Do you know that feeling when the right message comes along at the right time?
Whenever I’ve gone through tough times, or been asked by a friend how I’ve coped with difficulties, my tried and true, go-to recommendation has been to read Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart. It has been a great comfort during many an upset – large or small. I pulled it out a few weeks ago after a friend who I had suggested it to spoke send me a thank you note for doing so. She expressed that my recommendation for her to read it helped comfort her during the extreme grief she encountered after her father’s passing. It was a sign for me to pick it up again as a support to help me through my current situation and work through the confusion, pain and suffering that I’ve been encountering.
I recently received a review copy of Michaela Haas’ latest book Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks Into Breakthroughs. After reading the description, I thought “Oh heck yes. This is a book I NEED in my life. Right now! Let me at it.” The concept of transforming suffering into something good, something of value has been knocking around in my head and heart for a bit and the central themes of posttraumatic growth and developing resilience sounded absolutely, well, life affirming. As someone who has been in therapy to cope with some hard spots in life (death, depression, loss, anxiety, fear, suffering, the yips), this book was yet another message well received, loud and clear.
The latest proliferation of life coaches who are all blathering on about “manifesting the perfect life,” shooting hazy, pixel perfect images of smoothie bowls and speaking to the “10 Easy Steps to Creating 365 Days of Joy, Magic and Smiles” aren’t the tribe I’m looking for when it comes to helping me through suffering. Who knows better about suffering than someone has experienced it right? Someone who has looked it square in the eyes and not run from it. Well maybe they cowered from it a bit, or cursed it out for a while – but they decided to not let the pain overshadow or overtake them completely.
[Tweet ““How do we actually use suffering so that it transforms our being?~ @anipemachodron”]
Michaela’s personal story of chronic illness mixed with heartache, blended with loss, shaken and stirred with well – our old friend all pervasive suffering was what spurred her on to write this book.
She was on a mission to find out why some people were able to make it through the hard times, while others crumbled. Her investigation was grounded in the concept of resilience and how people from all walks of life were able to “bounce forward” and listen to their experience of trauma in order to experience posttraumatic growth.
[Tweet ” I set out to ask masters of resilience how they found strength in adversity. ~ @MichaelaHaas “]
Michaela interviewed a diverse group of people who have all learned and grown from the pain they’ve encountered. Each had developed immense strength in the face of adversity and flipped the switch on the habitual ways that they experienced fear, trauma and pain. The book delves into the personal stories of these individuals, distills the wisdom from their way of transforming their pain into something meaningful and offers the reader a detailed look at how they too can apply this insight into their lives.
The stories of survival in the book are gripping and vivid. Some names are ones we’re all familiar with – Temple Grandin, Bernie Glassman and Maya Angelou. Others are names of everyday people who have taken extraordinary pain and channeled it into meaningful action such as creating organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, or have neutralized the suffering into joy and used it to fuel their artistic endeavors. From the jazz musician’s story of how he survived and grew from the atrocities of the Holocaust to the young pro surfer who lost the use of his lower body in a freak accident and was able to continue to work to create an organization that shares the love of surfing with everyone. The individuals noted in this book have all gone through incredible pain, survived and come out the other side improved, empathetic and aware of the unique gift that their suffering has offered them.
Each chapter offers an example of the lessons that can be gained from the absolute worst of life’s circumstances. Advice and information from leading experts in psychology and trauma are peppered throughout and help back up the subject matter to keep it from veering into the “too good to be true” zone. It’s not a “flighty, woo-woo, let’s all feel good self help book whatsoever.” It’s a “dig deep, here’s the shit, dig in and get real/find some perspective/look at things a different way/you got this” book. It’s a guide to how to face pain and grow from it.
It’s an empowering read that speaks to how while we may not have control over much, we have control over our minds. We can train in this “resilience mindset” aka “growth mindset” in order to survive and then thrive from what causes us pain. Something good has to come from it right?
Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks Into Breakthroughs isn’t a book of ‘suffering porn’ and won’t leave you feeling like you’ve just steeped yourself in a big broth of traumatic stories. It’s uplifting and offers real world advice for recovery. The list of five exercises to cultivate courage in the face of adversity at the close of the book is essential reading, as are the recommendations highlighted throughout each of the chapters.
There’s a great amount of compassion and gentleness that’s apparent in this book. While the bitter pill of pain and suffering is present in reading about the personal setbacks and tragedies of those featured within its pages, the sweetness of discovering a life that has meaning makes the medicine go down easier.
With the author’s background being strongly rooted in Buddhism, you may be asking if this is a book solely for Buddhists. While there are some mentions to Dharma teachings, Michaela’s experiences in India and several quotes from some Buddhist notables, it’s not a book for this one group alone. If you have suffered, are suffering or are looking to build resilience against future suffering – well, this book is for you.
While reading Bouncing Forward, I was struck many times with remembrance of learnings or ‘ah ha moments’ from past therapy sessions. In some ways this book is a compendium of much of the work that I’ve been doing on my own journey – self-compassion, gentleness, empathy, letting go, self-reflection and a search for meaning and purpose. It’s all in there and so much more.
To have this book to rely on as a support during these difficult times has been an absolute blessing. I highly encourage you to pick it up for yourself, friends and family who are looking to cultivate a new way of relating to trauma and suffering. I only hope this post does it justice for how remarkable and helpful it has been to read this book as I work towards healing
Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks Into Breakthroughs takes its place on the recommended list of books that I suggest to friends who are going through hardships and will be placed next to my well-worn copy of When Things Fall Apart. They are perfect compliments for one another. When Things Fall Apart you can always Bounce Forward. The choice is yours.
I am so sorry! I’m not anti-social. I’m idiotic!
Oh gosh. I’m just seeing now that I had comments turned completely off here on this blog.
I really do want to hear from you.
- Leave me a comment.
- Say “Hi” and bring me up to speed on how you’re doing.
- Tell me something about yourself if we’ve never spoken.
Yes. I know I told you that I had given up reading and reviewing books for a bit. After a few decent ones came my way, I decided to withdraw my ultimatum on book reviewing , but rather be more mindful with the amount of books I was signing myself up for taking on. Would be weird to burn out on reading and reviewing Buddhist books wouldn’t it. Entirely possible, but weird.
So here’s a little glimpse into the latest book from Susan Piver as I hop back in the reviewing saddle.
I’ve been following Susan Piver for some time given I “got my start” with Shambhala meditation and she’s a notable part of their community. She’s also a writer and teacher so I was fortunate to have attended one of her workshops a ways back. I’m drawn to her authentic style and willingness to talk about the shitty stuff like heartbreak and depression. Birds of a feather I guess!
Her latest book is a welcoming introduction to meditation titled Start Here Now: An Open Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation. Yup. The title really does say it all. You won’t find any surprises in here folks. It’s a great book for those who are looking for information on how to develop a meditation practice. For others (including yours truly) who have a few hours under their meditation belts, I see this kind of book as a support for my own efforts to teach meditation. There are also nuggets of wisdom within that helped my own view towards practice and provided a new way of looking at, well something that I have been looking at for some time. There are a million ways to look at a blank wall in meditation, so I’m always up for reading a new take on an old subject!
The book covers quite a bit of ground – from how to start and continue a meditation practice, defining what meditation is – and isn’t, tips for integrating meditation in to daily life, obstacles and antidotes that may occur, the various styles of meditation and suggestions for where to go when you want to go beyond reading about meditation in a book.
It’s an actionable and jargon-free book that offers real-world advice for those who are interested in meditation. I appreciate Susan’s willingness to take on some of the myths and misconceptions that surround meditation as well as her ability to share her own personal experiences with struggle within her life – both on and off the cushion.
Given she’s a trained meditation teacher, this book and the corresponding videos come from someone in the know and who has been at it for years. Like a trusted friend, Susan helps cut the mystery and bullshit around what meditation is and isn’t. I particularly appreciated her chapter on depression and meditation, as it is sadly too rare that this topic is addressed publicly.
I highly recommend Start Here Now for anyone who has been toying with the idea of introducing meditation into their life and needs a clear and concise primer to give them the kick-start they need. It would make a great gift for that friend, lover, family member or colleague who would like to sit down and shut up. And hey, doesn’t the world need a few more badass folks willing to sit in silence with their minds?
I am a voracious consumer of podcasts. Zillions of podcasts are just waiting to tickle my earbuds on a daily basis. I use Downcast to manage them all as it’s a pretty full feature “podcatcher” (I guess that’s what those in the know are calling this kind of tool).
I listen to a whole bunch of stuff. From comedy shows to psychology lectures and of course, the obligatory Buddhist podcasts to stay sharp. There’s one podcast that has really stood out for me lately in this bottomless feed and that’s one called Anxious and Angry. Yeah. Doesn’t sound very Buddhist huh? Stay with me. It kind of is without even knowing it.
It’s a show by Ryan Young (front man of the majestic punk rock band Off With Their Heads) which is a mix of punk rock music, glimpses into his life both on and off the road, interviews with folks in the scene and a listener participation segment with people writing or calling in asking Ryan for advice. The running thread through this podcast is Ryan’s bare honesty in speaking to the emotions he feels given his life experiences.- past and present. Much like the raw, rugged and heartfelt lyrics he writes, this podcast is a sort of behind the scenes of his joy, anger, sadness, frustration – you know, all the subject matter that’s currently making boatloads of cash with a certain Pixar movie.
All the favorite Buddhist themes are wrapped up in this podcast- old age, sickness, death, separation, suffering, seeing the joy in small moments, helping out others, being authentic. Yup it’s all in here. This is where I see it as a Buddhist podcast hosted by a angry and anxious, yet possibly atheist or agnostic guy.
This podcast is essential because the punk rock scene I think is only starting to embrace its ‘feels.’ For so long it had that angry, nihilistic outlook associated with it with only a few outliers who were speaking truth to the heart of the scene. There are damaged and hurt people in every group and sometimes that is what brings us to the communities we become a part of. Homophobia, sexism and racism have been both embraced and shunned by the punk rock community. I do hope that for every skinhead there’s a sharp skin. For every meathead singing about fucking and killing bitches, there’s another on stage singing about their single mom working 3 jobs to keep food in their family’s bellies. For every jerkface asshat beating up on a trans woman, there’s someone out there seeing Laura Jane Grace for the first time and recognizing that they too need to be their authentic self – before it kills them.
Beyond being entertaining and featuring awesome music and guests, this podcast is helping people to break the stigma around talking about mental illness and doing so much to encourage people to get help. It’s helping listeners discover the suffering that others are facing and brings a sense of empathy to the punk scene. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a miserable show. It’s smart and funny and goofy too!
You should check it out if all this sounds like your kind of thing. If not, well then NPR have a great selection of podcasts as well!
Side note: Ryan has been printing up some great tshirts and I just happened to score this one right here.
- I like a Dave Matthews Band song.
- I have been crying more in the past 6 months in my entire lifetime and it feels amazing. Really.
- I’ve been doing a lot of self massage with tennis balls on my upper shoulders. Can’t recommend this enough.
- I am quite adept at keeping bamboo alive.
- My first boyfriend’s name was Praveen and he was awesome. We played with Hot Wheels during recess. Remember the cool little car suitcase for carrying dinky cars?
- I often have nightmares about flooding.
- Since my older dog passed, my younger pug has now been licking me all the time. Legs. Arms. Feet. Face. This is causing me to look up the cause of this on dog behavior sites. No clue what it means and chalking it up to me being saltier than usual.
- I sometimes wish I had a tail so that people could see how I feel. I’d be wagging it most times.
- I used to be a morning person but now I’m a night person. I wish I was a morning person again.
- I’ve been meditating more regularly than ever. Insert gold star emoji here.
- I have a serious case of fabric moths eating away at my clothes.
- I look horrible in grey.
- I’m not sure I will ever grow up.
- I want to know who you are.
Holy heck it’s June already!
Are you feeling it?
I hope wherever you are that the sun is shining on your pretty face and you have a nice cold drink chilling beside you. May you all be free from harm.
Let it be known that long ago I once almost killed my cousin and I by impaling us on a metal fence post by driving an ATV into a wire fence. This image above really resonates with me. I do hope nobody was harmed in the making of it and think that some videos should come with a disclaimer saying the person only merely suffered a bit of mild anxiety over motorbikes and fences since the accident.
Other than summertime memories of all the adventures that should have killed me as a child, I’ve been reading SO many self-helpey/psychology books. My current list includes:
- A few books by Jasmin Lee Cori
- Leaning Into Sharp Points by Stan Goldberg
- A re-read of everything by Mark Epstein (yes, everything)
I also did cheat and defied my earlier proclamation to read any Buddhist books with the plan to review them and devoured Susan Piver’s upcoming book Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation (Spoiler alert, it’s pretty darn good).
I want to share with you a Kickstarter that I believe so strongly in. Take an awesome dude with an awesome idea, add a pug (by far one of the most awesome breeds of dogs if I say so myself), mix in some punk rock fandom and plans to profile awesome bands and mix in a bit of healing work AND FRENCH FRIES and well… you have the makings of something that looks really cool. Kick in if you can and do please spread the word to help support this project.
Speaking of more cool projects, Miguel Chen and his crew have put together something I think you’ll like. Presenting…
Check out their Facebook Page and stay tuned for upcoming developments. Oh and if you haven’t watched it yet, Miguel’s video project for his yoga training is a must see. “Is Yoga Punk?”
So there you go. A few things that I wanted to share with you while I let an idea for something new with this blog percolate in my little mind. I’m in the early stages so I feel like this dude.
As a self-professed dog person (nothing against cats over here folks), I’m quite excited to hear about the new book A Puppy’s Path to Nirvana from Deke, The Dharma Dog. It’s a 29-lesson ebook, with Deke speaking throughout, explaining Buddha’s view of the world, his basic doctrines and practices, Buddhism’s early growth, and its development into a world religion. All of this is done in a fun and engaging way.
This sweet golden retriever will in his words –
speak to, and with, and about, many of the major figures in American Buddhism. I speak continually about my human family members, commenting on the Buddhists they visit, and who visit their home, and the arguments they make about their tradition. I critique the practices, and rituals, and expectations of American Buddhist communities, and of Buddhist scholars. Yet I am no fraidy cat. This Dharma Dog talks about sex, abuse of power, corruption, exploitation, and inflated egos. My language is straightforward, to the point, and explicit. And I know about the Internet too. I may not have had a well coordinated mouse-paw, but I sneaked into my father’s study every time I could, and took advantage of his long list of Buddhist “bookmarks” on the World Wide Web to up the ante for my Buddhist ruminations. At the end, after reading my prescriptions for Buddhist attainment that you would expect from a no-nonsense pooch, I hope you will, like me, attain nirvana.
There are enough of us human forms pontificating about Buddhism so now it’s time for a dog to give some bark and maybe a bit of bite.
You can find out more about Deke’s adventures on his Facebook page and be sure to check out the ebook or recommend it to a friend. As the video suggests, it would be ideal reading for those dog days of summer when there’s nothing better to do that sit with your furry little Buddha and read in the shade.
Unless they are lazy weirdos like my dog… Some dogs may take longer to become enlightened.
I had a mindblowingly glorious weekend friends. My dear, beloved teacher, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche gave teachings in my adopted home of Montreal this past Friday and Saturday. We were all thrilled to have him back on the East Coast!
It was the first time I as able to see him IRL so I was filled with all the emotions. Excitement. Fear. Joy. Panic. Peace. Awe. Goofiness. Dread. Regret. Did I say joy? It was all in there. It’s funny how the mind can get caught up in all of the story lines. Expectations. Fears. And then – poof – the letting go happens and we realize we’re out of the present moment. Only to return. Again. Forget and remember.
The weekend’s program was on the topic of “Resting the Mind at Ease” which is quite delightful and appropriate given how little at ease my mind has been in the past bit.
Side note: I may start referring to this time as my “grey period.” Just has Picasso had a phase of including blue in all of his works, I was coloring my world with the color tints of “Inescapable Grey,” “Powdery Ennui,” and “Depressed Oystershell.” I think there were many splashes of “Fearful Flax” and a bit of “Anxious Auburn” tossed in there as contrasting colors in life’s big paint swatch. (Thanks Gemma Correll for the artsy inspiration!)
I’ve always been blown away by Rinpoche’s teachings – be they from my encounters with them through the Nalandabodhi curriculum, his books, mp3’s or videos. Much of my engagement had been via these channels so to be in the same room, hearing his voice and being surrounded by other members of my sangha was truly a wonderful experience.
Without fail, there were laughs and references to pop culture (Space Invaders, Spiderman and The Transporter were all name dropped during the weekend). I often think maybe this is what attracted me to Rinpoche’s style in the first place. His appreciation of the quirkiness of our Western pop culture filled with the movies, music and TV shows that he loves to indulge in, and on the other hand – the ancient wisdom tradition that he’s studied and practiced for so long. There is that balance and that specific approach that really resonates with me.
Side note number two: I had no idea that Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche loved Spiderman comics.
But I digress…
You know that feeling when you come across the very teachings, a book, a passage or that conversation that you needed right in that moment in the headspace you’re in? Well this weekend was all of that. Resting the Mind at Ease. YES PLEASE!
- A tickle fight with my mind.
- A prize fight with thoughts where some reign victorious and others lay outside of the ring, battered and beaten.
- A “Twilight Zone” episode where the same repeating thought comes back… and back again.. then gone.. THEN IT’S BACK! Don’t turn around. IT’S STILL THERE!
- Sleepy time.
- A TIME TO EXPLORE ALL CAPS PAIN!
- A period of deep introspection and analytical pursuit. Toss in the Heart Sutra while you’re at it!
What is this relaxation you speak of? It’s been some time since I’ve viewed meditation this way. Granted it’s also been some time that I’ve felt fully relaxed off the cushion as well.
Often I think back to a Shambhala weekend I attended where we were asked why we are still practicing? What is our motivation? What brings us to the cushion? Powerful questions and I remember quite vividly that my motivation first came from a desire to work to rid myself from suffering. The suffering had weakened over time, only to return with a vengeance and now is starting to release its hold on me – or is it my hold on it?
Seeing how when my mind is at ease, it’s easier to help others be at ease and free from suffering brings it all back home. This is why I practice.
Time to do the work – both on and off the cushion. After my grey period, I feel even more purposeful and motivated to be of benefit, live with intention and shoot out some webs of compassion. Pew Pew Pew.