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A flawed but refreshingly mature consideration of life, reason, and spirituality.

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An assemblage of meditative reflections on the meaning of a life well-lived.

Debut author Zaidi, in response to the persuasion of friends, has gathered a collection of short essays (and public addresses) created over the years; the underlying theme is the rational investigation of the meaning of life. That undergirding conceit is sometimes less apparent among the diverse subjects. For example, many of the essays read like paeans to worthy pursuits: Zaidi extols the elemental virtues of art and literature, meditation, reading, education in general, and a commitment to personal growth. There are also discussions on related miscellany, like the advantages and disadvantages of the internet, the problem of disinformation in the media, and the key to public-speaking success. Zaidi’s focus is philosophical; his essays explore the nature of consciousness, the limits of conceptual and dualistic thinking, and the distinction between forgiveness and love. The fulcrum of the work, however, is the relation between faith and reason or the elucidation of our place in the cosmos. The author carefully makes the case for an authentic religiousness—understood as the quest for personal meaning—that is also atheistic and consistent with the findings of modern science. In this way, he attempts to navigate between blind belief and the willful dogmatism of “irreligious extremists.” Zaidi is often exceedingly thoughtful, and his philosophical temperance is impressive. However, the writing can be flaccid and confusing, and it seems to strain too laboriously for profundity: “But regardless of the relative worth of different religious beliefs, the way we are correlated to the environment indubitably substantiates mankind’s emergence from the forms of life which precede us in evolution and which continue to be a part of our psychic nature.” What the book lacks in rigor and originality, it makes up with its intellectual evenhandedness—such ideology-free analysis is rare and welcome in these rancorously divisive times.

A flawed but refreshingly mature consideration of life, reason, and spirituality.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5320-0958-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2017

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A moving, heartfelt account of a hospice veteran.

Lessons about life from those preparing to die.

A longtime hospice chaplain, Egan (Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago, 2004) shares what she has learned through the stories of those nearing death. She notices that for every life, there are shared stories of heartbreak, pain, guilt, fear, and regret. “Every one of us will go through things that destroy our inner compass and pull meaning out from under us,” she writes. “Everyone who does not die young will go through some sort of spiritual crisis.” The author is also straightforward in noting that through her experiences with the brokenness of others, and in trying to assist in that brokenness, she has found healing for herself. Several years ago, during a C-section, Egan suffered a bad reaction to the anesthesia, leading to months of psychotic disorders and years of recovery. The experience left her with tremendous emotional pain and latent feelings of shame, regret, and anger. However, with each patient she helped, the author found herself better understanding her own past. Despite her role as a chaplain, Egan notes that she rarely discussed God or religious subjects with her patients. Mainly, when people could talk at all, they discussed their families, “because that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives.” It is through families, Egan began to realize, that “we find meaning, and this is where our purpose becomes clear.” The author’s anecdotes are often thought-provoking combinations of sublime humor and tragic pathos. She is not afraid to point out times where she made mistakes, even downright failures, in the course of her work. However, the nature of her work means “living in the gray,” where right and wrong answers are often hard to identify.

A moving, heartfelt account of a hospice veteran.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59463-481-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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