Reviews written by Marta Freundlich
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We all experience distressful situations in our lives. Usually we want to avoid them or wish they had never happened: rarely do we believe they are a pathway to greater peace and happiness for ourselves and for others. In The Power of Compassion, Pamela Bloom, a practicing Buddhist and Minister shows us that through the transformational power of compassionate acts, every experience can become a vehicle for greater understanding and healing.
Bloom's beautifully compiled and written book, is full of wisdom and profound insights and yet, like all good books, is easy to read. It consists of forty inspirational stories of kindness and love told by the famous and the not so famous. They range from simple acts of compassion to ones dealing with torture and even life and death situations. The more challenging situations are just as compelling to read, as there is nothing gratuitous in the graphic details. They merely serve to further illustrate that by opening our hearts and letting love govern our actions, we are able to heal even the greatest horrors in this world.
Bloom’s book is a gentle introduction to Buddhism for those unfamiliar with its teachings. It is not about doctrines but shows clearly how a deeply reflective understanding of the interconnectedness and the goodness of life, coupled with compassionate action, brings great healing and blessings to the giver too and can be a path to enlightenment. As the Dalai Lama says, "My religion is compassion."
To help us to become more compassionate with others and just as importantly with ourselves, Bloom offers practical help by including several meditations. However, I found that reading this inspiring book is a meditation in itself as it opened my heart. Whether it is read from cover to cover, or used as a daily dip into healing waters, The Power of Compassion will help you to remember that no matter what type of loving-kindness action is taken, what is important, is the purity of intention underlying it, coupled with the understanding that when we serve others, we are truly serving ourselves.
I am always a bit suspicious of self-help books that exhort us to cease looking for validation and help outside of ourselves (like reading self-help books!) as Kristen Moeller in her first book, ‘Waiting for Jack’, tell us to do. However, her message to let go of the constant need for self-development and ‘to stop waiting for outside remedies for external change and simply start living your life’, is delivered with candor, passion and humor.
Letting go of the constant need for self-development and getting on with life is sound advice, but it does come from a self-confessed, self-help junkie who has had masses of therapy, and has acquired lots of self-help tools to reach this conclusion. Moeller shares this knowledge and lessons as she guides us through the ups and downs of her life experiences with honesty. Her message is that happiness and fulfillment can only be achieved by accepting ourselves with love and gratitude, and by making the necessary changes in our lives by what she calls, a ‘fierce disruption of the ordinary’, instead of waiting to be ready for them.
Moeller’s style, which reflects her background as a self-help coach and talk show presenter, has been likened to talking to a close friend over a cup of coffee. This makes ‘Waiting for Jack’ easy to read and upbeat but it can also be frustrating for those requiring a deeper analysis or for complex issues and needs: there is a lot of ‘what’ to do but not much on the 'how'. Nevertheless there is plenty of material to engage with, and for those who need a kick in the proverbial bottom to make some changes in their lives and to finally start living their dreams, this may just be the book to inspire them.
“Life After Death: The Evidence” is not about ghosts or mediumship. It is an ambitious and contentious book in which a reasonable case is made for the survival of consciousness after death based on logic and rationality without having recourse to scripture and revelation. D’Souza, a man of strong Christian faith, continues to propel this debate into the 21st century, building on his previous work and challenging atheists at their own game by using arguments and theories from theoretical physics, evolutionary biology, psychology, cosmology, neuroscience and moral philosophy, to prove his case.
D'Souza is a clear and disciplined thinker and he presents the material in a thoughtful and scholarly way. His humor and accessible examples help to guide the reader skillfully through the material but it may not be an easy read for those unfamiliar with the history of Western science and philosophy. He covers a wide range of subjects and this book should be seen as a multifaceted approach to the debate on life after death with no single argument standing on its own. However his conclusions are not entirely convincing and the reader should be cautious in accepting the arguments he presents. After stating a hypothesis and presenting selective theories, he then chooses the conclusion that supports his beliefs. In themselves they do not provide concrete evidence.
To provide “unshakeable scientific evidence” that consciousness survives brain death, D’Souza offers documented studies of Near Death Experiences (NDEs). This shows his courage to step out of the fold as these are often treated with derision by religious thinkers. Out-of-body experiences recalled by people who have been revived after clinical death do bear a certain similarity, and the cases cited are interesting to read. However, these do not provide D’Souza with the empirical evidence he needs, as they are anecdotal, and many alternative reasons have been suggested for their occurrence.
Future empirical studies of NDEs may indeed provide incontrovertible proof that there is life after death. If that does happen, Western secular thought would truly be challenged and even the most stubborn atheists would need to reevaluate their beliefs. Until then, this book may not convert the atheist, but it will probably provide food for thought for the open-minded agnostic and it will certainly underpin the faith of the believer.
If reading other people’s success stories inspires you, this is the book for you. Best selling author, business and management consultant and inspirational keynote speaker, BJ Gallagher draws on a variety of experiences to show that it is possible to live the life you have always wanted, even if circumstances, fears, or other people's expectations have prevented you from doing so. "It’s Never Too Late…" has humor, is short, and is easy to read. However don’t be fooled by its apparent simplicity, as Gallagher delivers a strong motivational punch for you to discover, or rediscover, your passions and to live a happier life.
Gallagher does not suggest that your life until now has been meaningless or a mistake; all experiences, talents, and skills are embraced as stepping-stones. She explores different stages in life such as starting out on a career, changing life’s trajectory midstream, and retirement, as well as education, health, and relationships, but more emphasis is placed on career, wealth, and finances. Interwoven with the success narratives are guidelines and advice on how to make creative changes for a more meaningful life. There are a few bullet points but if you are looking for lists of concrete steps, you might not find this book that useful.
The stories are inspirational, but they can become a bit repetitive with most of the people having a financial cushion, college education, a broad range of talents, abilities and skills, and emotional support. At first glance it would seem there is little relevance in today's economic climate where downgraded work aspirations are more the norm. However, Gallagher does provide encouragement and offers suggestions on how to become more creative. For people facing unemployment, this might be the time to discover what could bring them more fulfillment in life and work, and this book may provide the confidence and tools to do something toward that.
Are you looking for deeper insight, more peace and happiness in your life, and want to contribute positively to our world? If you are, "Be The Change" may just be the book for you. Deb and Ed Shapiro, authors of fourteen other books on meditation, personal development and social action, have written an inspiring book, skillfully weaving these three topics together with the intention of encouraging readers, through meditation, to become more aware, kind and compassionate: all essential qualities for making the world a better place.
We understand that meditation calms the mind, helps us to be still and to pay attention, and to become more present in the moment. The authors up the ante by suggesting that through practice, we become more deeply connected with who we are, and thus recognize our connection with everyone and everything else in the world. This process fosters greater understanding and compassion, with a two-fold effect: it changes people and their behavior, and therefore, changes the world. "Meditation is naturally extended through generosity, sharing, and serving; the antidotes to selfishness, greed, and desire.”
What makes this book so inspiring and engaging, and different from many other books on meditation, is the Shapiros’ effective use of narratives from more than a hundred people. This makes the format lively, the content more intimate, and the motivation to meditate more compelling. The contributors, including HH the Dalai Lama, celebrities, authors, people suffering from mental and physical ill-health, prison inmates and meditation experts (a contributor’s biography is included), speak candidly about the circumstances that led them to meditate and what positive benefits they get from their practice. Sometimes the narratives do interrupt the flow, but they provide the reader with plenty of material to relate to.
If you have tried to meditate before but lacked the willpower to stick with it, "Be The Change" will motivate you. The book concludes with a variety of meditation techniques, including sounding and moving activities, which can be useful for those who find it difficult to sit still. According to the Shapiros, there is no right or wrong way to meditate: "All we need to do is keep coming back to the breath or practice, be willing to keep going and give it time. Our intent is more important than what happens."
If you want to experience more joy and find greater meaning in your life in a way that is fun and easy to do, this is the book for you. Best-selling author Dr. Bernie Siegel’s eighth book is exactly what it says it is: a collection of exercises that will help you to live more fully in the moment. It is designed as an upbeat program with Siegel as your personal coach to help you to develop a greater sense of wellbeing.
Siegel is a long-standing proponent of alternative healing. He explains that we may understand the rationale for exercising our bodies but do not pay sufficient attention to exercising our souls. By exercising all aspects of our being, we can “enhance our ability to live and love with enthusiasm and vigor, and increase our ability to overcome any difficulties or obstacles we encounter along the way.”
101 Exercises for the Soul is a short book comprising of twenty chapters, each with its own specific theme and a coaching tip. The exercises offered are deceptively simple: for example Number 43, “Your Theme Song—Music for Inspiration.” In this exercise you are asked to pick a song in which the beat and the words inspire your life. Make this your theme song and every time you hear it, it will uplift you.
101 Exercises is lighthearted and yet there is power in the simplicity and valuable nuggets of common sense wisdom for daily use. This format may not appeal to those who require deeper explanations and a more rigorous discipline for their soul’s growth. However, the wisdom and spiritual insight revealed in this book, together with Siegel’s guidance and encouragement, may help others to develop a lightness of being and bring more fulfillment to their lives.
We have often been told that by altering our thoughts, deeds and words, we can create a happier, more fulfilled life. This book, at the intersection between psychology, neuroscience, and Buddhism, offers effective methods to show us how to live such a life by being fully present in the moment.
Hanson and Mendius, a neuropsychologist and a neurologist and both practicing Buddhists, show us just how the brain programs us to experience the world a certain way by combining information from the external world with information held in neural pathways within the brain. These pathways operate in the background of our awareness, influencing our conscious mental activity. Unless we consciously interrupt this process, we are destined to develop deeper neural networks and even stronger programming.
The argument that the brain has the ability to simulate the world is not new. What is interesting is how Hanson and Mendius link Buddhist teachings on the causes of suffering (painful situations cannot be avoided but our emotional responses to them can) to the deep programming in our brains caused by ancestral survival strategies. They suggest that this hardwiring helped us survive constant life-threatening situations but is based on erroneous beliefs that we are separate, that it is possible to stabilize an ever changing world, that we can avoid situations that create pain and pursue only those that give us pleasure. None of these beliefs are true or can be attained. Their inherent contradictions cause us to live with an underlying feeling of anxiety taking us away from our true ground of being and causing much physical and psychological ill-health.
The main part of the book is a practical guide and is packed with useful exercises and guided meditations to help us develop a more loving, happier, and wiser state of being. The methods Hanson and Mendius suggest are informed by their experiences as therapists and management consultants, and are rooted in Buddhist teachings on mindfulness, virtue, and wisdom. I particularly liked the way they use neuroscience to underpin the tools they offer, only choosing “methods that have a plausible scientific explanation for how they light up neural networks of contentment, kindness and peace.” Now I know why taking five deep inhalations and exhalations calms me.
Many of their methods show how to activate desired brain states by consciously changing the association between an event and its painful or pleasurable feelings. This can take a long time. Understanding the neuroscience behind the process can help us be compassionate with ourselves when “swimming against ancient currents within our nervous system.”
This book is very informative, with helpful summaries at the end of each chapter. The authors’ writing, even when explaining the intricacies of neuroscience, is infused with humor and fun to read. This is a good working manual to help us to become who we already are, and an important contribution to the growing body of knowledge on the relationship between mind, brain, and consciousness.
Debbie Ford, author of seven best-selling inspirational books, has done it again. No matter what your spiritual beliefs are (although it helps if they include having a soul and wanting to become a more conscious part of a greater divine power), or your level of self-knowledge (the more reflective you are, the more you will get out of it), her latest book will help to guide you gently and kindly in your unique process of psychological and spiritual growth and healing.
In The 21-Day Consciousness Cleanse, Debbie asks you first to find the old movie that keeps playing in your head, the one that has all those limiting beliefs and behaviors, from past disappointments, pain, thwarted expectations, and grief. By recognizing and becoming more objective about your past you can cleanse it compassionately, thus allowing you to live more fully and honestly in the present. You awaken to your true self as part of the divine ‘we’, and live a life of transformation “with grace, guidance and ease.” You become the person your soul longs to be: a self-realized, interconnected planetary being, in loving service to all that is.
This is a practical book and by far Debbie’s most prescriptive. There are three main sections dealing with the past, present, and future. Each day’s theme builds on the last and informs the next. It includes exercises and a daily practice to connect with your inner flame, gauge its strength, and set your own intentions for the day. With the assistance of a mantra, you become increasingly more conscious of the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors needed to support and strengthen your flame. For those needing a little more guidance and support, there is a link to Debbie’s website: www.debbieford.com.
At the end of the day you check in to see if the condition of your internal flame has increased. The consciousness cleanse requires attention and focus for the exercises and practice throughout the day. It is, in fact, a powerful all-day meditation intended to honor the being you truly are.
There is a depth of spiritual wisdom and insight revealed throughout the book, both in the discussions and exercises. Though the material may not always be new to the reader, the way in which it is presented offers a deeper understanding, connection, and compassion for your healing. Under Debbie's guidance, one engenders trust in this process. Emotional and spiritual support is there just when you need it most, so you never feel alone. If you need this type of encouragement, and don’t particularly want to go to a therapist or join a therapy group, this may be your ticket.
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