David Steindl-Rast: Essential Writings
Selected and introduced by Clare Hallward
Orbis Books 2010; 168 pp., $20 (paper)
This volume, part of the Orbis Modern Spiritual Masters Series, is a selection of David Steindl-Rast’s writings on topics such as creativity, love, contemplative practice, and gratefulness. Brother David Steindl-Rast, born in 1926 in Austria, is a Benedictine monk who was an early pioneer in Buddhist–Christian dialogue. Over the years, he has attended many Zen retreats and has had many teachers, including Soen Nakagawa Roshi, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, and Eido Shimano Roshi. He helped open the Zen Mountain Center in Carmel Valley, California, and he wrote the foreword to Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Living Buddha, Living Christ. In that foreword, he described meeting Thich Nhat Hanh in the sixties and how he recognized him as a brother in the spirit. As Steindl-Rast put it, “The quest of the human heart for meaning is the heartbeat of every religion.”
Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses
By Claire Dederer
Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2010; 352 pp., $26 (cloth)
This book is for you if you’ve ever shied away from trying yoga because you feared that everyone in the class would be thin, gorgeous, and a former dancer. Poser is the story of a real woman’s exploration of yoga and how it led her to strive less for perfectionism and to open herself up to more joy. It’s also a story about family—about being a wife, daughter, mother. Author Claire Dederer’s mother left her father for a younger man when Dederer was a child, and the trauma of that family breakup had long-term effects on Dederer, which came to haunt her marriage. She didn’t want to make the same mistakes her mother had, so she made different ones—like trying too hard to be a perfect mother. Dederer’s writing is wholly approachable, with lots of warmth and self-deprecating humor.
Rumi: The Big Red Book — The Great Masterpiece Celebrating Mystical Love & Friendship
By Coleman Barks
HarperOne 2010; 512 pp., $29.99 (cloth)
In 1976, when Coleman Barks attended Robert Bly’s Great Mother Conference in Ely, Minnesota, Bly proposed that participants do a writing exercise. They were to rephrase A.J. Arberry’s scholarly translations of Rumi’s odes into engaging, modern English. Barks, who was an English professor in Athens, Georgia, was immediately smitten with Rumi’s poetry and, after the conference, he took up translating it daily. Barks felt relieved that in Rumi’s verses, he could leave the explicating mind behind. “These poems could not be explained,” he says. “They had to be entered, inhabited.” In the thirty-five years since he did that writing exercise, Barks has become internationally renowned for his translations and is the bestselling author of The Essential Rumi, The Soul of Rumi, and Rumi: The Book of Love. Rumi: The Big Red Book is the culmination of his work.
One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing
By Diane Ackerman
W.W. Norton & Company 2011; 336 pp., $26.95 (cloth)
After Diane Ackerman’s husband Paul West had a stroke, his speech therapist said she hoped he’d eventually be able to communicate his basic wants and needs verbally, with gestures, or possibly with a communication board with about 80 percent accuracy. “Basic wants and needs. The phrase spun in my mind,” writes Ackerman. “Life lives in nuances and innuendos. How could Paul’s immense cosmos of words shrink to the size of a communication board overnight? How could ours?” But that’s just the beginning of this true and ultimately triumphant love story. In One Hundred Names for Love, Ackerman guides her husband back to words by utilizing her understanding of him, language, and the brain, and eventually he is able to return to his profession, writing books. Diane Ackerman is the author of A Natural History of the Senses and Dawn Light. She’s also a contributor to the Shambhala Sun.
In the Shadow of the Buddha: Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet
By Matteo Pistono
Dutton Adult 2011; 272 pp., $25.95 (cloth)
Matteo Pistono, an American, went to Tibet to deepen his meditation practice and learn more about the esoteric teachings of a nineteenth-century spiritual master. But the more time he spent in Tibet, the more often he met Tibetans who wanted to show him their scars from being tortured in Chinese prisons. Moved by the stories he heard, Pistono went on to spend almost a decade smuggling evidence out of Tibet of human rights abuses and sharing it with NGOs, the Tibetan government-in-exile, and the U.S. government. He also regularly briefed reporters from the New York Times and other publications, and couriered clandestine messages from the Dalai Lama to a meditation master living in Tibet. Pistono’s memoir, In the Shadow of the Buddha, is at once political and spiritual. The foreword is by Richard Gere.
Where Can Peace Be Found?
By J. Krishnamurti
Shambhala Publications 2011; 192 pp., $15.95 (paper)
The Dalai Lama describes Jiddu Krishnamurti, who was born in a village in southern India in 1895, as “one of the greatest philosophers of the age.” Krishnamurti lectured across the globe until his death in the mid-eighties, and his talks and writings are preserved in more than seventy books. In “Where Can Peace Be Found?” he contends that war, conflict, and greed are not inevitable; rather, these ills stem largely from a misplaced sense of individuality and a misplaced attachment to individualized nationalism and religion. “The human condition can be radically changed,” he says, “if we have the intention, if we observe very clearly without any prejudice, without any direction, without any motive, what we are.”
Watch Me Do Yoga
Written and illustrated by Bobby Clennell
Rodmell Press 2010; 32 pp., $15.95 (cloth)
By Jon J. Muth
Scholastic Press 2010; 40 pp., $17.99 (cloth)
Bobby Clennell’s Watch Me Do Yoga is a wonderful way to introduce four- to eight-year-olds to hatha yoga. The main character of the book is a little redheaded girl who is like many kids I know: smart, enthusiastic, and cuter than any button. She meditates and does poses both on her own and with her family, even the dog, and as she stretches and bends, I find myself tempted to do the poses with her. Zen Ghosts is also aimed at children aged four to eight. A gorgeously illustrated book, it is based on a tale originally written down by Master Wu-men Hui-hai (1183–1260), a Chinese Buddhist monk. The ancient tale is made newly accessible by a modern cast of characters: three children and a kind and dignified panda named Stillwater. Jon J. Muth is also the author of Zen Shorts and Zen Ties.