Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Image result for house in the sky book 
The book which has been occupying my interest over the holidays is a autobiographical piece called A House in the Sky. The author is a Canadian writer, Amanda Lindhout, who was very much in the news a few years ago when she was kidnapped and held for ransom for over a year by some petty bandits in Somalia. The book covers her early life in part, but the majority is a description of her time in captivity.

Her writing style is crisp and straightforward, with comments and imagery that complements the story, without turning it into a literary exercise. The writing is never a distraction from the events which are gripping, terrifying and, at times shocking. One could not say whether she was always as insightful and honest as the character presented in the book. My guess is the experience cultivated this self-awareness far beyond the levels anyone would expect in normal life.

The story is fascinating at a number of levels. For an understanding of the tragic political and social environment of Africa her narrative describes, in detail, the horror and desperation experienced by the people of Somalia, which can easily stand in for most of the other struggling nations of that continent. As a travel book, this is, no doubt, a cautionary tale for those who would set off with romance in their minds and little understanding of the current political situation in their destinations. What moved me very much in the reading has been her spiritual journey. From someone who, like most Western travellers, lacks much of a commitment to any religious tradition, we witness the writer coming to terms with all of the most crucial religious issues in human life. She investigates Islam, partly as a survival strategy, and learns how she can respect much of the mainstream message. She clearly understands the distortions that rule her captors' minds, but this does not deny her an understanding of civilians outside of her prison. She describes a number of incidents that relate somewhat or considerably to practices of both mindfulness and broader meditation. Some of the moments of insight and strength represent familiar experiences for long time meditators. Her description of near death awareness and a profound compassion for her captors situations are among the most moving of the entire book. All in all, a highly recommended read. Apparently, and not surprisingly, there is a film adaptation on the way. There are also several disturbing news video of Lindhout, from that time, on YouTube.

in the Dharma,

Friday, December 18, 2015


We recently completed our December reflection which was intended to look back at the past year and consider the ways in which we have contributed to our respective purposes. We are now shifting into looking ahead, looking into the coming year through the lens of our purposes. I will comment on that each week for the next month or so, until we arrive at our workshop in late January.

This process brought me back to a book which I read several years ago and am finding as valuable now as it was then. The book is called "The Power of Purpose; Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better" by the American writer Richard J Leider. I highly recommend this book since it is written so clearly and contains many personally moving stories from the authors experience. One section that I would like to highlight here is what Leider calls purpose myths. He lists lists four common myths that we believe about purpose and does his best to dispel them.

Myth 1: to have purpose means I must do something completely original
Reality: Can you think of anything that is totally new. The paradox of purpose is that, in order to address new solutions, we must first familiarize ourselves with the ideas of others to form a base for launching our own ideas.
Myth 2: only a few special people have true purpose in their lives.
Reality: This is the most commonly rationalized of all myths. There is no denying that often we have relied on others to solve many of our problems however, being a novice is often an asset because we aren't hemmed in by traditional views. It's the passion to make a difference that counts most so we must carefully tend our passion
Myth 3: true purpose comes as inspiration or revelation until that time comes I must I might as well keep plotting ahead
Reality: this “pop-in” motivation theory would have us believe that new directions are flashes of brilliance which descends on the lucky few. Inspiration in fact, comes to those who seek it. First we must begin, then purpose moments appear.
Myth 4: purpose is nice but impractical. I need money!
Reality: Many times we become so caught in day-to-day survival that we lose sight of what were doing. Our activity becomes a false end in itself rather than a means to an end. People often say: "how on earth can you expect me to find the time?" For most of us time is indeed the biggest barrier. But waiting until we have the time is as futile as trying to save money by putting away what we don't happen to spend. The only way to commit time to purpose is to steal it from some other activity. This is what the power of purpose is all about – aligning our energies around true priorities

Understanding how we become trapped in these myths is an important step to preparing ourselves to build a life designed to fulfill our personal purpose.

in the Dharma,
Innen, doshu