Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices
By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2009; 120 pp., $12.95 (paper)
Happiness is a collection of the practices adapted and developed by Thich Nhat Hanh in his more than sixty years as a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher, and it shines with the simplicity, warmth, and insight that has made him one of the best-known Buddhist luminaries in the West. The purpose of the volume is to help us bring our minds into our bodies and, thereby, become fully alive, fully mindful. The practices are divided into six sections: daily practices, eating practices, physical practices, relationship and community practices, extended practices, and practicing with children. In Happiness, Hahn says we usually behave as if we were poor—a destitute son or daughter. But, he says, “We can recognize that we have a treasure of enlightenment, understanding, love, and joy inside us. It’s time to go back to receive our inheritance. These practices can help us claim it.”
By Mary Oliver
Beacon Press, 2009; 76 pp., $23.00 (cloth)
In Evidence, Mary Oliver delivers the same lyrical yet unadorned language and level of insight into her classic themes—nature, mortality, and love—as she did in her previous eighteen volumes. One of my favorites among her forty-six new poems is “Prince Buzzard,” which describes the beauty of a bird that I’d not previously seen as beautiful. The buzzard “came down / with [his] spoony mouth” and his hunger, and he settled over a dead lamb’s white body. His dark work, says Oliver, “wasn’t to be done easily or quickly, / but thoroughly— / and indeed by time summer opened its green harbors / the field was nothing but flowers, flowers, flowers, / from shore to shore.” Life is precious, fleeting, and ultimately joyful. This is what Mary Oliver tells us in every poem.
The Courage to Be Present: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Awakening of Natural Wisdom
By Karen Kissel Wegela
Shambhala Publications, 2009; 224 pp., $24.95 (cloth)
At the heart of the Mahayana Buddhist teachings is the ideal of the bodhisattva, one who puts the needs of all others before their own. Karen Kissel Wegela says that when she started practicing Buddhism in the seventies, she found this notion threatening. Wouldn’t such self-sacrifice be indicative of a psychological problem? Not necessarily so, Wegala has since realized. Buddhism teaches that we mistakenly hold on to a sense of the self as solid, separate, and permanent. But the path of the bodhisattva exposes this sense of self for the illusion it is, thereby leading us to delight, spontaneity, and openness. The Courage to Be Present integrates the ideal of the bodhisattva with the principles and ethics of the professional therapist. The focus is on how counselors and psychotherapists can tap into bodhisattva qualities while working with their clients. Wegela, who was a longtime columnist for the Shambhala Sun, teaches contemplative psychology at the master’s level at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.
Beats at Naropa
Edited by Anne Waldman and Laura Wright
Coffee House Press, 2009; 228 pp., $15.95 (cloth)
By Anne Waldman
Penguin, 2009; 130 pp., $18.00 (paper)
Many of the literary movers and shakers in the Beat world, including Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Diane di Prima, were active teachers and presenters at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets at Naropa University. As a result, the university has a huge archive of these writers’ oral material, which editors Anne Waldman and Laura Wright mined for Beats of Naropa. The Beat writers—known for their activism, Buddhism, and party animalism—are the stuff of legend, but this anthology goes deeper than the wild tales. Waldman was one of the founders of the famous poetics school, and she has been influenced by the “moment-to-moment playfulness” of the Beats. Manetee/Humanity is Waldman’s new book-length poem. For this dreamy work, she found inspiration in animal lore, evolutionary biology, and Tibetan Buddhist ritual.
Wonderland: The Zen of Alice
By Daniel Doen Silberberg
Parallax Press, 2009; 120 pp., $12.95 (paper)
Koans are questions used in Zen training to help us leave the intellect behind and accept people and events as they really are. The uninitiated, however, say that koans sound like amusing but puzzling nonsense, something like what we find in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In his first book, which is named in honor of the children’s classic, Daniel Doen Silberberg uses the Carroll–koan connection as a jumping-off point to convey Buddhist concepts. But Silberberg doesn’t limit his teaching tools to the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. In fact, Wonderland is (in the very best sense) all over the map. A trained psychologist and musician, Silberberg offers stories from his own life as well as lots of juicy tidbits from the cultural stew that’s all around us. This is both a fun and a profound read.
By Gail Silver
Plum Blossom Books, 2009; 40 pp., $16.95 (cloth)
Anh is building the biggest block tower ever when his grandfather tells him dinner is on the table. Anh is mad—he doesn’t want playtime to be over—and he gets even madder when his tower takes an unintended tumble. Grandfather says, “Please go to your room and sit with your anger.” Sit with anger? Anh doesn’t know how to do that. Then, to his surprise, his anger appears—green tongue and all—and extends its hairy hand. The two dance and howl, drumming on the ground until they’re so tired they’re ready to sit, to breathe in and out. In stillness, Anh’s anger gets so small it eventually disappears, and finally his grandfather taps on the door. Intended for children from ages four to eight, this touching book was a big hit with the five-year-old we gave it to. The handmade collage illustrations are by Christine Krömer, who previously illustrated The Treehouse Children (Simon & Schuster). The author, Gail Silver, resides in Philadelphia where she teaches yoga and is developing a school-based yoga and mindfulness curriculum.