Thursday, June 10, 2021

Life-changing Books #1

Need inspiration?
There's a book for that.
By Laurie Allee
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No, I'm not going to trot out the usual list of spiritual texts or self-help classics.  

Find Your Answers 
Today's post is first in a series of my favorite inspirational, life-changing books.  

Sure, I appreciate How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleI own several translations of the Tao te Ching and I keep a copy of Think and Grow Rich within reach of my desk.  But the books that have actually changed my life can't be found in the self help or spiritual sections of Barnes & Noble.  Certain books have been gateways to transformation for me ... but they never claim to be such things.  

I have a general wariness of people who peddle self-actualization.  I love many new age/new thought concepts, and have my fair share of beloved metaphysical and self-help books, but show me an "influencer" and I'll probably run the opposite direction.

I attended a lecture given by Wayne Dyer a few years before he passed away.  My sister and I had tickets to a convention hosted by Hay House Publishers, and Dyer was one of the headliners at the weekend event.  We nudged our way to our seats in the crowded auditorium.  The audience vibe was alternately reverent and ecstatic -- somewhere in between the mood of a Unitarian Universalist worship service and a BTS concert.  These people loved Wayne Dyer.   Many clutched dog-eared copies of his various bestsellers; more than a few wore versions of his trademark "Love." t-shirt. 
When he was announced, the audience responded with thunderous applause and jubilant cheers.  He walked center-stage, stepping (barefoot, of course) into the golden beam of a well-placed spotlight, and lifted his arms into a Christ-like pose.  

He talked a lot about love and purpose and "source." He told a story about having a past-life regression where he saw himself thousands of years ago in a cave "before the age of calendars" as a wise, highly respected man with a "long white beard" trying to teach his son "and everyone else" about divine love.  Past-life Wayne's wife had been murdered, and his past-life son was upset, but instead of vengeance, the Wayne with the white beard wanted all people on earth to know -- presumably including the people watching present-day Wayne in a sold-out auditorium -- that they should be enlightened just like he was.  He said that even back in that cave before time with a recently murdered wife, his purpose was to lead all people to understand the wisdom that he knew.

My sister leaned in to me and whispered, "Jeez, what an egomaniac."

At the end of his speech, his daughter came out and told all of us that her father was exactly like an ascended master.  Then she sang a song to him -- a hymn, really -- about how he allowed people to "find their dharma." 

At that point I had to stifle a giggle.  Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm just not into gurus.  As for masters?  They make me nervous.   (Ascended or otherwise.)  

I know Dyer's books are treasured by many people. In fact, in the 1970s my mother credited his book Your Erroneous Zones with giving her the courage to try new things.  I think that's great.  But ... the last thing in the world I want is a mysticsplainer claiming pseudo-divinity and hawking tickets to access divine love.

After the lecture, my sister and I went out to lunch at a nearby cafe.  We started chatting about Dyer's presentation with our waitress Amy.  She told us that she was open to reincarnation, but it was funny how most of the people who claimed to remember past lives always said they were famous or brilliant or influential.  Wayne Dyer hit the past life trifecta: he was all three!

"I serve cocktails, so I hear a lot,"  Amy said.  "You have no idea how many drunk women swear they were Marilyn Monroe in a past life." 

After we paid our bill, Amy stopped us on the way out of the restaurant.

"If you guys like books," she said, "I read one that really moved me."  Then she told us about Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

Amy told us that the book was an in-depth biography of a man's remarkable life written in the style of a great historical novel.  She said that it had helped her through a recent health crisis in the midst of a nasty divorce.

"It taught me a lot about being resilient," Amy said. "And learning to forgive."

I love it when I stumble upon insight without looking for it. I'm definitely a graduate of "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls" school of thought, so I made a point to get a copy of Unbroken.  I read it in a few days, stealing time away from other things to immerse myself in the story of Louis Zamperini.  

Amy was right.  This man was remarkable, and the book is a guidebook for resilience and forgiveness.  Louis Zamperini's story of survival and redemption will profoundly change your life if you let it.   I came away from the book a better person than before I read it -- no need for any white-bearded master bestowing  enlightenment.  Unbroken is simply a story of an amazing fellow human being whose choices are inspiring and whose beliefs are worth considering.   

Louis Zamperini as a teenager
Louis Zamperini undoubtedly never saw himself as a spiritual teacher or chosen one.  As a youth, he was involved in the small-time criminal activities of a juvenile delinquent.   He broke into houses, got into fights and snuck onto train boxcars.  When he was still in high school, he decided to channel his teen anger into the sport of running.  He made it to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where his outstanding performance prompted Adolf Hitler to request a handshake.  After the competition, Zamperini was slated to become the first ever to break the four-minute mile.  His track career was sidelined, however, by World War 2.  

Louis Zamperini shortly before he passed away in 2014
Over the course of numerous missions, Zamperini served as a bombardier on a B-24 aptly named "Super Man."  The plane was repeatedly hit.  It was damaged.  It ran out of gas.  It narrowly avoided crashing and made multiple emergency landings ... but Zamperini survived.  

And that's just the first part of the story.  I haven't even mentioned when he got lost at sea for 47 days and ended up in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp.

This man endured horrors that are difficult to process as a bystander.  I don't understand how anyone could come to terms with them as a survivor without remaining bitter, resentful, paranoid, anguished and angry.  I don't want to spoil the rest of the book, because I want you to experience what I did as I read Zamperini's story.  I'm no ascended master, but it felt a little bit like enlightenment.  

Laura Hillenbrand's prose vividly brings Zamperini's past to life.  No stranger to adversity herself, Hillenbrand writes from a kindred space.  She has battled chronic illness for decades, and knows what it is like to suffer and survive.  It's no wonder she and Zamperini became close friends.  

The beauty of Hillenbrand's writing is another testament to resilience.  The book is a reminder that great art is transformative, and often collaborative.  She tells Zamperini's story in a humble but beautiful way: no literary pyrotechnics, no  journalistic forensics.       
Find out more about Louis Zamperini and his biography Unbroken above.

I'm not surprised that the book was made into a film.  I have not watched it -- despite all of the Hollywood heavyweights involved -- mainly because I find it hard to believe it could do justice to the man's actual life.   

Unbroken is one of my favorite life-changing books.  See if you agree.

Stay tuned for more.  

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If you want to see more of my favorite biographies and memoirs, click here.  

For mystical books I love, click here.

Drop me a line if you want to be included in my Book Club.  

You can leave a message or comment here.