How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook, by Stuart Matlins and Arthur Magida, Skylight Paths Publishing, $19.99
Squeamish people should consider not attending a Buddhist funeral, for guests are expected to view the open casket. Instead send flowers to the funeral (but not food), or attend the "merit transference" ceremony seven days later at the home of the deceased. Those who attend the funeral should wear white or black, as determined by the Buddhist denomination and country of origin of the deceased. If all of this seems a bit much to keep track of, you are not alone. With our rapidly increasing religious pluralism and high rate of religious affiliation, accidentally offending a friend or colleague is quite feasible. Luckily, Stuart Matlins and Arthur Magida offer a travel guide to the religions of your neighbors and co-workers. Covering 29 faiths including Roman Catholic, Mormon, Churches of Christ, Mennonite, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist and Quaker, the text helps you comfortably participate in religious ceremonies without violating anyone’s principles. Each chapter begins with a brief synopsis of the history and beliefs of a particular religion or denomination, followed by details about the basic religious service, including what to wear (and not to wear), what the sanctuary may look like, where to sit, if you are expected to participate in any parts of the service, notes on vocabulary used during the service, and a quick overview of the dogma and ideology of the faith. Whether you are attending a wedding, funeral, holiday celebration or home blessing, Matlins and Magida tell you when not to enter the service if you arrive late, if you should bring a gift, and, if necessary, how to sneak out early.
The Reflexology Atlas, Bernard Kolster, M.D., and Astrid Waskowiak, M.D., Healing Arts Press, $24.95
If hay fever is getting the best of you, or your spicy meal isn’t sitting quite right, a quick hand or foot reflexology treatment can alleviate your acute symptoms and get you back to enjoying life. Reflexology, the mother of acupuncture, heals through massaging specific areas of skin that co-react with the organs, joints, and muscles of the body. The treatment relaxes while stimulating the circulation in the damaged body part, allowing it to balance and heal itself. Similar to a Swedish massage that moves smoothly from one body part to the next, the reflexologist works the head zones, neck zones and spine zones, in order down the body. However, the reflexologist does this by only touching your hand (or foot, head, or ear depending on the type of reflexology used). Illustrating the basic techniques like the caterpillar walk and the sandwich stroke, as well as warm-up exercises for therapist self-care, The Reflexology Atlas makes this therapy understandable and safe for everyone. Thus, if like 75 percent of Americans, you suffer from stress headaches, you can reduce or eliminate your attacks through simple hand, foot or ear self-treatments. Chock full of so many full-color diagrams that they super-sized the book, The Reflexology Atlas may not easily fit in your bookshelf, but you will never notice because it will always be open on your desk.
Start Where You Are, Pema Chodron, Shambhala Publications, $16.95
"The reason that people harm other people, the reason the planet is polluted…is that individuals don’t know or trust or love themselves enough. In coming to know ourselves and achieving compassion for our own wounds, our own suffering, we can begin to recognize and feel compassion for the suffering of others, even those who exasperate us. If we think there is any difference between how we relate with the people who irritate us and the situation in…the Middle East, we’re wrong." Presenting a practical way to move the world towards peace through finding your own inner peace, Pema Chodron offers the lojong teachings in this attractive gift book edition of Start Where You Are. Through recognizing the wealth in difficult and undesired experiences, Chodron instructs us in using the beautiful practice of tonglen meditation and the teachings of 59 slogans to swing wide the doors to the heart and cross the threshold to enlightenment. Coming to recognize how we shield our hearts by pushing away what is uncomfortable embodies the essence of this meditation practice. It asks us to breathe in during an unwanted or painful experience, to open to it, to surrender and find what lies underneath the repulsion. Then, in turn, it asks us to breathe out when experiencing happiness and contentment, offering this sacred treasure to all beings. Training the mind to trust and honor ourselves in all our beauty, as well as all the sticky and smelly ways in which we are wounded, the lojong slogans reveal the underlying connections among all beings by demonstrating that the shape and texture of your own pain is no different from another’s. Bringing light-heartedness to this serious and uncomfortable work through her characteristic engaging style, Chodron recounts humorous and memorable stories of both students and masters stumbling and ultimately succeeding in opening their hearts. In Chodron’s masterful way, she shows us that through simply breathing in and breathing out, we come to see how ordinary life creates the path to enlightenment.