On the journey to harmony–Thoreau, the Sound Map and opening up the inner eye

In my quest for a harmonious life I understand the need to be still. Certain tools help in that effort:

  • Reading, to organize my thoughts.
  • Praying, to tap into my soul, drawing me closer to God.
  • Time spent outdoors, especially in the Spring, to quiet myself.

Achieving mindfulness

The landscape is slowly coming to life here in New England and when I see signs of Spring, I think of Henry David Thoreau. His intimate knowledge of the outdoors came from a sense of mindfulness–no detail missed his watchful eye. He took the time to be still and observe. And in following that simple maxim, the world revealed itself to him.

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New book on Thoreau

I recently reviewed a book on my Louisa May Alcott blog by Corinne Hosfeld Smith (certified tour guide of the Thoreau birthplace and author of Westward I Go Free: Tracing Thoreau’s Last Journey) called Henry David Thoreau for Kids:

thoreau for kids

Demanding writer

I welcomed this book because while I have always appreciated Thoreau’s message, I find his his works difficult to get through. The writing is dense, demanding your full attention. Many of us suffered through high school and college English classes with his classic Walden. And yet, that message of a different way of living got through to me even though I could not begin to digest all the words.

Making Thoreau concrete

What I loved about Henry David Thoreau for Kids were the twenty-one activities geared for middle school students that help you live out his ideas. Many of these activities are just as engaging for adults.

I was intrigued by the exercise which encouraged the participant to sit outdoors for thirty minutes in total silence, waiting for wildlife to appear. Sure enough, after a few moments birds and other creatures come close for observation. I was eager to try this exercise in my quest to be still.

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Helpful tool

Stillness, however, does not come easily in this busy world so I was grateful that Smith recommended another exercise to help me focus–creating a sound map.

Sitting in my lawn chair, I sketched the area you see here in my notebook and every time I heard a sound from nature, I drew an “x” where I thought I heard it and wrote down what it was. As you can see, I heard quite a bit!

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From listening to observing

In the listening, I began to appreciate the visual imagery around me.

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Stillness opens the inner eye

Stillness and mindfulness are hard to achieve in this high tech, multi-tasking, noisy world. Patience and due diligence are rewarded however with the opening of the inner eye, that which sees beauty and truth around us and eventually, within us. It’s a simple truth really: the wonder of life and how it was created, and how we are lucky to be alive despite all the challenges.

Houghton MS Am 1506 (4)-Cranch
Houghton MS Am 1506 (4)-Cranch

A compatriot of Thoreau’s, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once wrote of the transparent eyeball, an expression for which he was mocked. Wikipedia explains it this way:

 “The transparent eyeball is a philosophical metaphor originated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The transparent eyeball is a representation of an eye that is absorbent rather than reflective, and therefore takes in all that nature has to offer.”

Emerson experienced an epiphany that day–the discovery of the ability to read between the lines in the world around him, and come to an understanding of a deeper existence within him.

Once that eye is opened …

… you never want it to close. All of a sudden, the smallest things become lovely, compelling, even exciting. Once I became mindful of what surrounded me in the natural world, I couldn’t get enough of it, especially when it came to bird watching and kayaking.

And once I made a commitment to pay attention to what was there inside of me, allowing myself to to be drawn closer to my Creator, I find I can’t get enough of that either.

Silence is becoming an elixir.

I understand from the great mystics that you can learn to be quiet and still even in the midst of noise and chaos. Wouldn’t that be something! Somehow I think a bunch of people with that kind of inner harmony could truly change the world for the good. Think about it.

harmony1

Your time of stillness

Try spending thirty minutes in the woods, in a field or by a pond this Spring. Create your own sound map and share it here. Let’s compare notes and find out how we are doing on our journey to harmony.

You can find out more about Henry David Thoreau for Kids here, and read about the author, Corinne Hosfeld Smith, here.

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What I’m reading: a forgotten women brought to life, and a married couple facing life, death and life again

My birthday was last month and I got a pile of books as gifts:

emily and einstein, just kids, yesterday once more, born with teeth

Emily & Einstein

Thank you to my family for these wonderful books, I can hardly wait to start reading them. My sister sent me Emily & Einstein by Linda Frances Lee, a novel about a woman’s husband who dies and comes back as her dog as a second chance for a good life. As my sister put it, “You’ll never look at a dog the same way again!”  Sounds intriguing.

Patti Smith and Kate Mulgrew

My son gave me two books, both biographies, one by Patti Smith (Just Kids) and the other by Kate Mulgrew (Born with Teeth). Stephen has been talking about the Patti Smith book for years, citing it as his main influence in pursuing his music and I look forward to seeing how Smith inspired him.

I have loved Kate Mulgrew since she played Mary Ryan on “Ryan’s Hope,” a soap opera in the 1970s set in a pub owned by an Irish Catholic family. It was a first for a soap to have such an ethnic setting and Mulgrew crackled as Mary Ryan. She is also known for playing Columbo’s wife, for being the first female starship captain on Star Trek Voyager (Captain Kathryn Janeway) and currently, for playing Galina “Red” Reznikov on “Orange Is the New Black.” She also did a one-woman show playing Katherine Hepburn. Can’t wait to read this one!

The Carpenters

Last but not least, my husband Rich gave me Yesterday Once More, a series of essays on The Carpenters, written by Randy L. Schmidt who penned Little Girl Blue, a poignant biography of Karen Carpenter. As the years go by, appreciation for the music of The Carpenters grows. Karen Carpenter had a signature voice that conveyed deep emotion, all while sounding silky smooth. She is one of my favorite singers. This book at least, I can read a bit at at time.

But first, I have two other books to finish …

woolson strieber

Portrait of a Lady Novelist

I am already in the middle of reading a rivoting biography of Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist. A well-known and acclaimed author in her time (late nineteenth century), Woolson has been mostly forgotten except for her complex platonic relationship with Henry James. She died under mysterious circumstances, falling out of third floor window either accidentally or on purpose. It was assumed that she committed suicide over an unrequited love for James, an assumption which author Anne Boyd Rioux disputes.

Rioux shows that there is much more, introducing us to a highly intelligent, bold and accomplished writer in Woolson who broke new ground for women authors. I am only about halfway through and have already found much to relate to as a writer myself, including the periodic doubts that plague writers and the isolation that, while needed, can be very dangerous. Portrait of a Lady Novelist is giving me some much needed perspective.

I would recommend this book to any woman who is a writer. Boyd’s portrayal of Woolson makes her a much-valued companion for the journey.

Miraculous Journey

I promised Rich months ago that I would read Miraculous Journey, a memoir by Anne and Whitley Strieber and I have not been disappointed. The Striebers are best known for Whitley’s exploration into UFOs and alien abductions/visitations through ground-breaking books such as Communion, Majestic and The Grays. Rich is passionate about the subject of UFOs although he does not take the traditional approach of them being “little green men.” Strieber’s exploration of other ways of thinking and other dimensions appeals very much to Rich.

While I have never made up my mind about UFOs, I do very appreciate the thoughtfulness I see in Strieber’s writing. Miraculous Journey is a detailed memoir on his wife Anne’s brain bleed and subsequent recovery, only to discover a malignant brain tumor which eventually killed her last year. It’s a heavy read but an inspiring one, showing two people deeply committed to each other in married love through thick and thin. I like to tell Rich that I see our relationship in the Striebers.

It’s been a long time since I have read such a wide variety of books and it does the brain, the heart and the soul so much good. I feel like I am feasting on prime rib while at the same time, enjoying the sorting out that reading tends to do with my mind, helping me to focus and filling me with wonderful insight.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What are you reading right now?

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Book Review: My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok – a soul-searching must for every creative

my name is asher lev large by chaim potok-640My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven’t known a book to affect me so profoundly as My Name is Asher Lev. The conflict is deep, searing, cutting to the core. It helped me to understand better the nature of being a creative person and the sacrifice it takes to be authentic and honest, even to the point of hurting others. The book is a long, slow burn, every page necessary to set up the final conflict. At the end I was racing through, dreading the end as tears sprung to my eyes and yet terribly curious about how the author would resolve the conflict. How grateful I am that there is a part two, The Gift of Asher Lev, now waiting for me at the library, ready to be picked up in just a few minutes. Continue reading “Book Review: My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok – a soul-searching must for every creative”

Owning our grief and why this is helpful to others–Virginia Woolf and Louisa May Alcott as guides

I wrote a book about loss and grief. In a second book, I included passages from an author who guided me through my loss and grief.

And yet, I am afraid to share that story with others.

Sounds absurd–after all, both books have been published and are available for the public to see. But I am glad I don’t have to be there when the book is read. Well aware that grief is uniquely tailored to the individual, I feel utterly unqualified to say anything about it, face to face.

Mysterious … unpredictable …

Grief is mysterious, unpredictable, you might even say, capricious. I can’t tell you how many times grief has decided to drop in when I am in front of other people. It has often visited in the form of tears and I have to hide away until it passes. It has also visited on too many occasions when I’ve sung in public, crippling my voice or simply rising up in the form of irrational fear.

Mike Schaffner Angel of Grief, Flickr Creative Commons
Mike Schaffner Angel of Grief, Flickr Creative Commons

Important to share

When I read this story by Claire Fallon, Virginia Woolf’s Guide To Grieving, and how she connected her grieving over the loss of her mother to that of Woolf (both lost their mothers near puberty), I realized it is, in fact, important to share our grief stories.

woolf books

Comfort through companionship

Fallon derived a lot of comfort from Woolf, not because Woolf offered consolation or answers, but because she was a companion on the journey. Fallon found a like mind in Woolf which helped her work through grief that had been bottled up inside for many years.

My companion

Reading Louisa May Alcott did that for me. Alcott offered no quick answers, no “5-step plan,” and certainly no skirting of the truth of suffering and death. Instead, Alcott shared her beliefs about death through her stories and they just happened to match mine. I was numb with grief at the time I took up reading and found that turning the pages of my mother’s antique volumes of Little Women, Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag and An Old-Fashioned Girl (all marked with her personal nameplate) and reading Alcott’s words helped me remember my mother when she was healthy and vital.

alcott books

The best way to help

My process did not take as long as Fallon’s but it reminds me yet again that the best thing I can do to help someone who is grieving is to just be there to listen. And when it’s appropriate, share a few stories.

The value of writing

Alcott and Woolf had the courage to write it down and share it with the public. Writing has a way of uncovering what is really going on inside of you. Writing doesn’t have to be public to be helpful–keeping a a journal and writing letters to others (handwritten, as opposed to email) can help a great deal. But if you choose to share stories through the written word or through conversation, you have to own it.

That’s what I have to learn how to do.

Here is the link to Claire Fallon’s article. I think I will try a little Virginia Woolf; she is showing me the benefits of ownership.

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Facing challenges in our lives–an interview on Relevant Radio.

relevant radioI had a wonderful conversation with John Harper on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air program. He did a great job of encapsulating the hopeful message of River of Grace. Here’s the interview:

I was in good company judging from the guests:

morning air

Be sure and visit the show’s archive page to hear these other guests. I have Sarah Reinhard’s wonderful book, Word by Word, on the Hail Mary and just received Lisa Maldinich’s book called True Radiance: Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life (with a stunning front cover). Great stuff out there!

You can find River of Grace in paperback, audio and ebook on Amazon.

For those of you who live in the Central Massachusetts area, come on out to the Westborough Public Library in Westborough, MA between 12 and 3 on Saturday, the 14th. See you there!

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Wonderful review of River of Grace!

InTheBookcaseA dear friend from my Louisa May Alcott is My Passion blog wrote a wonderful review of River of Grace! This is a really comprehensive review; if you’re wondering what this book is about, Tarissa (the reviewer) summed it up beautifully! Here’s a portion of it:

Susan Bailey shares about the trials and triumphs in her life in her new book River of Grace. She tells how God’s mercy has shown her a greater kind of essence, once she let herself glide along with His unending grace.

A running theme that you learn all throughout this book is how creativity and spirituality go together, hand in hand. Susan illustrates this time and again. Susan pauses to personalize the reading and ask you how you can create new life in your surroundings as you allow the river of grace to run through you. In each chapter, she takes time (and allows you to take time) to reflect and focus on your emotions, thoughts, and defining events in your own life. If you take a few moments to perform the suggested activities, and allow creativity to lead the way, you will be blessed with fresh insight and positivity.

For people struggling with grief, this book shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Freely, the author doles out the pain she encountered on the deaths of her parents, and how greatly her life changed under those circumstances. She then dispenses the successful tools and mental thought process behind obtaining victory over death. Triumph is available to anyone! This is not a story of how to get over grief fast — but how to deal with it and give your afflictions to the Almighty. You will get through your time of sorrow, and when the grief cycle has ran its course, you will become a more complete person.

You can read the rest of the review here. Be sure and treat yourself to the rest of her blog for reviews and other interesting posts.

Thank you Tarissa!

You can pick up your copy of River of Grace here.

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Fun Facts Friday: Dr. Seuss and historical women books; feral cat success story; fun in the mud; kayak adventures; singing for the Pope

Books

This book cover image released by Random House shows "What Pet Should I Get," by Dr. Seuss. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/Random House
This book cover image released by Random House shows “What Pet Should I Get,” by Dr. Seuss. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/Random House

“What Pet Should I Get?”, a recently discovered Dr. Seuss work, is on sale starting July 28.

Apparently. Dr. Seuss’ wife discovered a carton with manuscripts in the attic. AND, this book is just the beginning!

How cool is that???

historical novels

Novels About Real-Life Women Are Saving Forgotten History

Some fascinating women in history are explored through these interesting historical fiction novels.

Cats

people for happier cats

People for Happier Cats – Compassionate Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) Pilot for Feral Cats

This is an amazing initiative by Tinykittens.com with a feral colony of cats. The first experiment, that of trapping a pregnant feral so that she could give birth in in a warm and safe place resulted in her four kittens being totally socialized and adopted out to loving families while the mother cat was returned to the colony where she would be the happiest.

forest kittens

Nature/Education

fun in the mud

Fun in the mud: Children benefit from exposure to nature

How many of us remember making mud pies? Hiking in the woods? Splashing in a stream? Observing birds and butterflies? Every kid needs to experience the outdoors and this program offers some amazing options.

Kayaking

kayaking through the caves

Kayaking Through the Apostle Island Sea Caves

Check out this video of a kayak trip through the Sea Caves of Apostle Island – heavenly!

veterans kayaking

War veterans say kayaking helps them cope with combat trauma

As an avid kayaker familiar with its therapeutic benefits, I can see how this would be a tremendous benefit to our vets.

Music

As you all seemed to enjoy the video I posted of Sarah Hart singing “Praying from a Broken Heart” so I thought I’d share this:
October 26, 2013 – Sarah Hart singing in St. Peter’s Square for Pope Francis and a crowd of 150,000; Sarah meeting the Pope at the end of the video

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Review: Jeff Goins’ impressive new book, WRECKED “slams” into life as we know it

Pain, suffering and sacrifice are dirty words in today’s world, meant to be avoided at all costs. In the process, the meaning and value have been lost.

Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life, the impressive debut book by blogger Jeff Goins not only restores the meaning to suffering and sacrifice, but exhorts the reader to value, embrace and learn from them.

What does it mean to be “wrecked?”

Goins describes it as a painful, often messy experience that opens your eyes to a new life. It is transformative, introducing you to sacrificial love if you’re willing to go along for the ride.

He shares experiences in his life that have “wrecked” him, the first one taking place in Spain while spending a semester overseas.

Putting a name to the poor

Goins met a homeless man and quickly developed a relationship with him. The “poor” suddenly became a flesh and blood person with a name and Goins grew to care about him. It was a first of many experiences that would alter his life course forever.

Why Wrecked is important

  • It is a radical book, “slamming” into the conventions of
    21st century life
    :
    “Our culture is so individualistic and wired for success that we often miss the point of life. We think it’s about self-actualization, about becoming the best version of ourselves. It’s not. It’s about losing ourselves.” (pg. 40, ebook)
  • It is counter to everything society says is necessary for
    “the good life:”

    “We are conditioned to believe life is supposed to be comfortable. But ask anyone like my friend Matt who has radically changed his life, and they’ll tell you the best decisions they made were when they were uncomfortable … What we have to learn to do is lean into the things that hold us back, to move through the pain and push forward.” (pg. 42, ebook)
  • It gets to the core of the Gospel of Jesus, a core that is often sanitized, glossed over in favor of the warm and fuzzy “God loves you.”
    Instead it confronts the Cross:
     “If we are to follow the Jesus who suffered with us and bled for us, we too must suffer.” (pg. 33, ebook).

Christian without being “Christian”

Wrecked imparts the core message without mucking it up with a lot of “church speak.” This book, although produced by a Christian publisher, speaks clearly to all people with a language that anyone who is searching for the meaning of his or her life will understand.

A book for Millennials

Even though there is much written about mission work and social justice (as this is Goins’ experience), don’t be fooled by this emphasis – this is not a book on becoming a missionary. Wrecked is the handbook for the Millennial generation. A Millennial himself, Goins spells out the problems, diagnoses them and offers the cure.

Wrecked also shouldn’t be construed as just another self-help book or spiritual guide. It is rather the authentic account of someone who writes honestly, understands spirituality and has “been-there-done-that.”

Imperfections

Wrecked isn’t perfect. Goins’ trajectory for the journey of life (having adventures when you’re young and making long term commitments as you get older) is sound but maintains that if you don’t have these adventures when you are young, you will spend the rest of your life trying to recapture your youth or relive old dreams (pg. 71, ebook).

Obviously that is true in many cases but what he doesn’t take into account are late bloomers like me and the whole idea of second chances. I was too timid in my youth to have adventures and married young, raising two children. Losing my parents between 2003 and 2010 “wrecked” me and subsequently transformed my life. Now in my 50s I am pursing the creative vocation I believe God has called me to with total dedication, confidence and commitment. I did things backwards – committing first (to my vocations as wife and mother) and having my adventure later on.

Priorities

My other problem with Wrecked is one I see frequently with regards to Christians and service – that of the the cart being put before the horse.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment (Matthew 22), He presented two: loving God and then loving neighbor, making it clear that loving God needed to comes first. A close, loving relationship with our Creator results in a pouring forth of grace which empowers us to love and serve our neighbor. Being immersed in God allows us to see Him in others and the desire to serve becomes irresistible.

Goins mentions the Gospel story of Martha (the busy one) and Mary (the introspective one) but fails to mention Mary and the need to take the time to sit at the feet of God. I can’t be sure if he assumes the reader knows this or not. He does stress the importance of taking care of our inner lives and he also makes it clear we need to let go and allow God to lead but I was hoping for a more direct connection between taking care of ourselves and allowing God to take care of us.

Committed to Wrecked

That being said, I bought a copy of Wrecked as a going away present for my Millennial son who is heading to New York City from sleepy central Massachusetts at the end of this month.

I also got the Wrecked ten-week study guide which I intend to use with my eleventh-grade Sunday School class. And I’ve recommended it to a deacon friend of mine who runs a young adult book club at his church.

My advice: commit yourself to Wrecked.

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