Muslim new year 1425



On Thursday of last week, when we were scheduling our next meeting for Sunday (yesterday), one of the people in the group said, "There's no work Sunday. It's a holiday." That was the first that I heard of the day off for the Muslim new year.

No use complaining when there is a three-day weekend involved. All I can say is that here it is, 1425, and I am still writing 1424 on my checks!

This time, I am going to write my book reviews at the beginning of the post, rather than end with it. That's because I have lots to say about the last book I have read, and how it has made an impact on my outlook.

The first of my new batch of books was I Thought My Father was God and Other True Tales from NPR's National Story Project, edited by Paul Auster. These are terrific stories, collected under such topics as love, family, and meditations. (I skipped the section with war stories.) It was enjoyable to travel so freely among the different styles of the people who contributed the stories. I even found a few to use in my teaching here.

Next came 'Tis by Frank McCourt. I enjoyed this sequel to Angela's Ashes, which I read last spring. In this volume, McCourt is adjusting to his new home, New York City, having returned to his birthplace after spending a childhood in Ireland. Reading this story is like having a front-row seat in his brain - experiencing every thought as he finds his way through relationships, housing, and jobs. His early days of teaching brought back my own memories of those experiences.

In All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes, Maya Angelou moves to Ghana after almost two years in Cairo. She and several other African Americans explore this land of their possible ancestors. It had to have been a difficult experience for her, and all of them. Many of us know a specific country that was our ancestral homeland, but for African Americans, there is a wide region of the continent, with many countries from which their people could have been enslaved.

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes was an enjoyable description of buying and rehabilitating a home in Tuscany. The author is a creative writing teacher at San Francisco State University, so there were also several mentions of the Bay Area, which I always enjoy. In two chapters, there are recipes, and I surprised myself by making one. It was very simple, since it involved only the cutting up of red peppers into strips and cooking them in a mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

In these last three books, the authors describe their lives as they are culturally dislocated, adjusting to new environments. It dawned on me that here I was, stranger in a strange land, reading about other people's adjustments to their new homes, and I am having my own issues with cultural adaptations.

McCourt is always doing something wrong because he doesn't want to admit that he doesn't understand how he should be doing them; Angelou gets courted and maximizes all the social connections that she can; Mayes finds charm, beauty, and good food wherever she goes; Davidson trudges through the sand cussing out the people who, ultimately, are just living their lives the only way they know how.

I have heard it said that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. I was ready. Along came Byron Katie with her book Loving What Is: four questions that can change your life. According to the author, we are responsible, through our own thoughts, for creating our lives the way that we want them to be. Many of us rail against reality, as if there is anything that can be done to change it, thus causing us frustration and grief.

Her formula for changing our lives involves changing our thinking. She proposes that we look at the problems that irritate us, write about them, investigate what we have written, and apply her questions to the situations. In doing so, we face the self-judgments that have been upsetting us and, in the end, find our way out of our suffering. In using the information that we gleaned from our own thoughts, we have shone the light on our own faulty thinking that was making us miserable in the first place.

I can give you some examples of how I have changed my thinking by using the knowledge I gained from this book:

Every morning, between 4:45 and 5:15, the muezzins begin their first prayer calls over the mosques' loudspeakers. There are mosques every few blocks. From any one place - in this case, my bed - it is possible to hear the wails of several different muezzins in every direction. You may not believe it, but this is not what I want to hear at 5:00 in the morning. I am typically an early riser, but not that early!

What good is it going to do for me to rail against this situation? No matter what I say or do, it is going to continue every day. That is the reality that I have to face. My only option for happiness is accepting and making peace with this (among other frustrating features of life here). I will take you to the final step of Byron Katie's process, which she calls "the turnaround." In that, I move from saying, "I hate it when I get awakened every morning with prayer calls" to "I welcome and look forward to being awakened every morning with prayer calls."

It had to be my decision how I could make that turnaround into a true statement. I did it with these three thoughts:

1. Being awakened is proof that I am alive to experience another day. Being alive is good! I am grateful for that.

2. When I wake up, I push the button on my travel sound soother, a little machine that makes a variety of sounds that block outside noises. This was a gift from the faculty at the last school where I taught. As I touch the button to turn it on, I think of all those wonderful people I worked with, whom I liked, and who cared enough for me to give me this gift. I am surrounded with good thoughts and my heart is filled with love.

3. Instead of thinking what I used to think, "When I get awakened, I can't go back to sleep," I change it with the thought, "When I get awakened, all I have to do is go back to sleep."

Many of us are plagued with indecision about what actions to take in the future. This has a negative impact on our living happy lives in the moment. I have been that way for as long as I can remember: too much focus on the future, with not enough being in the moment. That brings up another change that I have had concerning my thinking:

When I came here, my plan was that upon close of service, I would travel within Africa for maybe up to five months. Then I thought it would be ten months. A few weeks ago, I was so homesick that all I could think of was getting out of Africa as soon as I possibly could, and heading straight to San Francisco, possibly coming back to Africa after I had spent some time at home.

The problem with all this thinking is that I am putting so much thought into the future that my present is suffering. Now, I have shifted my thinking and can easily say that I don't have to make a decision about this yet. When the time comes to decide what to do, I will know what to do.

For each problem that a person encounters, there is a worksheet to fill out in response. I have recently filled out a worksheet concerning the conflict that I am experiencing with the way that drop-in visitors interrupt my solitude. I have had several excellent responses from people who have signed up on a group to chat about doing this work in response to Katie's suggestions. They are proficient with using this system and have been wonderfully supportive on the Internet.

If you are curious about the author or the book, you can find out more on the Internet at