Category Archives: Books

Yield to the Present – 10% Happier

Yield to the Present – 10% Happier
Yield to the Present – 10% Happier

“Yield to the Present” was the sign near the door when Dan Harris, the ambitious ABC reporter, arrived at Spirit Rock in Marin for his 10 day silent retreat in an effort to become “less of a jerk.” The book was a dishy read of behind-the-scenes at ABC news, which I loved, and had a lot of good information on his walk toward Buddhism

Dan’s teachers suggest using our native curiosity to train our Default Mode Network to move from Aversion to Compassion. To move from being a jerk, in his parlance, to a mensch. He shows the brain chemistry and meditation techniques to do it, including asking yourself, when you are ruminating on the same thought for the nineteenth time, “is this useful?”

One of his mentors, Mark Epstein, explains on page 164 discussion Dan could become 10% happier because of mitigation of misery, not alleviation. The waterfall of drama is still there, you gain the ability to step behind the waterfall, creating a space to witness what is going on. Instead of the kneejerk stimulus —> reaction, you have walked behind the waterfall of emotion and created enough space to move to stimulus —> response because you are less caught up in the melodrama that is unfolding. You are less attached to the outcome. You have space for a little insight because you are not clinging to success so desperately. Here the metta prayer he learned at Spirit Rock:

May you be happy
May you be safe and protected from harm
May you be healthy and strong
May you live with ease

My favorite part was in the appendix where Dan Harris mentions the research of Jud Brewer, MD, PhD, addiction psychiatrist at Yale. Here’s Jud’s TED talk shows how to calm the posterior cingulate — get it to “turn blue” in the fMRI.

Martin Walker: Bruno, Chief of Police

Martin Walker: Bruno, Chief of Police

brunoIn Sept, 2012 I read book three in the Bruno Series, The Dark Vineyard. It has taken me this long to get to the first book in the series: Bruno, Chief of Police. It is a quick read and I love the way Martin Walker writes.

As a working journalist, 13 of his books have been non-fiction, with many about the Soviet Union. When he retired to the Périgord region of France, he embarked on his first fiction book, The Caves of Périgord which was very ambitious with three intertwined story lines. The first, in the prehistory of the area, described how the caves may have been created. The second story line dove deeply into the French Resistance in the Périgord region during WWII and the third story was set in present-day London and Périgord. It was very interesting but complex and sometimes hard to follow.

His next fiction book, Bruno, Chief of Police, is much lighter and more playful. The caves get only a few paragraphs and we meet Bruno who embodies the world-renown charm and discretion of Frenchmen. It also touches on the horror of war and the toll it takes on the bodies and souls of men, women and children. In this book, it is Bosnia as well as WWII. Martin Walker really has a reporter’s eye for detail and he moves us quickly through the mystery, but it is the charm of the people we meet through Bruno’s detective work that is the real pleasure in this book.

I am really looking forward to the next one. Thanks for loaning it to me, Russ!

Divergent: Young Adult Fiction

Divergent: Young Adult Fiction

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My friend Beth loved the “Divergent” trilogy of Young Adult dystopian-future science-fiction novels with a 15-year-old heroine. They are being made into movies and the second installment, “Insurgent,” is due out on March 20, so I read the first book, “Divergent” and watched the movie on HBO.

I am fascinated how our mythology teaches young adults how to act in the face of danger, and how to be courageous and to take charge of their own lives and safety. Beatrice grows up in the Abnegation faction, which is like a clan, where selflessness is paramount.

At 15, everyone in her society chooses the clan where they will spend the rest of their lives. Beatrice truncates her name to Tris and leaps into the Dauntless clan, where bravery is prized. Tris must fight for her own life and the lives of those she loves.

The message of Divergent is similar to the indoctrination I received:

  1. I am on my own, no one will help me
  2. Trust no one
  3. Be selfless (like Abnegation)
  4. Be brave (like Dauntless)

“I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different.”
— Tris in Divergent by Veronica Roth

Tris starts to realize that the differences between the clan of her birth and the clan of her choice may vanishingly small, and that treachery may lie beneath the efforts of others to pit the two clans against each other. Now that I have lived so many years trying to be a hero and a savior, I am starting to realize that this loyalty/bravery/sacrifice indoctrination may serve others who do not have my best interests at heart. It may actually serve those in power, at my expense. What would REALLY benefit women and children is working together. But in this book, ambitious and resourceful youngsters are pitted against other, with the top performers being destroyed by the second best.

Maybe we could evolve into something that works better. Let’s find out What Self-Loving People Do Differently. Could this strategy lead to young people working together instead of ruthlessly competing against each other?

  1. They welcome all their emotions, including the difficult ones
  2. They learn to be self-responsible rather than blaming others
  3. They feed their inner hunger for novelty with creative pursuits rather than drugs
  4. They embrace mistakes as an important way to learn, and refuse to be shamed for trying

I don’t think I will read the second book, even though my friend Beth said it was her favorite of the three. I understand the philosophy. I look forward to watching the Insurgent movie when it comes out.

Book: Playing Pygmalion

Book: Playing Pygmalion

galateaBarbara Hayes lent me her copy of Playing Pygmalion: How People Create One Another by Ruthellen Josselson. I finally finished it the weekend I went camping by myself.  It was hard to read because the writing was terrible (see excerpt below) and because the copy I had was heavily marked up in black pen with underlines, circles and stars by the previous owner of the book, not by Barbara.  This excerpt from page 137 is footnoted (12) which indicates that this theory is also found in Dicks (1962) Scharff (1991) and Sander (2004).

People are bonded through their mutual creations, each carrying a part of the other that the other either can’t recognize (in terms of positive aspects) or can’t bear (negative ones) in the self.

To me, this meant that I could consider taking back the parts of myself that I have been projecting onto another. For example, I used to believe that I could not go camping by myself. That is was unsafe and that if anything went wrong, I would be blamed for it (“she was asking for it”). How interesting that I was camping by myself, successfully, when I finished the book.

The copy on the back cover was much better written. “Psychoanalytic theory offers a wealth of understanding of how people unconsciously create what they both need and dread. Too often, therapists join their patients in overlooking their own role in creating the relationship in their lives, such that it seems that the patients were simply unfortunate to “have” an ungiving mother or to “find” an unloving spouse.” [image: Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, Vésoul 1824–1904 Paris) Metropolitan Museum of Art, used with permission]

The Female Brain

The Female Brain

The Female Brain“If you only read one book about the brain this year, make it this one,” said Dr. Martin Rossman in his UCTV lecture on YouTube titled How Your Brain Can Turn Anxiety into Calmness. The lecture is so fascinating I have watched it several times — I find his rabbinical speaking style to be soothing and the science to be amazing. He says, “If we can teach the blind to see, we can teach the anxious to relax.” He recommended this book so strongly because, “it saved my marriage.” This from an M.D.!

Louanne Brizedine’s book is written in a very accessible style, even though she is an M.D. trained at Yale and on staff at UCSF. She starts with how, even before babies are born, testosterone kills off half the neurons that manage with emotional communication in the brain of the male fetus. Testosterone kills a huge percentage again at puberty (which is why teen boys don’t talk about feelings) and again later in life. She explains that we all have androgens, which she doesn’t like to call “male hormones” because, well, we all have them. They generate sex and aggression and diminish in both genders with age.

“Her book travels through the human lifespan describing predictable hormone changes and how they affect the brain and behavior. Perimenopause and menopause are explained in detail and strategies for coping are useful. I especially liked Dr. Brizendine’s riff on how society will change when we use this new knowledge.

Women are living in the midst of a revolution in consciousness about women’s biological reality that will transform human society…. The scientific facts behind how the female brain functions, perceives reality, responds to emotions, reads emotions in others, and nurtures and cares for others are women’s reality. Their needs for functioning at their full potential and using the innate talents of the female brain are becoming clear scientifically. Women have a biological imperative for insisting that a new social contract take them and their needs into account. Our future, and our children’s future, depends on it.”

Dr. Brizendine descries in detail how oxytocin drives our “tend and mend” behavior and when it subsides in menopause, it can free us to creative pursuits beyond the boundaries of our own families.

“If you decide to take hormone therapy, keep your blood pressure low, don’t smoke, get at least sixty minutes per week of increased-pulse cardio-vascular exercise, keep your cholesterol low, eat as many vegetables as you can, take vitamins, decrease your stress, and increase your social support.
“The hypothalamus controls our appetite. …they found that changes in a woman’s diet and physical activity, both of which may have to do with changes in her hypothalamus at menopause, are the cause of weight gain.”

Wild – Cheryl Strayed on the PCT

Wild – Cheryl Strayed on the PCT

bookWildMy sister Laurie’s friend Maureen left this book on the nightstand in the guest bedroom when we spent the night at her house before we set out on our drive from Colorado Springs to Portland, Oregon last Thanksgiving. I didn’t realize at the time that Maureen was offering it to us because she had finished it. At the send-off party that same evening, another friend of Laurie’s also recommended this book, but it would be nearly a year before I would be being able to “sport-read” again.

I started this book last weekend while we were camping in Gualala and really enjoyed it, especially the Acknowledgements on the last few pages which give a sense of why it took 15 years to write. It made me realize it can take a lifetime to write a novel, and why it is important to stay fully alive for your whole life. This is one of my favorite passages, page 258, where she reflects on her marriage that she tanked through infidelity:

What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything different than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck everyone of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?

I’m glad I read the book before the movie came out.
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I like books that have me thinking about them afterwards. Even though his book was “first-person adventure,” the hike along the Pacific Coast Trail was just the engine that conceals the real content. As Cheryl hikes, she reflects on how she trashed her marriage, and other seriously-bad decisions she made. There are no comments or analysis from the 15-years-hence writer, just the ruminations of the hiking 27 year old on bad stuff she did — how she hurt someone she loved very much. The first-person ruminations gave me some insight into how people might feel when they behave badly in their own lives. I find myself using this book as fodder to consider what it would be like to not take the self-destructive behavior of others personally — but rather, to consider it as part of their own way of working out their rage or disconnection from Oneness-That-We-Are. Nothing like months on the trail to connect a person to the Divine!

Katie Couric “Fed Up”

Katie Couric “Fed Up”

Fed-Up-poster-618x400Interesting stuff on “hyperpalatable” food and how our brains are hijacked into Programmed Hypereating with incessant food cues. An expansion of the audiobook “The End of Overeating.” Candy and chips at every checkout stand, including the hardware store and auto parts store. You don’t see that in France!

The movie attempts to do for the food industry what Congressional hearings did for the tobacco industry — reveal the lies, half truths, phony research and misleading statistics. And the elected officials whose careers they have ruined for attempting to resist them. Extortion at international levels.

On-camera interviews with Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman. Bottom line: avoid being tempted by packaged food by shopping at the farmer’s market, and cook.

Really puts the kibosh on the concept of exercise as the panacea. Went with some friends who love movies after a brisk walk around Spring Lake. They went to lunch afterwards, I had lost my appetite. Went back to work.

HOW we do things means everything

HOW we do things means everything

Dov Seidman, author of "How... Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything... in Business and in Life

Dov Seidman, author of “How… Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything… in Business and in Life

Philosopher, attorney and business consultant Dov Seidman was interviewed by Tom Friedman on a NYTimes colloquium and Tom spoke very highly of this book. Extensively footnoted and drawing from a wide range of sources, it is both scholarly and informative. But it boils down to, “if more people did the right thing more often, the world would be a better place.” Check out the website for the book HowsMatter.com

Several interesting insights included the paradox of the Hills of Knowledge. He ended each chapter with a graph showing two hills with a saddle in between. The lower hill, on the left, represented B students, the saddle represented C students and the higher hill, on the right, represented A students. He had learned, during his teaching years, that the students who synthesized the class material with their own experiences and ambitions and expressed their changed understanding clearly, got As. Those who did all the work and hit all the marks but created nothing new got Bs. Those who struggled to synthesize or expressed it poorly got Cs, even though they had a better grasp of the material than the Bs.

In this book, Dov mainly talks about a paradigm shift in business and life from following the rules to a values-based integrity that drives decision making and choices. He advocates inspiration rather than motivation. The Bs are the attorneys who write long documents in an effort to foresee every possible outcome. Dov talks about how the diamond trade has worked for centuries on a handshake and a “mazel.” He contrasts the management styles of blind obedience and informed acquiescence with the recommended Self-Governance. We would like to see better people and fewer rules. This book sets out the benefits to choosing to be a better person.

Also fascinating was the Afterward where he references Danny Meyer’s book “Setting the Table” for the insight that we have moved from a service economy to a hospitality economy.

“If you simply have a superior product or deliver on your promises, that’s not enough to distinguish your business. There will always be someone else who can do it or make it as well as you… Service is a monologue: we decide on standards for service. Hospitality is a dialogue: to listen to a customer’s needs and meet them. It takes both great service and hospitality to be at the top.”

The book I got from the library was not the edition with the forward by Bill Clinton. His take on integrity would have been interesting.

Sheryl Sandberg Lean In

Sheryl Sandberg Lean In

Sheryl Sandberg Lean InHow could she find time to write a book with all she does? She’s a mother! And a wife, not to mention that other thing (Facebook) which she said was “very hard for the first six months. And I know I’m supposed to say ‘challenging’ but it was hard.”

I have always struggled with the concept of “niceness” and I was thrilled that she addressed it head on. I felt that if I was nice, executive men wouldn’t take me seriously. But there was another element. I started working in the 1960’s, the sexually predatory days of “Mad Men” when it was assumed that ambitious women would grant sexual favors in exchange for opportunity. Meaning that in order to get a level playing field, it was hoped that you would put out. Failing to be “nice” eradicated that illusion for executive men. It also eradicated mentoring. But in those days, mentoring by a man often meant… well, putting out.

Sheryl is of a different generation where this sexually predatory element has been mostly exterminated (whew!) but there is still the burden of being called unlikeable if a woman is perceived as decisive or ambitious. She talks at length about how the same behavior in men is admired. She is very uncomfortable with the double-standard, often enforced by other women, and she does more than complain about it. She offers a recipe for dealing with it.

She quotes Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, who recommends combining niceness with insistence. “Be relentlessly pleasant,” by smiling frequently, expressing appreciation and concern, invoking common interests, emphasizing larger goals, and approaching each negotiation as solving a problem as opposed to taking a critical stance.

Sheryl Sandberg also quotes Professor Hannah Riley Bowles who studies gender and negotiations at Harvard Kennedy School of Government and adds to her observations. Professor Bowles has learned that there are two crucial things that women need to do in order to succeed in negotiations. First, women must come across as being nice, concerned about others and “appropriately” female. Taking an instrumental approach, as men do, doesn’t work (This is what I want and deserve).

Second, a woman must provide a legitimate explanation for the negotiation. Men don’t have to legitimize their negotiations, they are expected to look out for themselves. Women, however, have to justify their requests. One way of doing this is to suggest that someone more senior encouraged the negotiation (“My manager suggested… “) or to cite industry standards (“My understanding is that jobs that involve this level of responsibility are compensated in this range”).

Sheryl Sandberg offers a third crucial strategy to negotiating success. “Think personally, act communally,” she advises. Even if you you feel stridently feminist when negotiating your salary in order to get paid the same as the men for the same work, keep in mind that you are negotiating for all women. “And as silly as it sounds, pronouns matter. Whenever possible, women should substitute “we for “I.” A woman’s request will be better received if she asserts, “We had a great year,” as opposed to ‘I had a great year.’ ”

She's not bossy
I felt the book had the right balance of self-revelation and personal experience, and guidance from others. I liked the quote from Padmasree Warrior, Chief Technology & Strategy Officer of Cisco Systems, and the former CTO of Motorola because it echoes Jeffrey Immelt’s thoughts on the subject. “The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”

How to deal with people successfully was my favorite part of the book. Sheryl quotes Alice Walker who said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking that they don’t have any.”

You Are What You Tweet

You Are What You Tweet

Jamie Reuben Hosts Book Launch for 'The New Digital Age' By Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen“The New Digital Age” by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen points out that, “by 2025, the majority of the world’s population will, in one generation, have gone from having no access to (uncensored) information to accessing all of the world’s information through a device that fits in the palm of the hand.”

Eric Schmidt is the Executive Chairman of Google and Jared Cohen is the Director of Google Ideas, coming from a State Department and Security background. They have so many interesting scenarios of how things could be in the future that on page 53, I came up with a Movie of the Weeks idea about a fearless war correspondent working secretly because the system is set up so that even his editor does not know his/her identity. She was recruited “Charlie’s Angels” style by the senior editors who recruit and vet correspondents.

The focus of the book is quite international and the policy implications fill the last half of the book. They end with this thought:

the virtual and physical civilizations will affect and shape each other; the balance they will strike will come to define our world. In our views, the multidimensional result, though not perfect, will be more egalitarian, more transparent and more interesting than we can even imagine.