Monthly Archives: January 2021

Review: Bhagavad Gita

Recap: It’s one of the most ancient and revered religious texts, and yet I had never heard of it until I started my 500-hour yoga teacher training course. Some of the other trainees were familiar with it from college classes, etc. But somehow it had been overlooked in my literary education, and it’s a shame because Gita is a GEM.

The book is really a long poem, detailing a journey a la The Iliad or The Odyssey. It tells the story of a man, Arjuna, about to lead his men in battle. Right before it all goes down, however, Arjuna has a moment of internal crisis. Is fighting and winning this battle everything he stands for it or does it stand for everything he’s against? Are violence, death, destruction and power really the most important things to him? With these questions, he turns to the man driving his chariot, Krishna. But Krishna isn’t just some lowly chariot driver. He’s actually God — the universe/the almighty force/whatever synonym you want to use — reincarnate.

The rest of the tale is Krishna explaining to Arjuna the meaning of life and the best ways to live that life. These are the questions — and answers — all humans have and seek. These are the crises of mankind, and that hasn’t changed in thousands of years. So what does Arjuna do in the end? Does he fight? Does he back down in an effort to emulate a life of nonviolence? The beauty of Gita is that’s almost not even the point.

Analysis: There are many interpretations, translations and iterations of Bhagavad Gita that have been written over the years. (Just how many years, no one really knows. It’s estimated the story was originally written as early as the fifth century B.C.E. or as late as the first century C.E.) I just so happened to pick up a copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation, and I’m glad I did. Mitchell also translated Tao Te Chang: A New English Version so he clearly has an affinity for this type of thing.

The beauty of this version is his introduction that lays out the story. It’s incredibly helpful so have this classic poem explained in layman’s terms so you’re not flying blind as you read. Otherwise, I could see it being very possible to overlook the God-ness of Krishna and the deeper interpretations of what he’s saying. This translation also includes an Appendix written by Ghandi!

Please take my use of “God” and “religious text” with a grain of salt. This is not the Bible. It is not forcing religion upon anyone. It’s explaining human thinking. You can replace “God” with other words like “the universe,” “a powerful force,” “destiny,” “the divine,” or even just “ME.” Because part of the point of the text is that unlike what many Judeo-Christian religions preach about there being an almighty God to whom we should pray and “be good” for, Gita emphasizes a more Western philosophy that God exists in all of us. There is no big man in the sky that we need to proclaim our love to. We need to recognize there is a godliness within each being on the planet, ourselves included, and proclaim our love to everyone – even ourselves. Take this section said by Krishna to Arjuna, for example:

I am the beginning and the end,

origin and dissolution,

refuge, home, true lover,

womb and imperishable seed.

I am the heat of the sun,

I hold back the rain and release it;

I am death and the deathless,

and all that is or is not.

The moment you replace each “I” with “you,” you recognize the universality of the writing. We are all everything. That’s the thing to understand about the Gita. It’s not just about a man’s dilemma on the battlefield. It’s about all people’s internal dilemma in the world. Eye-opening, mind-blowing and highly recommended.

Get Bhagavad Gita in paperback for $13.49.

Or on your Kindle for $11.99.

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2020

I’m going to be completely honest with you. This year was an absolute crap year for me when it came to reading. I recognize a global pandemic may have seemed like the perfect opportunity to sit and read a ton, and I’m well aware that many people did that. However, I’m an essential worker and was not home nearly as much as some others this year, and I also felt so completely drained by work and the day-to-day reality of the state of the world that when I was home, I found myself wanting to do nothing more than veg out on the couch watching Netflix. I simply felt I had no more brainpower to expend on reading.

That said, I read far fewer books than I normally do in a year and kept this list a little shorter for that reason.

Another thing. Here’s the disclaimer I include every year. This is not a list of my top picks of books that were published this year (although some were). For that kind of list, I recommend the NYTimes 100 Notable Books of 2020 list. This is a list of my top picks of books I personally read in 2020, regardless of what year they were published. Below that is a complete list of the books I read this year. Enjoy!

8. The Sweeney Sisters – This fictional tale of three wealthy sisters grappling with the death of their famous father and what to do with his legacy was a perfect summer beach read. Light, easy, romantic, a little predictable and still a lot of fun.

7. Living the Sutras – Part yoga textbook and part journal guide, this book breaks down the ancient yoga sutras, detailing the theory and practice of yoga. Each of the 195 sutras go much deeper than “triangle pose!” and in this book, each is accompanied with a little writing prompt, allowing the reader to also go deep and learn about themselves while reading.

6. The Promise of a Pencil – Part memoir/part self-help, Adam Braun shares how he built an incredibly successful charitable organization from the ground up. In doing so, he also shares how he learned to let go of the corporate life he was conditioned to desire, how to be a better leader and human and the importance of leaning into your passion for the betterment of the future.

5. Unbearable Lightness – I never really cared or knew much about Portia de Rossi until I read this book, and now I have incredible respect for her. Her memoir about her battle with an extreme eating disorder and depression is dark, honest, real and compelling. And her ability to write far exceeded my expectations.

4. Universe of Two – This WWII-era historical fiction novel has nothing to do with battle and nothing to do with the Holocaust. What a gift. Instead it centers on the Manhattan Project: one of the engineers involved and the women he was in love with who lived across the country. It’s romantic, educational, beautifully written and I couldn’t put it down.

3. Waiting for the Punch – If you’re a fan of Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, you will love this book. And if you’re not, but have always wondered what the fuss is all about, this book is your perfect way in. The book is divided into themes, and each one includes transcriptions of some of his best, funniest and saddest celebrity interviews. I may have cried more reading this book this year than any other. It is chock full of life lessons and earns its own credit separately from the podcast.

2. Becoming – What more can I say about Michelle Obama’s famous, bestselling memoir that hasn’t already been said? It is superb. It is honest, feminist, political without being too political, uplifting and inspiring. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it, and honestly, why have you?

  1. Untamed – Glennon Doyle deserves every bit of praise she received this year for this book. The bestseller struck a serious chord with most of America as Doyle details her honest descriptions of falling in love, parenting, feminism, politics, charity and the importance of being true to yourself and your passions and following through with everyone you want despite the “consequences.” She calls herself on her bullshit. And you’ll read this, crying, calling yourself on yours.

BOOKS I READ IN 2020

The Magnanimous Heart – Narayan Helen Liebenson

The Promise of a Pencil – Adam Braun

Unbearable Lightness – Portia de Rossi

Okay Fine Whatever – Courtenay Hameister

40 Days to Personal Revolution – Baron Baptiste

The Sweeney Sisters – Lian Dolan

Universe of Two – Stephen P. Kiernan

Untamed – Glennon Doyle

Becoming – Michelle Obama

Waiting for the Punch – Marc Maron

Living the Sutras – Kelly DiNardo

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream – Doris Kearns Goodwin

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