My Book Notes

Compiled by Bruce Rickard

The author, Thomas Newkirk, writes about ‘owning the passages that speak to us.’ He says,

“We can learn to pay attention, concentrate, devote ourselves to authors. We can slow down so we can hear the voice of texts, feel the movement of sentences, experience the pleasure of words…and own passages that speak to us.”

Thomas Newkirk ‘The Art of Slow Reading’

My Book Notes are just that, ‘owning the passages that speak to me.’ By recording the words and sentences that capture my attention I am ensuring that they are not lost to me and will continue to challenge and inspire.

My Book Notes are not a summary of the text. I am not attempting to condense what the writer is wanting to communicate, nor am I providing an outline.

My Book Notes are not a review of the text. I am not analysing what has been written, nor am I making comment.

I’m pleased to share with you My Book Notes and hope you might be motivated to consider reading the books for yourself. All the books listed have contributed to my thinking and enjoyment so come with my tick of approval.

The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life

Edith Eger

ISBN: 1846046270

Category: Health and Wellbeing

Themes: Suffering, Trauma, Loss, Choices, Changes, Victimhood, Emotions, Fear, Freedom, Guilt, Grief, Hope

Date Read: October 2021

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

My Book Notes:

Introduction:

The foundation of freedom is the power to choose.

While suffering is inevitable and universal, we can always choose how we respond.

Freedom is a lifetime practice. Freedom requires hope, which I define in two ways: the awareness that suffering, however terrible, is temporary; and the curiosity to discover what happens next. Hope allows us to live in the present instead of the past, and to unlock the doors of our mental prisons.

There is no freedom in minimising what happened, or in trying to forget. But remembering and honouring are very different from remaining stuck in guilt, shame, anger, resentment, or fear about the past.

It is not what happens to us that matters most, it is what we do with our experiences.

We do not change until we are ready. Sometimes it’s a tough circumstance – perhaps a divorce, accident, illness, or death – that forces us to face up to what isn’t working and try something else. Sometimes our inner pain or unfulfilled longing gets so loud and insistent that we can’t ignore it another minute.

Change is about interrupting the habits and patterns that no longer serve us. If you want to meaningfully alter your life, you don’t simply abandon a dysfunctional habit or belief, you replace it with a healthy one. You choose what you are moving toward.

When you change your life, it isn’t to become the new you. It’s to become the real you – who you truly are.

Chapter one: What Now?

The Prison of Victimhood

Suffering is universal. But victimhood is optional. We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we do get to choose how we respond to our experience.

When we ask why, we are stuck searching for someone or something to blame – including ourselves.

Victimhood is rigor mortis of the mind. It is stuck in the past, stuck in the pain, and stuck on the losses and deficits: What I can’t do and what I don’t have.

Many of us choose to stay victims because it gives us license to do zero on our own behalf.

Victimhood is a tempting shield because it suggests that if we make ourselves blameless our grief will hurt less.

Victimhood offers a false respite by deferring and delaying growth. The longer we stay there, the harder it is to leave.

The whole reason to step out of victimhood is so we can step into the rest of our lives.

Attitude isn’t everything. We can’t erase hardships or make ourselves well with our outlook alone. But how we spend our time and mental energy does affect our health.

In every crisis there is a transition. Devastating experiences are also opportunities to regroup and decide what we want from our lives.

Keys to free yourself from victimhood

  • That was then, this is now
  • In every crisis there is a transition
  • Harness your freedom to

Chapter two: No Prozac at Auschwitz

The Prison of Avoidance

We disable children when we take away their suffering. We teach them that feelings are wrong or scary. But a feeling is only a feeling.

You can’t ever know how someone else feels. It’s not happening to you. To be empathetic and supportive, don’t take on other people’s inner life as if it is your own.

The opposite of depression is expression. What comes out of you doesn’t make you sick; what stays in there does.

It can be harmful to hold on to feelings and keep them locked inside.

More than what we say, children learn by watching what we do. If adults create a home environment where anger isn’t allowed to be expressed, or where anger is vented in harmful ways, children learn that strong feelings aren’t permissible or safe.

In Auschwitz, nothing came from without. There was no way to numb ourselves, to take the edge off, to check out for a while, to forget the reality of torture and hunger and imminent death. We had to learn to be good observers of ourselves and our circumstances. We had to learn to just be.

You can’t heal what you don’t feel.

There are many good reasons why we avoid our feelings: they’re uncomfortable, or they’re not the feelings we think we should be having, or we’re afraid of how they might hurt others, or afraid of what they could mean – what they might reveal about the choices we’re made or the ones we will make going forward.

As long as you’re avoiding your feelings, you’re denying reality.

A feeling is just a feeling – it’s not your identity.

Sometimes the feelings we run from aren’t the uncomfortable or painful ones. Sometimes we avoid the good feelings. We shut ourselves off from passion and pleasure and happiness.

Whatever you practice, you become better at. If you practice tension, you’re going to have more tension. If you practice fear, you’ll have more fear. Denial will lead to denying more and more of your truth.

When we are in the habit of denying our feelings, it can be hard even to identify what we’re feeling, much less face it, express it, and finally release it.

This is how we release ourselves from the prison of avoidance – we let the feelings come. We let them move through us. And then we let them go.

Keys to free yourself from avoidance

  • Feel so you can heal
  • Everything is temporary
  • The opposite of depression is expression

Chapter three: All Other Relationships Will End

The prison of self-neglect

One of our first fears is abandonment. Thus we learn early how to get the A’s: attention, affection, approval. We figure out what to do and whom to become to get our needs met.

It is very dangerous to put your whole life into someone else’s hands. You are the only one you’re going to have for a lifetime. All other relationships will end.

When so much emphasis is placed on achievement, children don’t get to experience unconditional love – that they’re loved no matter what, that they’re free to be themselves, that it’s permissible to make mistakes, that we’re all in a process of learning and becoming, and that learning can be exciting and enjoyable.

We honour our children when we create a culture not of self-aggrandisement or self-effacement, or overachievement or underachievement – but a culture of the joy of achievement.

Too often we are boxed in by expectations, by the sense that we have a specific role or function to fulfil.

Guilt is in the past. Worry is in the future.

It’s good to be self-ish: to practice self-love and self-care.

Love is a four-letter word spelled T-I-M-E. While our inner resources are limitless, our time and energy are limited. They run out.

Being self-reliant doesn’t mean you refuse care and love from others.

Break the habit of abandoning yourself.

Keys to free yourself from self-neglect

  • Anything we practice, we become better at
  • Work, love, play
  • Show yourself some love

Chapter four: One Butt, Two Chairs

The prison of secrets

If you’re living a double life, it’s going to catch up with you. Cheating is a dangerous game. It’s all pleasure, no responsibility. And it’s temporary.

Robin’s freedom wasn’t about choosing the right man. It was about finding a way to express her desires, hopes, and fears in any relationship.

The primary secret was all that she had begun habitually concealing from her husband – her daily ups and downs, sorrows and pleasures, longing and grief.

Healing can’t happen as long as we’re hiding or disowning parts of ourselves. The things we silence or cover up become like hostages in the basement, trying more and more desperately to get our attention.

Until I could face the truth, I had my secret, and my secret had me. Hiding or minimising our truth doesn’t protect our loved ones. Protecting them means working to heal the past so we don’t inadvertently pass the trauma on to them.

Reckoning and release are impossible when we keep secrets – when we operate under a code of denial, delusion, or minimisation.

Sometimes the demand to keep a secret is unspoken or unconscious. Sometimes others buy our silence with threats or force. Either way, secrets are harmful because they create and sustain a climate for shame, and shame is the bottom line of any addiction. Freedom comes from facing and telling the truth.

Keys to free yourself from secrets

  • If you sit with one butt on two chairs, you become half-assed
  • Honesty starts with learning to tell the truth to yourself
  • Tell the truth in the safe presence of others

Chapter five: No One Rejects You But You

The prison of guilt and shame

Guilt is when you blame yourself, when you believe something is your fault. It’s important to separate guilt from remorse. Remorse is an appropriate response to a harmful mistake we have made or a wrong we have committed.  It’s more akin to grief. It means accepting that the past is the past, that it can’t be undone, and allowing yourself to feel sad about it. I can feel remorse and recognise that all I’ve lived through, all the choices I’ve made, have brought me to today. Remorse is in the present. And it can coexist with forgiveness and freedom.

But guilt keeps you stuck. It’s rooted in shame – when you believe ‘I’m not worthy’; when you think that you’re not enough, that nothing is enough, no matter what you do. Guilt and shame can be very debilitating. But they’re not real assessments of who we are. They’re a pattern of thought that we choose and get stuck in.

You always have a choice about what to do with the information life hands to you.

No one is born with shame. But the shame messages can start early in life.

Freedom lies in accepting our whole imperfect selves and giving up the need for perfection.

If you want to take charge of your thinking, first examine what you’re practicing, and then decide: is it empowering or depleting me?

Loving yourself is the only foundation for wholeness, health, and joy. So fall in love with yourself! It’s not narcissistic.

Keys to free yourself from shame and guilt

  • You made it
  • What you pay attention to grows stronger

Chapter six: What Didn’t Happen

The prison of unresolved grief

All therapy is grief work. A process of confronting a life where you expect one thing and get another, a life that brings you the unexpected and unanticipated.

Grief is not about what happened. It’s about what didn’t happen.

I’m a prisoner and a victim when I minimise or deny my pain – and I’m a prisoner and a victim when I hold on to regret. Regret is the wish to change the past. It’s what we experience when we can’t acknowledge that we’re powerless, that something already happened, that we can’t change a single thing.

When we have unresolved grief, we often live with overwhelming rage.

Resolving grief means both to release ourselves from responsibility for all the things that weren’t up to us, and to come to terms with the choices we’ve made that can’t be undone.

It’s good to keep crying for those we’ve lost, to keep feeling the ache, to let ourselves be in the sorrow and accept that it’s not ever going to go away. But it is also about letting go. About acknowledging the sorrow and joy that coexist in this moment and embracing all of it.

Grief changes, but it doesn’t go away. Denying your grief won’t help you heal – nor will it help to spend more time with the dead than you do with the living.

If we can’t move on from our guilt and make peace with our grief, it’s damaging to our loved ones, and not a compliment to those who’ve died.

Guilt stops us from enjoying our memories. And it prevents us from living fully now.

Grief has so many layers and flavours: sorrow, fear, relief, survivor’s guilt, existential questioning, diminished safety, fragility. Our whole sense of the world is interrupted and rearranged.  The adage says, ‘Time heals all wounds.’ But I disagree. Time doesn’t heal. It’s what you do with the time.

Sometimes people compensate for the upheaval of grief by trying to keep everything the same – jobs, routines, and relationships remain static. But when you’ve had a big loss, nothing is the same anymore. Grief can be an invitation to revisit our priorities and decide again – to reconnect to our joy and purpose, recommit to being the best we can be right now, to embrace that life is pointing us in a new direction.

Grief brings us together, or it pushes us apart. Either way, we are never the same.

Grief forces us to get clear about what’s my business, what’s your business, and what’s God’s business.

Grief is difficult, but it can also feel good. You can revisit the past. You can even embrace it. You’re not stuck there. You’re here now. And you’re strong.

Choose to live every moment as a gift.

Keys to free yourself from unresolved grief

  • Let the dead be dead
  • The spirit never dies

Chapter seven: Nothing to Prove

The prison of rigidity

Conflict is human. When we avoid conflict, we’re actually moving closer to tyranny than to peace. Conflict itself isn’t imprisoning. What keeps us trapped is the rigid thinking we often use to manage conflict.

If your agenda is keeping score or trying to change someone else, then you are not free.

One of the most important tools for managing conflict is to stop denying someone else’s truth. Freedom comes in letting go of the need to be right.

When you ‘turn the other cheek’, you look at the same thing from a new perspective. You can’t change the situation, you can’t change someone else’s mind, but you can look at reality differently. You can accept and integrate multiple points of view. This flexibility is our strength.

When we’re aggressive, we decide for others. When we’re passive, we let others decide for us. And when we’re passive-aggressive, we prevent others from deciding for themselves.

The key to maintaining your freedom during a conflict is to hold your truth while also relinquishing the need for power and control.

No one grows with criticism. So eliminate it. No criticism. None, ever.

You don’t have to prove your worth. You can just embrace it, celebrate that you’re imperfect and whole, that there will never be another you. Drop the agenda. If you have something to prove, you’re still a prisoner.

The Nazi’s power came from systematic dehumanisation and extermination. My strength and freedom were within.

Life isn’t fair. And when we’re hurting, our anger, worry, and frustration are completely legitimate. But we can face any circumstance, however unpleasant or unjust, with rigidity or flexibility. Flexibility is strength.

Keys to free yourself from rigidity

  • Give a gentle embrace
  • Meet others as they are
  • Cooperation, not domination
  • Treat others as they are capable of becoming

Chapter eight: Would You Like To Be Married To You?

The prison of resentment

When we’re angry, it’s often because there’s a gap between our expectations and reality.

Love isn’t what you feel. It’s what you do.

Every choice has a price, something you gain, and something you lose.

We all carry a fear of abandonment from infancy.

When we’re imprisoned, it’s the damaging messages that stick.

If we deny an accusation, we’re still accepting blame.

Grief helps us face and ultimately release what happened or didn’t happen. And it opens up space to see what is and choose where we go from here.

Only you can decide if a relationship depletes or empowers you.

Keys to free yourself from resentment

  • Change the dance steps (three step dance – frustration, fighting, making-up)
  • Take care of your own emotional business
  • Would you like to be married to you?

Chapter nine: Are You Evolving or Revolving?

The prison of paralysing fear

Times are changing, and we are changing with the times.

We have a choice how much of our lives we give over to fear.

We live in a world with danger, and so we live in a world with fear. Your safety isn’t guaranteed.

But fear and love don’t coexist. And fear doesn’t have to rule your life.

We hold on to fear, thinking vigilance will protect us, but fear becomes a relentless cycle, a self-fulfilling prophecy. A better protection against suffering is to know how to love and forgive yourself, to be safe for yourself, to not punish yourself for the mistakes and hurt and pain that are inevitable parts of life.

The prison of fear can become a catalyst for growth and empowerment. To enact this transformation, language is one of our most powerful tools.

Listen for the I can’t, the I’m trying, the I need to, and then see if you can replace these imprisoning phrases with something else: I can, I want, I’m willing, I choose.

We aren’t born with fear. Somewhere along the way, we learn it.

There’s a difference between stress and distress. Distress is constant threat and uncertainty. Stress, on the other hand, is actually a good thing. It requires us to face a challenge, to find creative solutions, to trust ourselves.

Keys to free yourself from paralysing fear

  • I can. I want. I’m willing.
  • Change is synonymous with growth
  • Identify your fears

Chapter ten: The Nazi in You

The prison of judgment

When we carry a difficult legacy, we often react in one of two ways: we resist it or detach from it; we fight it or run away.

To stop bigotry means you start with yourself. You let go of judgment and choose compassion.

Freedom means choosing every moment, whether we reach for our inner Nazi or our inner Gandhi. For the love we were born with or the hate we learned.

The inner Nazi is the part of you that has the capacity to judge and withhold compassion, that denies you the permission to be free and victimises others when things don’t go your way.

When we live in the prison of judgment, we don’t just victimise others. We victimise ourselves.

We’re born to love; we learn to hate. It’s up to us what we reach for.

Keys to free yourself from judgment

  • Our best teachers (the most toxic, obnoxious people)
  • We’re born to love; we learn to hate
  • What’s the legacy you want to pass on?

Chapter eleven: If I Survive Today, Tomorrow I Will Be Free

The prison of hopelessness

When hopelessness overwhelmed me, I’d think of what my mother had told me in the dark, crowded cattle car on our way to prison: “We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Just remember, no one can take away what you’ve put in your mind.”

Hope really is a matter of life and death. I knew a young woman in Auschwitz who became certain that the camp would be liberated by Christmas. She’d seen the new arrivals dwindle, heard rumours that the Germans were facing major military losses, and convinced herself that it was only a matter of weeks before we’d be free. But then Christmas came and went. No one arrived to liberate the camp. The day after Christmas my friend was dead. Hope had kept her going. When her hope died, she did, too.

Then I heard an inner voice: “You did it in Auschwitz. You can do it again now.” I had a choice. I could give in and give up. Or I could choose hope.

I felt the gift of life. The pain and fatigue weren’t gone, but my limbs and heart felt alive, thrumming with the call of possibility and purpose, with the realisation that I wasn’t done helping others, that there was more here on this planet that I wanted to do.

Hope isn’t the white paint we use to mask our suffering. It’s an investment in curiosity. A recognition that if we give up now, we’ll never get to see what happens next.

To choose hope is to choose life.

Hope does not guarantee anything about what will happen in the future. (The scoliosis I’ve had since the war has stayed with me.)

Choosing hope affects what gets my attention every day.

Loss and trauma don’t mean you have to stop living fully.

To ask how hope is possible in the face of dire realities like genocide is to confuse hope with idealism. Idealism is when you expect that everything in life is going to be fair or good or easy. It’s a defence mechanism, just like denial or delusion.

Don’t cover garlic with chocolate. It doesn’t taste good. Likewise, there’s no freedom in denying reality, or trying to cloak it in something sweet. Hope isn’t a distraction from darkness it’s a confrontation with darkness.

It takes courage not to be discouraged.

Hope is curiosity writ large. A willingness to cultivate within yourself whatever kindles light, and to shine that light into the darkest places.

Hope is a bold act of imagination.

Ignorance is the enemy of hope. And it’s the catalyst for hope.

Hope doesn’t obscure or whitewash reality. Hope tells us that life is full of darkness and suffering – and yet if we survive today, tomorrow we’ll be free.

Keys to free yourself from hopelessness

  • Don’t cover garlic with chocolate
  • It takes courage not to be discouraged
  • Hope is an investment in curiosity

Chapter twelve: There’s No Forgiveness Without Rage

The prison of not forgiving

Forgiveness isn’t something we do for the person who’s hurt us. It’s something we do for ourselves, so we’re no longer victims or prisoners of the past, so we can stop carrying a burden that harbours nothing but pain.

Another misconception about forgiveness is that the way to make peace with someone who has harmed us is to say, ‘I’m done with her.’

It doesn’t work that way. It’s not about cutting someone out. It’s about letting go.

As long as you say you can’t forgive someone, you’re spending energy being against rather than being for yourself and the life you deserve.

Your life doesn’t depend on what you get or don’t get from someone else. Your life is your own.

There is no forgiveness without rage. Forgiveness is release, and I couldn’t let go until I gave myself permission to feel and express my rage.

Silent rage is self-destructive. If you’re not actively, consciously, intentionally releasing it, you’re holding on to it. And that’s not going to do you any good.

Neither is venting anger. That’s when you blow your top. The best thing to do with anger is to learn to channel it, and then dissolve it.

When we can’t release anger, we’re either denying that we were victimised, or denying that we’re human. Either way, we’re denying reality.

Anger is a secondary emotion, a defence, armour we put up around the primary feeling underneath. We burn through anger so we can get to what’s underneath: fear or grief.

Only then can we begin the hardest work of all.

Forgiving ourselves.

Life keeps giving me opportunities to choose freedom – to love myself as I am: human, imperfect, and whole.

Keys to free yourself from not forgiving

  • Am I ready to forgive?
  • Acknowledge and release rage
  • Forgive yourself

Life – even with its inevitable trauma, pain, grief, misery, and death – is a gift. A gift we sabotage when we imprison ourselves in our fears of punishment, failure, and abandonment; in our need for approval; in shame and blame; in superiority and inferiority; in our need for power and control. To celebrate the gift of life is to find the gift in everything that happens, even the parts that are difficult, that we’re not sure we can survive. To celebrate life, period. To live with joy, love, and passion.

Sometimes we think that if we move on from loss or trauma, if we have fun and enjoy ourselves, if we continue to grow and evolve, that we’re somehow dishonouring the dead, or dishonouring the past.

To view the following book notes click on the book title.

Biographies/True Stories:

No Friend But the Mountains – Behrouz Boochani

A Very Easy Death – Simone De Beauvoir

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

A Bookshop in Berlin – Francoise Frenkel

Business Management:

Deep Work – Cal Newport

Fiction & Literature:

Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward

The Book of Longings – Sue Monk Kidd

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted – Robert Hillman

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyAnnie Burrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

The River – Peter Heller

The Shepherd’s Hut – Tim Winton

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver

Fiction & Literature: Classics

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

Fiction & Literature: Historical

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

When Elephants Fight – Majok Tulba

Book of Colours – Robyn Cadwallader

The Good People – Hannah Kent

General: History, Drama, Culture

The Library Book – Susan Orlean

The Last Lighthouse Keeper – John Cook with Jon Bauer

Health & Wellbeing:

Almost Everything – Anne Lamott

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart – Gordon Livingston M.D.

Notes On A Nervous Planet – Matt Haig

Reasons To Stay Alive – Matt Haig

The Comfort Book – Matt Haig

Memoir:

Educated – Tara Westover

Men We Reaped – Jesmyn Ward

The Choice – Edith Eger

Memoir: Travel

Wild: A Journey From Lost To Found – Cheryl Strayed

Tracks – Robyn Davidson

Nonfiction: Essays

Everything In Its Place – Oliver Sacks

Gratitude – Oliver Sacks

Nonfiction: Philosophy

A Philosophy of Walking – Frederic Gros

Faith: Embracing Life In All Its Uncertainty – Tim Costello

Nonfiction: Psychology

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat – Oliver Sacks

Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

Writing:

First You Write a Sentence – Joe Moran

Negotiating With The Dead – Margaret Atwood

Why We Write About Ourselves – Meredith Maran (Ed)

Bird By Bird – Anne Lamott

Oliver Sacks