Media Reviews

mb54-BookReviews1Who Am I in This Picture? Amherst College Portraits

With Brett Cook and Wendy Ewald
Amherst College Press, 2009
Soft cover, 96 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

Who Am I in This Picture? documents a community art project conducted by Sangha member and artist Brett Cook and photographer Wendy Ewald at Amherst College in 2007 and 2008. The college was the setting for a massive experiment in cultivating new forms of knowledge and consciousness through portraits and interviews with staff, faculty, and students. The book follows Cook and Ewald’s intimate work with eighteen members of the college community in contemplative, educational, and creative exercises that focused on learning. The project acted as a multicultural process of community building and resulted in six 12-foot by 30-foot portrait triptychs mounted across the Amherst College campus, as well as an exhibition at the Mead Art Museum.

The artworks themselves—each of which portrays a student, staff member, and faculty member—were generated by Ewald and Cook, with participation from students in Ewald’s seminar “The Practice of Collaborative Art,” members of the campus and western Massachusetts communities, and the subjects of the portraits. The six triptychs combine photographs, painting, and words in striking ways. The fact that the artworks were made by thousands of participants endows the pieces with great power. Each portrait is a reflection of the community, not unlike a Sangha. As our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh would say, “The one contains the all, and the all contains the one.”

In a spirit of inquiry, the subjects of the portraits reflected on questions that they themselves generated about being a part of the Amherst College community. The questions are very thought-provoking: What does the term “learning” mean to you? How has your life journey helped you to determine what learning means? Who/what has been your most influential teacher? Is it possible to learn everything about yourself? Does being educated make you happier? Do different cultures learn differently? How should a teacher define success? This is a mere sample of the questions posed by this project. As I reflected on these questions and the stories of the portrait subjects, memories of my own experiences at college arose. I also contemplated some of these questions in relationship to my experience as a member of the Sangha and the Order of Interbeing.

I appreciated the sentences that each subject wrote by hand on his or her own portrait. After reflecting on the questions above and many others, each person came up with a phrase that encapsulated his or her experience or understanding and wrote this on his or her portrait in big letters. Some of the sentences read: “You can’t be invisible or you will miss out.” “I feel the loneliest when I am not learning anything.” “I use people’s names so they know that they matter.” “I feel like I was taught to learn by listening.” “I am so much the people who are around me.” “It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.” “Am I any different from the guy around the corner who knows everything about a ’67 Bonneville?” “When people aren’t educated, they can’t hold their governments accountable.”

The book beautifully documents the project from start to fi with lovely photographs and fascinating interviews with the artists and members of the community. I feel very inspired by the community building that took place at Amherst through this contemplative project.

mb54-BookReviews2Child’s Mind
How Mindfulness Can Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm and Relaxed

By Christopher Willard
Parallax Press, 2010
Softcover
128 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

Did you know the words meditation and medicine are derived from the same Sanskrit word for “inner measure”? This is a pivotal gem from Parallax’s new book on mindfulness for kids. Indeed, mindfulness practice is good medicine—for both young and old.

A great resource book for teachers, doctors, mindfulness practitioners, therapists, parents, grandparents, and all who work with the young, Child’s Mind is chock full of ideas and sensory exercises for centering children in the Here and the Now. Beginning with the premise that children are the embodiment of beginner’s mind and therefore a fertile field, Willard lays out exercises for “child-sized attention spans and the diverse sensory learning styles of children.” Backed by solid and extensive research, the author builds a case for the advantages of meditation in general, and then tells how meditation specifically benefits children and other humans. Among other perquisites, Willard notes, mindfulness strengthens one’s ability to adapt, increases concentration, and reduces reactivity.

“Because the purest water flows from closest to the spring, I try to use original meditation techniques that have been well-practiced through the years. These include adaptations of grown-up practices from respected meditation teachers East and West that I have integrated with contemporary research.”

Citing world experts like Jack Kornfield, Sigmund Freud, John Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hanh, and one of my personal favorites for children, Maureen Murdock (Spinning Inward), the author begins with the premise that an adult who practices mindfulness is capable of passing the skill to children. He offers a definition of and introduction to mindfulness, methods adults can employ to establish their own practice, and methods for teaching meditation and mindfulness to kids.

Part II of the book offers Meditations for Mental and Emotional Well-Being, to transform or calm the effects of depression, anxiety, psychological trauma, impulse control, and the autism spectrum in children. Subsequent chapters deal with specific childhood issues such as sleep deprivation and test anxiety. Part III provides resources and program ideas. The book ends with a comprehensive bibliography.

I am reminded of a tender time a few years after the 1989 revolution in Romania, when my husband Philip and I introduced the mindfulness bell to a group of orphans we were teaching there. One morning, a fifteen-year-old girl came to class with bandaged arms because she had used an open tin can to slit her wrists. The other children, mostly teens, were visibly upset. The room felt chaotic. We called for a translator, and in the ensuing confusion, Olivia, a lame young woman, limped to the front of the room, gingerly picked up the mindfulness bell in her shriveled hand and invited the bell. The sound calmed us all.

Here is the medicine of mindfulness—the rich offerings of Child’s Mind, a handbook that holds no less potential than the children of the world.

mb54-BookReviews3jpgTogether We Are One
Honoring Our Diversity, Celebrating Our Connection

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Available June 2010
Parallax Press

Together We Are One offers profound and socially relevant teachings from retreats for people of color with Thich Nhat Hanh and the Sangha. This new book is a distillation of Thich Nhat Hanh’s talks, interwoven with personal stories from a diverse group of participants of color. Addressed are such questions as:

  • How can we find our true home and feel we belong, whoever and wherever we are?
  • What are the different experiences of people of color in our Sanghas?
  • How can we and our Sanghas welcome and embrace more diversity?
  • How can we apply Buddhist insights to help heal the suffering of separation, discrimination and prejudice?

If you are interested in relating with more wholeness and celebration to all aspects of your identity, and making the treasures of your ancestors more available to you and your descendants, this book is for you. It includes original drawings, poetry, and a new and expanded version of Touching the Earth to our Land Ancestors, created during the people of color retreats.

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Book Reviews

mb55-BookReviews1The Mama Bamba Way
The Power and Pleasure of Natural Childbirth

By Robyn Sheldon
Findhorn Press, 2010
Soft cover, 272 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

I met Robyn Sheldon when we shared a taxi during Thay’s 2008 tour in Vietnam. I learned that she is a midwife in South Africa who teaches mindfulness to expectant parents. This led me to reflect on my own experience being born in the 1960s. During the birth, both mother and baby experienced trauma. Not surprisingly, the labor and delivery of my first child were similarly traumatic for mother and baby.

Contrast this to the births described in Sheldon’s new book, aptly subtitled The Power and Pleasure of Natural Childbirth. Sheldon’s main thesis is: “Birth is a baby’s first experience of life. It impacts strongly on how deeply she trusts the world. Her primary need is to feel your attention and welcome at this moment.” This is the basis of the Mama Bamba method of childbirth, developed by Sheldon. The core tools of this approach include meditative awareness, relaxation and surrender, deep exploration of our unconscious processes, connecting with our babies in the womb, and labor support.

Sheldon works with women before labor so that no matter how the birth unfolds, it is a satisfying experience. Being in the moment with openness and receptivity is the fruit of her own daily meditation practice, and she brings this to bear when supporting women during childbirth. In addition to techniques for birthing with integrity and awareness, the book includes beautiful photographs by Nikki Rixon, quotations, and stories of all different sorts of births in the words of the mothers. Intermingled with the text are instructions for guided meditations, relaxations, and visualizations on the topics of simplicity, releasing tension, peaceful birth, the unborn child, and breast-feeding. There is guidance for labor, practical advice for the early months of parenting, and what to do when we suffer from the loss of a baby, preor post-birth. Finally, Mama Bamba is a remarkable example of one woman’s journey to integrate her personal mindfulness practice with her livelihood as a midwife, where she can make a meaningful difference in the way new beings are birthed: with acceptance, peace, and awareness. In the words of our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, “The stories, meditations, and lived experience in this book are powerful wisdom for expecting parents. It shows us concretely how to relax into, accept, and transform the fear and pain of birth by coming back to the present moment to be aware of our body and mind.”

mb55-BookReviews2Voluntary Simplicity
Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich

By Duane Elgin
Harper, 2nd edition, January 2010
Paperback, 210 pages

Reviewed by Brandy Sacks

Duane Elgin is considered to be the father of the voluntary simplicity movement. In 1981, when his book Voluntary Simplicity was originally published, Elgin’s ideas were widely regarded as counter-cultural and irrelevant. The book was ahead of its time. Now, three decades have passed, and the world is a very different place—a place that is unfortunately similar to the one the author warned us about.

With Elgin’s revised and updated edition we have more ways to learn “a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich.” Voluntary Simplicity is not about living in poverty but living with balance. By embracing voluntary simplicity—frugal consumption, ecological awareness, and personal growth— people can change their lives. In the process, they have the power to change the world.

The book reaches beyond the how-tos of voluntary simplicity to examine the many psychological, spiritual, and cultural benefits of living more simply and consciously. Elgin makes clear that voluntary simplicity is not self-sacrifi but rather enlightened self-interest, and that this emerging lifestyle choice can foster individual and collective well-being in multiple areas. The depth and significance of Elgin’s ideas are matched by the clarity of his writing, so that Voluntary Simplicity is an education, an inspiration, and a pleasure to read.

In the introduction, Elgin writes: “Overall, the world has changed dramatically since I wrote the first edition of Voluntary Simplicity in the late 1970s. To respond, I’ve completely revised this book and more than half of it is new material. It is my hope this new edition will extend the promising wisdom and healing force of simplicity to our imperiled world, for on the other side of the fast emerging planetary systems crisis is a future bright with promise.”

For more information, see Duane Elgin’s website, www.awakeningearth.org.

mb55-BookReviews3The Wisdom of Sustainability
Buddhist Economics for the 21st Century
By Sulak Sivaraksa
Koa Books, 2009
192 pages

Red Alert
Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge
By Daniel R. Wildcat
Fulcrum Publishing, 2009
128 pages

Reviewed by David Percival

If there was ever a time for the so-called “developed world” to listen to the “less developed world” and the indigenous teachers living among us, that time is now. We—the people who don’t know how to stop—need to pay attention. These two books call us to practice deep listening and let go of much of what we have previously learned.

In The Wisdom of Sustainability, Ajahn Sulak, a lay Thai Buddhist activist and writer, is like an old friend gently but forcefully telling us that we can’t live by consuming alone. Instead, we can make a difference through understanding Buddhist teachings, holding to a moral code, embracing sustainable living, and taking care of ourselves. He takes us through basic Buddhist principles, international development, structural violence, globalization, and governance, and gives us a vision of where we need to go. “Capitalism’s promise to bring about emancipation through perpetual economic growth is, to use Jerry Mander’s word, insane. Nothing can grow forever. There are limits. Before we irretrievably erode the matter of our mother earth, we need to change direction and build a future based on wisdom and compassion.”

Ajahn Sulak tells us to stop exploiting our beautiful earth and her people. Instead, we need to rebuild our economies based on wisdom, understanding, and loving-kindness. E.F. Schumacher coined the term “Buddhist economics”—societies based on sustainability, “where people help each other in difficult times, where power is shared, rather than fought over, where nature is respected, and wisdom cherished.” The author discusses moral governance and the idea of “gross national happiness,” which, in a Buddhist democracy, would be based on compassion and nonviolence, our shared humanity, and the interdependent nature of all beings. He examines the true meaning of “real security” in our changing world.

This short but life-changing book concludes with the metta (loving-kindness) meditation exercise: “May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings dwell in peace.”

Red Alert, Daniel Wildcat’s provocative book, is a call to pay attention to indigenous realism and develop “respect for the relationships and relatives that constitute the complex web of life.” He writes: “This alert is also a wake-up call to those always forward-looking societies that have failed to inquire into the modes of living of indigenous peoples that their histories interrupted and ultimately destroyed… a challenge to replace a search for humankind’s general development along a Western-inspired universal timeline with a rethinking of our diverse human cultural development as shaped by places.”

By not paying attention, we marginalize or destroy indigenous peoples and their knowledge. If we would only listen to our indigenous elders and teachers, we could see that their wisdom and knowledge systems are all around us, and that they offer hope. Wildcat explores our fascination with technology and our vast ignorance of indigenous ways of life. This book has the power to awaken us with its wisdom and compassion. It is a strongly worded appeal to pay attention, listen, and throw away our cultural imperialism and “culture of conquest.” It is a brilliant look not only at the mess we have made, but also the hope offered by merely slowing down and paying attention, realizing our interdependent nature, and taking indigenous wisdom seriously. Although Buddhism is not mentioned, this is a very Buddhist book; it reminds us that deep listening brings great rewards.

These two books offer hope and engaged solutions to save our earth from climate change, globalization, consumerism, and materialism, and ultimately from ourselves.

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Media Reviews

mb56-MediaReviews1Healing
A Woman’s Journey from Doctor to Nun

By Sister Dang Nghiem
Parallax Press, 2010
Soft cover, 146 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy,
True Door of Peace

Sister Dang Nghiem’s story begins in Central Vietnam, where she was born during the Tet Offensive in 1968. She takes the reader with her to Saigon, to medical school in California, to Africa, to Plum Village, back to Vietnam with her teacher, to the late Bat Nha Monastery, and finally to Deer Park Monastery. Huong Huynh was the child of a Vietnamese mother and a U.S. soldier. At the behest of her beloved grandmother, who raised her until she was six, she made three vows: to raise her brother to be a good person as they journeyed to the U.S.; to get a good education; and to become a nun. As her life has unfolded, Huong Huynh, now Sister Dang Nghiem— “adornment with nondiscrimination”—has ultimately fulfilled all three vows and lived into her new name.

The victim of a torn family, sexual assault, racial taunts and gender discrimination, multiple foster placements, an unknown father, a wounded mother who disappeared when her daughter was but twelve, and a fi who drowned and whose body was never found, her strength in the face of immense suffering is the stuff of legend. Yet she does not tell it that way. She carves out a fearless inventory of her thoughts and actions as, growing up with great energy and determination, she moved from inner and outer war to a life of true peace. How she has honed herself, constantly beginning anew, is a profound teaching.

Reading her book is like having tea with Sister Dang Nghiem. We learn exactly who she is. Humbly, she recounts intimate stories of the horrors as well as the subtle joys, the small aggravations and the sweet triumphs of her pilgrimage through an extraordinary life. Nor does she paint her life as a done deal—more like a flowing river that inevitably hits the rapids. “I once was a river, a river falling in love with a cloud and chasing after it,” she writes. But after many years of practice as a nun, Venerable Dang Nghiem has realized she must release her attachments, because one day she will be left with only her “two empty hands.” She has realized that if she is truly present in the moment, she will see that her two empty hands hold the world.

mb56-MediaReviews2Fire Under the Snow
A Tibetan Monk – a spirit unbroken by 33 years of torture

A film by Makoto Sasa
Running time: 75 minutes
2008

Reviewed by Judith Toy,
True Door of Peace

Arrested in Tibet by the Chinese Army in 1959, the Venerable Palden Gyatso spent thirty-three years in prisons and labor camps for the “crime” of peaceful demonstration. Tortured, starved, and sentenced to hard labor, he watched his culture destroyed, and his teacher, friends, and family displaced, jailed, or killed. The film covers Palden’s birth in 1933 and follows him through the long nightmare that began with the Chinese invasion. It explores the escalating cycle of interrogation and physical violation that ended decades later with Palden’s escape from Tibet and a cathartic meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Just after his escape from Tibet in the 90s, I met Palden on a rainy country road in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, marching with a small group of monks and laypeople who carried the flag of Tibet. On our way home from a retreat, my husband and I happened upon the Free Tibet march launched in Washington, D.C., heading for the United Nations in New York City. I joined the march. Palden stayed at our home for five days, along with the late Thubten Norbu Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, and Larry Gerstein, president of the International Tibet Independence Movement. What a joy it was to cook and serve them!

We were distressed by the tortures Palden described. Still, he laughed often and remained cheerful but resolute. All of his teeth had been shattered by a cattle prod placed directly into his mouth. He was hung by his thumbs. He ate dirt. One time, in prison, he vainly spit into the mouth of an infant to keep it alive. Tears came as I listened, and I asked him, “How did you survive?” “I became a monk when I was ten years old,” he replied, putting his arms around me while I cried.

Palden harbors no anger toward the Chinese. He has made it his life’s mission to bring to light the extreme human rights abuses of China that continue to this day, “so that it will stop.” In our home, in our sweet little breathing room on the second floor, Palden spent many hours composing The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk, on which the film is partially based. Fire Under the Snow reminds me of the roots of the Order of Interbeing—mindfulness and inspiration in the face of unbelievable duress. For more information, visit www.fireunderthesnow.com.

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Media Reviews

mb57-MediaReviews1One Buddha Is Not Enough
A Story of Collective Awakening

By Thich Nhat Hanh and the Monks and Nuns of Plum Village
Parallax Press, 2010
Paperback, 216 pages

Reviewed by Rasoul Sorkhabi

In August 2009, more than nine hundred people gathered at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado, for a five-day retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, entitled “One Buddha Is Not Enough.” I was one of them. Many of us had read Thay’s inspiring books or heard his lectures, and we were looking forward to seeing and hearing him in person.

That first evening, we learned that Thay would not attend because he was hospitalized in Massachusetts, where he had led a retreat the week before. Many participants were disappointed, but they also appreciated the situation. Over the next four days, the retreatants as well as the coordinating monks and nuns made the retreat a delightful experience for all. Every day we listened to Dharma talks and chants, ate our food mindfully, and sat and walked in the silence of mindfulness. An account of our experience has been published in this elegant volume.

The book consists of an introduction about the Colorado retreat (“The Miracle of Sangha”), nine chapters by the monks and nuns (texts of their Dharma talks at the retreat), an excerpt from the hospital diary of one of the monks who accompanied Thay (“You Continue in Us”), two letters from Thay that were read to retreat participants, and a final chapter written by Thay (“We Have Arrived, We Are Home”). Reflections and remarks by retreat participants are included, giving a people’s voice to the book. Overall, this is a carefully crafted, absorbing read. Happily, the book preserves the sense of humor that was present at the retreat.

There is something profound about the title One Buddha Is Not Enough. “In order to save our planet Earth,” Thay has said, “we must have a collective awakening. Individual awakening is not enough. That is why one Buddha is not enough.”

mb57-MediaReviews2Colors of Compassion
Teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

A film by Eloise de Leon
Running time: 50 minutes 2011

Reviewed by Angela Dews

Filmmaker Eloise de Leon promises Colors of Compassion will be a cinematic retreat. It is that. In this documentary that chronicles Thich Nhat Hanh’s 2004 People of Color Retreat, we walk with our teacher through Deer Park Monastery’s tawny landscape. The camera pans and then stops. We breathe. We hear a bell, a bird.

Thay says, “. . . the act of making a step is an act of freedom, an act of liberation. You liberate yourself, you liberate your ancestors. It’s an act of revolution.” Retreatants also connect the practice to freedom, and express their willingness to be present: “All you’ve got to say is Shakyamuni Buddha taught liberation and we’re there.”

Those who speak on camera identify themselves as Mexican, African American, Vietnamese, and mixed with other cultures and nationalities. They share why they came and where they came from: “We can feel that we know our parents and our ancestors, and still we ask the question, who am I?” “The color of our skin or what we are categorized as, it doesn’t make us. If we are not skillful, it can confine us.” “How to not abandon our communities and be a mindful social activist is the crucial question for our liberation.” Their stories also answer questions some might have about a retreat for people of color. Why do we need such a retreat? Why might someone like me need the Dharma?

The filmmakers skillfully balance talking and stillness in wonderful scenes: Thay teaches interbeing to a room full of brothers and sisters—some in robes and some not—in the Ocean of Peace meditation hall; and, at the end of the film, during an extraordinary celebration, many receive the Five Mindfulness Trainings and their Dharma names. Perhaps some will find their way through this film into practice, and others will appreciate the vibrancy of people of color, who may have been invisible until now, in their own Sanghas.

mb57-MediaReviews3The Ten Oxherding Paintings
Zen Talks by Thich Phuoc Tinh

Edited by Karen Hilsberg
Translated by Sister Dang Nghiem
Jasmine Roots Press, 2011

Reviewed by David Percival, True Wonderful Roots

The Ten Oxherding Paintings have helped Zen students conceptualize the path to enlightenment for almost one thousand years. Attributed to Kuoan Shiyuan, a Chinese Zen master, they depict a young child (the spiritual seeker) searching for an ox (the true self) and his eventual attempts to control it.

In this fresh look at familiar teachings, Venerable Thich Phuoc Tinh doesn’t waste any time; he confronts us with the simple truth: “the joy, the enlightenment, the nirvana, all those things are already within us.” The ox is not somewhere else; it just appears that way to the confused child who continues to search. When I began practicing, I also spent too much time searching outside of myself—for teachers, retreats, books, etc. I didn’t understand about coming back to the beautiful island within myself. Only later did I discover the space of mindfulness that was always here in my body and my mind.

As he explains the Ten Oxherding Paintings, the Venerable gives us the immediate realization that we are already riding on the ox—we already are what we’re seeking. We simply need to stop, come back to ourselves, and realize our true nature of recognition and awareness. By cultivating mindfulness and living constantly with our true nature, we’ll recognize the impermanent and fleeting nature of our feelings and perceptions. Instead of being caught up in our mental stress, we’ll dwell in the beautiful space of emptiness, “no longer caught by the self or the ego.”

This beautiful book is an inspiration and a call for practitioners to dwell in the energy of mindfulness, and to understand that “the Buddha is right here in our bodies, in our sadness, and in our anger.”

There is truly nowhere to go and nothing to search for. Whatever we have been looking for has always been right here, inside of us. We can enjoy these profound teachings, enter the mind of our wonderful teacher, Venerable Thich Phuoc Tinh, and dwell in the Buddha nature that has always been within us.

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Book Reviews

mb58-BookReviews1Reconciliation
Healing the Inner Child

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2010
174 pages

Reviewed by Zachiah Murray and Natascha Bruckner

If the Buddha arrived at full enlightenment it’s because he suffered a lot.
– Thich Nhat Hanh

In this simple, clear, and practical book, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us to use mindfulness to overcome the mind and its suffering. He describes the Asian bitter melon, a vegetable with medicinal qualities, and explains, “Chinese medicine believes that bitterness is good for your health.” Likewise, our suffering is good for us; when we embrace it, we cultivate compassion.

Thay suggests that we turn toward our inner child to embrace our own suffering and become fully present. He offers four practices we can do with our inner child: talk, walk, write, and invite. First, we talk with our inner child—even out loud. Second, we practice walking meditation with the child within. Third, we listen to what our inner child has to say, and write it down. We might also write a letter to our inner five-year-old. Last, we invite our inner child into the present moment, to experience the wonders of life here and now.

Thay defines reconciliation as “leaving behind our dualistic view and our tendency to punish. It opposes all forms of ambition but doesn’t take sides.” Once we’ve reached reconciliation within ourselves, we’re able to reconcile with others. With the insight of interbeing, we know that just as a kernel of corn is in a corn stalk, our mother is alive in us. Therefore, when we reconcile with our own inner child, we also make peace with our ancestors.

In Part Two, four Sangha sisters and brothers—Lillian Alnev, Joanne Friday, Glen Schneider, and Elmar Vogt—share deeply personal stories about turning toward the inner child. These beautiful stories are real-life applications of the practice of embracing suffering; they show us that the inner child is always there and can never be taken away. Part Three is a collection of seven lovely practices to connect with the inner child, including the Five Earth Touchings and a sample letter to one’s inner child. “Without suffering, without understanding our suffering, true happiness is not possible,” Thay explains. This book is a wonderful guide to embracing our suffering, our inner child, and our world.

mb58-BookReviews2Mindfulness and the 12 Steps
Living Recovery in the Present Moment

By Therese Jacobs- Stewart
Hazelden, 2010
Paperback, 181 pages

Reviewed by Peter Kuhn

The Twelve Step model of Alcoholics Anonymous has helped millions of people find freedom from a wide range of afflictions. The principles of the Twelve Steps are spiritual, rather than religious, in nature, and present a simple course of action for complicated people. The “program,” as it is commonly known, has been embraced globally and practiced by people of all religions and social classes.

In Mindfulness and the 12 Steps: Living Recovery in the Present Moment, Therese Jacobs-Stewart shines the light of mindfulness on the Twelve Steps and eloquently presents a view of them from a Buddhist perspective. With a mix of personal history, stories from Buddhist teachers, and refections from her regular Twelve Step Mindfulness Group meetings, she beautifully shows how the Dharma and the Steps inter-are. She writes, “The traditions of mindfulness and Alcoholics Anonymous have a similar view as to the source of our suffering: Bill W. called it ‘self-will run riot,’ while the Buddha described it as a delusion of separateness from others. Both agree that our suffering contains the seeds of our liberation. And, we can learn to live with serenity in any set of circumstances.”

Writing from direct experience in a clear, personal voice, Jacobs-Stewart infuses her book with the lightness and healing energy that characterize mindfulness practice. She looks deeply at each of the Twelve Steps, offering insight and clarity from her study of the Dharma, and guidance toward the practical application of the Steps in daily life. Mindfulness exercises are presented at the conclusion of each chapter. The Twelfth Step states: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs.” This is a powerful bodhisattva vow, and in this book Therese Jacobs-Stewart honors it with understanding and love.

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Book Reviews

mb63-Books1Ten Breaths to Happiness
Touching Life in Its Fullness

By Glen Schneider
Foreword by Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2013
Soft cover, 108 pages

Reviewed by Louise Dunlap,True Silent Teaching

“Our hands imbibe like roots, so I place them on what is beautiful in this world” (Francis of Assisi). So begins Glen Schneider’s chapter on the Ten Breaths Practice. We place our hands on our bellies. Our hands are like roots touching deeply into ourselves. And we use them to count ten breaths, completely bypassing words and brain. We do this practice at moments when something beautiful touches us—the moon shining through bare branches, a dear friend’s compassion and goodness. As we train our mindfulness on beauty for the span of ten breaths (thirty seconds), we open new neural pathways to happiness, which can—with practice—replace habitual negativity, pain, and even trauma.

While the Ten Breaths Practice is ancient, Schneider connects it to neuroscience with explanations that flow easily enough for beginners. As Einstein once said, “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This fifty-page book is like a poem in the sense that every word resonates, nothing is out of place, and the images carry us beyond our usual thinking.

For me, what’s especially beautiful is the way Schneider, a trained naturalist, helps me touch what seems “out there” in Mother Nature. For instance, he happened to look up at a 152-foot redwood tree that stands outside city hall in his home town, and he realized it was time to stop on the busy sidewalk, place his hands on his belly, and practice. “On the eighth breath,” he tells us, “a glowing feeling arose in my chest and spread to my face with a huge, blossoming smile. I felt a barrier in myself dissolve and the tree became alive.” As Thay tells us, Mother Earth is not just “out there” but also inside ourselves.

Ten Breaths to Happiness deepens one of my favorite themes in Thay’s teaching, his use of the word “touch.” When Thay urges us to “touch the wave, touch the water,” there is something beyond philosophy about this, something very much of the body. With hands on the belly for ten breaths, and those mysterious neural pathways actually opening up, I can feel my body at one with my mind.

Besides talking us through ten breaths, Schneider (a Dharma teacher ordained by Thay in 2011) offers appendices of other Earth-centered practices, including a beautiful Touching the Earth.

mb63-Books2The Green Boat
Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture

By Mary Pipher
Riverhead Books, 2013 Soft cover, 240 pages

Reviewed by Louise Dunlap, True Silent Teaching

Mary Pipher is widely known for her healing book, Reviving Ophelia, about teenage girls in crisis. Now—amidst extreme weather, disappearing species, and fouled water—she turns her attention as a skilled therapist to our relationship with Mother Earth. As climate change and related crises accelerate before our eyes, she hones in on some crucial questions: Why do so many humans seem frozen or indifferent, caught in cognitive dissonance? How can we move beyond our own shock and paralysis toward actions that shift the balance and avert suffering?

Pipher’s hallmark is real-life stories—wise teaching tales of young mothers, grocery clerks, ranchers, and artists—mostly from her beloved state of Nebraska. But the story at the heart of this book is Pipher’s own. After reading the truth about climate disaster in Bill McKibben’s Earth during a summer of record heat waves, this grandmother and longtime friend of Mother Earth was devastated. She recalls the night her grown daughter, a mother herself, asked point-blank: “Does this storm mean climate change?” Pipher had to gently tell the truth and watch the pain in her daughter’s face.

Afterwards, she called a small group together to begin a coalition that would temporarily stop the Keystone XL pipeline from promoting climate-threatening tar sands fossil fuel. This group worked hard but caringly, even joyfully. They shared meals, played with children, and walked out on a bit of remaining prairie under the stars. Through actions such as appearing at statewide festivals and carrying wildflowers into their State Capitol, they spoke truth in ways others could hear. Their movement created a common cause between conservative ranchers and environmentalists. Separation and discrimination melted away in shared concern for Mother Earth.

Thay’s teachings on interbeing and ecology permeate this book and are often quoted. When Pipher writes of how she deals with the painful feelings that come with full awareness of climate catastrophe, I hear Thay’s voice reminding us of the Pure Land available in the present moment. Pipher cultivates “the sparkling moment” and knows “how to step outdoors and look for the green heron or the redolent milkweed blossom.”

For those of us called to revive Mother Earth, Mary Pipher re-minds us that reviving ourselves is part of the process, and that this practice is the essence of hope.

mb63-Books3Awakening Joy
10 Steps to Happiness

By James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander
Parallax Press, 2012 Soft cover, 294 pages

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

In the words of author and teacher James Baraz, “Joy and happiness are more than just good ideas. They can be the baseline on which we live our lives. The purpose of this book is to show how to access that switch inside and live life with greater joy.” Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness is based on the wisdom gleaned from twenty years of teaching this ten-session course in person and online to thousands of participants. It emphasizes the key principle that our joy and happiness are up to us. This is not a workbook, but it is a self-led course that can be read individually and also used as a guide for leading the effective ten-week class in Sanghas, jails, prisons, schools, clinics, and book groups.

Each chapter focuses on one of the key steps for awakening joy, such as: “Inclining the Mind toward Joy,” “Mindfulness,” and “The Bliss of Blamelessness.” Each chapter contains a self-contained teaching on the selected topic in a readable format, offering practices that can be implemented one week at a time. The authors integrate a balanced and seamless use of anecdotes highlighting successes of past course participants, their own personal insights and transformations, current findings in neuroscience, and the teachings of the Buddha, along with modern-day applications for everyday life. The readings evoke the feeling of sharing an intimate conversation with a wise teacher over a cup of tea. They are gentle, personal, and helpful.

My favorite part of the book is the story of Baraz fathering a son when he was in his early twenties. He shares about his pain of being estranged from his son for over twenty years and then about their reunion and reconciliation using many of the principles shared in this book. It is a beautiful example of how we can use our own suffering as the impetus toward compassion, healing, and especially joy. In the introduction to the paperback edition, Baraz shares several letters he has received from past course participants. The best testimony for the healing power of joy is expressed in this excerpt: “Seeking joy after thirty-one years in prison can be a daunting endeavor, but your insights have helped.” The lessons offered in Awakening Joy are highly relevant for beginning and experienced practitioners of mindfulness because they bring a fresh and unique perspective to many of the core teachings and practices of the Buddha.

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Book Reviews

mb62-BookReviews2A Handful of Quiet
Happiness in our Pebbles

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Blossom Books, 2012
Hardcover, 62 pages

Reviewed by Elle Snow

Many years ago, on a meditation retreat in Santa Barbara, Thay and some children created Pebble Meditation. Like so many of Thay’s teachings, Pebble Meditation is both simple and profoundly deep. The practice invites the child to hold a pebble, breathe in and out, and visualize an aspect of nature and what it represents as a life-giving state of being.

Breathing in I see myself as a flower
Breathing out I feel fresh.
Breathing in I see myself as a mountain
Breathing out I feel solid.
Breathing in I see myself as calm water
Breathing out I reflect what truly is.
Breathing in I see myself as space
Breathing out I feel free.

Pebble Meditation gives the left brain a tangible object for a child/practitioner to focus on (the pebble) as the right brain is opened to the abstraction of possibility. The whole brain is engaged as the pebble and the abstract are unified through touching what is evoked of the four elements in their symbolic representation of flower, water, mountain, and space. Through the “touchstone” of each aspect of nature, we can open ourselves to the transcendent wisdom of their correlates: fresh, clear, solid, and free.

A Handful of Quiet is a sweet book that has a great deal to offer children of all ages. In accessible language and with gentle illustration, it provides a way for a caring adult to introduce meditation, mindfulness, and nature to a child. It offers sixty pages of activities and tools in which to develop a relationship with Pebble Meditation. There is a section with practice pages where a child can name the moments when she has felt quiet or free. Also, Thay walks a child through a drawing activity. And there are steps for how to make a pebble meditation bag. Perhaps my favorite are the series of pages that begin with one, then two, then three, then four small blue watercolor splotches for the child to set his pebbles on as he does each step of the meditation.

Teaching a cherished child the skill of mindful awareness is one of the greatest gifts we can give. A Handful of Quiet is not only a lovely book; it is a way to engage a child though story, activity, and relationship. It is a bridge between a wise adult and an innocent child. It is a way to plant seeds through pebbles!

mb62-BookReviews2Fear
Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Harper One, 2012
Softcover, 156 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True Door of Peace

It has been said that all of our negative emotions boil down to fear. So it’s no surprise that our beloved teacher has written a book that serves as an antidote to fear. As I write this review, just before the national elections on November 6, a fierce hurricane is slowly descending upon the East Coast of the U.S. The news media is shouting and magnifying our worst fears, and is even turning them into tools for political gain. This type of fear-mongering is actually a storm in itself, for it creates a culture of fear, which Thay teaches us, in this small but potent book, to counteract with mindful living.

The Buddha taught that while there is suffering, through mindfulness we can transform our suffering into peace, stability, and joy. In the Introduction, Thay discusses how we cannot make our fears go away by ignoring them, and that to bury our fears is to give them even more dominion over us. He offers specific methods for how to live fully in the here and now, so that we are no longer battered by the modern storm of fear and anxiety. In reading Thay’s book we learn that we can, indeed, transform the roots of fear from within.

Nowadays we often use shopping, alcohol, drugs, TV, films, books, and even conversations to distract ourselves from fear. By acting in this way, we unwittingly feed the storm. “If you stop running after the object of your craving,” writes the author, “—whether it’s a person, a thing or an idea—your fear will dissipate.” This notion reminds me of an old saying by the hippie philosopher Thaddeus Golas: “If you can’t find it where you are standing, where do you expect to wander in search of it?”

Thay points out that when we act out of fear, we actually foster a culture of fear, and that the antidote to this oppressive cycle is mindful living. He encourages us to drop our isolated egos in favor of our communities and the world at large. When we remain in regular contact with our spiritual community and walk in peace with our Sangha, we help break the cycle of fear and provide a balm for all beings.

mb62-BookReviews3Deep Relaxation
Coming Home to Your Body

By Sister Chan Khong
Parallax Press, 2013
Hardcover, 40 pages, with CD

Reviewed by Gary Gach, True Platform of Light

Whether you are new to our practice or a long-term beginner, you might agree how marvelous is its integration of body, feelings, and mind as one. We start with our bodies, return to our bodies. Even when our minds wander, our bodies are always here, fully present (with a lifetime guarantee on that fact). Our bodies can be wise teachers, messengers of the entire universe. After hundreds of years of their evolution, it’s nice to enjoy a little guidance in their everyday manners of operation.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a retreat with Thay Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village monastics, you’ve already experienced deep relaxation, taught perhaps by a bodhisattva.Yes, I’m watering flowers in Sister Chan Khong’s window garden. How vividly (and bodily) I still remember the greatly pleasurable surprise in first learning deep relaxation from her. How important it is to bring the nonverbal wisdom of our body from the background into the foreground of our awareness. Our body’s generosity to us, immeasurable, ceaseless, and selfless, can be reciprocated with gratitude. How marvelous! And so deeply relaxing, renewing, and refreshing.

That was only my own initial response; you may find it for yourself. It may be one of the most ancient human rituals, visualizing ourselves bodily in a sequence (“toe bone connected to the foot bone,” etc.). Our practice, sometimes known as the body scan, originates with the Buddha. As our Sangha publishing practice group, Parallax Press, offers this precious jewel to the world, it now ripples out like rings of a tree trunk. Don’t you wish all the world could know, enjoy, and share total relaxation? May it be so.

This book with CD makes deep relaxation easily and widely available, like a broad river flowing out to sea. Following an apt introduction by our teacher, the guided meditation is presented in both short and long forms. On the CD, the meditations are read by Sister Chan Khong, Thay, Joseph Emet, Jean-Pierre Maradan, and Sister Doan Nghiem. The CD includes lovely songs sung by Sister Chan Khong in English, French, and Vietnamese.

For a lifetime of mindful living, this provides indispensable training and a beautiful gift. Total relaxation restores us to our organic integrity and our original nature. Recommended for every body.

mb62-BookReviews4Work
How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2012
Paperback, 120 pages

Reviewed by Natascha Bruckner

As practitioners, we know that mindfulness can happen only in the present moment and that every action can be a meditation. But sometimes, caught up in a busy schedule, we forget. Thay’s new book, Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day, shows us precisely how each daily activity can be a place to savor our life.

Thay shines a spotlight on all aspects of our day, beginning with waking up in the morning. Rather than hurrying to get up, we can set an intention about how we want to live today. What is our deepest desire? Will it bring nourishment? With each morning routine, we return to mindfulness, guided by the gathas (poems) in this book. Thay reminds us that every action, from brushing our teeth to leaving for work, may be a practice of freedom. “Every time we walk out the door, even if we’re just on the way to our car to go to work, we can take the time to notice that the great Earth bodhisattva is all around us, nourishing and sustaining us.”

Thay’s spotlight penetrates into places where we could practice more wholeheartedly, such as sitting at our desk at work. He asks, “What is the quality of our sitting? … Even if we have a rare moment of quiet at our desks, we talk on the phone or browse the internet. We are workaholics. We always need to be doing something.” Thay invites us to take breaks and sit without effort or purpose, to be happy, like a Buddha.

The book is also a guide for handling strong emotions at work. Thay gives specific instructions for dealing with anger, restoring good communication, and engaging in loving speech and deep listening. The chapter “A New Way of Working” shares alternatives to the culture of competition that is likely to destroy us. Thay presents the three kinds of power that can make us happy: understanding, love, and letting go. The final chapter, “Thirty Ways to Reduce Stress at Work,” offers jewels to help us deepen our joy every day.

Work shows us how to embody the truth that when we live mindfully, every activity of the day—whether answering the phone or cleaning the toilet—can liberate us. Our workday doesn’t need to oppress or restrict us. In fact, our livelihood can become a raft gently floating us to the shore of awakening.

mb62-BookReviews5The Road That Teaches
Lessons in Transformation through Travel

By Valerie Brown
Quakerbridge Media of Friends General Congress, 2012
Softcover, 152 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy, True of Peace

The rambling spirit of this well-organized pilgrim’s primer seems woven into the wind. This travel guide not only provides tips for exploring the sacred world on foot, but also includes tales of exquisite detail and the author’s own personal revelations from the road.

Each chapter contains a small gift in the form of a question to ask ourselves, which may equate to a Quaker query or a Zen koan. At one point, the traveler arrives at a place with two fields: “Two plots, side by side, one wild and one tamed, are much like two competing forces in my life. … How do I acknowledge the wild parts of me, that want to plant garlic in a high desert farm, to Mambo well, and to learn to weave from a Navajo woman? The questions are deeper than the answers.”

Following in Brown’s footsteps, we hear the echo of our teacher— “I have arrived, I am home”—wherever we go. We travel with Brown through the famous El Camino, the enchanted Irish Isle of Iona, the sacred temples of India, Japan’s traditional pilgrimage route through rocks and temples, Shikoku Island, and places closer to home. With each step we are treated to historical nuggets such as the history of Indian Kanchipuram temples, which are dedicated either to Shiva, the destroyer, or to Vishnu, the sustainer of life.

In the introduction, Brown suggests that we “[u]se this book as a prayer book and guide book for contemplation, discernment and reflection.” Her emphasis is on inspiration, whether she is mightily challenged by the weather or rough terrain, or taking a much-needed rest. The end of each chapter contains a practice lesson in mindfulness, and the book even includes a Sample Packing List and Traveler’s Resource Guide. Peppered throughout, like blossoms along the road, are illuminating quotations, like this Spanish proverb introducing the section on afternoon tea in Iona: “How wonderful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterwards.”

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