supercheesegirl: (buddha - be a light)
I read this in November/December 2015 but didn't realize I was on the last page and could've finished it a few weeks ago; it's been languishing in my bag for a while now. This was a quick, easy, gentle, and helpful read for anyone considering taking on a leadership role of any sort in their worship community, no matter what faith they practice.
supercheesegirl: (buddha - travel well)
Full title: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.

This was a fun read, especially having some background in meditation. Dan Harris has a funny and sharp narrative voice; the reader finds him really relatable and sympathetic, really normal despite being a TV personality. That gives the book a different feel than most other meditation books out there which are written by experts, not because they're bad books but because it's very easy to roll your eyes and assume you can't do it. Dan Harris is just like the rest of us and he did it, and his telling of his experience makes meditation feel achievable. This book could be a good gateway for a lot of people to deeper reading on meditation. Highly recommended.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living is based on conversations that Howard C. Cutler, MD, a psychiatrist, had with the Dalai Lama over several years. The author's introductory note states that the purpose of the book was to collaborate "on a project that would present the Dalai Lama's views on leading a happier life, augmented by [Cutler's] own observations and commentary from the perspective of a Western psychiatrist" (ix).

Cutler chose to organize the book's content thematically. The topics include the following:

Part I: The Purpose of Life (hint: it has to do with happiness)
Part II: Human Warmth and Compassion
Part III: Transforming Suffering
Part IV: Overcoming Obstacles
Part V: Closing Reflections on Living a Spiritual Life

Each part except for Part V is comprised of three or four chapters discussing related topics. Cutler will often introduce a topic by giving a brief overview of the Dalai Lama's thoughts, then will delve into the psychology behind the issue before returning to H.H.'s viewpoint and suggestions for dealing with the issue. Overall I feel like Cutler succeeds in meshing the sometimes very different viewpoints of Tibetan Buddhism and Western psychiatry, and I enjoyed the stories that both of them had to offer, but there were times when Cutler just didn't seem to get what the Dalai Lama was saying and vice versa. In those instances, I was more interested in hearing the Dalai Lama's viewpoint and just wanted Cutler to stop harping on whatever it was already, but overall this was pretty rare; I tended to enjoy both viewpoints.

One thing that I found interesting was how the Dalai Lama talks about eliminating negative states of mind. Just as in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the Dalai Lama agrees that one of the best ways to eliminate these states of mind is to think of positive ones instead. For example,

"When talking about eliminating negative states of mind, there is one point that should be born in mind. Within Buddhist practice, the cultivation of certain specific positive mental qualities such as patience, tolerance, kindness, and so on can act as specific antidotes to negative states of mind such as anger, hatred, and attachment. Applying antidotes such as love and compassion can significantly reduce the degree or influence of the mental and emotional afflictions" (239).

This passage comes in Part IV, Overcoming Obstacles, in Chapter 12, Bringing About Change. This view fits in so well, to me, with Patanjali's words in Sutra II.33: "When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of." I was really impressed and excited that Buddhist thought on this topic meshes so nicely with the yoga sutras.

The Dalai Lama's wisdom is practical and straightforward; you can tell that he himself practices the same techniques he recommends. The book also includes instructions for several meditation practices (like this one), written in the Dalai Lama's own words from transcripts of his talks. These are scattered throughout the book, as this isn't intended as a meditation manual, but it's nice that they're included in places that make sense thematically.

Overall, I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the Dalai Lama, one of the holiest and most revered people alive today, and to understand his perspective, his kindness, and his compassion.
supercheesegirl: (books - petals)
I really enjoyed this collection of essays for practitioners of alternative spirituality who want to foster spiritual growth for their children. I found the chapters on meditation with children particularly helpful. It was due back at the library, so I didn't finish reading it and never got to the later chapters on older children, but that's not really pertinent for me right now anyway. I would definitely consider checking it out again in the future.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
I found Cope's approach to this book pretty fascinating. Read more... )
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
As a book on meditation, Mathieu Ricard's ​Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill​ is the best of both worlds, presenting both a spiritual and a scientific perspective. Ricard left a promising career in biology and genetics to become a Buddhist monk, so he uniquely understands both perspectives and is fascinated by the scientific study of the brain and how meditation affects, on a biological level, the way we think. ​Happiness​ is at once a guide to how meditation can improve our lives and help us to become happier and a thorough description of why it works, written in language accessible to any reader. Read more... )

(Cross-posted to my yoga blog)
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche's The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness is an excellent and informative book and a good practical manual for meditation. A wide variety of meditation techniques are discussed, in language that makes them accessible to even the most un-Buddhist of readers. Mingyur (Rinpoche is an honorific given to respected teachers) is a kind and encouraging teacher; his writing style is very natural and conversational, helping you feel as if he's right there beside you to help along the way.

The book is divided into three main sections. Part One: The Ground begins by describing Mingyur's early life and training in meditation and his journey toward overcoming anxiety. He's an engaging storyteller, and it's comforting to hear that even a monk who grew up meditating from childhood can still struggle with his mind. This section also discusses the connection between the ancient Buddhist practices of meditation and modern advances in neuroscience, physics, and biology. Raised in isolated monasteries, Mingyur is fascinated with Western science and has worked with many scientists to learn about the brain's workings and the structure of the universe and compare them with the Buddhist understanding of the mind and reality. While interesting, this area was not as strong as other sections - these discussions could have benefited from a scientist coauthor to help refine and make specific Mingyur's comparisons. However, Mingyur does make a good case for meditation as valuable and needed in the West, and his ideas here are well worth reading.

In Part Two: The Path and Part Three: The Fruit, Mingyur is at his best, carefully walking the reader through the basics of meditation. He provides a firm foundation for beginners, with examples from his own history as guidance. Beyond the basics, he details a variety of different meditation techniques that will appeal to new and experienced students alike. He asserts that it is the intention to meditate that is most important, not the actual time spent on it or whether your mind wanders off in the middle. Mingyur strives to make meditation available to everyone.

I began reading this book back in February 2011 and just finished it this month, but the long reading time is due to my own crazy schedule this year, not any failing of Mingyur's. I've actually posted about this book on several other occasions because as I read I found his words so encouraging and insightful. I highly recommend this book to anyone hoping to begin or deepen a meditation practice.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
Swami Vivekananda lived from 1863 to 1902 and is best known for his address at the Parliament of Religions in 1893, which helped to bring Hinduism to the modern world as a major religion. Vivekananda wrote a number of books, some of which are based on his lectures, and Karma-Yoga is one of these. In this book, Vivekananda expands on the concept of Karma yoga as set out in the Bhagavad Gita. The copy that I read is borrowed from the library at the college where my husband works; it's a tiny little book, maybe 4" x 5", and only 143 pages, but Vivekananda's explication of Karma yoga really moved me and helped me to understand how the path of Karma yoga can work in my life. Because the book was published so long ago, you can read the whole thing online, so feel free to check it out! If you're interested in the topic, this book is well worth the time. Read my full review behind the cut. )
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
The Upanishads are a group of ancient wisdom texts. Each individual upanishad is named for the sage who delivered its teaching, long ago; each one describes in flashes of insight how to explore your own consciousness, how to come closer to the Divine. Some of the upanishads take the form of a story: a student (or a wife, or even a king) implores a great sage (or even Death itself) to share holy secrets. Most of the upanishads rely on classic natural images - birds, trees, water - that make the metaphors timeless and appealing even thousands of years after they were written.

It's impossible to write an unbiased book review of a cherished spiritual text - how could I possibly critique the writing style or the structure of a book like this? So this review will be a little more personal. I loved The Upanishads. They called out to me in a way other spiritual books, including the Bible, just haven't. I expect to keep The Upanishads by my bed, read them again and again, consult different translations, flip through seeking guidance. It can be a difficult book, and I don't ever expect to understand it fully, but I loved it.

While the text itself is beyond critique, the translation and the version I can comment on. I really like Eknath Easwaran's translations (I also read his version of the Bhagavad Gita). Easwaran is well-versed in Sanskrit and in Hindu spirituality, and before becoming a spiritual teacher was an English professor, so he has all the tools to create both a beautiful and accurate rendition. Easwaran also writes the introduction, which I found helpful for putting The Upanishads in their historical context and setting the stage for the sort of text I was about to read (since when I started I really had no idea what I was getting into). This volume also includes a brief 2-3 page introduction before each upanishad, written by Michael Nagler. These I also found informative, and it was helpful to look as I read for the points that Nagler had called out as being important, but I think I would have preferred to read the upanishad first and then read Nagler's summary of it. Nagler also writes a lengthy afterword, which I did not find very useful. The end matter includes a glossary and a section of notes, which I didn't realize were there as I was reading the upanishads, and I think I'm glad I didn't know they were there - I'm the sort of person who will flip back and forth consulting the notes, and I'm glad I was able simply to experience the upanishads on this first read rather than analyzing them academically. There will be plenty of time to look at the notes and read other translations. The glossary might have been helpful a few times, though, and I imagine it would be very useful to someone who hasn't spent the past ten months up to her ears in yoga philosophy.

Overall, I would say that if you're new to Hindu spirituality, I wouldn't recommend starting with The Upanishads - the Bhagavad Gita is a much more accessible book for most people. For me, though, The Upanishads was more inviting, more enthralling than the Gita, and more accessible too. The first time I read the Gita I walked away thinking that it was nice and all but nothing great, and I needed the lectures and discussion of my yoga teacher training course to put the Gita's systems in context and help me understand what I was reading. With The Upanishads, I felt like I could really hear the sages speaking directly to me: faraway, murky, blurred voices, sure, but I could hear it. I look forward to listening again and again.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
The Bhagavad Gita is one of India's best known scriptures. It tells the story of Arjuna, a warrior on the eve of battle who has lost heart and become uncertain as to his duty. Arjuna turns to his spiritual guide, Krishna, for answers to all the key questions of life, questions about wisdom and service and spirituality. The battle that Arjuna is about to fight is the perfect metaphor for life and the interior battle we all fight to live a life that is meaningful and fulfilling. The Gita, in essence, is a manual for how to live.

For my yoga teacher training, we were asked to read a translation of the Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran. On the back cover, Easwaran's version is described as "reliable" and "readable", and this is definitely true. Easwaran opens the book with an introduction to the Gita, setting the scene, and then each chapter of the Gita opens with a brief introduction that explicates the content of that chapter. This makes the story easy to follow, and really helps in understanding the context of Arjuna's and Krishna's conversation. The endmatter of the book includes a section of notes (typically, helpful insights on issues of translation), as well as a glossary of Sanskrit terms and an index. Easwaran's version really focuses on making the Gita accessible for the reader, so this version is a great place to start if you're reading the Gita for the first time.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
Full title: The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman's Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras

I first read this book a little over a year ago but reread it for yoga teacher training. It was interesting to read in conjunction with the other translation my teachers chose for the class.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
The Yoga Sutras, the key text in the study of yoga, is an ancient text dating back at least 2000 years. The sutras were compiled by the sage Patanjali (pah-TAN-ja-lee). Patanjali didn't invent the concept of yoga, but he made a system of it by bringing together all the existing teachings and traditions and giving them a structure for students to follow. The word "sutra" means "thread" - the text is a collection of almost 200 brief "threads" of wisdom. Patanjali used as few words as possible in each sutra with the idea that students would be learning from an established teacher, who would expound upon each sutra in turn. Sri Swami Satchidananda takes on that role in this translation of the sutras and the accompanying commentary.

The sutras are traditionally grouped into four books: Book One, Contemplation; Book Two, Practice; Book Three, Accomplishments; and Book Four, Absoluteness. For most students, just reading Books One and Two is sufficient - the last two books contain the more esoteric teachings. For my teacher training we actually started by jumping right in with Book Two, the practical teachings, and this certainly isn't a bad idea. For Patanjali, the physical practice of yoga is simply a means of calming the mind, and the vast majority of the sutras are about the mind; it can be a little easier for the modern student to begin with the practical sutras in Book Two before working on the contemplative sutras in Book One.

This version of the sutras follows a helpful format: for each sutra, the original Sanskrit is given, along with the Sanskrit transliteration, the literal translation, and finally a translation set in readable English prose. This is a helpful structure because it can appeal both to the serious Sanskrit student as well as to the beginning student (who can just skip right to the English). After each sutra follows commentary from Swami Satchidananda. At first I found the commentary to be rather dry, but after journeying through the whole book I came to enjoy his tone and appreciate his stories. Satchidananda's translations of the sutras are very straightforward, and his commentary really elucidates each sutra and gets to the heart of what Patanjali is saying.

Overall, this is a good translation of the Yoga Sutras for beginning students, and for those who have studied the sutras before, Satchidananda's commentary is a worthwhile reason to choose this edition for a re-read.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
I read this last fall, but I had to reread it for yoga teacher training. Really enjoyable to read the book in a different context - last time I was looking mostly at the poetry, this time at the content, the instructions for how to live. Got more out of it this time.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
(cross-posting from the yoga blog)

Eknath Easwaran's book Passage Meditation: Bringing the Deep Wisdom of the Heart into Daily Life is a kind, thoughtful guide to meditation for beginners and more experienced practitioners alike. Mr. Easwaran takes the tone of a helpful friend and mentor; the book is an easy read that makes meditation seem doable.

Mr. Easwaran starts by discussing the many benefits of meditation, describing how he came to meditation in the first place as a busy young professor at a university in India. He then details his method for meditation: in essence, to find a passage from spiritual literature that appeals to you and touches you deeply, to memorize that passage, and then to repeat it, word by word, in your mind during your meditation practice. Remembering each word of the passage gives your mind something to focus on. In addition, Mr. Easwaran believes that we are what we think about, and if you spend time thinking about an inspiring passage, that passage will become part of your consciousness, enabling you to become a better person.

You could probably start practicing this simple passage meditation technique just based on my description above, but Mr. Easwaran's book is so finely written and so pleasant to read that I recommend it strongly. The rest of the book discusses the benefits of a personal mantra in daily life and of slowing down instead of racing through each day; Easwaran also talks about improving concentration and training the senses (pratyahara), and other just good ideas for spiritual practice, such as putting others first and finding companions to practice with.

Not since reading Thich Nhat Hanh's Peace is Every Step have I been able to recommend a book of spiritual instruction so highly. I loved this book. It is appropriate for any spiritual seeker regardless of religious tradition, as Mr. Easwaran is conscientious about using inclusive language and making his meditation techniques accessible to all. Mr. Easwaran is well read in the religious scriptures of many traditions and recommends spiritual passages from writers as diverse as St. Teresa of Avila to the Buddha. I highly look forward to reading more of Mr. Easwaran's work.
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
(cross-posting from the yoga blog)

Moola Bandha: The Master Key describes a system of muscle exercises and locks that lead to a release of pranic energy in the body and ultimately to spiritual enlightenment. Swami Buddhananda defines a "bandha" as a bind, restraint, or lock. The idea is that "by locking or contracting certain muscles on the physical level a subtle process of 'unlocking' goes on simultaneously on mental and pranic levels" (2). By working with bandhas in conjunction with pranayama breathing exercises, a variety of physical benefits are said to occur, calming the heart rate and blood pressure, harmonizing the function of bodily systems, and creating a sense of relaxation. Bandha practice is also said to improve flow of pranic energy in the body, activating the chakras and leading to the release of kundalini energy and to heightened states of consciousness.

The most important of these muscle locks or bandhas is moola bandha, or perineal contraction, the subject of this book. "Moola" means root or foundation, and moola bandha refers to the contraction of the muscles at the "root" of the spine/trunk at the perineum. The physical contraction of moola bandha is useful in treating problems of the lower abdomen such as digestive or sexual disorders. However, moola bandha also involves a spiritual/psychic contraction of the mooladhara chakra. This has the effect of activating our latent sexual energy and channeling it upward for spiritual awakening.

The first half of the book gives background on bandhas and moola bandha in particular, as well as on mooladhara chakra and kundalini energy; it situates moola bandha in the context of ancient scripture, discusses physical aspects and pranic effects of moola bandha, and describes how moola bandha can be used in a therapeutic context. Thus prepared, the reader can move on to the second half of the book, which details several practices of moola bandha, including specific instructions and illustrations. This provides the real meat of the book - everything that came before is simply building to this point. The section on practices operns with techniques appropriate for any beginner, then moves on to gradually more advanced techniques as the aspirant progresses in her practice. Attention is paid to the anatomic differences between men and women as applied to the practice of moola bandha, making this book a good resource for truly any spiritual seeker.

(From a personal standpoint, I realized while reading this book that I won't be making any forward progress on my spiritual journey, at least not through moola bandha, until I can get over my inner 12-year-old boy. This book is about clenching all the muscles in pelvic region! The author uses words like "heighten", "sensitivity", "stimulation", and "contraction" all on the same page (65). Kundalini energy is depicted as a big snake. The beginner practices instruct one to focus on the genitals--really focus your awareness intensely, breathing into the genitals--and then to contract and relax the genitals rhythmically. After this practice, one is intended to go on to meditation. Meditation! After sitting and focusing intently on the genitals, contracting them rhythmically, who's going to be in the mood for meditation next? (The short answer here is: probably not me.) On the other hand, improved muscle control in the genital region can't really ever be a bad thing, so I figure I'll try out the exercises. Whether it leads me to becoming a calmer, more enlightened person or not, my husband won't be complaining.)
supercheesegirl: (yoga - cute lotus sunburst)
Full title: The Royal Path: Practical Lessons on Yoga. Read this for my yoga teacher training, cross-posting this from the yoga blog for consistency.

Yesterday I finished up with this month's assigned reading: The Royal Path: Practical Lessons on Yoga, by Swami Rama. This slim volume is a guide to Ashtanga Yoga: "ashtanga" means "eight", so "ashtanga yoga" is the "eightfold path" of classical yoga described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The eight steps of the path are as follows:

1. yama: moral restraints
2. niyama: moral practices
3. asana: posture
4. pranayama: control of the breath
5. pratyahara: withdrawal and control of the senses
6. dharana: concentration
7. dhyana: meditation
8. samadhi: superconscious meditation or enlightenment

Rama explicates each step on the eightfold path, providing a chapter for almost every step (yamas and niyamas are covered together in one chapter). He does include some description of yoga postures (asana), and some helpful photos, but this is only a portion of what Rama covers; he spends much more time on morality, breath, prana energy, concentration, meditation, and the mind.

For the most part, I really enjoyed what Rama had to say, and I found that reading this book deepened my reading of the Yoga Sutras. There were a few areas, though, where this book fell a little flat for me.

First, Rama's prose can be dated at times. The original book was published in 1979, and Rama's writing is surprisingly gendered. Here's an example:

The central teaching of yoga is that man's true nature is divine, perfect, and infinite. He is unaware of this divinity because he falsely identifies himself with his body, mind, and the objects of the external world. (2-3)

The sentiment here is interesting and well worth discussion, but his phrasing makes me cringe: man's true nature? He falsely identifies himself? I thought we got away from that sort of rhetoric years ago, even before the 1970s when this was written, and even so, I would have thought that the Himalayan Institute would have updated this in the new editions published in 1996 and 1998. Clearly Rama is talking about not man but humanity, not male yogis only but any yoga practitioner, but it still feels exclusionary to me, and the whole book is written like this. I did not feel like I personally was included in Rama's definition of a yogi except for the parts where he specifically discusses women. This could be easily corrected in future editions, and I hope the Himalayan Institute does so.

Another thing that bothered me is that Rama fully believes that any disease can be cured with the mind. I know full well that the mind has astonishing powers for healing, but at one point he says, "If unwanted and undesirable thoughts are controlled, all diseases will vanish" (94). Really? Rama's sentiment has some value, because we've all heard stories about people who were able, through prayer or positive thinking or holistic measures, to cure themselves. But not everything can be cured that way. What's more, to say that diseases can be cured by positive thoughts could lead to blaming the patient for not getting better or for getting sick in the first place. That one line on page 94 bothered me so much that I had to shut the book for a day.

Similarly, Rama will talk about how meditation has been known and practiced in the Western world for generations, but most of Western society wasn't ready for it, so all our Western saints practiced meditation in secret, as if there's a big esoteric cover-up going on. Yes, St. Teresa of Avila communed with God, and what she practiced may have been a form of meditation, but was she practicing techniques passed down in secret from Indian gurus? I think probably not. Hinduism and Buddhism are strong and powerful traditions, but there are many paths. When Rama made claims like this, I couldn't help reading it skeptically.

I'm describing the things that I found troublesome in the book, but really these things are pretty minor in comparison to what Rama does achieve, which is a strong book and a good guide to the practice of yoga. It's definitely a worthwhile read and I plan to return to it in the future as I progress through the sutras and work more on meditation.
supercheesegirl: (buddha - be a light)
This was pretty good, informative and interesting at all. It didn't capture my interest in quite the same way as some of the other books I've read on this topic. Guess I'm not a Buddhist.
supercheesegirl: (happy beach)
My company's women's network sponsored an event where we got to hear Gretchen Rubin speak and I was able to get a free signed copy of this book! And I really loved it. Rubin spends a year exhaustively researching happiness--what famous people have written about it, what conventional wisdom says will make us happy, what studies show is important, and more--and works to distill "happiness" down to what it means for her specifically to be happy. Every month she focuses on a different aspect of happiness (energy, marriage, fun, spirituality, etc.) and identifies key areas to focus on, things she can improve right now in her own life. She uses charts and journals to track her progress (which she finds to be crucial), and starts a blog, where she both inspires others and receives inspiration from around the world. I found her journey to be fascinating, fun, and endearing. I have too much going on right now to start a happiness project of my own (yes, I know, if I can't make time for it now then when can I, but I honestly have another major year-long project about to start), but I'm going to make my husband read this, and then I'm going to read it again next year and see where it takes me.
supercheesegirl: (buddha - be a light)
I really enjoyed this. Suzuki has a simple, calming voice in his writing. It was interesting too to see Buddhism from the Zen perspective--I hadn't read any Zen books before.

Here's one quote that I liked:
"If you are suffering, you will have some pleasure in the teaching that everything changes. When you are in trouble, it is quite easy to accept the teaching. So why not accept it at other times? It is the same thing. Sometimes you may laugh at yourself, discovering how selfish you are. But no matter how you feel about the this teaching, it is very important for you to change your way of thinking and accept the truth of transiency." (page 100)
supercheesegirl: (books - hugged by words)
Full title: The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion & Purpose.
From the title it sounds as though this book is going to be full of nothing but self-help feel-good bullshit, and it was, but a lot of it was actually decent.

I'm going to start with all the things I hated first, to get it out of the way. In the first third of the book, Kelly hardly mentions God at all, and when he does it's very non-denominational, but by the time we're halfway through the book it's like he's forgotten to be PC and we're hearing Bible stories and casual mentions about the power of Jesus to help us. This is NOT billed as a Christian book on the cover blurb, so I was a little shocked, but Kelly doesn't really go overboard with it--it's more like he just assumes that all his readers will have the same belief system he has. It got on my nerves, but most of what he says really can be applied to any belief system--for example he goes on and on about prayer, but just substitute "meditation" or whatever and it's applicable. No excuses, Kelly definitely should have tried harder on this front to make his book work for a wider audience, but whatever.

Other issues were that Kelly uses a LOT of cliches throughout the book, and although you can tell he means it earnestly, sometimes it comes off sounding hollow. I mean, yes, follow your dreams, but how many times have we been told to follow our dreams? He also uses many examples from the lives of famous successful people. When it's someone not as obvious, like the manager of the Beatles, it was interesting, but pulling out these stories from Mother Teresa's or da Vinci's or St. Francis's lives didn't feel as compelling to me. Even though I might not have read the story before, it felt like I had read the story before, you know? Also, again with the lack of diversity--most of the examples are from the lives of white Western Christian people. He'll toss Gandhi or Mandela onto a list but he didn't really go outside his immediate comfort zone to explore a successful person from a different culture. There were also a few things he says that are just blatantly erroneous. For example: "History also teaches us that the Roman Empire gave way to a wonderful period in history: the Middle Ages. Culturally, socially, politically, economically, and spiritually, the Middle Ages were a vibrant and vital time of growth, discovery, and progress" (285). Um, what? There's so much wrong with that statement that I'm just going to give him the benefit of the doubt here and assume he meant to say the Renaissance, but still. Had his editor just given up by this point?

All that aside, Kelly does have some valuable points to make in this book. He genuinely wants all people to be able to become their best selves and find happiness and peace. Kelly believes that people are happiest when we're working towards becoming the best versions of ourselves; he acknowledges that fun and pleasure are part of enjoying life, but what you really need to do are to take responsibility, work hard, and believe in what you're doing in order to find happiness. Everything we do is a choice, so choose to follow your dreams and believe in yourself. All those examples from the lives of famous people illustrate that what they have in common is they believe that nothing is impossible and that they can achieve their dreams. The techniques that Kelly advocates for success are simple: understand that you have basic needs (not just food, water, shelter, but also love, healthy relationships, healthy food, exercise, intellectual stimulation, and spiritual growth). Acknowledge that these needs are legitimate, and make sure they are fulfilled, every day. Take time to pray (or meditate, or have quiet time to yourself in the garden, or whatever) because it recharges your spirit; take one day a week to rest, and beyond that, work hard and never give up on your goal, never forget for a moment what it is you want to accomplish. It's a system that makes sense to me, which is why I kept reading. Recommended if you're interested in a life plan like this (and can either sympathize with or set aside the Christian stuff).

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