Friday, August 31, 2012

How to post a comment

 Walter Mason, co-host of the Universal Heart Book Club, makes it easy for you to post the comments we would love to have.

The Universal Heart Book Club is a conversation about books that matter. And that means we very much want to hear from you! Some of you have mentioned that it is not clear how to post a comment on the blog, and I would have to agree that the Blogger template does not make it immediately obvious. But once you know your way around it is quite simple. Here's how.

If you have come to the full blog at and have scrolled down to an entry you want to post on, go right to the end of that post. Underneath those handy "You might also like" boxes you will see a "No comments" line that looks like this:

Or, if people have already left comments, the "comments line" will look like this:

Simply click on that blue line that says "No Comments" or "X# Comments" and you will be taken straight to a box where you can leave your comment and post it. To do this, use your name via a Google or one of the other accounts offered, OR using the very easy "Anonymous". This last choice also gives you the opportunity to add your name WITHIN the comment box.

Please note that you will have to enter a CAPTCHA test word before you can post. This is unfortunate but necessary because blogs are targeted for spam comments, often in their hundreds (I know, I have been the victim!). For now the CAPTCHA phrase is the only way we have of stopping that happening. It makes this clumsy system easier to know that there are TWO "words" - usually a nonsense "word" and a number. You must enter both, with a space between. Be assured that we will simplify this as much as we can as changes to website management allow it. We want to hear from you!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Treasuring Thich Nhat Hanh

The living teacher who has most influenced my own writing and teaching over the last twenty or thirty years is almost certainly Vietnamese-born poet, writer, Zen Buddhist monk and consummate peace maker, Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh.

Through his many books, but most of all through the steadfast example of his own life, this courageous man has brought a depth of understanding about peace - and our unconditional need for it - to countless thousands, if not millions.

Jane Goodall discusses earlier on this website his The Miracle of Mindfulness. This title is accurate: we do create miracles when we realize our power to see life as it is, to see our strengths and shortcomings as they are, to see how inevitably we hurt or support other people - and to act accordingly. Please don't be distracted by the apparent simplicity of what he writes. It is simple; its consequences are profound.

Here are some quotes from just a few of his many books that may act for you as a loving reminder or prompt (like the ring of a meditation bell). I have no words adequate to say how grateful I am for the clarity, simplicity and truth of his teachings.

From Living Buddha, Living Christ: "The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When our mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers... When you are really there, showing your loving-kindness and understanding, the energy of the Holy Spirit is in you."

From Peace is Every Step: "Peace is based on respect for life, the spirit of reverence for life... The roots of war are in the way we live our daily lives... Practising nonviolence is first of all to become nonviolence. Then when a difficult situation presents itself, we will react in a way that will help the situation...  Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy and happiness to ourselves and others. Peace is present right here and now...The question is whether or not we are in touch with it."

From Anger: Buddhist Wisdom for Calming the Flames: "Demonstrate that [you]have the capacity to see the suffering in the other person... [Increasing your outrage only increases your suffering.] Self-love is the foundation for your capacity to love the other person. If you don't take good care of yourself, if you are not happy, if you are not peaceful, you cannot make the other person happy. You cannot help the other person; you cannot live. Your capacity for loving another person depends entirely on your capacity for loving yourself, for taking care of yourself.    ...When you are angry, and you suffer, please go back and inspect very deeply the content, the nature of your perceptions. If you are capable of removing the wrong perception, peace and happiness will be restored to you."

I have added links above to make it easy to purchase these books but they are also available from our other bookstore affiliates. Each book is truly a treasure: to be read many times - in order to be lived. "Twenty-four brand new hours are before me... I vow to look at all beings through the eyes of compassion."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Walter Mason on The Future of Reading

A Buddhist bookshop in Ho Chi Minh City
Recently I was chatting to my friend Dianne Masri and she told me that the last three books she has purchased were suggested to her by people on Twitter. What’s more, of those three books, all three authors contacted her directly after she mentioned them on Twitter – and these included some big names. Like it or not, the world of social media is already affecting how and what people read. And interaction between author and reader is at a depth and immediacy that couldn’t even have been imagined even six years ago.

In many ways reading has become more charged with emotion. It has become once again a communal activity – just witness the enormous growth in popularity of book clubs and writers’ festivals. People want to share their ideas, and they want to share spaces with other people who read. It seems that at last the bookish people might be inheriting the world.

Stephanie Dowrick and I felt called to create the UniversalHeart Book Club because we wanted to share the process of reading, and the discovery of new stories and ideas, with like-minded people all across the world. When there is so much doom and gloom surrounding the future of publishing, the future of reading and the future of the book itself, we wanted to raise our flag and say: “Guess what? We love reading, we love books and we love writers. Let’s celebrate this love.”

So, donning my prophet’s hat (I’m not telling you what it looks like), I am going to stick my neck out and make a few predictions about the future of reading: 

The ebook is here to stay and its popularity will grow incredibly quickly – OK, so you don’t have to be Nostradamus to work this one out, but some people are still cautious (including many publishers). I finally relented recently when a precious friend gave me a Kindle reader. And to be honest, it’s the most fun I’ve had with a piece of technology for a long while. 

The paper book will live on, but will become an increasingly beautiful and valued object – Yes, tough times are coming for paper-based publishing. Indeed, they may well have arrived. But a book is a beautiful thing of immense cultural significance. I predict that the paper book and the ebook will diverge and develop into very different media. 

There will be a renaissance of literary societies – As everything ever published slowly becomes available in digital formats, book geekery will only grow. Shakespeare societies, Austen clubs and Dickens fellowships will flourish in a self-conscious emulation of the old Victorian model of literary study. People seek, not just other readers, but other readers who enjoy the same books as them. I am about to join the E. F. Benson Society, and I wonder if there is an Oscar Wilde Society? And should I establish a Nancy Mitford Society?

The library will flourish – I tear my hair out when I read about local authorities all over the world starving libraries of funds. I don’t know a library anywhere that isn’t thriving. Sure, the services they provide are changing, but essentially they remain hubs of learning. They are also, increasingly, becoming important venues for the propagation and promotion of local literary cultures.

Am I right on, or am I a naive fool living in the past?
I’d love to hear what you think – do leave a comment and let us know your predictions for the future of reading.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stephanie Dowrick on supporting mind, mood and brain

Barbara Arrowsmith-Young's The Woman Who Changed Her Brain is a book I greatly admire - and I was delighted to make it an early Universal Heart Book Club choice. However, as you will hear in my video discussion with Walter Mason for August 2012, and can read in my more extensive July review (scroll down into July!), I was fascinated by her analysis of the ways that the brain functions - and could function more effectively still - but a little frustrated by the lack of practical help she offers.

This is not my area of expertise - so it would be great to hear from some of you on this - but there are some practically supportive books in this area that I do value highly and want to share with you.

Paul Dennison's Brain Gym is designed for working with children, using the principles of educational kinesiology. The exercises are playful, easily incorporated into daily life, and genuinely make a difference. There is also a teacher's edition of this classic.

In a similar vein, you could explore Carla Hannaford's Smart Moves and, with a somewhat different emphasis, Daniel J. Siegel's more recent, very thoughtful The Whole-Brain Child.

Please don't dismiss those books because they are written to support children's learning and confidence. We can benefit at any age. Another book that I have re-read over the years, which looks closely at the intimate relationship between brain function and mood, is Daniel G. Amen's Change Your Brain Change Your Life. He offers a controversial approach, but mood disorders and disfunction blight many lives and I have found it immensely illuminating.  Here's a YouTube link to Dr Amen talking about his work. 

I don't want to leave this crucial area of life without also speaking about the mind! In Jane Goodall's beautifully written review below (July 2012), she rediscovers Thich Nhat Hanh's classic The Miracle of Mindfulness. Do read Jane's article - and this wonderful book. You may also want to read another of his  key books: Peace is Every Step.

And because we don't change our minds - and heal and support our lives - by reading alone, I would also like to suggest one of my own meditation CDs that I made with musician Kim Cunio. It includes a short talk on "effortless" meditation, as well as two effective meditations, and a couple of exquisite music tracks. It's called Peaceful Mind and, again, I will be most interested to hear your stories, comments and suggestions if you decide to make its gentle practices part of your life.

You can purchase Peaceful Mind via this link (Peaceful Mind) only. But the books are widely available, including via our bookstore affiliate links.  Most importantly, keep the conversations going and do please share your comments and findings! 

Universal Heart Book Club Episode 1, August 2012

Here is our first ever video discussion for the Universal Heart Book Club!

Writers Stephanie Dowrick and Walter Mason are your hosts of the new Universal Heart Book Club! Each month we will bring you a range of books that can illuminate, provoke, entertain "readers who care". Here we discuss our impressions of two very different books:  Charlotte Wood's reflection on food and cooking, Love & Hunger, and Barbara Arrowsmith Young's acclaimed book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.  You will also find our written reviews of these books below (July 2012), as well as a range of other articles.

As you read the books we feature, we'd so love to read your own feelings and views in our comments section. Those conversations are essential to this being the "book club" we envision.

Join us as we explore the reading journey. Many thanks to Peter Kirkwood for the marvellous job he has done filming this conversation and bringing it to you.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Nigel Marsh chooses A Fortunate Life

Writer, public speaker and former global CEO Nigel Marsh discovers - and loves - 
A.B. Facey’s classic, A Fortunate Life.

The last title my local book club chose was the Australian classic A Fortunate Life by A. B. Facey. 
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that as a Pom I’d never heard of it before. Having devoured it in two sittings I am now recommending it to anyone who will listen. I found it rewarding on so many different levels beyond simply being a cracking good yarn.
My first reaction was a slightly conflicting one as it made me feel like an over-privileged worthless whining earthworm. I am currently in the process of publishing my third memoir [Fit, Fifty and Fired Up] and my concerns seem so trivial compared to the challenges Facey had to deal with.
Secondly, I loved how it gave an insight into the birth of this great nation. Having only been here for ten years, I lack a natural historical connection to the early days. Facey’s story has given me a powerful emotional feeling for the foundations of the society we now all enjoy.
Thirdly, the description of the enormous effort and time involved at the turn of the century in traveling even the shortest of distances was a wonderful reminder of how different our grandparents geographical possibilities were to ours today. My grandfather left the county he was born in (Devon) only once in his entire life, yet my own children have already been around the world a number of times.
Fourthly, I was fascinated by the often devastating role alcohol played in the lives of people Facey met. If he himself hadn’t been a lifelong abstainer I fear his story would have been predictably and tragically different.
My fifth reaction surprised me as I have read a lot about the First World War and I thought I’d hardened myself to the tales of the unspeakable horrors that occurred. Apparently not, as I wept anew as Facey told his personal version.
But my sixth and lasting reaction is just how damn inspiring the book is.
A line from the afterword captures the essence of the man well: “His guiding star became hope. There was always tomorrow and the promise of a fresh start. His hope came from facing and surmounting adversity and became a practical belief in the wholeness of most men despite the evil encountered in some.”
Words to live by.
I only wish I’d come across the book earlier.

You can read Nigel's own new book, Fit, Fifty and Fired Up
You can enjoy Nigel Marsh in one of the most-watched "TED" talks

You can buy these or any books from our affiliate booksellers. Check top right.