Sunday, April 17, 2016

Emotional Rescue by Dzogchen Ponlop

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
Title: Emotional Rescue: How to Work with Your Emotions to Transform Hurt and Confusion into Energy that Empowers You
Author: Dzogchen Ponlop
Published: Tarcher / Penguin
Release Date: 19 April, 2016
Pages: 180

Emotional Rescue, as the detailed title suggests, deals with the subject of emotions and how one can use emotions to live meaningfully and happily. So many times we get swayed by emotions and often wish we hadn’t done what we end up doing. The book looks at emotions in a very positive way, and explains not only how emotions work and affect us, but also how one can use them to transform their outlook.

The process seems simple, like most important things are. It has been broadly divided into three phases (or steps) that not only help you understand your emotions better but also, if you use this knowledge and practice it, to be more aware of them when they come up, and being able to work with them effectively (which here means being able to control your 'reaction', in word, action and thought, to those emotions). The three steps are:

1. Mindful Gap: Look – The first step deals with making oneself 'aware' of emotions as they rise. Observing them. Trying not to react as soon as you feel something. As we pause, it creates a gap or space, even if it is for a second, which gives time for emotions to run their course and give one enough breathing room. Being more mindful/watchful of what we do and what we feel brings clarity and makes one more attentive. The book tells us how to bring about this 'mindful gap'. It is more about attaining self-knowledge than anything else, and oh, how that helps!

2. Clear Seeing: Explore-- It is about getting to the big picture once you've seen the individual things in step 1. You are aware of not only what you feel but also what else is around you and how you affect them. When you begin seeing the big picture, you form patterns in your relationships (those formed with the world). You are able to 'see' the impact of those emotions as and when they rise, and you can respond more skilfully to what's happening around. It involves a good deal of reflection so you also see the hidden emotions.

3. Letting Go: Relax-- This is about the practice of letting go of your negative emotions. It is not about rejecting your feelings and emotions, or avoiding them, but to welcome them as they are while being aware of them and knowing what they are (step 1 and 2). How can you look at so much energy (because that's what it is) as a potential creative one?

You'll find ideas and steps you can take to avoid unnecessary confrontations--at home or at work. There are tips for dealing with difficult people and with conflicts in relationships. The author encourages you to look at emotions in a healthy way, step back from them in the process, but also to keep them as a creative force.

The situations described are easy to understand and universally relatable. When you're in the first phase of the book, you're drawn into it, nodding your head at nearly every page because you GET IT. You are shown what you can be, how you can help yourself, what the ideal situation is, but it takes some more time (and pages) to actually get down to it. However, that's a pattern. Don't stop reading, but be persistent. The author is first ensuring that you are made aware of your emotions enough before spoonfeeding you the correct dose.

But again, I find there is no 'correct dose' for such things. It mostly depends on how you see it or how you work with it. I'm glad the author points that out too. There are no views of an ideal situation without being realistic; it could take a lot of time and practice, because emotions are such difficult things to deal with (at least that is how we see them). The author mentions early on how we tend to assume ‘emotions’ as negative. There are positive ones too, but because the negative ones cause us most distress, the book talks about those.

The book then goes on to suggest exercises to get you to follow the three steps. Those exercises are mostly to make you aware of yourself, but they are very much workable. They are detailed, and not exactly a step-by-step 'how to' process, but by making you reflect and get in that mind frame. There's a Part 2 of the book that talks about a Buddhist approach to emotions, which is similar to what has been described in the book but talks about it from the perspective of Buddhism.

Emotional Rescue encourages you to think, reflect, re-read and search for answers within yourself instead of hand-holding you through the process. It will help you identify your emotions, especially the ones that disturb you, help you think about them in a useful way, to begin to see them in a clear light, and tell you what to do with them. That's as much as a book, text or lecture can do. I'm quite glad that, like a lot of self-help/philosophy books do, it does not loudly proclaim that you can win at life if you do so-and-so things. In a very real way, it 'helps'. That is what one actually needs.

The writing style is clear, easy to understand, and very engaging. There's not much you will find out of your range. The book is also not too long. There's only so much you can talk about emotions, and explaining in detail the three steps I mentioned above. It can be read in a flow without seeming to get boring, which is a rare thing for books in this category (or maybe I was too keen to know how to be emotionally rescued, the topic being close to home and all). I thought of it as a positive coincidence that I got this book just when I could do with some guidance on the emotions front. I joked, "If this book helps me, it'll get a 5 star rating." That was a funny idea, but a novice one. Like the author suggests, transformation cannot happen suddenly. You have to practice these steps. BUT. Ever since I started reading it (not only when I finished it, mind), I have been able to pause and reflect before reacting, and thus have had minor confrontations where otherwise there might have been huge blow-ups. I think that’s a start. I plan to follow the ideas and exercises mentioned in this book, and will add later what came out of it!

Recommended for: Anyone looking to learn more about emotions and how you can regain control of them. Suitable for all ages—early teens to major adults.

About the author: Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche is a leading Buddhist teacher in North America. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche was recognized by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Holiness the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa as a reincarnate lama of the Nyingma tradition. He is the founder and president of Nalandabodhi, an international network of Buddhist study and meditation centers, and of Nitartha International. Rinpoche is most active at Nalanda West, in Seattle, Washington, which offers public programs by teachers from many traditions that support a meaningful, contemplative life. His previous books include Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind.

Note: This book was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Alice Sebold
Author: Alice Sebold
Pages: 328
Published: 2002, by Little, Brown and Company
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart

The Lovely Bones is the story of a family devastated by a gruesome murder -- a murder recounted by the teenage victim. Upsetting, you say? Remarkably, first-time novelist Alice Sebold takes this difficult material and delivers a compelling and accomplished exploration of a fractured family's need for peace and closure.

My Thoughts!
I had encountered this title in way too many lists (which I keep looking up from time to time) to feel like reading it. Yes, I'm among those who get wary of a book when it's being praised too much. Not without good reason, too. Although The Lovely Bones was not really disappointing, it was surely lower than what I'd expected out of it.

The story is narrated by a fourteen year old girl who's dead. That's probably one of the reasons I found this interesting. Susie Salmon ("like the fish", as she says) is the eldest sibling in the Salmon family. One late evening as she's returning home, she encounters Mr Harvey, a man in their neighbourhood, who rapes and then brutally murders her. Susie dies and goes to heaven, which is different for different people. Susie's is like high school but there are no teachers and she can do all she wants. There's another girl named Holly and a mother-figure named Frannie she meets up there, but she can never stop gazing at her family and friends on Earth. Fair enough, because that is how she will tell us the story.

Soon after Susie's death, we see the devastated family trying to accept the fact that she's dead, and murdered. The story revolves around the lives of people after Susie's death. The writing is good, for the author is able to make a reader feel the intense rawness of feelings one goes through after a tragedy. Susie's father, who I think is the best character in this story, meets Mr Harvey and, just because he's too numb to think of much else, helps him build a tent in his (Harvey's) front yard. BUT. In some sort of instinct, he begins to feel something's wrong... the man knew something about Susie. Of course the clever Harvey denies it and goes back to claiming his lonely life (no wife, no kids) for having weird hobbies, but that only cements Mr Salmon's suspicion that Harvey killed his daughter. This part of the book was really interesting, because I began to feel that he'd do something rad and would get Harvey caught (Harvey being a psycho and having killed children and women before as well). However, despite his conviction, Mr Salmon is not able to prove it. Len Fenerman, a detective, does what he can (almost) but he has no ground to suspect Harvey. Mr Salmon is left alone. Lindsey is the only one who believes him, and tries to help him out.

There are a bunch of other characters who form a good part of the story. Ray Singh, Susie's schoolmate who had a crush on her, and Ruth Connors, an artistic person who was widely considered weird in school. Ruth has been used to depict one form of 'meeting point' between the living and the dead, which was an interesting element in the story.

The Lovely Bones has potential, and I can see why it became popular when it first came out. It promises so much! I found it emotional, and something that offered a view of reality--that there could be disappointments and you can be wronged even when you've done nothing, and it's not necessary you'd get redemption. Some people can go unpunished even after committing sins. Tragedy can break families, and it is oh-so-difficult to keep it together. I also found it heartbreaking. It tells how different people cope with loss in their own ways. Since it can turn out to be high on the emotional quotient for some, maybe you wouldn't want to read it if you're anyway feeling sad or low. As for plot... I don't think there's much to go on. Susie sees her loved ones doing things she is missing, sees them growing up and learning to live without her, makes some connections, but it's just that. It could have had some exciting passages about the killer, but there are few, and not very exciting.

The writing was engaging and gripping, and no matter what you feel while reading, you'd want to keep reading it. Some characters (read Mr Salmon) are believable and lovable. Sometimes you read things so utterly beautiful and painful, you can't help but love the book!

But to be fair, I did find some things quite disappointing. I did not get some parts about Ruth and her abstract ideas, connections and thoughts. I think I can attribute it to some lack of understanding on my part. Second, I did not like Susie's mother, and it's not only because of what she did (it's a spoiler, so I'm not mentioning it), but also because--what an escapist! Sure, I can't imagine a person facing such a tragedy, but woman, you can't do all those things and not do important things (also a spoiler!). Another thing that seemed overdone was how almost all characters engaged in physical relationships to forget their sadness. Like there's nothing else that can make a person feel better. It really annoyed me. It's not only because I have differing personal views, but what sort of messages are being sent to the readers? Finally, the ending. Had it not been for the messed up ending, I might not even have thought of the other 'disappointments'. WHY did that have to happen? I wouldn't like to mention it because it'd be a spoiler (bah), but it was not good. 
Still, every reader experiences a book differently. It is surely worth a read if you're looking for something emotional or different. Just don't expect too much. If you don't, you might end up liking it more than I did!

Here are some quotes from the book for you:

“Nothing is ever certain.” (The most-quoted line in the book)

“Murderers are not monsters, they're men. And that's the most frightening thing about them.”

“Between a man and a woman there was always one person who was stronger than the other one. That doesn’t mean the weaker one doesn’t love the stronger.”    (What do you think about this one?)

“You look invincible,' my mother said one night. 
I loved these times, when we seemed to feel the same thing. I turned to her, wrapped in my thin gown, and said:
I am.”  
(Honestly, this one broke my heart)


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