Here, There and Everywhere

The Nature of Being

51cq5sixWzL._SY346_The Mystery: Zen Stories by Dan Glover.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Unlike my book of satirical stories (Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire), which was a take-off on the insightful wisdom stories in the classic collection Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Mr. Glover has put together a serious, and in-depth look, at the nature of our being, by presenting eighty-one stories in eleven sections. Here is a glimpse from the introduction, of what The Mystery: Zen Stories lays bare.

This book seeks to illuminate the subtle relationship between the unknowable world and what we know by experiencing the world. It is based in part upon ancient texts written down some two thousand five hundred years ago brought up to date so as to be more applicable to the present day Western culture. In many respects, these tales sound autobiographical, though no one person has “likely” experienced everything within.

The different sections, which are titled as a season (Breath of Spring, Autumn Giving Way, etc.) each begin with a beautiful haiku, then dive into topics such as acceptance, loss, water, stillness, perception, and non-attachment, but in the context of stories and experiences. Mr. Glover has a delicious way with words and is able to see things from many perspectives, and not what may always be expected.

“I once heard of a man who was said to be in possession of a great understanding far surpassing any other. Making many inquiries I discovered where this man lived. The journey was long; the way very difficult and arduous. After months of travails, I reached this man’s abode. He seemed to have been expecting me; looking delighted to see me standing at his door he waved a hand for me to enter.

Without saying a word he brought refreshments. Sitting silently together we ate and we drank. When the meal was finished I got up and I left. When I arrived back home my wife inquired if I had found the man who I had been seeking for so long. I nodded my head. She asked if he had shared his great understanding with me. I smiled at her and looking into her eyes I could see she knew without being told.”

There is so much to be said about this book, yet I am hesitant to say anymore, as my words seem insufficient to describe the breadth and depth of its spirit. I think it best, at this moment, to let The Mystery: Zen Stories speak for itself.

“I hold that we come forth without roots. We enter the world by no aperture. We have real existence but this has nothing to do with place, such as our relation to space; we have continuance but it has nothing to do with beginnings or ends, such as our relation to time. The door of the mystery is non-existence. All things come from non-existence; non-existence is the same as not existing. This is the secret of the ages.”

Romeo, Juliet, Petie & Me by Melinda Matthews.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61zgBqTDlxL._SY346_The narrator tells the tale of her dog Petie and she, as they move from Georgia to Hurley Mississippi in 1961. She’s a young girl, and Petie is a young collie. She has two older sisters, and parents who let her roam free on their property in the countryside. Romeo, Juliet, Petie & Me called forth my childhood and swept me into its bosom. It is very well written. Whether taken from real life or completely fictional, becomes irrelevant.

She imagines being a cowgirl and having a horse. It’s almost like being in the kitchen and watching her act out her dreams. “I thought it a very useful and productive thing, my walking them. A real cowgirl must do what a real cowgirl must do, right? I’d spent HOURS in our big kitchen riding the broomstick astride like a horse around the kitchen table, dark ponytail flying like a flag, making little clucking sounds for an even more realistic ambiance, and the occasional nay or snort added reality to my virtual, as appropriate.  AND I practiced my cattle calls, gleaned straight off Bonanza and Rawhide, so I was qualified to steer cattle, I was sure.”

It turns out that Petie isn’t any ordinary dog. He saves the storyteller from a Brahman bull, walking into the street when a toddler, and growls accordingly when there is danger present. As both ages, Petie begins to slow down and inevitably comes to the end of his dog days. The day it happens is the same day the girl’s older sisters, and Mother, are going to see the film, Romeo and Juliet. The grief and family reactions are palpable.

With Romeo, Julie, Petie & Me the author has shared a part of life that feels so real, vivid, and emotional, that readers’ will feel like part of the family, and as attached to Petie as much as anyone. Though a lot of years pass in the narrator’s first-person account of her relationship with Petie, the story feels complete and significant. Someday, when Ms. Matthews goes to heaven, I’m sure Petie will be at her side once again (imagined or not).

 

The Benefits of Yoga for Seniors: A Guide On Getting Started.
Guest Post by Harry Cline.

image1Photo via Pixabay by Brenkee

Of all the different types of exercises out there, yoga has become one of the most popular in recent years, partly because of its inherent flexibility. It can be done just about anywhere, by people of many different ages and abilities, and can be adapted for those who have mobility issues. For seniors, yoga is one of the best workouts around for those very reasons, but there are other benefits, as well, including a boost to mental health that can help ease the symptoms of depression and prevent stress and anxiety.

Fortunately, there are several simple ways you can get started with a yoga routine of your own, but it’s important to start slowly to avoid injury and to get adjusted to the movements. It’s also a good idea to make sure you adapt the poses to meet your specific needs, especially if you have a disability or limited mobility.

Keep reading for some great tips on how to get started with yoga and to learn more about the benefits.

Improve your overall health

The many benefits of yoga are evident in the way they help seniors improve balance and coordination–which helps prevent falls and other injuries–and builds up muscle tone, aids in joint health, and reduces stress and anxiety for better mental health. By combining physical exercise with a mental health boost, you can ensure that your overall health is well taken care of.

Aid in your recovery

Yoga can be hugely beneficial for individuals who are in recovery because it combines physical activity with meditation. Learning to look inward and connect with your spiritual self can help speed up your recovery and will allow you to learn how to cope with stressors and the effects of depression and other mood disorders in a healthy way.

Adapt

If you’re living with a disability or have limited mobility, it’s important to find a workout that you can adapt to your needs so you can stay safe. Yoga can be done in the water or with the assistance of a chair, so you don’t have to get down on the floor if doing so would be painful or awkward. Consider taking a class with an instructor who understands how to adapt yoga poses for different needs. You can even do yoga and meditation at home. Set up a calm, relaxing space away from noisy areas of your home.

Make sure it feels right

It’s important to make sure that as you’re practicing yoga, you learn to emphasize feeling over the poses. If something doesn’t feel right, move out of the pose immediately and get into a comfortable position. While yoga is a mostly safe exercise for seniors, there are still ways to become injured if you aren’t careful. Take things slowly and consult a doctor immediately if you feel pain.

Start with a class

If you’ve never experienced yoga before, it might be best to start with a class so that you can see how the poses are supposed to be done. There are likely several local classes to choose from, but if you aren’t comfortable with attending one in person–or if you have limited mobility–look for a tutorial online that you can follow at home.

Getting started with your own yoga routine doesn’t have to be stressful or difficult; start slowly and remember that these exercises can be adapted to fit your needs, whatever they may be. If you have existing health issues, consult with your doctor before starting any new routine. Having a good plan and keeping your own safety in mind will help you create an exercise plan that will keep you healthy for a long time.

We Are Not What We Think

Being Present: Cultivate a Peaceful Mind through Spiritual Practice
by Darren Cockburn. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51RSwi0BKVL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This work is extensive, well-formatted, referenced, nuanced, and easy to understand and put into practice. Being Present explores the ways mindfulness, awareness, yoga, and religious practice, can become the bedrock of our daily lives to create simplicity and insight. Mr. Cockburn says, “Simplifying our life helps us to cultivate Presence and Presence equips us to manage complexity.”

The material provides a close look at “Presence”. What it is, and what it is not? Where it comes from and where it goes, and how to have frequent access to its benefits. The introduction thoroughly outlines all of the areas to be examined within. These include our bodies, people, meditation, hindrances, the ego, simplicity, acceptance, addictions, stillness, nature, work, service, and how to structure one’s practice.

The author’s “three approaches to cultivating Presence” were especially helpful. “The first is through structured practice. This covers activities practiced on a regular basis, including meditation, yoga, and studying spiritual teachings. The second approach is through everyday activities where we are striving to be Present. For example, we may be making a conscious effort to be more Present whilst walking or brushing our teeth. The third approach is to change our conditions so that our life becomes more conducive to being Present. Examples here may include changing our job, letting go of certain relationships, working to release addictions, taking regular exercise, letting go of unhelpful habits and connecting with nature.”

There is an excellent summation at the end of each chapter called Points For Reflection, shared personal experiences in each section, and some well-designed diagrams throughout Being Present. Mr. Cockburn has presented a well-balanced, practical, and insightful book that is applicable for the novice or seasoned practitioner of Presence and mindfulness. I recommend reading it cover to cover, or as a quick reference.

Running Into the Past

Life Happens On The Stairs by Amy J. Markstahler.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61yvbeR9oJL._SY346_Seventeen-year-old Elsie’s dad is dying, she’s falling for an amazing guy (Tyler), and the divide between rich and poor in Hardin County Tennessee has never been wider. Elsie’s mother (Claire) cleans the house of stuck up and wealthy Mrs. Vaughn, and Tyler is her smart-as-a-whip grandson. Life Happens On The Stairs has hints of the classic The Prince and the Pauper, with an intense love story in the contemporary south. Ms. Markstahler takes us into the mind, heart, and body, of this young teen whose father brought her and her family back from Illinois to his families land.

Here’s a little of what happens when Elsie fills in for her mother at Mrs. Vaughns and meets her in the hallway. “For the next few hours, I vacuumed, dusted, scoured the bathroom and polished the glass on the upper level. Mom always cleaned when she was mad or frustrated. Now I understood why. As the day moved on, I started feeling better. At one-thirty, I walked down the hallway towards Mrs. Vaughn’s bedroom. The passage seemed to narrow as apprehension overwhelmed me. I slowed my steps. Why did I feel like sprinting out of the house? A doorknob clicked. The hair stood up on my arms. That’s why.”

The tension and conflict between Elsie and her mother, and Elsie and her brother (Mark), are spot on and completely relatable. The growing bond between Tyler and Elsie is well developed, with each of them pushing the other to experiences, and memories, they may never have explored, or remembered, left to their own devices, family backgrounds and expectations. Ms. Markstahler also knows how to describe what it’s like when carrying for someone you love who is dying. Life Happens On The Stairs is an excellent story about love and family, for both young and older adults.

Anchor Unchained

My Inner Child – A Collection of Poetry by Regina Puckett.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Here are fifty insightful, introspective poems that explore feelings, thoughts, compassion, understanding, love, choices we make, and the reactions we take. With rhyming prose and poetic awareness, Ms. Puckett reveals the time we waste in self-judgment and of judging others. My Inner Child displays the preciousness of the present, and how fleeting this moment can be, with awareness and lyrical style.

51IQyu-XCyLThat Moment

“What exactly are you running to
Always looking for something new
You throw away without looking back
You run here and there, leaving the track
Everything is disposable and tedious
You mislay the best in your greediness
Slow down and smell the morning air
Stop and let it run its fingers in your hair
When you want to taste something unique
Let that moment be the moment you seek”

In some respects, My Inner Child is not only a collection of poems but also a journal, and self-revealing observation of working on oneself. Regardless of how many people we are with, know, or call family, life is essentially traveled alone. We can look within and witness the lives of others, or go around in habitual conditioned circles. Is there someone to ground us, to connect with; someone who understands?

My Rock

“Are you witnessing?
Are you listening?
Why do I feel like I’m alone
Tossed wherever I’m blown
My anchor unchained
My heart bloodstained
If you happen by,
will you feel my sigh?
Will you take my hand?
Be my rock in this sand?”

Odds Not In Her Favor

512tC1jRudLTo The One I Never Forgot by Christi Williams.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

This is a sweet tale about second chances and beating the odds. Gianna and Zack were high school sweethearts, but haven’t seen heads or tails of one another for six years. They each believe the other chose not to reach out after Zack joined the service and went to the middle east. Gianna takes a chance and writes a letter on a site called To The One I Never ForgotThe odds are not in her favor, but she’s not going to give up.

As Gianna decides what to do next, she pauses. “She wanted to write more, but she made herself stop. She told herself she only wanted an explanation and then she would be content. She would see if Zack answered again. Before she said too much, before she tried to explain too much, too soon. If Zack had wanted to contact her, he could have done so at any time over the years. But he hadn’t.

For those who are familiar with the book (and movie) called The Notebook, you will find familiar territory reading To The One I Never Forgot. Ms. Williams tells the story from both Gianna and Zack’s perspective. In the process, the trauma’s and life changes they both experienced are revealed. There is also a surprise at the ending which caught me off guard but added a nice twist, and additional resonance, to the tale.

51eFb-W7I2L._SY346_The Oxymoron of Still Life by Lynn Lamb.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

It’s not necessarily what the story is about, but how well it is told. Ms. Lamb does a masterful job telling tales in The Oxymoron of Still Life. The first one in the collection (Beauty Bath) is difficult to take in, with scenes of abuse, degradation and murder. In spite of the content, the beginning line is so good, you can’t help but read it to the end. “The inherent danger from the blackness of the new moon was her veil.” This style of moving prose continues with every word and sentence.

Here is a small piece of this delicious literary pie, to give you a taste of the writer’s style. It is speaking about Oliver in Double Entendre“Johanna still had the habit of blowing the bangs away from her forehead with her lower lip jutted forward whenever she was lost in thought. It was no less endearing to him now. He wished he could stand in front of her face to face, so that he could feel her honeyed, warm breath on his skin. With his death, he was now deprived of that pleasure. So angry at the uselessness of his corpse was he that he stamped out from behind the drapery and plopped down on the bed. She looked right through him, and he felt as though he might die a second time.”

In addition to Beauty Bath, and Double Entendre (about Oliver who is dead, but hangs out with his living wife, or so it seems); is Mothballed, which involves a scuttled battleship in the 1920s and a boy named Brice, who hears her call. Each of the stories in this collection is completely different from one another in tone, subject, and dialogue, providing additional evidence of the author’s insight, imagination and writing abilities. If it isn’t clear by now, I’ll say it more bluntly, The Oxymoron of Still Life is excellent.

Walk Like A Woman

510Kqr+e8mLThe Company Policy by M. C. Questgend.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Why does Monica Roberts want to hire Brandon Wilder for her company, when there are better-qualified people? What kind of business is Monica’s Closet? Who in The Company Policy is gay, straight, bi, trans, cross-dresser, or all of the above? What happens to Brandon when he goes to Monica’s mansion for his job interview as VP of operations?

Here’s a taste of Brandon’s job interview. “When they were done they stood me up and left. I walked around the room admiring myself in the mirror. When the girls returned, the maid had changed into the same outfit I was wearing and showed me how to move and walk like a woman. Not exaggerated and not flamboyantly obvious as to draw attention to myself, but just enough flare to pass and not walk like a man.”

The Company Policy has some strange policies, non-disclosure agreements, work hours, and expectations, in this story that starts out innocently enough, and ends with… well… I can’t say out loud. I’m not one to tattle tale on anybody, let alone on Brendon, and what he decides to do (and does) in this tempting tale by M. C. Questgend.

Like Night and Day

41sUKwJHjgLA Secret Love by Brigitta Moon.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

A Secret Love is told from Christina’s and Derek’s perspectives about their marriage, and events before Christmas, with one another and their family. They have two children, and Derek is a successful stockbroker. Christina’s feelings and behavior towards Derek change dramatically, without any rhyme or reason (to Derek). There’s also another persons perspective, which is shared much later in the story.

Ms. Moon has written a clever tale that doesn’t make much sense, until it does. It’s a hard act to bring off, and she does so with depth and precision. Reviewers often say that there are “a lot of twists and turns” in this or that book. This tale goes beyond twists and turns to inside out and upside down. Nothing is as obvious as it seems. Secret, threatening calls to Christina, and Derek’s jealous secretary (Frannie) add to the mix.

When everything comes out in the wash, it is quite a load to try to separate, fold, and put back together. A Secret Love is not quite like anything I’ve read, or thought of before, and that’s good. If you’re ready for something completely different, and unexpected, this is a book for you. Just when you think you know who your partner really is, you discover they aren’t quite the same person you married.

 

 

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