The Power of Meditation
By Sharon Salzberg
Workman Publishing Company 2010; 224 pp., $14.95 (paper)
This is an ideal book for anyone interested in beginning a meditation practice. In the opening chapters of Real Happiness, Sharon Salzberg, a founder of the Insight Meditation Society, discusses what meditation is and isn’t, and how it can enrich our lives. Then she dives into the meat of the book—a step-by-step, twenty-eight-day program showing readers how to develop their own practice. Week one focuses on concentration, as well as practicalities such as where and when to meditate. The second week focuses on mindfulness and the body, and includes instructions for walking, body sensation, and drinking tea meditations. Week three concentrates on emotions, particularly difficult ones, and the fourth week explains how to cultivate compassion for ourselves and others. Real Happiness includes a CD with four guided meditations, and features a final chapter on how we can keep our practice going.
A Woman’s Journey From Doctor to Nun
By Sister Dang Nghiem
Parallax Press 2010; 120 pp., $12.95 (paper)
Healing is the moving memoir of Sister Dang Nghiem, a nun in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing who describes herself as “a product of the war.” Born in Vietnam in 1968, her mother was an unmarried Vietnamese woman and her father was most likely an American soldier. The little girl’s childhood was littered with tragedy. Bombs rained down on her village; she was physically and verbally abused by her mother, and molested by her uncle; and eventually her mother went missing, apparently murdered. In hopes of a better life, the future Sister Dang, aged seventeen, moved—under the Amerasian Immigration Act—to Arizona, where she completed her education, even going on to medical school. But being a doctor left her feeling empty. She found that she didn’t want to just cure illness, she wanted to help people live meaningfully and to find meaning in her own life. Healing is the remarkable story of how—through practice—Sister Dang finally found meaning and came to transform her pain into understanding.
Escape From the Land of Snows
The Young Dalai Lama’s Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero
By Stephan Talty
Crown 2011; 320 pp., $26 (cloth)
While most Shambhala Sun readers are familiar with the Dalai Lama and his 1959 flight from Tibet, virtually everyone will find fresh facts and perspectives in Stephan Talty’s well-researched Escape From the Land of Snows. Also the author of Empire of Blue Water and The Illustrious Dead, Talty knows how to spin a yarn. I delight in his ability to build suspense, craft perfect sentences, and provide the most telling details. Yet, most of all, I appreciate the emotional energy he brings to His Holiness’ story. Escape From the Land of Snows gives readers a keen sense of the Dalai Lama—his compassion, the perils and heartbreak he has faced, and the sources of joy in his life.
The Zen Way to True Contentment
By Ezra Bayda
Shambhala Publications 2010; 164 pp., $21.95 (cloth)
According to frequent Sun contributor Ezra Bayda, research shows that external circumstances play a relatively minor role in determining our happiness. Instead, we are each predisposed to feel a certain level of happiness, and regardless of whether we win a lottery or are left paralyzed by an accident, we tend to return to our set point. So, if we cannot increase our happiness by changing our external conditions, how can we become happier? In Beyond Happiness, Bayda says there is no easy happiness formula, but we can begin by asking ourselves three questions and working with them: Am I truly happy right now? If not, what blocks it? And, can I surrender to what is? A major key to happiness, Bayda explains, is not trying to be happy; it’s cultivating gratitude and forgiveness.
What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth
By Lisa Napoli
Crown 2011; 304 pp., $25 (cloth)
By Jeff Greenwald
Counterpoint 2010; 384 pp., $15.95 (paper)
When Lisa Napoli hit her forties, “a near-continuous looping chorus of ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ became [her] soundtrack.” She didn’t have a husband or kids—just the puzzle of how to make the second half of her life more meaningful than the first. But then a chance encounter leads Napoli to transcend her midlife crisis by moving to Bhutan and volunteering at the country’s first radio station for youth. Few Westerners have traveled to the Buddhist nation of Bhutan and it’s a delight to be able to visit through the colorful, true story of Radio Shangri-La. Snake Lake, with its Nepalese setting, is another addition to the travel memoir section. It opens with the intriguing line, “The brawl began with an eggplant,” and from there it rips into revolution and romance, death, and dharma. Jeff Greenwald is the author of five bestselling books, including Shopping for Buddhas, and he has contributed to publications such as The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic Adventure.
20 Portable Flower Arrangements Perfect for Gift-Giving
By Keiko Kubo
Trumpeter Books 2010; 95 pp., $19.95 (paper)
It’s been years since I’ve done ikebana, Japanese flower arranging, but this might be the book that gets me back into it. The twenty designs in Ikebana Style are attractive and look complex, but the instructions for how to put them together are totally unintimidating. The author, Keiko Kubo, who has a master’s degree in fine arts, is a certified ikebana teacher and an independent floral designer working in Chicago. A fresh take on the traditional, her designs combine Eastern and Western influences. I particularly like the tropical flair of her “Orchids With Limes” arrangement and the playfulness of her “Floral Gift Box”—an arrangement of roses in a square glass container that is decorated with a flourish of flax-leaf “ribbon.”