Review: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations is a collection of twelve books of the personal writings of Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius.  Aurelius was a practitioner of Stoic philosophy and Meditations is the result of analysis of Stoic philosophy and the application of it to his life.

Don’t despair, the book isn’t nearly as long, boring, or complicated to read as you’d expect.  It is quite the opposite.  Short and to the point; Meditations gets to the heart of the issues Aurelius was contemplating and sets out reminders on how to live a good life.

A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behaviour, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. Marcus’ insights and advice—on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others—have made the Meditations required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations of ordinary readers have responded to the straightforward intimacy of his style.” (GoodReads blurb)

I read Gregory Hays’ translation and in his introduction he describes how philosophy was more than a set of ideas to Aurelius and his contemporaries:

“But philosophy also had a more practical dimension. It was not merely a subject to write or argue about, but one that was expected to provide a “design for living”—a set of rules to live one’s life by.”

Meditations, then, is a kind of journal and serves to remind us of simple truths about how we can best live our lives;  a blueprint for successful living.  I enjoyed reading it; he was my kind of guy.  He contemplated life, death, and change a lot; but he also dealt with the smaller, yet equally important, stuff like handling other people.  For example:

“The best revenge is not to be like that.”

I liked that.  When people talk about Meditations, though, they tend to describe it as life-alteringly profound.  And profound it is; but I think a lot of what you find in Meditations you may have heard in some form before.

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the colour of your thoughts.”

This book is a very eloquent reminder of some key pieces of advice that without doubt will help you in your life but which you may already have encountered.  But read it because he’s an interesting guy and he has a great way of putting things.  It’s a classic for a reason.

There’s some advice we may have forgotten as we continue to industrialise and incorporate technology into our lives:

“The world as a living being—one nature, one soul. Keep that in mind. And how everything feeds into that single experience, moves with a single motion. And how everything helps produce everything else. Spun and woven together.”

Even back then people were aware of how important it is to look after nature and each other because we’re all connected.

All in all, to my relief, Meditations wasn’t what I was expecting.  It was a far easier and more comprehensible book than I was expecting having been written so long ago.  It was a pleasant and highly quotable read.Sav

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Review: The Element by Ken Robinson

The Element is a popular personal development book about finding your element; the intersection of your natural talent and your personal passions.  This book is often included on lists about creativity and while it features the stories of many creative people, it is not actually about creativity.

The element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the element, they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at their highest levels. The Element draws on the stories of a wide range of people, from ex-Beatle Paul McCartney to Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons; from Meg Ryan to Gillian Lynne, who choreographed the Broadway productions of Cats and The Phantom of the Opera; and from writer Arianna Huffington to renowned physicist Richard Feynman and others, including business leaders and athletes. It explores the components of this new paradigm: The diversity of intelligence, the power of imagination and creativity, and the importance of commitment to our own capabilities.
With a wry sense of humor, Ken Robinson looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in the element and those that stifle that possibility. He shows that age and occupation are no barrier, and that once we have found our path we can help others to do so as well. The Element shows the vital need to enhance creativity and innovation by thinking differently about human resources and imagination. It is also an essential strategy for transforming education, business, and communities to meet the challenges of living and succeeding in the twenty-first century.
(GoodReads)

The Element is much more about the education system; the shortcomings of a one-size-fits-all system that can’t meet the needs of a varied and diverse society.  Robinson shows us this by collecting the stories of creative and successful people who despite their problems fitting into the education system managed to find success and happiness in finding their element.

The stories are quite interesting.  I especially enjoyed reading the earlier chapters.  The book is very well written and Robinson is an interesting and humorous writer.  Unfortunately, toward the end of the book I began to lose steam because I had different expectations of what this book was about.

It is an interesting and inspiring book, especially so if you’re interested in the education system and changing that system to suit an enlarged definition of intelligence.Save

How To Read More Books Every Year Easily

If, like me, you use GoodReads’ annual Reading Challenge feature to track and record your reading goals, you may have noticed that many people are reading over 100 books a year.

That is very impressive and I’m more than a little envious of those numbers.  The reason is that I have a substantial number of books, fiction and non fiction, that I’m hoping to get through in my lifetime.

I say lifetime because at my current rate of 25 books a year there’s no way I could get through my entire TBR list.  I mentioned in a previous post – The Health Benefits of Reading – that I read every night before I go to bed.  The thing is, while I read every day, it’s not long enough to achieve the kind of volume of books I’d like.

Then I found Charles Chu’s article about how to read 200 books a year.  He describes how we can all read 200 books a year if we reallocated the time we spend on social media and watching TV to reading.  He bases his calculations on a reading rate of 400 words per minute and the average non fiction book word count of 50 000 words.

I decided I would look into this calculation for myself to determine the veracity of his claim and get some numbers that are also relevant to fiction readers.

Continue reading How To Read More Books Every Year Easily

Review: The Dhammapada translated by Eknath Easwaran

The Dhammapada is a collection of the sayings of the Buddha in verse form.  It is one of the most widely read of the Buddhist scriptures and the most essential.  There are many translations but I chose Easwaran’s because of a recommendation – the source of which I can’t for the life of me remember.

“As irrigators guide water to their fields,
as archers aim arrows, as carpenters carve
wood, the wise shape their lives.”
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The Dhammapada is an easy and enjoyable read.  It is full of simple wisdom some of which may seem likeThe Dhammapada Eknath Easwaran common sense but is lovely to be reminded of from the Buddha’s unique perspective.  He has a very simple and down to earth way of delivering essential truths which is the essence of his teachings.

“…the Dhammapada seems more like a field guide. This is is lore picked up by someone who knows every step of the way through these strange lands. He can’t take us there, he explains, but he can show us the way: tell us what to look for, warn about missteps, advise us about detours, tell us what to avoid. Most important, he urges us that it is our destiny as human beings to make this journey ourselves. Everything else is secondary.”
Eknath Easwaran, The Foreword

The Dhammapada is described as a handbook to the teachings of the Buddha but it is Easwaran’s informative introduction on Buddhism and the text that give an extra insight to the seemingly simple words of the Buddha.  I enjoyed reading his introduction and it serves as a great starting point not only for this text but for Buddhism on a whole.

If, like me, you’ve never read any Buddhist texts (or much about Buddhist teachings) this short book of verse is a great place to start, particularly Easwaran’s translation.  The opening verse of the Dhammapada is a profound reminder that our lives are shaped by our minds and we become what we think:

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought:
we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those
whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts
give joy whenever they speak or act. Joy follows
them like a shadow that never leaves them.”
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It happened that earlier this year I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, then some weeks later Easwaran’s Dhammapada, followed by The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle which in retrospect could not have been better planned.  I didn’t read them back to back but each prepared me for the next and I think I was able to take a great deal more from each one’s message for having read them in this order.  Obviously you don’t need to read them like this but if you’re interested I enjoyed this reading order.

I enjoyed and recommend reading The Dhammapada.  A wide variety of translations exist but I found Eknath Easwaran’s Introduction a highlight of reading this book.  He has also done translations of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita which I hope to get to at some point also.Save

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Review: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

I have found that I’ve read many books at just the time I needed them, no matter whether they were fiction or non fiction, and on occasion the order in which I’ve read some books has been just right that it helped me fully digest or appreciate the books that came later.

This is true of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle for me.  I’m sure by now everyone has heard of this book.  It has been translated into over 30 languages and even Oprah sings its praises.  I’ve been meaning to read it for ages but honestly if I’d read it before now (no pun intended) I’m not sure I would have got the message.  Earlier this year I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse which led me on internet travels of Buddhist thought and I’m currently reading Eknath Easwaran’s translation of The Dhammapada whose introduction was very interesting reading.  Both those books got me into the right frame of mind for The Power of Now.

It’s not the easiest self help book to get through.  At first I wasn’t really comfortable with the question answer style of certain parts as I prefer a narrative style but you do get used to it.  You may or may not be familiar with some of the ideas that form the basis for Tolle’s message.  Your familiarity with or exposure to some of the concepts in the book could potentially affect how you feel about it.  Stick with it, read slowly, let it percolate.

I do think it is an important book for us all to read at some point.  It’s a short book but best read slowly.  There is a lot to take away from The Power of Now but the most basic message as you may have guessed is related to time.  There is no time but Now.  The past is but memories and the future is imagination, the only thing you need to concern yourself with is now.  This is quite liberating if, like me, you often find yourself worrying about a future that doesn’t exist yet and a set of problems that may never exist.

The more time that passes since finishing it the more I realise about its implications for my life.  I’m sure that no matter what you’re going through; good, bad, or meh, there’s something for you in this book that will help you.  If you’ve already read this book I’d love to hear what you thought about it.

 

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Review: The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna

I sat down and read this book cover to cover in an hour.  It is a fabulous, thought-provoking, and inspiring book filled with drawings, word art, and great advice.  In the way it is written and designed it gets you thinking practically and creatively.  I found it part inspiration and part workbook which was very helpful.The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna Review

The GoodReads blurb: “Who hasn’t asked the question “How can I find and follow my true calling?” Elle Luna frames this moment as “standing at the crossroads of Should and Must.” “Should” is what we feel we ought to be doing, or what is expected of us. “Must” is the thing we dream of doing, our heart’s desire. And it was her own personal journey that inspired Elle Luna to write a brief online manifesto that, in a few short months, has touched hundreds of thousands of people who’ve read it or heard Elle speak on the topic. Now Ms. Luna expands her ideas into an inspirational, highly visual gift book for every recent graduate, every artist, every seeker, every career changer.  The Crossroads of Should and Must has a universal message—we get to choose the path between Should and Must. And it gives every reader permission to embrace this message. It’s about the difference between jobs, careers, and callings. The difference between going to work and becoming one with your work. Why knowing what you want is often the hardest part. It gives eye-opening techniques for reconnecting with one’s inner voice, like writing your own obituary (talk about putting life in perspective). It talks about the most common fears of choosing Must over Should—money, time, space, and the ultimate fear: total vulnerability—and shores up our hesitation with inspiring stories of and quotes from the artists and writers and thinkers who’ve faced their own crossroads of Should and Must and taken the leap. It explains the importance of mistakes, of “unlearning,” of solitude, of keeping moving, of following a soul path.  Presented in four chapters—The Crossroads, The Origin of Should, Must, and The Return—inspired by the hero’s journey outlined by Joseph Campbell, The Crossroads of Should and Must guides us from the small moment, discovering our Must, to the big moment—actually doing something about it, and returning to share our new gifts with the world.”

As the title suggests this book is great for people seeking their life calling and for people who are at a crossroad in their life and not sure what to do next.  This short book will guide you through sorting through the basic questions you need to answer to get to the root of you and begin to formulate small actions you can take to move forward.  Luna’s idea isn’t about making a decision and making an overnight transformation.  It is about the process or journey to your ‘Must’ which is far more achievable and sustainable for us all.

I loved the quotes throughout and I especially liked the questions Luna asks you to ask yourself and the suggestions she gives for what you can do.  I made a few notes along the way and brainstormed my answers to the questions she poses in the book.  Reading this book was a great exercise in working out my direction.  This isn’t a book about abandoning your job to pursue your passion without a plan.  This is about helping you work out how you can live your passion and pay your bills.  But at the same time it proposes that you not be afraid of a path which has no easy answers or no set guidelines.

For no other reason than to know yourself better I recommend this book; from its questions which get you to examine your Shoulds so you can know your prison, its prompt for you to define your must-have money vs. your nice-to-have money, to creating your ‘what-are-you-so-afraid-of’ list, you are bound to learn something about where you’re at and where to next.

A lovely book to boost your life and creativity for anybody and everybody.

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Review: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Siddhartha is a short novel written in 1922 by Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse.  Many people agree that Siddhartha is one of those books that people should read in their lifetime.  It’s a spiritual or philosophical story of a man’s journey of self discovery set in the time of Gautama Buddha.  Interestingly, the name Siddhartha is made up of two Sanskrit words;  siddha (achieved) and artha (what was searched for).  Siddhartha, both words together, means “he who has attained his goals” according to The Life of Siddhartha Gautama – the siddhartha hermann hesseBuddha whose name was also Siddhartha before his renunciation.

This is fitting because in the book Siddhartha does in fact achieve his goals but not at all in the ways he expected.

“In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life—the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.” (GoodReads)

This is a lovely story of how all that we go through, positive and negative, is part of our own journey of self discovery in life and ultimately all good and valuable.  A quote from the book that I liked:

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”

A strong message that we all have to experience life and all its offerings for ourselves to truly understand.  It cannot be taught or bought.  You have to go out and experience life for yourself and walk your own journey.

I enjoyed reading it and it has a lyrical feel to it so it’s different from any of the modern books of its kind.

 

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

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Review: Super Brain by Deepak Chopra & Rudolph Tanzi

I could not have started the year off with a better book.  Super Brain is an incredible book, part neuro science, part self help book, it was the perfect combination of fact and guidance.  On the cover it says: “Unleashing the explosive power of your mind to maximise health, happiness, and spiritual well being.”  It is this and so much more.super brain chopra tanzi

Two pioneers in health–Dr Deepak Chopra and Prof Rudolph E. Tanzi, one of the world’s foremost experts on the causes of Alzheimer’s–share a bold new understanding of the brain and a prescriptive plan for how we can use it to achieve physical, mental and spiritual well-being. (GoodReads)

Super Brain describes eloquently and backed up by scientific fact how the brain works and then shows us how we train it sometimes positively and sometimes negatively.  Super Brain explains how this training can result in either the brain using us or us using it as is supposed to be.  It provides guidance on how you can retrain your brain for maximum health, happiness, and spiritual well being.

In each chapter the authors talk about an area or function of the brain and also deal with a specific problem that many of us face in society.  For example the book explains and offers guidance on memory loss, depression, overweight, anxiety, personal crisis, self-healing, maximum longevity, among others.  And even if you don’t deal with any of these in your life the book is so well written and interesting that you will enjoy it for the simple fact that we all have a brain and it’s wonderful to better understand it and our particular nervous system because they are the vehicle through which we experience life.

The beautiful message of this book for me is that you have control over your brain and therefore your experience of life.  My favourite line in the book comes from pg 167:

“…every thought is an instruction…”

I enjoyed and highly recommend this book.  It was a fantastic read and I’ll be reading the follow up Super Genes later in the year.

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Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I know of Elizabeth Gilbert from her Eat, Pray, Love success.  The cover of her latest book Big Magic completely drew me in and then the “Creative Living Beyond Fear” subtitle really spoke to me too.  big magic elizabeth gilbert

I consider myself a creative person (but really we all are) and I always have my hand in some kind of creative pursuit but since I am a self taught creative (my tertiary education is in the social sciences) there tends to be a bit of fear or anxiety surrounding my freedom to create without feeling like a complete fraud.  Just like when I began this blog years ago I felt I had no right to do so because I knew nothing about the world of blogging.  But it has turned out to be a wonderful creative outlet.

If you recognise yourself then this book is for you.  It is just as much for anyone working professionally in the creative arts as anyone enjoying working on creative arts in a non professional way.  I really enjoyed this book and it is chock full of great lines that you will no doubt see as affirmation style images on Pinterest.  It is inspiring and realistic.  More importantly it is a guide to just how we should be treating our creativity to enjoy it more fully as well as foster it.

This is not about being successful in the creative arts; this book is about creative living for the sheer love of it.  No doubt there will be those that dislike this book but I am not one of them.  I have a number of creative passions that I love working on and this book has given me the boost to keep on keeping on.  My biggest take away from this book is a personal one.  Your creativity (and ability) is no less legitimate than the next person’s regardless of education or any other external factor.  Your experience is unique so get stuck in.

I really enjoyed this book, it’s a quick read and if you’re intrigued by it go ahead and read it.  If you’ve read it what did you think?

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10 Self-Help Classics from Tom Butler-Bowden

50 Self-Help Classics: 50 Inspirational Books to Transform Your Life from Timeless Sages to Contemporary GurusI have been reading Tom Butler-Bowden’s 50 Self-Help Classics and I wanted to share with you a selection of 10 of these classics that you may or may not find interesting.  I have also really enjoyed his other books 50 Psychology Classics and 50 Spiritual Classics.  I love a good reading list and Bowden’s books are like deluxe reading lists – love them.  They are in no particular order and the quote which follows each title is but one of Bowden’s selections for his book.  If you have read any of these books please share your thoughts with me.  What are some of your favourite ‘self-help’ books not on this list?

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your DreamsThe Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra

“The best way to put the Law of Giving into operation … is to make a decision that at any time you come into contact with anyone, you will give them something. It doesn’t have to be in the form of material things; it could be a flower, a compliment, or a prayer … The gifts of caring, attention, affection, appreciation, and love are some of the most precious gifts you can give, and they don’t cost you anything.” read more on GoodReads

The Alchemist by Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

This book was recommended to me while I was on my Gap year and I finally got round to reading it when I got home. I enjoyed it very much.

“He had studied Latin, Spanish and theology. But ever since he had been a child, he had wanted to know the world, and this was much more important to him than knowing God and learning about man’s sins. One afternoon, on a visit to his family, he had summoned up the courage to tell his father that he didn’t want to become a priest. That he wanted to travel.” read more on GoodReads

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus: AND How to Get What You Want in Your Relationships: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting ... Want in Your Relationships (French Edition)Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray

“To feel better, women talk about past problems, future problems, potential problems, even problems that have no solutions. The more talk and exploration, the better they feel. This is the way women operate. To expect otherwise is to deny a woman her sense of self.” read more on GoodReads

The Road Less Travelled by M Scott PeckThe Road Less Travelled

“Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties in life as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy.” read more on GoodReads

The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for LivingThe Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama XIV and Howard C Cutler

“I believe that the proper utilization of time is this: if you can, serve other people, other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming them. I think that is the whole basis of my philosophy.” read more on GoodReads

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin FranklinThe Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

“And I was not discourag’d by the seeming Magnitude of the Undertaking, as I have always thought that one Man of tolerable Abilities may work great Changes, & accomplish great Affairs among Mankind, if he first forms a good Plan, and, cutting off all Amusements or other Employments that would divert his Attention, makes the Execution of that same Plan his sole Study and Business.” read more on GoodReads

The DhammapadaThe Dhammapada by Eknat Easwaran

This is a short book well worth reading.  Read my review.

He who in early days was unwise but later found Wisdom, he sheds a light over the world like that of the moon when free from clouds.read more on GoodReads

As A Man Thinketh by James AllenAs a Man Thinketh (Tarcher Family Inspirational Library)

“Good thoughts and actions can never produce bad results; bad thoughts and actions can never produce good results … We understand this law in the natural world, and work with it; but few understand it in the mental and moral world—although its operation there is just as simple and undeviating—and they, therefore, do not cooperate with it.” read more on GoodReads

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal ChangeThe Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

“People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about and what you value.” read more on GoodReads

Tao Te Ching by Lao TzuLao Tsu: Tao Te Ching

“Trying to understand is like straining to see through muddy water.  Be still, and allow the mud to settle.  Remain still, until it is the time to act.” read more on GoodReads

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