Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tara Brach: Radical Acceptance

The full title of this book is "Radical Acceptance: Embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha". I bought it some time ago in my attempts to explore meditation and fit a practice into my daily life. I've done quite some reading on the subject, quite a lot less actual meditation, but it is still something I strive towards as it has huge benefits, spiritually, mentally, as well as physically.

Tara Brach's book approaches meditation through the Buddhist concept of Radical Acceptance, which Brach defines as "the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is." By accepting everything as it is in the present moment, we free ourselves from suffering and pain. Of course, this is no simple task, it takes attention to our state of mind, which is best achieved through the practice of meditation, for which the book gives detailed instruction of many types and ways to meditate.

Another crucial concept in the book is compassion, both for ourselves and others. The first step is to have compassion and loving kindness for ourselves, and then move on to extend it to people around us:

Even if we don't like someone, seeing their vulnerability allows us to open our heart to them. We might vote against them in an election, we might never invite them to our home, we might even feel they should be imprisoned to protect others. Still, our habitual feelings of attraction and aversion do not have to overrule our basic capacity to see that, like us, they suffer and long to be happy...Our circle of compassion naturally widens to include them.

In what was to me one of the best chapters in the book, Brach further talks about seeing the goodness in and forgiving ourselves and others. A Herculean task sometimes, but something worth striving for as being able to forgive is so important in relieving pain and suffering:

We maintain the intention to forgive because we understand that not forgiving hardens and imprisons our heart. If we feel hatred toward anyone, we remain chained to the sufferings of the past and cannot find genuine peace. We forgive for the freedom of our own heart.

Brach's book is filled with insight, food for thought, case histories from her therapy clients and her own personal experiences with meditation and Radical Acceptance, and detailed instructions of how to go about incorporating these ideas into your life. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

William Golding: Lord of the Flies

Who else had to read this in high school? We had this one year, I think it might have been sophomore English class with Mr. Seidel, where we had to read all these very depressing novels. Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, and a couple others along those lines. It seemed dangerous to me at the time, because if you were already a little bit bummed out, the books we had to read would have really pushed you over the edge.

I was at our library recently, stocking up on some books for summer, when this caught my eye. I thought my oldest might be interested in it, since he's an avid reader, and then I thought perhaps I would re-read it myself, wondering what the effect would be after all this time. I remember that reading it as a high school student, certain things in the book just didn't seem clear to me, and it always had this air of mystery to it for me.

Well, re-reading Lord of the Flies didn't have quite the same effect on me as when I saw the original Willie Wonka movie in college (I was amazed at how many things in that movie simply flew over my head as a kid), but I definitely "got" certain plot elements much better this time around. Especially the whole thing about the kids having confused a parachutist who crashed on the island as some kind of a "beast". Golding is sometimes very subtle in his way of describing certain things and you have to be reading with attention not to miss things.

The other thing that was interesting was reading it with the perspective of being a mom of three boys as opposed to being a teenage girl which gave me much more compassion and sympathy for the boys on the island. I felt sorry for them that things went so terribly wrong.

Another thing that was fun about reading it again was realizing how much the makers of the television series "Lost" must have been influenced by this book. Only a brilliant novel could still inspire us like that 50 years on.