My Teachers

Every morning of this sabbatical, I have started my day in the same booth at my local café – two hours of exploring and learning, writing and thinking and being. 

Four books have been my teachers in that booth every morning. And I’m realizing that much of the transformation I feel brewing in my bones during this sabbatical is due to those four books.

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

“Start Where You Are”  by Pema Chodron

Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered! by Austin Kleon

The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language by Natalie Goldberg

What I have come to see is that these are not four separate books, but a body of work that all speak to what is possible for each of us individually and all of us together. No wonder I have felt the ground quiver beneath me and the air swirl around me this past few weeks!

Steven Pinker’s 700 pages document the history of the world through the lens of violence, making the indisputable data-driven case that violence has declined AND that humans have become better people. I am gobbling up the facts he shares, in no small part due to his writing – a grand story with pitch-perfect flow, at times funny, at times lyrical, at every point answering my questions and aha’s within a few short pages of my asking them.

“We enjoy the peace we find today because people in past generations were appalled by the violence in their time and worked to reduce it, and so we should work to reduce the violence that remains in our time. Indeed, it is a recognition of the decline of violence that best affirms that such efforts are worthwhile.” 

Moving from that researcher’s overview of humanity’s trajectory towards goodness, Pema Chodron’s book starts at the other end – inside each of us as individuals. Pinker shows us what has happened historically. Pema shows us what is going on with us as people. Pinker weaves a story from the facts of our history as a people and our physiology as human animals. Pema looks at what that all means for how we experience each other, explaining without judgment or shoulds why we experience our individual lives the way we do, providing practical wisdom about small steps that create huge results.

 “The key to compassionate action is this: everybody needs someone to be there for them, simply to be there.”

And then there are the two books that I’m realizing are spiritual tomes masquerading as how-to books.

Austin Kleon writes about creativity and entrepreneurship. He is an artist, a thinker, an entrepreneur.

From the first page, this is a book about how we can more meaningfully engage with other humans who share our passions. By page 10, I had sent a Kindle copy of the book to Dimitri. “Read this, do everything it says and be happy,” was my gift card. This book is so filled with insights and quotes and practical steps towards engagement that I am now on my 3rd reading of it. And as an added bonus, both this book and Austin’s prior book, Steal Like an Artist, (which I also devoured) are inspiring works of art.

“Don’t think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine. Online, you can become the person you really want to be.”

Then there is Natalie Goldberg’s book. Natalie teaches writing as a form of zen meditation, and each chapter of this book is a prompt for using writing as practice – both practice in writing, and practice in the spiritual sense of the word.

“The key is to be engaged. Otherwise, your life will be like a water bug, always skating on the surface.” 

My post yesterday about the power of the words NEVER MIND – that came from Natalie’s humor and wonder and down-to-earthness. This is a book of practice, first and foremost. 

And that’s the thing I’ve found with all these books. There is nothing lofty in any of these practical works. And there is a ton that is lofty in all of them.

A history book. A writing book. A business-creativity how-to book. And yes, a spiritual book.

Taken as a whole lecture, these are my teachers every morning. I am learning about what is possible and what is real and true about our human potential, from all those perspectives, in all those voices. I am scribbling in the margins, making connections.

And now, I’m also looking at the reality that I will finish these books soon. Which means I am yearning for more.

So please let me know what books are charging up your own batteries. Where you are finding that deep learning? When this pile of four books is exhausted, what books would you add to the pile behind them?

Note re: book links: If you want to purchase any of these books, please use the links in this post. A small percentage of each purchase will go to Creating the Future. Thanks!

3 Responses to My Teachers

  1. Thanks Hildy, I will be adding those to my own reading list! I recently reached for a well-worn copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, a book I return to again and again whenever my writing “sticks”. I also recommend Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works. And, on my bedside stand now and giving me a galloping good read, Told You So: The Big Book of Weekly Columns, by Ralph Nader.
    Happy reading!

  2. Oh those are great additions, Karen – thank you! Bird by Bird is indeed a favorite – time to pull that off the shelf. And the other two are heading to the “wish list” at Amazon right now! 🙂