Not being able to travel due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been extremely difficult for me, as I’m sure it has for many others who also have a serious case of the wanderlust. I am not exaggerating when I say sometimes it becomes a physical heartache.
I have not been home to Australia in three years, and not left Japan in what will be two years in May. Both are record lengths of time for me, and has left me feeling disconnected from family and the beautiful world out there. Not that Japan isn’t wonderful in many ways, but I truly miss the refreshing feeling of seeing a new country and interacting with locals from other cultures.
The loneliness is on a level I have never felt before.
Fittingly, since no one can really travel, my most popular post in recent months has been the sole one that has nothing to do with travel: 7 Maxims to Live By (That Changed My Life).
With Tokyo currently under another state of emergency, I thought it would be appropriate to add another introspective post. This time, I would like to share some inspirational quotes from 10 books that have deeply affected me in some way. So, without further ado and in no particular order…
1. Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud – Philip Yancey
I have been disappointed by God many times, no doubt. The current situation for one has made me so angry and disillusioned with Him that sometimes I truly feel done. But whenever I feel like throwing in the towel on my faith, I remember this book, and in particular these words, from Yancey:
“The alternative to disappointment with God seems to be disappointment without God.”
“Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”
“We tend to think, ‘Life should be fair because God is fair.’ But God is not life.”
2. Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person – Hugh Prather
I stumbled across this book when I was living in Kagoshima. It was one of the handful of English books the local community centre had available for borrowing. I soon realised it was an absolute gem.
“All my life, I have made it complicated, but it is so simple. I love when I love. And when I love, I am myself.“
“If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire is not to write.”
“There are only three things you need to let go of judging, controlling, and being right. Release these three and you will have the whole mind and twinkly heart of a child.”
“Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes.”
3. Stillness Speaks – Eckhart Tolle
This book taught me the concept of “surrender,” changing my thinking and thus my life. It’s no secret that I consider Eckhart Tolle one of the best new age philosophers, and I often choose him as the person I’d like to have dinner with most in those “XX Questions” type games.
Accept what is.
I truly cannot. I’m agitated and angry about this.
Then accept what is.
Accept that I’m agitated and angry? Accept that I cannot accept?
Yes. Bring acceptance into your nonacceptance. Bring surrender into your nonsurrender. Then see what happens.— Eckhart Tolle
“True intelligence operates silently. Stillness is where creativity and solutions to problems are found.”
“Ultimately you are not taking responsibility for life until you take responsibility for this moment – Now. The is because Now is the only place where life can be found.”
“The truth is: you don’t have a life, you are life.”
“Surrender comes when you no longer ask, ‘Why is this happening to me?'”
“True freedom and the end of suffering is living in such a way as if you had completely chosen whatever you feel or experience at this moment.”
4. A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis is one of the most famous and best Christian authors of all time, and this short, poignant volume was written following the death of his wife. Full of raw emotion and pain, it is a must read for anyone who has lost someone they love.
“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”
“You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately: anyway, you can’t get the best out of it.”
“It doesn’t really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist’s chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.”
“Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.”
“When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels— welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”
5. The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking – Oliver Burkeman
This book was another accidental discovery that ended up being a gem chock-a-block full of inspirational material. It gives a very easy-to-understand overview of philosophies such as Stoicism, and makes you really think about how you perceive life.
“The effort to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable. And that it is out constant efforts to eliminate the negative – insecurity, uncertainty, failure, or sadness – that is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain, or unhappy.”
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
“Reassurance can actually exacerbate anxiety: when you reassure your friend that the worst-case scenario he fears probably won’t occur, you inadvertently reinforce his belief that it would be catastrophic if it did.”
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung, and possibly broken.”
“Ask how big the loss would be if you failed. So long as it would be tolerable, that’s all you need to know. Take that next step, and see what happens.”
6. A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
Taking a break from self-help and philosophy, Hawking’s classic work on highly-advanced scientific concepts for the layman piqued my interest in astro and quantum physics. He truly was one of the greatest minds to have ever lived, and I am constantly in awe of all that he has discovered.
“A theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements. It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations.”
“But the idea that God might want to change his mind is an example of the fallacy, pointed out by St. Augustine, of imagining God as a being existing in time: time is a property only of the universe that God created.”
“An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job.”
7. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think – Hans Rosling
According to the authors, factfulness is “the stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.” My colleague lent me this book a while back, before the pandemic started. The timing couldn’t be more apt, as it reminded me that standalone numbers, such as new COVID-19 infections, are meaningless without context.
“I’m not an optimist. That makes me sound naive. I’m a very serious ‘possibilist’. That’s something I made up. It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview.”
“Forming your worldview by relying on the media would be like forming your view about me by looking only at a picture of my foot.”
“Here’s the paradox: the image of a dangerous world has never been broadcast more effectively than it is now, while the world has never been less violent and more safe.”
“Never leave a number all by itself. Never believe that one number on its own can be meaningful. If you are offered one number, always ask for at least one more. Something to compare it with.”
“There was a balance. It wasn’t because humans lived in balance with nature. Humans died in balance with nature.”
“Remember: things can be bad, and getting better.”
8. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl
Psychiatrist Frankl’s time-honoured classic continues to be one of the most influential books on the topic of suffering. A memoir of his time in Nazi concentration camps, Frankl describes how he found meaning even in the darkest of times. His tale is nothing short of inspiring.
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess but one thing: your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
“Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.”
“I observed that procreation is not the only meaning to life, for then life in itself would become meaningless, and something which in itself is meaningless cannot be rendered meaningful merely by its perpetuation.”
9. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey
A good, successful friend of mine recommended this book to me, so of course I made sure to read it. He was totally right. I agree with pretty much all the principles put forward in this book, which is full of inspirational quotes. The challenge is consistently putting them into practice, until they become ingrained habits. It’s a daily effort to “sharpen the saw,” but you’ll know it will be completely worth it.
“A habit is the intersection of knowledge, skill and desire. In order to make a habit in our lives, we must have all three.”
“Between stimulus and response, man has the power to choose.”
“Highly proactive people recognize the responsibility to choose their response. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.”
“Anytime we think the problem is ‘out there’, that thought is the problem. We empower what’s out there to control us. The proactive change paradigm should be inside-out.”
10. Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West – Blaine Harden
This one is a bit of an outlier in that it’s markedly different from the rest of the books I’ve listed here. But this biography of a North Korean defector, who was born and raised in a concentration camp but managed to escape, was what sparked my interest in the country. I became fascinated with the pariah state, which seemed to be stuck in its own little bubble decades in the past. My interest only grew as I read more books by defectors and wrote a paper on the topic during my Masters. In 2018, I was finally able to make a trip to North Korea to see the Mass Games. It was an amazing experience, one I think back warmly on often.
“‘I am evolving from being an animal,’ he said. ‘But it is going very, very slowly. Sometime I try to cry and laugh like other people, just to see if it feels like anything. Yet tears don’t come. Laughter doesn’t come.'”
“A perverse benefit of birth in the camp was a complete absence of expectations.”
“High school students in America debate why President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t bomb the rail lines to Hitler’s camps…Their children may ask, a generation from now, why the West stared at far clearer satellite images of Kim Jong Il’s camps, and did nothing.”