bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Tag: Book Reviews

no wonder wonder is a best-seller

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Have you read this book yet?  No?  Well then, you must.  While the target audience is Young Adult, the benefitting audience is ageless.  Wonder is a story of inspiring compassion unfolding among the very unlikely ranks of middle school city kids.

Ten-year-old Auggie was born into a body that is, to put it diplomatically, atypical.  He describes the way he looks in the first chapter: “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s worse.”  His is a face that only a mother can love, though as it turns out, his is a heart that is loved by all.

Auggie’s is the collective voice of not only those with deformations or disabilities, but also of every person who has ever struggled with finding his place in the world. As a reader, I absorbed his perspective without judgment or pity – just deep compassion and lots of tears.  My children responded similarly.

My 9 and 7 year old girls devoured this book.  (My little one went cover to cover on a Sunday from noon to 5pm, forgoing a hike in the forest with her family to stay home and read.) They were completely invested in Auggie, his friends, and his family.  And after they read the last sentence, they wiped their eyes and said, “Can we read another one like that?”

Our children crave inspiration and compassion.  They want to know how to love without limits.  This story makes acceptance acceptable, love lovable.  Through Auggie’s vulnerability they were able to share their own soft spots with confidence.

This is a superb family read and is guaranteed to inspire even the most tight-lipped of children to share from the heart.  We’ve been talking about Wonder all month, as there are countless ways to weave Auggie’s story into our own lives and experiences.

Wonder is wonderful.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

how i used mindfulness to kick my candy habit

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If you are an M&M lover, you might not want to read this.  I don’t want to ruin the candies for you.  But if you’re on the edge or if you’re considering better eating habits, this could help you.  So read on, my friend.

I’ve been learning more about MBSR through a publication titled “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook” written by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein.   It’s a terrific workbook and I recommend it to anyone interested in exploring or further committing to meditation.  In this workbook, an eating meditation is outlined.  Now, I’ve done eating meditations before.  Thich Nhat Hanh offers beautiful versions in several of his books.  But for some reason, this was the one that changed the way I looked at food forever.

I was buckling into my seat on a plane heading home from vacation with my family.  Wedged in my seat back pocket was a big package of M&Ms.  I know they’re bad for me and filled with artificial dyes, but I’m an advocate of moderation, so I settled in for the long trip home with my shiny brown bag full of 30% more candy and my MBSR workbook.  I was reading intently while popping M&Ms two at a time (one for each side of my mouth – gotta keep it even) when I turned to the page about mindful eating.

The workbook suggested that I place three raisins in my hand and analyze them as if I was from outer space, never having set eyes on a raisin before.  Well, I didn’t have raisins, so I used my M&Ms.  I poured a few into my palm and contemplated.  Then I glanced sideways at the markers on my daughter’s tray table.  Then I looked back at the M&Ms.  The candy didn’t look like food.  The candy looked like a little pile of toys – the same colors as my daughter’s plastic markers.  Why am I eating this?  This isn’t food.  I started to wonder.

The workbook then invited me to place the food in my mouth and allow my senses to continue their exploration.  I shook them in my hand first, hearing the way they rattled against each other.    Click!  Click!  Click!  Then I tossed the load into my mouth.  They struck my teeth.  Clack!  I let them sit on my tongue then slowly began to roll them around my mouth.  The candy shells were not delicious.  They tasted like chemicals.  There was nothing delightfully crisp or irresistibly oozy about their texture.  In fact, they were surprisingly gritty.

I started to chew.  Crunch.  Crackle.  Texturally, the M&Ms sort of felt like eating grains of sand.  When the chocolate broke open, the taste wasn’t satisfying.  The flavor was actually sort of metallic.   I swallowed the lot after about 30 chews and paid attention to the way they sunk into my belly.  I was totally surprised.  It didn’t feel good.  I sucked the last bits of chocolate out of my teeth and worked my jaw a little bit, feeling the way even the muscles near my eyes participated in the chewing process.  Particles separated like tiny shards of seashells and slid, with effort, down my throat.

I sat for a little while, thinking about M&Ms and wondering why I’d never before paid more attention.  I’ve always been a candy lover.  I mean, I wake up in the morning and crave chocolate.  But these days I’ve been waking up in the morning and craving carrots.  I think it’s because of my mindful eating experiment, but I can’t be sure.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Are you a mindful eater?  If not, would you try it once and tell me what you think?

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.  You know I am so grateful when you share, tweet, tumble and pin my stories.  Many thanks!!!!!

bu-review for kids: the great gilly hopkins by katherine paterson

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I picked up The Great Gilly Hopkins last week at the library because it was recommended by Girl Scouts of America as a good read for Brownie scouts.  I did not expect this fiction novel by Katherine Paterson to offer up a great lesson in compassion for my BUBs.  (I also did not expect to be crying my eyes out over a book written for 10-year-olds, but that happened, too.)

Gilly is an angry 11-year-old who’s been shuffled from foster home to foster home since she was a baby.  She is guarded, sassy, manipulative, proud, prejudiced and destructive.  But under all of that difficulty is a little girl who desperately wants to belong and be loved.  The characters are fantastic, the plot is simple yet powerful.

The language is a little mature for my kids – ages 4,6,8 – but I read aloud and substituted darn for damn and heck for hell.  There was also a point when I had to stop reading the book altogether and offer an in-depth history lesson on racism in America.  (Gilly’s racist mindset is challenged by two black characters, her neighbor and her teacher, who are likely the most well-educated characters she meets.)

I found that my youngest child slipped in and out of attention – and the room – occasionally asking me why Gilly doesn’t live with her mother.  He was obviously disturbed by my description of the foster care system, hence the repetitive questioning.  My middle daughter was also disengaged.  She fell asleep twice while I was reading.  Other nights she ignored Great Gilly altogether and buried her face in Pokemon comics or math workbooks.  But Gilly provided an extraordinary lesson in compassion for my 8-year-old and me… tandem paradigm shifts.

If you are looking for a Buddhist or bu-curious lesson to teach your kids, ask them to point out moments when folks in the story practice compassion, forgiveness and/or acceptance.  It is also a wonderful opportunity to talk about deeper Buddhist ideas, too – basic karmic law, or cause and effect, and Buddhahood, that beautiful shining gem that exists in each one of us, just waiting to be polished.

Here are some great times to stop the story and discuss the above mentioned ideas:

  • the way Trotter consistently interacts with a grizzly-behaved Gilly
  • the assumptions Gilly makes about Trotter based on her physical description
  • how Mr. Randolph responds to Gilly after discovering her indiscretion
  • Ms. Harris’ reaction to Gilly’s card
  • the point Gilly decides William Earnest is her brother
  • the way Gilly took care of everyone over Thanksgiving

I’d also suggest stopping any time you see your child crying and asking him or her how they are feeling and what they are thinking.  In retrospect, I wish I’d done this more, because PG and I spent a lot of time whimpering and blowing our noses through the last third of the book.

Here’s a list of questions that would be great to ask after reading the book:

  1. When do you think Gilly realized she loved Trotter, W.E. and Mr. Randolph?
  2. Why do you think Gilly wrote letters to W.E. filled with lies and false stories?
  3. Do you think it was very hard for Ms. Harris to stay composed when Gilly gave her that terrible card?  Do you think you could have done that?  Why is it important to stay composed?
  4. Was Gilly a bad kid?  Why or why not?
  5. Was Trotter a good Mom?  Why or why not?
  6. Have you ever thought bad things about somebody because of the way they look, like Gilly did?
  7. What do you think is the meaning of Mr. Randolph’s favorite poem?  (Go through it with them line by line.  When they’re done, tell them what you think it means.)
  8. Why and how do you think people were able to forgive Gilly, even when she behaved so badly?
  9. What do you think Gilly learned from living at Trotter’s?  Could you see her applying her lessons in Jackson, Virginia?  Will Gilly be OK without her Courtney?

Last thing to share, Mr. Randolph’s favorite poem, written by William Wordsworth, which sings to my spirit:

“There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparell’d in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

It is not now as it hath been of yore: —

Turn wheresoever I may,

By night or day,

The things which I have seen I know can see no more.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar:

Not in entire forgetfulness,

And not in utter nakedness,

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,

Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,

To me the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie to deep for tears.”

Love it.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

bu-review: great reads for budding buddhists

Buddhism is a lofty subject.  Or at least it can be.  Buddhist writing can be confusing, especially for someone who is new to the practice, like me.  I prefer not to translate riddles or resort to look-ups on Wikipedia while I read, but to focus on practical lessons.  For this reason, I’ve really enjoyed learning from teachers who write for the masses.  There are some really great authors out there who have an extraordinary ability to make clear and simple sense out of ethereal concepts like inter-being, oneness, karma, the here and now, macrocosms in microcosms and equanimity.  Here are a few:

If you are bu-curious and looking to learn more about the philosophy or if you are a new-bu like me, I encourage you to read anything by Thich Nhat Hanh (“Thay”).  My friend introduced me to him just last spring and I don’t know how I lived so long without his wisdom.  He reminds us that, while Buddhist texts and scriptures can be complicated, life is actually pretty darn simple.  One of my favorite teachings of Thay’s is looking into the eyes of our loved ones and telling them, “I am here for you.”  Simple yet profound, this sentence validates our loved ones’ needs while affirming our own loving commitment.  And it doesn’t require years of Buddhist training to understand or master.  It just takes the desire to love.  Beautiful.  He’s published numerous books (too many to list).  A lot of them are pretty short but the content will surely provide readers with many tiny shifts along the way.  The first shown above, Living Buddha Living Christ, might be his most famous.  The second, Planting Seeds, is an awesome workbook for moms and dads who would like to introduce children to meditation.

Another book that I’ve really enjoyed is one my sister loaned me a couple of years ago – The Buddha in Your Mirror by Woody Hochswender, Gred Martin and Ted Morino.  It’s an open door to Zen, the Japanese brand of Mahayana born in the 13th century.  Zen was introduced by a monk named Nichiren who saw that Buddhism could have a profound effect on ordinary people and offered folks a path to awakening that was understandable, manageable and downright doable.  In this book, the authors introduce bu-curious readers to the mantra “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo”, which, if my interpretation is correct, is the giving over of oneself to the laws of karma, allowing oneself the opportunity to see clearly and compassionately into life’s troubles.  But of course the meaning runs much deeper than that, as does everything in Buddhism.

I’ve been chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo quite a bit lately.  You’re supposed to chant it out loud for at least 5 minutes at a time, and sometimes I do that, apologizing to my kids for the noise while they play nearby or inviting them to join me.  In fact, I like chanting so much that I’ve been whispering Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to myself in half-pigeon pose during sweaty yoga…  or stepping to the beat of the chant when I’m out walking the dog.  I like the idea of discovering the natural rhythm of the world, and me in it, through chanting.  Although sometimes I’ve got to admit, I can’t help but think When did I become this person???  

Another really terrific, easy-to-read book is Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali, another gift from a friend.  (Damn, I’ve got some good friends.)  I love this book for a lot of reasons.  Sarah never delves into nuts-and-bolts Buddhism.  Instead she sites practical examples of the ways she and other mommies use Buddhism to get through squeeze-y moments with their own BUBs.  She shares her shortcomings and triumphs, reminding readers that just because she’s a practicing Buddhist, doesn’t mean she’s always Zen.  But when she draws from her practice during tough times, she finds clarity, peace and patience with herself as a mother.


Okay, okay, last one.  Making a Change for Good by Zen teacher Cheri Huber is a self-help workbook.  My friend recommended this book to me because I wanted to break my lifelong habit of being a quitter.  In Making a Change for Good, Cheri teaches readers that through compassionate self-discipline, we can tap into the best part of ourselves.  And our nagging little voices that tell us we’re not good enough or that we don’t deserve success can be gently diverted away from the main stage of our minds.  The end of the book lays out 30 days of assignments from meditation to journaling that help readers beat bad habits and create lasting positive change.  I liked this book because I could DO something with it.  It was a great tool for me and I highly recommend it to anyone else who’d like to implement a little Buddhism to help make a change for good.

Well that’s a start.  My bookshelf is crammed with great reads that I’m excited to share, but we’ll start with these.  If you have a title that you’d like to offer, please post it here with a short description.  Hopefully it’s not one I’m planning to review!  😉

From mine to yours,

Vanessa