5 books you need to read and think about

“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” – C.S. Lewis

My life feels particularly desert-like in this respect right now. While I love my science courses and really find them fascinating, I deeply miss writing and reading literature and philosophy. When thinking about how I feel a little unbalanced because I am so focused my other passions, I decided I would share some books that are my favorites and encouraged me to have deep reflection. Some of them are autobiographical nonfiction, some are simply fiction, but they are all incredible and close to my heart. Here are 5 books you need to read and think about! I offer some of the thoughts that followed my reading of the books that maybe you would find helpful if you read decide to read them. Try to reflect on the passages and glean some of the important messages that ruminate throughout them. And just like I have to remind myself, remember that in life, balance is everything. Never let the other things you love fall to the wayside in pursuit of your dreams.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

This is undoubtedly one of the most moving books I have ever read. I even wrote an entire post about my thoughts from this book, and I suggest reading that post after you have treated yourself to this book! Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a Stanford neurosurgeon who was unfortunately diagnosed with late stage IV lung cancer. This book is more than a memoir by a doctor; it makes you experience and feel what it is like to face death. This is a man’s honest and eye-opening journey to the end of his life. It is poetic. It is reflective and deeply emotional. I admire Dr. Kalanithi’s diverse passions and the ways he catered to both his reflective, literary side (by pursuing study in literature and philosophy) and the inquisitive, mechanistic side of life (through scientific study of medicine). He writes beautifully. This is a must read. I couldn’t put it down!

Thoughts for reflection: If I was looking back on my life, what have I made important? Have I been happy with my life or have I lived in chase of something else? What would I begin pursuing if I knew the moments I had were limited?

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Quiet is a book for introverts and extroverts alike. This book transformed the way I view my idiosyncratic behaviors. It made me realize it is okay to want to stay home. It is okay to want to work alone and prefer small friend groups. It is equally okay to be gregarious and love social environments. It made me realize that the qualities exhibited by introverted and extroverted people are all valuable. This is a nonfiction book full of thoroughly researched information about human behavior. It is amazing! It has some interesting pieces of psychology and sociology throughout. It shows the functional and dynamic world that we live in and the ways that all the different moving pieces work together perfectly. Highly recommend. (Watch Susan Cain’s amazing TED talk here: Susan Cain’s The Power of Introverts)

Thoughts for reflection: How can I embrace who I am without feeling guilty or bad? What type of environment makes me feel most comfortable and loved? What parts of me are introverted and what parts are extroverted? How can I encourage others to be true to themselves in a conformist society?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Okay, I had to include this book because it is a classic read. Most people have read To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe in school for a class. For those that haven’t read, Harper Lee writes a book written from the perspective of a child named Scout about the struggles and perceptions of an unjust world. This book makes me feel childlike and more aware of the struggles within this world. For a child, Scout gives wisdom that we can all learn from. I think this book, published in 1960, can still give a powerful message to the society we live in today. Also, I have always had the biggest fictional crush on Atticus Finch, Scout’s father and the lawyer who fights for justice. Ahh. 

Thoughts for reflection: What have I become okay with that Scout, a child, would even know is wrong? Is the world we are living in today actually any different than the corrupt world that Scout was in? How can we fight for and seek the Truth in this life?

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Nerdy confession: I had to read a few chapters of this for a First Year Seminar class and I actually fell in love with it and had to read the whole thing (which took me a day). Randy Pausch writes an autobiographical book of important advice for living. Dr. Pausch was a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and had recently been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. A young professor with small children and a wife, Dr. Pausch pours wisdom into this book that I use and remember every day. And yes, it made me weep like a baby (and books don’t make me cry). Just read it. Circle, underline, highlight his advice, even rip pages out and hang them up on your mirror.

Thoughts for reflection: How can I start using the advice that Dr. Pausch shares? Am I being sincere to myself and to those around me? How can I love more deeply with the days I am given?

Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas by James Patterson

This book is one of my favorite of all time. I generally do not prefer fictional books, especially romantic fiction books, but this is different. This book makes me feel safe, loved, and hopeful. This is one of the first books I remember reading as a young girl (which is funny because it’s a James Patterson book… I have always been older than my age), and I think it holds some sentimental value because of this reason. I grab for this book when I need to escape this frightening, stressful world. It is so comforting. Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas is about the interwoven relationships of love, despair, happiness, hurt, and life. It moves to you Martha’s Vinyard to watch the lives of two playful personalities fall in harmonious synchrony. This book is a gentle reminder that the most beautiful things in life are sometimes greeted with pain and suffering.

Thoughts for reflection: If I was writing for someone, who would it be and what would I want to say? How can I invite the playfulness and simplicity into my life that Suzanne and Matt have in their own lives?

Well, there you have it! Five of my favorite books that I think everyone should read. Don’t just read them though, feel them, embrace them. Write about what you feel and think deeply about what the author is trying to give you. I am always welcoming book suggestions that I can curl up with and get lost in. What are some of your favorite books?

 

 

 

accepted

Today is my two year anniversary with WordPress. Two years of writing. Two years of dramatic personal change. Two years of being proud of what I’ve written most days, and two years of half-finished writings stored on my phone and in my computer. A lot can be learned from writing. I especially enjoy writing about my experiences in the world, and when I sat down to write today I thought I would explore my fascination with the human heart. But as I write, I keep thinking about all of the less-than-satisfactory words I have put together over the past two years. The stories that didn’t make it outside of my file folder, or outside of my journal, or outside of my mind. The beautiful, but broken, stories that I felt would not be accepted or celebrated. I realized midway through my journey of writing that I never want to write for an audience. I never want to write to appease a crowd or get “likes” (although I do enjoy getting feedback from my posts). I would always write from my heart. I would always write words that were motivated by genuine intention. For this reason, sometimes many weeks go by before I write. Edgar Allan Poe once wrote about in “The Philosophy of Composition” that all stories are premeditated with the end in mind, that no stories occur out of divine inspiration. I disagree though. I am convinced that some of the most beautiful works of literature were inspired purely by the capacity to write and the want to do it. Not all writings were designed to deliver a purpose. Not all words were methodically placed together to convey a message, at least one that was anticipated beforehand. This makes me feel as if one of the purest forms of art has been reduced to pushing an agenda. And I just can’t believe it. I truly think some words, at least my own, are inspired by an intent to write. Not an intent to satisfy the reader.

But I think of those flawed, puzzling pieces of my writings that remain unread by those other than my own eyes. I think of the times I have started writing and ended prematurely. I think of the times I imagine writing something that would be moving, exciting, celebrated. And then I stop, and insecurity floods in. I am not a writer. Many times, I hide what I write.

I think human behavior can relate to the way I view my own stories and compositions. The good pieces are always published. They are always on display for others to read. Everyone has access to what I view as my more polished writings. But the faulty ones, the less perfect ones, they are hidden for my own eyes to see.

Humans are flawed.

We are all flawed. Yet we try, so diligently, to create a flawless image in the eyes of others. We are all guilty of this. Myself most definitely included. We paint pictures on social media of lives that are full of happiness and success. We post images of our friends, our husbands, our beautiful homes and cute outfits. We attend church and sing songs that portray a life that is without pain, without suffering. We chat with our friends about all of the good things that are happening in our lives.

But all human lives are flawed.

And I truly think that if we showed more of who we really were, more of who we are everyday, day in and day out, that we would be a freer human race. Humans weren’t created to experience pure joy. We shouldn’t be expected to maintain an image that shows this standard either. We are made of disappointments and successes. We are made of triumphs and defeats. The little intricacies that make our lives are what comprise who we are. I am half-written, sloppily-tied-together ideas left in a journal. I am phone notes full of thoughts that I started writing about. My life is spattered with disappointments, heartbreaks, and very real sadness. I don’t always win, I don’t always succeed. My brightest days are complemented with my days of uncertainty. No one holds immunity to life. No one writes perfect pieces all the time.

I love that human life is flawed. I think one of the greatest things about Christianity is that the ruler of the universe, the maker of the world, sent his own son into the world to experience the human dynamic. I believe a big thing we can realize is that God in the flesh didn’t hide his suffering. He cried out. He felt betrayal. He knew pain, and he expressed it. What makes us any more human where we feel scared to show others that we suffer?

Would I be a worse scientist if I didn’t tell people the many, many times I failed to understand? Would I be a worse Christian if I hid from people the own doubts I have about my faith? Would I be a worse writer if I didn’t tell people of my incomplete and unworthy writings? Surely the answer to all of these is yes. But I truly don’t know. I feel being real and genuine would allow us to explore even deeper into the things we love. Knowing we have failed, and will fail, offers a liberation from a standard of perfection that is unattainable. I know my desire is unlikely. I just yearn for a world where we could all see the value in being more real, more authentic. We shouldn’t feel ashamed of the less perfect aspects of our lives. We should treasure the diverse pieces that ultimately fit together to make the imperfect, unique, and valuable us.

But my writings remain hidden and my flaws remain covered. And one day when someone is bold enough to unashamedly show their less perfect lives, my words will be set free and hopefully we will be too.

 

divinity

Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Sometimes, as a student that studies science, I feel like I have a special vision into what God’s divine nature and eternal power looks like when displayed in a physical context. I feel advantaged to be able to interpret God’s divinity and sovereignty over all things in a context unusual to most. God’s infinite powers “have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” I take this to heart. I am found out of excuse when it comes to an argument against the creation of man by a skillful and intricate Creator. As a lover of science, I admire the challenges that scientists face when trying to discredit creationism. On this one though, I can only see through the lens of a God Most High. Yes, my answer to “How is the world created?” is a simple “God spoke life into all things.” And I am sorry if this doesn’t appease you, but truthfully my stance is not to satisfy the natural curiosity that man possesses. My desire in these matters is only to search for Truth and to find it in a way that remains objective and unemotional.

I say my desire because I do not always fulfill this query. Remaining non-subjective, I will. I can hear the facts of the Big Bang Theory or the evolution argument, and I will ponder them and explore them with you. We can learn about them and challenge them together. Through these experiences, you will see that your faith in a scientific concept is just as strong as my faith in a divine Creator. Your faith in random interactions of matter is equivalent to my faith in the Word of God. However, my faith is discredited, maybe due in part to the sociocultural evolution of Christianity. I won’t deny that some people present Christianity in a way that may be quite different from what one may say is the “right way” and on this, I have no discernment except for to encourage the recipient of the knowledge to search and explore the word for himself. Nonetheless, Christianity gets a bad rap in the world of intellect and reason. Taken face-value, maybe I can understand. But when investigated, these “highly intellectual and logically sound” persons are taking their belief to a level beyond my extreme. Matter collided, and the world progressed through time to evolve into what it is and who we are today. I just have difficulty with this, and maybe this is where I fail to remain unemotional. There are undoubtedly some parts of Christianity in which I also have difficulty understanding, too. I will support science when presented with the facts or laws that rest within scientific realms. I will support science when presented with partial facts but at least a clear and comprehensible reasoning. Perhaps my feeble and weak mind cannot comprehend how particles interacted in a way that eventually led to the ability for the human body to thrive the way it does. Do I think creationism is a short-winded way to the Truth? No, I think creationism is the Truth. God spoke life into me, and into you, and into every plant and animal, and living being on the earth. I believe this because it is seen clearly to me. I see beauty in life. I don’t see discrete (but abstract, in a way) collisions of matter that came together explaining what we know today about biology and biochemistry. Life is too complex, and inconceivably amazing, for me to settle with that lacking answer.

But if you believe we were made in this way, I don’t mock you or undermine your intellect or belief. I just challenge you to search for Truth in other ways. Tunnel-visioning belief is belief built on rocky ground. Explore creationism. Try to see life through my perspective. If you saw beauty in the way topoisomerase is signaled to start assisting DNA for replication the same way I do, I promise your life would be more meaningful and utterly inspiring. I don’t love God because He makes my life more meaningful and utterly inspiring, because I love God my life is more meaningful and utterly inspiring. God’s divine intervention is evident through so many things. Aside from tangible things like the ability to survive and complex cellular biological processes, nontangible things like the feeling of being embraced or laughing uncontrollably are indicators that someone out there loves us more than particles colliding can provide to explain. Human cognition and consciousness gives me faith in Someone more powerful and of higher capacity than me. Someone that transcends all things. Science can’t explain everything…which gives me reason to believe that a God Most High can (although maybe not while we are here on this earth).
The truth is we don’t have the facts to it all. We don’t have answers, and there are some questions we probably never will have answers to. But we should search for the Truth. And whatever you believe, or if you believe nothing at all, at least experience the beauty of life. Because whomever, or whatever, put it there is clearly trying to display to us a small portion of the magnanimity and all-encompassing beauty we may someday get to experience more fully. My troubled, but hopeful, soul rests easily in that.

a reflection

Written below is an essay I was required to read for one of my classes. I always enjoy reading these essays, because even if they are not very enlightening, or liberating, or moderately interesting, they always provide me with some kind of insight – either positive or negative, but always advantageous to some degree. This essay, Happy Like God, is written by Simon Critchley, professor and chair of philosophy at the New School for Social Research.

“What is happiness? How does one get a grip on this most elusive, intractable and perhaps unanswerable of questions?

I teach philosophy for a living, so let me begin with a philosophical answer. For the philosophers of Antiquity, notably Aristotle, it was assumed that the goal of the philosophical life — the good life, moreover — was happiness and that the latter could be defined as the bios theoretikos, the solitary life of contemplation. Today, few people would seem to subscribe to this view. Our lives are filled with the endless distractions of cell phones, car alarms, commuter woes and the traffic in Bangalore. The rhythm of modern life is punctuated by beeps, bleeps and a generalized attention deficit disorder.

But is the idea of happiness as an experience of contemplation really so ridiculous? Might there not be something in it? I am reminded of the following extraordinary passage from Rousseau’s final book and his third (count them — he still beats Obama 3-to-2) autobiography, “Reveries of a Solitary Walker”:

If there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul. (emphases mine)

This is as close to a description of happiness as I can imagine. Rousseau is describing the experience of floating in a little rowing boat on the Lake of Bienne close to Neuchâtel in his native Switzerland. He particularly loved visiting the Île Saint Pierre, where he used to enjoy going for exploratory walks when the weather was fine and he could indulge in the great passion of his last years: botany. He would walk with a copy of Linneaus under his arm, happily identifying plants in areas of the deserted island that he had divided for this purpose into small squares.

Our lives are filled with endless distractions, but is the idea of happiness as an experience of contemplation really so ridiculous?

On the way to the island, he would pull in the oars and just let the boat drift where it wished, for hours at a time. Rousseau would lie down in the boat and plunge into a deep reverie. How does one describe the experience of reverie: one is awake, but half asleep, thinking, but not in an instrumental, calculative or ordered way, simply letting the thoughts happen, as they will.

Happiness is not quantitative or measurable and it is not the object of any science, old or new. It cannot be gleaned from empirical surveys or programmed into individuals through a combination of behavioral therapy and anti-depressants. If it consists in anything, then I think that happiness is this feeling of existence, this sentiment of momentary self-sufficiency that is bound up with the experience of time

Look at what Rousseau writes above: floating in a boat in fine weather, lying down with one’s eyes open to the clouds and birds or closed in reverie, one feels neither the pull of the past nor does one reach into the future. Time is nothing, or rather time is nothing but the experience of the present through which one passes without hurry, but without regret. As Wittgenstein writes in what must be the most intriguing remark in the “Tractatus,” “the eternal life is given to those who live in the present.” Or ,as Whitman writes in “Leaves of Grass”: “Happiness is not in another place, but in this place…not for another hour…but this hour.”

Rousseau asks, “What is the source of our happiness in such a state?” He answers that it is nothing external to us and nothing apart from our own existence. However frenetic our environment, such a feeling of existence can be achieved. He then goes on, amazingly, to conclude, “as long as this state lasts we are self-sufficient like God.”

God-like, then. To which one might reply: Who? Me? Us? Like God? Dare we? But think about it: If anyone is happy, then one imagines that God is pretty happy, and to be happy is to be like God. But consider what this means, for it might not be as ludicrous, hybristic or heretical as one might imagine. To be like God is to be without time, or rather in time with no concern for time, free of the passions and troubles of the soul, experiencing something like calm in the face of things and of oneself.

Why should happiness be bound up with the presence and movement of water? This is the case for Rousseau and I must confess that if I think back over those experiences of blissful reverie that are close to what Rousseau is describing then it is often in proximity to water, although usually saltwater rather than fresh. For me, it is not so much the stillness of a lake (I tend to see lakes as decaffeinated seas), but rather the never-ending drone of the surf, sitting by the sea in fair weather or foul and feeling time disappear into tide, into the endless pendulum of the tidal range. At moments like this, one can sink into deep reverie, a motionlessness that is not sleep, but where one is somehow held by the sound of the surf, lulled by the tidal movement.

Is all happiness solitary? Of course not. But one can be happy alone and this might even be the key to being happy with others. Wordsworth wandered lonely as a cloud when walking with his sister. However, I think that one can also experience this feeling of existence in the experience of love, in being intimate with one’s lover, feeling the world close around one and time slips away in its passing. Rousseau’s rowing boat becomes the lovers’ bed and one bids the world farewell as one slides into the shared selfishness of intimacy.

…And then it is over. Time passes, the reverie ends and the feeling for existence fades. The cell phone rings, the e-mail beeps and one is sucked back into the world’s relentless hum and our accompanying anxiety.”

Essay found on NYtimes.com.