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Book Review of: Be The Change

How Meditation Can Transform You and the World

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Review of Be the Change, by Ed and Deb Shapiro (Hardcover, 2009)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

Let me start this review by recounting an amazing coincidence.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote one of the two forewords to this book, and I read it during a break. Only a few minutes after I finished reading it, I received a phone call. My company sells electronic translators; the caller phoned from the U.K. to ask about a Tibetan-English electronic translator. She said she was buying it for someone else, and would be taking it to India with her.

"Uh, would that be northwest India?" I recalled that was the home of Tibetan refugees.

She said that was her destination and she was there often. I asked her if she'd ever seen HH the Dalai Lama, perhaps in one of his public appearances. She replied that she was looking for an electronic translator for a man on HH's staff and if it worked for him then others in the office might be interested. He was trying to learn English and she had been helping him but they thought an electronic dictionary would speed up his learning significantly.

HH's staff? Let's see, by the Kevin Bacon principle did that make me one degree away from HH or two? I later went online to look at our Italian and German translators, figuring that would trigger a call from someone at the Vatican (but that didn't happen).

Anyhow, in our conversation she conveyed to me the essence of the book I was about to read even though I had not mentioned anything about the book. The subtitle describes not a wish but an ongoing project and it's one in which this pleasant lady is heavily involved. What are the odds....

She was obviously well-grounded and purposeful. And she was moving in circles I had merely read about, yet she was open with me and entirely there during the conversation.

To paraphrase HH, I'm just a simple wonk. In the Midwest USA. Yet, I get a phone call like that. I felt elevated and humbled at the same time.

When I next returned to the book, I read the foreword by Bob Thurman (named one of the 25 most influential Americans by Time Magazine). Mr. Thurman could easily be a braggart, considering his many accomplishments. But instead, he is genuinely humble. This came through in what he said in the foreword he wrote. After my experience that morning, I read Mr. Thurman's thoughts and concluded there is something powerful already at work between this book and me. I chose to read it carefully.

Many people in mainstream western culture doubt the power of meditation. I studied martial arts for many years, and what I learned under girds a way of life for me. I am known for "having a way with animals." The key is to become very calm inside, to relax totally, and empty your mind of all thoughts except just being present. When you do this, even wild animals will come very close to check you out. I mean very close. Once, a ferruginous hawk landed within grabbing distance from me and calmly observed me for several minutes before flying away. Try getting close to a large predatory bird sometime.

That "transform the world" part isn't hokum. If inner stillness can have a calming effect with wild animals, think of the possibilities for inner stillness on a massive scale with the human race. And remember, my skill is low compared to what others achieve routinely. This sort of thing is much harder to do it with people, partly because so many people emanate anxiety and give off negative energy. It is precisely because of this negative energy that more skillful meditation is needed. And this book can help.

Be The Change provides much insight into how to reach that inner stillness and even project it outward. You may recall Simon and Garfunkel's song, "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." My favorite line in that song is "Still waters run deep." It makes a great philosophy for life. Many contributors to this book have learned how to still their waters. They freely share their insight. The list of contributors is long, and the people on that list are remarkable.

While most books put forth the views of the authors as experts, this book puts forth the views of many experts with the authors as guides to the experience. And it's an experience worth having!

This book consists of eighteen chapters arranged into four Parts.

Part I, The Greatest Adventure of All, consists of 4 chapters. The basic point is the world's a mess and we can fix it only by reaching into ourselves. In the martial arts, a core philosophy is you have two enemies: the one within and the one in front of you. You must first learn to conquer the enemy within, then you will be ready for any other enemy. My take on these four chapters is they collectively point to that philosophy.

Part II, Transforming From the Inside Out, consists of 4 chapters. This one was a bit tougher to digest, due to the many viewpoints. I think the title of Chapter 5 "Growing Roses From the Compost" sets the tone for all four chapters.

Part III, Transforming Us Transforms the World, consists of six chapters. I'm not sure which chapter is the leader here, but Chapter 12, Contemplative Activism, would not be a bad choice. It helps illustrate that the transformation part doesn't happen because people sit around chanting (or whatever your view of meditation may be). The examples here show how people empowered by meditation can take real action in the real world. The examples are what motivational people like to call "powerful stuff."

Part IV, Practice Makes Perfect, consists of four chapters. Each chapter provides guidance on actually doing meditation. The titles are, in order, Doing It, Sitting Meditation, Sounding Meditation, and Moving Meditation.

You may not be interested in changing the world, and that's fine. If you are interested, that's wonderful. Most of us, however, have enough to do just to put up with daily frustrations and concerns. Isn't it overwhelming, sometimes?

The problem with these daily frustrations and concerns is all of them trigger the flight or fight response. That means stress. The whole cortisol elevation, chronic fatigue, heart problems scenario. And unhappiness. You can't change what comes at you. But you can change how you respond to it. The insights in this book can help you find the inner stillness that refuses to give stress a foothold.

This book may not transform the entire world, but if it can surely help you transform your inner world. And that's worth a lot.


About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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