Fall/Winter 2016 Book Reviews

Sacred America, Sacred World: Fulfilling Our Mission in Service to All

Hampton Roads Publishing, Charlottesville, VA 2016

Like our founding fathers, Steven Dinan has high ideals for America. Fortunately, his perfect union also includes all races, genders, religions, fellow global inhabitants and planet Earth. At this unprecedented time of political divisiveness and gridlock, Dinan’s Sacred America, Sacred World has the audacity to call out a detailed vision that shifts America towards its highest potential. Thank goodness!

Sacred America, Sacred World isn’t a Kumbaya quick fix; it’s a deep look into the festering and devastating problems of our nation, how we got here and what we can do about it. This grand vision turns to our nation’s official motto for guidance toward our destiny, E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.” It’s a formidable plan for evolving our nation, with strategies for energizing citizens, stabilizing the Middle East and ending global warming. Though you may not agree with everything proposed, the thoughtful possibilities are refreshing.

Incorporating both a psychological and spiritual approach to politics, Dinan replaces the “winner-take-all” Washington bureaucracy with a transpartisan perspective that includes inquiry and respect of differences. Understanding opposite positions can build bridges and unify. Organizer Van Jones, for example, launched an initiative with Republican Newt Gingrich to cut in half our prison population. #cut50 finds common ground for progressives focusing on racial justice and conservatives wanting to shrink government cost and size. The women members of the Senate, known for reaching across the aisle in friendship, are another example of bridge building, using personal connection with those of the other party to often break through gridlock. In spite of the current surreal 2016 presidential race, it’s vital that once politicians and a party is elected we stay on top of what our representatives do once they’re in office! The Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) is the largest citizen lobby for peace and includes Quakers and non-Quakers. Through persistent non-polarizing advocacy, they impact public policy. Their engagement with elected representatives in Washington, regardless of party, affects more change than simply supporting and voting for candidates that mirror their own views.

In our reach for a more sacred America we must not only create a future of transpartisianship, we must also journey into and reconcile our dark past; we are a nation founded on genocide. In an atrocity larger than Germany’s Hitler, millions of indigenous people of diverse societies living north of Mexico were disrespected and then killed to create these United States. Africans were brutalized as slaves and then also killed. Genocide and slavery is our national wound. To evolve we need to heal, we need to leave the denial stage and address the legacy of violence that surrounds the forming of our nation. This work will bring forth a necessary intolerance of the injustices our system currently perpetrates on our citizens, our neighbors, and our planet.

Our massive national debt not only incites partisan power struggles, it has the potential to undermine our future. Our leaders’ inability to balance our nation’s checkbook is not singularly due to federal government over-spending. The banking system, with its creation of money out of actual thin air, is a system of usury. One bold solution is to dissolve the misleadingly named Federal Reserve. This private (not federal) consortium of banks creates (not reserves) money, then profits from the interest it makes from loaning the “debt-money” it created to our government and other banks. The profit (interest paid) goes to a consortium of banks, and thus wealthy financiers, creating a mounting debt for our government (we the people).

Dissolving the Federal Reserve System will be challenging, but this reform can start with states creating their own banks. The model for this is the Bank of North Dakota, the only state-owned bank in the country. This public banking system is owned by the public and returns all its profits to the public, not to privately held banks. North Dakota’s foreclosure and credit card default rate, the lowest in the country, and its ability to reduce income and property tax while returning $300 million to the state’s general fund proves it’s an economic success. Involve yourself in the local banking movement by engaging with the Public Banking Institute.

As citizens we need to shift from revolutionary thinking to evolutionary thinking. Paralleling Barbara Max Hubbard’s idea of a Peace Room in the White House, a national White House Solutions Council would look for the latest innovations to improve our country. A survey done less than a decade ago found 71% of Americans agree with the statement, “I see myself as a citizen of Planet Earth as well as an American.” Ultimately as America evolves politically and spiritually, less energy will be spent on partisan divides within our current borders, and instead, as global citizens we’ll serve our nation’s most sacred mission — spreading peace.



Growing Up Mindful: Essential Practices to Help Children, Teens, and Families Find Balance, Calm, and Resilience

Sounds True, Boulder, CO 2016

If you have a teenager, or are one, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the American Psychological Association finds today’s teens are the most stressed group in America. Younger children are also feeling stressed. Psychologists Christopher Willard shares the heartbreak he feels when an eleven-year-old says he’ll only live past twenty if he’s in jail, and a slender seven-year-old laments she’s too fat to have friends. Children fear the future, they worry about wars, prejudices and the planet. Stress on our young people is bad enough; even more concerning is they have fewer skills for coping with it. Growing Up Mindful offers coping skills, the gift of calm and clarity, with over seventy exercises that can be learned by anyone. A child’s mindfulness practice won’t necessarily include twenty minutes on a cushion. A child struggling with ADHD plays on the floor with stuffed animals taking three mindful breaths when a bell rings, and a young athlete uses a quick body scan to bring attention to the soles of his feet when he feels anxious during a game. While the practices can look as different as each child, all counter the culturally conditioned response of checking out. Checking in with their sense lets children know how they’re doing. A great check-in exercise is The Seventy-Ninth Organ. We have seventy-eight organs in our body that help keep us alive. Most of us also now have a seventy-ninth, an external organ, the smartphone. Get a partner. With your phone off, put it in your hand. See how it feels. Notice your emotions, your body’s response to holding it. Now turn your phone on, mindfully noticing how you feel as the screen comes on. Hand your phone to your partner. How do you feel? Mindfulness teaches children how to be alone and also how to be more present with others. Unplugging from technology for specific days or hours for a “technology Sabbath” benefits social skills and reduces stress. Kid’s fear of missing out, FOMO, is being increasingly replaced with the relief of JOMO, the joy of missing out.



Body Into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care

Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA 2016

Nature heals. Plants heal. Sunshine, real food, herbs and exercise help you improve no matter where you’re at on your health journey. Complaints and symptoms are not something to overcome, but rather your body’s alarm system. Your symptoms, no matter how large or small, can help you uncover where imbalances are in your system. Body into Balance looks at the root cause of disease, and supports your body back to optimal wellness by puzzling out appropriate herbs and therapies for you. Exploring and understanding specific patterns of health and disease, this guide explores our body’s basic needs. It delves into how our body systems — nervous, endocrine, digestion and detoxification, affect everything else. You do herbs and yourself a disservice if you think herbs are simply a substitute for drugs. Aside from usually being less expensive than allopathic medicine, natural therapies encourage your body to balance and heal itself. Vitex is a reproductive herb that doesn’t contain progesterone. Instead, it encourages the ovaries and brain to produce healthier levels of estrogen over time. Herbs help your body relearn patterns of health rather than force it in a particular direction the way a single isolated compound might. The benefits of hawthorn not only include improved blood pressure, but may also improve mood, energy levels, and mental clarity. Sometimes we do need to turn to modern medicine to fight or prevent infection, but often a totally holistic approach works just fine, and there’s the added benefit of fortifying the body so disease-fighting mechanisms and white blood cells work better, boosting long-term immune system health. Many herbs are modulating, which is amazing; they can ramp up or calm down a system depending on what’s needed in the body. The adaptogenic herb holy basil will raise or lower stress hormones, depending on need. Even if you’re dealing with serious health issues and taking pharmaceuticals, you can still improve your situation with guidance and the herbal approaches in Body into Balance.



Let Your Spirit Guides Speak: A Simple Guide for a Life of Purpose, Abundance, and Joy

Hampton Roads Publishing, Charlottesville, VA 2016

If you haven’t heard from your spirit guides in a while, it’s probably time to re-establish the connection. And if you’ve never heard from them, Let Your Spirit Guides Speak tells you how to get in touch. Debra Landwehr Engle feels we each have several spiritual helpers. After a lifetime of interacting with her guides, she says unequivocally they are always present. Though their spiritual assistance will never violate free will and they won’t intervene unless asked, they are always with you. Guides can communicate with you the same way a baby or an animal does; even though no words are exchanged, you can talk with an infant or dog. For some, messages come in the form of a voice, a song on the radio, or a sudden insight that flashes into your mind. Other people actually see guides. You’ll know it is your guide speaking because the guidance is direct and clear, and the voice, which doesn’t sound like your own, is judgment free.

We’ve been trained to rely on tools such as a telephone or computer to communicate, but inviting your guides into your life is even simpler. You don’t need to formally meditate, just close your eyes, sit quietly and take a few deep breaths. If you feel any fear in your body, ask that your fear-based thoughts be healed. Visualize an invitation, make it look however you want, picture it clearly. Though your guides are already with you, this invitation is a statement that you want to feel their presence. Clearly see yourself sending the invitation out into the universe. Do this with confidence, and if you find you have any fears, ask again for your fear-based thinking to be healed. Then, be open to whatever comes next. Just like any friendship, we need to attend to our relationship with our spirit guides. Whether you refer to your guides as angels, intuition or your inner GPS, they are listening and want to be in a relationship with you. Schedule regular times to meet with them and you’ll hear from them more often!



Talking Stick: Peacemaking as a Spiritual Path

Bear and Company, Rochester, VT 2016

We are all peacemakers at heart. So says community builder and peacemaker Stephen Beyer in Talking Stick, a resource of traditional wisdom to illuminate the path to peacemaking. Walking the peacemaker path isn’t easy; it means giving up power, ego, and anger, and cultivating the warrior virtues of transparency, courage vulnerability and accountability. A peacemaker must put down all armor, and must walk disarmed in an armed world. For conflict resolution, Beyer deploys the peacemaking tool of radical egalitarianism, recognizing the inherent worth and unique gifts of each person. Sacred council circles and ceremony are a correction against our hierarchical and punitive society. Sitting in a round council circle, all people are equal. Passing a talking stick around the circle ensures no one is rushed, interrupted or dismissed. Silence is always acceptable in the circle. You may have nothing to say or someone may have already said it, or you may sense that everyone needs a little silence at that moment.

Our culture, in teaching the need to always be prepared with a response, does not teach us how to listen to each other. Sitting in council, watching the talking stick come around the circle to you, you may try to think of what to say, or you might hear someone say something wrong and watch for the stick to come to you so you can correct them. Either way, what you aren’t doing is listening. Conversation between two people often finds one person talking and the other person not listening, but reloading. Council and its sacredness is about relationship; before we enter the council circle we intend, among other things, to speak honestly from our hearts. The pronoun “I” begins almost everything spoken in the circle because it is the speaker’s heart being shared, the speaker’s truth. Being listened to is a powerful way to connect to another. Any time you devoutly listen to another person, whether in a council circle or anywhere else, you are creating sacred space. You are powerfully modeling peacemaking by bringing peace into the room.



The Self-Acceptance Project: How to be Kind and Compassionate Toward Yourself in Any Situation

Sounds True, Boulder, CO 2016

Psychologist Rick Hansen reminds us that the neurons in our brain that fire together, wire together. When we constantly focus on self-scorn, our brains become increasingly reactive to negative experiences. So why do we do this? Why do so many people have such a hard time with self-acceptance? The Self Acceptance Project is a collection of twenty creative thinkers who offer ideas and practices to cultivate self-compassion — among them, Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg, who once asked His Holiness the Dali Llama his thoughts on self-hatred. Genuinely having no idea what she was asking about, His Holiness questioned if it was some kind of a nervous disorder, then wondered how anyone could think that way when Buddha Nature is within. Our deeply rooted feelings of self-condemnation come from our tendency to see our experiences as fixed. When we make a mistake, we might feel we’re a terrible person and always will be. A Buddhist view, however, sees that everything changes. We get to try the precept again. Whether in the next moment, the next day, or the next lifetime, there is always an opportunity to try again, to forgive or seek forgiveness. No judgment or hurling yourself down a tunnel of guilt or shame needed. Simply do different next time. Lucy, the character from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cartoon, is a voice in Salzberg’s head that she calls her inner critic. The Lucy voice tells you you’re not good enough, you can’t do anything right, and when we pay attention to the Lucy voice she just gets louder in our head. While we can’t ignore her, we can develop the self-kindness competencies of mindfulness, wisdom and intention so that we can, as Salzberg does, “give Lucy a cup of tea and send her on her way.”

Gail Lord is a freelance writer living in Massachusetts. Please send book review copies to 51 North Street, Grafton, MA 01560 or email socbookreviewer@gmail.com.

See also:
Spring/Summer 2016 Book Reviews
Fall/Winter 2015 Book Reviews