I’m a Book Junkie

Fiction, novels, historical bios, autobiographies, how-to, writing, comedy, essays, memoir, self-help, spirituality. Starting with The Funny Bunny when I was about five, I’ve had a lifetime diet of devouring genres. All that reading helped get me ready for life challenges that nudged me, popped up, and swept over me like a tsunami. Over the years, how-to and spirituality books have pretty much taken over the bookshelves. Alan Watts, Shakti Gawain, Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Harriet Lerner, Dolores Curran, M. Scott Peck, Jack Kornfield, Annie Dillard. I consider them literary houseguests.

And Then COVID

When the pandemic loomed I retreated to shelter at home. In June the shocks of our Arizona wildfires, social and political upheaval and continued pandemic pulled me away from center. I had a month of high anxiety, Am I at risk? I inventoried my risk factors daily- sometimes more than once daily. Age, immune system weakness. What else? What else? It was not a fun place to be. I was on the hamster wheel of negative “what-ifs,” circling at the same time that I was doing a half-lotus pose on my yoga mat. When waning physical health became the big wake-up call I reached out to people, Zoomed, and prowled my bookshelves.

Seven Books That Bring Me Back to Center

They’re a mix of words to chew on, physical easers, anxiety-fighting ninjas, and loving parents between pages of books.

Metaphysical Meditations– Paramahansa Yogananda. This is the one with brief, beautiful phrases that lift me and soothe me. This led me to meditate daily, not because it’s good for me, but because it soothes me. A sample: “I will light the match of smiles. My gloom veil will disappear…”

Less is More- Domonique Bertolucci. The mental declutter how-to. Short chapters to clear out old “stuff” along with the physical items that no longer serve.

Walking Meditation– Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hanh at 94, now resides at the temple in Viet Nam where he was first a disciple. This small book with accompanying CDs teaches me that walking does not have to be a speed race. It’s calming, and my breathing also slows down. I do walking meditation at labyrinths, in our neighborhood, and even along the aisles of CVS- it’s not crowded, and no one seems to mind if I meander.

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change- Pema Chodron. I’ve been making friends with Pema Chodron for years. This is not one of the easy little books for me (though The Pocket Pema Chodron offers some quickies). Knowing ideas and beliefs that worked for me in childhood had to be discarded, I got this book. Outdated early adulthood and professional “rules” – more changing. Retirement and moving brought the need for more changes in attitude, behavior, beliefs. It’s easy to change when I initiate it.

Not so easy when the pandemic, fires, conflicts, both personal and worldwide, make me want to hold onto old ways of doing things. Not that they were working, but they’re familiar. But painful. Reading this together, my husband and I are willing to be witnesses as we update our emotional and behavioral habits. This book is like a blueprint for us: to be willing to commit to practice for our own personal growth and serenity, and for our relationship. The Tibetan Buddhist instructions in the book are The Three Commitments. The softener for this often hard work, is “you will have a growing understanding that you are not a bad person who needs to shape up, but a good person with temporary malleable habits that are causing you a lot of suffering.”

Repose, the Potent Pause- Victor Shamus Ph.D. Repose. What an easy word to visualize. This how-to book describes the end of my yoga practice – that stretched-out prone pose- even when I haven’t done any yoga. Arms out, palms up, legs apart. I lie down on a blanket, the floor or mat, and let my body flop. Ten interviewees shared their repose pose, how, why, and the benefits of this effortless way to relax and restore balance. A gem: “I would lie in an angel pose and it became like an oasis for me.” ~ Martha

The Education of the Heart- Thomas Moore. Brilliant passages from history, literature, cultures, Renaissance and Greek writing, psychology, theology that inspire through words and images. Topics like Storytelling, Romance, Family and Friendship make this a cornucopia of readings. A sample: “A friend is called a guardian of love, or a guardian of the spirit itself.” Spiritual Friendship 

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry- Jack Kornfield. I put this under “it’s simple, but it ain’t easy.” Or “Let go, let God.” or as my dear friend says, “Hey, just let it go, will ya?!” Knowing that it’s easy to be compassionate and serene on a quiet retreat at a lovely center where the weather is gorgeous and food is healthy, it’s still a disquieting experience when I come back down “off the mountain” so to speak. The laundry still waits. The author’s journey along with interviews and stories of monks, Buddhist practitioners, everyday people searching to find peace in the reality of the ups and downs of daily living make it easier for me to become willing to invest my self on this path of compassionate living. And the growing realizing that when I just go to bed and go to sleep, the answer is often right there like a shiny red apple on my kitchen counter the next morning.

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she’s writing to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it, and sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic.