Feb 182010

Today I bring you a very qualified endorsement for a very popular book – The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. Greene is basically a modern-day Machiavelli, and his book is about how to acquire and hold onto power, by any means available. I nearly put the book down after reading the preface, with its sinister defense of deception, mistrust and treachery and cynical condemnation of apparently honesty and goodness as either foolish or manipulative.

But then I started into the book, and found that there is actually some value in it. Some of the laws are simple social graces, such as not being to flagrant in outshining your masters, and, when change is needed, to introduce it gradually and not reform too much at once. Some are basic social wisdom as you might find in biblical proverbs, such as not speaking too freely and persuading people with your actions rather than your arguments. Some are excellent self-development principles, such as acting decisively and constantly re-creating yourself.  But some of the laws are simply evil, such as keeping people in a state of fearful terror and taking credit for the work of others.

I still think the book useful, however. Spiritually-minded people, especially very committed ones, have a reputation for being gullible and lacking in social knowledge. This was true even back in the days of Jesus, who observed that “the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light” (Luke 16:8).

Religions, spiritual systems and the ranks of spiritual teachers down through the ages have been full of clever men using God and enlightenment as tools to acquire power. In fact, one of Greene’s laws (#27) is to play upon people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following. If nothing else, Greene’s book is an excellent education for the spiritual seeker in the methods of manipulation that unscrupulous teachers and organizations may try to use. For that reason alone, it’s worth a read.

And it’s a very entertaining read. For each law, Greene provides fascinating illustrations from the pages of history, from Otto Von Bismark to Nikola Tesla.  Some stories illustrate the laws being followed, and others illustrate those laws being ignored, often with disastrous consequences. Just remember that you’re dealing with an author who is openly praising deceit and misdirection.  Learn from his book, but use your higher judgment.

Below is a video of the author discussing this book.

Feb 102010

In writing his latest two books, Food Rules and the earlier In Defense of Food, author and professor Michael Pollan had a surprising revelation. With most of his previous (well-researched) books, he found that subjects that seemed to be simple on the surface turned out to be more complx and ambiguous when you looked into them deeply. But when

investigating the question “What should we eat?” Pollan was surprised to find just the opposite. For all the complex and contradictory diet advice coming out of nutritional and food science, all the parties agreed on two very simple facts.

1. The traditional Western, highly processed diet will kill you. It causes obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and a host of other troubles. Every culture that adopts it suffers drastic increases in these diseases.

2. Cultures that do NOT eat a Western diet manage to live on a wide variety of traditional diets, ranging from high-carb to high-fat to high-protien – all without high rates of these chronic Western diseases.

And a related truth:

3. When Westerners stop eating a Western diet – their health improves quickly and dramatically.

You would think that agreements on these points would make diet choices easy and nutritional research simple. But instead of focusing on dropping the Western diet, nutrition and food scientists spend all their time squabbling about exactly what  isolated nutrient or lack of it is the issue. Is it processed carbs? Omega 6 vs Omega 3 fatty acids? Dairy? High fructose corn syrup? Artificial colors and sweetners?

Why this confusion over a simple subject? In a word, money. Food manufacturers don’t get rich by selling you a few cents worth of corn. They get rich by taking a few cents worth of corn, processing it into high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, xanthan gum, malto-dextran – combining it into some unnatural monstrosity of a breakfast cereal, squirting the latest “fad” ingredient into it,  and then selling it to you for four bucks a box. They want to isolate the “good” things in a traditional diet so they can artificially add them to their processed foods, slap health claims on the label, and still make enormous profits. And the health industry isn’t doing too bad either selling us expensive maintenance drugs for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and the like.

So, putting aside the deliberately confusing and self-promoting diet “recommendations” of food “science”, Pollan reaches back into traditional cultures and produces a book of “rules” for how to eat well. They are actually more personal policies. This is an expanded version of the rules he outlined in his previous book, In Defense of Food. This book doesn’t have all the meticulously researched history and science of the previous book. It’s a short, simple guidebook that you can read in an afternoon, full of wisdom that will stick with you.

The rules are divided up into three sections – What to eat (food), what KIND of food to eat (mostly plants) and HOW to eat (not too much). Here are a few examples from each section.

Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.

…so much for xanthan gum.

Don’t eat  breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

…no, “Fruit Loops” are not fruit.

Do all your eating at a table

…no, a desk is NOT a table.

You get the idea. A lot of the rules are deliberately redundant. Pollan hopes that of all his rules, a few from each section will be memorable enough to stick with you. All it takes is a few rules from each category to drastically improve the way you eat.

This is the shortest book you will ever read on diet, but it’s all you need. Carry it with you. Memorize as many of the rules as you can, and this small book will make huge changes in your health.

Feb 072010

The Soulmate Secret by Arielle Ford. As I am coming up on my 28th wedding anniversary, I wasn’t particularly in the market for a book on attracting a soulmate. But I saw this book in the “New” section of the library and thought it would be worth reviewing for the benefit of the many people who ARE focused on finding a soulmate. I’m glad I did, because the ideas and techniques are an excellent roundup of ways to manifest anything at all. They are tailored for finding a partner, but they are also good basic manifestational practices.

The author has been closely involved with many people in the “manifestational” movement, including working on “The Secret”, so its hardly surprising that the book reads like a workbook for “Secret” readers. But the additional detail and examples make it well worth reading.

Arielle deals with techniques like a treasure-map (or vision board), The “List”,  Feng Shui, mandalas, and exercises, activities and visualizations for preparing yourself, releashing old attachments, “feathering your nest”, forgiving yourself, releasing your desires to the universe, and enjoying the waiting time. She illustrates all these points with wonderful stories and quotations along the way. Some of the stories are quite remarkable, such as the man who, in the course of trying to attract his soulmate, woke up from a dream with a phone number running through his head. He sent a text message to that number, and the back and forth conversations with the woman on the other end led to a meeting and falling in love. And lest we think she’s only an armchair expert, she shares the story of how she used her own methods to attract her soulmate and husband Brian.

If finding a soulmate is a big need in your life, I’d highly recommend this book. Anyone who wants to manifest anything at all would also find it a good summary of manifestational methods.

Below is an interview with Arielle about her book.

Feb 052010

DavidHawkins200 Hopefully it’s not a bad sign that this is the second somewhat negative piece I’m doing this week. I generally like to focus on positive reviews. I’d rather ignore a bad book or teacher and focus on a good one. But I’ve quoted David Hawkins before. I was in the process of reading I – Reality and Subjectivity, and was hoping to give it a good review on these pages. Then I got part-way through the book and hit a brick wall.

Let me give a brief overview on David Hawkins for those unfamiliar with him. Hawkins is a spiritual teacher who went through a profound enlightenment experience and has written eloquently about it. I quoted him in Four Easy Steps to Enlightenment. His spiritual insight is full of profound depth. I first heard about him from Wayne Dyer, who has quoted from and used his work. He also endorses, as part of his teaching, a practice called “applied kinesiology”. This is basically a muscle testing exercise. Some alternative health practitioners are familiar with it. For example, to test a person’s reaction to a particular food, they hold the food in one hand and hold the other arm straight out. Muscletest1 A tester then tries to push their arm down. The theory is that if the food is bad for you, its vibration will weaken your energy and your arm can be easily pushed down. If the food is good for you, your arm will remain strong and hard to push down. Interesting theory.

Hawkins takes this a step further. He teaches that any true/false statement can be tested with kinesiology just like a food. There is a universal consciousness which knows the answer to all questions. Your own consciousness is directly connected to this universal consciousness. When you hear (or think of) a TRUE statement, you connect with universal consciousness and your arm stays strong. When you hear or think of a FALSE statement, there is a moment of disconnection or dissonance from universal consciousness and your hand can be pushed down. In this way, you can reliably test the truth of any statement.

Using this method, Hawkins has developed a scale of consciousness, and assigns ranks on this scale to everything from books to teachers to historical figures to works of art. I’ve reproduced the scale elsewhere on my site and I still believe it is a very useful system for showing the relative position of various emotions, philosophies and views on a scale.

Now we come to the problem. I’m reading through David’s book I – Reality and Subjectivity. After some really excellent chapters on developing non-dual consciousness and transcending judgments and opposites, he starts to talk about politics and society. And here things start to get weird. In discussing World War II, he says that Hitler “calibrates” (can be placed on the scale using kinesiology) at 125 churchill(“desire”) Neville Chamberlain slightly higher at 185 (somewhere between “pride” and “courage”), and Winston Churchill at an astonishing 510 (between “love” and “joy”).

No doubt that Churchill had many excellent leadership qualities, and that Chamberlain’s attempt to appease Germany was unfortunate. But Churchill could also be an overbearing bigot. He once said “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” According to some, his racial views were little better than Hitler’s. Chamberlain on the other hand was a high-minded progressive reformer, working to reduce child labor, give workers holidays and make peace with Ireland. His fault was in failing to recognize the extent of HItler’s ambitions.

Hawkins goes on to assign high values to several socially conservative ideas and very low ones to “politically correct” ideas. Good –God, patriotism, tobacco.  Bad – welfare, reparations, pacifism, privacy laws, criticizing the president, Then things get more peculiar. Let me quote a section:

The Constitution of the United States calibrates as the highest of any nation and stands at 705…If the word “God” were removed from the Constitution, its calibrated level would drop from 705 (Truth) to 485 (Intelligence and Reason)

Uh… hold on a minute. Surely I’m not the only one who knows that the word “God” doesn’t appear in the Constitution at all. And yet Hawkins claims to have “calibrated” it with and without the word “God” in it?? And as clever as the checks and balances of the Constitution are, does a document that is basically a set of administrative rules really calibrate at the level of Divine Truth? And has he really checked the constitutions of every other country? In the same section, he announces that “The hatred of the United States by others stems solely from envy”, apparently discounting any perceived grievance any country of group may have against the United States as nothing but concealed envy.

All this is so outrageous that I would be tempted to think its some sort of bizarre “test”. If you can get past this chapter without judgment, then you can read the rest of the book. But I’m forced to conclude with Ken Wilber that being highly developed along the lines of spirituality and consciousness doesn’t necessarily mean you are highly developed in all other lines at the same time. For all Hawkins enlightenment, I think he is displaying some massive blind spots, and his “calibration” of the Constitution of the United States destroys ALL credibility in his calibration process.

Hawkins says several times that if people arrive at calibrations different than his, it invariably turns out that either they phrased the question incorrectly, OR that they themselves calibrate at too low a level. At this point, that sounds like a very convenient way of making your theories and methods un-testable and non-falsifiable.

Conclusion? I’m afraid I can’t recommend Hawkins. Whatever use kinesiology may or may not have, it’s obviously that it is useless for testing and calibrating historical figures, political documents, and I suspect anything else.

Feb 042010

Nutureshock: New Thinking about Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. I’ve been listening to this one on CD for the last week, and it’s been eye-opening. I already shared a little from the book in my post titled Never Tell Kids They’re Smart.

Basically the book re-examines what we THOUGHT we knew about parenting from the perspective of the latest research. Not surprisingly, a lot of what we thought we knew was wrong. For example: praising children isn’t always a good idea. Lying can be a sign of maturity. Children are naturally racist. Expressing gratitude can be bad for teenagers. Empathy in children isn’t always a good thing.

I’m teasing you a bit here. The authors are all in favor of praise, honesty, inclusion, gratitude and empathy. But there are some tricks and twists to teaching these and other virtues to children that aren’t quite what you expect.

There are two main errors that have blinded researchers in the past, say the authors. First of all, researchers can unconsciously assume that what is good for adults is equally good in the same way for children. The second is to assume that POSITIVE traits insulate and protect children from NEGATIVE traits.

As an example of the first error, take gratitude. Studies demonstrated that when college students kept a gratitude journal, it improved their mental well being. But when teens were assigned to keep a gratitude journal, some of them actually felt WORSE. Why? Because a critical part of mental health for a teen is to develop autonomy and independence. By being forced to remember, day after day, how much they relied on parents, teachers and others  – the teens felt powerless and less independent.

As an example of the second, take empathy. Parents want their children to learn to be gracious, kind and empathetic in dealing with other children. They want their children to develop positive social skills because they assume that will protect them from being cruel or manipulative.  But researchers found that often kindness and cruelty were developed equally well at the same time by the most socially successful students. These kids would alternate between kindness and cruelty to get what they wanted, and were very good at it. So parents of popular children need to be on guard against the more negative aspects of popularity.

Anyone raising a child today would be wise to check out this book. Bronson and Merryman are very obviously concerned parents themselves, and the point of their analysis of the research is to be of practical help to parents.  Wise parents would do well to listen to them.

Below is a brief video introducing the book.

Feb 022010

One Year to an Organized Work Life by Regina Leeds. I had previously reviewed two other books by Regina Leeds (the “Zen” Organizer) . Those were One Year to an Organized Life and One Year to an Organized Financial Life. Since both were excellent, I was really looking forward to the middle book in the series, dedicated to organizing your work life. After all, I spend a lot of time at work, and the consequences of being disorganize at work can be even more serious than falling to pieces at home.

I was not disappointed. This is a wonderful book on workplace organization – but even more, on integrating your work life and your personal life seamlessly. As with her other “one-year” books, Regina takes what could be a daunting subject and makes it manageable by breaking it down into easy weekly goals for a one-year gradual makeover. Follow the program and you end up with a complete organizational makeover for your work life. You can pick up the book and start the program at any time, as most of the assignments are not prerequisites of each other.

Each month also includes a work “habit of the month” and a HOME “habit of the month”. What’s really amazing is the range of topics covered in this book. It’s not just another book on time management and paperwork. Sure, there are excellent chapters on those topics, but there are also a lot of topics that you don’t often see discussed. How to pack for a business trip. How to prepare your office to run smoothly while you’re on vacation. How to integrate your holiday plans with your work responsibilities. How to organize your computer, laptop and other virtual environments.

As usual, Regina devotes considerable time not simply to the mechanics of organizing, but to your mental attitudes. How to set goals, understand and overcome procrastination, and how to balance your family and work responsibilities.  Even how to plan your vacation. She never forgets that the purpose of organization is not simply for it’s own sake, but to make our lives better. She also keeps an eye out for the particular needs of the working woman, which is a topic where some other books fall short.

You can get excellent specialized books in any of the several areas Regina covers in this book – from goal setting to filing and paperwork. But for a well-constructed plan to overhaul every aspect of your work organization, it’s hard to beat this book. Give Regina a year and she’ll make your work life sparkle.

Jan 312010

The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. This book, by a unique Presbyterian minister, is a deep look at the parable of the prodigal son from a traditional Christian perspective. It’s a short work, but brings wonderful and deep insights into understanding this parable.

For example, while much is always made of the tremendous grace and love of the father in the parable forgiving his wayward son. But less is usually made of the “good” son who remains faithful. I Keller’s mind, this son is actually the primary focus of the parable. Self-righteousness and moral strictness are actually a GREATER danger to our spirituality than laxity and rebellion. The sinful and rebellious son realizes his mistake and is welcomed back into his father’s presence. But does the self-righteous son ever get over his anger and return to the party? Jesus leaves us not knowing. And his words are directed at the pharisees listening, and the the pharisees of our own day.

The self-righteous son never really loved his father. He keeps to society’s conventions and rules only for self interest. He hopes to inherit his fathers wealth, and the return of his brother is not at all welcome.

Before this parable, Jesus has told to others, the lost sheep and the lost coin, in which someone goes out to search for the missing. And who should have been searching for the prodigal son? By right, and by love, that should have been his older brother. But the brother stayed safely at home, comfortable in his own righteousness, like so many religious people before and since.  Keller’s insights on this problem are keen.

Jesus’ teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today to not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones.  We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or broken and marginal avoid church. That can  only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, then they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.

Although Keller puts his conclusions in more traditional Christian terminology, the fact is that both the rebellion of the younger brother and the self-righteousness of the older brother can be traps and manifestations of the ego. In integral terms, the younger brother is pre-conventional and the older brother is conventional. Neither is post-conventional. Neither has overcome their own small selves to reach divine grace.

The book is an excellent examination of the traps of religiosity, from a Christian perspective.

Jan 302010

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Like many books, I first ran into this one in audio form. Since I had always been intrigued by the Carlos Castaneda books, I was interested in a self-development book which claimed to be based on Toltec principles. The book turned out to be both simple and profound at the same time. The four agreements it mentions are very basic, but understanding them makes them very powerful.

The basic theme of The Four Agreements is that each of us is conditioned from birth to be slaves to a system of thought and behavior – a series of unspoken agreements that taken together are almost like a supernatural being. The Toltecs refer to this spiritual and emotional energy as a parasite – something that attaches itself to us and drains our will and energy. This concept is not unlike the concept of the “pain-body” taught by Eckhart Tolle.

Don Miguel goes on to outline four new agreements – commitments we make with ourselves – that can free us from this unconscious slavery and bring us freedom to grow and act independently. The four agreements are:

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
Ruiz is very emphatic about the power of words to capture attention and influence us and those around us. Words are magic – either white magic or black magic, whether we know it or not. To be impeccable with our word is to speak only the truth, only what we mean, and only what builds, helps and uplifts.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
This is a reminder that people often act unconsciously. They are immersed in their own world-dream. Their actions, the ones that might hurt or offend you – are not directed at you, but at their own projections and fears.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Ask questions. Communicate clearly. Ask for what you want and make sure you are understood. Do not jump to conclusions.

4. Always Do Your Best
This one was a little harder to understand. Don Miguel spends some time explaining that our “best” varies from moment to moment and situation to situation. If we are tired or upset, our best may be different than on our better days. To make the effort to do our best also carries the qualification that we must be kind to ourselves in acknowledging that our best is a moving target. Always do your best, giving the circumstances and your personal resources.

Ruiz believes that with these four agreements you can completely break free of the “world dream” that holds you in slavery. For someone who has an affinity for a shamanistic path or native American spirituality, this book is an excellent approach to self-development.

Jan 282010

Personal Power II – Anthony Robbins. As I wrote in my introduction to Anthony Robbins, I never really paid much attention to Robbins because he seemed so faddish – appearing on every TV channel for years. Also, his high-energy style isn’t a very good match for my laid-back personality. But I found a copy of his Personal Power II CDs in the Library and decided “What the heck?”

So… I listened to them. And the verdict is – Not bad. Not bad at all. Let me make it clear that Robbins basically deals with psychological techniques. But he does that quite well. The CDs are full of interesting and effective techniques for changing your mental state, breaking habits, and achieving goals.

In fact, the other day I was driving and passed by a drive-through and had a terrible craving for some food that wasn’t on my diet. Normally I wouldn’t have been able to resist. But suddenly I found images flooding through my mind. Images of the negative consequences of not following my diet. And positive images of the good things that would result from sticking with it. And I passed the restaurant by.

Only after I passed did I realize that the images in my mind had come from a technique I had listened to on one of Robbin’s tapes a few days earlier. It had been an exercise in finding the “leverage” to change a behavior. And it worked better than any psychological “trick” I had tried before.

So if you like an upbeat approach, and want some excellent techniques to turn things around for you – try Robbin’s 30 day program. You can find it used for a pretty good price from Amazon, and the techniques haven’t lost any of their effectiveness.

Jan 262010

I’ve mentioned Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat To Live in several posts, but I realize I’ve never actually written a full review of it. That situation needs to be fixed, because this is my favorite diet and nutrition book of all time (so far at least).  I ran into this book when I was having health problems. After a period of largely raw foods, I fell back on Joel’s diet for more long-term eating and it’s wonderful.

Dr. Fuhrman is the doctor that other doctors send their patients to when their lives depend on losing a lot of weight. And his diet does the job for them. But it’s  not simply the diet that makes the book a must-have. Dr. Fuhrman’s explanations of nutrition and the kinds of food that cause weight problems is simply brilliant. Light bulbs went off all over my head when I read it. In brief, Dr. Fuhrman is concerned with the nutrient density of foods.  Our body is well equipped with “detectors” in our stomach and digestive system that can sense the density, calories, and basic nutrients in our food. Using this information, the body can make sophisticated calculations about when it is full and what it wants us to eat that keep us at the perfect weight. At least, that’s how it works with real food – with the kind of food human beings have been eating for thousands of years.

Our body’s sensory equipment is completely overloaded when when fill our stomach with foods that contain enormous amounts of calories with almost no nutrients. It’s like putting a 50 lb sack of sugar on a postal scale. It completely sabotages the body’s regulatory mechanism. As a result, you think you are still hungry. And you ARE. You are hungry for nutrients. You are suffering malnutrition while packing away huge numbers of calories.

Dr. Fuhrman’s plan, then, is to fill yourself with nutrient-dense foods. These foods will make you feel full and satisfied, because your body can properly  sense that it is getting all the nutrition it needs.

Dr. Fuhrman’s diet has a few simple rules. You eat a lot of greens and vegetables, some cooked and some raw. You eat a lot of fruit. And you eat a little whole grain or starchy food and nuts. You minimize other fats and meat. How strict you have to be with these depends on how much weight you need to loose. The plan is not completely raw-food, but it incorporates much more raw fruits and vegetables than most of us are used to. Fuhrman is one of the experts involved in the “Raw for 30” program for reversing diabetes, so he understands the value of raw food.

Fuhrman has other books that expand on the recipes and diet choices of this first book – but this one is where you learn the nutritional facts – all meticulously researched – that are the basis of his programs. Highly recommended.

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