“Start Here Now”: a book review

bookreviewThis morning I finished Susan Piver’s new book, and felt immediately compelled to write a review. I posted it, but wanted to share it here too.

Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation by Susan Piver is brilliant. It’s an easy to digest overview of the practice of meditation, just what a reader would need to begin, but also includes a wealth of resources to support deepening the practice. The book includes what meditation is and is not, gives an overview of various types of meditation, discusses the obstacles to mediation, and considers how the practice impacts specific aspects of one’s life. The book also provides an easy to follow seven day meditation challenge to help the reader get started, along with a plan for a weekend meditation retreat at home. The other resources made available are extensive – online materials created specifically as companions to the book, three different appendixes (an F.A.Q, a list of important figures in the Buddhadharma, and other resources, including books and in person support for the practice), and of course, the Open Heart Project.

This book follows in the tradition of the best dharma books, ones like Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart and Sakyong Mipham’s Turning the Mind into an Ally. One way it does so is that each chapter is relatively short and to the point, clear and direct. One doesn’t need a lot of time to be able to read a chapter, and there is plenty in each chapter to keep one in contemplation for some time. And, it would be easy after having read the book from beginning to end the first time, to go back and consult it a chapter at a time, in no particular order, as each one stands alone in the wisdom it communicates at the same time as it adds to the whole of the book. I know I will come back to this book again and again, flipping directly to the chapter I need, as a reminder, as inspiration.

This book is perfect for someone new to the practice of meditation. However, I’ve practiced meditation for nine years, the last three with Susan’s direct instruction, and I found myself underlining multiple somethings on every page of this book.

The foundation of this book is Susan Piver’s many years of practice and teaching, and it is infused with her love of the practice and her students. She ends the book by sharing her personal story of how she made her way to meditation. The story of her own life, how she found her path is an inspiration. Her good nature, wisdom, kindness, and sense of humor fill the book with genuine warmth. To read this book, to make use of the resources offered truly is to have your very own personal meditation instructor. Susan Piver makes the practice of meditation accessible, possible, and even desirable.

#AugustMoon15: Day 15

heartfeelslightHiking, walking on the beach, sitting in the backyard with the dogs, reading, writing, cooking, all the laundry folded and put away, meditating in my own space, practicing yoga, stretching, long walks with the dogs, laughing with Eric, the yellow breasted birds in our garden, the hummingbird nest we found that one time, things lost being found, the offer of help, suffering eased, summer vacation, payday, a new bathroom, clean pajamas, how warm and soft and sleepy I feel after a hot bath, spontaneous napping.

#AugustMoon15: Day 14

holdingabook When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön. I first read this book when a friend recommended it to me about nine years ago. It was at the beginning of my meditation practice and Buddhist studies, and somehow I hadn’t yet read anything by Pema. I’ve since read almost everything she’s ever written, taken online courses and done virtual retreats with her, and once was lucky enough to see her speak in person. She is one of my heart teachers. The story of her own life, how she found her path is an inspiration to me. Her wisdom and her kindness are such a comfort. But more than anything it’s her sense of humor that cheers me, encourages me.

I come back to this particular book again and again. As a whole, it does such a good job of explaining the path. I also love that each chapter is short enough, complete enough that you can sit down and start anywhere, pretty quickly read a chapter and get so much out of it. I often read one just before I meditate, let the wisdom sink in while I sit on my cushion. The personal message for me of this book is “get over yourself, you are wonderful,” which might seem like a contradiction to some, but to me it is the most fundamental truth. I flipped through it this morning to try and find a quote to share, but I’ve underlined something(s) on every single page and there are just too many to pick only one.

Gratitude Friday

orangeandred1. Our garden, and all the other gardens feeding us. This is one of my favorite times of the season — strawberries, watermelon, peaches, and tomatoes tomatoes tomatoes.

startherenow022. Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation, Susan Piver’s new book. It’s so good. She’s so good at this, the writing and the teaching and the practicing. I’ve been meditating for nine years now, three of those with Susan’s direct instruction, so even though I know some stuff, I am underlining the crap out of this book.thirdflooreddy3. Settling back into work at CSU. It is so hard to juggle everything I’m responsible for when I’m also on contract there, but so far I’m managing. Can’t wait to get my office prettied up again, to be all the way moved back in.

recipes4. Good recipes, good food. One of the prompts for August Break this week was “favorite recipe.” My response was: How do I choose just one? Roasted tomato soup because I’d never made soup before, it was so easy and delicious, and the tomatoes and basil were from our garden. Chocolate chip cookies with toasted walnuts because they are so good and make Eric so happy. Glazed lemon zucchini bread (which really is cake) with double zucchini and extra glaze and raspberries if you have them, because, and the perfect thing to take to a potluck. And for eating, because I’ve never made crust (and Eric is so good at it, why should I), fruit pie — marionberry, blackberry and raspberry, apple, strawberry, and peach.

bathroombuddies5. These two goofballs. You never have to use the bathroom alone with these two clowns, who think everything the humans do is interesting and want to come along, hang out — except when the humans are on the devices, computers or phones or tvs, because that is just straight up boring. This was Sam and Ringo “helping” me take a bath, although Ringo was just as interested in engaging Sam by playing the “look at the awesome toy I have, don’t you want to try and steal it from me?” game.

Bonus joy: Comedians (seriously, how cool is it that some people make it their profession to make us laugh?), good books and my Kindle making it so easy to get and read them, paper copies of good books I can hold in my hands and underline with a pencil, clean cool drinkable water, laughing with Eric, people who know how to fix our stuff and are fair and honest, the funds to be able to hire those people, knowing that the same stupid hangnail I get on my thumb every year about this time always heals, a physical therapist willing to give me a pep talk when I tell her I am officially frustrated, the flock of tiny yellow breasted birds that are so in love with our sunflower patch, sunflowers that are supposed to be 8-10 feet tall growing to 12 feet, breakfast burritos from La Luz, really good friends.

#AugustMoon15: Day 13

warmthofthesunHow lucky I am. To be here in the backyard with the dogs, nowhere to go, nothing to do. Feeling joyful as I watch them play together. Not that long ago this seemed impossible, that Sam would ever be well enough, Ringo mature enough that they would play, be let to play, that it would be enjoyable to relax and watch them. When you have two dogs it feels like a blessing when they like each other, want to hang out and play. It feels like the best kind of luck.

Also there are tiny white moths dancing around the broccoli plants, which have gone to flower. Watching our garden also gives me such joy, the fruit it bears for us but also the way it creates a tiny universe, a whole little ecosystem of flying and crawling and secret things. There are tiny yellow breasted birds who love the sunflowers and yesterday morning I counted a flock of ten hopping around chattering at each other. It made me stupid happy.

#AugustMoon15: Day 11 & 12

brighteststar

litupfrominsideThese prompts seem to have only one possible answer, and it’s the same: me. And yet, not me exactly. Always have been the brightest star in my sky and lit up from within? — Me, but not who I am rather who I could be, or more exactly not who I think I am but rather who I really am under all the road dust and confusion. The genuine, authentic, actual me.

There’s a suggestion made in Buddhism that enlightenment isn’t something we get, earn, or attain but instead something we remember, relax into, something we already are underneath all the nonsense and noise. We are already enlightened, wise and compassionate beings, we’ve just forgotten, are confused about our true nature. The more I study and practice, the more I see how this might be possible. Maybe all it takes to become that fully realized, bright, lit up version of myself is to accept that is already who I am.