Do you want an inspiring read?
After the Ecstasy, The Laundry – how the heart grows wise on the spiritual path, by Jack Kornfield. A coaching client recommended this book to me a few years ago and it has sat on my bookcase ever since, and then this year I got around to reading it.
Some people might be put off by anything with ‘spiritual' in the title but I think it is important to think about our spiritual self in the widest of contexts, in terms of what lifts your spirits, what gives meaning to your life and what makes you feel content and whole.
The premise of the book is that you don't go through some spiritual or personal development process and somehow get ‘there' and achieve enlightenment or complete your personal growth. Instead, it is a continuous process of self discovery and self development. In fact, usually when you think you've got ‘there' or mastered something the **it hits the fan and you really have to do the inner work, or the laundry, as Jack Kornfield describes it:
‘We all know that after the honeymoon comes the marriage, after the election comes the hard task of governance. In spiritual life it is the same: After the ecstasy comes the laundry.'
He is both a clinical psychologist and a Buddhist (although a different branch of Buddhism from the one I practise), and he draws on the experiences of people from all different kinds of religious and spiritual backgrounds, with little case studies and quotes of how hard they have found this process. For me, it was comforting to hear their stories, as in the 21st Century western world we are sold on the idea that when we achieve X, Y and Z (usually involving careers, marriage, financial security) and have A, B and C (all the material side of life) we will be happy and fulfilled, but we all know deep down that life and humans are not like that. The fact is we can be happy right now, not contingent on these external facts of life. Instead, we can develop a core happiness which is there whatever is going on in our lives.
At times I found the book challenging (as many of the Buddhist and spiritual ideas he talks about I was not familiar with) but also inspiring and enlightening in itself. He writes about how we live our lives, our bodies, and our relationships with ourselves, our families, and our community – it will definitely give you food for thought.
If you are someone who is overly focussed on goals, ponder the following quote from Jack:
‘We need to remember that where we are going is here, that any practice is simply a means to open our heart to what is in front on us. Where we already are is the path and the goal.'
Think about what raises your spirits. Are you looking after your spiritual health, as well as your physical, mental and psychological health?
E.F. Schumacher – Over the last year there has been a renaissance of E.F. Schumacher after David Cameron said he had read him and that his ‘Big Society' idea was influenced by Schumacher. Having read an article about him in The Observer, he sounded like such a fascinating man that I decided to read some of his books:
A Guide For The Perplexed – I have to say that this is a small and perplexing book, one that I struggled and failed to get through!! So not really a recommendation, except to say don't get drawn in by the title.
This I Believe and other essays – A much easier book to digest. What amazes people when they read anything written by Schumacher (mostly written in the 1970's) is how relevant they are to today, and how ahead of the times he was.
He writes in his first essay, The Party Is Over, written in 1975, about the drive of countries to achieve ever greater growth:
‘All of which makes me burst out in verse:
When GNP begins to grow once more
We shall be even happier than before.
This kind of optimism is enough to depress even the staunchest heart. Where shall we be when we are back on this ‘happy road?' Surely we shall be in a more dangerous and insupportable position than we were a few years ago. The three-fold crisis – the crisis of resources, the ecological crisis, and the social crisis - will still be with us, in an accentuated form. Everything will be even more brittle and vulnerable.'
Here we are 35 years on and the situation is just the same, if not worse than in 1975.
He writes in his first essay: End of an Era:
‘Perhaps this is the way human development takes place. We have to go to an extreme before understanding that we are on the wrong path.
Quotable Earth by Milly Brown – And now for something a bit lighter!!! I bought this little book of quotes and beautiful photos of nature and then noticed that it is published by Summersdale, who also publish my book. If you like quotes and photos of nature, this is a great little book to have by your side, so that on grey July days, such as the one today as I write this, you can take a look at stunning views of the sea, icebergs, the sky, flowers, insects, all of which I find are a breath of fresh air to me. And the quotes are quite good as well:
‘If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.' Vincent Van Gogh
‘One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.' G K Chesterton. Accompanied by a great photo of mountains as seen from the valley.
Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee – Last year I started to re-read some of my old favourite books and took this with me on a trip to the Cotswolds. I had forgotten how good Laurie is at describing people and the countryside. He reminds us of a time which no longer exists, when the valley where he lived was the whole world to most who lived there, with very few trips out of it. However, he does describe at the end that the arrival of the omnibus and the occasional car spelt the end of a way of life, which had continued for centuries. A delightful read, especially if you are familiar with the Cotswolds.
Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck – Another book I am revisiting after many years. Steinbeck, near the end of his life, having written about Americans in his books, realised he was no longer in touch with the America of the day (in the early 1960's). So he took off for a three month trip in a converted truck with his French poodle, Charley, to meet and get in touch with American folk. Again, I love the way he writes but also his honesty about himself, the loneliness he experiences at times, all the times he gets lost and his observations of American life and how it had changed since his last trips across the country. He makes an interesting comment on the decrease or toning down of regional accents with the predominance of national radio and TV, which made me think about the UK and if that is happening here with the younger generation. I am also reminded that it was a trip done without mobile phones or email, so it was possible to be quite isolated on the road. And how a dog can make meeting new people so much easier.
With both Laurie and John I am looking forward to re-reading some of their other books on my bookshelf.What books inspire and delight you? – Do share with me any books which have inspired or enthralled you over the last year.