Day 6 | The Gift of Books

Book Reading

A Book-Lover’s Octave

8 Favorite Books for 2022

What better gift is there than a good book? The gift of knowledge is forever; its riches are endless. This year-end round-up of my “top books” will nourish you long after reading them or giving them as gifts, and they highlight my eclectic tastes.

I love books ranging from novelist Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads to Kirael’s Lemurian Legacy for the Great Shift — and who could forget Brene Brown’s recent Atlas of the Heart – but I narrowed my top recommendations to the eight listed here.

Only one was actually published in 2022, and some are so old and filled with post-it notes that I can barely make out the ink anymore. These awesome readings have warmed, cuddled, and educated me this year like good friends: they take my heart away for a while and then put it back into my chest in better shape afterward.

I’m still in between permanent living circumstances – planning my actual move next month – hurray! – and most of my books are still in boxes, a mixed blessing. Only my personal favorites are with me, and it’s given me a chance to re-read and savor my most cherished volumes. Keeping them close, these dog-eared books offered ease, inspiration, and coherence when I faced uncertainty and sought direction. The new ones, especially Michelle Obama’s, offered me hope, solace, and creativity as well.

This list includes not only books I’ve read, but ones I listen to. As an avid Audible fan, I relish “reading” in my car and at the gym, so I can read more. I highly recommend it!

Still, I used to easily read 50 or 60 books a year — and in some years 100 books —-but this year, time, like so many other things, is at a premium, so I am reading about 15 new non-fiction books and 15 new fiction books a year. All the books have helped me make sense of this crazy-quilt, tilt-a-whirl adventure of life, spirit, and goodness that we have signed up for.

It’s also been a year in which I worked hard on finishing my new book, so I hope you will envision finding my book, Dancing on the Night Rainbow, in many book lists next year and beyond! (Santa, are you listening?)

I am delighted to share my favorites this year. I hope you will share some of your best books with me as well! Here they are:

1 – The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times by Michelle Obama (2022)

What a joy to hear in the author’s own voice! Soft-spoken, genuine, practical, and powerful, former First Lady Michelle Obama shares herself, not as a public person, but as a vulnerable human being. More than a self-help book, this is a personal memoir that disarms the reader with its disarming honesty. Her fears, failures and all-too-human flaws highlight the sheer hard work it takes to become an accomplished woman in today’s world.

She draws readers into a dialogue on the questions many of us wrestle with: How do we build enduring and honest relationships? How can we discover strength and community inside our differences? What tools do we use to address feelings of self-doubt or helplessness? What do we do when it all starts to feel like too much?

Then, she offers a roadmap through her self-doubt as a mother, daughter, spouse, friend, and First Lady, and how she handles the mean-spirited projections and name-calling that she has endured as a public figure.

There may be no tidy solutions or pithy answers to life’s big challenges, but with humor, candor, and compassion, she points to a fuller, kinder, better life that we can all lead. Ultimately, she affirms, “When we are able to recognize our own light, we become empowered to use it.”

2 – Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet by Thich Nhat Hanh (2021)

Zen teacher and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh had nourished our world for 95 years when he died early in 2022. He is still giving us his quiet insights on “interbeing” in this important book and adding a remarkable intensity to the crucial questions: how do we continue to be kind, break out of a destructive addiction to consumption, address climate change, and live in harmony with our beautiful Earth Mother?

He calls for a radical shift in the way that we understand ourselves in relation to everything else. What got us into our current problems is how we see the Earth as something outside of us, something separate. We are part of the Earth. We are profoundly interconnected with the Earth. And this is fully in line with science and the teachings on evolution.

Known as the “father of mindfulness,” Thay, or teacher, as he is called, emphasized the importance of caring for our own selves and not succumbing to burnout, which I think a lot of people can relate to now. Thay speaks about the power of aspiration and intention, saying, “It’s possible to metabolize some of our painful feelings with mindfulness, with concentration and insight, and transform them into a source of energy to take action.”

To take radical action, which is what is needed in our turbulent times right now, often the direction we need to go is within, and from there, we affect our “interbeing” with a renewed sense of peace.

3 – The Secrets and Mysteries of Hawaii: A Call to the Soul by Pila (1995)

Elevate the new year with a light-hearted philosophy book/memoir/travelogue/mystical adventure. Pila, a great lover of Hawaii and its tropical allure, says volcanoes are a doorway between dimensions. Their energy vortices imbue our physical reality with tropical beauty and magic.

Hawaiians have evolved rituals, chants, and healing protocols that draw on Nature’s mana to honor one supreme being, Ke Akua, which is reflected in the diverse archetypal powers of Goddesses Pele and Laka and the Gods Ku, Kanaloa, Kanewahine, and Lono.

After surviving the Vietnam War, having visions of a tropical paradise, and arriving here with a demoralizing case of PTSD, Pila found peace, forgiveness, and insight under the watchful guidance of Kahuna and the spirits of this Hawaii Island.

“I became curious,” he writes, “wanting to know more about the real ambassadors, the ‘Children of the Rainbow.’ The Hawaiians have that joy and appreciation for living in the blood. There was something pure about them and the simple way they still lived life that always drew me to them.” (Chap. 3, p. 32)

This book is a gift of Aloha to the world, especially anyone who wishes to go deeper into the ancient Hawaii that elevates everyone — kama’aina (children of the land) and visitors alike — with a sincere wish to create harmony and evolve spiritually. the quality of Paradise in Hawaii is a felt sense. You do not need to visit, for these mysteries are available to you wherever you are, by sensing and appreciating the Paradise of love within your own heart.

4 – The Bowl of Light by Hank Wesselman (2011)

Dr. Hank Wesselman was an extraordinary American anthropologist, one of my most beloved mentors, and a keen observer of human nature. In 1996, a revered Hawaiian elder shared his ancient knowledge and more with Hank and his wife, Jill Kuykendall. From their uncommon connection, this miraculous book emerged. The words and teachings of the ancestral wisdom-keeper, the Kahuna Nui Hale Kealohalani Makua, gave Hank a rare gift: an inside view of the sacred Hawaiian teachings.

What were Polynesian ancestors saying 18,000 years ago about our modern era? Why was so much of the ancient healing tradition shrouded in secrecy? The elder Hale Makua openly addresses these questions and more in this riveting account of a mystical shaman who wanted his story to be told. He asked Dr. Wesselman to convey much of what had passed between them to the wider world, giving him permission to share previously hidden spiritual knowledge, such as:

• How we can restore our natural divine radiance through The Bowl of Light

• The three directives of the spiritual warrior – love with humility, live with reverence, and know with self-discipline

• Rituals for communing with nature, receiving wisdom from the spirit world, purifying our consciousness, and recalibrating our hearts, minds, and bodies after trauma.

• The Ancestral Grand Plan – exploring the path our ancestors set in motion millennia ago, and how the Plan is playing out across the world today

This is an essential guide for anyone who realizes that Indigenous tribal peoples, Nature-centered cultures, and the ancient cosmologies and prophecies of wisdom-keepers, can provide us with needed maps for solving today’s multiple crises. He offers not only understanding, but rites of passage that can help us to reach our full human potential. Our full divine potential.

5 – Educated by Tara Westover (2018)

In this five-star memoir by a first-time author, Westover describes growing up in a survivalist family in rural Idaho. Far removed from my own upbringing, it still packs a powerful punch – bad pun intended – for anyone who faced difficult challenges growing up in a patriarchal, fundamentalist, and often violent culture that disempowers young girls.

Westover describes her father’s radical ideology and the many gruesome injuries that her family members inflicted and received – and refused to get medical treatment for. Facing overwhelming odds, she made an investment in knowledge and discovered that “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

Ashamed that she had to learn about the Holocaust, slavery, and modern issues only after entering college, she fought fiercely for knowledge that her family had denigrated. Ultimately realizing that “Education is one thing no one can take away from you,” she also notes that “An education is not so much about making a living as making a person.”

This book has life-changing insights on every one of its 362 pages. Published in 2018, this is one of the most gripping coming-of-age books I’ve ever read. It is not an easy read, but a potent one.

6 – Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue (2003)

This utterly touching book on beauty, “a beauty that does not linger,” but only visits when we attune to its rhythm, invites us to a visitation. It calls us to feel, think, and act beautifully in the world: to create and live a life that awakens the Beautiful.

Bestselling author John O’Donohue has penned such revelations before, as in Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom and To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings. But here, he pulls back another veil and explores the dignity of silence, the dimensions of color, and an infinity of light that inspires the senses and journeys to extra-sensory realms.

His voyage through the many worlds of beauty inspired in me a new and personal relationship to inner stillness, and the beauty of this essential bond. His words celebrate our growing intimacy with beauty and praise it for what it really is: a homecoming of the human spirit.

In classical, medieval, and Celtic traditions of art, music, literature, nature, and language, O’Donohue reveals how beauty’s invisible embrace can lift us toward new heights of passion and creativity. Even in these uncertain times of global conflict and crisis.

From the beauty in the color red, an alto voice, and death,to the immortal reaches of the imagination, there is beauty in every line. “The wonder of the Beautiful is its ability to surprise us,” he writes. “With swift, sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open.”

What a poet for our times! In these perilous and uncertain days, the human spirit is being called to reach ever deeper into the Earth, ever wider into our Souls, and higher in the Light of understanding for which this powerful work is an illumination.

7 – The Apology by V (Eve Ensler) (2019)

Be aware when you read or listen to this book that it can be profoundly transforming, and also completely triggering. Eve Ensler, now called V, wrote the award-winning play, The Vagina Monologues, which empowered a generation of women to take back their bodies from the patriarchal mindset.

In this slim story, she again lays out pathways toward a more enlightened world. Taking her artist’s microscope to the horrors of the old misogynist, power-hungry, violent, unconscious, and toxic masculinity that shaped her pedophile father who abused her between the ages of 5-10, she makes poetry out of her former terror.

When he died, he hadn’t admitted to any of the horrors he brought to his daughter and the impact it had on her life. So, in this slim story, realizing she will never get what she really wants – accountability, justice, a reckoning — the author imagines and writes The Apology in the form of a letter from him to her. With unflinching candor, she envisions him purging himself, confessing his crimes, and asking forgiveness.

While she never lets him off the hook entirely for his behavior, she does accept that his own childhood years had been isolated, plagued by bullies, and dampened by parental abuse, which fostered narcissism and life-long addictions.

With empathy, understanding, and a willingness to articulate the brutal effects of childhood and adult sexual abuse, Ensler’s work is revolutionary: t reasserts the power a victim can have over her own narrative and opens a conversation that can help other survivors to heal.

More than a psychological memoir, she has written a blueprint for the next step in the MeToo Movement – a cultural reckoning of the gender inequality and sexual exploitation that has marred too many lives and generations.

8. The Mirror of Yoga: Awakening the Intelligence of Body and Mind by Richard Freeman (2010)

Besides Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, there are few books on Yoga that convey the astonishingly rich and magical world of this ancient art and science of life.

Yet, as diverse and expansive as the many schools and practices of Yoga may seem, they all share a common aim: the discovery of the essence of existence that can be found at the core of our being, and the liberation that comes from that discovery.

With this worthy goal in mind, my first Yoga teacher Richard Freeman opens up the cornucopia of teachings, practices, and scriptures that have enlightened Yogis for thousands of years. He draws from the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, and stories of Ganesha, Saraswati, and other transpersonal beings, to weave together the elements that serve as the basis for all the schools of yoga – hatha, bhakti, jnana, karma, tantra, and others.

With such practical observations as, “We tend to give away our power to feel loved and wanted,” he encourages us to build spiritual strength by addressing “what we cannot talk about but in fact is what most matters to talk about.”

This was such a welcome addition to the Yoga literature and its many practices which he says are all ultimately related and can even be perceived to make up a vast, interpenetrating matrix, symbolizing the unity, profundity, and beauty of the ancient tradition.

From the Upanishads, Samkhya philosophies, the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, and the process and purpose of Hatha Yoga, to the role of the guru, chanting, meditation, and the yogic imperative of offering service to others, he gives us the tools we need to digest and apply this profound philosophy to daily life.

There you have it — my top eight books this year. Was this helpful?

Reading is one of life’s greatest enjoyments. For one thing, it’s been shown to keep us around longer. One 2016 study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, delivered pretty dramatic results. Researchers found that regular readers had a 20 percent lower risk of dying over the next 12 years than those who didn’t read, or who read periodicals like magazines instead of full-length books.

And when it comes to your brain, reading makes everything sharper. Another study that compared the cognitive abilities of identical twins found a link between stronger reading skills earlier in life and greater intelligence later in life — and that increased IQ was observed not only in verbal skills like vocabulary, but also with reasoning and logic. More frequent cognitive activity like reading translates into “slower late-life cognitive decline.”

But reading doesn’t just impact your academic intelligence: Reading, especially fiction, has also been proven to make people more empathetic and give them a greater appreciation for and understanding of cultures and experiences different from their own.

In books, I’ve found so often that the writer is giving and voicing something that I could not, and expressing it in a way that makes my own heart sing with more eloquence and curiosity about these strange, beautiful worlds where we live in.

So, first, get up and dance! And then sit down and read a good book. Your brain and heart will be glad you did!

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