A broad and engaging guide to a deeper personal philosophy.

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A debut spiritual book explores the quest for meaning in life.

Kokatay begins her wide-ranging work on the Big Island of Hawaii with an incident in January 2018 that nobody living there at that time will likely ever forget: the instance when their phones relayed an emergency notice that a ballistic missile was incoming. For 38 minutes, until the all-clear signal was sent, Hawaiians thought they were moments away from incineration. The author uses the profound relief and inner questioning of that startling event as a parallel for the age-old human search for profound meaning in life. “I wonder how we can experience being truly awake and alive in the present without being on the verge of dying,” Kokatay ponders. “Maybe the answer is by coming face-to-face with the reality that we conveniently try to ignore: that we are on the verge of dying.” The fateful episode came as a kind of culmination in a lifetime of seeking deeper meaning in, among other places, “temples, ashrams, and ancient caves in India.” In a series of quick, anecdotal chapters drawing on stories from her years working at a hospice, the author synthesizes a series of “non-principles” underlying the struggles of existence, sentiments like “Allow life to touch and teach you,” “See that you are not in control,” “Be empty and open,” and “Embrace what is.” The spotlight on these ideas is sharpened by “Contemplation” questions and comments ending each chapter, things like “Reflect on what it means to live life rather than a concept of life” or “Reflect on heartbreak and suffering as an opportunity for awakening to wholeness.” Kokatay colors in these self-help generalities with vivid tales of her travels in India (and very movingly of the feel and tenor of life in Hawaii). The end result is a heartfelt book probing the meaning of life in intriguingly nondenominational terms, creating from multiple spiritual traditions a more general conception of sacredness in everyday occurrences.

A broad and engaging guide to a deeper personal philosophy.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-982214-54-8

Page Count: 366

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2019


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


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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