Prodigal Summer

June 2016 Book of the Month

Prodigal Summer is one of those books you dive into head first and later find yourself trying to limit how much you read in a day so that it is never over. In fact, that is where I am with this book; half way through, and starting to read only a couple pages before bed so that it may last all summer.

If you enjoy being in nature; if you love being enveloped in the twists and turns of personal stories — please join me in this perfect read for summer.

“Barbara Kingsolver’s fifth novel is a hymn to wildness that celebrates the prodigal spirit of human nature, and of nature itself. It weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives amid the mountains and farms of southern Appalachia. Over the course of one humid summer, this novel’s intriguing protagonists face disparate predicaments but find connections to one another and to the flora and fauna with which they necessarily share a place.”


Backwoods Ethics

May 2016 Book of the Month

As we near the summer months, I always like to revisit this book. Backwoods Ethics not only touches on environmental issues for hikers and campers and how to help solve those issues, it also serves as an inspiration for getting outside and being a steward of our precious land.

“When Backwood Ethics was first published in 1979, the Watermans’ “new ethic” was enthusiastically received by environmentalists, hikers, and wilderness managers. This expanded edition brings the basics of low-impact hiking, camping and cooking, and alpine management into the 21st century. Here the authors take a fresh look at ways to protect the physical environment of our mountains and backcountry.”


The Tenth Insight

April 2016 Book of the Month

A couple years ago I posted The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield as one of my favorite books. It was in fact the book that helped bring Molly and I together in my first sociology course with her.

The Tenth Insight, also by James Redfield, is the sequel to The Celestine Prophecy and another great read as we enter spring.

“In this exciting sequel to The Celestine Prophecy, in a rich setting of cathedral forests, wooded streams, and majestic waterfalls, your adventure in search of THE TENTH INSIGHT unfolds.

It is a trip that will take you through portals into other dimensions…to memories of past experiences and other centuries…to the moment before our conception and the birth vision we all experience…to the passage of death and the life review we must all face…to the self-imposed isolation of hell, where fearful souls resist awakening…and the love-filled Afterlife dimension where the knowledge of human destiny is guarded and held. And back on Earth, you will see the fear of the future that is endangering Earth’s spiritual renaissance, and you will struggle to overcome this fear by exploring the nature of intuition, synchronicity, and visualization.”


March 2016 Book of the Month – Island by Aldous Huxley

Dean —

Well, how ’bout this — a long overdue thank you note for the book.  I am currently right smack dab in the middle of Island.  I’ve got to tell you with every turn of the page, I understand more and more why you offered it to me.  And, I wonder how is it, I missed this one?!?!?!  While I am entranced by Will’s story, the legacy of Dr. MacPhail’s teaching and the exploration of Buddhist philosophy, my favorite part of the book is definitely the birds yelling “Attention, Attention!” Makes me smile every time they do it.  We are going to make it a book club read for Tuning the Student Mind.

Hope your semester is going well.  I miss seeing you on Mondays.  It’s funny — just when I feel the group has reached perfect cohesion the semester is over.  I come to class at the beginning of the next semester riding that high and my new students look at me like I am crazy.  This semesters group is learning to meditate on Sunday.  Lend us your brain 🙂 — come meditate some Monday afternoon or Tuesday evening — would truly love to see you.

Again, thank you for the most thoughtful gift.  I will cherish the sentiment as much as the gift always —

Much love,


The Hidden Life of Trees

February 2016 Book of the Month

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

“In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of woods and forests and explains the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in the woodland and the amazing scientific processes behind the wonders of which we are blissfully unaware. Much like human families, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group. As a result of such interactions, trees in a family or community are protected and can live to be very old. In contrast, solitary trees, like street kids, have a tough time of it and in most cases die much earlier than those in a group.

Drawing on groundbreaking new discoveries, Wohlleben presents the science behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees and their communication abilities; he describes how these discoveries have informed his own practices in the forest around him. As he says, a happy forest is a healthy forest, and he believes that eco-friendly practices not only are economically sustainable but also benefit the health of our planet and the mental and physical health of all who live on Earth.”

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

January 2016 Book of the Month

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chögyam Trungpa

“In this modern spiritual classic, the Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa highlights the commonest pitfall to which every aspirant on the spiritual path falls prey: what he calls spiritual materialism. The universal tendency, he shows, is to see spirituality as a process of self-improvement―the impulse to develop and refine the ego when the ego is, by nature, essentially empty. “The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use,” he said, “even spirituality.” His incisive, compassionate teachings serve to wake us up from this trick we all play on ourselves, and to offer us a far brighter reality: the true and joyous liberation that inevitably involves letting go of the self rather than working to improve it. It is a message that has resonated with students for nearly thirty years, and remains fresh as ever today.”

American Veda by Philip Goldberg

December 2015 Book of the Month

A couple years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Philip Goldberg, author of American Veda, speak to an audience at the University of Michigan. Sponsored by the Michigan Creativity and Consciousness Studies Faculty Committee, Goldberg told the mesmerizing story of India’s impact on Western religion and spirituality.

Goldberg was invited to U of M by his friend Ed Sarath. Professor Sarath, a well known musician, is the founder of the first program at a mainstream institution to significantly integrate meditation practice and related studies into an academic curriculum. There is no doubt that Sarath’s work has been profoundly impacted by the very themes explored in Goldberg’s book.

American Veda chronicles the story of the slow “Vedicization” of American spirituality. Ever since the first translations of Hindu text found their way into the libraries of prominent Americans, the science of consciousness studies has informed our poetry, literature, music and language. Goldberg outlines – in great detail – the impact this knowledge has had on broader cultural themes. For example, the massive shift in the collective understanding of the mind/body connection, the health benefits of meditation and yoga and the science behind “we are all one” statements.

Goldberg introduces the reader to every great saint, sage, philosopher and poet to take the stage in this conversation. His follows this east-west transmission of thought from the pages of Thoreau to the lyrics of the Beatles. American Veda shares the stories of the great leaders – from Swami Vivekananda to Ram Dass and every great yogi in between. As I listened to Goldberg speak, I could not help but feel the distance of how far we have come. Given my own experience of integrating transcendental meditation into the curriculum of a college course, I know that I am but one player in an on- going revolution of sorts. Consciousness studies, integral spirituality, contemplative practices are the “hot” topics on campuses around the country. There is no doubt this transformation of American thought has come in large part through the influence of eastern spirituality. I, for one, would argue that we are all better off as a result.

Molly Beauregard

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

November 2015 Book of the Month

Last week at the end of class a student handed me a slim book saying, “I think you might really like this. I keep it next to my bed and reread it whenever I have a chance.” Ah, sweet music to any teachers’ ears – a book that inspires in an age when the visual typically trumps the written word.

First published in 1957, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, offers the reader a collection of accessible, primary Zen stories. I have spent all week reading one short story a night and must admit I understand my students feeling. The Zen tradition is partly practical, partly meditative and is traditionally learned under the guidance of a master. This lovely little book offers newcomers to Zen philosophy an inspirational collection of stories that illuminate the meaning behind the Buddhist philosophy of Zen.

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones includes 101 Zen Stories, a collection of tales that recount actual experiences of Chinese and Japanese Zen teachers over a period of more than five centuries; The Gateless Gate, the famous thirteenth century collection of Zen koans; Ten Bulls, a twelfth century commentary on the stages of awareness leading to enlightenment; and Centering, a 4,000 year-old teaching from India that some consider to be the roots of Zen.

The great accomplishment of this book is that it brings spirituality into the realm of the everyday. The stories shared in the book use very simple language and relatable metaphors that cause the student of Zen to think about profound and powerful truths. Zen is often described as a spirit of peace, understanding, compassion and contentment. As short bedtime stories this book infuses just a bit of sweetness into a night of good sleep.

Thanks for the recommendation, Chris! It was a good one.

Molly Beauregard

Breakfast With Buddha by Roland Merullo

October 2015 Book of the Month

I always told myself I would never use a Kindle. There is just something about going into the used bookstore by my house and peeling back the pages of an old book that I refuse to sacrifice. However, I now find myself in a different time and space. Wiggling 10 day old baby in my arms, propped up on pillows, hands full — so I’m tapping through the pages of Breakfast With Buddha on my mother-in-law’s Kindle. She and I first talked about this book two summers ago. I figure there must be a reason I’ve saved it for now.

Breakfast With Buddha (despite reminding me of the outside world) has allowed me to find pockets of time to go inward in this crazy feeling time. It’s reminded me of my favorite subjects, sociology and spirituality, and how the two may or may not link together.

“Otto Ringling is a straight-laced publishing executive with two kids, a lovely wife, a fine home in a fancy New York suburb, and a nagging suspicion that something’s missing. How, then, does he end up on traveling through Middle America with a berobed Mongolian monk? The real question to ask is, Why?

When his sister tricks him into taking her guru on a trip to their childhood home, Otto, a confirmed skeptic, is not amused. Six days on the road with an enigmatic holy man who answers every question with a riddle is not what he’d planned. But in an effort to westernize his passenger-and amuse himself-he decides to show the monk some “American fun” along the way. From a chocolate factory in Hershey to a bowling alley in South Bend, from a Cubs’ game at Wrigley Field to his family farm near Bismarck, Otto is given the remarkable opportunity to see his world-and more important, his life-through someone else’s eyes. Gradually, skepticism yields to amazement as he realizes that his companion might just be the real thing.

In Roland Merullo’s masterful hands, Otto tells his story with all the wonder, bemusement, and wry humor of a man who unwittingly finds what he he’s missing in the most unexpected place.” (text source)

Only halfway through the book, I’m getting more and more intrigued with each tap of the digital page. Join me.

Chelsea Richer
Director of the Tuning the Student Mind film

The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman

 September 2015 Book of the Month

In his seminal book,, Neil Postman argues that the invention of the printing press had a profound impact on society and the concept of childhood. Literacy reformed the adult world by creating a required skill set for entry into adulthood. Prior to the development of moveable type, few people in society could read well and the history of knowledge was oral. After the development of the printing press, reading became an adult skill. With literacy came adult “secrets,” information available only to adults who could read. In addition, literacy required schools to teach children how to read.

According to Postman the slow disappearance of childhood began with the advent of electronic communication. Rapid transmission of knowledge and a reliance on visual imagery verses thewritten word replaced the need for literacy. Watching TV requires no skill base. In fact it does not even require a decent attention span. A child watching TV can know everything about the world that an adult knows–sex, violence, commercialism, dirty words. Published in 1982 it is easy to see how prophetic Postman’s original hypothesis has turned out to be.

Here’s to fruitful, evidence based reading! Let’s put our heads together in 2013 and think about how to create a world capable of supporting both ourselves and generations to come.

See the Film