Here, There and Everywhere

More Alive Than Ever

Love: The Beat Goes On by Lynda Filler.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51JCGXkVO9LHer life was flying, her heart was dying. Lynda Filler had a new job, loving family, and an almost too good to be true newly acquainted man she called “my cowboy”. There’d been for-warnings, “messages”, shortness of breath, but nothing really stopped her in her tracks (literally) until 2008 when she is told she has a form of congestive heart failure called dilated cardiomyopathy. Doctors told her it was a death sentence and she must “get your affairs in order”. Nine years later, after driving alone for many months between Canada and Mexico, visiting a shaman in Sedona, New Mexico, and realizing, “I was the change that needed to happen in my healing”, she wrote Love: The Beat Goes On. She’s more alive than ever.

I worked with hospice and bereavement programs for many years. Most people I met was dying, or had had someone die. Whenever I heard about someone having this or that “terminal” disease (or as the author calls it “dis-ease”), I accepted it as reality and tried to help them (and their loved ones) prepare as much as possible, and live whatever life was left to the fullest. Ms. Filler not only didn’t go along with the “program”, but somehow trusted something inside, and outside, herself. Against medical advice she took her own road. Her journey was not random. She learned to honor her intuition, take some risks, and, pardon the clique, follow her heart.

The chapters in this journal are most fitting and include – “The Widow Maker”, “Every Breath I Take”, “Swollen Heart”, “You Are Not Your Diagnosis”, “Red Rocks and Thunderstorms”, “Doctors and Doctorates”, “Is it a Miracle?”, and “It’s a Mind Game”. There is a perfect mixture of describing an event, what her personal reactions, thoughts, and feelings were about the experience, and her understanding and actions (if any) in response. Even though this pattern progresses throughout her writing, Lynda also becomes acutely aware that she is not what she writes about. “I have huge respect for all who survive anything, but I am not my story.”

Love: The Beat Goes On isn’t melancholy, or sanguine; it is as real as real can be. I know of few people who have learned to believe in something beyond themselves, willingly take steps into the unknown, and trust their own gut, as has Ms. Filler. Her life is example number uno of how to live a life of genuine belief and faith. Not in a religious sense, but with practical down-to-earth actions and spirit. This memoir is interesting for personal reflection, and provides a number of suggestions on how others can use what Ms. Filler learned for their own challenges. She doesn’t claim that her way is the only way, but her still being alive gives a lot of credence to what she has to say. “When I walked down from that vortex, my step was light. My heart beat normally again… and I knew it.”

 

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Kill Them & Save Them

Permanent Change of Station: Vietnam by Christopher Rector.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

51PIZO485lLPermanent Change of Station: Vietnam is a well-informed blend of fiction, autobiography, and memoir. It gets under your skin, takes you back to the war, and brings to mind a number of scenes from films and other books about America’s political deception and the soldiers and families who paid the price for it. Some of the characters, such as General Abrams, are historical, and the rest appear to be fictional, though act and sound as if they are the real thing. The author is a retired army veteran and his knowledge and experience bleed throughout the pages. There is little preamble, as we follow a new arrival meeting his superiors at the 240th Intelligence Detachment based at the U.S installation of Long Binh.

Everyone in this story has their story, and personal view of how they got to Vietnam, what they believe, and/or what they are fighting for. Lieutenant Colonel Robert “Bull” Basham sees everything as fleeting, and lives for the momentary pleasure and profit. “Bull knew there was no permanence to any of this – the hotel, Lien (his mistress), or the war.” The primary protagonist, Adam Nussbaum, is an idealist from Manhattan, who works as an interrogator, and ends up in the field with First Lieutenant Mike Dempsey, and “Big” Ben Tenata SFC (Sergeant First Class). They end up developing a bond that only those who have fought and died together understand.

From beginning to end, readers can feel Mike’s perspectives, and feelings, evolve. His understanding, and respect, for his comrades (Peter Savory, Katie, Mike, and Major Tanaka) deepens, as his disgust and distrust of others grows. The men and women who are thrown in together in this mess of a war all have lengthy discussions about it – the Viet Cong (NVA), the South Vietnamese Army (AVRN), and the politics and demonstrations taking place in The States. The dialogue is congruent with each individual, and gives readers’ a lot of background about what was taking place at that time (in Vietnam and The States).

Aspects of this story remind me of the biography I wrote about a young Jewish doctor from Brooklyn, stationed at Udorn Air Force Base in Thailand during the war (Dr. Leff – Stepping Into The Fire), who begins to hear stories from CIA pilots about bombing villages in Cambodia and Laos. His patriotism is challenged when he fights to make this knowledge public. Permanent Change of Station: Vietnam is better written than my biography about Dr. Leff, and describes the futility and loss experienced by so many. Nurse Katie captures the essence of the war when she responds to something Adam says. “And you remember Adam we’re here in Vietnam because we’re trying to kill them, and save them from something I can’t even remember what.”

A Love Contract

When Soul Is Life: Life Transforming Wisdom from the Heart of the Soul by Kylie Riordan. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

41kFm7QBHBLWe all know that peace, love, kindness, and caring are the essence of a happy and fulfilling life, but most of the time we forget. That’s when a good friend, teacher, or book comes along to help remind us of what we already know. When Soul Is Life does just that. Ms. Riordan proclaims, “I now make kindness my religion, empathy my form of meditation, and compassion my prayer.” If just stating it made it so, we’d all be one big mushy mass of humanity hugging one another and lending a hand. Thankfully, she doesn’t just say it, she shows us how.

“I am honored that we (readers) are on this journey together and I look forward to entering a scared contract of love with you.” The author provides definitions for kindness, love, compassion, and gratitude, and how we can all (together) bring them into our lives, and remember to not only believe in these qualities (and virtues), but put them into practice. Personal examples, exercises, affirmations, and helpful lists, are exhibited throughout, with liberal doses of humility and understanding. “The truth is, compassion is just love, kindness, and forgiveness.”

Chapters include – Forgiveness; Courage; Soul Essentials; Love; Kindness; Gratitude and Simplicity. There is a section on intuition, how to know when it is present (gut feeling, walk, shivers, and flow), and when to follow it. Discussions about love, and the difference between romantic and spiritual love. One of my favorite areas is when Ms. Riordan shares five tips on how to live in the moment (spend time in nature, use abdominal breathing, meditation, awareness of feelings, and making peace with the past). There is also a good quantity of discourse about courage, happiness and authenticity.

The themes and insights in When Soul Is Life reminded me of my time sitting with others who were experiencing extreme pain, loss, emotions, and the aftermath of trauma. As a grief and bereavement counselor in hospital, hospice, private practice, and a variety of health care settings, I was touched by the many occasions of shared humanity. There were times when I would be detached, and others when I was completely overwhelmed. The moments that were most precious, and I believe the most helpful, were when I was able to be completely present, loving, and compassionate. Ms. Riordan’s words, and experiences in this book, helped me remember how to find those moments again.

Yadda Yadda Yadda

Just Sit: A meditation guide for people who know they should but don’t. By Sukey Novogratz and Elizabeth Novogratz. Illustrations by Niege Borges. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

412a0ezS86L._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_If the writers of Just Sit could do so, they would reach out from the page (or screen) grab you by the throat, wrestle you to the ground, and hold you there until you started meditating – metaphorically speaking. That is what it seems to take for us to stop with all of our excuses (real and imagined) and actually do it. The Novogratz’s do everything in their power to convince us – joke, explain the benefits, teach us the fundamentals, and answer every possible question. “10 million Americans meditate, 6 million of them because their doctor told them to.” Let’s just pretend our doctor told us to and start doing it.

Whether you are just beginning, or are the oldest living meditator on the planet, the insights and instructions within make a lot of sense. It includes steps for how to meditate, questions that arise once we’ve started, and why we are reluctant to begin in the first place. “Meditation is a way of training your mind to slow down, to be responsive, not reactive, to bring you into your life and out of the constant chatter that’s going on in your head.” It is often this chatter, and mind-fuck, that keeps us from paying attention to our selves, or side-tracts us once we’ve begun. One of the most practical, and enlightening aspects of this book, is how to work with such thoughts, feelings, and actions. How to “observe” our experiences without believing we “are” our momentary experience.

Here are some of the questions people ask. If some of these sound familiar, join the crowd.  “I feel like a fool. How do I get past it?” “How does just sitting there help me train my mind?” “My mind is sharp already. So why would it need training?” “Can anyone meditate?” “What can I or should I expect?” “I understand prayer, but meditation seems a little out there for me.” “Can I do meditating wrong?” Here’s the crazy part. The answer to most of these questions is, “For meditation to work, you actually have to do it.” Go figure. What a wild idea. “The biggest secret to meditation is all you need to do is show up.” Like exercising the rest of the body, the mind needs attention. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes practice.

The introduction says, “Meditation Is Not for Sissies”, which reminds me of another book “Growing Old Is Not For Sissies”. In other words, it’s not always a bed of roses (though that could be quite thorny). One of the reasons people avoid meditation is because we begin to see what’s going on, and what we are telling ourselves about what’s going on (with our body, emotions, and thoughts). It isn’t always pleasant, but it is what it is. Sukey and Elizabeth Novogratz invite readers to watch whatever arises. “In order to deal with your shit and have a way better life, you’ve got to be willing to show up and sit in the much.”

So, there you have it. Grab yourself by the scruff of the neck (gently), get a copy of this book and Just Sit. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s hard. It’s difficult. I don’t have time. It doesn’t work for me. I don’t know what to do.” Yadda yadda yadda. Stop believing you are what you think (or feel), and take a chance. What have you got to lose? As the author’s state so simply, and brilliantly, with one of the headings, “WARNING: Conditioning impairs freedom.”

P.S. The illustrations, and layout, match the words, and greatly enrich Just Sit with clarity, wit, and wisdom.

41KtvjU6HDL._SY346_Great Expectations: Chile’s 99-Year quest for the South American Soccer Championship by Thomas Jerome Baker. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Be for-warned that I love futbol (soccer), so am pre-disposed to like almost anything about the subject. Having stated that fact, it is still a nice surprise to read something about the sport that I did not know. I knew very little about the history of Chilean futbol, until now. Great Expectations provides a brief glimpse into the impacts soccer has had on the country, and people, since the ANFF (Football Federation of Chile) was founded in 1895. It is a heart-breaking history.

In 1920, Chile loses out on winning the South American Championship by falling to Uruguay by one goal. In 1945 they lose by one goal to Brazil, in the same tournament. Nineteen-fifty-two comes around, with the Pan American Games, and they lose to Brazil by three goals. Three years later, it is Argentina who knocks them off the winners podium by defeating them 1-0. In 1956 Chile comes in second in the South American Championship. It takes Chile 40 years before they ever beat Brazil.

Mr. Baker adeptly points out some of the psychological, and organizational reasons, that have kept the people and players going through so many defeats, including descriptions of the terms “jinx, “hex”, “charm”, and “curse”. He says, “Chile has a 100-year history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” This lasts until the glorious year of the 2015 South American Championships, when Chile beats Argentina in the final and wins it all for the first time ever! Alexis Sanchez kicks a penalty kick past the goal keeper and “Seventeen million Chileans celebrate across the globe”.

Great Expectations gives us one of the best descriptions of what futbol (soccer) means to many around the world, not just Chileans, that I’ve ever read. “In this new religion, a football stadium is a place where individual and national identity is built and rebuilt, imagined and re-imagined.” Chile has seen themselves for many years through the eyes of their national team. In the past, that message was always that they just weren’t “quite good enough”. They stuck by them however, generation after generation. As Pope Francis II said, “Amongst all unimportant subjects, football is by far the most important.”

A Story to Savor

5168cuV1J3LMy White Dahlia (A Lesbian Romance) by C. M. Blackwood. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

I’m bowing down with gratitude to the literary goddesses that brought this book to my attention. C. M. Blackwood is a damn good writer, and My White Dahlia is a hell of a good book. Weave together some of the best suspense and mystery novels with a first-rate romance, and you’ll end up with this gem, which takes place in 1949 England, in the town of Kingston. It doesn’t take long before you will understand and love these characters. It is with that knowledge, and the author’s ability to reveal their history and past experiences, that your own emotions will become entangled with theirs.

The heroine’s name is Adette Salazar. This tale is told from her point of view. While listening to her friend, Henry, drone on about what he knows about the famous novelist who just hired Adette to be her personal assistant, she realizes, “At the ring of that final word, I finally began to be curious. It was the first moment I market it. It was the moment I remembered as the starting point, through all those long months that followed.” As Adette becomes more familiar with her new surroundings, memories from the past threaten to diss-rail her and ruin all she has come to adore.

Flashes of Adette’s childhood in Georgia (USA), before she is taken to the UK to live with her Uncle Henry after her mother has died, arise at crucial moments within her caring for her now invalid uncle, her new job, and ever changing relationship with Dahlia Frobisher (her boss). Dhalia’s housekeeper, Edwina, and Dahlia’s literary agent, Archie Willoughby, are first-rate characters and supporting players in the drama, as are Susan Heyward and Jane Albright. Though the focus is on Adette and Dhalia, everyone makes a difference, and has an impact upon readers.

One of the reasons that Agatha Christie is the best-selling author of all time, is because she had a knack for understanding human emotion and motives, and was able to describe place, time, characteristics, thoughts, and actions, with such clarity and insight. Everything and everyone, seemed somewhat familiar, yet one never knew for sure who did what and why until the end. Ms. Blackwood is cut from the same cloth of storytellers. My White Dahlia should definitely be made into a film. When you read the story the reasons will become self evident.

 

Down to Earth

41QaxKjEXjLFruits for Life by Dr. Amrita Basu
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Dr. Basu takes us on a journey, from A to Z, through the health benefits of fruit. “A guide to knowing what to put inside your body for a healthy you.” This ear, nose and throat MD, and medical college professor, provides just the right amount of information, without going overboard with complex descriptions and scientific jargon. It is also understood that she is only sharing information on what has been backed up by research, and clinical experience.

Fruits for Life is based primarily on foods available in India, and many are labeled in Bengali, and Hindi, as well as being written in English. Most of the primary fruits described however are accessible throughout the world in some form or fashion. Chapters include: Banana: Goodness in fruit, flower and stemFigs the miracle fruit: Younger youMango Malda and MeNuts About Nuts: To have or notEggplant and Allergy: Fruits you should knowIndian Gooseberry;  and Watermelon Wellness.

Regarding apples, “Packed full of fibers and micronutrients that keep your skin, teeth, heart, lungs healthy.” Speaking of figs, “What’s not to like about a fruit which prevents aging, keeps your rain, heart and bowels healthy?” Referring to figs, “Very high in vitamins C, E. K, foliates, carotenoids, potassium, fibre and antioxidants.” The benefits of citrus skins are highlighted, “Peels are storehouses of phytochemical, which can decrease blood pressure and prevent cancer, if research is to be believed.”

One of the benefits of Fruits for Life is the down to earth, next door neighbor, feel it has to it. Even though Dr. Basu doesn’t sound preachy, or snobish. It’s more like you’re sitting down for tea and you happen to ask her a question about apples, guava, or mangoes. She provides suggestions for how much fruit to eat, and how often, as well as some personal stories about her home village, husband, daughter Rai, and family. If you have any curiosity about the health benefits of fruit, this book will quench your thirst, and fill your belly, with mouth-watering morsels of information and knowledge.

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