Archive for the ‘Books and Ideas’ Category

As I mentioned here, this year I’ll focus on transitions as one of my major themes.  One of my closest friends, Barb Poole, suggested I read “Transitions:  Making Sense of Life’s Changes” by William Bridges.  Barb Poole is an accomplished life and career coach and has not only worked with people in transition, but has had plenty of her own.  And she knows me very well – so I knew it would be a great book for me at this liminal time.

I’ll be referring back to this book often this year, I suspect as it is so rich.  It lays out a map of how transitions work.    As I traverse back and forth over the landscape of endings (the starting point of all transitions, he says), through the no man’s land of the empty of fallow time between, and finally a new beginning I will be quoting this guide to the territory.

One of the most helpful aspects of this book for me was that it normalized what I am feeling these days – which is, mostly, lost.  As someone who has been a hard-charging achiever since, oh, the age of 3 or so, this period of listlessness and lack of direction, while not a first, is, again very uncomfortable.  Bridges reminds me that this is part of the process.

He lays out various predictable points of transitions – from childhood to adulthood via the transitional zone of adolescence, a similar maturation cycle at midlife and as we enter elderhood.  One’s children leaving home.  The death of our parents. And many non age-related transitions familiar to many of us – leaving or losing an important job, the end of a marriage.

I can see why this book has sold over 500,000 copies.  It provides a map for the journey (invaluable!), specific guidelines for the tasks one CAN do to traverse the terrain, and reassurance that the periods in which one is relatively powerless and lost ARE part of the process.

And he contextualizes the process in an important way at the very beginning of the book (page 3):

“To feel as though everything is ‘up in the air,’ as one so often does during times of personal transition, is endurable if it means something – if it is part of a movement towards a desired end.  But if it is not related to some larger and beneficial pattern, it simply becomes distressing.”

The transition I am in now – from ‘householder years’ to ‘wandering sage years’ – from ‘midlife to ‘baby elderhood’ DOES give me a sense of meaning.

Last year I asked my dad what the best year(s) of his life had been to date.  He first replied “well, whatever year you are still alive, I suppose.” But then he got serious and said “actually, the decade you are in now and the one following it {60s and 70s}.  You still have a lot of energy and independence to do things, but life doesn’t rattle you as much – those are good years.”

That’s the meaning I seek – how to make these years – the rest of my years – the best part of my life.

What is the transition YOU are in?  Does it have a sense of meaning to you?  Are you at the ending/the lost part/or the new beginning?  As always, I really want to know!  Post a comment and join the conversation!



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Toxic soup

I’ve noticed a propensity I have for blaming myself if something goes wrong with my body.  Particularly, I zero in on eating habits, exercise habits and the like.  And you know, that often IS a big part of the problem.  But this book I’m reading now, The Ultra Mind Solution: The Simple Way to Defeat Depression, Overcome Anxiety, and Sharpen Your Mind by Mark Hyman,  M.D., while supporting that as an essential factor to look at in disease, is also calling to mind external causes and internal causes over which we have no control – our genetic makeup.

This book is truly fascinating – broadening my perspective in so many ways and providing clear antidotes to the issues raised.

Example:  “Researchers from the Free University of Berlin discovered a new virus called Bornavirus found in the limbic system (or emotional center) of the brain in 30 percent of the population.  One in six people who carry the virus have depression and can be cured by treatment with short-term anti-viral medication.  Think about it: a virus can cause depression and treating the virus can cure, not just reduce the symptoms of, depression.  Even the best antidepressant drugs don’t’ cure depression.”- p. 181

In the chapter I read last night on detoxification Dr. Hyman gave an example of a patient named George who had 4 different gene abnormalities, all of which impaired the ability of the body to detoxify heavy metals.  That’s the loaded gun – the genetic predisposition.  George couldn’t do anything to change the loaded gun.  However, it was George’s environment – his exposure to mercury (among other ways through the fillings in his teeth) that pulled the trigger.

The great news for George – and for us, really – is that Dr. Hyman’s 7 steps towards ultra wellness and specific herbs, vitamins, nutritional recommendations, et al – provided a way for George’s body to clear the heavy overdose of mercury. 

By the way, George got to Dr. Hyman because of early onset dementia.  After clearing the mercury from his body he was able to resume a normal life.

So for Puritanical Diane who assumes all problems are from the other causes Dr. Hyman calls out (nutrition, etc.) it is eye-opening to consider that the toxic soup we all live in could be contributing to any malaise I might be having. For instance, almost every year since I’ve lived in my upscale Chicago suburb, we get a notice from the EPA about the heavy metals, including arsenic, in our water.  It always says “but this water is safer for human consumption.” Uh, yeah.

So, on my next doctor visit, I’m going to ask for some blood tests for heavy metals in the spirit of ‘can’t hurt, could help’.  And I’m forging ahead with the positive changes I continue to make in caring for my body/mind.

What’s your take?  Do you believe that our genes doom us to ill-health?  That it’s “luck” or “just the way it is”?  Do you  depend on drugs to save you if “bad luck” sends disease your way?  Or do you prefer Dr. Hyman’s approach?  As always, I really want to know!


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I haven’t written a book review in awhile and that’s mostly because my brain seems to be on summer vacation – lots of Words with Friends and magazines at night rather than reading. But I recently picked up a copy of Mark Hyman’s  2010 book The UltraMind Solution: The Simple Way to Defeat Depression, Overcome Anxiety, and Sharpen Your Mind.

My primary health care person, Lisa Decatorsmith of Healing Traditions of Barrington, had recommended Dr. Hyman’s Ultra Metabolism book to me a few years ago.  I read it and liked it and incorporated a lot of what he suggested at that time.  So when I saw this book I was intrigued.

I’m about 200 pages into it (about half way through) and it’s really good!  His evidence-based writing about the effects of various vitamins and minerals was so compelling that it got me into action about being more diligent about taking vitamins. 

He has compelling evidence on the perniciousness of sugar, which is really pushing me towards eliminating it entirely – I’m not there yet, but getting closer….

I’ve long believed that much of what we consider “our genes” or “bad luck” is, in fact, bad lifestyle choices.  I have believed that we have way more control over our physical health than most people seem to think.

But it’s intriguing to read about how much our lifestyle choices affect things like dementia, Alzheimer’s, forgetfulness that we associate with aging, or “mood disorders” such as depression, anxiety.  He makes a strong case that even things that I believed were intractable – bipolar disorder, autism, ADHD – can be ameliorated with nutrition, exercise and the like.

He believes, as I do, that people aren’t born with a Prozac deficiency (just as we aren’t born with a Lipitor deficiency). 

I’m very intrigued by this book and you’ll be hearing more about it – with quotes – from me.

How about you?  Have you read The Ultra Mind solution?  Have you seen changes in your cognition or moods based on what you eat, how much you sleep, the exercise  you get?  I know for me, on the infrequent times I have suffered from depression exercise is 100% guaranteed to alleviate it.  I’m curious to hear your stories!  As always, I really want to know!

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Sundays are Spirituality Day here at Taking it to the Streets

I think of my spiritual life as a river, flowing to the sea.  The sea (and thus all that is part of it) is God.  The river is the main tributary, but it has many creeks and even other rivers feeding it.

For me, that central river to the sea is The Twelve Steps.  Oh, there are other rivers (Buddhism, a lifelong connection to Mother Mary, etc.), but the 12 Steps are the core.  It’s my opinion that Bill Wilson was divinely inspired. Each time I read his writings (and I do so very often) I am amazed at the wisdom he coagulated into one place.  He truly did provide a guide for living.

Right now I’m reading a book on the 12 Steps:  Recovery:  The Twelve Steps as Spiritual Practice by Rami Shapiro.  Rami is a rabbi and a professor of religious studies. This book incorporates teachings from world religions into commentary on the twelve steps, as well as Rabbi Shapiro’s own thoughts.

I just finished reading Step One “The Gift of Powerlessness” and found it insightful, and challenging and a good springboard for my own thoughts on Step One.

Step one is the door in.  It’s the beginning.  It’s the “I surrender” that gets us to 12 step programs.  For though many truly feel it’s the gift of the lifetime, I don’t think anyone feels that way on day one.  Because what gets most of us into 12 steps programs is this:

“We admitted we were powerless over {alcohol, food, people, gambling, etc —- LIFE} and that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Yikes!  especially in America – who on earth wants to say “Hey, my life is spinning out of control and I’m clueless on how to stop that.”

Pretty much no one.

“The wording of Step One masks the deeper discovery we make when we actually take the Step.  Step One says we are powerless over our addiction.  It doesn’t say we are powerless over life.  Yet as we begin to face the fact of our powerlessness, we discover that, in fact, we are powerless over life.  We cannot control what happens to us. All we can do is work with what happens moment to moment.” – p. 2

Wow.  So that gets even scarier.  I still want to think that I do indeed have some control – me, with my lists, my goals, my plans, my Hard Work.  I mean really, doesn’t Hard Work count for SOMETHING?

“The fundamental and paradoxical premise of Twelve Step recovery as I experience it is this: The more clearly you realize your lack of control, the more powerless you discover yourself to be.  The more powerless you discovery yourself to be, the more natural it is for you to be surrendered to God.  The more surrendered to God you become, the less you struggle against the natural flow of life.  The less you struggle against the flow of life, the freer your become. Radical powerlessness is radical freedom, liberating you from the need to control the ocean of life and freeing you to learn how best to navigate it.”

Now THAT is the gift of powerlessness.  Freedom and liberation – with that Rabbi Shapiro is talking my language.

When I discovered this spiritual path, I was sharing my non-joy about it with my brother (as I said, this is not a path one enters joyfully, and often not willingly).  Wise George said “oh, good – now you can stop being The Doer of All Things.”

Uh, yeah – I guess my younger siblings may have had my number.  Because from age 3 on, I truly believed that if I tried harder, worked harder, was tougher – then I could keep chaos at bay.

I could not.

The first sentence of this book is:

“Here is the heart of Twelve Step recovery – quit playing God!”  He goes on to say that what that means is to quit pretending that life is controllable.

In fact, Shapiro states that it’s THIS addiction – ‘the obsessive quest for control’ – rather than the substances, activities or persons to which we THINK we are addicted – that is the real problem.  Most people in recovery get that it is their thinking that is the real problem – but this specificity  – that it is our thinking we can control things – was a new thought to me.

“…if you think you can control life you will act to control life, and doing so will invite consequences that will be excruciatingly painful to you and to those who about you.”

I’ve thought about step one, about powerlessness, about the crazy thinking that underlies addiction and chaos.  Thought about it and read about it for a very long time.   And I’ve always known step three (we’ll get to that later) is about giving up control – thus the scariest step for me.  But thinking about step one in a new way has been thought-provoking.  I find that The Doer of All Things feels a bit panicky about it initially. And then, yes, if I can actually believe that life is uncontrollable BY ME, but that there IS a unifying force-field, a sea to which this river runs, and that it is good – well, I can settle back into the raft, no matter how wild the ride and trust that the Sea is calling to me. Calling me home.  Where I already am.

What if Bob Marley was right?

“Don’t worry
about a thing
Cuz every little thing
is gonna be alright.”

Powerlessness as a gift.  It just may be.  What do YOU think?

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I recently finished Listening Below the Noise:  The  Transformative Power of Silence by Anne D LeClaire.  Though I’m rather garrulous when with people, I actually spend a lot of time at home alone in silence and find I enjoy it.  I also meditate somewhat regularly (though improvements could be made) so being alone with silence is not scary, nor foreign to me.

However, Anne LeClaire took it a step further.  She gifted herself with two totally silent days per month for many years.  That seems a bit daunting to me, especially as she routinized it – the second and fourth Monday.  What if your cousin was coming to town and would only be there on the second Monday?  What if you were a published author (she is) and your publisher wanted you to give a talk on a fourth Monday?

She had some of the same misgivings and plowed ahead anyway.  The insights she garnered from the silence were interesting.  Even more so, were the insights she garnered from the whole process of this committment – the fighting with self, the doubts, the criticisms or resentments of people in her life.

I’m realizing as I write this how much I rely on underlining important passages to help me remember all the things I loved about a book I’ve read – even one I read last week.  Alas, this book was one borrowed from a friend so I have no such signposts.

What I do know is that I had a lot of “uh, huhs, I know that feeling” insights.  And some “whoa! that sounds too hard!” and a little bit of curiosity – what would it be like to be still – truly still regularly.

My favorite part of the book was when she did a week long retreat at a cabin she and her husband own on Cape Cod.  She spent a week without speaking – but also without paying attention to time, to any media.  Eating when hungry, sleeping when tired, being in nature a lot.  That reminded me very much of the good part of summers as a child and that part, arguably the most rigorous, also sounded the most magical.

I know that the lack of silence can be very jarring for me. I don’t watch TV at all.  Mostly listen to music in the car.  Only occasionally listen to the radio at home. When I go somewhere (oil change, doctor’s office, etc.) where a TV is on if I’m there alone I turn it off.  And I don’t look or feel guilty when others come in befuddled -like, where’s the TV? Where’s the distraction.

When I meditate I always think “Why don’t I do this EVERY day?” – it’s delicious.  But still, I don’t.

We live in a noisy world – silence is a gift. And having it for more than minutes – a full day, for instance – no doubt uncovers many treasures – and a few demons.

How about you?  What does the thought of two full days of silence per month bring up for you?  Do you spend any time in silence now? What’s that like for you? As always, I really want to know!

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Buddhism – in its American incarnation – has long informed my spiritual path.  So Sharon Salzberg is someone I’d heard of for years.  I’ve picked up her book Lovingkindness more than once, but just hadn’t yet felt drawn to read any of her works.

When I came across her book on faith, however, I was intrigued.  Faith to me has seemed associated with theism in general, the Abrahamic religions in particular.  How would a Buddhist talk about faith?

The subtitle gives the first clue:  trusting your own deepest experience, rather than “following God’s word” or the precepts of a given religion.

The first four pages set up a conundrum with that subtitle, though.  Salzberg’s childhood was a crazy quilt of extreme tragedy.  Reading her simple account of family life gone terribly wrong, I felt it was inevitable that she either become a deeply spiritual person or a crazy person herself. 

I compared her in another post to Viktor Frankl or Anne Frank.  Her circumstances, extreme as they were, did not rival being in Aushchwitz (Frankl) or murdered by Nazis (Frank).  But like them, she turned ‘unfair’ suffering into gold by her response to it.

She quotes Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the democracy movement in Myanmar/Burma:

“There is darkness in the world, but it is merely an absence of light.  All the darkness in the world cannot dispel even the smallest candle flame.  We need only to accustom ourselves to the dim vision, and then the blessing of light will grow.”

The books is most decidedly based on her Buddhist beliefs, and she applies the Four Noble Truths and the insights she has gained from years of meditation to the question of how we maneuver life amidst the suffering, chaos and delight – all of it.

Meditation – for Salzberg, and indeed for me – reminds us that everything passes. Everything.  “There is a far bigger picture to life than what we are facing in any particular moment” (p 127).  It helps us gain perspective.  To be at peace.  To just BE.

Sprinkled throughout the book are personal vignettes.   Salzberg, along with Joseph Goldstein and Ram Dass, was part of the early vanguard of American Buddhism.  With Goldstein she co-founded the Insight Meditation Society and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies

But she doesn’t ‘name drop’ or self-aggrandize. On the contrary, she shares her human-ness with us and just simply illustrates how Buddhist teachings on meditation, kindness, compassion, the ephemeral nature of life have helped her to deepen, and to live a fully authentic life despite the inevitability of suffering.

I loved this:

“But if that inevitable sorrow is joined with faith in interconnectedness, rather than bitterness at the nature of things, we can more likely get up the next morning and once again do the best we can, knowing that in this inter-connected reality, even the smallest action done with good intention is consequential.”

I really loved this book and will soon be reading more from Salzberg.  I “liked” her page on FaceBook and am enjoying the updates there as well.

And I liked that, for me, she reclaimed the idea of ‘faith’ – which had become for me a sort of ‘bullying’ word used by zealots to beat on “non-believers”.  In my worldview (not hers perhaps) it is having faith in an immanent God and essential goodness – and then putting THAT faith into action that is a faith I can live with.

How about you?  Have you read any of Sharon Salzberg’s books?  What does faith look like to you?  As always, I really want to know!

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I feel sad about Maurice Sendak’s death.  I don’t have children and I was way past my own childhood when his books arrived on the scene.   But as a former bookseller and a doting aunt/grandaunt, I’m quite familiar with “Where the Wild Things Are” and “In the Night Kitchen” – magical works, both.

The illustrations are enchanting, even if sometimes a bit scary.  The characters – Max in “Where The Wild Things Are” and Mickey in “In the Night Kitchen” – are very endearing.

What I love the most, though, is how Sendak weaves in much bigger messages amidst his simple tales.

I’ve long used “In the Night Kitchen” as the absolute best explanation of the immanent and transcendent nature of God, in this simple illustration/phrase:  “I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me!”


And now this complex, deep, fanciful and sometimes haunted man, Maurice Sendak has returned to Source.  The scary monsters all vanquished, at one with the Milk-ness of life.  Rest in peace, you have delighted so many.  And thanks.

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