Books in Brief
The Power and the Pain
Transforming Spiritual Hardship into Joy
By Andrew Holecek
Some people accuse Buddhists of being wet blankets—of harping on and on about suffering. But perhaps those people haven’t gotten the deeper dharma point: adverse circumstances have the potential to be transformed into conditions conducive to awakening. In The Power and the Pain, his first book, Andrew Holecek helps us to accept the inevitability of difficulty and find new ways of coping with challenge. An adjunct faculty at Naropa University and the Ngedon School of Buddhist Studies, Holecek leads seminars throughout the United States on spiritual hardship and is the cofounder of the Himalayan Dental Relief Project. The foreword is by the influential scholar and meditation master Ponlop Rinpoche.
Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen priest, but she’s not the kind most of us probably picture. She doesn’t often wear robes. Instead, she sports the same kind of ordinary clothes that we do, she does the same kinds of ordinary activities, and she faces the same kinds of ordinary challenges. Miller got married when she was twenty-three. She and her husband had successful careers and the accoutrements of that lifestyle—dinnerware, furniture, a house on street lined with oak trees. But by age thirty-five, Miller wanted out. Hand Wash Cold is the story of her divorce and subsequent romances and of how she finally came to Zen. It is also—without being dogmatic—a guide to finding true happiness by paying attention to ourselves, to our relationships, and to suds and stains.
Typically, when we want to solve our thorniest group or societal issues, we either go to war—pushing for what we want at all costs—or else we sweep problems under the rug of superficial peace. But, says Adam Kahane, there is a better way. First, we must understand that these two approaches reflect fundamental, human drives: love (the drive to unity) and power (the drive to self-realization). Then we can learn to synthesize love and power and discover the ways in which they complement each other. Kahane has spent twenty years helping leaders around the world tackle daunting problems, such as making cities more livable in the U.S., implementing peace accords that ended the civil war in Guatemala, and addressing critical development issues in South Africa. He is also the author of Solving Tough Problems.
Kathleen Dean Moore had intended to write about happiness, but then, one after another, three of her friends died, and her book took on additional flavors—somber and contemplative. Wild Comforts is the story of Moore’s search for solace in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, and it is nature writing at its most lyrical. On these pages, a vole shoots out of a nest, dropping babies from her teats like ripe plums; tendrils of fog float above the taut skin of a lake; and spatulas of prickly pear catch the sun. Another new title from Trumpeter Books, Islands Apart, also focuses on nature. Ken McAlpine could barely see stars from his yard because of light pollution, so he decided to journey alone to California’s Channel Islands National Park and chronicle his experience of solitude. The author of Off-Season: Discovering America on Winter’s Shore, McAlpine is a travel writer whose work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Outside, and Reader’s Digest.
The Meditative Gardener
Cultivating Mindfulness of Body, Feelings, and Mind
By Cheryl Wilfong
Heart Path Press 2010; 244 pp., $35 (paper)
The Meditative Gardener is a visual treat. Its many gorgeous photos include images of blossoms, bees, and butterflies, moss-covered benches, and stone Buddhas tucked under trees. The text is a collection of gardening-related meditations and investigations based on the Buddha’s four foundations of mindfulness: body, feelings, mind, and contemplations (also referred to as phenomena). That may sound heady—and indeed The Meditative Gardener is full of wisdom—but Cheryl Wilfong’s writing is joyful and approachable as she weaves in her own experiences to clarify the concepts she presents. The Japanese Tea Garden is another exceptionally attractive book with arresting photos. It begins by delving into the braided histories of tea and Zen. Then it unpacks the factors in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that brought about the flowering of tea culture and the development of a uniquely Japanese aesthetic for gardens. The last section brings us to the present day by showing how the tea garden has evolved.
The words I want to do better came to Dani Shapiro unbidden. She says: “I wanted to be a better mother, wife, writer, teacher, person, member of society… I wanted to practice yoga more days of the week. I wanted to understand the difference between the Sunnis and the Shiites. I wanted to be someone who not only bought flaxseed oil at the health food store, but actually ingested it.” This endless list of self-improvements, however, wasn’t what Shapiro really meant by do better, and Devotion is the story of her seeking to get to the root of what she did really mean—to connect to something bigger. This memoir takes us on a journey from Orthodox Jewish rituals to meditation retreats and, finally, it takes us home. Dani Shapiro is the author of the best-selling memoir Slow Motion. Her essays and short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Elle, and O: The Oprah Magazine.
Click here to read our recent interview with Dani Shapiro.
In this touching book a mother deer tells her fawn the story of what happened while she carried him in her belly. At that time, there was a human king whose people built him a stockade and drove two herds of deer inside. Hunters went to the stockade every day and killed a deer for the king’s kitchen, but besides the one who died, many more were wounded. The king of one of the herds went to the other deer king and suggested they hold a lottery. One day a deer from one herd would be selected, and the next day a deer from the other. In this way, only one deer would be shot and no others injured. This was the best solution to a terrible situation, yet it had consequences no one was expecting. The Banyan Deer is a retelling of a tale in the Pali Jataka, an ancient collection of stories about the Buddha’s earlier lifetimes. The attractive illustrations are by Richard Wehrman.