I have read two books recently that have changed my life. Both in small ways, nothing dramatic. But the power of those changes feels like the slow surge of a wave that will continue to build over the weeks, months and years ahead.
The first book I read was Hara, Vital Centre of Man by Karlfried Graf Durkheim. Durkheim was born in Germany in 1896 and died in 1988. He spent many years in Japan studying Zen.
The subject of the book is the Hara (which literally translates as 'belly') and the Japanese philosophies, systems and martial arts that stress the importance of this area in consciousness: how breathing and posture affect consciousness and vice versa.
Karlfried's writing is good and he does well in contrasting the Western Eastern approaches to physical posture and philosophy, but I must be honest: I found the appendices at the end of the book (excerpts from writings by Japanese masters) contained the most useful, practical and insightful words. The advice it carries is constantly in my mind at the moment.
What becomes apparent is that practice of Hara is the practice of martial arts, meditation, yoga. They are one and the same. I was recommended to read the book by John Evans Sensei (London Fudokan) my martial arts teacher and an author in his own right (of Kurikara: The Sword and the Serpent, also a deeply useful book on the martial arts).
The other book, which I am still reading, is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning .
This is his account and observations of his experiences in German concentration camps for Jewish people in the Second World War.
In the book he describes, as you would expect, the most harrowing experiences imaginable. However, the author's approach is not to dwell on the horror or brutality of these things but to calmly and clearly describe the effects on the mind and soul of a person living in the worst possible situation, to explore how some people did survive those experiences.
He writes beautifully and somehow despite the grinding horror, filth and degradation of the situation he is describing, the book is like a breath of fresh air. Frankl is concerned with how the human spirit is capable of surmounting anything, when we have "nothing to lose but our so ridiculously naked lives".
It is a book I feel everyone should read.