“The practice of being on a spiritual path isn’t about being the best meditator, or the kindest possible person, or the most enlightened,” author Gabrielle Bernstein writes early in her new book “The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith. “The practice is about surrendering to love as often as possible.”
If you feel a lack of love in your life, the Universe Has Your Back is the book for you. Drawing from principles she has learned from A Course in Miracles, Bernstein’s new work is all about seeing the circumstances in your life through the eyes of love instead of fear. “Every experience you perceive on the movie screen that is your life gives rise to one of two choices: to learn through the perception of love or to learn through the perception of fear,” Bernstein says.
The Universe Has Your Back is more than pithy love sayings. Bernstein is very open in sharing from her own life experiences. “I was living a life far beyond my wildest dreams,” she writes describing her current career as an author and speaker. “I had spent a decade growing my spiritual practice, healing old wounds, and deepening my faith. And I was finally free—or so I thought.” I liked the vulnerability Bernstein showed in getting her love message out. The author wrestles with fear thoughts, too, just like us.
Bernstein summarizes her main points throughout the book with “Universal Lessons”. Such as:
- The Universe will always conspire to lead you toward solutions of the highest good when you open up to receive them.
- Our happiness, success, and safety can be measured by our genuine capacity to tune in to the loving vibration of the Universe.
- When we surrender our will to the power of the Universe, we receive miracles.
I found these sayings helpful. They are short, concise reminders of the essence of the book.
“Whenever you notice yourself stuck in your low-vibe story, witness it and say, I am determined to see this with love,” Bernstein writes. I suspect we all have our own “low-vibe stories” (I know I do). The Universe Has Your Back led me to take a fresh look at the perceived negatives in my life and reframe them in a positive, loving light. “As each individual lights up his or her life, the world becomes brighter. In our light that darkness cannot co-exist,” Bernstein says. The Universe Has Your Back will help light up lives when it is published later this Fall.
Can a national television anchor find some semblance of peace through the practice of meditation? Dan Harris answers this question and more in his book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story
I liked how real Harris is in the book. A prominent television personality with ABC News, Harris is very open about his rise in the TV News business and the obstacles he deals with along the way (such as his struggles with drug abuse). Haunted by self doubt, Harris writes, “The voice in my head can be a total pill. I’d venture to guess yours can, too.”
“The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn,” Harris relates. “It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now.” Hmmm. This isn’t the first book I’ve read about that nagging voice (check out Michael Singer’s Untethered Soul). It was a comfort to know others have critical voices in their heads like me. So what to do about it?
Meditation will quiet the voice and make you “10% happier”, says Harris. “It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose,” he writes. “What I’m attempting to do in this book is demystify meditation, and show that if it can work for me, it can probably work for you, too.”
I enjoyed reading Harris’ journey through the self help field. As ABC’s Religion reporter he tells stories of interviewing the likes of Eckhard Tolle, Ted Haggard, and Deepak Chopra. He approaches each with a skeptical eye, yet finds some value in what they have to say. “There is something there,” he relates after an encounter with Deepak, “although I’m not sure Chopra is the best example of it.”
Eventually Harris does find a meditation technique that works for him. “(I) read a few books about what Buddhist meditation actually involved, and learned that you didn’t need to wear robes, chant Sanskrit phrases, or listen to Cat Stevens,” he writes. “In a nutshell, mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now—anger, jealousy, sadness, the pain of a stubbed toe, whatever—without getting carried away by it.”
If you are curious about meditation, Harris’ book is a good introduction to the practice, written in a fun, conversational style. If you have meditated for years, like I have, 10% Happier can give you new insights into making your practice more effective.
One of the best books I read and reviewed in 2014 was Dr Penny Sartori’s The Wisdom of Near Death Experiences. Dr Sartori has followed up this work with a new book featuring more of her findings, What is a Near Death Experience?
Dr Sartori is one of the leading authorities in Near Death Experience (NDE) research. I like that she takes a scientific approach to the topic, based on her 17 years as an intensive care nurse. “I passionately believe that NDEs have something to teach all of us, even if we have never ourselves had a near-death experience or anything like it,” she writes.
As in her first book, What is a Near Death Experience contains many fascinating stories of NDEs. Like this one: “One of the clearest examples of a dBv (death bed vision) that I have seen occurred when I was working in ITu,” she relates. “I saw a patient begin to gesture, smile and talk to someone I couldn’t see. He seemed so happy. He talked this way for about 30 minutes and then fell asleep. The following day he told his family that during the night he had been visited by his mother and grandmother, both of whom were dead, and also his sister. He couldn’t understand why his sister would have been in his vision, though, seeing as far as he knew she was still alive. Of course, that wasn’t the case –she’d died the week before, but his family had kept her death from him, for fear of upsetting him. A few days later he died entirely at peace.” This and many other stories in the book, based on her first hand observations, lead me to believe NDEs are to be taken seriously, even though I’m not quite sure what to make of them.
I also like how Sartori deals with objections. Such as the near death encounters with relatives – are they real or just a figment of the NDE person’s imagination? “NDEr meets deceased loved ones, and several cases in my own research have revealed NDErs did not meet the relatives in their NDE who they would, when asked during life, most wish to meet,” she writes. “If wishful thinking were the trigger for an NDE, we would expect that the fulfilment of the wish – meeting our closest relatives rather than distant ones; and finding our fondest friends, rather than acquaintances –would be the likely outcome.” Many of the stories she relates are positive NDEs, regardless of the person’s religious beliefs. “It’s the calmest and clearest I’ve ever felt,” said one. “The closest I can manage is to say that it felt like I was surrounded by and filled with pure love and contentment.” But Sartori also tells of NDEs that are frightening to the person. “Why are some NDEs distressing and others not?” she says. “We have no clear evidence why some people have pleasant NDEs and others have distressing ones.”
Sartori doesn’t claim to know everything about NDEs. “Science doesn’t appear to offer us any realistic or robust answers –all we can do is keep researching, keep recording the experiences and talking about them, then analyze them as closely as we can to watch the patterns emerge,” she writes. “However, just because our current science cannot explain NDEs does not mean that these are not real.” If you are interested in NDEs Sartori’s two books on the subject are musts for your library, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future based on her continuing research.
Do you consider yourself to be a creative yet sensitive person? I do, so that’s why I was drawn to Doreen Virtue’s new book – The Courage to be Creative: How to Believe in Yourself, Your Dreams and Ideas, and Your Creative Career Path. “Some of the most creative people I’ve met are also the most sensitive,” Virtue writes. “Their sensitivity makes them receptive to divinely inspired ideas. Yet, that same sensitivity makes them shy to reveal their ideas to others.” Yep, that’s me.
I have read and reviewed some of the author’s other books, like The Miracles of Archangel Gabriel. Virtue has written extensively in the past about angels – making the topic of communing with angels understandable to the reading public. While Virtue touches on angels in Courage to be Creative, her new work has loads of practical advice for us creative types, whether we believe in angels or not. “As much as I love my guardian angels,” she writes, “they don’t magically write my books while I sleep. I’m the one who has to sit at the keyboard and type.”
Getting in touch with all your feelings, the good and the bad, is the key to producing creative works that can touch the hearts of others, Virtue feels. “The more courage you have to fully notice and express your feelings,” she says, “the higher the vibration of your creation will be. Any watering down of your truth, because you’re embarrassed to admit how you feel, will lower it.” Reading the book encouraged me to be honest with my feelings in my own writing.
Another part of the book I liked were suggestions on dealing with criticism. “Most people aren’t comfortable with change or anything that’s unusual or different,” Virtue says. “Yet, as a creative person, you must present fresh, new ideas in order to be noticed. Along with being noticed comes the risk that you may also be criticized, feared, or misunderstood.” I also liked the guidance she gives in funding your creative works. “It’s not a good idea to quit your job without first having some savings or other income stream available,” she says. “You don’t want to put pressure on your creative output to be an income producer.”
Courage to be Creative is the best book I’ve read on the creative process since Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. If you have doubts about bringing your own creations into public view, I recommend reading both books. “True creativity is a gift that you give to yourself,” Virtue writes, “with full faith that there’s an audience out there who feels the same way you do.”
“Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view,” say authors Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander in their book The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. This brought to mind one of my favorite quotes by the late Wayne Dyer, ““If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” I like this philosophy, and I wanted to read more.
The Art of Possibility is full of examples to emphasize that life works better when you have a positive mental outlook. The authors tell a story of two shoe factory salesmen exploring new markets in Africa. After assessing the situation, both send telegrams:
SITUATION HOPELESS. STOP. NO ONE WEARS SHOES.
GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY. STOP. THEY HAVE NO SHOES.
“The one who sees no shoes, all the evidence points to hopelessness. To his colleague, the same conditions point to abundance and possibility,” say the Zanders. Through easy to understand examples like this the authors drive home their point. I also liked the stories the Zanders share from their professions. Benjamin Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. Rosamund Stone Zander (nickname of “Roz” in the book) has a private practice in family therapy.
The Art of Possibility is more than just pie in the sky optimism. The Zanders recommend a realistic approach to negative thoughts and feelings. Their approach “doesn’t mean you should drown out your negative feelings or pretend you like what you really can’t stand. It doesn’t mean you should work to achieve some ‘higher plane of existence’ so you can ‘transcend negativity’,” they feel. “It simply means, being present without resistance: being present to what is happening and present to your reactions, no matter how intense. The capacity to be present to everything that is happening, without resistance, creates possibility.”
Reading the book led me to challenge some of my limiting beliefs. “We can replace the narratives that hold us back by inventing wiser stories, free from childish fears, and in doing so, disperse long-held psychological stumbling blocks,” say the Zanders. Perhaps our interpretations of the events in our lives do not match reality. “We see a map of the world, not the world itself,” the authors feel.
Look at the book cover to the left. When asked “what is your religion?”, and none of the choices presented seem to fit your own spiritual journey, are you tempted to check “none of the above?” If so then Elizabeth Drescher’s new book “Choosing Our Religion” may be for you.
Drescher describes those uncomfortable with identifying with any organized religion as “Nones”. The author spent two years interviewing Nones across the U.S. “This is not a book about Nones, but a book of Nones and their stories,” she writes in the book’s introduction.
And they are interesting stories, indeed. Such as this from a church going parent, “I’ve hidden my whole life as an unbeliever,” Jack wrote, “no one but my wife knew. Not our family or friends, not our children. That was the promise I made to her when we married. It didn’t seem such a big thing at the time. But it ate at me over the years.” And this from a woman who regularly attends church but doesn’t buy into the doctrine, “I’ve done it for almost twenty years – since I was in college, which means that I’ve been around church for long enough to know that most of it is a lot of crap. I don’t believe very much of it. But I like to sing, and I couldn’t do that if I told everyone I’m probably a None. A Lutheran None. So I keep quiet. I get to sing with people I really like every week, and I don’t have to deal with the rest of it.”
Choosing Our Religion is full of stories like this. I found these first hand accounts compelling – about a segment of society that is often misunderstood. A segment that Drescher thinks is frequently given harsh labels, like “individualistic”, “Narcissistic”, “uncommitted”, “unbelieving”, “consumerist”, “superficial”. “(they are considered) otherwise less serious and meaningful than those of people who anchor their spiritual identity to formal membership in institutional religions organizations,” the author feels.
I also got a sense from the book of how large a segment “the Nones”represent. “If the unaffiliated gathered into a formal religious organization, it would be larger than any Protestant denomination and all Mainline Protestant denominations combined,” Drescher writes.
A minor criticism of Choosing Our Religion: there are so many stories of Nones in the book, with a few quotes from each, that we really don’t get to know any of the subjects in depth. Perhaps fewer but longer stories would have made the book even better. Still I think Choosing Our Religion is a good read for those who don’t seem to fit into the religion of their family and friends. In reading of the challenges and successes of other Nones, maybe you’ll realize that your own spiritual practice isn’t so strange after all.
Shonda Rhimes, the prolific creator and producer of ABC’s hit television shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, was not as confident in herself as you might think. “I am an introvert. Deep. To the bone,” she writes early in her new book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person. A chance conversation with her sister while preparing Thanksgiving dinner shook her world. “You never say yes to anything,” her sister Delores told her that day, remarking on Shonda’s tendency to keep a low profile. “You are your own boss – your job is only as busy as you make it. But you never do anything but work. You never have any fun. You used to have so much fun. Now all of these amazing opportunities are coming your way – once-in-a-lifetime opportunities – and you aren’t taking advantage of any of them. Why?”
Soon thereafter, Shonda relates, she is given a seat in President Obama’s box for a Kennedy Center Honors event. Intimidated by this, she has no choice in the matter – she is going. She ends up having a wonderful time that evening, chatting with the Obamas and enjoying the performance. Her sister’s words then come to mind. “If they had asked me, I would have said no,” she recalls.
Shonda is very open in revealing her fears in Year of Yes. But she decides not to let those fears stop her. Inspired by her sister’s counsel she writes in her journal, “(I) am going to say yes to anything and everything that scares me. For a whole year. Or until I get scared to death and you have to bury me.
Yes to everything scary.
Yes to everything that takes me out of my comfort zone.
Yes to everything that feels like it might be crazy.
Yes to everything that feels out of character.
Yes to everything that feels goofy.
Yes to everything.”
Shonda leads the reader through her many challenges in those 12 months, such as giving the commencement speech at Dartmouth College (her alma mater), appearing on the Jimmy Kimmel show, and being interviewed by Oprah. I liked the book’s conversational style, and the author’s sense of humor. I had never seen any of Shonda’s hit TV shows and I did not know who she was until I read the book. I could relate, however, to the challenges she faced as an introvert putting herself out there in the world. If you liked Susan Cain’s “Quiet”, one of my top book selections of 2012, you’ll love Shonda’s many entertaining stories of overcoming her introvert nature to not only survive, but thrive. “The point of this whole Year of Yes project is to say yes to things that scare me, that challenge me,” she writes, “So in order to YES a problem, I have to find whatever it is inside the problem that challenges me or scares me or makes me just freak out – and then I have to say yes to that thing.”
I’ve been noticing my own tendency to “never say yes to anything” lately. Shonda’s words encouraged me to say my own “yes’s” to opportunities I may otherwise have skipped. Like snowshoeing for the first time (“what if I fall and I can’t get up?!” said my voice of fear. I did it anyway and had a great time).
Especially if you are an introvert, I recommend reading Year of Yes. Then you may tell yourself, as Shonda does at the end of her book, “I am now almost afraid to say the word no. I can no longer answer any challenge with no … The year was done. But I was not. Which is how the Year of Yes went from twelve months to forever.”
I’ve taken a three month break from reviewing books. Traditionally the first three months of the year are the busiest for our travel business. And I have been blogging, just about other topics in other places. Here are some of my recent entries on our travel blog:
A Look at the Canadian Rockies Fairmont Resorts
I have been reading books, though, and I have three or four in the queue ready for review. I’ll resume my book reviews soon!
2015 was a year in transition for this blog. I got my start reviewing books through Hay House’s Book Nook program, and I will always be grateful to Hay House for all the free books they sent my way to review the past few years. But the Book Nook program went away early in 2015, so what was I do to? I found two other sources for books to review – Overdrive (where you can get digital books on loan from the library) and NetGalley (a book reviewer site with far more variety than Hay House’s). In addition I am often approached by authors to review their books, and I read a few of those this year, too. Occasionally I will throw in posts on other topics, like stories from my travels (the picture to the left is from my trip to France in the summer of 2015).
Because I had more sources to review books from, I was more selective in the titles I read. Consequently I consider 2015 my best year yet in the number of quality books I read. It was tough to choose a top 5. Here’s my list with a link to my original review for each book:
The story of a woman who walked away from Evangelical Christianity, but she did not give up on God or spirituality. It wasn’t easy for Reba as she is very open in this book about her doubts along the way as she samples 30 religious groups before the age of 30. Eventually she finds a more loving and inclusive spiritual orientation that works for her. I enjoyed her humor in the book. “Like Reba, I’ve moved from following the religion of my youth to creating a spirituality that does work, and I feel reading Post Traumatic Church Syndrome will encourage you to do the same,” I wrote in my review.
In past years I primarily read self help and spiritual types of books. In 2015 I felt like something different – reading biographies. The amazing story of the Wright Brothers, told in wonderful detail by David McCullough, was one of the best. “Modern day dreamers would do well to learn from the Wright brothers’ story, to persist despite setbacks and criticism to achieve their own lofty goals,” I wrote in my review.
The second biography on my list – the story of war hero Louis Zamperini and all the struggles he endured, only to emerge as one of the most loving, caring, and spiritual persons you could ever imagine. From my review: “What made his life transcendent, what made it resonate in millions of hearts, was not the hardship he encountered, but the way in which he greeted it, how he turned it to joy, and what that told the rest of us about the potential that sleeps within ourselves,” Hillenbrand wrote in her eulogy to Zamperini. Zamperini passed away in July 2014, but his story lives on to inspire us all.
A must read for aspiring writers (like me) or any creative person, Gilbert gives wonderful suggestions from her own life in overcoming fear and allowing her creativity to emerge. From my review: Gilbert tells the reader in response to fear to “please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.” Her words inspired me to revive a stalled book project I’ve been working on, and I feel she’ll encourage you to pursue your creative dreams, too.
I read lots of books that emphasize positive thinking. But what happens when life doesn’t turn out like you hoped, despite your best intentions? Rising Strong addresses that. From my review: While reading Rising Strong one of my favorite quotes from came to mind: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” (William Arthur Ward). Rising Strong is a book for realists.. Rather than denying hurts Brown encouraged me to work my way through failures, to adjust my own sails. “The truth is that falling hurts. The dare is to keep being brave and feel your way through it,” she says.
From Unity minister Ellen Debenport, this book has a similar theme to Rising Strong. From my review: Chances are you have experienced an unexpected trial at sometime during your life. A loss of a job, a major illness, a divorce, or something else. Just when life seems to be going great you are thrown a curve. Are you able to work through this struggle to emerge stronger on the other side? For help in doing that I recommend reading Ellen Debenport’s new book.
I am not fond of fundamentalists who think their interpretation of the Bible is the only “right” way. What if there is another way to interpret the Bible (specifically the Old Testament)? From my review: The English Old Testament is a source of inspiration for millions of people. But what if the English translation deviates from the original Hebrew meaning throughout the text? That’s the premise of Aviya Kushner’s new book.
Occasionally I get an email from an author thanking me for a review. I was warmed by Kushner’s email to me where she wrote, “Thank you for your thoughtful review of The Grammar of God. I feel you truly understood what I was trying to do!”
An excellent book for getting rid of the junk in our lives that hold us back – both physical and emotional clutter. This is the only entry in my top 2015 review where the author asked me to evaluate his book, and I’m glad I did. From my review: “Never let any one person or thing blind you to the awesomeness you possess,” Benz writes in the book’s concluding pages. “and if some of the events in your life don’t turn out the way you planned, keep going, create new endings, and never stop making this the life you want.” I liked this positive recap. Do The Clearing motivated me to let go of some unpleasant things and thoughts from my past, and I think it will do the same for you, too.
I write these reviews as much for me as for anyone. Months after I have read a book I can go back to my review and remember what influenced me most from the author’s words. Thank you for following my blog, and more reviews to come in 2016!
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them,” writes Elizabeth Gilbert, “The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living.” The author of the megahit “Eat, Pray, Love” and other best sellers, Gilbert knows a thing or two about creativity. She shares her insights in her new book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”.
As in Eat, Pray, Love, Big Magic is written in a conversational style that makes the reader feel he/she is discussing creativity with a best friend – your best friend Liz. “Please understand that the only reason I can speak so authoritatively about fear is that I know it so intimately. I know every inch of fear, from head to toe,” Gilbert writes. I liked the author’s openness as she tells of her own challenges. She gives numerous examples of blocks she overcame in writing Eat, Pray, Love and other books. “Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome,” she counsels.
Gilbert has a way of anticipating any objections the reader may have. “This idea I have has already been explored in other books, why should I write mine?” is one I have told myself. Liz won’t let me get away with that. “Aspiring writers will often tell me, ‘I have an idea, but I’m afraid it’s already been done.’ Well, yes, it probably has already been done. Most things have already been done—but they have not yet been done by you.” Touche!
In another section Gilbert deals with the sensitive topic of money. “I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills … You must be smart about providing for yourself. To claim that you are too creative to think about financial questions is to infantilize yourself—and I beg you not to infantilize yourself, because it’s demeaning to your soul.” She tells how she had a day job while authoring her first three books – only after she hit the big time with Eat, Pray, Love could she live on her writing income alone. I found her advice to be very practical.
While Big Magic contains loads of suggestions for us creative types, it’s not all lecture. Gilbert includes many personal stories throughout, like the time she asked her partner Felipe if he felt comfortable with her writing about him in Eat, Pray, Love. “Well, it depends, What’s at stake?” he asks. “Nothing,” she replied, “Trust me – nobody reads my books.” (Eat, Pray, Love went on to be read by over 12 million people!) In this way Big Magic is a fun book to read, too.
In conclusion Gilbert tells the reader in response to fear to “please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.” Her words inspired me to revive a stalled book project I’ve been working on, and I feel she’ll encourage you to pursue your creative dreams, too.