Is there an intersection between Enlightenment and Arrogance?

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wakingupmindful

In the words of so many religious leaders: “I’ll tell you what’s right. Everyone else who believes otherwise is an idiot fallen victim to fantasy.” Harris is no different. I found his tone insufferable. He even dismisses doctors and scientists who have attempted to provide evidence for their own life-changing spiritual experiences (ie. Eben Alexander). But insights from Harris’ LSD trips are totally legit, of course.

Arrogance aside, Harris advocates mindfulness – a concept that I like. Just by coincidence, I started reading another book which on the topic around the same time: Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Strictly speaking, they can’t really be compared – Waking Up is an editorialized (read: snarky) review of spirituality in general, and how silly religious people are (according to Harris), whereas the Mindfulness authors, Williams and Penman, provide straightforward information about the benefits and how-tos on being mindful.

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My Life in Prison and The Good Earth

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prisonearth

I have been thinking about China lately, with the unrest going on in Hong Kong. These two books come to mind.

Despite the large gap in setting (dissident in prison in 2012 vs 1900s peasant life), and the difference in genre (non-fiction vs fiction), I found both to be culturally insightful.

A few things still stand out to me:

  • Both authors are not typical as Chinese voices, in my opinion. As the daughter of missionaries, Pearl Buck spent most of her life in China. Being raised in China, with American Presbyterian parents, you can imagine she has an interesting perspective. Jiang Qisheng, on the other hand, is a Chinese national. I find his social commentary direct and honest.
  •  Saving Face. I could go on for days about this topic. Qisheng was angry that the prison shows a “pleasant” side to visitors (prison tours… interesting). He points out that this whole pretending this is a systemic thing, and that Chinese people pretend to each other every day.
  • Status of women. O-lan’s primary source of pride is that she bore her husband sons. That’s it, that’s all.
  • Envy, Competition, and Freedom. Everyone wants to get ahead, and this idea is certainly not limited to the past or to China. The farmer initially hates those rich snotty jerks who look down on everything, but eventually builds up his land and becomes one himself. Hmm. Could this be same the love/hate relationship China has with the West?
  • Shut up and don’t rock the boat. It’s a cultural expectation that the best thing to do is to keep your head down and do the best you can. The other inmates’ all say the same thing: you wouldn’t have ended up here if you’d just kept your big mouth shut. Likewise, O-lan is treated badly most of the time, but she accepts these injustices, and never goes against status quo. The tone is that many other women are treated worse, so not only was this normal, she could have done worse. Fast forward to Hong Kong, 2014: the “Silent Majority” that supports the police. There you have it – keep your mouth shut and support the group that won’t land you in prison.

Pro Cycling: for those who enjoy pain

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domestique hamilton

I read Hamilton’s book first, which was a fascinating exposé of doping in the cycling world (spoiler: Armstrong is not a nice guy). I found Wegelius’ book about a year later. Being a casual cyclist, I had no prior knowledge of this world. It’s pretty nuts.

Wegelius doesn’t talk about doping at all. He describes life as a domestique – a worker bee who takes no personal glory. He says himself that nobody’s ever heard of him and he’s never won a single race.

Despite the negative setting, Hamilton still comes across as warm and approachable. Wegelius’ jaded attitude seems more appropriate for how bad things can be. He seems to get screwed over by a lot of people.

Although Hamilton is trashing Lance Armstrong, he still develops friendships with others, and really does seem to be the good guy. Growing up with an honesty-is-#1 rhetoric, Hamilton struggles with living with so many lies. “We felt like we had it all. But deep down, the truth was eating me.”

Wegelius, from the UK, an outsider coming on to French and Italian teams, works hard with language and personality to fit in with team members, then hates not being able to be himself. “I saw nothing, and I’m not an idiot” and “It’s no f*ing fairytale”. At least there’s one high point: meeting his wife.

It’s also interesting to compare the hematocrit levels – 50 being an arbitrary number to get close to, but not cross. To be competitive, Hamilton had to raise his hematocrit, whereas Wegelius had such a naturally high hematocrit that he had to lower it to pass the test.

Neither of them have good things to say about cycling. Both of them paint a picture of the sport as being brutal. Apparently every pro is a masochist. Everyone is hungry because being skinny helps you go faster. And doping or not, professional cycling is a world of pain. “If you’re not in pain, you’re not going fast enough.”

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

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The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Read this!

I heard about this book on CBC Radio 1 in an interview with the author, Denfeld. She, like one of the main characters, is an investigator for inmates on death row. I read this a few months ago and I’m still thinking about it. Denfeld mentioned that the nature of her job almost always brings her to the worst neighbourhoods. She listens with an open heart, like the lady, who is sympathetic and non-judgmental. And like the lady, she has to deal with a lot of emotional baggage.

All the other reviews will tell you that it’s beautifully written and one of a kind – Yup. Absolutely.

“The lady hasn’t lost it yet – the sound of freedom. When she laughs, you can hear the wind in the trees and the splash of water hitting pavement. You can sense the gentle caress of rain on your face and how laughter sounds in the open air, all the things those of us in this dungeon can never feel.”