Monthly Archives: July 2012

Shift Happens! by Robert Holden

Shift Happens: How to Live an Inspired Life...Starting Right Now!Shift Happens: How to Live an Inspired Life…Starting Right Now! by Robert Holden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I seem to be in a Robert Holden kick these days, and for good reason I think: this guy obviously knows what he’s talking about. He practices what he preaches, and it seeps through every word, every sentence he writes. He is honest and transparent, and doesn’t hide potential challenges to his philosophy.

Because, let’s get this straight: Holden’s work presents a philosophy of life. It may be wrapped in self-help paper, but dig a little and you have a fascinating, and eminently positive, conception of human beings and human life.

I think that Shift Happens is a great place to start if you’re new to Holden. It is comprised of short, punchy essays that develop an idea or a topic, such as feeling stuck, relationships, and struggling. It is filled with inspirational quotes and stories of transformation, of people who were just a miserable as you feel and discovered that there was a better way.

However, I’m starting to hit a wall with Holden: as much as I am inspired by his writing, I’m having a hard time finding ways to do what he suggests: letting go of guilt, fear and expectations. He routinely suggests to release control and give it up to God (not the Christian God but rather a general idea of divinity). Not being especially religious, I sometimes have trouble relating to this advice, but I admit that everyone needs some spiritual nourishing in their life. So here I am, trying to understand this concept of God and trying to give my struggles up.

There’s also a lot of talk about mediation, but little instruction on how to do it. In Holden’s world, it seems to be simply a matter of sitting down somewhere and being still. And it might just be as simple as that, but a single paragraph giving basic instructions would be appreciated, if only in appendix.

If you want a quick inspirational read, I strongly suggest this volume. However, if you want to delve deeper into Holden’s philosophy and approach, you can get Happiness Now!: Timeless Wisdom for Feeling Good FAST, which I have reviewed earlier.

This book matters because it is filled with wisdom that we simply have forgotten and need to relearn. If you even only read one chapter a day, you’ll feel more inspired, more positive and definitely more hopeful. The secret? Live in the present.

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Call for the Dead by John le Carré

Call for the Dead (George Smiley, #1)Call for the Dead by John le Carré

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the most important thriller novelists of the 20th century, John le Carré has literally written the book about spy stories. As I found myself interested in reading spy narratives, I decided to begin with him, and his first novel.

I find it fascinating that his first spy novel, Call for the Dead, showcases a tired, cynical spy who wants out of the job. George Smiley is an experienced intelligence officer who’s lived through the Second World War, but who’s not that excited about the job anymore. He’s become tired, cynical and is more or less ready to retire. One morning, he receives a note that an agent, whom he interviewed because of an anonymous denunciation of being a Communist, has committed suicide. Smiley is sent to Fennan’s home as a matter of course, only to suspect that the man has been murdered. After his boss refuses to look into the murder, Smiley quits to solve the crime on his own.

Follows a mystery involving old pupils, theatre, a phone call mystery and classic spy tradecraft. I think that strictly speaking, this isn’t exactly a spy story, but rather a murder mystery involving spies. And yet, the story was satisfying and well-crafted.

Let’s begin with Le Carré’s style. The first thing I noticed was the razor-sharp, no-frills writing that goes straight to the heart of any person, place or action. There are no superfluous words or sentences, nothing but the essential. This makes for a very tight reading experience–sometimes to the point of wondering if it won’t break. It often feels more like a report than a story, and the writing swings uncomfortably between the two.

Indeed, I found myself a bit startled at many points in the novel. The characters are often introduced without much ado, and we are given very little chance to know who they are before they start affecting the story. Therefore, I had often trouble differentiating Mendel from Guillam and figuring out who was who for the minor characters. The point of view also often changed abruptly, making me wonder whose perspective or action we were witnessing at the moment.

The mystery, mysterious as it was, eventually gets solved. The book would have ended well if le Carré had avoided the final report which basically summarizes the entire story in writing that’s even more economical, if that was ever possible. I think this section could easily have been omitted, as the book is already short enough and doesn’t require a final “here’s what happened in the book” chapter.

Despite its faults, though, I found myself rooting for Smiley and his friends. Smiley is weirdly sympathetic for being so cold and cynical. But maybe that’s part of being a spy: you can’t let yourself have feelings or be hopeful, as you’ve seen the worst of human guile and evil. Murder, blackmail and manipulation are matters of course for fictional spies; how can one remain happy and hopeful in such an environment?

Thematically, the book explores the breakdown of traditional British society after the Second World War. Characters live in neighbourhoods that they “shouldn’t” live in; a Jewish man works in the Foreign Office, a traditionally very British and classist environment; the threat of communism is ever-present as East German spies, trained by the British, start popping up everywhere; Smiley and his friends keep this old-style “club” maintained by their old Oxford (or was it Cambridge?) landlady. It’s not as obvious as in second book, but you can see a hint of interest in this topic in this first book.

This book matters because it’s the first from one of the major writers of the second half of the 20th century. Call for the Dead gives us a glimpse of the talent and abilities of an up-and-coming thriller writer, whom everyone will want to emulate within a few years. I am definitely looking forward to the next novel!

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LIV Your Life Dragonboat Fundraiser in Victoria

If you’re a woman, you can probably remember how scared you felt when your first period came. Despite having heard about it from your mother, an older sister or school, you never really know how it’ll feel until it happens.

Red Flower

Red Flower by Ahmed ElHusseiny

Fortunately, in the West, we have the advantage of education and access to the necessities that let us lead our life normally while we are menstruating. However, this is not the case for everyone in the world:

Without the resources to take care of themselves while menstruating, girls in Africa miss 5-7 days of school per month and stop going to school and get pregnant. This keeps the cycle of uneducated women, disempowered and with no voice.

It is a shame that something as simple as a normal, healthy biological function causes harm to girls and young women all over the world.

On July 28th at Go Rowing and Paddling (at the Selkirk Waterfront), there will be a dragonboat race fundraiser comprised of 18 teams of 20 girls who collected pledges to buy Lunapad menstruation kits for girls in Africa, which cost 5$ each.

Come watch the exciting race supporting this great cause on Saturday, July 28th at the rowing club at Selkirk Waterfront. You can find more information about Little Goddess Entreprises and the LIV Your Life Project here.

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Les trois mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers) by Alexandre Dumas

Being francophone, I can say I’m a little ashamed I haven’t read this book earlier in my life. It’s not like we don’t know the story; their motto, “all for one, one for all” (yes, that’s how it goes in the book, actually), is part of our language. There have been several movies and TV series based on it (I have memories of animated dogs) and the book itself remains a favourite classic.

It’s easy to see why this story has remained popular for over 150 years. It is a gripping story of adventure, male friendship, court intrigue, coming of age, love and courtship, and many other things that would take a long time to list. But in its heart, this story is about simpler times and simpler lives.

1894 illustration by Maurice Leloir for the Appleton edition

Throughout the novel, the narrator keeps mentioning how manners and expectations were without artifice and without guile. Men cry freely and accept money gifts graciously. They shamelessly entertain love for married women and use sex to obtain what they want. For 19th century readers, it must have been a breath of fresh air against the stifling mores of their time.

I’m starting to think of Dumas as the French Walter Scott: the same sense of nostalgia for the past, the same kind of chivalric adventures and the same kind of popular success in his country. However, contrary to Scott, Dumas has this way of skimming over tragedy and loss in a way that left me a bit unsatisfied. I thought that maybe the end of the Count of Monte-Cristo was a fluke, but this one also left me wanting more: more consequences, more acknowledgement of death and of pain. The ending basically says that D’Artagnan is young and will forget everything in time. It is, in the end, a joyous celebration of the soldier life in the 17th century, which our modern sensibilities might find slightly unnerving.

But I think the long-lasting appeal of the book resides in exactly that: its carefree adventures, foiled villains and the triumph of friendship. The unfailing loyalty of these four men calls, even today, to our sense that if people stick together, they can achieve great things. In our increasingly individualistic and independent culture, I think this kind of story calls us back to our childhood, when friends were there in thick and thin, when we made pacts about not telling our parents what bad thing we had done, and when we shared our pack of gum without expecting anything in exchange.

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Authentic Success by Robert Holden (review)

Authentic Success: Essential Lessons and Practices from the World's Leading Coaching Program on Success IntelligenceAuthentic Success: Essential Lessons and Practices from the World’s Leading Coaching Program on Success Intelligence by Robert Holden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another wonderful book by Robert Holden.

Given that I had already read Happiness NOW!, a lot of his ideas were already familiar to me. But these ideas are so important that they bear repeating, and so I don’t think that reading this along with other works by Holden is in any way a waste of time. In fact, I think I got more out of this one because I had read it already, because his approach to success is very much based on his ideas about happiness. Basically, happy people are more naturally successful.

While Happiness NOW! was more philosophical in nature, this one has a more practical outlook. It’s filled with exercises and tips on how to find what success really means to you, and then taking action. It forces you to look at your fears and at your deeply conditioned thoughts and beliefs about success and all its related elements.

A book, by itself, will never change your life, just like money by itself cannot make you happy. So unless you’re willing to sit down with yourself and do the work, you probably won’t reap all the benefits that this book can provide.

This book was well-structured, with tons of examples from a variety of sources like clients, seminars and other writers (including other psychologists, novelists, poets and philosophers). But, most of all, it’s Holden’s own deep belief in what he preaches that convinces me. You can feel his commitment to his subject through every word, and he doesn’t seem like the hypocritical “do as I say, not as I do” type.

One chapter that especially touched me was the one about Money Sickness. I was on the edge of tears throughout. But if you want to know what he says about it… you’ll have to read the book. I think that it should be read with an open mind and a desire to become a better person.

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Happiness Now! by Robert Holden (review)

Happiness Now!: Timeless Wisdom for Feeling Good FASTHappiness Now!: Timeless Wisdom for Feeling Good FAST by Robert Holden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve always looked at self-help books with a bit of suspicion. Either they are blindingly obvious and don’t deserve their asking price, or they are useless to anyone other than the person who wrote it, in which case we end up with the same result: you spent money, and quite a bit of time, for something that is definitely not helpful.

Robert Holden avoids both pitfalls with Happiness Now!: Timeless Wisdom for Feeling Good FAST… if you’re ready to listen to its message.

The book’s core idea is most elegant in its simplicity: happiness is within your grasp, now. The title is actually a bit misleading: “now” is not about “feel happy right now because you are reading this book”, but rather about how the secret of happiness is in the “now”. The book won’t make you feel happy, but it may, in Holden’s words, encourage you to happiness.

Throughout the book, Holden uses personal experience, writings from philosophers, poets and religious figures from around the world (and not just the Bible, which I appreciated), and examples from past clinical work with clients to show that deep down, everyone knows how to be happy. Most of us have simply forgotten.

The book takes you through the many facets of happiness: realizing that we already are happy, giving up the search for happiness, the curse of “not being good enough”, accepting yourself, letting go of conditional love, the healing process, the importance of love, and lightening your burden.

After reading this book, I had the strangest, yet most familiar feeling: that I knew all of this all long. How easy is it to forget, in our frenzied search for more money, more possessions, more success, more love, that each of us has something inside that makes all those things optional at best.

Have you ever felt a part of you resisting the nature of modern life? Looking for a slower, more meaningful way to relate to the world and to others?

Listen to it. It’s happiness knocking at your heart’s door.

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