Sunday, October 15, 2017

"The Mindful Vegan"




The heart of the book is as its subtitle indicates: "A 30-Day Plan For Finding Health, Balance, Peace, And Happiness." This is very different, Muelrath writes, than serial dieting. "Micromanaging and analyzing every bite and obsessing over body weight and size mask underlying stress, anxiety, and not-good-enough syndrome."

Those who endeavor to practice vegan living face their own ingrained habits (such as compulsive snacking) as well as pressures from family and the wider culture. These stressors often provoke unhealthy defensive reactions. Enter mindfulness, which "gets to the roots of your challenges around food--whether it's refurbishing old habits, employing self-regulation of emotions, or becoming more at ease and grounded in vegan living."

The key is that mindfulness "expands that moment between stimulus and reactivity. You gain new access to the choice of where to place your attention, rather than having your attention taken hostage by reactive thoughts and emotions. Once you open the door to the possibilities of choice, you can more freely choose your responses."

Muelrath notes that mindfulness (with roots in Vipassana or Insight Meditation) is non-sectarian. In the 30-day plan she introduces the awareness techniques gently (a one-minute meditation on the first day, two minutes on the second, and so on, with free audio versions on the book's website). The author also provides a dozen recipes (including "Berry Good Ice Cream") and additional resources.

Once a practice of meditation is established, Muelrath brings in the vegan perspective (emphasizing personal health and environmental care) and, in honest yet encouraging discussions, takes up "wandering minds," "moods and foods," "cravings," "addictions," and more.

With these new practices, one just might forget, as Muelrath did, about that chocolate stash in the cupboard. That, she says, is real freedom.

Lani Muelrath is scheduled to be interviewed by Nancy Wiegman on Nancy's Bookshelf, Friday, November 3 on mynspr.org (KCHO 91.7 FM) at 10:00 a.m.


Sunday, October 08, 2017

"London Spirits: Short Stories"



Rob Burton, Professor of English at Chico State University, was born near London and grew up in England. In his latest book he revisits familiar haunts by means of unconventional narrators, women and men from the afterlife who played a part in London's history.

"London Spirits: Short Stories" ($10.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing; also for Amazon Kindle) is a series of fourteen enchanting tales (grouped into "Now," "Then," and "Now And Then") wherein sung and unsung voices are heard again.

In "Die Into Life," there is Fran in the present day who receives a call asking her to meet an old friend from her wild University of London days. "She put the phone down and looked around the kitchen at the symbols of a twenty-year marriage: pots hanging obediently on their hooks, cheery family snapshots on the refrigerator door, …." If she goes, will she return?

Yet even in the "now" there are words from the past that strike Fran deeply, and Burton's craft suggests that rather than history being a settled affair, it still has the power to surprise us, like art. "That's how art happens sometimes," a burping man named Puggy tells Mark in "The Knowledge. "You don't intend it to be a certain way but it assumes its own identity and takes its own course. It's quite magical, eh?"

In "The Purest Ecstasy," Virginia Woolf recalls "the daily practice of writing. Mysterious voices, bidden and unbidden, called to me." Sherlock Holmes solves "The Curious Case of Miss Irene Adler," and plumbers Phillip Clark and Tom Crapper, flushed with success, explain the "Westminster shudder" of the seventeenth-century.

The Celtic warrior-queen Boadicea speaks in the final story which gives its name to the book. She led a revolt against the Roman invaders in AD 60 or so for love of Londinium, and now her spirit says: "O fog-shrouded city, drizzle-dazzled town, metropolis of mud and thick materialism, what can I, your guiding spirit, say that has not already been said about these two thousand years of history? … What is the shape of your historical narrative?"

The funny-piercing answer throws a little shade on those who would forget what came before.


Sunday, October 01, 2017

"A Deadly Wandering"



A terrifying highway accident in Utah in September eleven years ago left two rocket scientists dead. It was caused by nineteen-year-old Reggie Shaw veering into the wrong lane; Shaw survived, physically unscathed, but the answer to the central question--was he texting at the time?--would not come easily.

Matt Richtel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, based in San Francisco, traces the ripple effects of the accident in a deeply reported, and deeply affecting, book, "A Deadly Wandering" ($15.99 in paperback from William Morrow; also for Amazon Kindle). It's subtitled "A Mystery, A Landmark Investigation, And The Astonishing Science Of Attention In The Digital Age." The reader comes to know family members, those in the judicial system, lawmakers, and attention researchers in a story so emotionally compelling one cannot look away.

"A Deadly Wandering" is the Book In Common for Chico State University (csuchico.edu/bic) and Butte College (butte.edu/bic), and the larger community. Author Matt Richtel will be speaking at Chico State's Laxson Auditorium Tuesday, October 24 at 7:30 p.m. Adults $20, Seniors $18, youth and students are free. Tickets can be obtained through Chico Performances (chicoperformances.com).

There is much for the heart in this story, but also for the mind. "There is a tension going on inside the brain," Richtel writes. "It is a tug-of-war between two different aspects of the attention system. … Top-down attention is what we use to direct our focus, say, on a work project … or when driving on the road. … Bottom-up attention is … what allows our attention to be captured instantly, without our control, say, by the sound of our name … or the ring of the phone. Bottom-up attention operates unconsciously, automatically, driven by sensory stimulus and contextual cues."

You can have your hands on the wheel and be looking straight ahead at the road, but your mind may be focused on texting. Research indicates it may take ten or fifteen seconds for your mind to regain focus on the road--far longer than anyone had thought previously.

It's not easy to keep the right focus. As Richtel suggests, our cell phones have become akin to slot machines and users to compulsive gamblers.