“Knots” by R.D. Laing

Recommended by: David Mitchell

These are the knots of human relationships, stripped down to their raw bones, layered like acrostic puzzles into brief poems. It starts with parent-child relationships, and moves on to (presumably) romantic relationships, indicated by dialogues between Jack and Jill.

There is no untangling in this little book; just knots. I’m not sure these are the sort of knots that are helped by awareness. They may just be pulled tighter. The book came up in the context of complementary schismogenesis, when two people (or groups) get more and more polarized in their roles. That can sometimes be interrupted with awareness and consciously adopting the opposite qualities.

Jill I’m ridiculous
Jack No you are not
Jill I’m ridiculous to feel ridiculous when I’m not.
You must
    be laughing at me
for feeling you are laughing at me
    if you are not laughing at me

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Rails View” by John Athayde and Bruce Williams

Subtitle: Create a Beautiful and Maintainable User Experience

Recommended by: Working with the authors

It took me two years to get around to reading this book, but fortunately (?) my project is on a version of Rails that’s three years old, so it’s a perfect time to read it.

This book is the next best thing to sitting down with Bruce and John to learn about Rails views. It’s organized as a tutorial with specific code examples. It would be beneficial to follow along and actually type in the code, although I didn’t do that.

The language is casual and friendly, with lots of tips, tricks, and best practices. There are some sexist (“marketing guys”) and ableist (“don’t get too insane”) phrases that detract from an otherwise great book.


Currently out of print, although Amazon has used copies.

“Disarming the Narcissist” by Wendy T. Behary, LCSW

Subtitle: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed

Recommended by: Focusing-discussion list

The person recommending this book spoke of narcissistic wounds rather than narcissistic people. I think it’s useful to have compassion, and at the same time it is easy to lose sight of the people hurt by narcissistic behavior.

The author is a therapist who works a lot with narcissists and couples containing a narcissist. She classifies narcissists as spoiled, deprived, dependent, or combinations of these. She describes abusive childhoods which can sometimes lead to narcissistic behavior. She distinguishes between “moderate” narcissists who might reform after a great deal of work, and “perilous” narcissists who are abusive and unreachable.

The reader, assumed to be in a relationship with a narcissist, is encouraged to hold boundaries more strongly, and be more present and aware. On the one hand the author wants to be helpful and give concrete advice, and on the other hand the most helpful advice I’ve found around narcissists is, “You’re already good enough. You’re already trying hard enough. There is nothing wrong with you.”

If the following sounds like new and useful advice, you might want to read this book.

“Putting yourself in the narcissist’s shoes means trying to sense and genuinely feel his inner world. Specific techniques can help you do this. For example, when the narcissist begins to address you sharply, you could superimpose the face of a lonely and unloved little boy over that of the grown man before you.”

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Art of Empathy” by Karla McLaren

Subtitle: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill

Recommended by: Reading The Language of Emotions

The first part of this book analyzes the six components of empathy, including the ability to sense emotions internally, sense emotions of others, and manage emotions. It continues with a recap of the material in The Language of Emotions, including the recommended skills of burning contracts, conscious complaining, and rejuvenation.

It’s a dense book, and I did not have time to continue before returning it to the library. I’m noting it here because I do want to get back to it eventually, and I think it can be useful for people who are curious about empathy.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Mass” by Leonard Bernstein

I heard Bernstein’s Mass on the radio as a kid and was hooked by both the words and the music. I bought the double CD set at some point, but hadn’t listened to it for years. I got it out recently, thinking about interfaith. It’s a theater piece of a full Latin mass, interspersed with more modern songs and commentary, written by a Jewish man. It still grabs me, and to my amazement large parts of it are stored in my head.

The odd rhythms struck me, and I looked on Multnomah County library’s website. Lo and behold, they have sheet music for the entire Mass (3 copies), including stage directions. The part that I thought was in 7/8 was in 5/8, and other parts are written in combination 3/4 and 3/8, or 12/8 with a few measures of 6/8 interspersed. I can imagine what the singers and musicians thought as they were learning their parts!

The library has a CD of the music too.

“A Theory of Everything” by Ken Wilber

Subtitle: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality

Recommended by: David Mitchell

I read this book to learn about Spiral Dynamics, a classification of cultures that makes room for change and values all levels, from bare subsistence to military control to cooperative and aware. The levels are labeled with colors and called “memes” (not the usual Internet meme definition).

A “Theory of Everything” includes these levels, mapped onto quadrants of Interior/Individual (“I”), Exterior/Individual (“IT”), Interior/Collective (“WE”), and Exterior/Collective (“ITS”). The quadrants are also described as Intentional, Behavioral, Cultural, and Social.

The book focuses on how to facilitate a cultural transformation to the next level, from green, relativistic and empathic, but narcissistic according to Wilber, to turquoise, truly holistic and less likely to wreak environmental disaster.

The second section describes various disciplines in “all-level, all-quadrant” ways. Medicine, for example, can look at someone’s emotional state, physical symptoms, availability of care, and social support.

Throughout the book, Wilber refers to his other books. In some ways, this is a condensed summary of his life’s work.

This book felt like an interesting intellectual exercise, ungrounded in intuition or the body. I might agree with some of the conclusions about how to lead a “good” life, but I arrive at them by trying different things and sensing what works for me, not constructing grand edifices and then reasoning from there.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Sea Change” by S. M. Wheeler

Recommended by: s.e. smith at this ain’t livin’

This wild fantasy felt true to me, true to inner journeys and struggles and transformations. It has violence in it, but not a lot compared to the modern fashion, and deaths are grieved instead of being passed over without comment. Heroes, villains, and monsters alike are complex, whole people. Friendships are important enough to endure loss and hardship for.

Definitely worth spending an afternoon on the porch in the sun with this book!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Core Awareness” by Liz Koch

Subtitle: Enhancing Yoga, Pilates, Exercise, and Dance

Recommended by: David Mitchell

I enthusiastically endorse this book’s focus on awareness, especially in core areas that we often learn to block out. The psoas muscles connects the front of the lumbar spine to the inside of the pelvis to the inner upper femur, all areas we largely ignore. I like the image of telling small children, “Sense yourself!” rather than, “Be careful!” to avoid injury. My own experience supports that the psoas does not like to be deeply palpated, but responds better to gentle invitations to relax.

At the same time, while Part I is nicely poetic, it desperately [needs citation], as well as an editor who knows how to spell muscle names and types of bodywork. The statement that the psoas only contracts eccentrically is simply false. (More information at wikipedia’s psoas article.)

Part II contains carefully described exploratory exercises to connect with and relax the psoas, illustrated with photographs of people with a diversity of body types.

I recommend this book to explore new ideas around internal awareness, as long as the first part is read as metaphorical. It is helpful to look at a good anatomy book such as Trail Guide to the Body to visualize the psoas muscle.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Focusing Student’s and Companion’s Manual” by Barbara McGavin and Ann Weiser Cornell

Recommended by: Jael Emberley

I took Focusing classes I and II from Jael Emberley, and bought both parts of the manual, even though the second part is for classes III and IV. Both parts are written in clear, friendly language, and delightfully illustrated by Mary Ferris. Her expressive line drawings of anthropomorphized hares capture the subtleties and humor of Focusing.

Focusing is paying attention inside to an unfolding felt sense about an issue or situation. Somatic Experiencing includes a lot of Focusing. I read Part Two now to learn more about how to be present with merging and exiling of internal “something”s. Suggestions include

  • Use presence language. “I sense something in me that feels overwhelmed.”
  • Turn toward the Something that has Feelings about the Feeling, and might be saying things like, “I don’t want to be scared!” “It’s bad to be angry.”
  • Notice behaviors that come out of Feelings about Feelings, like rushing the process, forcing a choice, analyzing, diagnosing, deciding, fixing, doubting, arguing, and especially criticizing.
  • For critics, sense for what they’re not wanting.
  • Acknowledge parts that are trying to force other parts to Do It Right.
  • Exiling – something is judged as so bad and dangerous it is removed from awareness. As it comes back, the symbols for it might move from inanimate to animate.
  • Exiles need a lot of time and safety to gain trust and come back into inner relationship.

Recommended for learning about Focusing and being amused and touched by the line drawings.

Part One and Part Two are available from FocusingResources.com

“Getting to the Heart of Interfaith” by Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, and Sheikh Jamal Rahman

Subtitle: The Eye-Opening, Hope-Filled Friendship of a Pastor, a Rabbi, and a Sheikh

Recommended by: David Mitchell

Somewhere along the way, I acquired the mistaken idea that “interfaith” is a watered-down, lowest-common-denominator version of religion. This book makes clear that interfaith is a vibrant, active process of building connections and understanding.

The book is both a practical guide to interfaith work and the story of how the three men’s friendship developed. It includes their backgrounds, key beliefs from their religions, difficulties they have with their religions, and their descriptions of a challenging group trip to Israel. As each of them write in turn, I come to trust their inclusiveness, openness, and willingness to face difficult truths.

I was interested to notice that despite my Jewish heritage I resonated the most with Jamal’s description of Muslim practices, which are focused on compassion. In writing about Israel, he mentions his sense of Ein Gedi oasis as a sacred place, a sanctuary. I have long described it as my favorite place on the planet. In the middle of the desert, near Masada and the Dead Sea, it feels like a miraculous gift to be enclosed in rustling bamboo with water flowing down the path.

Their suggested steps for interfaith work are

  1. Moving beyond separation and suspicion
  2. Inquiring more deeply
  3. Sharing both the easy and the difficult parts
  4. Moving beyond safe territory
  5. Exploring spiritual practices from other traditions

To me these steps form a bridge across many types of difference, including racial and cultural differences.

Highly recommended.

Rabbi Ted Falcon’s site

Sheikh Jamal Rahman’s site

Pastor Don Mackenzie on the Interfaith Amigos site

Available at Powell’s Books.