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
Simple Science Learning Games
The List Game
First, print out two copies of your science checklist of choice.
How to Play: Players first read over their checklist of choice. Then they compete to see who can list the most items on the list in an allotted time period. (Inspiration: Scattegories.)
Twenty Questions/Who Am I?
First, print out two copies of your science checklist of choice.
How to Play: Players silently select a term from their checklist of choice. Then they take turns trying to guess the other person’s selection by asking simple yes or no questions. The winner guesses the term in the fewest questions, or guesses the most terms correctly in an allotted time period. This game works well with any checklist except foreign-language vocabulary lists. (Inspiration: Twenty Questions.)
Do-It-Yourself Crossword Puzzles
Instructions: Print out grid paper with large boxes and create crossword puzzles using the terms you want to remember. The clues can be written on a separate sheet of paper.
Science Coloring Sheets
Find awesome coloring sheets depicting human anatomy, layers of the earth and more. Label each part as you color.
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
Simple History Learning Games
Now you know what you need to know. That’s the hard part, and it’s been done for you. Next up: the slightly easier part. You’ll learn these facts any way you can.
To assist in this effort, here are a few ideas for enjoyable learning games that can be used with many of my knowledge checklists. To play, all you need is one printed copy of your checklist of choice per player.
Contrary to popular opinion, sometimes, competition brings out the best in us.
The List Game
First, print out a copy of your checklist of choice. It can be a history timeline, a Spanish vocabulary list or any other.
How to Play: Players first read over their checklist of choice. Then they compete to see who can list the most items on the list in an allotted time period. (Inspiration: Scattegories.)
Twenty Questions/Who Am I?
First, print out a copy of your checklist of choice. It can be a history timeline, a Spanish vocabulary list or any other.
How to Play: Players silently select a person, place or term from their checklist of choice. Then they take turns trying to guess the other person’s selection by asking simple yes or no questions. The winner guesses the term in the fewest questions, or guesses the most terms correctly in an allotted time period. This game works well with any checklist except foreign-language vocabulary lists, and is especially interesting with history timelines if you play the role of an event or person. (Inspiration: Twenty Questions.)
Do-It-Yourself Crossword Puzzles
Print out grid paper with large boxes and create crossword puzzles using the terms you want to remember. The clues can be written on a separate sheet of paper. Crosswords using foreign-language vocabulary words can be easiest to create, since the native-language word can be used as the clue.
Do-It-Yourself Historical Timeline
Using a simple template, create your own historical timeline with the key dates you want to remember. Hang it on a wall for easy reference
Do-It-Yourself Map Puzzles
Color a map of the world (or of a country or a continent). Cut it into puzzle-like pieces, then reinforce the back of each piece with cardboard.
Do-It-Yourself Dot-to-Dot Drawings
Print out simple photos of important world landmarks or works of art. Place a piece of paper over each, and trace them with dots. Number the dots as you go. Then try to redraw the picture by connecting them.
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.
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.”
I have a basic working Mandarin vocabulary–what I call “traveler’s Chinese.” Though it’s one of my life goals to become fluent or close to it (mostly because it would be so much fun), I also feel that this basic level is extremely valuable in its own right. Once you get past the language basics and talk to some natives who–surprise!–actually understand you, the groundwork has been laid; you become confident. After that, you have fun with it: talk to people you meet, ask them to explain things, practice a bit here and a bit there. A decade or so later, you’re ready to visit the land of your chosen second language and make a lot of progress in a relatively short amount of time.
A note on the list: There are four tones in Mandarin Chinese. Fortunately, they’re not hard to master; just do an Internet search to hear them and practice. One more tip: At first, don’t worry about grammar too much. Get the main verbs, the main short words (“because,” “with,” “and,” “very,” and the time- and distance-related vocabulary) and the whole introductory conversation basics, then move on to your nouns–food, body parts, etc. When you practice, make as many mistakes as you can possibly make, grammar-wise; just get yourself understood. That’s the goal.
Basic Mandarin Vocabulary:
Conversational Basics and Common Phrases:
Hello: Ni3 hao3 How are you: Ni3 hao3 ma What is your name: Ni3 de ming2 zi jiao4 shen2 me My name is: Wo3 de ming2 zi jiao4 First name: Ming2 zi Family name: Gui4 xing4 How old are you: Ni3 ji1 sui4 le I am __ years old: Wo3 you3 __ nian2 Good morning: Zao3 an1 Good afternoon: Good evening: Wan3 an1 Yes: Shi4 No: Bu4 shi4 Please: Qing2 May I: Ke3 yi3 Thank you: Xie4 xie4 Excuse me/I’m sorry: Dui4 bu4 qi2 You’re welcome/I don’t mind: Mei2 guan4 xi1 No problem/I don’t care: Bu4 yao4 jin3 Where are you from: Ni3 lai2 zai4 na3 li3 I am from: Wo3 lai2 zi4 I speak __: Wo3 shuo1 __ Do you speak __: Ni3 shuo1 __ ma? U.S.A.: Mei3 guo2 American: Mei3 guo2 ren2 English: Ying1 wen2 China: Zhong1 guo2 Chinese (person): Zhong1 guo2 ren2 Chinese (Mandarin language): Pu2 tong2 hua4 Chinese (Cantonese language): Guang3 dong1 hua4 How do you say: Wo3 zem2 me shuo1 What does this mean: Shen2 me yi4 ci2 Say it again: Zai4 shuo1 yi1 ci4 May I ask: Qing2 wen3 Can you please: Ni3 ke3 yi3 Nice to meet you: Hen3 gao1 xin1 jian4 dao4 ni3 Be careful: Xiao4 xin1 (yi1 dian3) Hurry up: Kuai4 yi1 dian3 Wait a moment: Deng3 yi2 xia4 I am ready: Wo3 zhu3 bei4 hao3 le Both are fine: Shen2 me dou1 ke3 yi3
To be: Shi4 To go: Qu4 To want: Yao4 To use: Yong4 To need: Xu3 yao4 To know: Zhi1 dao4 To like: Xi3 huan1 To love: Ai4 To live: Zhu4 To be born: Chu1 sheng1 To die: Si2 To sleep/go to bed: Shui4 jiao4 To wake up: Xing3 lai2 To cook: Zuo2 (fan4) To read: Kan4 (shu1) To practice: Lian4 xi3 To make/do: Zuo3 To look at: Kan4 To see: Kan4 dao4 To look for: Zhao3 To walk: Zou3 (lu4) To run: Pao3 (bu4) To go to work: Shang4 ban4 To finish work: Xia4 ban4 To rest: Xiu2 xi3 To play: Wan2 To sing: Chang4 ge1 To smile: Wei1 xiao4 To laugh: Da4 xiao1 To hug: Bao4 To cry: Ai1 hao4; ku1; bei4 qi4 To dance: Tiao4 wu3 To swim: You2 yong3 To take pictures: Zhao4 xiang4 To go shopping: (Qu4) guang4 jie1; gou4 wu4; mai3 dong1 xi1 To go to the bathroom: Shang4 ce4 suo3 To take a shower: Xi3 zao3 To wash hands/face: Xi3 lian2/shou3 To ride (a bike, etc.): Qi2 To ride (a car–no movement): Zuo4 To visit (someone): Bai4 fang3 To visit (something): Can1 guan1 To leave: Zou3 To wait: Deng3 (dai4) To stay (there): Liu2 zai4 (zhe1 li3) To stay home: Dai4 zia4 jia1 li3 To stand up: Zhan4 qi3 lai2 To sit down: Zuo4 xia4 To find: Zhao3 dao4 To pay: Fu4 qian2 To break: Sui4; lan4 To fix: Xiu1 To take: Na2 To listen: Ting1 (shuo1) To lay down (something): Fang4 To lay down (body): Tang3 xia4 To meet (regularly): Peng4 dao4; peng4 tou2 To meet (past or future): Kan4 jian4 To show/indicate: Zhan3 shi3 To mistakenly think: Yi3 wei2 To try: Shi4 yi1 shi4 To taste/experience: Chang2 hang2; chang2 yi1 chang2 To guess: Cai1 yi1 cai1 To translate: Fan1 yi4 To hate: Hen4 To put on/wear: Chuan1; dai4 To change clothes: Huan2 yi4 fu2
When: Shen2 me shi2 hou4 How long: Duo1 jiu2 Early: Zao4 Late: Wan2 Soon: Hen3 kuai4 Not soon: Hen3 man4 Always: Zong3 shi4 Never: Cong2 lai2 (mei2 you3) Again: Zai4 Often/usually: Jing1 chang2 Sometimes: You3 shi2 hou4 Still more (time): Hai2 (you3) Daytime: Wan3 shang4 Nighttime: Wan3 shang4 Day: Tian1 Morning: Zao3 shang4 Afternoon: Xia4 wu3 Time: Shi2 jian1 Hour: Xiao3 shi2; zhong1 tou2 Minute: Fen1 zhong1 Second: Miao3 zhong1 This week: Zhe4 zhou1 Next week: Xia4 zhou1 Last week: Shang4 zhou1 Before/earlier: Yi3 qian2; zai4 shi1 qian2 After/later: Yi3 hou4; hou4 lai2; dai1 hui3 At the same time: Tong2 shi2 First: Di1 yi1 Second: Di1 er4 One time: Yi1 ci4 The first time: Di1 yi1 ci4 Midnight: Ban4 ye4 Long (time): Jiu2; chang2 shi2 jian1 A while: Yi2 xia4 Future: Wei4 lai2 Past: Ever: Guo1; ceng2 jing2
Size- and Amount-Related:
How much/how many: Duo1 shao1 More: Bi3 (jiao4) duo1 de; Less: Bi3 (jiao4) shao3 de A little: Yi1 dian3 A little more: Duo1 yi1 dian3 Most: Zui4 Some: Yi1 xie3 de Only: Zhi2 you3 Still more (amount): Hai2 you3 Almost: Cha4 bu4 duo1 Not enough: Bu2 gou4 Not quite: Bu2 tai4 Too (much): Tai4 Size: Da4 xiao3 Short (people): Ai3 Short (stuff): Duan3 Tall (people): Gao1 Long (things): chang2 Wide: Kuan1 kuo4 de Deep: Shen1 de Empty: Kong1 dong4 Amount: Deng3 yu2 Enough: Gou3 le None: Mei2 you3 yi1 ge Both: Liang3 Both/all: Dou1; quan2 bu2 de Another one: Zai4 yi1 ge Equal: Deng3 (yu1) How many?: Ji3 ge Another: Bie2 de One or two: Yi1 liang2 ge Either one: Bu2 lun4 . . . dou1 (hao1) Only: Jiu4 Pound: Bang4 Kilo: Gong1 jin1 1/2 kilo: Jin1 Still more: Hai2 you3 Others: Qi2 ta1 de Every: Mei3 yi1; mei3 ge Each: Mei3 yi1 ge The whole (one): Zheng3 ge4 The whole (time): Suo3 you3 (shi2 jian1) Everything: Yi1 qie4 dou1; shen2 me dou1; suo3 you3 shi4 wu4 Something: Xie1 shi4 Nothing: Mei2 you3 dong1 xi1; mei1 you3 shi4 Everybody: Mei2 ge ren2; ren2 ren2 Anything: Wu2 lun2 shen2 me Somebody: Yi1 ge ren2 Nobody: Mei2 you3 ren2 Anybody: Ren4 he2 ren2; shen2 me ren2 Everywhere: Mei3 ge di4 fang1; dao4 qu4 dou1 Somewhere: Yi1 ge di4 fang1 Nowhere: Mei2 you3 di4 fang1 Anywhere: Ren4 he2 di4 fang1
A direction: Fang1 xiang4 A location: Fang1 wei4 Here: Zher4 There: Nar4 High: Gao1 Low: Di1 Beside: Zai . . . pang2 bian1/lin2 jin4 Between: Zai4 . . . zhi1 jian1/zhong1 jian1 Ahead: Zai . . . qian2 fang1/qian2 mian4 Over/above/on: Zai4 . . . shang4 mian4; gao1 yu2 In: Zai4 . . . li3 bian1 Under: Zai4 . . . xia4 mina4 The top: Zui4 shang4 mian4; zui4 shang4 bian4 The bottom: Di3 bu1; zui4 di3 Side/limit: Bian1 Behind: Zai . . . hou4 mian4 Both sides: Liang3 bian1 This side: Zhe4 bian1 That side: Na4 bian1 Central: Zhong1 yang1 de Inner: Li3 bian1 de Outer: Wai4 bian1 de Right: You3 Left: Zuo3 Center: Zhong1 jian1 Close/near: Jin4 Far away: (Yao2) yuan2 To travel forwards: Ziang4 qian2 zou3 To travel backwards: Ziang4 hou4 zou3 On the corner: Zai4 jiao3 luo4 One block: Yi1 kuai4 zhuan1 To turn right: Xiang4 you4 zhuan3 To turn left: Xiang4 zuo3 zhuan3 To go straight: Zhi2 zou3 North: Bei1 South: Nan2 East: Dong1 fang1 West: Xi1 fang1 Easterner: Dong1 fang1 ren2 Westerner: Xi1 fang1 ren2
Other Small Words:
This: Zhe4 ge That: Na4 ge But/nevertheless: Ke3 shi4; dan4 shi4 If: Ru2 guo3; yao4 shi4 Which: Na3 yi1 ge Although/even though: Sui1 ran2 Therefore: Suo3 yi3 Will: Hui4; jiang1 (yao4) Should: Ying1 gai1 Because: Yin1 wei4 Anyway/regardless: Qi2 shi2; bu4 guan3 Also: Ye3; you4 Probably: Huo4 xu3; ke3 neng2 In addition: Ling4 wai4; hai2 you3; chu1 ci3 gi4 wai4 Instead of: Er4 bu2 shi2 Not so: Bu4 ran2 To: Qu4 (location); gei1; zi1 (time) From: Cong2; lai2 zi Of: Shu3 yu2 For: Wei4 (Word at end of a question): Ma (Word at end of a completed statement): Le
Here’s another installment in my happiness book summaries: The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor. I like its overview of the history of positive psychology and it’s thorough treatment of the topic. Also, it’s fun to read, and that makes me happy, too.
In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, announced that it was finally time to shift the traditional approach to psychology and start to focus more on the positive side of the curve. That we needed to study what works, not just what is broken. Thus, “positive psychology” was born.
In 2006, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar asked if I would serve as his head teaching fellow to help design and teach a course called Positive Psychology. Tal was not yet internationally well-known; his best-selling book Happier wouldn’t be published until the following spring. Under the circumstances, we thought we’d be lucky to lure in a hundred undergraduates brave enough to risk a hit on their transcripts by foregoing a credit in, say, advanced economic theory for one in happiness. Over the next two semesters, nearly 1,200 Harvard students enrolled in the class—that’s one in every six students at one of the most hard-driving universities in the world. We quickly began to realize that these students were there because they were hungry. They were starving to be happier, not sometime in the future, but in the present. And they were there because despite all the advantages they enjoyed, they still felt unfulfilled.
Based on my study of Harvard undergraduates, the average number of romantic relationships over four years is less than one. The average number of sexual partners, if you’re curious, is 0.5 per student. (I have no idea what 0.5 sexual partners means, but it sounds like the scientific equivalent of second base.) In my survey, I found that among these brilliant Harvard students, 24 percent are unaware if they are currently involved in any romantic relationship.
We become more successful when we are happier and more positive. For example, doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.
So how do the scientists define happiness? Essentially, as the experience of positive emotions—pleasure combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose. Happiness implies a positive mood in the present and a positive outlook for the future. Martin Seligman, the pioneer in positive psychology, has broken it down into three, measurable components: pleasure, engagement, and meaning.
One of the most famous longitudinal studies on happiness comes from an unlikely place: the old diaries of Catholic nuns.10 These 180 nuns from the School Sisters of Notre Dame, all born before 1917, were asked to write down their thoughts in autobiographical journal entries. More than five decades later, a clever group of researchers decided to code the entries for positive emotional content. Could their level of positivity as 20-year-olds predict how the rest of their lives turned out? In fact, yes. The nuns whose journal entries had more overtly joyful content lived nearly ten years longer than the nuns whose entries were more negative or neutral. By age 85, 90 percent of the happiest quartile of nuns were still alive, compared to only 34 percent of the least happy quartile.
Research shows that unhappy employees take more sick days, staying home an average of 1.25 more days per month, or 15 extra sick days a year.
In one study I’m glad I never volunteered to take part in, researchers gave subjects a survey designed to measure levels of happiness—then injected them with a strain of the cold virus. A week later, the individuals who were happier before the start of the study had fought off the virus much better than the less happy individuals. They didn’t just feel better, either; they actually had fewer objective symptoms of illness as measured by doctors—less sneezing, coughing, inflammation, and congestion.
Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good, but dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels. They help us organize new information, keep that information in the brain longer, and retrieve it faster later on. And they enable us to make and sustain more neural connections, which allows us to think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things.
Meditate. Neuroscientists have found that monks who spend years meditating actually grow their left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most responsible for feeling happy. But don’t worry, you don’t have to spend years in sequestered, celibate silence to experience a boost. Take just five minutes each day to watch your breath go in and out.
Find Something to Look Forward To. One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.
Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness. A long line of empirical research, including one study of over 2,000 people, has shown that acts of altruism—giving to friends and strangers alike—decrease stress and strongly contribute to enhanced mental health.29 Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leading researcher and author of The How of Happiness, has found that individuals told to complete five acts of kindness over the course of a day report feeling much happier than control groups and that the feeling lasts for many subsequent days, far after the exercise is over.
Infuse Positivity Into Your Surroundings.
Exercise. You have probably heard that exercise releases pleasure-inducing chemicals called endorphins, but that’s not its only benefit. Physical activity can boost mood and enhance our work performance in a number of other ways as well, by improving motivation and feelings of mastery, reducing stress and anxiety, and helping us get into flow—that “locked in” feeling of total engagement that we usually get when we’re at our most productive.
Spend Money (but Not on Stuff). Contrary to the popular saying, money can buy happiness, but only if used to do things as opposed to simply have things. In his book Luxury Fever, Robert Frank explains that while the positive feelings we get from material objects are frustratingly fleeting, spending money on experiences, especially ones with other people, produces positive emotions that are both more meaningful and more lasting.34 For instance, when researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities—such as concerts and group dinners out—brought far more pleasure than material purchases
Coors Brewing Company, for example, reported a $6.15 return in profitability for every $1 spent on its corporate fitness program. Toyota saw an instant jump in productivity at its North American Parts Center when it instituted a strength-based training for employees.
In fact, when recognition is specific and deliberately delivered, it is even more motivating than money. Recognition can be given in traditional ways—a complimentary e-mail, or a pat on the back for a job well done. But you can also get creative with it. One of my favorite examples is the one business consultant Alexander Kjerulf cites about a Danish car company that instituted “The Order of the Elephant.” The elephant is a two-foot-tall stuffed animal that any employee can give to another as a reward for doing something exemplary. The benefits come not just in the delivery and reception of well-earned praise, but afterward as well. As Kjerulf explains, “other employees stopping by immediately notice the elephant and go, ‘Hey, you got the elephant. What’d you do?’, which of course means that the good stories and best practices get told and re-told many times.”
Chip Conley, CEO of a wildly successful chain of boutique hotels, makes time at the end of his executive meetings to allow one person to talk for one minute about someone in the company who deserves recognition . . . Everyone else gets a mood boost as well—they get to hear about the good work being done at their company, and then they spend the next few days thinking about the good work of other employees they’d like to recommend during the next meeting.
Based on Losada’s extensive mathematical modeling, 2.9013 is the ratio of positive to negative interactions necessary to make a corporate team successful.
In 1979, Langer designed a week-long experiment on a group of 75-year-old men.1 The men knew little about the nature of the experiment except that they would be gone for a week at a retreat center, and they could bring along no pictures, newspapers, magazines, or books dated later than 1959. When they arrived, the men were gathered into a room and told that for the next week they were to pretend as though it was the year 1959–a time when these 75-year-old men were merely 55 years young . . . After the retreat, most of the men had improved in every category; they were significantly more flexible, had better posture, and even much-improved hand strength. Their average eyesight even improved by almost 10 percent, as did their performance on tests of memory. In over half the men, intelligence, long thought to be fixed from adolescence, moved up as well. Even their physical appearance changed; random people who didn’t know anything about the experiment were shown pictures of the men both before and after the experiment, and asked to guess their age. Based on these objective ratings, the men looked, on average, three years younger than when they arrived.
In one of my favorite all-time experiments, Japanese researchers blindfolded a group of students and told them their right arms were being rubbed with a poison ivy plant.3 Afterward, all 13 of the students’ arms reacted with the classic symptoms of poison ivy: itching, boils, and redness. Not surprising … until you find out that the plant used for the study wasn’t poison ivy at all, just a harmless shrub. The students’ beliefs were actually strong enough to create the biological effects of poison ivy, even though no such plant had touched them. Then, on the students’ other arm, the researchers rubbed actual poison ivy, but told them it was a harmless plant. Even though all 13 students were highly allergic, only 2 of them broke out into the poison ivy rash!
One study of 112 entry-level accountants found that those who believed they could accomplish what they set out to do were the ones who ten months later scored the best job performance ratings from their supervisors.
Now fast-forward to the twentieth century, to one of the most well-known psychology experiments ever performed. A team of researchers led by Robert Rosenthal went into an elementary school and administered intelligence tests to the students. The researchers then told the teachers in each of the classrooms which students—say, Sam, Sally, and Sarah—the data had identified as academic superstars, the ones with the greatest potential for growth. [However,] when Sam, Sally, and Sarah had been tested at the beginning of the experiment, they were found to be absolutely, wonderfully ordinary. The researchers had randomly picked their names and then lied to the teachers about their ability. But after the experiment, they had in fact turned into academic superstars.
When you write down a list of “three good things” that happened that day, your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for potential positives—things that brought small or large laughs, feelings of accomplishment at work, a strengthened connection with family, a glimmer of hope for the future.
It’s for this reason that, however counterintuitive it may seem, psychologists actually recommend that we fail early and often. In his book The Pursuit of Perfect, Tal Ben-Shahar writes that “we can only learn to deal
You’ve probably heard the oft-told story of the two shoe salesmen who were sent to Africa in the early 1900s to assess opportunities. They wired separate telegrams back to their boss. One read: “Situation hopeless. They don’t wear shoes.” The other read: “Glorious opportunity! They don’t have any shoes yet.”
Imagine for a moment that you walk into a bank. There are 50 other people in the bank. A robber walks in and fires his weapon once. You are shot in the right arm. Now if you were honestly describing this event to your friends and coworkers the next day, do you describe it as lucky or unlucky?
Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.
To date, I’ve discussed Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End at least three separate times at at least three separate parties. Author and doctor Atul Gawande is everyone’s favorite author-doctor right now, and for good reason: he takes on a subject that no one likes to discuss but that everyone will one day face, offering valuable and practical advice. Two thumbs and two big toes up. (Questionably tasteful imagery intended.)
The book discusses the best way to broach the topic of hospice, life expectancy and other end-of-life issues. It also discusses how to make old age meaningful, even if that means less medical intervention rather than more. Gawande’s description of the difficulty of treating senior citizens, with their multiplicity of small and large concerns, is also very admirably done.
And it happens to us: eventually, one too many joints are damaged, one too many arteries calcify. There are no more backups. We wear down until we can’t wear down anymore. It happens in a bewildering array of ways . . .
Making lives meaningful in old age is new. It therefore requires more imagination and invention than making them merely safe does. The routine solutions haven’t yet become well defined.
In other words, people who had substantive discussions with their doctor about their end-of-life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation and to spare their family anguish.