (1933–)* The Color Purple, Alice Walker (1944–)* The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (1952–2001)* Everyman, Anonymous Walden Two, B.F. Skinner* The White Stallion, Elizabeth Shub* The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the rest of the Narnia series, C.S. Lewis The Way of a Pilgrim, Anonymous The Pilgrim Continues His Way, Anonymous Stuart Little, E.B. White The Trumpet of the Swans, E.B. White The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting The Walking Drum, Louis L’Amour
The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White Peter and Wendy, James Barrie Pollyanna, Elanor Hodgman Ben Hur, Lew Wallace The Song of Hiawatha, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow The Scarlet Pimpernell, Baroness Emmuska Orczy Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie Heidi, Johanna Spyri Lassie, Eric Knight Paul Revere’s Ride, Henry Longfellow
Other books listed in Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson
Classic Fiction for Readers of High School Age and Beyond
The Illiad, Homer The Odyssey, Homer
Roman Mythology The Orestia Trilogy, Aeschylus (c. 525/524–c. 456/455 BC) The Oedipus Plays, Sophocles (c. 497–405 BC) Medea, Euripedes (c. 480–406 BC) The Bacchae, Euripedes (c. 480–406 BC) The Trojan Women, Euripedes (c. 480–406 BC) Hippolytus, Euripedes (c. 480–406 BC)
Selected works of Thucydides (c. 460–400 BC) Lysistrata, Aristophanes (c. 446–386 BC) The Frogs, Aristophanes (c. 446–386 BC) The Clouds, Aristophanes (c. 446–386 BC) Odes, Horace (65–8 BC) The Aeneid, Virgil (70–19 BC) The Metamorphosis, Ovid (43 BC–AD 17/18) The Golden Sayings of Epictetus, Epictetus (c. 55–135) Prometheus Bound and selected works of Aeschylus (c. 525/524– c. 456/455 BC) Beowulf, Anonymous (c. 975-1025) Cur Deus Homo, Anselm (c. 1033–1109) The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (c. 1090–1164)* The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri (c. 1265–1321) The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375)* The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer (c. 1343–1400)* Mabinogion, Anonymous (c. 1350-1410) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Anonymous (c. 1300s) La Morte Darthur, Sir Thomas Malory (c. 1415–1471) The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527)* Mandragola, Niccolo Macchiavelli (1469–1527) Orlando Furioso, Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533) Utopia and other selected works by Sir Thomas More (1478–1535)*
Selected works by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503–1542) Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616)* The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser (c. 1552–1599) Selected works by William Shakespeare (1564–1616) Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593)* Faust, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593)*
The complete poetry of John Donne (1572–1631)* Volpone, Ben Jonson (1572–1637)* The Alchemist, Ben Johnson (1572–1637)* Paradise Lost, John Milton (1608–1674)* Paradise Regained, John Milton (1608–1674)* The Bourgeois Gentleman, Moliere (1622–1673)* The Misanthrope, Moliere (1622–1673)* Tartuffe, Moliere (1622–1673)* Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe (c. 1660–1731)* Gulliver’s Travels, Johnathan Swift (1667–1745)* The Way of the World, William Congreve (1670–1729)*
Selected poetry of John Hopkins (born 1675)* The Beggar’s Opera, John Gay (1685–1732) The Rape of the Lock, Alexander Pope (1688–1744) Candide, Voltaire (1694–1778)* Tom Jones, Henry Fielding (1707–1754) Joseph Andrews, Henry Fielding (1707–1754) The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Lawrence Stern (1713–1768) The Vicar of Wakefield, Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774) The Sufferings of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)* Erotica Romana, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) Hermann and Dorothea, Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832)
The poetry of William Blake (1757–1827)*
The poetry of William Wordsworth (1770–1850)*
The poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834)*
The complete works of Jane Austen (1775–1817)* The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal (1783–1842) The Red and the Black, Stendhal (1783–1842) Don Juan, Lord Byron (1788–1824)* The Last of the Mohicans, James Fennimore Cooper (1789–1851)
The poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)* Sartor Resarus, Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) Pere Goriot, Honore de Balzac (1799–1850)
The complete works of Victor Hugo (1802–1885) Les Miserables, Victor Hugo (1802–1885)*
The poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)*
The poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)* Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852) The Professor at the Breakfast Table, Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)* Great Expectations, Charles Dickens (1812–1870)* Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens (1812–1870) A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens (1812–1870)*
Other works by Charles Dickens (1812–1870)
The poetry of Robert Browning (1812–1889)* Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman (1819–1892)*
The complete works of Walt Whitman (1819–1892) Moby Dick, Herman Melville (1819–1891)* The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot (1819–1880) Adam Bede, George Eliot (1819–1880) Middlemarch, George Eliot (1819–1880) Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880) Sentimental Education, Flaubert (1821–1880)
The complete works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881)* The Man Without a Country, Edward Everett Hale (1822–1909) Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910)* War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910)* Modern Love, George Meredith (1828–1909)*
The complete works of Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906)* The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler (1835–1902) Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) The Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)
The complete works of Henry James (1843–1916)* Miss Julie, August Strindberg (1849–1912) The Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett (1849–1909)* Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy (1850–1898) The Awakening, Kate Chopin (1850–1904)*
The complete works of Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)*
The complete works of George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)* The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) The Hound of Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930)*
The complete works of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904)*
The complete works of Edith Wharton (1862–1937)*
The complete works of W.B. Yeats (1865–1939)* Kokoro, Natsume Soseki (1867–1916)* I Am a Cat, Natsume Soseki (1867–1916)* The Seven Who Were Hanged, Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919) The Life of Man, Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919) Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945) An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945) Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust (1871–1922) Twelve Men, Theodore Dreiser (1871–1945) The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane (1871–1900)* The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford (1873–1939)* My Antonia, Willa Cather (1873–1947)* O Pioneers!, Willa Cather (1873–1947)* Of Human Bondage and other selected works by W. Somerset Maugham (1874–1965)* The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein (1874–1946) The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux (1868–1927)* Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann (1875–1955)* The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann (1875–1955)* Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson (1876–1941)* Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse (1877–1962)* Siddhartha, Herman Hesse (1877–1962)*
The complete works of E. M. Forster (1879–1970)* Ulysses, James Joyce (1882–1941) A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce (1882–1941)* A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)* Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)* Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)* Jacob’s Room, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)* To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf (1882–1941)*
The complete works of Franz Kafka (1883–1924)*
The poetry of Ezra Pound (1885–1972)* Main Street, Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951) Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951) Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930) Women In Love, D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930)* Lady Chatterly’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence (1885–1930)* Giant, Edna Ferber (1885–1968) The Key, Junichiro Tanizaki (1886–1965)
The complete works of T. S. Eliot (1888–1965)*
The complete works of Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953)* Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953)* Black Spring, Henry Miller (1891–1980) The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck (1892–1973)*
The Lord of the Rings series, J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973)*
The complete works of E. E. Cummings (1894–1962)*
The complete works of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940)* The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder (1897–1975) As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner (1897–1962) All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970)*
The complete works of Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961)* The Sound of the Mountain, Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972) Snow Country, Yasunari Kawabata (1899–1972) You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe (1900–1938) The Pearl, John Steinbeck (1902–1968)*
The complete works of John Steinbeck (1902–1968)* Animal Farm, George Orwell (1903–1950)* 1984, George Orwell (1903–1950)* The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)* Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)* All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren (1905–1989) Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler (1905–1983)
The complete works of Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980)* Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)* Endgame, Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)* Waldo, Robert Heinlein (1907–1988)* Magic, Inc., Robert Heinlein (1907–1988)* Stranger In A Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988)* The Bald Soprano, Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994)* The Lesson, Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994) Jack, or the Submission, Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994) The Chairs, Eugene Ionesco (1909–1994) A Death in the Family, James Agee (1909–1955)* Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee (1909–1955)*
The complete works of Tennessee Williams (1911–1983)*
The complete works of Albert Camus (1913–1960)*
The complete works of Dylan Thomas (1914–1953) The Assistant, Bernard Malamud (1914–1986) The Fixer, Bernard Malamud (1914–1986) Dangling Man, Saul Bellow (1915–2005) Herzog, Saul Bellow (1915–2005) On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1922–1969)* Catch-22, Joseph Heller (1923–1999)* Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin (1924–1987)* Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote (1924–1984)*
The complete works of John Knowles (1926–2001)* The Tin Drum and other selected works by Gunter Grass (1927–2015)* The American Dream, Edward Albee (1928–)* Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Edward Albee (1928–)*
Optional Advanced Classic Fiction
The Book of Margery Kempe, Margery Kempe (c. 1373–after 1438) The Schoolmaster, Roger Ascham (1515–1568) Tamburlaine the Great, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) The Jew of Malta, Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) Every Man in His Humour, Ben Johnson (1572–1637) The Duchess of Malfi, John Webster (c. 1580–c. 1634) Life is a Dream, Calderon de la Barca (1600–1681) Pensees, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) Absalom and Achitophel: A Poem, John Dryden (1631–1700) Oroonoko: The Royal Slave, Aphra Behn (1640–1689) The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe (c. 1660–1731) The Bassett Table, Susana Centlivre (c. 1667 to 1670–1723) Satires and Epistles of Horace Imitated, Alexander Pope (1688–1744) The Dunciad, Alexander Pope (1688–1744) Pamela, Samuel Richardson (1689–1761) Fantomina, Eliza Haywood (c. 1693–1756) Edmond, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) Charlotte: A Tale of Truth, Susana Rowson (1762–1824) The Deerslayer, James Fennimore Cooper (1789–1851) Mr. Midshipman Easy, Captain Frederick Marryat (1792–1848) The Inspector-General, Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852) Henry Esmond, William Thackeray (1811–1863) Vanity Fair, William Thackeray (1811–1863) Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana (1815–1882) The Small House at Allington, Anthony Trollope (1815–1882) Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope (1815–1882) Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883) The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins (1824–1889)* The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins (1824–1889)* The Egoist, George Meredith (1828–1909) The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, George Meredith (1828–1909) The Rise of Silas Lapham, W. D. Howells (1837–1920) The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) Tess of the D’ubervilles, Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce (1842–c. 1914) In His Steps, Charles Sheldon (1857–1946)* The Virginian, Owen Wister (1860–1938) What Every Woman Knows, J.M. Barrie (1860–1937) The Petty Demon, Fyodor Sologub (1863–1927) The Three-Cornered World, Natsume Soseki (1867–1916)* The Pastoral Symphony, Andre Gide (1869–1951) The Pit, Frank Norris (1870–1902) The Octopus, Frank Norris (1870–1902) Sarra, Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919) Death Comes For the Archbishop, Willa Cather (1873–1947)
The writings of Amy Lowell (1874–1925) Giants in the Earth, O.E. Rolvaang (1876–1931) Many Marriages, Sherwood Anderson (1876–1941)* Demian, Hermann Hesse (1877–1962)* Red Roses for Me, Sean O’Casey (1880–1964)* Finnegans Wake, James Joyce (1882–1941) Dubliners, James Joyce (1882–1941) Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951) Mutiny on the Bounty, Charles Nordhoff (1887–1947) and James Norman Hall (1887–1951) The Horse’s Mouth, Joyce Cary (1888–1957) At the Bay, Katherine Mansfield (1888–1923) In a German Pension, Katherine Mansfield (1888–1923) Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Katherine Anne Porter (1890–1980) The Sea of Grass, Conrad Richter (1890–1968) Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak (1890–1960) The Light in the Forest, Conrad Richter (1890–1968) Johnny Tremain, Ester Forbes (1891–1967)
Selected works of Wilfred Owen (1893–1918) The Maltese Falcon, Dashiel Hammett (1894–1961)* The Citadel, A. J. Cronin (1896–1981) The 42nd Parallel, John Dos Passos (1896–1970) The Big Money, John Dos Passos (1896–1970) Nineteen, Nineteen, John Dos Passos (1896–1970) The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (1897–1962) Light in August, William Faulkner (1897–1962) Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner (1897–1962) Sanctuary, William Faulkner (1897–1962) Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther (1901–1970)
Selected works of Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902–1991) Too Late the Philanthrope, Alan Paton (1903–1988) The Day of the Locust, Nathaniel West (1903–1940) God’s Little Acre, Erskine Caldwell (1903–1987) The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene (1904–1991) The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene (1904–1991) The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder (1897–1975) Anthem, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)* Night of January 16th, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)* We The Living, Ayn Rand (1905–1982)* Act Without Words, Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) Across Five Aprils, Irene Hunt (1907–2001) Alas, Babylon, Pat Frank (1908–1964)* The Ox-Bow Incident, Walter van Tillburg Clark (1909–1971) Free Fall, William Golding (1911–1993) The Inheritors, William Golding (1911–1993) All My Sons, Arthur Miller (1915–2005)* The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk (1915–) The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers (1917–1967)
Selected works of Robert Lowell (1917–1977) A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1917–1993) The Ballad of Peckham Rye, Muriel Spark (1918–2006) The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac (1922–1969)* A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt (1924–1995) Music for Chameleons, Truman Capote (1924–1984)* Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote (1924–1984)* A Day No Pigs Would Die, Robert Newton Peck (1928–) The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera (1929–)* No Longer At Ease, Chinua Achebe (1930–2013)*
Selected books by Toni Morrison (1931–) The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Ernest J. Gaines (1933–) Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya (1937–) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard (1937–) Their Eyes Were Watching God, Nora Hurston
Selected works of J.D. Wyss Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad Nana, Zola Native Son, Richard Wright The Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton Kim, Rudyard Kipling
Contributor: Subhan Schenker, who runs the Osho World of Meditation in Seattle.
Mollie: When someone is fully enlightened, do they feel psychological pain?
Subhan: I have heard that enlightened people feel physical pain but not psychological pain. They may have some awareness that there is a mind that has pain, but it’s very far removed; the mind has dropped into the basement.
Mollie: What do you do when the mind makes a judgment and tries to nudge you—sometimes not so gently—to do something, change something, or at the very least, abhor something about yourself or your life, which then separates you from that feeling of connectedness?
In other words: How do we react to the monsters in our heads?
Subhan: You don’t. It’s not about getting rid of anything. It’s about watching, noticing what’s there. Becoming aware of how the mind functions is tremendously helpful. You’ll be able to experience how parts of the mind push and pull you; that there are so many judgments–about you, about everyone else, about everything! This watchfulness becomes more and more available. And the distance between “you” and the thoughts starts to grow.
Mollie: Where do the monsters go?
Subhan: Once this dis-identification starts happening, the thoughts aren’t perceived of as monsters. They are simply the way the mind functions, and they don’t have to be taken too seriously! They lose their power over you.
I can’t explain it. I can’t intellectualize it. You have to try it for yourself. When you have a thought you don’t like, notice it, remind yourself that it’s not you. I tell people to step back just one-twelfth of an inch from the mind. That doesn’t seem too hard, does it?
Mollie: I do that. It doesn’t always work.
Subhan: No, it doesn’t always work. The mind is tremendously powerful. It can process an unbelievable amount of data in a mere second. It is a miracle that we have the ability to step back from it at all. The only reason we are able to is that what is behind it is indestructible. And usually, we only obtain just a flash of true silence. Maybe for ten seconds you are in silence, and those ten seconds can be life-changing.
Mollie: Why is this the way it is? Why is it so hard to detach from mind, from pain? It doesn’t seem fair.
Subhan: Maybe awareness isn’t that cheap. Maybe awareness has to be earned.
The truth is, though, it’s hard because it’s hard. Because this is the nature of the mind. Asking “why?” is a game of the mind, the one it plays a million times a day. Why can’t I have this? Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I be there, feel that way?
D. H. Lawrence was a very intelligent man. One day he was walking with his nephew in the woods when his nephew asked: “Why are the leaves green?” Lawrence didn’t answer right away; instead, he thought about it for a time, wanting to give an answer that was the truth. Finally, he said, “I know the answer, but you are not going to like it. The leaves are green because they’re green.”
Your mind is not happy with this answer. But your inner being is.
The leaves are green because they’re green. Asking “why” leads to a never ending work game!
“They’re green because of chlorophyll.” But why does chlorophyll create GREEN? “Because of the chemical reaction in chlorophyll.” “But why does this chemical reaction create GREEN and not RED?”
(Once a children learn the “why” game, they can keep adults over a barrel forever!) Ultimately the only real answer we can give is that leaves are green…because they’re green…!
Mollie: So what about when you really do want to change something about yourself or your life? Maybe your life is going pretty well, and you already have a lot of what you want, but you would just like to tweak something just a bit. What next?
Subhan: Well, the first thing I’d say is to watch that desire. Notice your perceived need to change things. Ask yourself what this tweaking is all about. That desire is the mind, and by accepting its ideas, you’re identifying yourself with it. But the truth is, you are not your mind. You are much bigger, much grander than it, and within the real you there is no idea of “lacking.”
What is the point in identifying with a lacking? Don’t. Don’t allow there to be a split between the reality of the person you are and the ideal of the person you want to be. Because whenever you have something called the ideal, you will be in conflict with the real. And if you’re in conflict with the real, you will never arrive. There will never be a time when the mind doesn’t want something different, or something more. Never. So, it’s better to sacrifice the ideal for the real!
Mollie: Then how do we ever change anything, do anything, get anything done? If we’re all perfectly content with things just as they are, won’t we end up sitting around and meditating all day like you?
Subhan: I don’t meditate all day. I am in constant contact with people. I do counseling sessions. I write. I teach classes at the college. I lead four meditation sessions a week at our center. I do numerous weekend workshops.
You see, the mind tells us that if we stop listening to it, and stop being in conflict, we won’t get anything done. But all you have to do is look at the great spiritual masters to see that isn’t true. Buddha, Lao Tzu, Christ, Rumi … They all accomplished a lot and many things change around them.
Subhan: When I am in acceptance of who I am, Existence does the changing!
Mollie: How? Let me slow down and look at this process you’re talking about because there’s obviously something I’m not getting here. So, there you are in a state of meditation, disidentified with the mind, blissed out. Then the mind comes up with another judgment—say, “My child is misbehaving, and I want him to stop.” This is the moment we’re really talking about—the moment that repeats itself all throughout the day. This is when you decide to either reidentify with the mind and become the one who is judging, or to not accept the judgment, and just notice it instead. But when you decide to just notice the judgment, isn’t that also a decision the mind is making?
Subhan: No. I don’t decide. We are part of an Intelligence so vast our minds are useless compared to it. When we are in a state of meditation, it is not our minds that do the deciding, but this Intelligence within us.
Mollie: But if you don’t use your mind, how do you speak? How do you carry out the instruction of this Intelligence—say, to hug the child, or to correct them, or to comfort them?
Subhan: For verbal and physical responses like these, you do use the mind and body. They are tools that allow us to be part of the physical world—to speak, to move our bodies. The key is to respond rather than to react. When you react to your child rather than responding, you’re not using your mind; it’s using you.
Mollie: Ah, I see. So you can still speak, talk, respond to the situation without using your mind to do so? Maybe we are defining mind differently. So there is the mind that’s the ego, the monster, the monkey, the neuroses, and there is the mind that’s a simple, useful tool, a tool we use to translate what is going on in our larger Intelligence? And so is the body, when we hug the child rather than yelling at him?
Subhan: Yes, that’s right. The mind is a fabulous tool … but a crappy boss!
Mollie: So how does a spiritual seeker, someone who is committed to becoming disidentified with the mind, make this switch? In that moment when the child is so-called misbehaving, how does she learn how not to react as the mind would like and to instead suspend thinking, then receive and act upon Intelligence, all without using her mind? This sounds like quite the skill. How does she learn how to accept a situation she finds unpleasant, without “making it into a problem,” as Eckhart Tolle says?
Subhan: Meditation. Meditation that really works, really functions, allows you to, for a moment, to be completely separated from the mind. This doesn’t happen overnight! So it’s best to start with simpler things and situations. Practice watching the thoughts whenever you remember to do so, in simple settings that aren’t triggering emotions and control issues, etc. You slowly build up the knack of watching – in your meditation, in simple situations, and then, ultimately in more “difficult” situations.
Mollie: Then what?
Subhan: Then, acceptance comes. And wisdom comes, the wisdom that is right for that moment.
Mollie: Then what? I will ask it again: How do we end up getting what we want out of life, if we’re always just listening to Intelligence and doing whatever it tells us to do?
Subhan: We try to force Existence to give us what we want, but this is ridiculous, totally futile. It’s like we’re playing the greatest cosmic joke on ourselves: We are buddhas, capable of extraordinary things, even peace and enlightenment, and instead we’re acting unconsciously. We pretend to have all kinds of self-imposed limitations, including a mind that has no clue what to do most of the time, that’s creating many more problems than it’s solving. It is our nature to be a buddha. Anything else is going against the flow. To paraphrase Osho: “The miracle is not when we obtain enlightenment. The miracle is when we conceal it.”
Mollie: So if we want to be truly happy and free of mind, we have to let Intelligence give us what it deems best for us, no matter what that may be?
Subhan: That sounds like the mind talking, not wanting to give up its control to a higher intelligence that resides within us. One we step back from the mind, it loses its control and the intelligence is THERE, waiting to be of immense service!
I tell people to ask for 100 percent of what they want, then let the Universe decide, because it will!
Mollie: So would you say that the main purpose of meditation is to teach us acceptance of whatever the Universe deems best for us?
Subhan: The purpose of meditation is to disidentify with the mind. Acceptance comes naturally after that.
Mollie: Then what? What happens after acceptance?
Subhan: Acceptance and gratitude, and peacefulness and fulfillment become real once there is the disidentification from the mind. I had an early experience of this before I became a meditator. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had dropped into meditation. When I was a young man I was driving my mother’s car when it slipped on some ice. In the ten seconds between starting to slide and hitting the car in front of me, I had my first experience of the meditative state. The mind understood that there was nothing it could do, no role for it to play in that moment, and it said, “I’m out of here. You’re on your own.” Those ten seconds felt like an hour. They were bliss. And the silence was so serene, so “palpable!”
Then I hit the car, and the mind said, “Oh, I can deal with this.” And it started in again: “What is your mother going to say, how much is this going to cost,” etc. It was much later that I realized that when the mind disappeared, something extraordinary emerged. And later still, it became clear that this space had something to do with an essential nature that is always there, although covered by the minds overthinking.
Mollie: I see. And yes, that bliss is what I want. But should I make it a life goal of mine to obtain it? Should happiness be something I strive for? Because it seems the more you try to get happy, the more neurotic you become.
Subhan: You’re right! Anything you desire is a product of the mind. And it will create misery around it. Do not make happiness a goal. In fact, do not make anything a goal. All goals keep you stuck in the mind. Life will give you what you truly need.
Mollie: So—and I realize that I’m really trying to pin you down here—would you say that if I practice meditation regularly, and practice living in a state of meditation and acceptance, I will certainly become happy?
Subhan: I will say that if you stay with it, there is every possibility that you will have more moments of feeling loving, feeling grateful, feeling at peace. And that’s assuming that you are doing a meditation that works for you. Because as I said, a lot of people are doing meditation techniques that don’t really work for them.
Also, be really careful because the mind that asks that question is more interested in the goal than the process. As long as you have a goal to your meditation it will keep you locked in your mind, evaluating whether or not your meditation session was “successful.” Every time the meditation happens the mind will judge it based on whether or not it has achieved that goal. The mind is very crafty. Instead, be there sincerely, without the notion of getting somewhere.
The mind doesn’t want you to be happy. How many times have you experienced a moment of joy and the mind has tried to throw you out of it, using every complaint, seeing every shortcoming, predicting every future bad result it could?
The mind doesn’t want you to be happy, because if you are it is no longer needed.
Mollie: And how long will it take for me to get there? How much meditation would you recommend that I do?
Subhan: There is no way for anyone to know that. There is no formula to it. It is a quantum leap. But after a while, you will notice that you don’t take life so seriously, that you have moments of greater clarity, and that you even feel more gratitude, just for being alive. These are clues that the meditation process is working.
Mollie: Is just meditating and noticing the workings of the mind enough? Is there anything else I need to do?
Subhan: Watching the mind is essential. But you can also find people on this path of discovery who can share their experiences and understandings with you. They offer workshops and sessions that can be of great assistance to you in coming back to your inner, essential nature!
Mollie: No mantras? I love my mantras.
Subhan: If you enjoy mantras, then use them! Some mantras can help you go deeper inside. Just remember, the point of meditation is to disassociate yourself from the mind.
Just watch the mind. A thought comes, and you watch it. Nothing more. This is the only real meditation. Saying mantras may be a good and helpful practice, but it may not lead you to the state of meditation, which is awareness, relaxation and no judgment.
Now, let me ask you a question. Have you had enough of what you don’t want yet?
Mollie: I would have to give that some thought.
Subhan: If you have to think about it, you haven’t. When someone is being physically tortured, and they’re asked if they’ve had enough yet, there is not a single instant of reflection. The answer is yes.
Mollie: That is true. I am getting there.
Subhan: I would hope you get there as fast as you can.
Seth Godin is a force in the marketing world. He’s a topsy-turvy brain with a largely straight, businessman audience, which makes his blend of exaggeration and passion even more surprising. He’s written a ton of books that overlap heavily in their ideas, so I’ve just chosen Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? to highlight here. Hopefully you get a sense of this man’s passion and intellectual rigor from these.
The cause of the suffering is the desire of organizations to turn employees into replaceable cogs in a vast machine. The easier people are to replace, the less they need to be paid. And so far, workers have been complicit in this commoditization. This is your opportunity. The indispensable employee brings humanity and connection and art to her organization. She is the key player, the one who’s difficult to live without, the person you can build something around.
If your organization wanted to replace you with someone far better at your job than you, what would they look for?
No, the competitive advantage the marketplace demands is someone more human, connected, and mature. Someone with passion and energy, capable of seeing things as they are and negotiating multiple priorities as she makes useful decisions without angst. Flexible in the face of change, resilient in the face of confusion. All of these attributes are choices, not talents, and all of them are available to you.
You could do Richard Branson’s job. Most of the time, anyway. I spent some time with Sir Richard, and I can tell you that you could certainly do most of what he does, perhaps better than he does it. Except for what he does for about five minutes a day. In those five minutes, he creates billions of dollars’ worth of value every few years, and neither you nor I would have a prayer of doing what he does. Branson’s real job is seeing new opportunities, making decisions that work, and understanding the connection between his audience, his brand, and his ventures.
The law of linchpin leverage: The more value you create in your job, the fewer clock minutes of labor you actually spend creating that value. In other words, most of the time, you’re not being brilliant. Most of the time, you do stuff that ordinary people could do. A brilliant author or businesswoman or senator or software engineer is brilliant only in tiny bursts. The rest of the time, they’re doing work that most any trained person could do.
One of the most powerful essays in the book describes how Ben changes the lives of his hyperstressed music students by challenging each of them to “give yourself an A.” His point is that announcing in advance that you’re going to do great—embracing your effort and visualizing an outcome—is far more productive than struggling to beat the curve. I want to go farther than that. I say you should give yourself a D (unless you’re lucky enough to be in Ben’s class). Assume before you start that you’re going to create something that the teacher, the boss, or some other nitpicking critic is going to dislike. Of course, they need to dislike it for all the wrong reasons. You can’t abandon technique merely because you’re not good at it or unwilling to do the work. But if the reason you’re going to get a D is that you’re challenging structure and expectation and the status quo, then YES! Give yourself a D. A well-earned D.
Being as charming as Julia Roberts or as direct as Marlon Brando or as provocative as Danny Boyle—that’s way easier than playing cricket better than anyone who ever lived. Emotional labor is available to all of us, but is rarely exploited as a competitive advantage. We spend our time and energy trying to perfect our craft, but we don’t focus on the skills and interactions that will allow us to stand out and become indispensable to our organization.
Why do so many handmade luxury goods come from France? It’s not an accident. It’s the work of one man, Jean-Baptiste Colbert. He served under Louis XIV of France in the 1600s and devised a plan to counter the imperialist success of the countries surrounding France. England, Portugal, Spain, and other countries were colonizing the world, and France was being left behind. So Colbert organized, regulated, and promoted the luxury-goods industry. He understood what wealthy consumers around the world wanted, and he helped French companies deliver it. Let other countries find the raw materials; the French would fashion it, brand it, and sell it back to them as high-priced goods. A critical element of this approach was the work of indispensable artisans.
Consider the way a pilot walking down the aisle can change the entire afternoon for a restless kid on a flight. Or the way a doctor taking just an extra minute can change her relationship with a patient by pausing and caring. The opposite of being a cog is being able to stop the show, at will. What would it take for you to stop the show?
When you do emotional labor, you benefit. Not just the company, not just your boss, but you. The act of giving someone a smile, of connecting to a human, of taking initiative, of being surprising, of being creative, of putting on a show—these are things that we do for free all our lives. And then we get to work and we expect to merely do what we’re told and get paid for it.
Are you indispensable at home? Would it fall apart without you? What about at work? Why are you easily replaceable at one venue but not the other? Are you charming when you go on a date or meet a handsome guy at a party? But not at a meeting at work? I’m wondering why we’re so easily able to expend emotional labor off the job, but uncomfortable expending the same energy on the job.
If there is no sale, look for the fear. If a marketing meeting ends in a stalemate, look for the fear. If someone has a tantrum, breaks a promise, or won’t cooperate, there’s fear involved. Fear is the most important emotion we have.
By forcing myself to do absolutely no busywork tasks in between bouts with the work, I remove the best excuse the resistance has. I can’t avoid the work because I am not distracting myself with anything but the work. This is the hallmark of a productive artist. I don’t go to meetings. I don’t write memos. I don’t have a staff. I don’t commute. The goal is to strip away anything that looks productive but doesn’t involve shipping.
The Grateful Dead puzzled industry pundits for a long time. Why didn’t they want to sell more records? Why didn’t they want a gold record? Why didn’t they want to get their music played on the radio? The answer is simple: they were playing a different game, a different tune. Instead of buying into a system that would tear them down and corrupt their vision, they built their own system, one that was largely resistance-proof. One concert a night, night after night, for decade after decade. Play only for people you like, with people you enjoy. How can the lizard brain object to that? The result is sneaky and effective. When you haven’t set up a judge and jury for your work, you get to do art that doesn’t alert the resistance. And then you can leverage that art into the next thing.
Linus Torvalds worked hard on creating the Linux operating system. He did it for free and he did it largely for his friends. The Internet permitted him to jump to a third circle, a hundred million or more people around the world who benefit from his art, who participate in his tribe and follow his work. As the third circle grows in size, the second circle takes care of itself. Linus and the core team responsible for Linux will never need to look for work again, because as you give more and more to the friendlies, the list of people willing to pay you to do your work always grows.
As we’ve seen, if there is no gift, there is no art. When art is created solely to be sold, it’s only a commodity . . . If flight attendants charged extra for smiles, or helping you with a bag or entertaining your kid, that wouldn’t be a gift and it wouldn’t be art. It would be emotional labor for hire. If I give you a piece of art, you shouldn’t be required to work hard to reciprocate, because reciprocation is an act of keeping score, which involves monetizing the art, not appreciating it.
I am filled with anxiety at the thought of doing justice to a book by Byron Katie in a single paragraph. (Maybe I should question this thought.) Here are my notes for A Mind at Home With Itself: How Asking Four Questions Can Free Your Mind, Open Your Heart and Turn Your World Around. They speak for themselves, anyway.
The mind can never be controlled; it can only be questioned, loved, and met with understanding.
The only important thing to know is this: if a thought hurts, question it.
Empathy, in my experience, has nothing to do with imagining pain. It is a fearless connectedness and an immovable love. It’s a way of being fully present.
I take people’s problems seriously, but only from their point of view, and I remain closer than close. In my world, it’s not possible to have a problem without believing a prior thought. I don’t tell people that, because telling them what I see would be unkind. I listen to them, and I wait to be of use. I too have been trapped in the torture chamber of the mind.
And eventually, as love would have it, if their minds are open to inquiry, their problems begin to disappear. In the presence of someone who doesn’t see a problem, the problem falls away—which shows you that there wasn’t a problem in the first place.
But that doesn’t change the fact that pain is a projection of mind. If you observe it closely, you’ll see that it never arrives; it’s always on its way out. And it’s always happening on the surface of perception, while underneath it is the vast ocean of joy.
I used to tell my children, “Make friends with mediocrity.”
I have often said that when you realize that the nature of everything is good and that good is everything, you don’t need inquiry.
When the mind begins inquiry as a practice, it learns as a student of itself that everything is for it. Everything adds to it, enlightens it, nourishes it, reveals it. Nothing is or ever was against it. This is a mind that has grown beyond opposites. It’s no longer split.
People don’t have to get along with me. Do I get along with them?—that’s the important question.
“The litmus test for self-realization is the constant state of gratitude.”
People think that enlightenment must be some kind of mystical, transcendent experience. But it’s not. It’s as close to you as your own most troubling thought. When you believe a thought that argues with reality, you’re confused. When you question the thought and see that it’s not true, you’re enlightened to it, you’re liberated from it. You’re as free as the Buddha in that moment. And then the next stressful thought comes along, and you either believe it or question it. It’s your next opportunity to get enlightened. Life is as simple as that.
Everyone is the Buddha. Everyone has the perfect body. If you weren’t able to compare your body to any other, what could possibly be lacking? Without the mind’s comparison, no one can be too fat or too thin. That’s not possible; it’s a myth. Comparison keeps you from the awareness of what is.
Bodies don’t crave, don’t want, don’t know, don’t care, don’t love, don’t hate, don’t get hungry or thirsty. The body only reflects what the mind attaches to. There are no physical addictions, only mental ones.
No one has ever attained enlightenment. Enlightenment is not a thing. It’s a figment of the imagination. It happens in a past that doesn’t exist. Are you enlightened to your own stressful thinking right now? That’s the only enlightenment that matters.
I was in what I called “earth school,” and everyone was showing me who I was through my thoughts about who they were.
I often tell people, “Don’t pretend yourself beyond your evolution”—in other words, don’t believe anything that you haven’t actually realized out of deep personal experience. Many people read books that teach positive thinking, or the so-called “law of attraction,” and they do affirmations, and then they feel guilty when they get sick or when they don’t become rich. “Oh dear, I have cancer. I’m responsible for it. I must be doing something wrong.” Or “I’m not a millionaire by now. I must not be sending out enough positive energy.” That’s like saying, “May my will be done, not God’s will,” rather than realizing, deeply, that God’s will is your will at every moment. It’s trying to get what you want, rather than wanting what you have, which is the only way you can ever be happy.
We can also turn the statement around. “There is no merit” turns around to “There is merit,” and that’s true as well. There’s value to everything we do, and nothing is more valuable than anything else. That billionaire philanthropist, the one who has built so many hospitals and funded so much scientific research? When you stop comparing, the value of what he has done exactly equals the value of what you have done. You’re benefiting humanity every time you do the dishes, sweep the floor, or drive your kids to school. Benefiting one person equals benefiting a million. When you do your job completely—that is, when you do it with a clear mind—you’re absorbed in the action, you disappear into it. The only things that exist are the dish, the soapy water, the sponge, the hand moving in its own rhythms. There’s no self in it, no other. You are not the doer; you’re being done.
Just say yes. Just do the dishes. To say yes to that voice, to enter that great experiment, is true co-creation,
One day in 1986, soon after I returned from the halfway house, I heard a voice, the same voice I’d heard thousands of times before. It said, “Brush your teeth!” I had thought revelation would be a great burning bush, and all it turned out to be was “Brush your teeth!”
It wasn’t about cavities; it was about doing the right thing, honoring the truth inside me.
You have no control. You never had any control, and you never will. You only tell the story of what you think is happening. Do you think you cause movement? You don’t. It just happens, but you tell the story of how you had something to do with it: “I moved my legs. I decided to walk.” I don’t think so. If you inquire, you’ll see that that’s just a story. You know that you’re going to move because everything is happening simultaneously. You tell the story before the movement, because you already are that. It moves, and you think that you did it. Then you tell the story of how you’re going somewhere or how you’re doing something. The only thing you can play with is the story. That’s the only game in town.
Do you ever find yourself trying to please people or gain their approval? I please myself, and I approve of myself, and I project that onto everyone. So in my world, I already please everyone, and I already have everyone’s approval, though I don’t expect them to realize it yet.
I couldn’t admire an author more than I admire the great Ben Hewitt. I love his intelligent, writerly style, but it’s the content that really gets me. If you’re interested in homeschooling or simple living, all of his books are well worth a read. The Nourishing Homestead: One Back-to-the-Land Family’s Plan for Cultivating Soil, Skills, and Spirit is particularly info-heavy, which I like, and I chose it as the book to feature in my highlights here.
On connection to the land: “To us, making a life means living in a way that feels connected. Connected to the land, to animals both wild and domestic, to community, to seasons and celebrations, and to the food we eat. It means living in a way that affords us the time to follow our passions and to feel as if the work we do nurtures our bodies, minds, and spirits, rather than depleting them. It means waking up every morning looking forward to what the day will bring and going to bed every night satisfied with what was delivered. It means living in a way that enables us to act from a place of kindness and generosity, in part because we have seen that when we act from a place of kindness and generosity, these things are returned to us tenfold and in part because kindness and generosity feel a heck of a lot better than meanness and stinginess. To us, a meaningful life is one that includes vigorous physical labor in the pursuit of food, shelter, and heat, because we understand that this labor is not an inconvenience but a gift. It is a life in which all of the aforementioned aspects come together in a way that does not merely inform the way we live, but also actually becomes the way we live.”
On freedom: “When the subject of travel comes up, I often explain our choices in terms of exchange. Which is to say, we’ve exchanged the freedom of easy and frequent travel for a different sort of freedom. The different sort of freedom I’m talking about is not quite so easy to explain, particularly in a society that celebrates the transitory freedom of easy travel. The freedom I’m talking about comes from connection to a particular place. It comes of spending one’s days immersed in that place, in its nooks and crannies, hollows and swells, woods and fields. It comes of waking every morning—or most mornings, at least—with a sense of anticipation for what the day holds, for all the small tasks and moments that await. It comes of walking down to the cows in the hesitant light of almost dawn. It comes of knowing where the chanterelle mushrooms are emerging from the forest floor, of following a fresh set of moose tracks with your eight-year-old son until you feel like not following them, of returning from morning chores with your hatful of mushrooms and a quartet of fresh eggs and setting them on the ground, stripping down to your birthday suit, and cannonballing into the pond. This freedom comes of ritual and routine, not in service to the contrived arrangements of the modern economy, but in accordance with nature’s cycles and forces . . . And when there’s no one to tell you your time should be spent otherwise, there’s not much of a need for vacation. There’s not the same desire to get away.”
On food industrialization: “It is infuriating to me that we have arrived at a place where the fundamental right to feed ourselves as we wish has been largely eroded. At this very moment, I could leave my house, drive a handful of miles, and purchase a semiautomatic handgun, a carton of unfiltered cigarettes, and a fifth of whiskey. Yet I can’t legally sell the butter I make at any price. I can’t legally sell a home-butchered hog or even a single link of the excellent (if I do say so myself) sausage we make.”
On safety and child-rearing: “This is a huge subject, but in short, Penny and I believe the invisible psychic and emotional risk of not exposing our children to these tools and tasks is far greater and ultimately more damaging than the risk of bodily injury. Furthermore, because the latter risk is the one that seems most visceral—after all, wounds to the psyche don’t bleed—we grant it more power than it deserves. It is difficult to see a child’s eroding sense of confidence and to articulate all the risks of that erosion; it is not difficult to see the wound left by the knife’s blade or from falling out of a tree.”
These are just a few of the many beautiful statements Hewitt makes in this book. Inspiring stuff.
Recently Matt Kahn agreed to an interview. I know: how lucky am I? I got to ask him anything I wanted–anything at all. So of course I thought of the hardest questions possible. Enjoy.
Mollie: What spiritual practices do you keep up with regularly? How strict are you?
Matt: I am not strict at all. I meditate, breathe, send blessings to humanity, and love my heart on a daily basis, but only when I get the intuitive nudge to do it. I maintain a daily practice not only to continue my life-long exploration, but to practice for those who need it most, but aren’t in a position to open their hearts just yet.
Mollie: Do you practice self-inquiry, such as Byron Katie’s The Work? If so, is this an important practice for you? Do you recommend it?
Matt: I ask very intriguing questions, but only because my exploration is how I download new teachings to offer. Self-inquiry can be very beneficial, but it has a short shelf-life. The best approach to any process, including self-inquiry is to prepare to be without it. If not, you are subconsciously asking life to continually give you things to work out through your inquiry. If you can engage inquiry from the stand point of always moving beyond it, it can offer benefit. Especially knowing, it is not the inquiry that heals you, but the amount of attention you are offering neglected and repressed parts of yourself that represent the true keys to inner freedom. Undivided attention is the grace of love in action. It is life’s eternal liberator. Self-inquiry merely gives you a framework to face yourself directly.
Mollie: I’ve heard you mention the law of attraction and note that at some point we focus less on “moving around the furniture of our lives”–improving our outward circumstances–and more on increasing our inner joy instead. Is this true for you? At some point did you stop striving to improve the outward circumstances of your life, and focus only on internals instead, or do you still do some of both?
Matt: In each and every moment, life shows us exactly what each moment asks of us. If spending too much time waiting for things to be different, we overlook the fact that anything attracted into reality could only be a catalyst of our highest evolution. This is why I wrote, “Everything is Here to Help You”. While we should always envision greater circumstances for ourselves and others, it is our willingness to ask, “how is this circumstance giving me the chance to face my most vulnerable parts and shine even brighter?” that determines the trajectory of our soul’s evolution. Simply put, life only appears to not give you what you want while preparing you to have things beyond your wildest imagination. With faith in life’s cosmic plan and a willingness to love ourselves throughout it all, experiences deeper than loss and gain are given permission to be.
Mollie: I’m a hard worker, a doer by nature. I love lists, plans and goals. You seem more laid-back. How do you feel about striving toward goals? Is this something you recommend we do, given that our goals are healthy and peace-promoting? Or would you rather we wing it and let the universe take us somewhere we might never have planned to go?
Matt: It’s a balance of both. I have goals but I go about them from a peaceful space of being. Out of the being, the doing can be done with gentleness, precision, and ease. When we are solely focused on the outcome, we are not fulfilling each task in alignment with our soul, but attempting to outrun the hands of time to capture what we fear we were never meant to have. If it’s meant to be, it will come, which requires destiny along with our participation in taking inspired deliberate action.
Mollie: Do you listen for divine guidance for your actions–say, when to go wash the car or feed the dog? What is the terminology you use for this?
Matt: My intuition is always active and flowing. For me, there is a perfect time for everything and when I get that message, I follow through without hesitation. Like stomach grumbles that remind you when to eat, my intuition guides my every move without me having to micromanage anything. It’s just the joy of following the flow of each instinct. It’s a visceral flow of inspiration, not a mental calculation of any kind.
Someone lived in space for a year. His name is Scott Kelly, and Endurance: My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery is his story. I think that pretty much sums up the value of this book. Side note: the quotes I selected below don’t do the book justice; the beauty of it is in Kelly’s descriptions of the mundane, daily activities of life in space.
On the International Space Station: “The ISS is a remarkable achievement of technology and international cooperation. It has been inhabited nonstop since November 2, 2000; put another way, it has been more than fourteen years since all humans were on the Earth at once. It is by far the longest-inhabited structure in space and has been visited by more than two hundred people from sixteen nations. It’s the largest peacetime international project in history.”
On landing the space shuttle: “The very complexity of the space shuttle was why I wanted to fly it. But learning these systems and practicing in the simulators—learning how to respond to the myriad of interrelated malfunctions in the right way—showed me how much more complicated this spacecraft was than anything I could have imagined. There were more than two thousand switches and circuit breakers in the cockpit, more than a million parts, and almost as many ways for me to screw up. The amount I learned in order to go from a new ASCAN to a pilot on my first mission was, from what I could observe, an education comparable to getting a PhD. Our days were packed with classes, simulations, and other training.”
On the moments before takeoff: “The space shuttle, fully fueled with cryogenic liquid, creaked and groaned. Soon this sixteen-story structure was going to lift off the Earth in a controlled explosion. For a moment I thought to myself, Boy, this is a really dumb thing to be doing.”
“There is a NASA tradition, which some crews follow more closely than others, of pulling pranks on rookies. When the Astrovan pulled up to the launchpad, I said offhandedly to Tracy, Barb, and Alvin, “Hey, you guys remembered to bring your boarding passes, right?” They looked at one another quizzically as the four of us veterans pulled preprinted boarding passes out of our pockets. ‘Don’t tell me you didn’t bring your boarding passes! They won’t let you on the space shuttle without one!’ I insisted. After an initial look of panic crossed their faces, the three rookies quickly caught on.”
“On his fourth flight, in 2008, Yuri’s Soyuz landed so far from his intended touchdown point, the local Kazakh farmers who came upon his steaming spacecraft had no idea what it was. When he and his two female crewmates, Peggy Whitson and Yi So-yeon, emerged from the capsule, the Kazakhs mistook him for an alien god who had come from space with his own supply of women. Had the rescue forces not arrived, I suspect the farmers would have appointed him their leader.”
There’s a reason I like books about happiness so much. It’s that they’re all so different . . . and so practical. Besides, reading something that could potentially increase your long-term sense of well-being never seems like a waste of time.
Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life by Manel Baucells and Rakesh Sarin is one of your choices in the genre. Enjoy.
Studies based on these databases suggest that, across different countries, happiness is high among people with lots of friends, the young and the old, married and cohabiting people, the healthy, and the self-employed. Income has a moderate effect, although, as we will soon see, it is relative income that matters the most.
The Third Law—Aversion to Loss: Losses are felt more keenly than equivalent gains. This law is called the Law of Hedonic Asymmetry by the Dutch psychologist Nico Frijda, or Loss Aversion by Kahneman and Tversky.
The Fourth Law—Diminishing Sensitivity: Happiness is not proportional to the difference between reality and expectation; rather, the increase in happiness slows as reality moves further from expectation.
The Sixth Law—Presentism: We forecast that future preferences and emotions will be more similar to our current preferences and emotions than they actually will be. People rarely take into account that their preferences are going to change. In fact, preferences and emotions change more than we think. When they are in a heightened emotional state, people do not imagine that their intense feelings of anger will dissipate quickly.
Thich Nhat Hanh is a world expert in the study of anger. He suggests mindful meditation to control anger. For instance, when it comes to anger management, what is best: to burst or to contain? Shall we let ourselves be carried away by anger, so that anger goes away? Or shall we contain the anger? Which of the two strategies is more effective in reducing the likelihood of future anger outbursts? Research shows that the first strategy has a flaw. These anger outbursts, which might alleviate anger in the short run, make us more prone to become angry in the future, as attacks of anger become a habit. In contrast, holding back anger turns out to be smarter. For one thing, anger dissipates sooner than expected.
Again, incorporating strategies for daily emotional regulation can indeed increase happiness.
After a week of practice, you move to another pillar and focus your attention on making improvements on this new pillar. You should keep an eye on the other pillars that you have practiced in previous weeks, but your concentration should be fixed on improving one pillar at a time. When all pillars have been visited and practiced over a thirteen-week period, contemplate your progress and your resolution for improvement over the next cycle of thirteen weeks. Thus, over a year, you will have four cycles of practicing each of the thirteen pillars, and your happiness level will have improved. Here is an itemized list of the thirteen pillars, with some descriptive items listed for each of them. 1. MEALS: be peaceful, show gratitude, avoid overeating and overdrinking, eat with friends 2. SLEEP: sleep in a comfortable bed, let in fresh air, cultivate a quiet mind, recover from sleep deprivation 3. WORK: make your commute more pleasant, improve your relationships with coworkers, become more engaged with your work 4. RELATIONSHIPS: nurture your relationships with your family and friends, avoid toxic interactions 5. RECREATION: engage in regular exercise, learn some fun skills such as music or painting 6. CRESCENDO: be frugal, postpone expenses, save the best for last 7. SOCIAL COMPARISON: avoid envy, be modest, celebrate others’ successes, praise and give credit 8. GLASS HALF FULL: reframe, accept imperfections, emphasize positives 9. SMALL SIPS: space out your consumption, build craving, cultivate varied interests 10. CUMULATION: create meaning, set goals, fill the bucket 11. FORGIVENESS: avoid resentment, conciliate, seek pardon 12. BALANCE: find balance in your life among career, family,hobbies, and self-improvement 13. LEARNING TO LOVE: practice compassion, cultivate spirituality, help others.
The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky is only one of several dozen similar books on positive psychology. Look over these notes to help you decide if this is your pick of the batch.
Because 40 percent is that part of our happiness that it’s in our power to change through how we act and how we think, that portion representing the potential for increased lasting happiness that resides in all of us. It’s not a small number, and it’s not a huge number, but it’s a reasonable and realistic number.
The How of Happiness shows you how to apply that number to your own circumstances. However, instead of showing you how to move from the negative range toward a neutral point, the aim of most therapies and treatments for depression, I shall spotlight how to advance from your current (perhaps unrewarding) state (be it -8, -3, or +3) toward +6 or +8 or even higher.
In one study, the University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman taught a single happiness-enhancing strategy to a group of severely depressed people—that is, those whose depression scores put them in the most extremely depressed category. Although these individuals had great difficulty even leaving their beds, they were instructed to log on to a Web site and engage in a simple exercise. The exercise involved recalling and writing down three good things that happened every day—for example, “Rosalind called to say hello,” “I read a chapter of a book my therapist recommended,” and “The sun finally came out today.” Within fifteen days their depressions lifted from “severely depressed” to “mildly to moderately depressed,” and 94 percent of them experienced relief.
Perhaps the most counterintuitive finding is that as the chart shows, only about 10 percent of the variance in our happiness levels is explained by differences in life circumstances or situations—that is, whether we are rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced, etc.
A great deal of science backs up this conclusion. For example, a well-known study demonstrated that the richest Americans, those earning more than ten million dollars annually, report levels of personal happiness only slightly greater than the office staffs and blue-collar workers they employ.And although married people are happier than single ones, the effect of marriage on personal happiness is actually quite small; for example, in sixteen countries, 25 percent of married people and 21 percent of singles described themselves as “very happy.”
If you are currently depressed or if you’ve ever been depressed, you are not alone. Studies show that 15 percent of people in the United States (and 21 percent of women) will become clinically depressed at some point during their lifetimes.
Furthermore, the age at which people experience their first depressive episode has decreased dramatically during the last several decades.
The identical twins were extremely similar to each other in their happiness scores, and remarkably, the similarity was no smaller if the twins had been raised apart! The happier one identical twin was, the happier the other was—no matter whether they grew up under the same roof or on different coasts. Interestingly, however, regardless of whether they were raised together or apart, the happiness levels of the fraternal twins were completely uncorrelated.
If the New Zealanders with the short “bad” allele of the 5-HTTLPR gene were able to avoid highly stressful situations or to engage psychotherapists or supportive confidants when they anticipated stress, their genetic propensity for depression might never be triggered.
In order to express or not to express themselves, genes need a particular environment (e.g., a happy marriage or job layoff) or a particular behavior (e.g., seeking out social support). This means that no matter what your genetic predisposition, whether or not that predisposition is expressed is in your hands.
Davidson uses the procedure called electroencephalography (EEG) to measure a person’s brain activity. He finds that happy people, those who smile more, and who report themselves to be enthusiastic, alert, and engaged in life show a curious asymmetry in their brain activity; they have more activity in their left prefrontal cortex than in the right.
Spiritual people are relatively happier than nonspiritual people, have superior mental health, cope better with stressors, have more satisfying marriages, use drugs and alcohol less often, are physically healthier, and live longer lives.
An impressive study of physical activity was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 1999. The researchers recruited men and women fifty years old and over, all of them suffering from clinical depression, and divided them randomly into three groups . . . Aerobic exercise was just as effective at treating depression as was Zoloft, or as a combination of exercise and Zoloft.
Finally, surveys show, and large-scale randomized interventions confirm, that exercise may very well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all activities.
You must read everything by Byron Katie. I hope you do, anyway. No one I’ve never met has affected me this much. A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are is just one of her amazing books. Don’t pass it up.
The worst thing that ever happened exists only in the past, which means that it doesn’t exist at all. Right now, it’s only a stressful thought in your mind.
Anger, sadness, or frustration lets us know that we’re at war with the way of it. Even when we get what we wanted, we want it to last, and it doesn’t, it can’t. And because life is projected and mind is so full of confusion, there is no peace. But when you allow life to flow like water, you become that water. And you watch life lived to the ultimate, always giving you more than you need.
You can’t empty your mind of thoughts. You might as well try to empty the ocean of its water. Thoughts just keep coming back, it seems. That’s the way of it. But thoughts aren’t a problem if they’re met with understanding. Why would you even want to empty your mind, unless you’re at war with reality? I love my thoughts. And if I were ever to have a stressful thought, I know how to question it and give myself peace.
If I can walk into the light, so can you. You can’t help us with your words: “There it is, over there. Follow me.” No. You do it first, then we’ll follow. This savior thing is lethal.
But I was living with the certainty that wherever I was, that’s where I was supposed to be at that moment. This is not a theory; it’s the literal truth. If I think that I’m supposed to be doing anything but what I’m doing now, I’m insane.
There’s a perfect order here. “Holiness” and “wisdom” are just concepts that separate us from ourselves. We think that there’s some ideal we have to strive for, as if Jesus were any holier or the Buddha any wiser than we are right now in this moment. Who would you be without your story of yourself? It’s stressful to have ideals that you can achieve only in the future, a future that never comes. When you no longer believe the thought that you need to achieve anything, the world becomes a much kinder place.
No one will ever understand you. Realizing this is freedom. No one will ever understand you—not once, not ever. Even at our most understanding, we can only understand our story of who you are. There’s no understanding here except your own. If you don’t love another person, it hurts, because love is your very self. You can’t make yourself do it. But when you come to love yourself, you automatically love the other person.
Who would you be in people’s presence without, for example, the story that anyone should care about you, ever? You would be love itself. When you believe the myth that people should care, you’re too needy to care about people or about yourself. The experience of love can’t come from anyone else; it can come only from inside you.
But some people take the insight that the world is perfect and make it into a concept, and then they conclude that there’s no need to get involved in politics or social action. That’s separation. If someone came to you and said, “I’m suffering. Please help me,” would you answer, “You’re perfect just the way you are,” and turn away? Our heart naturally responds to people and animals in need.
People ask me, “How can you listen to all these problems, day after day, year after year? Doesn’t it drain your energy?” Well, it doesn’t. I’ve questioned my stressful thoughts, and I’ve seen that every single one of them is untrue. Every thought that used to look like a poisonous snake is actually a rope. I could stand over that rope for a thousand years, and never be frightened of it again. I see clearly what some people don’t yet see for themselves. Everyone in the world might come upon that rope and run screaming the other way, and I wouldn’t be afraid for them, feel sorry for them, or worry about them at all, because I realize that they’re not in danger, they’re absolutely not in harm’s way. As they cry snake, I see only rope.
I don’t try to change the world—not ever. The world changes by itself, and I’m a part of that change. I’m
The world will test you in every way, so that you can realize that last little piece that’s unfinished inside you. It’s a perfect setup.
I was sitting once with a friend who had a huge tumor, and the doctors had given her just a few weeks to live. As I was leaving her bedside, she said, “I love you,” and I said, “No, you don’t. You can’t love me until you love your tumor. Every concept that you put onto that tumor, you’ll eventually put onto me. The first time I don’t give you what you want, or threaten what you believe, you’ll put that concept onto me.” This might sound harsh, but my friend had asked me to always tell her the truth. The tears in her eyes were tears of gratitude, she said.
People who know there’s no hope are free; decisions are out of their hands. It has always been that way, but some people have to die bodily to find out.
ultimately everything in the universe is nothing imagined as something,
The truth is that everything comes from the I. If there’s no thought, there’s no world. Without the I to project itself, there is neither origin nor end. And the I just appears: it doesn’t come out of anything and it doesn’t return to anything. Actually, even “nothing” is born out of the I, because even it is a concept. By thinking that there is nothing, you continue to create something.
When your heart is cheerful and at peace, it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do, whether you live or die. You can talk or stay silent, and it’s all the same. Some people think that silence is more spiritual than speech, that meditation or prayer brings you closer to God than watching television or taking out the garbage. That’s the story of separation. Silence is a beautiful thing, but it’s no more beautiful than the sound of people talking. I love it when thoughts pass through my mind, and I love it when there are no thoughts. Thoughts can’t ever be a problem for me, because I have questioned them and seen that no thought is true.
When you follow the simple way of it, you notice that reality holds all the wisdom you’ll ever need. You don’t need any wisdom of your own. Plans are unnecessary. Reality always shows you what comes next, in a clearer, kinder, more efficient way than you could possibly discover for yourself.
I always know that the way is clear. And when I trip over an obstacle, I enjoy myself all the way to the ground. Falling is equal to not falling. Getting up again and not being able to are equal. The only way you can know the way of it is to join it without separation. It’s constant lovemaking, with no other lover than what is.
be wise or spiritual. You just notice what is. I like to say, “Don’t pretend yourself beyond your own evolution.” What I mean by that is “Don’t be spiritual; be honest instead.” It’s painful to
If you are new to inquiry, I strongly suggest that you not write about yourself at first. When you start by judging yourself, your answers come with a motive and with solutions that haven’t worked. Judging someone else, then inquiring and turning it around, is the direct path to understanding. You can judge yourself later, when you have been doing inquiry long enough to trust the power of truth.
If you begin by pointing the finger of blame outward, then the focus isn’t on you. You can just let loose and be uncensored. We’re often quite sure about what other people need to do, how they should live, whom they should be with. We have 20/20 vision about other people, but not about ourselves.
Telling Yourself the Truth: Find Your Way Out of Depression, Anxiety, Fear, Anger, and Other Common Problems by Applying the Principles of Misbelief Therapy by William Backus and Marie Chapian was my introduction to cognitive therapy. At the time, I didn’t realize it; I thought I was reading about a uniquely Christian approach to overcoming depression. It helped me greatly at a time I believed therapy was less effective than religion, and for that, it holds a place in my heart forever.
“Misbelief Therapy,” as we have called our modus operandi, involves putting the truth into our value systems, philosophies, demands, expectations, moralistic and emotional assumptions, as well as into the words we tell ourselves.
When we inject the truth into our every thought, taking a therapeutic broom and sweeping away the lies and misbeliefs which have enslaved us, we find our lives radically changed for the happier better.
Jerry questioned his self-talk. He recognized something radically wrong with what he had been telling himself and realized his depression was not due to his impending divorce, but what he was telling himself about it. As a result he began to change the sentences he said to himself.
It wasn’t easy at first, but because he refused to be a “chump” to a pack of self-destroying lies, he taught himself to confess the truth. INSTEAD OF: I’m a failure and no good. HE SAID: The marriage failed, but I am deeply loved by God.
Misbeliefs generally appear as truth to the person repeating them to himself. They might even seem to be true to an untrained counselor. That is partly because they often do contain some shred of truth, and partly because the sufferer has never examined or questioned these erroneous assumptions.
Psychiatrist Willard Gaylin said, “A denigrated self-image is a tar baby. The more we play with it, embrace it, the more bound we are to it.”
Often, but not always, relationships change dramatically when one person drops the misbeliefs that generate and perpetuate bitterness and anger. Always the person who works to change misbeliefs will benefit even if the other person does not change.
One psychologist tells his patients that the truthful statement to make when you’re angry is, “I make myself angry.”