Regardless of Religion, Ideology, or Politics — Everyone Appreciates Kindness and Compassion

alex atkins bookshelf booksSome of the greatest treasures in a used bookstore are often found in the most unlikely places. These books are easy to miss because they have been misplaced or are tucked away behind a dusty stack of books — forlorn or forgotten for months, years, even decades. Recently, I came across a copy of The Dalai Lama, A Policy of Kindness: An Anthology of Writings by and About the Dalai Lama in mint condition — something rare for paperback books of this age. According to the bookseller’s penciled notation, the book was acquired in 2012. This amazingly brilliant and insightful book had been lurking in the shadows for more than 7 years. Hard to believe. But now that book found a home, and with this post, a wider audience. Although the book was published in 1990, it as relevant today as it was almost two decades ago. In his speech titled “Kindness and Compassion, the Dalai Lama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, challenges us to overlook our differences in religion, ideology, race, politics, economics, and embrace what we all share as human beings: the pursuit of happiness, and need for kindness, and compassion. He offers us hope in a new religion — one that doesn’t require temples and complex history, but simply the philosophy of kindness, straight from the heart. Here are some highlights of that memorable and inspiring speech.”

“I want to speak to you this evening about the importance of kindness and compassion. When I speak about this, I regard myself not as a Buddhist, not as the Dalai Lama, not as a Tibetan, but rather as one human being. And, I hope that you in the audience will, at this moment, think of yourselves as human beings rather than as Americans, or Westerners, or members of any particular group. These things are secondary. If from my side and from the listeners’ side we interact as human beings, we can reach this basic level. If I say, ‘I am a monk;’ or ‘I am a Buddhist;’ these are, in comparison to my nature as a human being, temporary. To be a human is basic. Once you are born as a human being, that cannot change until death. Other things — whether you are educated or uneducated, rich or poor — are secondary.

Today we face many problems. Some are created essentially by ourselves based on divisions due to ideology, religion, race, economic status, or other factors. Therefore, the time has come for us to think on a deeper level, onthe human level, and from that level we should appreciate and respect the sameness of others as human beings. We must build closer relationships of mutual trust, understanding, respect, and help, irrespective of differences of culture, philosophy, religion, or faith.

After all, all human beings are the same — made of human flesh, bones, and blood. We all want happiness and want to avoid suffering. Further, we all have an equal right to be happy. In other words, it is important to realize our sameness as human beings. We all belong to one human family. That we quarrel with each other is due to secondary reasons, and all of this arguing with each other, cheating each other, suppressing each other is of no use.

Unfortunately, for many centuries, human beings have used all sorts of methods to suppress and hurt one another. Many terrible things have been done. It has meant more problems, more suffering, and more mistrust,resulting in more feelings of hatred and more divisions…

All of us want happiness. In cities, on farms, even in remote places, people are busy and active. What is the main purpose of this activity? Everyone is trying to create happiness. To do so is right. However, it is very important to follow a correct method in seeking happiness. We must keep in mind that too much involvement on a superficial level will not solve the larger problems.

There are all about us many crises, many fears. Through highly developed science and technology, we have reached an advanced level of material progress that is both useful and necessary. Yet, if you compare the external progress with our internal progress, it is quite clear that our internal progress is inadequate. In many countries, crises — murders, wars and terrorism — are chronic. People complain about the decline in morality and the rise in criminal activity. Although in external matters we are highly developed and continue to progress, at the same time it is equally important to develop and progress in terms of inner development….

Anger cannot be overcome by anger. If a person shows anger to you, and you respond with anger, the result is disastrous. In contrast, if you control anger and show opposite attitudes — compassion, tolerance, and patience — then not only do you yourself remain in peace, but the other’s anger will gradually diminish.

World problems similarly cannot be challenged by anger or hatred. They must be faced with compassion, love, and true kindness. Look at all the terrible weapons there are. Yet, the weapons themselves cannot start a war. The button to trigger them is under a human finger, which moves by thought, not under its own power. The responsibility rests in our thought.

If you look deeply into such things, the blueprint is found within — in the mind — out of which actions come. Thus, first controlling the mind is very important. I am not talking here about controlling the mind in the sense of deep meditation, but just about cultivating less anger, more respect for others’ rights, more concern for other people, more clear realization of our sameness as human beings… Rather than just advertising to make money for ourselves, we need to use these media for something meaningful, something seriously directed towards the welfare of humankind. Not money alone. Money is necessary, but the actual purpose of money is for human beings. Sometimes we lose interest in the human and are just concerned about money. This is not sensible.

After all, we all want happiness, and no one will disagree with the fact that with anger, peace is impossible. With kindness and love, peace of mind can be achieved. No one wants anger, no one wants mental unrest, yet because of ignorance, they occur. Bad attitudes, such as depression, arise from the power of ignorance, not of their own accord.

Through anger we lose one of the best human qualities — the power of judgement. We have a good brain, which other mammals do not have, allowing us to judge what is right and what is wrong, not only in terms of today’s concerns, but considering ten, twenty, or even a hundred years in the future. Without any precognition, we can use our normal common sense to determine if something is a right or wrong method; we can decide that if we do such and such, it will lead to such and such — effect. However, once our mind is occupied by anger we lose this power of judgement, and once lost, it is very sad. Physically you are a human being, but mentally you are incomplete. Given that we have this physical human form, we must safeguard our mental capacity for judgement. For that, we cannot take out insurance; the insurance company is within: self-discipline, self-awareness, and a clear realization of the disadvantages of anger and the positive effects of kindness. Thinking about this again and again, we can become convinced of it, and then with self-awareness, we can control the mind.

For instance, at present you may be a person who gets quickly and easily irritated by small things. With clear understanding and awareness, this can be controlled. If you usually remain angry for ten minutes, try to reduce it to eight. Next week make it five minutes and the next month two. Then make it zero. That is how to develop and train our minds.

This is my feeling and also the sort of practice I myself do. It is quite clear that everyone needs peace of mind. The question, then, is how to achieve it. Through anger we cannot; through kindness, through love, through compassion, we can achieve one individual’s peace of mind. The result of this is a peaceful family — happiness between parents and children, fewer quarrels between husband and wife; no worry about divorce. Extended to the national level, this attitude can bring unity, harmony, and cooperation with genuine motivation. On the international level, we need mutual trust, mutual respect, frank and friendly discussion with sincere motivation, and joint effort to solve world problems. All these are possible.

But first we must change within ourselves. Our national leaders try their best to solve our problems, but when one problern is solved, another one crops up; trying to solve that, again there is another somewhere else. The time has come to try a different approach. Of course, it is very diffiicult to achieve such a worldwide movement for peace of mind, but it is the only alternative. If there were another method that was easier and more practical, it would be better, but there is none….

Therefore, although it is difficult to attempt to bring about peace through internal transformation, this is the only way to achieve lasting world peace. Even if during my own lifetime it is not achieved, it is all right. More human beings will come, the next generation and the one after that, and progress can continue. I feel that despite the practical difficulties and the sense that this is regarded as an unrealistic view, it is worthwhile to make the attempt. Therefore, wherever I go, I express these things. I am encouraged that peoplefrom different walks of life generally receive it well.

Each of us has a responsibility for all humankind. It is time for us to think of other people as true brothers and sisters and to be concerned with their welfare, with lessening their suffering. Even if you cannot sacrifice your own benefit entirely, you should not forget the concerns of others. We should think more about the future and benefit of all humanity.

Also, if you try to subdue your selfish motives — anger, and so forth — and develop more kindness and compassion for others, ultimately you yourself will benefit more than you would otherwise. So sometimes I say that the wise selfish person should practice this way. Foolish selfish people are always thinking of themselves, and the result is negative. Wise selfish people think of others, help others as much as they can, and the result is that they too receive benefit.

This is my simple religion — there is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

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Profile of a Book Lover: Bruce Kahn

alex atkins bookshelf booksBruce Kahn, an attorney in Michigan who specializes in mergers and acquisitions, began collecting books when he was a teenager in the 1950s. He began with collecting comic books and then focused on science fiction first editions. What makes his collection of modern first editions so remarkable is that be purchased books that were in great condition and had them signed or inscribed by their authors. And like many collectors, once he built a library of science fiction first editions that he felt was complete, he sold it in the mid-1980s, so that he could focus on building a new collection. Longtime bookseller Ken Lopez, who is selling a portion of Kahn’s library, continues his story:

“[Beginning in the 1980s, Kahn] started collecting ‘mainstream’ modern literature, along with modern mystery and detective fiction. It was a good time to begin such a collection: fine copies of some of the keynote titles of the postwar era were scarce but were nonetheless much more readily available than they are now, nearly a quarter century later. Beautiful copies of such books as To Kill a Mockingbird, On The Road, and The Catcher in the Rye could be had if one were patient and persistent, and Bruce Kahn was both.

He collected in the style of the old-time book collectors — that is, he collected authors in depth, pursuing all their published titles, variant editions such as proofs, advance copies, and broadsides, and in many cases U.K. editions as well as U.S. ones. As a result, the author collections themselves end up being bibliographically significant, especially for those authors for whom there is not yet an ‘official’ or definitive bibliography…

We are issuing this catalog (Catalog 150: The Bruce Kahn Collection, 2009) at a moment when our economy has experienced the most dramatic turmoil in decades. However, it may prove opportune to remember, as one of my colleagues recently wrote me, that the books and literature that ‘we deal in will endure, and contains the seeds of knowledge and spiritual nourishment.’ It is the understandingof this value — of what underlies monetary value — that can and should reassure us: these books are an important partof our cultural makeup and our intellectual and moral heritage. That is and will remain true. After economic hard times have passed, these will still be the books that have shaped our society’s evolution; in that respect their value will remain unchanged, and they will still be among the important works of literature of the 20th century. If books are still collected — and there is little doubt they will be — the books of the Bruce Kahn collection will still be among the most desirable copies of the most important titles of our time.”

Here are some of the highlights from the Bruce Kahn Collection:

The Hamlet by William Faulkner (1940): $13,500

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1961): $12,500

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940): $12,500

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932): $15,000

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957): $25,000

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962): $25,000

The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer (1948): $10,000

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951): $25,000

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck (1935): $15,000

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There’s a Word for That: Palinoia

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWe have all heard that timeless adage “practice makes perfect” a hundred times. Well, did you know there is a more sophisticated way of saying it? The word is palinoia: the compulsive repetition of an act, over and over, until  the act is performed perfectly. Think of the athlete training for the Olympics or a pianist practicing a difficult piece of music. The word is pronounced “pa-li-NOY-ah.” The word is derived from the Latin word palinodia which means “repetition” or “singing over again.” So the next time someone shares that old chestnut, turn to them nonchalantly and ask, “Oh, you mean palinoia, don’t you?”

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How Reading Makes You Smarter

atkins-bookshelf-booksA few years ago, the Pew Research Center published a report on the reading habits of Americans. The study focused on how often adults (aged 18 and older) read print books, audiobooks, and e-books. Unfortunately the results were not promising: the number of people who are not reading any books has tripled in the past three decades. Specifically in 1978, 8% of American did not read a book within the past year. In 2002 that number jumped up to 18%; and in 2014 that number increased to 23%. What those individuals don’t know, and dedicated readers do know (at least intuitively), is that reading makes you smarter and has several beneficial effects on the brain. Here are seven ways that reading makes you smarter:

1. Reading encourages empathy. Studies indicate that reading literary fiction increases empathy and sympathy as readers respond to the struggles of a protagonist. Reading allows the reader to step into the life of the protagonist and imagine what it would be like to have those experiences.

2. Reading poetry encourages deep self-reflection. Studies show that reading poetry activates areas of the brain that are associated with introspection and autobiographical memory.

3. Reading improves memory. Reading activates the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. In one study, readers read simple descriptive phrases (like “dark blue carpet”) while placed in an MRI machine. The MRI indicated that these simple phrases were enough to activate the hippocampus. Using fewer words encourages readers to use their imagination to “fill in the blanks” and create a virtual scene or world.

4. Reading improves decision-making and emotional processing. Researchers have found that reading activates key parts of the brain: the medial prefrontal cortex, lateral temporal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, inferior parietal lobe. The medial prefrontal cortex is involved with decision-making and memory recall. The lateral temporal cortex is responsible for emotional association and visual memory. The posterior cingulate cortex is involved with episodic memory recall. And finally, the inferior parietal lobe is responsible for understanding emotions and interpreting sensory data.

5. Reading improves your verbal skills and vocabulary. Studies show that there is a direct correlation between verbal skills and reading. As most readers know, reading is a great way to expand your vocabulary by looking up new words you encounter. The more you read, the greater your working vocabulary will be. Reading also helps discover new ways of describing situations, feelings, and places as well as creating images in the mind’s eye.

6. Reading strengthens the mind. The brain is not a muscle, of course, but studies suggests that mind-building (mental exercise) is analogous to body-building. In another MRI study, researchers found that brain retains activity for as long as five days after reading a book. MRI of subjects revealed increased activity in the left angular and supra marginal gyri and right posterior temporal gyri areas of the brain that are associated with comprehension.

7. Reading helps slow down mental aging. Studies show that reading improves memory and sentence processing in older adults. The steady exposure to literary ingredients that encourage imagination (eg, metaphors, imagery, abstract ideas, etc), the brain gets mental exercise, remaining active and healthy.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up a book and start getting smarter.

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How Many Hamlets Are There in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsHow many Hamlets are there in the world with intellectual power for large usefulness, who wait day by day and year by year in hope to do more perfectly what they live to do: die, therefore, and leave their lives unused, while men of lower power, prompt for action, are content and ready to do what they can, well knowing that at the best they can only rough-hew, but in humble trust that leaves to God the issues of the little service that they bring. It is a last touch to the significance of this whole play that at its close the man whose fault is the reverse of Hamlet’s — the man of ready action, though it be with little thought, the stir of whose energies was felt in the opening scene — re-enters from his victory over [Poland], and the curtain falls on Fortinbras, King.

From the introduction to Hamlet (Cassell’s National Library Edition, 1899) by Henry Morley (1822-1894), one of Great Britain’s earliest professors of English literature. Morley contrasts Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s most well-known characters whose tragic flaw is his indecisiveness, his inability to act (specifically, to avenge his father’s death) with Fortinbras, a Norwegian prince who is a warrior (he leads an army to attack Poland), a true man of action. As you may recall, at the conclusion of the play, Fortinbras is crowned King and, after hearing the tragic story of Prince Hamlet, orders that he be given a funeral befitting of a soldier. But the key point that Morley is asking is: what use is critical thinking by intelligent individuals without action, without contribution? A question that is so relevant to the many problems we face in modern times.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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What is the Meaning of the Feather in Forrest Gump?

alex atkins bookshelf moviesIn the opening sequence of the 1994 film Forrest Gump, we are mesmerized by a feather that floats downward from the clouds, caught in a gentle breeze — swirling and spinning delicately like some ethereal dancer. Eventually the feather reaches the ground, and is swept across a street by the motion of cars, landing at the foot of the film’s slow-witted but kind protagonist, Forrest Gump, who is sitting on a bench waiting to catch a bus. It captures his attention; he reaches down and grabs it and gently places it inside his favorite book, Curious George, that his mother read to him when he was a child. Then at the conclusion of the film, that same feather falls out of this book (Gump has now given the book to his son) and the feather is lifted back into the clouds by a gentle breeze. So, immediately we ask: what is the meaning of the feather in Forrest Gump? As we shall soon see, the feather is the perfect symbol for this film that, thanks to the brilliant screenwriting efforts of Eric Roth, works as a fable wrapped around a sweet love story — as opposed to the biting satire and cynical tone of the original novel of the same name by Winston Groom. And like one of Shakespeare’s fools, Gump may be simple-minded and a source of amusement, but he possesses all the wisdom that those around him clearly lack.

Fortunately, if you haven’t figured it out by the end of the film, Gump tells us in his soft- and plain-spoken way. In the last scene of the film, Gump is in a reflective mood and in a voiceover, explains: “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it’s both.” And that is the central theme of this film: is life determined by fate or chance? In an interview, Tom Hanks, who played Gump, elaborates: “Our destiny is only defined by how we deal with the chance elements to our life and that’s kind of the embodiment of the feather as it comes in. Here is this thing that can land anywhere and that it lands at your feet. It has theological implications that are really huge.” Perhaps what Hanks actually meant to say was that the philosophical implications are huge. Some of the greatest philosophers, thinkers, and writers have grappled with that question and its implication of free will; that is to say, if our life is based on fate (determinism) or chance, do our choices matter? In the case of Gump, the answer is yes — it is chance and choice. It is perfectly summarized by the symbolism of the feather: even though the feather lands near him (chance), he notices it and picks it up (choice). And it is because he makes these choices, time after time, that he unwittingly plays a role in many defining events of the 20th century (teaching Elvis how to dance, reporting the Watergate break-in, inspiring the lyrics to John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the creation of the iconic smiley face, coining the phrase “shit happens,” etc.). 

On another level, the feather, with their connection to birds, represents flight and freedom. It also represent hope and inspiration. In the poem, “Hope” is the thing with feathers,” Emily Dickinson uses the feather as a central metaphor: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without the words / And never stops at all.” For many tribal priests and shamans, the feather represents ascension or prayer, representing the magical communication with gods or the spirit world.

In her fascinating blog, Symbolic Meaning of Feathers, Avia Venifica, who studies the work of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, presents an in-depth exploration of the symbolism of feathers. Briefly, she discusses the feather as representing truth, spirit, travel, heaven, levity, flight, messages, ascension, and fertility. She also writes about the meaning of finding feathers, which is also relevant to the film. Venifica presents four meanings of finding a feather:

“1. Feathers are a reminder to count our blessings and be thankful for the good stuff going on in our lives.

2. Feathers are a symbol of levity. When seen, they remind us ease up on all the seriousness. Take a breath, relax, enjoy.

3. If feathers really are a communication tool to and from the gods, then their appearance is a reminder to listen to the bigger voice – as in a higher power.

4. Feathers often show up when there is someone or something that wants to reach out to us. Sometimes this might be a loved one who has passed into non-physical. A feather is a reminder you are loved by infinite people (both here on earth and otherwise).”

So is life determined by fate or chance? Some believe it is fate, others believe it is chance. Like Gump, many believe it is both? If you read enough biographies and have listen to the life stories of many people, you will realize that there is a common thread: serendipity. Someone was at the right place, at the right time, with the right person — and that has made a huge difference in their life journey, with respect to their education, career, or personal relationships (friendships, mentorships, and marriage). And herein lies one of the greatest life lessons: although you cannot create luck, propitious chance encounters — learn to identify serendipity and seize the opportunity.

The film, because it is a timeless fable, asks us one important question: if you are sitting on a bench and a feather floats by and rests near you, will you pick it up?

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The Best Movie Taglines of All Time

alex atkins bookshelf moviesSometimes the taglines are more memorable than the films. It is a testament to the copywriters who have the challenging task of summarizing a 90-120 minute film in just a few words. Who can forget that great tagline from the 1978 summer thriller, Jaws 2: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”? Or the 1979 science fiction horror movie, Alien: “In space no one can hear you scream”? You can even picture the iconic posters in your mind’s eye.

The tagline is incredibly important when trying to capture the interest of movie watchers in an increasingly crowded marketplace (thanks a lot social media!). In most cases, the writing of the tagline is the first step in marketing a film. Although the final product is simple, the process is not. Companies that specialize in marketing films typically build a team of in-house writers and freelancers to review a rough cut of a film (or read a script if the film hasn’t been shot) and then generate as many as 1,000 taglines for a particular film. Sometimes the time frame for writing is as short as a few days or as long as a year. From there, the list of candidates is pared down to arrive at the best tagline to go with the poster and trailers. According to one veteran copywriter, the best taglines are ones that evoke emotion rather than contemplation. A few years ago, the folks at Shortlist ranked the best movie taglines of all time. You be the judge of how well the copywriters did:

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “One man’s struggle to take it easy”

High Noon: “The story of a man who was too proud to run”

Psycho: “Check in. Unpack. Relax. Take A Shower”

Alien: “In space no one can hear you scream”

The Royal Tenenbaums: “Family isn’t a word. It’s a sentence”

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: “An epic of epic epicness”

The Thing: “Man is the warmest place to hide”

The 40-Year-Old Virgin: “The longer you wait, the harder it gets”

The Social Network: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies”

Superman: “You’ll believe a man can fly”

Zodiac: “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer”

Platoon: “The first casualty of war is innocence”

Brokeback Mountain: “Love is a force of nature”

Chicken Run: “Escape or die frying”

Lost In Translation: “Everyone wants to be found”

Gattaca: “There is no gene for the human spirit”

Bonnie & Clyde: “They’re young…they’re in love…and they kill people”

The Shawshank Redemption: “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free”

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: “Who will survive and what will be left of them?”

The Graduate: “This is Benjamin. He’s a little worried about his future”

Alien Vs Predator: “Whoever wins…we lose”

I Am Legend: “The last man on earth is not alone”

Deliverance: “This is the weekend they didn’t play golf”

Jaws 2: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”

Quiz Show: “Fifty million people watching and no one saw a thing”

The Fly: “Be afraid. Be very afraid”

Taxi Driver: “On every street in every city, there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody”

Napoleon Dynamite: “He’s out to prove he’s got nothing to prove”

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: “Love never dies”

A Nightmare On Elm Street: “If Nancy doesn’t wake up screaming, she won’t wake up at all”

The Truman Show: “On the air. Unaware”

Contagion: “Nothing spreads like fear”

True Lies: “When he said I do, he never said what he did”

The Godfather Part III: “All the power on earth can’t change destiny”

Predator 2: “He’s in town with a few days to kill”

American Beauty: “…look closer”

Greedy: “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative”

Swingers: “Cocktails first. Questions later”

Tommy Boy: “If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards”

12 Monkeys: “The future is history”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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