No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering, by Thich Nhat Hanh. Parallax Press, 2014.
This short, easy to read guide offers practical suggestions, from a Buddhist perspective, on how to deal with the everyday suffering that arises for everyone. Nhat Hanh makes clear that it is impossible to avoid suffering, as that is part of living, but we can choose to keep it from overwhelming us. The book’s “Practices for Happiness” section includes breathing exercises, being present with strong emotions, practicing loving kindness toward ourselves and others, deep relaxation, mindfulness trainings and walking meditation.
To give an example of just one of those–being present with strong emotions–Nhat Hanh reminds readers that “an emotion is only an emotion, and you are much more than one emotion . . . An emotion is something that comes and stays for a while, and eventually goes away. If during the time of the emotion, you have that insight, that insight will save you.”
People caught up in stressful situations can find real support and encouragement here.
I had the chance to attend an advance screening of a new movie set to open this weekend. “The Theory of Everything” is the life story of physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane. It is a tribute to Hawking’s determination to persevere despite being paralyzed (he has ALS), his wife’s courage in accepting and accommodating his handicaps, and an intimate look at the tender love between them. He had already received the diagnosis of his disease at the time they fell in love as college students, but she went ahead and married him anyway. The film explores how their feelings change over time.
We need more stories of patience and love in the face of adversity. “Theory” is beautifully acted by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones– watch the trailer here.
Keith and I received an e-mail from Micah Parkin, the leader of the Colorado chapter of 350.org, asking for people to submit stories about local action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We submitted our story, which has now been published in their blog, and which we reprint below, with hyperlinks added.
Keith wrote: “My wife and I got solar panels in our backyard, thus generating all of our own electricity, some years ago; and we also massively insulated our house, cutting our heating requirements by nearly 2/3. We also ride our bikes on errands; before we retired, Keith rode the bus and Kate rode her bicycle to work. But the most effective single local action we’ve undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to go vegan. According to an article in WorldWatch magazine, over half of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to livestock agriculture (“Livestock and Climate Change,” November/December 2009). We also encourage others to go vegan. We’ve started a local meetup group, “Denver Vegans” (DenverVegans.org), which helps everyone from people who are just interested in cutting back their consumption of animal products to fully committed vegans. This is about as local as you can get — you can fight climate change three times a day just with your fork.”
Keith Akers & Kate Lawrence
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of a still-amazing book, Living the Good Life, by Scott and Helen Nearing. The Nearings left city life in 1932 to homestead rural land in (first) Vermont and (later) Maine. They felt they had discovered the “good life,” and wrote several books both to describe how they lived and to encourage others toward greater simplicity and authenticity. They have been called “the great-grandparents of the back-to-the-land movement” and no doubt inspired many young people in the 1960s and 1970s. When I came to their books later, I was impressed that they were vegetarians and carried on their farming completely without the use of animals. Would that the 21st century homesteading movement would do likewise!
The Nearings’ books overflow with sincerity, compassion, and common sense. Here are examples:
“Ideas of ‘making money’ or ‘getting rich’ have given people a perverted view of economic principles. The object of economic effort is not money, but livelihood. Money cannot feed, clothe, or shelter. Money is a medium of exchange,–a means of securing the items that make up livelihood. It is the necessaries and decencies that are important, not the money which may be exchanged for them. And money must be paid for, like anything else . . .” Continue reading “Not Money, But Livelihood” — Remembering the Nearings
Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. Harper Perennial, 2012.
Kingsolver explores a fictional scenario in which monarch butterflies’ migratory behavior is so disturbed by climate change that they overwinter in Tennessee instead of Mexico. The butterflies turn up en masse in a small town, attracting a prominent scientist and his students to set up a lab and study them, and changing life dramatically for the townspeople. Through her story Kingsolver educates readers about the seriousness of climate change, shows how it disproportionately affects the poor, and unsparingly skewers the media who refuse to tell the truth about it. Trying to make sense of it all are sympathetic characters struggling to make ends meet, navigate their family relationships, and find fulfillment where choices are limited.
Kingsolver has aligned her considerable narrative skill with her passion for the environment to deliver a novel whose thought-provoking issues will continue to engage readers long after the last page is read.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. HarperCollins, 2009.
This is the engrossing true story of a bright young boy in Malawi, idled because his family is too poor to pay the required fees to send him to school. He finds old textbooks at the village library that explain how to generate electricity, and with astonishing determination collects the necessary parts. At age 14, he completes a functioning windmill generator. His desire to bring electricity to his family and village persists despite much discouragement, lack of resources, and taunting by friends and relatives who think he’s crazy. If this weren’t enough, the country endures a terrible famine at that time (2002), due to government corruption as much as lack of rain. William’s account of the famine as someone who experienced it is more moving than any account by outsiders could ever be.
Finally his talent is recognized, and he is invited to give a TED talk when he can barely speak English. By the time the book was published in 2009, he was a student at Dartmouth.
This book is for anyone looking for an inspirational story of what can be achieved with persistence and dedication, even without support. It also shows the transformative power of a local public library. My book club loved it.