How to Simplify Your Life and Find Happiness
by REBECCA MERRIMAN
reviewed by Douglas S Johnson
It strikes this reviewer as most interesting that there has of late been published a flood of books dealing with the topic of depression from a different angle. Many authors of self-help books now believe (and, I think, rightly so) that one of the main reasons that clinical depression seems to have reached pandemic proportions in our society is that there is almost nothing left of simplicity in life. Overloaded by the intense demands of a world driven and lashed onward by technology and the constant need to "keep up," a human being, over time, will simply start to shut down, unable to bear that kind of pressure.
Merriman has, in Simply Happy, put together some just plain common sense ideas for making life easier. Most important of all, she explains the ways in which one can deal with the inevitable stress of the present harried "world market culture" and so avoid the pitfalls of clinical depression based in overload.
There are 14 basic principles that Merriman puts forth in Simply Happy. The first is perhaps the most important: "Simply Believe." One must believe that one can be happy before there is any chance of it. From believing, one goes on to "Simply Choosing." What this means is that one who wishes to simplify must make simple choices, in food, in clothing, in relationships, simplifying the outside along with the inside. The third principle is "Simply Write." As one who keeps a daily journal, I can wholeheartedly agree with this idea; a journal is a great place to vent, plan, dream, and store memories and useful information. "Simply Eat" is number four, and number five is "Simply Exercise." There can be no truly healthy mind without a healthy body in which it may reside.
Number six is "Simply Gentle," and the seventh principle is "Simply Forgive." The way people treat themselves is closely correlated with how they treat others, and gentleness is a blessing both to giver and receiver, as is forgiveness. (For a marvelous book on forgiveness, see Virginia Fair's The Art of Forgiveness, reviewed by this writer for The New Times, May 1998.) "Simply Save" is Merriman's eighth guideline for better living; while Merriman does not endorse ascetic or Spartan frugality, she does encourage spending only for what is truly beneficial to a purposeful life well led. "Simply Help" is the ninth guideline. This is perhaps one of the most important sections of this little book, as there is nothing to better take us out of our own vain complexities like simply helping someone else who is in need. The tenth principle is "Simply Savor"; this means food, nature, relationships, all of living.
The 11th guideline for calmer and happier living is "Simply Travel." It is most vital to note here that Merriman does not mean loading up a year's worth of expensive clothing, $9000 worth of ski equipment, a portable television and six of your child's noisy friends, but rather to take off, and as often as possible, on impromptu trips, taking only the bare necessities and enjoying the movement through space and time and not always looking forward to some "event" toward which one is hurtling. The 12th principle, "Simply Solo," can sometimes be paired with the 11th; solo trips in which one is allowed to reconnect with the self can be the most re-energizing thing imaginable.
The penultimate ideal, "Simply Dream," encourages the aspirant to have visions of the good life and the courage to pursue them, to "build castles in the air and then put foundations under them," to quote Thoreau. The final principle ties all the rest together; "Simply Love" allows us to do all things with grace and peace and simplicity. Love is also a great anti-stress agent and the most wonderful anti-depressant known to humankind.
Simply Happy is a simple book that can be read in the span of an hour or so, but if its guidelines are applied with patience and persistence, it will change every hour of life afterward.
The Healing Art of Poem-Making
by JOHN FOX
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam
reviewed by Kate Lin
Having had little experience writing poetry, I was curious to see what Poetic Medicine would have in store for me. As it turned out, I not only found the book to be extremely moving, but began writing my own poetry as well.
How can poetry help us heal? As author Fox explains, "Unless we have the language to express the richness of our experience, we dont feel whole, and discovering our innate wholeness is what healing is all about. Poem-making can be your lifeline to a more genuine existence." Poetry goes beyond simply analyzing or explaining a problem by instead using "a more visceral, spontaneous language, originating within you
Like a trowel that digs the dark, compacted, wintered earth to prepare it for spring planting, hearing or writing a poem works upon your life so something new can grow."
Poetry can act as a container to express paradox and conflicting feelings. As a result, we expand our possible emotional choices and can more easily understand difficult issues. Poem-making fosters self-discovery as our poems reveal more of who we are. This results in greater authenticity and emotional honesty in our relationships. We give ourselves permission to speak, and we release the past and move forward.
Fox explores poem-making through the context of various subjects: loss, intimacy, illness and death, spirituality, the bond between parent and child, nature and the earth, and the pain we see outside ourselves in the world. We learn about poetic tools such as simile, metaphor, and spacing, and we are provided with exercises to help focus our writing.
The use of metaphor can help us connect to a broader reality and can help us feel more connected to the rest of creation. Sometimes images can more readily express the complexity of our feelings than regular descriptions can. For example, comparing grief to a cold winter can more readily convey something that cant be easily articulated.
The exercises encourage the creative process and help us find the words for our poems. A sample exercise is to choose a feeling that you want to explore, for example, loneliness or rage, then use images to write a poem based on that feeling, without using the actual word in your poem.
Other exercises help us gather our thoughts by asking questions that lead us through an issue. For example, one exercise has you explore the answers to the following questions: Explore a time when your inner voice was discouraged or suppressed, how you found your way in the world without that voice, what dreams and desires you want to reclaim, an image of your reclaimed creative self, and how you will maintain this new voice in the world. You can then form a poem around your responses.
Poetic Medicine is filled with sample poetry, some of it by well-known poets, but a lot of it by participants in Foxs workshops. This poetry is moving and poignant, so that even if one were to skip all the exercises, reading the book by itself can provide a healing experience. Poetic Medicine is for the person who has never written poetry before, as well as the veteran poet. We can all benefit from poetry. As Fox states, "A poem allows the air of new thoughts into your mind, the moisture of feeling into your heart, and a joyful current of energy comes alive in your body."
THE ALCHEMY OF POSSIBILITY
Reinventing Your Personal Mythology
by CAROLYN MARY KLEEFELD
reviewed by Peggy Cavin-Smith
It is a wonderful affirmation to be guided to just the right thing at just the right time. In one of those moments, I was gifted a copy of The Alchemy of Possibility. Carolyn Mary Kleefeld has not just written a book; it is a work of art. The same creative spontaneity that paints and sings fills the pages of this simple, intensely intimate collection of truth and possibilities. In her letter to the reader, Carolyn struck a chord deep in my soul (the one that reminds me to remember what I know): "Ultimately we are all Eye, all seeing in the shifting light of consciousness. Our inner light sees beyond the range of our outer sight. It is with our inner sight that we seed our outer blossom. When our perceptions change, we see things differently. And when we see things differently, we evolve."
At this moment, there isnt anyone I know that is not in the process of redefining life. Some are doing this awake to all possibilities, some are just moving in chaos, and there are those who linger in the middle somewhere. Many of us have consumed, absorbed, and assimilated volumes of information on the art of co-creation. I personally came to a point of what might be called over-enlightenment. I knew I was gathering tools to build something better, but when I spread them out in front of me, I was confused: "living in positive thought," "manifesting abundance," "believing that everything is as it should be," and my personal favorite, "we agreed to these lessons," and so on and so on; sound familiar? I was in a conversation with a dear friend about life changes and challenges, and he said, "I am tired of lessons. I need a recess."
The Alchemy of Possibility is a wonderful place to take a recess. Carolyn gives us this affirmation to release and embrace all possibility for a joyous life: "I release my attachment to outcomes, to living the future of myself in the present. By releasing outworn patterns, the gestures of the past, we live amidst the winds of change, embracing the unfamiliar. The past is but a dried leaf, returning to the soil to begin again. How brief our candle's flame; waste not the wick."
The beauty of the book is that each of the 56 chapters has its individual magic and profound insight, and none of the chapters is over four pages long. Now, thats simplicity! So take a recess and spend time in Carolyns playground of possibilities. Enjoy the color, whimsy and passion of her paintings at the beginning of each chapter. Slip and slide with the delicate rhythm of her poetry and sit quietly under "The Soul Tree" or by the shores of "a Lunar Lake" (the names of two of her paintings) and listen.
I have returned to this book frequently as a guide to simplicity, a reference for my soul, and an inspiration for lifes changes. Carolyn's quote from poet Robison Jeffers says it all perfectly: "There are times when one forgets for a moment that life's value is life; any further accomplishment is of very little importance, comparatively."
THE SACRED CIRCLE TAROT
A Celtic Pagan Journey
by ANNA FRANKLIN
illustrated by PAUL MASON
$24.95 (book and deck)
reviewed by Diana Rayment
Woven into the images of this deck are the ebb and flow of nature, the seasons, life and death, and our relationship with nature and animals. In pagan belief, everything has a vibration and is connected to the whole; thus, any shift on the web of life affects the whole. These concepts are depicted on the cards through a computer-generated combination of photographic images and drawings, resulting in multi-symbolic creations. These include sacred plants and animals, sacred sites in Great Britain, and the use of the God and Goddess and other personifications of nature-energy such as the Green Man.
Unlike many of the theme decks on the market today, this deck follows the more common or currently traditional decks such as The Rider Deck. A few of the names and order in the major arcana are changed, yet the changes are sensible, allowing the deck to more closely follow the pagan tradition.
The cards of the minor arcana are bordered with the element and color pertaining to each suit and indicate a key word at the top of the card, making it easy to feel the mood of the layout. This allows the reader to catch the general meaning of individual cards quickly. The cards of the major arcana contain a central image strong enough for instant recognition, yet full of layered symbolism that allows for in-depth interpretation and individual meditation.
The companion book is well laid out, making information easy to find while creating an overall view of the pagan tradition for the reader. A brief description of the symbolism, divinatory meaning, and reversed meaning of each card is given, allowing for more depth. Several different layouts are provided, as well as specific methods for meditating on the cards, individually or in combination, for a specific purpose.
This deck is particularly recommended for those interested in paganism. It also for those who wish to work with a beautiful, easy-to-use deck that connects readers to the elements and nature, and, thus, to themselves.
reviewed by Elana Lindquist
Sumi-e Society Midwest
Enjoy the exquisite beauty of the Orient here!
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Great tips for protection from bullying. Among my favorites were trying not to show that you are upset or angry and asking the bully to repeat what he said.
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Elana Lindquist publishes Fun with Success Online; sign up for her free newsletter at <http://www.seanet.com/~lindquist, e-mail <email@example.com>, or call (253) 858-7969.
New World Music
reviewed by David A. Young
Relying heavily on Indian praise chants (bhajans) for her vocal framework, newcomer Pia has crafted a thing of delicate and enduring loveliness in her debut album. Her voice is arrestingly clear and pure; it cuts through the musical underpinnings like a crystal flute. Most of the time, this is accomplished through hushed, breathy intonations matching the feel of the gently lapping waves of the sonic environment, although during more impassioned sections, Pia unleashes the usually restrained power of her instrument.
Both aspects of this range are explored on my favorite cut, "Angelus Cantus." The overall feeling on the track (and, indeed, the album) is one of reverence and awe, and we are vocally led to fervent heights of spiritual ecstasy as Pia morphs from Loreena McKennitt into Cyndi Lauper. I always feel so peaceful and humble after treating myself to this album, and this song in particular. Because I think you will, too, I offer it as The New Times album of the month.
"Open your heart," Pia exhorts in the introduction to the closing track, "Feel Free." By the time we have listened to the preceding songs, though, the music has already facilitated this process to the point that there is not far to go. As the song gathers urgency and speed, we are reminded of our responsibility to carry the fruits of our inward journey into the world, fulfilling its promise of harmony and joy.
New World Music
reviewed by Amanda Patrick
If you like music that takes you places, youll love this CD. Ghosts is music inspired by true ghost stories from the British Isles. You can easily imagine yourself on the moors, the wind in your hair, the presence of "others" around you. Each song has a story that goes with it; in "Borley Rectory," you can actually believe things are disappearing and phantom figures are moving about. "The White Lady" is reminiscent of the style of Loreena McKennitts music, slightly haunting yet melodious and flowing, allowing us to tap into the feelings of Marion de la Bruyère as she is betrayed by her lover. "Babes in the Wood" is a striking piece with much emotion about two young children lost and wandering.
Llewellyn uses a variety of instruments to achieve his sounds: piano, cello, pan flutes, harp, recorders, and the vocals of Juliana, among others. He is also inspired by nature, and that comes across in his music most profoundly; not only is it forceful at times, but commanding and intriguing, as nature often is.
This music is about feelings, and Llewellyn is masterful at making us feel it. We can feel the pain of love lost, murders committed, the longing of mothers for their children, the joy before the bitterness. Yet, it is also somehow soothing to my soul.
So, some rainy night, light some candles, snuggle up in your favorite chair, and let yourself go and experience the haunting yet peaceful beauty of this music and the country that inspired it.
(Both CDs are from New World Music, 154 Betasso Road, Boulder, CO 80302)