I'm A Believer
(or, Self-englightenment from a fortune-telling dog? Not likely.)
Hey, it's not my fault if you didn't like your fortune, but you can always e-mail me. I'm just a fat black dog in a freakin' turban--what did you expect, some bit of life-changing bit of advice? (Although I DID teach Miss Cleo everything she knows about card reading. Wait a minute, isn't she in jail for mail fraud or something like that? Forget I said that. . .) If you're so interested in where you've been and where you're going, try these Web sites and books:
"The Velveteen Principles," by Toni Raiten-D'Antonio
A few months ago I bought another copy, since I quixotically lent my original copy to someone who I wanted to read this book, but who obviously never did read it (or give it back). Anyway, I'm not a huge fan of the "self-help" genre. It seems as though too often anyone can say anything, and just because it got published it becomes a valid self-help theory. (Mine is going to be called "I'll Give You Something to Cry About, You Big Overage Baby.") But this one is based on my favorite book of all time, "The Velveteen Rabbit," so I figured I'd give it a chance.
Both books are about becoming "real." Although the specifics of what that means are going to be different for every person, the principle is always the same: being truly youself. I should add here that being your true self doesn't mean you get to go out and be a dick. That's not being real, that's still just being an asshole. The one thing I wasn't so crazy about is when she talks about work, and doing something you love, blah blah blah. That's great in theory, but the facts are that sometimes you have to work at a job or even occupation you don't like because you need the money. Period.
The chapters go over the various components of being real: courage, generosity, empathy, and the all-important honesty, not only with others, but with yourself. And of course, ethical behavior. She talks about how becoming real can be intimidating, and possibly even painful. But I've found that confronting and uncovering the true elements of yourself--even those that may be long-hidden, destructive and just not very attractive--is pretty damn hard. But the times I have been able to do it, I've found that it's totally been worth it. I mean, who wants to be freakin' 50 years old and not be aware of who you are and not like who you are? Or how you treat people? To go through life continually saying "I'm sorry," treating other people thoughtlessly and then just making irrational excuses for it? Is that really living? Not in my book.
The chapter on love is one of my favorites, because it emphasizes how you can't love someone else without being honest about who you are and loving yourself. How you have to be totally honest with them and that, if it's real love, you shouldn't be afraid to do that. Coincidentally, there was something on post-a-secret this week (8/28/05) that really drove this point home. Here's what it said: "I have made six postcards, all with secrets that I was afraid to tell the one person I tell everything to, my boyfriend. This morning I planned to mail them, but instead I left them on the pillow next to his head while he was sleeping. 10 minutes ago he arrived at my office and asked me to marry him. I said yes." (It's not a very "real" quality, but I have to admit that I am SO jealous of this story...)
Being real, of course, doesn't mean you're ever going to be perfect. Just that you're willing to grow, learn from experience and try to be the best person you can be. Meaning, there will be lots of times when you'll still be a big dumb jerk. That's where the "trying" part comes in. But overall you'll be a much happier big dumb jerk. I know I am.
Again, the bottom line message here is common sense: know and be the real you, not some ridiculous image of who you want people to think you are, take responsibility for your actions, treat other people the way you would want to be treated, and finally, love yourself. I can't recommend this book highly enough, but I will warn you that if you didn't like, or didn't "get" the message in the original "Velveteen Rabbit," you probably won't get this one either.
"The Five People You Meet in Heaven," by Mitch Albom
I resisted reading this book for a long time, because I didn't know anything about it and didn't know it was fiction. (It was also written by the "Tuesdays with Morrie" guy; talk about a red flag...) Anyway, I ended up liking it a lot and highly recommend it. At least for everyone who's willing to acknowledge that each person is individually responsible for his/her life and the state that life is in, that the only person hurt by carrying long-term resentment and anger toward people from your past is you, and that everything happens for very definite reasons. Oh, and that all those lives, whether it seems like they relate or not, do. If not, don't bother reading this--you won't understand it, and it'll only give you something else to whine about.
"The Consulations of Philosophy," by Alain de Botton
My friend Kim recommended this book to me, and I was very impressed by it on many levels. It's actually an entertaining book about philosophy. de Botton tackles certain tricky issues, unpopularity, for example, by showing how certain philosophers addressed those same issues. For example, he uses Socrates for unpopularity. Appropriate, since Socrates' answer to being unpopular in Athens was pretty much, "Yo, Athenians--I don't care what you think, I'd rather drink hemlock than take what I said back because I'm right." (I'm paraphrasing.) The section about Epicurus is especially good, since most people have the totally wrong idea of what his philosophy was really all about.
If you're even slightly cosmic, you probably already know who Sylvia Browne is since she's regularlyon the talk-show circuit. If you don't know who she is, definitely check her out. Like anything or anyone, you shouldn't automatically accept everything she says, but generally I think she has the right idea about where we came from and why we're here.
This is an astrology site, and in addition to Madalyn's lengthy monthly horoscopes, one of her astrolger pals also offers a pretty good weekly horoscope. Of course these "sign-wide" forecasts should always be taken with a grain of salt--a few grains, actually. But they are interesting, and Madalyn's tend to be particularly insightful. However, for those who are serious about getting the astrological lowdown, nothing beats actually spending the money and going to see a reputable astrologer, which is what I've been doing for close to 15 years.
"Introducing Buddha," by Jane Hope and Borin Van Loon
Come on, it's practically a comic book, which makes it just one step above (or below, depending on your viewpoint) a fashion magazine. Trust me, if I can take it, YOU can take it.
"The Other Side and Back" by Sylvia Browne
This was the first book of Sylvia's I read, and I think it's the best one of hers to start with. I won't be trite and say it changed my life, but I think reading this book did permanently change the way I look at life.
"Think," by Simon Blackburn
A pretty cool philosophy book, because he addresses the "big ticket" items like God, justice, reason, and free will--possibly my personal favorite--and then talks about where different philosophers stood on that particular issue. He also discusses why philosophy is important along with the importance of reflection. The reflection thing is interesting, because the fact is that most people don't believe it's permissable to sit around and just reflect on an issue or a concept; that's the domain of academics. Blackburn says that it's not.
"Hawking and the Mind of God," by Peter Coles
Despite the title, it doesn't really have much to do with philosophy or religion, except to touch on how sometimes science mistakenly thinks it can take the place of both of them. It's mostly about the basics of physics and quantum mechanics and is just a really cool book.
"Buddhism Plain & Simple" by Steve Hagen
Explains what Buddhism is all about, including the four truths, in a really clear way. I don't necessarily buy into Buddhism as a religion or as a whole, but certain aspects of it are very interesting and relate to true Christianity more than the Bible-thumping pinhead brigade would care to admit.
"Coming Out Spiritually, the Next Step" by Christian de la Huerta
One of the few books I've come across that discusses the important role sex plays as a component of spirituality. (Man, and for years I'd just been using that argument as a line; now I find out it's actually true. EXCELLENT!)