“Sammy, the crow who remembered” by Elizabeth Baldwin Hazelton

I had this book as a kid. I remembered it because it has a character named Sonya, which is the only place I ever saw my name in a book, even spelled wrong differently. Well, until Crime and Punishment, but that was much later. Representation is important! I also remembered an overall warm feeling about the story.

It’s a true story, told with photographs, of a crow who returned to play and live with the family who raised him. Re-reading it now, I wonder about the photographer, Ann Atwood. There are gorgeous black and white photos of Sammy interacting with a cat, a seagull, a passel of kids, and gently leaning into an adult’s petting hand.

Highly recommended, if you can track down a copy.

“The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer

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Subtitle: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

Recommended to me by: Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk

This book brought me to tears, laughter, and boredom. It’s a confessional mix of Amanda Palmer’s friendship with her childhood neighbor Anthony, her relationship with Neil Gaiman, and her band’s tours and tangles with a recording company.

Some of it recapitulates the TED talk. Some of it reveals more than I’m comfortable even repeating here about her famous husband. Some of it is really good advice about asking, forgiving, being in the moment, connecting, loving.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Focusing with Your Whole Body” by Addie van der Kooy & Kevin McEvenue

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Focusing is a way of looking inside and being with a felt sense of our experience. Alexander Technique is about interrupting unhelpful physical habits to allow the body to move with ease. Kevin McEvenue brought them together: inviting the body to move how it wants to as a way of restoring flow to blocked processes.

Addie van der Kooy learned the process from Kevin and wrote this clear, gentle, welcoming manual. It comes with a CD of guided exercises, although the copy I read no longer had it. At just over 50 pages, it is concise, while still covering the material with care.

The exercises are done standing, feeling a solid connection with the earth through the feet, or sitting, feeling a solid connection through the sit bones and feet. The first exercise suggests: “[I]nvite your body to raise your arms upward from the sides of your body in the way it wants to. […] Listen for and allow any kind of movement, however small and unexpected. It may even have nothing to do with raising your arms!”

After each exercise, there are exploratory questions and discussion. Addie says, “When I do this exercise it often feels like I am inviting myself to dance with the wisdom of my own body.” We invite the body to express itself through movement, and then give consent to what comes (or not).

The following chapters are Grounding and Presence, Allowing a Felt-Sense to Emerge, Holding Both with Equal Positive Regard, and Coming to a Resting Point. Holding Both references Peter Levine’s ideas from Somatic Experiencing about moving between the trauma vortex and a healing vortex.

This book describes a loving, careful way to listen to the body. I tried the exercises on my own, and I want to try a facilitated Whole Body Focusing session sometime. Highly recommended.

Available at the Focusing Institute.

Kevin McEvenue also wrote two articles about how he came to develop Whole Body Focusing as part of his healing process. They are combined in “Dancing the Path of the Mystic”, also available at the Focusing Institute.

“Through the Gates” by Susan Windle

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Subtitle: A Practice for Counting the Omer

Recommended to me by: Kol Aleph – Jewish Renewal Omer Offerings Online

I tried Counting the Omer this year, moving through the sephirot of the Kabbalah in all their pairings over 49 days. I quickly found that I needed a woman’s voice to guide me through this historically men-only practice. Susan Windle’s book gave me warm, personal, inclusive guidance.

The book has a sense of movement through the days as she writes poems and letters to a group of people counting with her. She includes her struggles as well as insights. Her interpretations are clear, and resonate with what I sense in my body. At the end, she says counting the omer is about becoming more ourselves, which also makes sense to me.

Recommended to learn about Kabbalah and Counting the Omer from a woman’s perspective.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“She Who Dwells Within” by Lynn Gottlieb

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Subtitle: A Feminist Vision of a Renewed Judaism

Recommended to me by: Orasimcha Batdina

I loved this book. Lynn Gottlieb talks about exactly what I needed to hear, that other women find Judaism to be hostile ground. I cheered on her battle to make that hostile world hers in a new way, and winced at the ways men fought to suppress her.

“Women need a new situation. In a Jewish context, we need to transform the way we talk Torah, the way we practice ceremony and ritual, the way we tell and pass on stories, the way we codify laws, the way we organize our communities, and the way we envision sacred mysteries.” Yes!

Also it doesn’t hurt that she chooses a dragon (longtime favorite symbol of mine) to represent Shekhinah.

I appreciated the links between Judaism and the pre-existing Goddesses in the Middle East. I’ve worked with the Descent of Innana without realizing the story might be part of my heritage. Yes, we need stories about women that resolve in powerful, healing ways, not just, “And then she got married and had a son.”

I appreciated re-imagining keeping kosher as caring for the environment. I hadn’t viewed that as a directly spiritual act before, although it makes sense now that I think about it.

I also appreciated the section on recovering from violence and abuse, although there was a bit of “help them recover” about it.

Perhaps someday I’ll come back to the book for some of the re-imagined rituals it offers. For now, it’s the company I enjoy.

Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“On the Wings of Shekhinah” by Rabbi Leah Novick

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Subtitle: Rediscovering Judaism’s Divine Feminine

Recommended to me by: Orasimcha Batdina

Rabbi Leah Novick weaves the Shekhinah (divine feminine in Judaism) back in to Jewish history. Clearly, a lot of research and thought went into creating this book.

It contains a brief chapter on Kabbalah, which is what led me to read it, and further material on Jewish mysticism. If I wanted to create a feminist Jewish practice for myself, I would re-read this book. Right now, it’s not what I was looking for. I absorbed the information in a general way, but the specifics didn’t stay with me.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle

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I clearly remember not wanting to turn the light out, the first time I finished reading this book, spooked by mind control. I was around 9 years old, new to having my own room, lined with bookcases of my parents’ books.

Rereading it now, it’s interesting to see which parts I could practically recite, and which parts I had forgotten, but then remember liking, like Meg being cared for by Aunt Beast. This 50th Anniversary Edition includes a biographical essay about Madeleine L’Engle, written by her granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis.

There was a discussion about how evil is defined in this book, whether it was removing people’s individuality. I think evil is more about control, erasing people’s power of choice. Pure evil is pure control, pure selfishness, pure disregard for the will of others.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Men Explain Things to Me” by Rebecca Solnit

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Recommended to me by: Patricia Anderson

Rebecca Solnit’s title essay is available here. While she didn’t invent the word “mansplaining”, she inspired it with this essay about the trend of men (not all men, she is quick to point out) explaining things to women that women already know. Men treating women as “empty vessels waiting to be filled with their wisdom.” Men deciding whether a woman’s speech is credible or not, even, or perhaps especially, when she says, “He’s trying to kill me.”

The other essays in this book are also about sexism, feminism, and gendered violence. Violence gendered because women are targets in a concerted, ongoing effort to control us and keep us small. Violence also gendered because men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators.

The book is depressing, illuminating, and, in the end, hopeful.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Wheels of Life” by Anodea Judith

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Subtitle: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System

Recommended to me by: Katherine Macomber Millman

This is a thorough, inclusive, grounded introduction to the chakra system. It includes Hindu history, symbolism, and interactions with yoga. It discusses both the “liberating” current, moving toward the upper chakras and universal energy, and the “manifesting” current, moving toward the lower chakras and individual energy. All the chakras are important, from the ones that ground us in our body to the ones that connect us with All That Is.

Each chakra has a long list of associations, from colors and sounds to Hindu divinities to ailments and body parts. The author includes specific yoga poses and movements to connect with the chakras. Each chapter also includes essays on related scientific ideas. While the connections between the science and the chakras might be debated, the science itself is carefully and accurately presented.

I noticed that I disagree with some of the associations the author proposes, like water and emotions for the second chakra, and air for the fourth chakra. They make sense if each chakra has an element, but that set of associations didn’t click for me. I was surprised to discover strong opinions on what the chakras do and don’t represent for me.

I looked at another book on the chakras which uses “he” and “man” everywhere. It was a relief to return to this book, which even-handedly mixes pronouns, and includes explicit anti-racism as well.

I also looked through The Sevenfold Journey: Reclaiming Mind, Body, and Spirit Through the Chakras by Anodea Judith and Selene Vega. This contains an abridged version of the material on each chakra from “Wheels of Life”, and adds stories, journal exercises, and rituals from the workshops they have held for people to work through each chakra in turn. The personal stories were a great addition, and this might be a better introduction for someone who wants to do personal work with the chakras.

Both books are accessible, interesting, and a great introduction to the New Age version of the chakra system.

This article contains a good summary of basic chakra information and associations: Asanas for the Chakra System

Anodea Judith’s website

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Healing Developmental Trauma” by Laurence Heller, PhD and Aline LaPierre, PsyD

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Subtitle: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship

The first section of this book is focused on analysis and categorization. It describes five adaptive survival styles in response to developmental ruptures in connection, attunement, trust, autonomy, and love and sexuality. I found this part dry and off-putting, and skimmed through it.

The second section narrows the focus to the connection adaptive style in response to very early trauma, abuse, and neglect. It describes physiological responses to trauma and shares several transcripts of therapy sessions. This section was much more engaging and useful. The therapeutic style is named NeuroAffective Relational Model, abbreviated NARM throughout.

Therapists are recommended to be non-judgmental, present, authentic, gentle, and attuned with the client. Careful tracking of the client’s responses allows alternation between expansion and contraction, with emphasis on positive expansion. Anger and aggression are recognized as natural, necessary responses to trauma. Unresolved defensive-orienting responses to trauma linger in tension around the eyes and narrowed field of vision, so working with eyes and gaze is useful. Therapeutic touch is a resource to repair early neglect.

Recommended as an introduction to the differences between shock trauma and developmental trauma, with some body-centered and client-centered techniques to help.

Available at Powell’s Books.