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Personal Writing
A. Nordstrom
April 6, 2010

To Mr. MacDonald:

Wisdom was definitely not the first thing that came to mind when picturing a pleasurable read, but textbooks are textbooks and one cannot change what books your teacher assigns for class. So it was with a little caution and a readiness to judge that I picked up your book and started to read. To my immense surprise, it was enjoyable. It was fun to read, thought provoking, and I actually learned something. When Professor Nordstrom asked us to write an essay directed towards you (of which mine is more of a letter), I was excited to explore more in depth the feelings your book brought to the surface.

I think one of my favorite parts of your book was the chapter on compassion: Opening The Heart. It's quite difficult for me to forgive others for mistakes they have made. Well, if they drop my pencil or something and it breaks, then that's totally forgivable. But if they dropped my pencil and it stabbed into my foot and they started to laugh as blood spurted everywhere-well then, that's a different story.

But I really liked the way you gave little steps to increase one's capacity for compassion. I've been trying to practice sympathetic joy. I tell you, it's hard. Sometimes the envy for others is overwhelming. I might put on a happy face and congratulate them but my words are hollow because inside I'm seething. I should have gotten that grade. I deserve that prize. I am able to do that 5.10 just as well as you can. But I am trying to be a better person. I just needed something to make me realize how much better I can truly be if I only worked at it.

Another part of your book I really enjoyed was the chapter Co-Adventuring. As of yesterday I have been with my boyfriend 10 months and every day is still an adventure. We have yet to learn everything about each other and it makes something to look foreword to. There are still risks, even almost a year into this relationship, and for me, the exciting part is not the chilling fear when I take that leap, but the safe comfort I feel when he is there to catch me. We don't get to see each other often, this being a long-distance relationship, but the anticipation of seeing him after weeks is what makes the separation bearable and the chipmunks burst into song and dance when I'm in his arms again. This chapter makes me happy because there is a way to keep the novelty alive, even after a long time together.

One thing that I absolutely enjoyed was the meditation part. I think meditation just for the sake of peace of mind, and not tied to any religious roots is amazing. I had gotten a book about meditation about a week before you visited the class, and I've been dying to try it. The peace of mind is exactly what I need when my thoughts get too crowded or my stress levels rise into the red zone. Meditation will be my pensive. (Harry Potter reference, there.)

In closing, I would just like to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your book. It has made me think deeply about my life and some changes I need to make. And thank you so much for not making it a boring read because that would have been horrible. Wisdom is now not some unknown concept, but something I will try to achieve. Personal growth is the best gift I can give myself. Thank you.

April 14, 2010

Dear Lily,

Many thanks for your wonderfully kind and supportive letter. You end it with a most powerful insight: "Personal growth is the best gift I can give myself." It sure is. And it ends up being a "best gift" to others too because personal growth results in an expansion of caring and concern. As you grow you put more back into the pot of life. In a little video I put together ( I have two graphics:

As we grow inwardly the expansion of concern just happens. And as it happens we become less envious, angry and fearful. And we radiate more compassion, lovingkindness, and sympathetic joy.

Wonderful, too, about your interest in meditation. On The Wisdom Page website there is a streaming audio guided mindfulness meditation that you might want to try sometime. It's at There is also a very helpful, totally secular, practice that came out of biofeedback research. It is called Open Focus. There is an inexpensive book that comes with a practice-guiding CD. Info about the book is at and there's more about the practice at

It can also be quite helpful to find a group that's into meditation and perhaps meets once a week for a sitting. I should also mention that my experience with Buddhist groups and retreats has been highly positive. I'm not a Buddhist. There are assumptions about reincarnation that I am agnostic about, if not downright doubtful. But the mindfulness meditation and lovingkindness meditation practices are separate from such matters and have been powerful influences for good in my life.

Thanks again for your frank and heartfelt sharing. I know that you have a rewarding life ahead of you.

All the best,