Books That Pave the Way for Life’s Journey

Books That Pave the Way for Life's Journey

Books can take us on many journeys and I love to get lost in fiction. But ever so often a book can inform, change an attitude, a choice, maybe even a life. Having the ideas of thinkers and researchers at our side when we have a question, a problem or a new idea can make the difference between informed choice and blowing in the wind. The net makes it even easier, as you can type in a term: education, marriage, parenting, employment, health, exercise, travel, science, politics–and voila, your choices are numerous. I’ve picked a few today to get your thinking about nonfiction. Some of these choices have been in print for years. Some are hot off the press. We all want to embrace the next decades with knowledge and understanding–so happy searching and reading.

I highly recommend Dr. Bernie Siegel’s Love, Medicine and Miracles that relates, through his personal experience, how death is truly part of life and acceptance of a loved one’s death makes a passage easier on the one leaving and the one staying. When he was asked to recommend a list of self-help books, he responded: “Every book ever written is a self-help book. What’s the Bible? What about Buddha? Each generation thinks somebody new is starting the process, but we keep repeating the wisdom of the sages and the ages.”

Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient was written by Norman Cousins, a longtime editor at the Saturday Review. The book relates how Cousins laughed his way out of a crippling disease by watching the Marx Brothers and thus “jump-started the whole mind-body connection.”

Man’s Search for Meaning is the memoir of Victor Frankl MD PhD, who survived Auschwitz. He argues that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl’s theory-known as logotherapy, states that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, but the discovery and then the pursuit of what we find meaningful..

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi This is one I have not read, but it is definitely on my list. If you have read Atul Gawande and Anne Lamott, readers state you should read this inspiring, exquisitely observed memoir that finds hope and beauty in the face of insurmountable odds. It is written by an idealistic young neurosurgeon as he attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living? He died within two years of his diagnosis.

Blindsided by Richard M. Cohen, a Journalist and husband to Meredith Vieira. In this memoir, Cohen relates his battle with MS, startling the reader with his grace and wisdom.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Mood and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison This professor of psychiatry shares her personal struggle with manic depression. She is also the author of Touched with Fire: Manic-depressive illness and the Artistic Temperament.  

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion A personal favorite, this 2005 National Book Award winner recounts how Joan could continue to live after her husband’s sudden death and then was faced with their only child lapsing into a coma. (Read Blue Nights for the end of that part of Didion’s story.)

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie I received this book for one of those “life-changing” birthdays. It’s amazing. The author shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world. You will better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics.

The Book of Joy authors, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama Despite the hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—these two men are the most joyful people on the planet.

If you have suggestions, please mention them in your comments. Wishing you good health and good reading. We are all in this together.

Parts of this post appeared in 2011 in a different form.

Photo credit: janeaustenrunsmylife

The Last Piece of Bread: Thoughts on A New Year

The Last Piece of Bread: Thoughts on A New Year

A New Year. What does it say to you, what feelings does it elicit? Being positive– it’s the blank calendar full of possibility. It’s the soul of your actions wiped clean, so the possibility to make things right with someone or some situation is again yours. It’s a list of promises. It can even be a totally clear and definitely new vision.

JANUS, That Guy Has Two Faces!!

The clear flute of champagne or the honest glass of beer is raised to salute another attempt to make things right. We wave goodbye to the positive and negatives of the year we are leaving behind only to welcome the new year with hopefully more positives than negatives coming our way. Such a celebration can be traced to ancient Rome and the feast of the Roman god Janus. Being the god of doorways and beginnings, he had two faces, one looked into the past and the other forward to the future. January of course is named for Janus.

New Year or Decisions Forgotten

After our modern celebrations have taken place with a ball drop, fireworks, hats, balloons noisemakers whatever, we are left to our own devices: does this new and pristine block of time mean anything to us or are we going to plod ahead as we have always done?

Possibly. Magazines and articles on the net (this one included) like to offer ideas about how to MAKE CHANGE. Removing clutter from your life is a popular topic, though it’s grown from putting away holiday decorations to reorganizing one’s life.

Peter Walsh in his book “Lose the Clutter, Lose the Weight” states rather profoundly: ONE DEFINITION OF CLUTTER IS DECISION DELAYED.

I actually love that. He suggests that we aim to eliminate the word LATER from our vocabulary. The scenario we all can envision is super simple–if we have decided to do the following later:

  • clean the garage
  • apply for a new job
  • ask Aunt Lucy for forgiveness
  • finish a degree.

Because we are in fact CLUTTERING our lives with indecision and when each new year arrives we are feeling badly, at some deep level, about our lives. The cure? Walsh says  it’s about creating a new habit. So if every time you walk to the garage and you don’t just set something down on the floor BUT DEAL WITH IT, the job starts to get done. But if you  just assume you will never be able to change jobs and don’t search, investigate, redo your resume, YES, you’ll stay in the same job. And if you shun Aunt Lucy or whoever–you get the point. Even family feuds are clutter.

Positive Stuff: Small Beginnings Get Bigger

A beginning can be as tiny as vowing to go through one drawer a week. Only one?? you might ask. Hey yes!! It’s a start. Small starts lead to big finishes and better habits. You could work 30 minutes on that resume and send Aunt Lucy a note–just saying hello.

I’ve written about habit change before in regards to losing weight, avoiding triggers etc etc. But it’s standard and valuable information. Habits make us or break us. If I want people to read Boomer Highway, then I must follow the habit of writing a post at least once a week. I cannot say later, I must say now. And if I need to clear the air with someone, I must begin now.

And habit change of any kind takes work. It is not silly stuff. Because making an attempt to declutter your environment helps declutter your mind. Henry David Thoreau wrote: I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and I threw them out the window in disgust. ...A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.

Negative Stuff, It Still Exists 

But the new year doesn’t fool us. Hours after the ball drops signaling our hopes for peace and understanding–the news is full of anger and sorrow. People across the globe still face hunger and war, intolerance and persecution. Refugees are still streaming from their homelands. And I have to admit that making a resolution to clean a drawer seems almost stupid in the face of that angst in our world.

The Infinite Possibilities 

But it’s not. Have you ever looked into a mirror that is reflecting another mirror and the image is repeated over and over as if into infinity? It is something to marvel at. Like life. We have to decide to clean that drawer or whatever resolution we make–because it is a start. The change in the clutter and chaos of the world can begin in a simple place–you, your home, your environment. And it then can CHANGE you, maybe in a small way. But in a good way. And that small changes moves out like the reflection in the mirror and touches someone else–eventually. Example: you find in the cluttered garage the box of photos that your mother-in-law has been asking you about for months. Your relationship is buoyed and improved, a small but good thing.

Patch Adams, Viktor Frankl

Making change in 2016 is about choice. As Peter Walsh would say it’s about NOT delaying decisions. It’s about digging in. And when you do, that process changes you and hopefully for the better. The key word is HOPE. Because deep inside each of us is the desire to help ourselves and others. Oh yes, in some people that desire has been stomped on and twisted so that anger and hatred take its place. But healing can occur little by little. I like to think about Dr. Patch Adams who travels the world with his clown costume bringing laughter to the sick and dying. Adams says: the practice of medicine can be a thrill, an exchange so fundamentally loving that it’s difficult to contain the excitement … Scientific brilliance is an important tool, but it is not the magic inherent in healing. Because for Adams it’s the gentle touch, the warmth of communication that truly holds healing power. It’s the human contact that brings hope in the face of living and in the face of death. And are we not capable of that?

Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, and German concentration camp survivor wrote: We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts, comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Thus I am wishing for you hope in this year 2016. I am wishing you good decision-making and the human freedom to choose your way, your path as 2016 unfolds. From small habit changes to big decisions, offer to someone your own gift of hope, it might just be for them that last piece of bread.


Photo Thanks to oxford,