Books 1: Trains, travels, and training warriors

Below are short reviews of the first three books I read while traveling

Paul Theroux

The Great Railway Bazaar: by train through Asia

This was appreciated (a gift from Rhys), but a disappointing  read actually. There were a few good characterisations of people he met along the way, but I thought much of it was relatively shallow, and limited in his enthusiasm for inquiring into how the circumstances and journey were affecting or transforming him. The tone, as I recall, was a bit ‘colonial’ and ‘British’ in being remote (as in just an observer), slightly cynical and mostly sharing stories about things that were absurd rather than what was beautiful or magical. It was then, interesting, to read the excerpt of the preface of his follow-up book (30 years later) included at the end of the edition I read, which was basically a detailed confession about his depressed state of mind at the time and problems with his wife. His new book [Ghost Train to the Eastern Star] may be worth a read. And, I am sure there are also better books to read if you want something relevant to a journey through this part of the world.

Ryszard Kapuscinksi

Travels with Herodotus

Again, another appropriate and appreciated gift upon my departure (from Thomas ). In this book the author shows a much greater capacity for integration of what is happening ‘out there’ with what is happening ‘in here’, than Thoreaux and also with what happened ‘back then’ to someone else traveling in the same footprints. The author is certainly remarkable in his command of languages, interest in being affected by the people and places he visits, and had what sounds like an interesting life, as was Herodotus.  And it is all woven together well – travel, biography, autobiography, cultural and political coment. But something about this book never quite captured me….

After writing what I thought of these two books, I can confess my own writing, and this blog, falls far short of the standards by which I have judged these two authors and their work. Additionally, I think the problems I identify with their work were chosen because they are problems with my own writing, and even my own perspective that I am overly sensitive to. For example, I have felt some truly momentous shifts in myself around willingness to die, commitment to my vision, empathy and relationship with those born and living in poorer or just different circumstances, my empathy for and adoption of a ‘deeper’ green perspective on sustainability that is more about soil and spirit than social enterprise and solar technology, the frequent and all-consuming experience of joyous rapture at random moments, and a greater attentiveness to what parts of what I do and who I am add value to the world and affect others in a positive way, to list a few.

Chogyam Trungpa

Shambahla: Sacred Path of the Warrior

I thought this was good. I have had it for a long time, but never got around to reading it. It is often cited in sustainability and spiritual leadership circles, and I think presents a useful perspective on what it is to be a leader, and warrior in a spiritual and everyday sense. It is secular, a compelling alternative and deep vision of leadership, and also offers quite practical guidance in many areas. Some of the ideas that resonated with me included:

  • the emphasis on the inherent goodness in everyone

  • the relationship between sensitivity and sadness with leadership and spiritual devleopment (as emphasised in buddhas teachings)

  • renunciation of anything that stands between you and others (as demonstrated by Gandhi and others), and other forms of surrender

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