Book reviews
Strength out of suffering - France Pastorelli

Strength out of suffering – France Pastorelli

by Katinka Hesselink - Spirituality on March 28, 2015

Religious inspiration in times of deep suffering

France Pastorelli tells her moving story: that of a mother, a musician, whose life turned to deep suffering because of heart problems. She turned her illness into a source of deep wisdom. Whether are ill or not, this book will give you insight into the human condition. France Pastorelli (1880-1958) She started out life a vibrant, intelligent and promising piano player. She married, got a kid – and started having heart problems. She lived long enough to see her daughter get ready for college. She struggled with her disease – because that is what life made her do. This book records the wisdom that struggle gave her.

About Hope – France Pastorelli Quote

When I felt the first light touches of my approaching illness, in spite of their recurrence, I had no real consciousness that they would remain with me always ; the first little scratch of a wound which could only go on deepening and extending, a disease which finally would place me in the ranks of the severely wounded.. Then I found that hope rooted in every fibre of my being kept springing up in spite of all appearances; how lively it was, how constantly renewed, how long it resisted destruction, this hope that one day my malady would subside, that power would come back, and that my body would recover strength enough to be the servant of my mind. With what energy born in turn of rebellion, hope and despair, did I fight against … this insidious and progressive decline of strength, this ever contracting circle. A bed in which for many years I have spent more days than I have outside of it, and which for four years I have not left. What remains of that former tenacious and ardent hope? Nothing.

Strength out of suffering, France Pastorelli – the book

This inspiring book was published in English in 1936. It’s a translation from the French ‘Servitude et grandeur de la maladie’. It is moving, life changing and worth rereading every time illness touches your life, or the life of those you love. Also a must read for those in the health profession: it will help remind you just how human your patients are. They are more than just their disease. About dealing with patients – and being one The book is written by someone who has been a patient for over 15 years, yet it isn’t one sided. It makes it very clear how difficult the situation of the ill person is. And how hard it is to care for an ill person.

  • Pastorelli shares the complexities of her relationships in depth.
  • How hard it is to only ask for help half the time.
  • How hard it is to deal with people who seem to think you should have asked for help even less.
  • How hard it must be to care for someone who keeps moaning about their life.
  • How hard it is to not moan about your life when you are in so much pain.
  • Etc.

The ultimate lesson for the caregiver should be this one: don’t forget the human behind the disease. It may be tempting to refer to a patient by their disease, but from the perspective of the patient this is debilitating. Each patient has their own life story, their own way of dealing with disease. While the doctor or nurse is concerned with their illness and possible solutions to their main problem, they have to live their life as best they can. This involves sorrow, anger at fate and asks the patient for near infinite patience. None of those things get solved by prescribing medicine or dressing a wound.

About finding spiritual comfort

Somehow, through all her suffering, France Pastorelli found the strength to live her life. To not get bitter. To not flee in mindless pursuits. To make the best of her talents – not being able to make music, she turned to writing. France Pastorelli quotes the Bible often. I’m not normally a fan of Christianity, but this book shows the best of that tradition in my opinion. It shows just how helpful the moral guidelines in the New Testament can be. Just how inspiring the life of Jesus can be to those who have to suffer throughout their lives. A question for God, France Pastorelli Quote:

My God, there are certain circumstances in which it is not easy to trace thy hand. I fail to understand why Thou hast chained me a few feet from my piano.

How I found this book…

I found this book lying around the first room I took after moving out of my parents house. I moved into an old building an uncle of mine had bought. It was a mess. It needed renovation badly – and my uncle was going to organize all that with my aunt. Picture an old, brick, Dutch city house – with garage. Dusty, empty – except for this one book… I was starting on my spiritual search at the time, and France Pastorelli’s story touched me deeply.

Best Books by Thich Nhat Hanh

Best Thich Nhat Hanh Books

by Katinka Hesselink - Spirituality on January 23, 2015

Anybody interested in Buddhism today knows about Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. His lectures, books and videos are wildly popular because he manages to translate the practice of Vietnamese style Buddhism into something that is relevant to our everyday lives. 

For this occasion I checked out the top most popular of Thay’s books and downloaded them on my Kindle. I was looking for two things:

  • What book by Thich Nhat Hanh would I most recommend to someone just starting out in Buddhism, Meditation or Zen.
  • How much actual Buddhism is there in each of these books.

I already had two books by Thich Nhat Hanh in my library so I will review those as well. Unlike his more popular books, which are written for the lay reader, these are intimate looks into the literature of Vietnam and East-Asian Buddhism. As with my previous list of the best books by H.H. the Dalai Lama, I organized them by popularity: the ones with the most amazon reviews first. I have included meditation quotes to give a flavor of each book. 

I hope you enjoy my list. The first three are best sellers. The others are more specialized. 

Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

I wonder, as I read the introduction paragraphs of this book, how anyone can stand the cheerfulness of it:

Of course, planning for the future is a part of life. But even planning can only take place in the present moment. This book is an invitation to come back to the present moment and find peace and joy. I offer some of my experience and a number of techniques that may be of help. But please do not wait until finishing this book to find peace. Peace and happiness are available in every moment. Peace is every step. We shall walk hand in hand. Bon voyage.

I am sure that is just me. My own teacher is often quite grumpy and I tend to see that as a sign that I can trust him. In fact, it makes me smile just thinking of it. I am sure that for most people Thich Nhat Hanh’s cheerfulness is just what they need: a reminder that smiling is an option. A reminder to be in the moment and relax and enjoy what is. 

However, it is also a reminder that however accessible this book is, it is not for everybody. As the most popular of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, it is however a great introduction to his work. 

Another quote – one that doesn’t rub me the wrong way (p. 72):

When we look at our parents with compassion, often we see that our parents are only victims who never had the chance to practice mindfulness. The could not transform the suffering in themselves. But if we see them with compassionate eyes, we can offer them joy, peace and forgiveness. In fact, when we look deeply, we discover that it is impossible to drop all identity with our parents. 

In summary: Peace Is Every Step is a great Thich Nhat Hanh book to start with. It is not too Buddhist – in fact, I don’t think there is anything specifically Buddhist about it – but it is a great introduction to mindfulness.  [click to continue…]

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Best Dalai Lama Books List

January 21, 2015

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Creative Evolution by Amit Goswami PhD

January 3, 2015

A Physicist’s Resolution Between Darwinism And Intelligent Design Inspiring integration of the latest in physics with a spiritual perspective. Convincing in the point that since consciousness is part of the universe now (in us), consciousness must have played a part in creating it and guiding evolution at crucial points in evolution. I’ve included quotes from […]

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Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas

December 4, 2014

Getting to know the Sanskrit Puranas There are several ways to approach Hindu myths. One is to study what stories Hindus tell each other these days. Another is to delve into the oldest texts containing such myths in existence. This book follows the latter method. Translating versions of classic Hindu tales that had not, or […]

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The Buddhist Handbook, by John Snelling

December 2, 2014

I bought a previous edition of this handbook in the late 90s. The current edition was updated after the author’s decease so it probably involves no more than updated information on the organisations listed and perhaps some minor alterations to the biographies. This is precisely what the title suggests: a complete guide to Buddhist teaching […]

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Best Dalai Lama Biography: Kundun by Mary Craig

November 21, 2014

Mary Craig’s biography of the 14th Dalai Lama and his family is so good it was turned into a movie. That makes sense: it’s an inspiring story about the Dalai Lama, his family and culture. However, beyond that it’s the story of surviving the track through the Himalaya’s, the Chinese always on their trail and […]

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Meditation books for kids

November 14, 2014

Can children learn about meditation? Sure they can! The books on this page are meant for pre-school children and kids in primary school. They make meditation and spirituality fun. It’s not a good idea to make it all too heavy for them: you don’t want them rebelling later and forgetting about these options for a […]

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Love: The Saint and the Seeker – Mother Teresa and Christina Stevens

November 1, 2014

Some books defy categorization. ‘Love: The Saint and the Seeker‘ by  Christina Stevens is one such book. It’s marketed – understandably – as a biography of Mother Teresa. However, Christina Stevens has only known the saint for a couple of days. Instead the book is mostly an autobiography of Christina Stevens and how Mother Teresa’s life […]

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The View From Within: First Person Approaches To The Study Of Consciousness

July 17, 2014

Miscellany of articles on the edge of the science of consciousness. Challenging and fascinating. On the roll of the body in consciousness and healing, about the metaphysics of introspection and more. View from Within: First-person Approaches to the Study of Consciousness is all that and more. On the attempt to integrate the experience of consciousness with […]

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