Sunday, December 5, 2010

And the Winners Are...

I have the most difficult time at bookstores. I start browsing and I never want to leave.

On a partly rainy afternoon, the North Face-wearing crowd congregated at the bookstore. Some were holiday shopping, some nosying. Some, like me, were there to scratch an itch. With the upcoming trip that commences with a 23-hour flight crossing continents, a stack of fresh books was imperative. After hours and hours of fruitful browsing, the winners are:

1. Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom by Dr. Rick Hanson. I HATE that this is in in the self-help self section and I hate that I hate self-help sections. There is such a societal stigma associated with self-help, and maybe not all of it unfounded either. A lot of these books are quick fixes that just do not work. A lot of these authors (kooks?) promise you this or that in 10 easy steps. They offer a one-size-fits all therapy in a 100 pages. Realistic? I have my doubts. I sought out this particular book since I have heard great reviews about it and it's a subject I am madly fascinated with - the intersection of science (particularly psychology) and spirituality. Rick Hanson himself is a neuropsychologist and a practicing Buddhist. The book was co-written by a neurologist who, with scientific, provable, replicable experiments, verify how contemplative practices impact and mold your physiological brain, and later on, the mind.
2. The Book by Alan Watts. I am sometimes happy that I wasn't alive yet in the sixties. It cannot be described enough how the sixties, with it's massive counter-culture movements and a socio-political climate ripe for it, was a profound time for collective awakening. It would have been an extremely overwhelming time and I think it would take a strong vessel to hold such intense and radical philosophical, cultural and spiritual shifts. I may not have been there to personally witness it but I am glad that I still have access to the great minds of that generation via the likes of Richard Alpert a.k.a. Ram Dass, an ex-Harvard professor who has a Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford. Although not single-handedly, he is responsible for bringing the Eastern teachings of Yoga to flower power America. Alan Watts is a similar individual also influential in the 50's/60's. Although I have heard of him, I have not read his writings. I opened up the book and read a few pages and they instantly resonated with me. I'm actually excited about reading this one.
3. The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing by Jalaluddin Rumi. Rumi is one of the most revered Sufi poets who wrote about love with such precise eloquence. Love in its many forms takes us to places within where there are usually unspoken words for. It is a colossal task to describe the indescribable. Yet Rumi does it with such honesty and beauty enough to send chills up my spine.

"A thousand half-loves must be forsaken to take one whole heart home."

"Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along."

"You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you."

There were other books that made it to the short-list, but not quite to the register.

The Other Contenders:

1. Total Freedom: The Essential Krishnamurti which is a collection of Jiddu Krishnamurti's (a great Indian philosopher) writings on human existence. I have always wanted to read Krishnamurti but the selection at the local bookstore was not that extensive and this one wasn't quite doing this for me.
2. The Book of Secrets by Deepak Chopra. The Banker encouraged me to get this and after hearing the title AND the author, I said no. The title turned me off so quickly because there seems a lot of ego in it. It connotes that Deepak Chopra is some authority on life and he knows and unlocked the secret to it. Really? I also mentally associate it with "The Secret" book which I found lacking in substance, to be honest. But out of curiosity, I checked it out. There it was: Fifteen Steps. To his credit though, they seem like they're the same Buddhist/Vedanta teachings repackaged to make it palatable to the mass market. What doesn't sit well with me is the marketing scheme (ergo the fifteen steps) which spells out that the intention is not to reveal or share a truth, but to make money.
3. Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. I had wanted to get his biography on the Buddha, but the store didn't have a copy. I was going to settle for this one, but the first few pages lacked lucidity for me.

What does your reading list look like nowadays?

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