Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Tag: Books & Reviews (Page 1 of 3)

WILLPOWER: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Book Review:  Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

I tend to be an impulsive person so I was automatically captivated by the title of this book:  Willpower.   Written by the pioneering research psychologist, Roy F. Baumeister, in collaboration with New York Times science writer, John Tierney, Willpower has proven its weight in gold.

One of the most powerful messages of Willpower – is that lack of self-control is an all-pervasive problem.  A challenge that is only escalating in these modern times when there are more temptations than ever.  In fact, one-fourth of our waking hours are spent resisting urges.

So if you find yourself low on willpower there’s no need to hide in embarrassment.  Almost everyone else is just like you.

That doesn’t mean developing willpower is a hopeless endeavor.  The authors provide reams of scientific evidence to the contrary.  And they outline the essential knowledge and tips you need to succeed.

There’s a very good reason to focus on willpower:  happiness. 

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Amazing Encounters with the Essence of Mind

Would you like a glimpse of what it would be like to sit in the presence of a great meditation master and be introduced to the essence of mind?

Then,  you’re in for a treat.

One of my favorite parts of In the Shadow of the Buddha, Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet by Matteo Pistono is the author’s description of his profound encounters with some of the greatest meditation masters of our time.

At the end of my review of this captivating read , I promised to also write about Pistono’s experiences in meditation.

So if you would like to get a glimpse of the luminous meeting of hearts and minds in the center of bustling London and against the icy backdrop of Tibet, please run right over and read my post Profound Encounters with the Essence of Mind at the What Meditation Really Is Blog.

The first few paragraphs are similar to the beginning of my review, but from there on the content is new.  Please enjoy!

If you liked this article, please share the link by using the share button below.  Thanks so much for your support!  Sandra

Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, & Spiritual Discovery in Modern-Day Tibet

Matteo Pistono in Tibet

James Bond, Tibetan Style

Intrigue, adventure, and a profound spiritual odyssey await you in In the Shadow of the Buddha, Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet by Matteo Pistono.

This is a story of courage, conviction, and compassion that you won’t want to put down for a moment.

For more than a decade, Pistono skillfully eluded Chinese security forces while gathering heart-wrenching accounts of torture and atrocities regularly and repeatedly committed by the Chinese government in Tibet.  However, Pistono didn’t set out to be an espionage agent, nor did he train as the protégé of James Bond. 

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How To Focus – 10 Practical Tips

I was a workaholic.  So much so that I burned out my body and brain.

In fact, I burned myself out by not being focused.  I tried to do everything and that’s impossible.

As you can imagine, I now highly value relaxation and rejuvenation.

In fact, I spend several hours each day relaxing and caring for my body, mind, and spirit.

This commitment to myself limits the amount of time available for work.  Therefore,  I need to focus and use work time efficiently.

But – as you probably know quite well yourself – it’s easy to get distracted.

Whether you are too busy working or – like me – too busy relaxing, the answer to distraction is the same:  focus.

10 Ways I Focus

Here are 10 ways that I focus inspired by Leo Babauta’s excellent new ebook called focus, a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction.

1.  Resisting the pull of email

Without thinking about it too much, I had my email program set to auto check every five minutes.  Yes, almost every time it beeped, I would disrupt my work flow to have a “quick” look.  Of course, that often led to more distraction.  Now it’s reset to check every hour.  The sound notification is turned off.  I will probably turn the auto-check off completely and just check email once or twice a day.

2.  Turning away from excess entertainment

My husband and I haven’t had a television for over four years now.  We watch a movie or documentary, but we limit it to just once a week.

We often choose movies or documentaries about nature or ones with an uplifting message, which inspires our mind and heart.  The violence that is an ordinary part of many television programs adversely effects all of us, but children and highly sensitive people – up to 20% of the population – are at greater risk.

Limiting television, movies, and other forms of mindless entertainment opens up so much time and space in your life, and allows you to focus on what’s really important to you.  It’s such a wonderful way to find more peace, freedom, and creativity.

3.  Limiting social media time

I value social media and the wonderful connections I’ve made there.  But it can be a place where I easily fritter away time.  I’ve decided to limit myself to 30 minutes a day.

4.  Unsubscribing

I have hundreds of blog posts in my inbox. Since I follow all my blog friends on twitter, I see their new posts there – far before I see them in my inbox. I don’t need to receive them in my inbox too.  I’d rather follow the twitter link and visit their blog.

I’m gradually unsubscribing to blogs – one a day.  Don’t take it personally if I unsubscribe from your blog.  I’m still reading it!

5.  Turning off email notifications from social media.

I don’t need to know every time I have a new follower on twitter or a friend request from Facebook.  This further clogs up my already hopeless inbox, which takes more and more time to clear.

6.  Cleaning up my computer desktop

I tend to let files accumulate all over my desktop so I can barely see the bright blue sky behind them.   It makes it difficult to find what I need, another time waster.

7.  Choosing only the most important tasks each day

I love Leo’s suggestion of selecting just 1-3 most important tasks each day, focusing on the single most important task first, and single-tasking until it’s finished.  This is proving to be a much more relaxing and productive way to work.

8.  Blocking off undistracted time

I’m learning to work in 50 minute blocks of undistracted time interspersed with 10 minute breaks for stretching, resting, breathing, meditating, and other rejuvenating activities.

9.  Disconnecting

Since the publication of Leo’s book, so many of my internet friends are disconnecting – some for short periods of time and others for far longer.  To be honest, I miss them although I support them too.  I’m myself plan to unplug periodically to focus on – you guessed it – relaxation, inner focus, and my close relationships.

10.  Simplify my writing style

I tend to write long blog posts.  There are times when I can deliver the same value with fewer words saving both myself and my readers time.

I’m putting these new habits into place gradually, there’s no need to rush.  With every small step, I’m already enjoying the increased clarity and added simplicity that is blossoming in my life.

I recommend focus

In his simple, yet compelling writing style, Leo Babauta helps you step back and explore your own personal obstacles to focus.  He tells you how to beat the fear of disconnecting and the rewards that focus will bring to your life.  You’ll find easy to use ideas and methods for clearing distractions, simplifying your life, and finding focus.

Leo is a deep thinker and caring person, which sets Babauta’s focus apart from other ebooks on the topic.  Whether you get the free, premium, or Kindle version, you will benefit from reading this manifesto.

How are you finding focus in your life?

If you liked this article, please share it with others on your social networks.  Thanks so much!  Sandra


The World We Have by Thich Nhat Hanh

Buddhist meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

The World We Have is a startling and potent book.

With no holds barred, Thich Nhat Hanh and Alan Weisman paint a precise and disturbing picture of the perils we face as a species. They are not afraid to tell the truth:  complete destruction of the planet is a likely outcome if we continue blindly on our current course.

Despite the dark possibilities, reading this book – I’m halfway through – leaves me in a state of sublime joy.

Why? Thich Nhat Hanh illuminates the secret to complete transformation of the environmental crisis. He tells us that the choice lies squarely in our hands.

With his bright and gentle spirit, Thich Nhat Hanh kindly shows us how to transcend the fear, anger, and despair that wells up within with each new environmental disaster.  He encourages us to embrace our interconnectedness and deeply accept impermanence as the basis for finding inner peace and planetary harmony.

Most remarkably, Thich Nhat Hanh gives us the magic key – the one that has the power to turn the environmental crisis on its head.

The secret is this – the simple yet effective practice of mindfulness.

Don’t let the word “Buddhist” in the title fool you.  The ideas and principles presented in The World We Have are universal and apply to all of us.

Sunday Reflection: Waking Up to Our Impact

For this week’s reflection, I’ve chosen the following quotes from the World We Have, A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology. These quotations remind us up to look deeply at our own actions and impact they have on the planet.

“The bells of mindfulness are calling out to us, trying to wake up up, reminding us to look deeply at our impact on the planet.”

“The bells of mindfulness are sounding. All over the Earth, we are experiencing floods, droughts, and massive wildfires. Sea ice is melting in the Arctic and hurricanes and heat waves are killing thousands. The forests are fast disappearing, the deserts are growing, species are becoming extinct every day, and yet we continue to consume, ignoring the ringing bells.”

“All of us know that our beautiful green planet is in danger. Our way of walking on the Earth has a great influence on animals and plants. Yet we act as if our daily lives have nothing to do with the condition of the world. We are like sleepwalkers, not knowing what we are doing or where we are heading. Whether we can wake up or not depends on whether we can walk mindfully on our Mother Earth. The future of all life, including our own, depends on our mindful steps. We have to hear the bells of mindfulness that are sounding all across our planet. We have to start learning how to live in a way that a future will be possible for our children and our grandchildren.”

Thich Nhat Hanh has coined the term “mindful consumption.” When we consume mindfully, he says,

“…we recognize exactly what to consume and what not to consume in order to keep our bodies, our minds, and the Earth healthy and not cause suffering for ourselves and for others. Mindful consumption is the way to heal ourselves and to heal the world. As a spiritual family and as the human family, we can all help avert global warming by following this practice.”

This is an enlightening and encouraging book that covers a great deal of territory beyond mindful consumption alone.  I recommend it highly and wish everyone would read it.

What are your thoughts about applying mindfulness to consumption?  Would you like to share a tip with us on your own efforts toward mindful consumption?

Stay Tuned: My review of Be Love Now, The Path of the Heart by Ram Dass will be up on Wednesday, Nov. 10.

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Please let your friends know about this article by using the share buttons below.  Every share helps me reach out to others.  Thanks so much for your support!  Sandra

The Heart of Reality

Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

Are you ready for a mind-bending exercise in perception?

Turn your brain onto high for the next few moments as we explore the nature of reality.

This is why: according to the Dalai Lama, the way we perceive the world has a tremendous impact on our behavior. If we misperceive the nature of reality, we are more prone to act in ways that will harm ourselves and others.

In Part 1 of this series A Simple Guide to Inner and Outer Harmony, the Dalai Lama reviewed the man-made challenges we face today and concluded that only a spiritual revolution can fully change the world. We need to take practical action too, but without a spiritual revolution, there is no hope.

In Part 2, the Dalai Lama clarified precisely what he means by a “spiritual revolution” – the rekindling of basic human values like kindness, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness among others. These qualities of the human spirit need not be linked to religion. They can be cultivated by one and all.

In today’s post, we will explore the Dalai Lama’s view of the nature of reality to illustrate how we are all inextricably linked for better or for worse.  Therefore, your interest and my interest are intimately connected.  Understanding this is the secret to finding our own happiness and changing the world for the better.

Why We Misperceive the World

Hang on tight. We are going to dive into the realm of philosophy and and touch on physics to understand why interrelatedness is a natural law of the universe.

The Dalai Lama’s view of reality is based on the idea of dependent origination found in Buddhist philosophy, but also supported, at least to some degree, by quantum and probability theory. In short, the origin of phenomena is dependent on causes and conditions. Nothing exists independently in its own right.

The Dalai Lama says that we misperceive the world because our tendency is to narrow in on specific parts of an event or experience. We then take that narrow view to be all of reality. Reality however is infinitely complex and vast.

The philosophy of dependent origination helps us to understand this complexity. It explains that phenomena – material things as well as the movements of mind – come about in three ways.

1. Due to the principle of cause and effect – phenomena arise due to interrelated causes and conditions. Nothing can come into existence or remain in existence on its own. Its origin is dependent on causes and conditions.

The Dalai Lama uses the example of a pot which comes about due to many factors, including the work of the potter, the clay, the water – among other factors. There are also the molecules, atoms, and other tiny particles that make up the pot. The pot does not magically come into existence independently, on its own.

2. There is a mutual dependence that exists between parts and a whole; parts and wholes cannot exist without each other. Parts are their own whole that consists of parts.

3. All phenomena lack independent identity. There is no single characteristic which can be said to identify the pot or any other thing. The clay alone is not the pot. The water alone is not the pot and so on. When you really look, you will never be able to actually find this thing called “pot.” The word “pot” is simply a verbal designation.

The Dalai Lama applies the same principle to consciousness. You can’t pinpoint consciousness. It is not an independently existing entity. “…consciousness is more like a construct which arises out of a spectrum of complex events.”

Time is another good example of a label that is merely a convention. You can’t pinpoint the present moment. As soon as we speak the word, the present moment is gone.

Changing our Whole Perspective

Understanding this view of reality has the power to change our whole perspective. The Dalai Lama explains,

“…when we come to see that everything we perceive and experience arises as a result of an indefinite series of interrelated causes and conditions, our whole perspective changes. We begin to see that the universe we inhabit can be understood in terms of a living organism where each cell works in balanced cooperation with every other cell to sustain the whole. If then, just one of these cells is harmed, as when disease strikes, that balance is harmed and there is danger to the whole. This in turn, suggests that our individual well-being is intimately connected both with that of all others and with the environment within which we live. It also becomes apparent that our every action, our every deed, word, and thought, no matter how slight or inconsequential it may seem, has an implication not only for ourselves but for others, too.”

In short, if I harm you, it harms me.

Understanding dependent origination helps us to diminish our tendency to see what occurs both around us and in our mind as “solid, independent, discrete entities.” It is this tendency that causes us to exaggerate one or two aspects of an experience, see them as the whole experience, and neglect the full complexities.

For example, if we perceive someone as harming us, we may focus intently on our perception of harm and feel the urge to harm back. But if we understand this view of reality, we understand that harming in return only perpetuates further harm and is not in one’s best interest.  We also understand that the “harm” in question came about due to several different causes and conditions and not one factor or individual alone.

This view of reality challenges us to stop seeing events and experiences as black and white. Instead it shows us how to see them as a “complex interlinking of relationships.”

Extending Our View of Self

InterconnectednessIf phenomena cannot exist independently, even the “self” cannot be said to exist in the way we normally believe it does. If we investigate and try to find the “self” through self-analysis, we will only find there is no “real” self to be found.

The “self” – the one that we cherish and protect so strongly – is simply another construct or label that we apply to a collection of parts. The habitual distinction we make between “self” and “others” is to some extent an exaggeration.

This doesn’t mean we don’t exist. We exist, but not in the way that we think we do – not as an independently existing self. The idea and label of “self” is a handy convention for relating in the world, but it is not an accurate picture of reality.

“When we say that things and events can only be established in terms of their dependently originating nature, that they are without intrinsic reality, existence, or identity, we are not denying the existence of phenomena altogether. The “identylessness” of phenomena points rather to the way in which things exist: not independently but in a sense interdependently.”

The distinction we make between self and others is primarily due to conditioning. We could just as easily extend the concept of our “self” to include others. You are part of me and I am part of you. Just as we extend our identity when we consider we are part of a family or a part of a particular heritage like being American, Canadian, or French.

“If the self had intrinsic identity, it would be possible to speak in terms of self-interest in isolation from that of others’. But this is not so, because self and others can only really be understood in terms of relationship, we see that self-interest and others’ interest are closely interrelated. Indeed, within this picture of dependently originated reality, we see that there is no self-interest completely unrelated to others’ interests. Due to the fundamental interconnectedness which lies at the heart of reality, your interest is also my interest. From this, it becomes clear that “my” interest and “your” interest are intimately connected. In a deep sense, they converge.”

The idea of dependent origination encourages us to take the reality of cause and effect with utmost seriousness. Certain actions lead to suffering while others lead to happiness. It’s in everyone’s interest to do what leads to happiness and avoid that which leads to suffering. In other words, it is plain stupid to harm.  This is the logic, ethics, and spiritual wisdom we need to embrace ourselves and impart to new generations if we wish to see a change in the world.

This operation of this principle can clearly be seen in the Western overindulgence in consumption.  Our narrow focus upon our own perceived “needs” and wish for elusive satisfaction are like a boomerang returning with a plague of chronic illness, cancer, and heart disease and a proliferation of childhood disorders.

Our interests are inextricably linked. Interconnectedness is the heart of reality.  It is a natural law of the universe.  This is the basis for the Dalai Lama’s call for a spiritual revolution and a return to heart-felt ethics in order to make the world a better place.

This series – A Simple Guide to Inner and Outer Harmony – is based on Ethics for a New Millennium by the Dalai Lama.

Image of the Dalai Lama from his Facebook Page.

Please let your friends know about this article by using the share buttons below.  Every share helps me reach out to others.  Thanks so much for your support!  Sandra

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