Obviously, September here in blog-land was all about self-compassion. It was fun to focus on one thing for a month, though I am happy to move on to other fun things. I will start showing you some before and after pics from my house decoration redo.
Days of Awe by Lauren Fox
Motherhood, friendship, marriage, loss… the writing was excellent and touching, but the way the story unfolds is disjointed and sometimes irrelevant to the plot. The book is intentionally raw, but the despair and confusion that comes through the pages is hard to take. Sometimes I guess the marriage you’re fighting for doesn’t make it. Sometimes you can’t come to peace with the loss of a best friend. Sometimes you can’t be close with your teenage daughter. But in fiction, it’s nice to at least have something work out!
“Love was foolish and inevitable. We were just waiting to be shattered by it. The days were finite, full of awe.”
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher K. Germer
Christopher Germer, a clinical psychologist affiliated with Harvard who specializes in the integration of mindfulness and psychotherapy, teaches self-compassion to most of his therapy clients. Chris is also a friend and colleague with whom I teach self-compassion workshops. He wrote the wonderful book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, which summarizes the knowledge he’s gained over the years while helping his clients to relate to themselves more compassionately. practical techniques for living more fully in the present moment — especially when hard-to-bear emotions arise — and for being kind to yourself when you need it the most.
“The true development of self-compassion is the basis for fearlessness, generosity, inclusion, and a sustained loving-kindness and compassion for others.”
In this book Dr. Christopher Germer lays out the architecture of this skill development: the vision of freedom compassion can offer, the essential role of self-compassion, the path to realizing it rather than just thinking about it, and the practical tools, such as mindfulness, we need to effect that transformation.
Part I, Discovering Self-Compassion, shows you how to develop mindfulness and describes precisely what we mean and don’t mean by self-compassion. Part II, Practicing Loving-Kindness, gives in-depth instruction in one particular self-compassion practice—loving-kindness meditation—to serve as a foundation for a compassionate way of life. Part III, Customizing Self-Compassion, offers tips for adjusting the practice to your particular personality and circumstances and shows you how to achieve maximum benefit from the practice. Finally, in the appendices, you’ll find additional self-compassion exercises and resources for further reading and more intensive practice.
Hot Mess to Mindful Mom: 40 Ways to Find Balance, Joy, and Happiness in Your Every Day by Ali Katz
One (of many) think I liked about this book is that it consists of tiny chapters that make it simple to read a couple while in line somewhere or just before falling asleep at night. Ali (I feel like we are friends!) has tips that make such sense that I have incorporated many into my daily routine already. For instance, I no longer check my phone at every red light. Instead I take a few deep breaths, counting the inhale seconds and the exhale seconds. We now take a few moments at dinner or at bedtime to list as many things that we are grateful for from that day. I love this time and my family does too.
“I said it over and over until I believed it. “Cut yourself some slack. You are doing the best you can, and you always have. Even the silly things you have done and said were done with good intentions at the time. You didn’t set out to screw up! Everyone makes mistakes, and those are the experiences that help us to learn, grow, and become better people.” Instead of begrudging the painful and embarrassing experiences, I began to reframe them and feel grateful because they did help me grow. If I hadn’t learned from them, I may still be trying to one-up other moms with my kids’ test scores and how many goals they scored on the soccer field.”
Her goals are my goals: get rest, stop rushing, savor my child, connect to my intuition, practice gratitude, gain confidence in myself. So her solutions are now my solutions. I subscribed to The Skimm, a humorous daily news summary in an email. I disregard opinions of people who are not important to me and agree to disagree. I am aiming to surround myself with people who accept me for who I am. I plan to use her “mini-meditation” idea for finding a quiet minute during a busy day.
Her words here are extremely comforting to me. I’ve put them as a note in my phone to use as a reminder when something feels forced or I feel impatient about something. I feel a huge relief every time I read them.
“Timing was everything. I would have been a basket case if this happened a few years earlier. I believe in divine timing and trust it completely. Each one of us is just where we need to be right now. It is the right time and place for what is happening in our lives. The stars do align for each and every one of us when they are meant to. I have the utmost faith that the next phase of my growth will come just when I am ready for it. The questions may get even harder, but I will be up for answering them. It won’t be a minute too late, or a minute too soon.”
The best lesson from Katz’s book has been my newfound attempt to be present more often. In fact, just now my daughter fell down and hit her head, sobbing and shaken up… and I was able to calmly just sit with her while she settled down, offering comfort and kisses. I would have done that before, of course, but I would have been in my own panic and fear, heart beating fast, reaching for my phone to tell Mr. B. I find this new calm much better!
Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness by Paul Kipnes, Michelle November
I feel like I know Paul and Michelle and their wonderful family very well after reading this book. They share how raising their 3 kids led them to a sense of spiritual wholeness, and how they presented ideas and questions to their children to encourage their spiritual growth in order to bring goodness into the world.
The book is divided into two parts: Building Foundations focuses on spirituality, partnership, parental contraction (withdrawing to enable the child to work through a problem), family, and truth. The second part addresses the practices of spiritual living and how we can nurture a child’s Jewish spirituality – living holy lives; living in God’s image; caring for our body, mind, and spirit; reframing and deciding; practicing loving-kindness; and celebrating life with joy. Along the way I got some excellent ideas for making Passover and Chanukah much more meaningful for our family.
We begin focused on our partnership as parents, figuring out our main goals and the values we want to impart in our children. Paul and Michelle provide an abundance of activities and ideas for starting new rituals with your own family. We have started a few here. I love their ideas for how best to connect with your kids. I really cannot say enough good things about this book, especially in the reinforcement I felt in raising my daughter to make good choices. Each child is a sacred gift, unique and special. Their words opened my eyes again to what a privilege it is to be a parent.
Someone Will Be with You Shortly: Notes from a Perfectly Imperfect Life by Lisa Kogan
This one I had to stop reading halfway through out of annoyance. I can’t really figure out WHY. I like her tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating humor and found her topics interesting. Maybe it’s the smartish way she combines phrases and soundbites and strange made-up adjectives all in one long sentence after another. I found it irritating. Still, she had a lot of good things to say.
“Every now and again, we want somebody else to pick the restaurant, arrange the playdate, plan the seating, buy the tickets, do the laundry, schedule the appointment, pack the bags, balance the books, send the gift, walk the dog, fill out the forms, break the silence, lift the ban, make the payment, count the calories, hold the phone, explain the joke, beat the odds, hit the ground running, win the race, and save the day while we sleep past noon beneath high-thread-count sheets and a cashmere blanket. In other words, we want time off for good behavior.”
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff
paraphrase: Kristin Neff, Ph.D., says that it’s time to “stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind.” Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind offers expert advice on how to limit self-criticism and offset its negative effects, enabling you to achieve your highest potential and a more contented, fulfilled life. This groundbreaking work will show you how to let go of debilitating self-criticism and finally learn to be kind to yourself. Using solid empirical research, personal stories, practical exercises, and humor, Dr. Neff—the world’s foremost expert on self-compassion—explains how to heal destructive emotional patterns so that you can be healthier, happier, and more effective. Engaging, highly readable, and eminently accessible, this book has the power to change your life.
This book is about developing a healthy relationship with yourself. Since I spend all of September writing about self-compassion, you can read more here.
Try to feel compassion for how difficult it is to be an imperfect human being in this extremely competitive society of ours. Our culture does not emphasize self-compassion, quite the opposite. We’re told that no matter how hard we try, our best just isn’t good enough. It’s time for something different. We can all benefit by learning to be more self-compassionate, and now is the perfect time to start.
Shma Koleinu: A Jewish People’s Commentary on the Siddur by Steven Schwarzman
This book is a collection of beautiful reflections on words from our prayerbook. Rabbi Schwarzman and others (rabbis, cantors, etc.) reach into the meaning behind the prayers to bring forth stories, lessons, or thought-provoking insights.
“God knows the numbers of the stars, calling each one by name. We are part of a universe that is not left unattended. Our own part in it may be small, but that does not diminish our importance to God. The stars count, and so do we.” ~ Rabbi Steven Schwarzman writing about Psalm 147
The Light Between Oceans: A Novel by M.L. Stedman
“Anyone who’s worked on the Offshore Lights can tell you about it—the isolation, and the spell it casts. Like sparks flung off the furnace that is Australia, these beacons dot around it, flickering on and off, some of them only ever seen by a handful of living souls. But their isolation saves the whole continent from isolation—keeps the shipping lanes safe, as vessels steam the thousands of miles to bring machines and books and cloth, in return for wool and wheat, coal and gold: the fruits of ingenuity traded for the fruits of earth. The isolation spins its mysterious cocoon, focusing the mind on one place, one time, one rhythm—the turning of the light. The island knows no other human voices, no other footprints. On the Offshore Lights you can live any story you want to tell yourself, and no one will say you’re wrong: not the seagulls, not the prisms, not the wind.”
Holy tears, batman! I don’t know if I’ve ever cried so much while reading a book. This one just tugs on heartstrings you don’t know you have. The story here is basically one where good people make a bad decision and one of them regrets it so much that the outcome seems inevitable. And this sweet little girl… amazing how many people love her and yet how much pain they hold because of her. Who knows what we would do in the same situation… an isolated island, 3 previous miscarriages, and then you hear a baby’s voice carried by the wind toward you.
Stedman’s characters were drawn so completely that they felt real to me. Human and flawed, yet lovable and understandable as well. The ethical question kept me riveted until the very last sentence. And the writing… beautiful.
A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel by Amor Towles
“Alexander Rostov was neither scientist nor sage; but at the age of sixty-four he was wise enough to know that life does not proceed by leaps and bounds. It unfolds. At any given moment, it is the manifestation of a thousand transitions. Our faculties wax and wane, our experiences accumulate, and our opinions evolve — if not glacially, then at least gradually. Such that the events of an average day are as likely to transform who we are as a pinch of pepper is to transform a stew. And yet, for the Count, when the doors to Anna’s bedroom opened and Sofia stepped forward in her gown, at that very moment she crossed the threshold into adulthood. On one side of that divide was a girl of five or ten or twenty with a quiet demeanor and a whimsical imagination who relied upon him for companionship and counsel; while on the other side was a young woman of discernment and grace who need rely on no one but herself.”
This one I read because I found Rules of Civility to be absolutely amazing (read my review). Towles’ writing is so elegant and full. Interestingly, I have often thought about what it’d be like to live in a hotel permanently. The maid service and meals would be nice. In this story, the main character is under house arrest in Bolshevik and Communist Russia in the hotel where he already lives. His personal integrity already impressed me, but following him through his conversations and relationships, learning about the Russian revolution from the viewpoint of one man already isolated, seeing good prevail over cruelty and heartbreak… ah, this is truly a great book. One of the best. And the ending! Wow.
An interesting side note. Towles says the structure of his book “takes the shape of a diamond on its side. From the moment the Count passes through the hotel’s revolving doors, the narrative begins opening steadily outward. Over the next two hundred pages, detailed descriptions accumulate of people, rooms, objects, memories, and minor events, many of which seem almost incidental. But then, as the book shifts into its second half, the narrative begins to narrow and all of the disparate elements from the first half converge.” I wish I’d known this before reading it because the first 75 pages or so were a little rough getting through. Well worth it all, I promise you.