DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


Jan 23 2017

Sock Monkey Mind

by Dea Anne M

Many of us resolve to “do better” at the beginning of each year and for some that means losing weight, getting more exercise, or quitting an undesirable habit. What can happen though is that we dive into our new life style in a full-tilt manner only to find out (again) that most of us live lives which are subject to disruption and change. Too often, we experience a setback, see this as proof of our failure and then give up. It’s happened to me often enough that I resolved several years back not to make resolutions.

Well, this year has been a little different. It isn’t that I’ve made a bunch of, or any, actual resolutions, but I have decided that I want to slow down and be a little kinder to myself. One way that I’m doing that is by starting a meditation practice. Already I’ve been impressed with what a difference it’s made in how I feel – and more importantly – how I react not only to everyday stresses but the little surprises that life has a way of throwing at us. It is a practice that I can recommend without reservation. I’d hesitate to say that it has changed my life except it kind of has.

Do you think you might be interested in exploring meditation for yourself? If so, DCPL has resources to help.

If you’re the kind of person who wants to do a little self-study before you dive in or you’re curious but don’t know if meditation is right for you here are some books for beginners:meditation

Mindfulness: an eight-week plan for finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman

Meditation for Dummies by Stephen Bodian

Quiet Mind: a beginner’s guide to meditation compiled and edited by Susan Piver

whereverAnd here some sources that are widely considered classics in the field:

Wherever You Go, There You Are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life by Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Real Happiness: the power of meditation by Sharon Salzberg

If you have specific needs or concerns around meditation, be sure to check out the following:

In this country, African Americans overwhelmingly face issues and concerns that other people will rarely, or ever, be confronted with. Free Your Mind: an African American guide to meditation and freedom by Cortez R. Rainey addresses this reality with specific meditations and visualizations that freeencompass this reality.

Parents face specific challenges especially around helping children find mental health, happiness and security. If this is your situation, don’t miss Christopher Willard’s Growing Up Mindful: essential practices to help children, teens, and families find balance, calm and resilience.

Although all of the world’s major religions feature spiritual contemplation as a component, devout people can sometimes feel that the practice of meditation might run counter to what they believe. Christian Meditation: experiencing the presence of God by James Finley and Connecting to God: ancient kabbalah and modern psychology by Abner Weiss are two examples of resources available from DCPL that can help you explore these concerns.

happierFinally, let me wholeheartedly recommend Dan Harris’s wonderful 10% Happier: how I tamed the voice in my head, reduced stress without losing my edge, and found self-help that actually works.  Harris, a co-anchor on Nightline and a longtime professional in the pressure cooker that is network news, has a very active brain – a quality that many of us share. He was able to rise to the top of his profession yet at the same time developed ways to mask his anxiety to the extent that he finally experienced an intense, and very public, panic attack while he was on the air. If you’re curious about meditation, but remain skeptical, then this is the book for you. Harris is a very funny writer and utterly convincing as he chronicles his journey toward greater happiness and focus all by way of learning to quiet the voice inside of his head that he was convinced would never shut up.

Now about the title of this post – Buddhist tradition has a term for the mind that is restless, confused and inconstant from which comes many of our mental and spiritual anxieties and that term is “monkey mind.” Well, meditation is starting to turn my own monkey (i.e. busy brain) into something more closely resembling a sock monkey. It isn’t something I’m not cuddling up with it every second of the day, but it sure doesn’t keep me from falling asleep at night. Try it for yourself…and do let me know how it goes.






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Sep 13 2013

Drawing from Life

by Rebekah B

Drawing of a woman by Pierre BonnardI like to think about drawing as the art of seeing.  Have you ever noticed that very young children can see so much better than adults do?  And I am not talking about acuity of vision as measured by an optometrist!  Very young children (below age 3) actually see more and better than everyone else, because they look with their eyes and not with their minds.  In other words, young, pre-verbal children are not yet limited by the conditioning of images, symbols, and language.  Many years ago, I caught a glimpse of this ability through my friend Elizabeth’s daughter Melina, then a toddler, perhaps 18 months old.  Melina was in her parent’s bedroom, and I was watching her.  A tall armoire with mirrored doors lined one wall of the room, and onto one of those doors was taped a reproduction of a Pierre Bonnard painting (Drawing of a woman, right) representing a woman standing in front of a mirror.  I observed Melina adopt the exact same pose of the woman in the painting as she looked in the mirror.  Amazing!

When my son was small, I quickly noticed that he was very observant of detail.  He would remember our friends’ apartment numbers and knew which button to press on the elevator when we visited their buildings.  Close to the ground, his line of sight was naturally low, and we would enjoy walking together and pointing out patterns, colors, signs, objects that we would find.

drawing from life Left: Some of my own life drawings and sketches

And so, for a person who has already received a lifetime of conditioning, learning to draw is the equivalent of learning to see once again.  No longer will you look at a tree and see a lollipop on a stick, or some variation on that theme.  No longer will you be able to look at a face and not embrace each feature with your eyes.  There are many books and classes whose purpose is to teach you to draw.  There is technique, and there is expression.  Above all, there is seeing.  Even if you never learn to draw properly—and it is a skill that can be learned by anyone who so desires—learning to see will bring you great satisfaction in your life, from moment to moment. Careful observation will also improve your memory.  When you are waiting in line, you can observe everything around you in great detail.  Drawing is a form of meditation, a love poem to the present moment, and the connection of self to the world.

drawingsRight: More of my own drawings & a DCPL book about drawing hands

If you are interested in connecting to the present moment and your experience of the real, then pick up a nice sketchbook, a few graphite pencils, colored pencils, sharpies, watercolors…whatever suits your fancy, and keep them with you in your car, your purse, at home.  Take the time to observe your surroundings and to caress them with your eyes and your  mind.  Although I have been very near-sighted most of my life, I am so very grateful for my ability to see, and when I sit down to draw, I really feel at home in the world and in myself.

DCPL has some nice titles that replicate artist’s sketchbooks as well as instructional books about drawing.  Other books are more philosophical, relating to the theme of seeing and drawing.  Have fun opening your eyes!

Here are a few titles to peruse at your leisure:

Below:  Sketch of reclining figure and face from a session at the Apache Art Café

reclining figure


Feb 15 2013

The Sound of Silence

by Veronica W

As I sat at the red light, my car was vibrating and my ears were assaulted. Ilake tried to identify the person with the deafening music but I couldn’t. They could have been five cars behind me but it didn’t matter because their bass was so loud, it shook every car in line. Although it was a balmy spring day, I rolled up my windows in disgust.

I have a sister who lives in and loves New York City…Manhattan to be exact. Although she lives in a high rise, traffic sounds and general city life were heard very clearly through her windows on the fourteenth floor, no matter the time of day.  When she visits me, after awhile she gets antsy at the quiet. Imagine my delight last year, when I visited NYC and rode down Fifth Avenue and saw signs that warned people of a stiff fine for honking.

George Prochnik, in his book In Pursuit of Silence,  “examines why we began to be so loud as a society, what it is that gets lost when we can no longer find quiet and what are the benefits of decluttering our sonic world.”  When I encounter people who must fill up air space with conversation, radio, television or music—especially when I am being quiet myself—it makes me  wonder if silence is uncomfortable for them.

There are many ways and places people can enjoy noiselessness—or at least replace it with more desired noise.  A charming picture book is Sitting in My Box. A little boy has found a big box, and it is his getaway in which he reads or dreams. A host of different animals crowd in, until they are finally “persuaded” to leave.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her poem Exiled, laments, “Searching my heart for its true sorrow/This is the thing I find to be/That I am weary of words and people/Sick of the city, wanting the sea.” Her refuge from the cacophony of the city was the ocean. I can identify and as often as  I can, I visit the Monastery in Conyers, where I sit by the lake and feed the ducks. Where do you go for peace and quiet?