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
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
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
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 yahoo.com 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 www.thework.org.