"Books are uniquely portable magic" ~Stephen King
Today’s the first of a new series we’ve been working on, our monthly reading lists. We love books. There isn’t anything quite as powerful and valuable to us humans as a species, than our ability to read and write. Books offer us insights that we may not usually find otherwise in our daily lives. If you’re someone who loves books too, you’ll be able to relate with this.
Each month, we pick a book that we love, and talk about it. Any book that was a good read for us will be talked about here, with new books on each month’s episode, to keep things fresh. The goal is for us to share with each of you something valuable we picked up from the books we enjoyed, and hopefully provide some ideas that you might resonate with as well. Most of the books we’ll talk about are easy to find online on Amazon, Kindle, Audible and maybe even your local bookstore. So without further ado, here’s our reading list for December 2022.
1. Stillness Is the Key - By Ryan Holiday
Bhuwan's book choice for December 2022, is 'Stillness Is the Key', by Ryan Holiday. After a long stressful year, he was searching for a book that would either challenge his beliefs or help him self reflect more deeply, to slow down his fast paced life.
Ryan Holiday is a successful author today, who used to be a full time media strategist and founded a creative agency called Brass Check, and worked for clients like Google, TASER and Complex. He is known for bringing ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism to life and making it relatable to our daily lives. In this book, he deliberately does not use the term meditate or meditation as he talks more about finding stillness in nature, walks, work, living in the moment and enjoying the journey rather than jumping from target to target or goal to goal.
There were several examples throughout the book as he transitioned from one chapter to another, but one particular one made Bhuwan self reflect for a couple of days.
"I would like to quote a section from the book to emphasise my point of living in the moment":
'"In the archery master Awa Kenzo's school, he famously never taught students how to deliberately aim and shoot to hit the target. Mastery of the bow, Kenzo knew, only came from mastery of a mental skill: detachment. The hits on the target" - outward proof and confirmation of your purposelessness at its highest, of your egolessness, your self abandonment or whatever you like to call this state.
What is this state supposed to be - stillness? Ability to let go, loosen up and release the tension. Instead, focusing on individual steps, embracing the process, giving up the chase, we'll think better, clearer, because we aren't thinking so hard. The closer one is to mastery, the less they care about results. They're consumed in the process and the actions they control."
"This particular section made me self reflect about having structured goals in life. How much importance I gave them personally. If I do not achieve them, I feel like a failure. But I realised that I have been extremely petty and narrow minded most of my life. I am also into Japanese philosophy. Often, Japanese teachings are glorified from Buddhism and there is a term 'Ichigyo Zanmai' - The practice of one thing at a time - full concentration on task at hand. In today's world, multitasking and productivity are the two buzz words used all around but we do not realise that the quality of work does not match when we practice Ichigyo Zanmai. Despite knowing this term and its effects, we often fail to practically implement it in our daily lives.
The key takeaway from this book was that our souls are not still and requires daily practice to reach mastery of mental control.
"Gentleman is self possessed and relaxed, while the petty man is perpetually full of worry." ~ Confucius
2. Create Calm - By Kate James
My book choice for this month is: Create Calm, by Kate James. A bit about Kate, she is an author, life coach and mindfulness speaker who lives in Melbourne, Australia. While I haven’t attended any of her life coaching workshops, some of the testimonials describe her style to be low-key and different, as she draws on philosophies from mindfulness, positive psychology, creativity and neuropsychology as well. She has her own mindfulness workshops, and has written six best-selling personal development books, one of them being ‘Create Calm, how to make friends with your mind’.
This book is about why we struggle with finding calm, and how we can incorporate habits in our daily lives to help develop a calmer, more composed state of mind. The first important point Kate mentions is the concept of stress, why we get stressed and why it can be a good thing. At times, stress can help us push forward and do things that we’re afraid of. However, constant and ongoing stress, if let loose, can become chronic. This can then manifest in different ways, both mental as well as physical.
One of the ways Kate talks about how we can deal with stress of any sort, is to respond with equanimity and detachment. Responding with equanimity essentially means to acknowledge thoughts, feelings and the stress as well, and accept its presence in our minds. To do this, she mentions a few different ways but the two most interesting ones were meditation, and the scheduling of ‘worry time’.
Meditation is a powerful habit, and we could go down a rabbit hole talking about that. But the point of scheduling ‘worry time’ was about planning times in the day to specifically worry about things, rather than letting it affect us during the day. So for example, I can decide to worry about something at 3pm everyday, and so if something stressful happens at 12pm, I would keep it on hold and think about revisiting it at 3pm.
Sounds unusual, but when I tried this, I found that I wasn’t able to worry at will. Intentionally worrying about something isn’t possible, and one sees this through meditation when you’re being mindful about your thoughts. The scheduling of ‘worry time’ is quite a similar experience, where being mindful of whatever it is that worries us, diminishes the effect it has on our mind. She describes this through an acronym, R.A.I.N:
R: Recognition, the process of noticing or identifying the thoughts that arise in the mind
A: Acceptance, which aligns with the concept of detachment. The idea of accepting that these thoughts have come into the mind independent of our choice, as we do not have any control over whether or not they fill our minds
I: Interest, finding a source of where these thoughts came from. One might pinpoint events in the external world that triggered them, and simply doing so helps with accepting them
N: Being non-identified with your feelings, and acknowledging that these thoughts are not us, they’re just contents of our consciousness. We cannot identify with these thoughts as we are much more than that.
Another part of the book talks about sensory experience, and how our senses can help with how calm our mind feels. Kate talks about the effects of smell, sound and taste, how each of these senses are filled with neurotransmitters that connect to the brain. Depending on the stimuli, our brain’s capacity to feel calm or stressed is affected. Certain sounds, such as lo-fi music, nature sounds can ease the mind, making it easy to be mindful of thought. Combined with soothing smells and fragrances, as well as mild foods affect our body and can help with maintaining calm. It makes sense when you think of the effect that stimulants such as alcohol, cigarettes and hard drugs, when combined with loud music, can have on the mind and body. Surrounding ourselves with the right substances for our senses can help with our efforts to create calm, as well as being around people that help us be in the right state of mind.
The core element of the book is to address how being calm can help ease our minds and therefore, our lives as well. I’ve spoken about the Stoic concept of Ataraxia, a form of serenity and calmness in one’s state of mind. When we’re calm, we’re able to make decisions that account for our own well-being, rather than fall into impulsive urges. We’re able to respond to situations with neutrality, without being too affected by external circumstances. Our ability to control our anger improves, thus strengthening our relationships with the people around us. Anger does more harm than good, and it feels like nothing less than a superpower to be able to approach each situation with a calm and composed mindset.
This book was key to helping me find my interest towards spirituality. It’s a great book for anyone who deals with stress and anxiety, looking for relief. Eliminating these thoughts for good is not what this book promises, which is my favourite part about it. It’s about acknowledging their presence, and finding a way for them to reside in our mind harmoniously. So, that’s my book for December, great read.
This blog wasn't sponsored by anyone, so these recommendations were 100% genuine. If you’ve read either of these books, we’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways about them, as well as any book recommendations you have to share.
Until then, happy reading!