Zen Pencils: Cartoon Quotes From Inspirational Folks, by Gavin Aung Than

zenpencils

As any teacher can attest, it is often infinitely easier to manage and “teach” our students than it is to teach our family and friends.  In my home, this is no exception. I have not-so-inconspicuously left books about mindfulness around my house so that my clan might pick them up and instantaneously become enlightened, and well,… no such luck.  This is until I brought home Zen Pencils.  With its graphic format, I successfully conned them into thinking this book was NOT a book of inspirational quotes and anecdotes like the ones that adorn every wall in our home, much to their chagrin. As the blurb on the back cover promises, this book will “inspire and motivate even the most cynical of readers.”  Truth.

The compilation of text here is impressive in and of itself.  We have an eclectic collection of words of wisdom from the likes of the enlightened Confucius, to historical phenoms like Theodore Roosevelt and Marie Curie, to literary geniuses like Neil Gaiman and Jack London.  The book even contains an awesome comic titled, “Who’s the Crazier Man” by controversial performer Henry Rollins which begs the reader to question what it means to BE “at all times.”

Gavin Aung Than’s illustrations, which vary in style from simplistic to realistic, and vibrant, contrasting color to analogous color pallets, serve a purpose greater than that of grabbing the attention of the reluctant reader.  They are designed to push your thinking about the text to another level. (Fans of Zen Pencils can browse through more of Than’s art on his site, zenpencils.com) My personal favorite comic in the book that illustrates this is The Most Astounding Fact, by Neil deGrasse Tyson for which Than artfully depicts the universe in the eye of a newborn child.

Question:  How do you engage cynics in timeless and universal lessons about mindfulness, perseverance, courage, confidence, sacrifice, and dignity?

Answer:  Give them Zen Pencils: Cartoon Quotes From Inspirational Folks.

Here is a book that this librarian will NOT hesitate to buy for my friends for Christmas.  They will actually read it!

Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-five Paintings to Change the Way You Live, by Christophe Andre

Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-five Paintings to Change the Way You Live

 I love art.  We can all appreciate some type of art as it is a reflection of the things that make us human.  For myself, as a person with a passion for sketching since I’ve been able to hold a pencil, I have always appreciated the incredible amount of skill required to create realism from splotches of pigment using brushes on a two-dimensional surface.  Now the artist who selects subject matter that evokes deep and profound feelings, is nothing short of a magician. I remember being in the Smithsonian Museum of Art and witnessing a woman moved to tears while looking at a painting on a wall. Whatever she saw, tapped into her soul the way certain literature and poetry does for me.

20180321_082754

And now for the book.  I confess I bought Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-five Paintings to Change the Way You Live because the title implied content that would target art teachers in my school building; I didn’t imagine that this would be the impactful, mindfulness lesson it proved to be for me.  Like all truly wonderful books, this one has shifted my perception; of art slightly, and of life tremendously. Such a simple but profound analogy! Gaze upon the seemingly small, insignificant moments of life as you would stop and gaze at works of art with mindful appreciation.  

20180321_082601

How it this done?  Using paintings of a variety of styles and spanning historical and geographical time periods, the author teaches valuable mindfulness lessons.  With each painting, the author invites the reader to perceive the big picture first, then literally zooms in on details which bring a deeper meaning.  Quotes and actual instructions (lessons) also accompany each insightful analysis. My favorite of which is when the author invites the reader to literally halt before physically turning the page of the book in order to physically check in.

20180321_082519

Instructions and lessons include the importance of immersive awareness, during which you attempt to “feel without thinking,”  the importance of listening as a means of gaining presence, and allowing and acknowledging painful feelings like sorrow or anger.  A topic of particular interest to me is the author’s addressing of the quality of attention and how today’s society bombards us with fast-moving, flashy, irrelevant content.  This, which the author refers to as a “psychotoxic environment,” has the ability to not only rob us from fully experiencing the present, but can in fact significantly damage our well-being.

20180321_082735

The challenge, as I’ve been learning daily during my personal quest to live mindfully, is to remember to consciously employ these mindful living lessons.  In a gallery, art on the walls is motionless and the placement in the gallery invites undistracted contemplation. Real life moves by quickly and catching all of the beauty and nuance requires attention, attention which can only be achieved by mindful moment-to-moment awareness  characterized by freedom of distracting, biased thoughts.

I was delightfully surprised to find this book to be, for me, the most enjoyable series of lessons on mindful living yet.  Andre succeeds in conveying deep ideas both clearly and beautifully. Stay tuned for a review of his follow-up, Happiness: 25 Ways to Live Joyfully Through Art.

Purchase on Amazon:

Looking at Mindfulness: Twenty-five Paintings to Change the Way You Live

The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students, by Daniel Rechtschaffen

As a reader of professional materials for many years, I have come across sources that run the gamut from containing trite theory to practical, effective strategies.  The beauty of The Way of Mindful Education:Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students, by Daniel Rechtschaffen, is that the book covers every aspect of mindfulness in education in a way that is both clear and accessible.  Following an insightful foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society at the University of Massachusetts), the book is divided into four sections which seamlessly blend into one another.  

Part one of The Way of Mindful Education focuses on the history and effectiveness of mindfulness in education and introduces the ways it can benefit both students and teachers alike in terms of “body,” “mind,” “heart,” and “interconnectedness,” all backed by research.  Part two raises the very important point that in order to teach mindfulness, one must practice mindfulness effectively.  As a “mindful librarian” I not only consider this a practice to enhance my work but also my everyday life, hence the breakup of my blog into “mindfulness in education” and “mindful living” categories. This section of the book personally appealed to me as a parent as well as a librarian.  Part three introduces practical strategies for creating a mindful climate in the classroom at all age levels, reinforcing the benefits for students in distress.  Part four presents actual curriculum samples.  In addition to dialogue to be used at each “stage and age” there are journaling prompts.  Sections titled “world discovery” explore how each lesson can enhance their lives outside of the classroom.

I can’t rave enough about this book.  In addition to clearly defining mindfulness, and explaining the multitude of benefits of mindfulness practices and mindful environments for both teachers and students, I uncovered a multitude of takeaways to help me in my personal mindfulness practice and in the creation of a mindful home environment beyond my mindful library.